Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • The Serial Autobiographies of Mary McCarthy, Kate Millett, Julia Alvarez, and Jamaica Kincaid

    Author:
    Karin Kohlmeier
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    The Serial Autobiographies of Mary McCarthy, Kate Millett, Julia Alvarez, and Jamaica Kincaid explores the writings of four authors, each of whom wrote multiple autobiographical works. It argues that the serial autobiographer depends on her relationship with her reading audience and that the reader is an essential component of the long-term autobiographical project. In each case, the autobiographer uses her audience as a mirror in which to view herself as who she is changes over time. The four authors discussed in this dissertation provide particularly illuminating examples of the autobiographical self-in-process, as they all write their autobiographies with the explicitly stated purpose of figuring out who they are. McCarthy writes as an orphan who yearns to know who she is and where she came from but does not have the aid of the "family memory" that comes with having parents. Millett struggles with the identity of "lesbian feminist," a term that described two incompatible camps within political activism when she was writing in the 1970's; she also writes as a means of coping with severe depression and mental illness as well as the loss of self that she felt occurred after her doctoral dissertation, published as Sexual Politics, made her famous. Alvarez and Kincaid both use writing to grapple with racial/national identities that represent complex positions. In Alvarez's case, she is expected to be both Dominican and American--identities which are incompatible in many ways--and Kincaid, as a colonial subject in Antigua, was raised with the notion that she must try to be British but, at the same time, could never be British enough. As each author attempts to figure out who she is and communicate that self through autobiography, she draws the audience into the process as she revisits and in many cases revises her life story. In addition to offering the opportunity to view the relationship between the autobiographer and her reading audience long-term, the serial autobiographies studied here provide unique glimpses into the various ways in which the autobiographer's attitude toward truth affects the structure of an autobiographical project. In each case, the author's stance on the issue of truth--combined with the above-mentioned relationship with the reading audience--has a direct impact on the overall structure that the project takes. By following these projects over a period of many years, we are able to watch the ways in which the authors' attitudes toward truth change over time and how these attitudes directly contribute to the construction of the long-term project itself.  

  • Twentieth-Century Catalogs: The Poetics of Listing, Enumeration, and Copiousness in Joyce, Schuyler, McCourt, Pynchon, and Perec

    Author:
    Timothy Krause
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the occurrence of catalogs and lists in the literary works of several twentieth-century authors, including James Joyce, poet James Schuyler, novelist and cultural historian James McCourt, the postmodern fabulist Thomas Pynchon, and the French experimental prose author Georges Perec. The dissertation seeks to trace how each author makes use of catalogs in his work, how catalogs form a central part of his style and subject matter, and how his use of catalogs can be read against the biographical, historical, and social contexts surrounding his life and work. A theoretical introduction situates my work among theorists of epistemology, narrative, objectification, and desire, theorists such as Foucault (order and classification), Deleuze and Guattari (rhizome vs. root systems), and Susan Stewart (the impulse toward collecting, the gigantic). Catalogs and lists are shown to be modes of literary representation with a millennial past, dating all the way back to Homer, and with strikingly contemporary resonances, especially for twentieth-first-century readers and critics living in the wake of Modernism and postmodernism.

  • Witness to the Mad City Asylums: Composing the Self in Early Cold War Madhouse Literature

