Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • Modernism's Impossible Witness: Peace Testimonies from the Modernist Wars

    Author:
    Jean Ashley Foster
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    "Modernism's Impossible Witness: Peace Testimonies from the Modernist Wars" begins the process of recuperating the lost history of Spanish Civil War pacifism. It studies the ways in which writers and artists employ the aesthetic techniques of modernism, so often ensconced in violence and militarism, to articulate a program of peace. By approaching the Spanish Civil War as a pivotal site of production and inspiration for an international network of writers and artists, this project reworks what is generally accepted as the very center of modernism. "Modernism's Impossible Witness" explores the connections among art, violence, war, and peace in the twentieth century. It introduces a pacifist worldview to the discussions of the field and opens a transatlantic discussion between Britain, Spain, and the United States. The inclusion of Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) pacifism in modernist studies forges a historical constellation, staging an intervention in the dominant narrative of the employment of total war: that the only way to respond is militaristically. "Modernism's Impossible Witness" unfolds an alternative possibility and conducts an analysis of pacifists who responded actively against the war in Spain. Through case studies including, but not limited to, Muriel Rukeyser's poetry and reportage, Gerda Taro's and Dora Maar's photography, Virginia Woolf's writings, Langston Hughes's and Louis Delaprée's war correspondence, Pablo Picasso's paintings, and British Quaker relief work, this project explores how Spain became an international cause around which modernists rallied and position the activist networks as part of a transnational political and aesthetic movement deeply affected by the war in Spain. This project works through the ethical paradox that the development of total war, marked by the wide-scale aerial bombardment of civilian populations in 1930's Spain, presented to the modernist community: some felt that military intervention was the only way to stop the civilian deaths, while others felt that the horror of total war reinforced the ethical necessity of an absolutist pacifist stance and found alternative, non-military ways of taking action.

  • 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.

  • Agreeable Despair: Modernism and Melancholy

    Author:
    Derrick Gentry
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    This study considers a group of distinctly modernist philosophers for whom aesthetic and reflective practices represented a way out of the paralysis of a culture dominated by narrowly conceived philosophical values. These modernist philosophers, I argue, helped to give birth to mode of experimental writing that Robert Musil called "essayism." I begin in Chapter One with an account of Walter Benjamin's experimental concept of melancholy and its intersection with the avant-garde practices of French Surrealism. Chapter One begins to contrast Benjamin's concept of melancholy with Friedrich Nietzsche's therapeutic efforts to transform and overcome melancholy on both a personal and a cultural level. Chapter Two changes course to pursue a comparative study of Nietzsche and his contemporary, William James. I treat them as proto-modernist philosophers whose efforts to overcome philosophy and replace it with experimental writing are intimately connected with their experimental concepts of melancholy. The efforts of James and Nietzsche represent what I see as an important bridge between Ralph Waldo Emerson's radical re-conceptualizing of melancholy and later modernist experimental writing. Before turning to Emerson, I read (in Chapter Three) Freud's 1915 essay "On Transience" alongside Virginia Woolf's essay "On Being Ill" and James's "Will to Believe." Chapter Four then focuses on Emerson's essay "Experience" as an anticipation of Nietzsche's concept of experimental writing, as well as a watershed moment in the long history of thinking about melancholy. Chapter Five reads Nietzsche's Ecce Homo as (in many respects) the ultimate Emersonian text, as well as something of a failed experiment. The study concludes with a series of close readings of Swiss writer Robert Walser, who inspired Max Brod to write: "After Nietzsche, there had to be Walser." I examine the ways in which Walser pursues the implications of Nietzsche's thought at the same time he explores quite different alternatives. Walser, I argue, is an example of a melancholy modernist who successfully converts philosophy into a form of experimental writing. By the end of the study, I hope my account of a modernist melancholy provides a context that sharpens our sense of how difficult it is to come "after Nietzsche."

  • "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.

  • The Dramatic Milton

    Author:
    William Goldstein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joseph Wittreich
    Abstract:

    Abstract The Dramatic Milton By William W. Goldstein Advisor: Joseph Wittreich Thomas De Quincey in 1852 remarked upon the excellence of Milton's Samson Agonistes as an example of Greek tragedy, writing, "I am satisfied that Milton meant him to dance." De Quincey is a touchstone within a broadly theatrical history of Samson Agonistes and Milton's poetic career that this dissertation, combining archival research, textual analysis and performative theory, makes a first effort to establish. I chronicle the extensive, largely unexamined performance history of Samson Agonistes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, demonstrating that productions have been intricately entwined with an expansion of the Elizabethan and international dramatic canon spearheaded by leading theater artists, in the process transforming contemporary understanding of the political and cultural possibilities of theater. Key productions, I argue, stand in the history of Milton criticism as a harbinger of hermeneutics, as directors and actors lead anew in performance, offering an unexplored body of critical inquiry and interpretation prefiguring critical debates about Milton and his work. I expose the shadows of dramatic traditions in Milton's biblical poetry, including the influence of English religious drama that has been almost completely neglected, and examine the question of Samson's heroism in the context of Greek epic, particularly as it informs Milton's choice of tragedy as the genre for Samson Agonistes. I further foreground how Milton's life-long interest in the drama shaped his career as a poet. Exposing the echoes in Samson Agonistes of Milton's earliest works and influences, I argue there is a theatrical structure to Milton's 1671 volume, which is the culmination of the career prophesied by poems Milton wrote nearly a half-century earlier, such as On Shakespeare, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity and Lycidas. Reading them through the prism of Milton's 1671 volume reveals that the latter work represents what might be called the theatrical afterlife of Milton's beginnings as a poet. Stressing the continuity of Milton's poetic language across time, I argue that links between his 1671 volume and his 1645 Poems of Mr. John Milton reveals a career encircled and defined, at first and near its end, by the dramatic Milton's engagement with theatrical metaphors and concerns.