Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • "The Einstein of English Fiction": James Joyce, the New Physics, and Modernist Print Culture

    Author:
    Jeffrey Drouin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Edmund Epstein
    Abstract:

    There is a substantial field of scholarship addressing the incorporation of Albert Einstein's relativity theories into the structural and thematic aspects of James Joyce's later work. Those studies tend to be based on the assumption that the theories were "in the air" after their publication in 1905 and 1916. In contrast, this dissertation examines the continuity of thought about the novel and science before and after Einstein's emergence in the periodical cultures where Joyce's work appeared. Chapter 1 surveys the discourse of science and the novel in The Egoist and The Little Review from 1914 to 1918, tracing the rise in importance given to the novel in avant-garde circles due to its supposedly scientific nature. Parallel to that rise is the development of camps of thought about "non-materialist" science, which was perceived to restore individualism and self-determination to humanity. Chapter 2 examines the serialization of Ulysses alongside various source texts that are found to have been used in its pre-publication materials. In that way, ideas that directly affected the development of the "Wandering Rocks" and "Ithaca" episodes are shown to merge with a burgeoning awareness of relativity, including a series of mid-1918 articles by Dora Marsden in The Egoist that predate Einstein's popularization at the end of 1919. These two episodes, as well as the mythic method of Ulysses, bear structural relationships in accord with aspects of Einstein's theories that were discussed in the periodicals to which Joyce contributed and in other materials that he read. Chapter 3 recontextualizes Finnegans Wake in both the mainstream popular science culture and the inter-war avant-garde, elucidating relationships between the two that have not hitherto been discussed in Joyce scholarship. The conversation among Joyce, his colleagues at transition, and Wyndham Lewis in The Enemy arises specifically in response to the British popular science industry and influences several core episodes of Finnegans Wake. In examining the relationships between Joyce's later work and popular science, we can fill in a piece of the puzzle that is modernism's relationship to the new physics and, simultaneously, the history of the novel.

  • The Bend Back: Modernity, Sensation, and Vision in Bowen, Rhys, Woolf, and Lehmann

    Author:
    Lauren Elkin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    In this study, I take as my point of departure the idea that the shifts in women's social roles which occurred after the Great War and throughout the 1920s coincided with, and indeed made possible, formal shifts in women's writing. A change in social perspective occasions a change in literary perspective. However, these shifts did not result in an unhinged feeling of freedom and liberation for women. On the contrary these writers attest to a double bind of propriety and permissiveness, of freedom and constraint, that comes through in their texts on a formal, thematic, and affective level. The late modernist novels I examine testify to the fact that in order to “rise to the occasion,” as Elizabeth Bowen describes the central challenge of modern social life, one must be attuned to what is expected of one, to how one is viewed, to how one is judged, to how one feels, to learn how one is to love, and how one is to live. The essential function of perception, according, to Merleau–Ponty, is to “to lay foundations of, or inaugurate, knowledge” (19). Through readings of the work of Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys, Rosamund Lehmann and Virginia Woolf, I argue that the senses become a tool for understanding how to navigate this constantly shifting social context. Each chapter concentrates on a way in which the authors considered navigate the tensions between the self and society through an attentive activation of the physical as well as knowledge-based senses. A major narrative strategy adopted by these writers, I argue, is the bend back— rather than proceeding teleologically, their texts bend backward in a therapeutic attempt to revalue the present, or to understand how it came to be so, in a larger attempt to make sense of their moment and their role within it.

  • "The Dear Ordinary": The Novels of Marilynne Robinson

    Author:
    Alexander Engebretson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Gerhard Joseph
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a critical study of contemporary U.S. writer Marilynne Robinson with a focus on her three novels Housekeeping (1981), Gilead (2004), and Home (2009). The purpose of my study is to provide the first comprehensive interpretation and analysis of her literary output and to establish the contexts--biographical, literary, intellectual, religious, and political--which illuminate and inspire her work. In addition to offering detailed readings of each of her novels, my study engages a variety of questions prompted by her work, including questions of regional and religious identity, the intersection of fiction and non-fiction, landscape and environmental ethics, the imagination of subjectivity, and race and gender politics. By focusing solely on Marilynne Robinson, my dissertation offers a holistic understanding of an underappreciated author and makes an implicit argument for her exceptional value as a U.S. novelist and as an object for future scholarship.

  • 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.