    Author:
    Kevin Lambert
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    “Witness to the Mad City Asylums” examines a wide range of autobiographical and biographical texts--fictional, nonfictional, and poetic--written by and about women and men who were institutionalized as “mad” in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Placing emphasis on contemporary discourses of sex/uality, marriage, family, and psychiatry, the project closely considers the generic, institutional, and cultural forms within which new kinds of literature take shape. It focuses, for instance, on the appearance of several new subgenres of “madhouse literature” in the texts of mostly noncanonical writers, including Mary Jane Ward, Fritz Peters, Paul and Marie Hackett, Carl Solomon, and Allen Ginsberg. These writers adopt a variety of literary strategies in order to resist the notion of identity as self-contained, a resistance that is particularly evident in their in/ability to form interpersonal bonds, blur the worlds inside and outside the madhouse, and incorporate or exclude the perspectives of their fellow patients, family members, and hospital staff. They also evade the demands of linguistic and literary conventions and prevailing scientific and popular psychiatric discourses by creating a distance between their “sane” and “mad” selves which enables them to write with the authority of a (former) mental patient without being regarded as an unreliable “madman.” By destabilizing binaries such as in/sanity, writer/subject, self/other, and inside/outside the mental institution, multiplications of the self in these texts suggest productive new readings of categories of identity and difference in and beyond madhouse literature. In closely examining this body of texts, it becomes possible to recuperate an important chapter in the history of twentieth-century literature and culture.

  • Beautiful Bootstraps: The Uneven Climb of Four Basic Writers In An Urban College

    Author:
    Ann Larson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ira Shor
    Abstract:

    BEAUTIFUL BOOTSTRAPS: THE UNEVEN CLIMB OF FOUR BASIC WRITERS IN AN URBAN COLLEGE by Ann Larson This dissertation presents a study of four first-generation, immigrant college students at a non- selective, urban college. These students' stories of academic success and failure intersect with and diverge from the dominant narrative of education as a pathway to middle-class professions. The students profiled in this dissertation, two men and two women, often struggle with economic and vocational anxiety as they seek college credentials. The impact of gender, race, class, and immigrant status crosses the borders of their separate experiences to help explain the material conditions in which they strive to improve their lives and the lives of their families. To examine the dynamics of their academic and vocational outcomes, this dissertation draws from critical social theory that embeds individual experiences in a broad context of race, gender, and class inequality in the US. To discuss these students' literate backgrounds and their college experiences as readers and writers, this dissertation is also informed by research in the field of Composition and Rhetoric, particularly the sub-field of basic writing, a contentious practice that goes back at least forty years. While closely following four basic writers, this dissertation also explores the methodological and theoretical questions raised by ethnography, case study method, and critical discourse analysis and proposes some orientations for future research into the relationship between non-selective higher education and upward mobility.

  • Exceptional Conversations: Classical Music and the Historical Imagination of Narrative Cinema

    Author:
    Matthew Lau
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joshua Wilner
    Abstract:

    "Exceptional Conversations: Classical Music and the Historical Imagination of Narrative Cinema" examines the ways in which film and music are bound together in their histories, forms, and meanings. More specifically it describes and interprets how music figures in some of the most singular directors' films and it traces the various appearances of equally singular composers' works in film. Thus, my dissertation includes chapters on Richard Wagner, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard, and Michael Haneke as well as sustained interpretations of music's role in films by Charlie Chaplin, Francis Ford Coppola and several documentaries by Werner Herzog, among others. My thesis is that the cinema is a contested realization of Wagner's idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Cinema is "the art work of the future," but not the one Wagner imagined. I thus argue for a definition of cinema form and history that reserves a more pivotal role for classical music in cinema than has been previously proposed.

  • Drawing Conclusions: Visual Literacy in Ficition

    Author:
    Emily Lauer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Greetham
    Abstract:

