Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Specter and Scrim: Partition and Postcoloniality in the Literature of Northern Ireland

    Author:
    Maureen Fadem
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation concerns the political history of Northern Ireland, its literature and its "Troubles." My project recognizes the paradigmatic weight of partition, the theoretical gap it represents, and the need to fully explicate this key political structure of modernity. It utilizes a cross-disciplinary methodology that allies postcolonial and poststructural theory, Irish and Partition Studies, in developing a theory of the ways Irish cultural production has been disturbed by the partition on which decolonization was predicated and the Northern territory created. The project is structured in two parts: Part I is a theoretical piece outlining, in two chapters, outlining theory of partition in Ireland and the poetics of historical literature from the North. Part II, including three additional chapters, provides illustrations of these ideas through analysis of recent Northern Irish literary work in multiple genres: drama, poetry and fiction. In Chapter One, "Ontologies of Partition and the Unimaginable Imagined Community," I demonstrate the three key effects of division in Ireland: to undermine the idea of the nation and coherence of national identity; to produce a society in mourning; and to "quarantine" the subject owing to the ontology of waiting and sense of national incompleteness. The plan's aims, to reinvent nation-states and incarnate novel "imagined communities" (Anderson), are untenable. Under pressure of division, experiences of place radically alter and Irish citizens, particularly in the North, find themselves part of an "unimaginable" collectivity. The division has functioned as a rupturing trauma, confusing self-other relations and locating members between an array of simultaneous Irish "nations"--existing, imagined, remembered and "willed." It is this dissonance in and of the nation, I conclude, that explains why the struggles partition was to end continue. Chapter Two, "`Au contraire': The Troubled Poetics of Northern Irish Literature," identifies this politics of location in imaginative work representing the Northern statelet and history of the Troubles. Literature from the region captures the critical registers of national life through the fusion of a postmodern sensibility with traditional Irish tropes, predominantly a poetics of specter and scrim in the peculiarly ghostly, haunting disposition of image, figure and metaphor and the provocative deployment of world and realm borders. Divined with evident influence of Samuel Beckett--who first articulated the "meaning" of divided Ireland--it is a bordered, spectral postmodernism that brings to light the ontological deathliness of partitioned Irishness. Three literary critical chapters delineate this method in work by contemporary Belfast women writers working in multiple genres: dramatist and fiction writer Anne Devlin, poet Medbh McGuckian, and novelist Anna Burns. Each author's distinct poetics is explicated: Devlin's use of self-contradiction as primary mode, McGuckian's poetics of silence, and Burns' narrative method of infusing the historical novel with specifically historical doubt. In Chapter Three, "Self-Contradiction in a Small Place: Anne Devlin's `Other at the Edge of Life,'" I offer a reading of the work's self-contradictoriness as an echo of the break in the national community spurred by geopolitics. The incongruity suffusing her work allegorizes the North as a ruptured, traumatized part-nation, a "no place" with a fully undecidable subject. In developing this politics of location, Devlin deploys a profusion of ancient metaphors: the banshee, the Shan Van Vocht, and a variety of world-scrims as bordered, deathly spaces of struggle and compression. Chapter Four, "Partition, Postcoloniality and the Postmodern: Outlining Silence in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian," interprets the poems as paradoxical embodiments of silence that disclose the enigma of history, memory and voice haunting the "partitioned" postcolonial author: in the crisis of wordlessness; in the impulse toward and away from silence and speakers betraying a powerlessness to speak; and in poems driven to transcend the cocoon of language and function as a visual art. Whereas McGuckian's literary work relies, paradoxically, on silence, Burns' novel of the Troubles is founded, also contradictorily, on self-questioning. Chapter Five, "Broken Nations, Troubled Histories, Anxious Authors: Specter and Doubt in Anna Burns' No Bones," argues that, through the affective work of a poetics of doubt, the history of the Troubles is refracted and ultimately conveyed. This chapter shows how, by hovering in the epistemological between of doubt, her narrative returns to the "moment of violence" (Pandey) in order to phenomenologically resurrect the past and "revives" the Irish dead as a way of symbolizing both the compound losses of empire and concomitant need for postcolonial reparations.

