Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Stars Indeed: The Celebrity Culture of Shakespeare's London

    Author:
    Jennifer Holl
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mario DiGangi
    Abstract:

    Despite a recent boom of scholarly interest in the cultural, economic, and affective force of celebrity, critical inquiry remains peculiarly limited to the past century, with only a handful of accounts veering into questions of pre-film era celebrity and almost no discussion of the phenomenon's existence prior to the eighteenth century. Stars Indeed expands the putative historical parameters of celebrity to argue that a confluence of theatrical, economic, and social innovations in early modern London gave rise to a nascent celebrity culture that resonated profoundly through performance, print, market exchange, and social relations. As the theater became a stable, public forum for performance and the circulation of current information, the early modern player took on an increasingly visible and important cultural role, embodying and reflecting social innovations and tensions. Facilitated through the reciprocal dynamics between audience and actor in the playhouse, and perpetuated through the player's accessibility and commoditization in performance and print, the emergence of a celebrity culture empowered early modern Londoners with a democratic alternative to traditional discourses and icons of authority circumscribed by birthright. In four chapters, this dissertation explores the collaborative construction of the early modern celebrity in the theater, the circulation and appropriation of celebrity name and image in print media, the tensions between traditional modes of fame enjoyed through birthright and the emergent celebrity of popular performers, and finally, how Shakespeare's enduring and ever-evolving celebrity has colored popular and critical reception throughout the centuries. As celebrity remains a particularly immediate and ephemeral kind of fame, this dissertation illuminates the celebrity presence of notable players, including Tarlton, Alleyn, and Kempe, through careful analyses of these stars' appearances in contemporary ballads, commendatory verse, prose accounts, and staged performances, while also exploring the ways Shakespeare, Jonson, Marston, and other playwrights interrogated the mechanisms, implications, and impact of this developing theatrical phenomenon.

  • Notes Toward a Super Fiction: Revision, Temporality, and the Superhero Genre

    Author:
    David Hyman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Gerhard Joseph
    Abstract:

    Notes Toward a Super Fiction argues for the recognition of the superhero as a distinct narrative genre that offers provocative ways of conceptualizing the process of revision. This recognition involves an exploration of the idiosyncratic narrative temporality of the genre, as well as the manner in which perpetual revision has evolved as a negotiation of that temporality. Particular emphasis is placed on the parallels to issues concerning revision within the field of composition studies. Chapter One situates the superhero within the emerging discourse of comics studies by examining the contested definitions and histories of three key terms: comics; comic book; and superhero. Chapter Two explores how shifting ideas of the nature and purpose of revision have emerged from and contributed to the temporal ambiguity characteristic of the superhero genre throughout its history, a narrative condition that Eco describes as oneiric. Chapter Three links these shifts to historical transformations regarding revision within composition studies, emphasizing the recent tendency of the field to view revision as embedded in the politics of cultural and institutional authority rather than the practice of textual production. Chapter Four explores potential alternative paradigms of revision as a textual practice through close readings of three superhero narratives that can be described as metarevisionary: Kurt Busiek's "The Nearness of You;" Warren Ellis Planetary; and Alan Moore's Supreme: The Story of the Year. The dissertation concludes by suggesting parallels between the revision strategies explored in the previous chapter and Fredric Jameson's framing of the utopian as irreducible multiplicity, which in turn echoes Deleuze's reading of Nietzschean difference as an alternative to Hegelian dialectics.

  • Mark Twain's Autobiographies: Which Was the Truth?

    Author:
    John Irby
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Fred Kaplan
    Abstract:

    Mark Twain's autobiography was an early example of literary modernism in an unrecognized genre. Its multiple editorial incarnations not only offer evidence that its modernistic elements have been misunderstood but also raise questions about editorial and public acceptance of modernistic elements in literature. Twain's autobiography also raises questions about the relation the human quality of subjectivity bears to factuality in autobiography and the expectations readers bring to autobiography. The plural nature of Twain's autobiographies in the title refers to the author's struggle to find over three decades the artistic form that would express his life story.