    In "Drawing Conclusions," I engage in an interdisciplinary examination of the words and pictures in four Victorian masterpieces of the illustrated novel, arguing that the unique publishing situation of each of these texts and the very different interactions between the authors and illustrators of each have resulted in four distinct examples of the functions illustrations in fiction can fulfill. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, written by Dickens and illustrated by Browne, among others, was published in 1836. Once Browne became involved in the project, Dickens established a working relationship between them in which he provided lengthy descriptions of scenes to be illustrated - sometimes of scenes not yet written - and it became Browne's job to interpret these descriptions. I posit that in Pickwick Papers, which became paradigmatic for later illustrated serial novels, the illustrations function as a sort of running commentary on the written text, complicating the idea of a division of labor between words and pictures even as the illustrations played up some of the same visual thematic elements in Dickens' written text. In Vanity Fair, written and illustrated by Thackeray a decade after Pickwick Papers was published, I find that Thackeray's full-page captioned plates and smaller vignettes both reinforce and add nuance to the written text, by creating tone and allegory. Thackeray also begins each chapter with a historiated initial - an illustrated capital that combines the functions of letter and picture in a way requiring readerly participation. Here, the many illustrations by the author are integral to an understanding of the novel. The reader must collaborate with the text in order to process both the word and picture at the same time. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll, contains 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. Because their intended audience was children, and because Carroll acknowledged Tenniel's greater experience in publishing matters, the author and illustrator of Wonderland were very mindful of the effect of their collaboration. I argue that the result is a combination of word and picture in which the pictorial representation of the protagonist melds with her written representation to form two views on one solid and realistic subject, reinforcing Alice's normality as she explores a strange dreamworld. Finally, I discuss an edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), published with illustrations by Hugh Thomson in 1894. The hundreds of line drawings in this edition draw attention to those aspects of the novel's plot most interesting to Thomson's late Victorian readership. The subtle gloss provided by these illustrations affected the way Austen entered the literary canon as well as the way Thomson's audience thought about Austen's own priorities. Ultimately, the four different scenarios I address - Dickens instructing his illustrator in an imperious manner, Thackeray illustrating his own written text, Carroll and Tenniel collaborating closely, and Hugh Thomson modifying Austen to suit his contemporary readership - each result in a different role for the illustrations in the narrative. In "Drawing Conclusions," I draw the conclusion that pictures can comment on, complicate, reinforce or update a written text based on the situation in which the written text and illustrations are combined.

  • A Pedagogy of Faith: The Theological Dimension of Paulo Freire's Educational Theory and Practice

    Author:
    Irwin Leopando
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ira Shor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the theological framework of Paulo Freire's radical-democratic pedagogy. Since the English-language publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1970, this Brazilian educator, activist, theorist, and public intellectual has been most commonly viewed in North America and Western Europe as a revolutionary Marxist, as a radical social democrat, or as a humanist educator. There has been a widespread among many of his readers to overlook the religious elements of his pedagogical system. This dissertation contends that a full account of Freire's lifelong work requires an exploration of its roots in mid-twentieth century Catholic thought, from the Christian humanism of Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier to the "prophetic" radicalism of Latin American liberation theology. It traces the evolution of Freire's thought from his immersion in middle-class Catholic activism before Brazil's April 1964 coup to his widely-acknowledged status as the most prominent and influential pedagogical thinker of his generation. It highlights the extent to which Freire's progressive Catholicism shaped such central aspects of his work as "conscientization," social justice, historical possibility, revolutionary socialism, and human nature, thus demonstrating the extent to which Freire's faith informed his pedagogical and political project.

  • Familiar Estrangements: Reading Family in Middle English Romance

    Author:
    Gary Lim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    This dissertation, Familiar Estrangements: Reading Family in Middle English Romance, explores the varied representations of marriage and family in Middle English romance. While Middle English romances often act with disciplinary force to cultivate and popularize ideals about the family, many romances also stand in ambivalent relationship to this disciplinary function. Even if they end up valorizing the nuclear family, they do so through circuitous routes—such as depicting surrogate father–child relationships, inter-racial marriages, the loss of family members, and adultery—as they imagine alternatives means by which families cohere. The chapters take up each of these themes in turn, through readings that are historicized against political and social realities, and informed by psychoanalytic theory. The dissertation begins with a discussion of how three popular romances—Sir Tryamour, Sir Cleges, and Sir Isumbras—idealize the nuclear family so as to advance the interests of their likely audience, the bourgeois-gentry class. Chapter two shows how this idealization is problematized, tracing the alternatives to nuclear families by examining the presence of surrogate fathers in Havelok the Dane, King Horn, and Bevis of Hampton, contextualizing this against the practice of wardship in the thirteenth century. The next chapter reads the inter-religious marriages of The King of Tars, The Sultan of Babylon, and Richard Coer de Lyon, arguing that the anxieties over inter-religious marriage and miscegenation reflect England's evolving attitudes towards its French heritage over the course of the Hundred Years War. Chapter four focuses on a single romance—Gower's "Apollonius of Tyre"—arguing that how the loss of family members is memorialized creates a 'virtual' family that is turned towards political ends. Chapter five examines how adultery is related to the conception of the family in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, contextualizing the work against the dynastic strife created by the Wars of the Roses. In general, the thesis argues that while ecclesiastical ideas about the family in the high and late Middle Ages began to produce what we would now recognize as nuclear families, the Middle English romance remained a vigorous site where alternatives to doctrinal ideals about the family were imagined.