  • A SEMESTER IN PURGATORY: AT THE INTERSECTIONS OF PEDAGOGY, INTERPELLATION, QUEERNESS, AND MOURNING

    Author:
    Rob Faunce
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    A Semester in Purgatory: At the Intersections of Pedagogy, Interpellation, Queerness, and Mourning records an unusual project--one often attempted mid-career, rather than as a dissertation. It traces the process of developing pedagogy--from work gleaned in an academic practicum to experiences in the classroom--while incorporating the perspective of a generalist who is teaching three distinct periods in that semester being recorded (classics, medieval/early modern, composition). Concomitant to the research concerns in the project is the subjectivity of mourning, as my teaching and writing occur in the literal aftermath of my mother's sudden death, which necessarily becomes part of the project as it spectrally descends on my classroom, and my life. The dissertation thus considers a selection of important articles on the development of teaching (Elbow, Bartholomae, Perl, et al), while considering concerns of truth in autobiography (using Coetzee as a platform to works by Althusser, Williams, and Sontag) and the effects of mourning (both in narrative form, with writers such as Didion and Kincaid, and in psychological form, a rumination on the works of Melanie Klein and Silvan Tomkins). This dissertation emphasizes the development of an authentic personal voice--in writing and teaching--while also considering the identity politics and possible spaces for interpellation that complicate the classroom and personal pedagogy.

  • Forget Burial: Illness, Narrative, and the Reclamation of Disease

    Author:
    Marty Fink
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    Through a theoretical and archival analysis of HIV/AIDS literature, this dissertation argues that the AIDS crisis is not an isolated incident that is now "over," but a striking culmination of a long history of understanding illness through narratives of queer sexual decline and national outsiderhood. Literary representations of HIV/AIDS can be read as a means of resistance to the stigmatization of people of color, women, immigrants, and queers, debunking the narratives that vilify these subjects as threats to national security and health. In drawing connections between illness, history, and the African diaspora, my work adopts a queer theoretical approach to illuminate how boundaries around sexual and gender identities are often intertwined with representations of nationality and race. Through a feminist analysis of novels by Sarah Schulman, Rebecca Brown, Jamaica Kincaid, Patricia Powell and Octavia Butler, this project demonstrates how discourses of HIV/AIDS have been metaphorically and linguistically connected to symbols ranging from national borders to capitalist commodities, and even gothic vampires. In conjunction with these fictional texts, I concurrently undertake an archival study of writing by community leaders from the first decade of the pandemic whose work successfully countered and reinscribed harmful narratives of HIV/AIDS. By integrating transnational literature with archival materials by New York City-based writers including Iris De La Cruz, Katrina Haslip, and Bradley Ball, my work communicates the urgency of transcending national borders and narrative genres to effectively confront the HIV/AIDS pandemic on a global scale.

  • Pop Poetics: Between Lyric and Language

    Author:
    Andrew Fitch
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    Pop artists (painters and poets) often get praised or censured for their inclusion of low-brow commercial iconography. Such appraisals, positive or negative, obscure the epistemic rigors of Pop serial-design. Pop-inflected poetic projects by Joe Brainard, James Schulyer, Eileen Myles, and David Trinidad rarely receive attention, for instance, as exemplary experimental texts. This dissertation thus introduces the concept of "Pop poetics" as a metacritical third-term by which to problematize reductive distinctions between "lyric" and "language-based," "representational" and "abstract," "confessional" and "constraint-generated," postwar poetry. It probes the constructive, yet constrictive, schema by which critics such as Marjorie Perloff, Joseph Conte, and David Lehman have sought to canonize "radical poetry," "serial poetry," and "New York School" poetry in recent decades. It tracks a perspective-based, serial-realist poetic strain inherited from Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, and John Cage, even as it posits a direct relation between Pop poetics and the modernist grid, the mixed-media assemblage, the serialized gallery display, and the serialized art manifesto. Each chapter imports the critical vocabulary of poststructuralist art-historians Rosalind Krauss, Benjamin Buchloh, and/or Hal Foster, as well as the timely (mid-sixties) insights of Pop-theorist Lawrence Alloway, of Artforum editor John Coplans, and MoMA-curators William Seitz and John Elderfield. Adopting artist-poet Joe Brainard as its principal personage, my project presents Pop poetics not as some minor, coterie impulse meriting a sympathetic footnote in subsequent accounts of the postwar era's major literary movements, but as a missing link that confounds and potentially conjoins any number of interpretive distinctions ("authentic" record vs. algorithmic process, "personal" recollection vs. indexical trace, etc.). Pop lyricism matters, I argue, not just to the aberrant Brainard aficionado, but to anybody concerned with reconstructing the dynamic aesthetic and intellectual exchange between postwar art and poetry.

  • A Lexicon of American Vernaculars

    Author:
    George Fragopoulos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    A Lexicon of American Vernaculars is an interdisciplinary project that combines poetics, social and aesthetic history and literary theory. It brings together American history, poetry/poetics and questions of language, with a particular focus on ethnic, transnational and Diasporic contexts, and on the political implications of such writings. My central thesis is that we cannot understand what makes an American literature "American" without looking at the international contexts that have shaped our country and our citizens--all very pertinent questions to ask in a our new "Global Village," where English often plays the role of Lingua Franca. What I call "American Vernaculars," therefore, are poetic approaches by writers from marginalized groups that are normally not represented in our national literature(s): African-Americans, Latin@s, Asian-, and Greek-American poets. Within the American context, and historically speaking, I also examine the ways in which the lyric has been often (mis)read in a highly depoliticized manner, something my dissertation seeks to address and correct.