  • Deployments of Whiteness: Affect, Materiality, and the Social in Late Medieval English Literature

    Author:
    Wan-Chuan Kao
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Glenn Burger
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines select medieval discourses of whiteness, both somatic and non-somatic, and their imbrications with the affective, the material, and the social registers of late medieval culture. Contemporary critical whiteness studies remains heavily invested in whiteness as a dermal phenomenon and as a racial marker. But medieval deployments of whiteness, in the absence of a rigid association between racial discourses and color, do not simply denote or connote skin tone. Rather, whiteness as a representational trope makes visible normative cultural ideals such as courtly beauty, Christian salvation, chivalric prowess, or European identity. At the same time, however, whiteness marks the limits of ruling ideologies by registering specific ruptures and ambiguities within the values it signifies. Affectively, as in The Book of the Duchess and in Pearl, whiteness is a figuration of the state of mourning and the workings of desire; it signifies not only the lost body of a feminine Lady but also an international, continental-inspired culture of courtliness in which Chaucer and the Pearl-poet actively participate. Materially, whiteness is an embodiment of cultural refinement and salvific value. Thus, in Pearl, the representation of whiteness as a valuable object highlights its function as a commodity fetish that simultaneously inscribes and erases its history of material labor. Or in late medieval representations of the Passion in Piers Plowman and in mystery plays, the white leather body suit worn by actors playing Christ is literally the material skin of an animal but nonetheless represents the humanity of God, whose suffering flesh stands for the entire body politic of Christendom. Socially, in the cross-cultural encounters between Mongol East and European West, whiteness is a sign of the West's anxious appropriations of the Mongol Khan's superior chivalric prowess and courtliness; the Khan frequently appears white and European in medieval travelogues and in visual art. However much it may be in the nature of whiteness to disguise its working as a universalizing agent in such examples, whiteness is always in play with the affective, material, and social modalities of cultural values in the late Middle Ages. And in the act of play, affective markers of white do become discourses of Whiteness, technologies of performative social negotiations with real material effects.

  • "Keywords" for Post-Imperial Britain: (African-)American Routes to Black British Cultural Studies

    Author:
    Demetrios Kapetanakos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    Over the past three decades, Black British theorists Stuart Hall, Hazel Carby, and Paul Gilroy have made major contributions to the field of African-American Studies. Their readings of the intersection of race, culture, power, and identity were extremely important. This intellectual dialogue has flowed mostly from Britain to the United States. My dissertation reverses the trajectory and explores how the United States and the African-American experience has shaped Black British Cultural Studies, a term coined in a collection of essays by these figures. I locate the field in the 1970's and 1980's with the rise of Thatcherism. This moment is important because it marks the twilight of British imperialism, as defined by direct colonial rule, and the rise of American Empire, as exemplified through its global dominance in the economic, political, and cultural spheres. As the world order shifted from Britain to America after World War II, the structure of British society transformed from one focused on a rooted way of life to a new identity in this changing global order. British society with its localized culture and working-class camaraderie was replaced by an individualistic, winner-takes-all system embodied in neoliberal ideology. When immigrants from Britain's colonies arrived after the Second World War demanding their own stake in British society, this shift would go on to shape how ideas of identity and belonging that had seemed fixed would now have to be rethought. For these Black British Cultural Studies scholars, the experience of the immigrants from the colonies and their offspring needed a completely new understanding of terms such as empire, nation, culture, migration, and multiculturalism. The narrative of people arriving from the Africa, South Asia, and particularly the Caribbean could not be defined as traditionally British. In each chapter, I explore how the United States and the African-American experience have shaped the development of these concepts in the writings of Hall, Carby, and Gilroy. These figures have challenged the definitions of seemingly definitive terms like nation, culture, and society and have called for new models and narratives to reconceive them and apply them to the contemporary conditions.

  • STANDARD DEVIATIONS: GENRE, GENDER, AND THE CARTOGRAPHICAL IMAGINATION IN POPULAR BRITISH LITERATURE, 1830-1880

    Author:
    Taylor Kennamer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Talia Schaffer
    Abstract:

    While cartography is understood to undergird the spatial interventions integral to Victorian reform in areas such as sewerage and housing, little critical attention has been paid to the influence of cartographical discourse in itself, rather than through its concrete products, as a force that fundamentally altered nineteenth-century conceptions of self, other, and environment. Standard Deviations fills that gap, studying the changing parameters of spatial epistemology by monitoring expanding and contracting definitions of bodily deviance across four generic modes historically associated with the nineteenth century: detective, sensation, and domestic fiction, and the household management guide. Altered perceptions of spatial reality and possibility result in altered definitions of deviance, and those definitions in turn manifest in generic innovations. The texts considered here outline a dilemma: the tension between scientific and personal, imaginative mapping practices. As Chapter One shows, Martin Chuzzlewit delineates Charles Dickens's engagement with the issue of accurate spatial perception, particularly in the urban milieu. For Dickens, mapping is freighted with ethical cargo, so that accuracy of vision is equated with moral sight - the science of cartography - and imaginative modes of mapping suggest ambiguity. Dickens employs detective fiction to discipline his imaginative; thus cartographical discourse and generic conventions develop symbiotically. Chapter Two continues the exploration of deviance within the urban context in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, a meditation on the over-determined status of middle-class female bodies. Collins's streetwalking character is illegible because she harbors too many possible identities (wife, servant, prostitute, criminal, victim). Chapters three and four demonstrate the influence of cartographic discourse on the domestic, an area coded by the Victorians as separate, yet highly permeable. Household management guides were verbal maps that employed cartographical strategies in order to subject domestic space to discipline and regulation. Such texts and domestic fiction show the development of a semiotic system based on spatial integrity - a place for everything, and everything in its place - that led to cultural obsession with a particular type of deviance: bad housekeeping.

  • Hybrid Aesthetics and the Politics of the Archive: Muriel Rukeyser's Spanish Civil War

    Author:
    Rowena Kennedy-Epstein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    In July, 1936 the American poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) traveled to Spain for the British magazine Life and Letters To-day to report on the People's Olympiad (July 19-26, 1936), an alternative to Hitler's Berlin games. Instead of reporting on the games, however, she witnessed the outbreak of civil war. Rukeyser was only in Spain five days, but she cites the experience as the place where "I began to say what I believed" and "the end of confusion." Only twenty-two at the time, Rukeyser's experience as witness to both the military coup and the revolutionary response in Catalonia proved transformational; she would write about Spain, its war, revolution, exiled and dead, for over forty years after, creating a radical and interconnected twentieth-century textual history. In each work on Spain the same narratives, images and phrases proliferate, recontextualized inside her contemporary political and literary moment. In poems, reportage, memoir, essays and fiction, and more often in experimental forms that combine these genres, she reiterates, re-imagines and theorizes her experience during the first days of the war and her own moment of political, sexual and poetic awakening inside its history. Through this proliferating textual history Rukeyser continually documents, recuperates and archives the narratives of those who fought against fascism in Spain and those marginalized by "History's revision" - women, activists, exiles and refugees. This dissertation trace these narratives through her archive and activism, through nearly all of her poetry collections, in numerous out of print essays and unpublished poems, and in diaries and correspondences that retell again and again the scenes of possibility, of freedom, of desire, of violence and of subjectivity that shaped her and her work. The story of Spain is most fully developed in her unpublished novel, Savage Coast, which is edited and presented here for the first time.

  • Deorientation Acts: The Middle East in the African American Imagination, 1827-1928