  • Metachromatics: Applied Color Across Media in the Age of Composite Pictures (1839-1935)

    Author:
    Robert Machado
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation articulates an analytic for observing, measuring, contextualizing, recovering, and re-purposing chromatic fields within and across a variety of media and disciplines. Drawing on recent strategies within visual culture studies, including postclassical narratology, this framework adapts the historical division in aesthetics between color, and line and form, to examine color's differential status within verbal and visual expression and the social formations that its relations reflect, reinforce, or challenge. This enduring theoretical binarization--variously iterated and deployed at least since Antiquity--organizes an "inherent" opposition between color and line and form whose representation, by iconic analogy, has been used to assimilate and naturalize other binarically- construed ontologies, including identity formations, divisions of labor, and social hierarchies. In part because of its phenomenal instability, color within this discourse often functions as an especially receptive space into which constructions of non-figurability, alterity, abstraction, allusion, "essence," and desire are projected and inscribed. Opposite the indexical line and form of early photography and early cinema before the rise of "natural color" processes (1839-1935), and the "line and form" of narrative according to dominant theories of narratology, chromatic additions can be seen exemplifying this function. This dissertation tests the uses of this analytic within these media, and within considerations of intertexts and critical commentary that include intersections of realist and local color literature, Symbolist theater and painting, ekphrastic poetry, theories of art and sciences of vision, early photo-cinematic color labor, classical and postclassical narrative theory, and experimental methodologies of reading/reception.

  • Camp, the Canon, and a Performative Burlesque: Paula Vogel's Plays as Literary and Cultural Revision

    Author:
    Joanna Mansbridge
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the ways in which Paula Vogel's plays respond to and rewrite canonical texts, while simultaneously addressing contemporary concerns, such as domestic violence, pornography, pedophilia, and AIDS. Vogel's dialectical writing strategy encourages the audience to look at these cultural issues from a defamiliarized, historical perspective, so that they are seen less as sensationalized "issues" and more as historical questions that have accumulated meanings over time. In addition, since many of her plays rewrite texts by such canonical giants as Shakespeare, Edward Albee, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet, to engage with Vogel is to engage with the canon of theatre and literary studies, as it is restaged in a different historical context and recast with women at the center of the action. Responding to a predominantly male canon, Vogel shifts the focus away from an often universalized, truth-seeking male protagonist, placing women center stage, not as valorized heroines, but as conflicted characters who both enact and resist the discourses that constitute their bodies and identities. Thus, the overarching goal of this study is to examine the ways in which the dialectical structure and dramaturgical strategies of Vogel's plays offer another way of looking at the literary canon, social history, and contemporary American culture. Since Vogel's plays rewrite canonical texts, position women center stage, present polymorphous sexualities, and mobilize humor to approach uncomfortable topics, her plays employ a dramaturgical strategy that I am calling a "performative burlesque." While camp is the broader aesthetic within which Vogel works, burlesque foregrounds an eroticized female spectacle. A performative burlesque, as it operates in Vogel's plays, describes: a writing strategy that strips bodies and texts of their accumulated cultural connotations; a comedic blending of high and low forms; a mode of performance describing the ways in which her characters expose themselves, psychically, emotionally, and physically; an extension of a historical theatre practice that continues to inform the cultural meanings around women in performance, both on and off stage.