  • The Omnidirectional Microphone: Performance Literature as Social Project

    Author:
    Corey Frost
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Beginning with the metaphor of an omnidirectional microphone--which detects sound from all directions and records ambient sounds as well as single voices--the author proposes that the study of spoken word performance has the potential to shift literary criticism towards a more contextual, relational, non-evaluative understanding of literature. Because spoken word is a highly social, community-based practice, it requires attention to contexts as well as texts, and this study conceptualizes the form through the relationships among poems, performers, and audience--as well as critics and skeptics. This study is the first to look at spoken word as a global phenomenon, drawing on research into writing-performance communities in New York, Montreal, London, and Melbourne. The first part lays out a careful but capacious definition of spoken word--a term with different connotations in different countries--to include not just poetry but also storytelling and text-based performance art. In the second part, an episodic genealogy connects the form to flashpoints in the history of 20th-century art and literature, from Dada to Beat poetry to the invention of the slam. The third part of the dissertation asks, why does an activity that means so much to so many participants make so many others uncomfortable or even angry? Why do critics decry spoken word as "the death of art"? Employing ideas from Bourdieu, Agamben, cultural studies and performance studies, the author examines how aesthetics and identity are intertwined in a loop of community-building and exclusionary violence, and how the multiple overlapping identities of spoken word scenes potentially create a "whatever" community in which taste does not dictate identity. Spoken word is also shown to be a form in which identity is constantly redefined through parodic performativity. The final part theorizes the relationships between performance and voice, memory, and technology, postulating that spoken word has appeared at this point in history because of our changing relationship to text and recorded audio. Throughout, the dissertation argues that if we focus less on evaluating poetry as good or bad, we may understand what makes our experience of literature--to borrow terms from J. L. Austin--happy or unhappy.

  • She's Poetry in Motion: Metaphors of Movement in Some Contemporary American Women's Poetry

    Author:
    Wendy Galgan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    Being able to move, and being constrained from moving, have always been important poetic metaphors for female writers. Thus it comes as no surprise that motion is a recurring theme in women's poetry in the 20th and 21st centuries. The ability to move is not taken for granted by women; one must be free in order to move, and women have often found their range of physical motion limited by familial and societal constraints. When contemporary American women poets use metaphors of motion, then, freedom lies at the heart of their work. There are many different metaphors of motion found within the writing of American women. Whether that motion is walking, driving a car, riding a bicycle, or dancing, the very fact that the speaker of the poem is able to perform the action is testament to her ability to control her own life. Women have always sought a life of movement that is unrestrained, a life open to the joys of physical, intellectual and emotional freedom, and this quest is reflected in their writing. This dissertation examines how some contemporary American women poets use metaphors of motion in their work, and what that motion - or the lack of it - says about the lives of women as experienced within their poetry.

  • "I Will Not Call Her Servant": Ambiguity and Power in Master-Servant Relationships in the Eighteenth-Century Novel

    Author:
    Ruth Garcia
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Rachel Brownstein
    Abstract:

    Abstract "I Will Not Call Her Servant": Ambiguity and Power in Master-Servant Relationships in the Eighteenth-Century Novel By Ruth Gladys Garcia Advisor: Professor Rachel M. Brownstein This dissertation posits that domestic servants in domestic novels are primarily characterized by an ambiguous and varying identity. I argue that the servant's ambiguity and multiplicity blur, undermine, reverse, and alter the boundaries and even the hierarchy of the master-servant relationship, granting the servant an unrecognized form of power. The history of service and the family, and conduct books written for servants, reveal that servants exist on the cusp of boundaries: the master-servant relationship is intimate and yet distant and official; servants are in the family but not of the family; they are not of the master's class but exist within that social milieu. Moreover, in the long eighteenth century, changes in the family and in service were altering the cultural understanding of those already blurry boundaries. Using the historical and social background as lenses through which to begin reading servants in fiction, this dissertation explores how the necessity and availability of multiple roles gives these figures the ability to usurp the master's power. This function of the servant is especially important in novels of the late long eighteenth century (1794-1814), during the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era when the servant becomes a real, rather than an imagined threat. The family, and attacking or protecting its traditional hierarchy, becomes particularly important during this period. Pairing radical and conservative authors who portray servants similarly, my project implicitly questions the usefulness of these categories to describe works and authors. This dissertation investigates various subversive uses of servant ambiguity in William Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794) and Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent (1800); Mary Wollstonecraft's The Wrongs of Women: or, Maria (1798) and Amelia Opie's Adeline Mowbray (1805); and Edgeworth's Belinda (1801) and Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814). Both Bruce Robbins in The Servant's Hand: English Fiction from Below (1986) and Julie Nash in Servants and Paternalism in the Works of Maria Edgeworth and Elizabeth Gaskell (2007) suggest that the central servant characters seen in eighteenth-century novels disappear or become gentrified and indistinguishable from their masters in nineteenth-century novels. The trajectory of this project, which finds increasingly successful uses of the servant's social ambiguity, suggests that servants remain present and central in the novel, and that the servant position is a source of power even for a heroine of a higher class.

