Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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through her archive and activism, through nearly all of her poetry collections, in numerous out of print essays and unpublished poems, and in diaries and correspondences that retell again and again the scenes of possibility, of freedom, of desire, of violence and of subjectivity that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 The story of Spain is most fully developed in her unpublished novel, Savage Coast, which is edited and presented here for the first time.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.

  • READING FOR (THE) REAL: BETWEEN JACQUES LACAN AND NARRATIVE PLOT

    Author:
    Jungchun Ko
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Anne Humpherys
    Abstract:

    This dissertation uses Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to dialogue with narrative theory: it investigates, on the global level, the raison d'être of narrative and questions, in particular, the existing narratological framework wherein the workings of plot have been discussed and apprehended. Inspired by Peter Brooks' classic Reading for the Plot (1984), this dissertation continues to forge an interconnection between human psychical dynamics and literary textual dynamics. More, it aims at reopening such a discussion of plot apropos of narrative meaning, naming gaps therein, and proposing some possible alternative terms with which to further along narrative/plot studies. In order to accomplish the abovementioned objectives, this dissertation brings in Lacanian theory and vocabulary to rethink, among all, the role of desire in narrative vis-à-vis that in the human subject--it argues in the first place that narrative's desire is the desire of the human subject (an extension of Lacan's famous dictum, one's desire is the desire of the Other). This formulation of an underpinning argument may sound too simple, but what the human subject desires remains an ever-perplexing one. Within the context of Lacanian theory, desire is never an independent term, being self-sufficient or unrelated to the other concepts. Rather, the Lacanian notion of desire points to a web of desire that revolves around such other locutions as (and placed here in random order): the real, lack, anxiety, the pleasure principle, jouissance, the symbolic, the Other, objet petit a, mastery, limit, and freedom. Premised on the argument that narrative's desire is the desire of the human subject and on the compass of Lacanian desire, this dissertation investigates the workings of the web of desire in narrative. Plot serves as the narrative agent that puts the web of desire--both in narrative and the human subject--in operation. Therewith posits this dissertation a way, a theory, to apprehend the psychological premise of narrative beginnings, the acting-out of narrative middles, and affective enjoyments embedded within narrative endings. Reading for the plot, this work concludes, is reading for more than pleasure. Reading for the plot is, rather, reading for the affective aesthetics of the human condition.

  • 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.