    Author:
    Robina Khalid
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    This dissertation attempts to unravel the way in which racial identities are constructed, articulated, mobilized, and re-constructed through an excavation of the complex web of significance the Middle East played in the formation of African American identities during the long nineteenth century. It does so by building upon two accepted critical notions: first, that the Middle East has carried great ideological weight in the construction of an American identity from the earliest moments at which such an identity was coming into being; and, second, that the anticolonial and civil rights movements from 1955-1972 amplified this weight for African Americans in particular. My study, however, amends both to suggest that the second process began long before 1955, and advances these studies to propose that early African American authors utilized the Middle East - which they knew as "the Orient" - to strategically deform the genres in which they wrote, thus destabilizing the understandings of racial, sexual, and national identities within these genres. This was achieved most often through what I term "deorientation acts" - processes by which African American authors critically defamiliarized assumptions and expectations within the forms in which they wrote to and, in the process, de- and re-constructed not only of African American identities, but what it means to be an American altogether. I begin with the underutilized and often idiosyncratic print culture of the antebellum period, a body of texts that deorient our understandings of binaries such as such as domestic and foreign, self and other. I show that decidedly different travel narratives - one written by a missionary, the other by a sly libertine - nonetheless use the conventions of the genre to subtly expose the pitfalls and hypocrisies of traditional Euro-American respectability and to question assumptions about race and gender. Contextualizing Pauline Hopkins' novel Of One Blood within a tradition of turn-of-the-century black women's fiction and political writing, I argue that the novel is a deorientation act in and of itself: it makes fantastic the accepted contrivances and categories of Western ways of seeing. I conclude by reading W.E.B. Du Bois' Dark Princess: A Romance against Du Bois' own body of intellectual work as well as novels by fellow Harlem Renaissance authors Nella Larsen and Claude McKay. I contextualize these writings within a burgeoning Pan Africanism movement, a dying Ottoman empire, and a relationship between the United States and the Middle East increasingly based on oil, and ultimately ask how their appropriation of an Orientalized sensuality sets the stage for the more popularly recognized Arab-African American interactions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Ultimately I neither simply report upon an often overlooked body of texts nor present a progressive history which moves unimpeded toward the anti-colonial alliances of the mid-twentieth century. Instead I negotiate the borders of various fields - from African American Literature to Postcolonial and Queer Theory to Anthropology - in order to advance theories about the way in which race, sex, and nation were articulated in the early days of American nation - and the way in which those articulations resonate and continue to "orient" us today.

  • Pioneering the Profession: Crises in English Studies and the Nontenured PhD

    Author:
    Peter Khost
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Sondra Perl
    Abstract:

    This dissertation addresses contemporary nontenured PhDs in English, who face a number of disciplinary crises: (1) tenure is steadily declining, (2) it's increasingly difficult to publish, (3) the general relevancy of the field has become dubious, and (4) the number of English majors is shrinking. This confluence of crises makes competition for fewer jobs fiercer and begs the question of what the backlog of nontenured English PhDs will produce as scholarship, and how and why they will do this. The growing number of individuals in this position is just as qualified as their tenured colleagues are to do legitimate scholarship, but if tenure is not likely or not possible for them, then their motivation and means to do scholarship may likely be quite different. So, then, might their methods be different. For some nontenured PhDs who choose to "pioneer" new directions, their methods should indeed be different, and they may help revive the field's perceived relevance, even if that outcome is somewhat incidental to their motivation. A case is made in favor of one alternative method, collaboration--a matter not only of working with other scholars but also of joining the work of separate fields in new ways. This case is demonstrated by adapting literature to teach aspects of rhetoric, with extended examples of felt sense and audience theories. The intention here, among other things, would be to make such ideas more accessible and appealing to a wider readership and to take advantage of non-tenured PhDs' supposed "freedom" from traditional constraints on scholarship. Chapter one explains the confluence of the four crises. Chapter two introduces the contemporary nontenured PhD and encourages pioneers among this demographic to consider collaborating more and more diversely. Chapter three uses the Orpheus myth to demonstrate a collaboration of literature and rhetoric in order to show how felt sense can cultivate better awareness of audiences. Chapter four uses Chaucer's Book of the Duchess to demonstrate a collaboration of literature and rhetoric in order to show how felt sense can cultivate acceptance of audience indeterminacy, and why this may be an advisable practice.

  • Matters of Taste: Eating, Aesthetics, and American Identity, 1720-1865

    Author:
    Lauren Klein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    "Matters of Taste" demonstrates how leading cultural, political, and literary figures from the late colonial era through the Civil War viewed the cultivation of the American palate, like the cultivation of aesthetic taste, as essential to shaping a democratic citizenry. Reading texts ranging from Thomas Jefferson's emancipation agreement with his personal chef, James Hemings, to Nathaniel Hawthorne's metaphorical presentation of The House of the Seven Gables as a "dish offered to the Public," I document the emergence of a distinctly American sense of taste, one that is composed of practical and political, as well as aesthetic criteria. I argue that this composite sense of taste expresses the republican ideals associated with the nation's formation, and at the same time, incorporates its enduring contradictions of race, gender, and class. By offering a cultural history of American taste that originates in the act of eating, I hope to expand the narrative of the nation's founding to acknowledge the influence of foods such as Indian corn and figures such as Hemings, as well as written works that reveal the relation of good taste to good citizenship. In so doing, I also hope to open American aesthetic discourse to a more inviting--and flavorful--form of cultural inquiry.