  • "The Wounds Become Him": Sacrifice, Honor and the Hazard of Much Blood in Shakespeare's Roman Plays

    Author:
    Louise Geddes
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard McCoy
    Abstract:

    The project centers around representations of the martyred body in Shakespeare's Roman plays, and focuses on the ambiguous nature of ceremony, to consider the way ritualized presentations of the body complicate, undermine, or oppose the language used to represent the body. For Shakespeare's sources, dying in the high Roman fashion was valorized as a deed strengthening the social body of Rome, but for Shakespeare, such a manner of death acquires a Catholic, Eucharistic aspect that is exposed as grotesque and bathetic. What emerges in each play is a struggle between the visual spectacle of onstage violence and refining speech. In Shakespeare's Rome, violence elicits an expectation of social purification, and Shakespeare's refusal to provide this redemption makes the violence that we do see all the more repulsive. By looking at Shakespeare's depiction of Rome in these tragedies, we can trace a loss of confidence in the efficacy of sacrifice in the wake of its growing politicization within the early modern English community. The grisly accounts found in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments illustrate the contradiction that Shakespeare strives to expose in his Roman plays: that, following their public deaths, martyrs were assigned a voice that was startlingly similar to the role of the saints in Catholic iconography. Characters who assume that they alone can define the meaning of their own sacrifices are exposed by Shakespeare as naive and foolish because their deaths and injuries are exploited by canny survivors and opportunists with greater theatrical skill. Shakespeare is skeptical about the glory awarded to Roman "martyrs" and the facility with which opportunists turn them into "the noblest Roman[s] of them all" (Julius Caesar 5.5.68). In spite of the fact that the spectacular violence inflicted upon Lucrece, Lavinia, Caesar, Cleopatra and Coriolanus renders these characters figures of public veneration, the plays destabilize the control of what they create through an emphasis on the ambiguities of visual interpretation. The image of bloodied flesh onstage is found to be disturbingly powerful, and "speaks" to the audience in a manner that paradoxically transcends spoken language, denying the victims the right to control the interpretation of their death, and turning religious death into a political commodity.

  • "Making the Devil Useful": English Teachers and the Movies in America, 1910-1941

    Author:
    Mikhail Gershovich
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    George Otte
    Abstract:

    From its earliest stages of development in the late 1800s, the academic discipline of English has been characterized by a split into two distinct, variously valued academic activities. The putative "high" side of the binary, the teaching and study of works of literature, has traditionally been privileged as the true, noble calling of the discipline, while the "low" side, composition, has functioned as the service sector of the field, serving to acculturate beginning writers to official, authorized conventions of written discourse. English, as bifurcated as it is, has by and large had a fairly long, healthy and quite productive relationship with the movies, having meaningfully incorporated film on either side of the composition/literature split. The cultural relevance and pedagogical possibilities of film have even from very early on intrigued enough teachers and scholars to merit a substantial degree of attention to both the film medium and film-based approaches to teaching both literature and composition in well-known professional publications like The English Journal and The Educational Screen. From the 1910s, narrative fiction films have served as an adjunct for literary study or even as an object of analysis itself, on the one hand, and as a heuristic of various sorts for composition instruction, on the other, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. This dissertation, then, considers the varied ways in which American teachers of English responded to and integrated commercial theatrical films into writing and literature curricula from the 1910s through the decline of the film appreciation movement in the early 1940s in the wake to a shift in the focus of American education from Progressive educational priorities to the pragmatic needs of a country at war. It explores contemporary professional and popular discourses around film and pedagogy that reflected, animated, and problematized classroom practice during this period. It presents a critical reception history of film in English as animated by implicit preoccupations with, among others, questions concerning textuality, art, literariness, subjectivity, spectatorship, cultural value, social hygiene, and democratic action that informed classroom practice and professional discourses on movies within English curricula through the start of World War II.