Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • How Does It Feel? Rationality and Affectivity in the Birth and Early Development of Rock and Roll

    Author:
    Grant Maxwell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    Through chapters on Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan, this dissertation examines the hypothesis that the music and culture of rock and roll have mediated a return of intuitive, affective, and somatic epistemological modes discursively repressed in modernity. Employing a theoretical perspective derived from thinkers such as Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, William James, Henri Bergson, and Alfred North Whitehead, it shows how perhaps the preeminent musical genre of the mid-twentieth century enacted a dialectical return to archaic modes of experience as a complement to the privileging of rationalism and materialism since the Enlightenment. At the genre's inception in the mid-nineteen fifties, Elvis Presley participated in one prominent performative inflection of the intimate reintegration of the privileging polarity of rationality over affect that had come to pervade predominant cultural streams in the West over the preceding centuries, exemplified in the Cartesian cogito, the explicit equation of thought with human being in general. Subsequently, the Beatles and Bob Dylan brought this integration to a climax, the Beatles in the more external, social mode of the band, and Dylan in the more internal, introspective mode of the individual singer-songwriter. Along with many other artists, Presley, the Beatles, and Dylan performed a fundamental transformation of culture whose implications still largely condition our aesthetic and psychological experience in the early twenty-first century. Most texts about these three artists (and there are many) are either simple biographical narratives or analyses of music and lyrics, so a similar project would be largely redundant. By contrast, employing the methods of literary criticism, this dissertation primarily explicates the rhetorical nuances of the written and oral narratives about these figures, which obliquely trace a philosophy of rock and roll. That is, rock and roll appears to be both catalyst and expression of a deep and relatively sudden epistemological shift initiated on a mass scale in the mid-twentieth century. Although this shift was presaged by the confluence of many factors--musical, cultural, aesthetic, political, and economic--these elements seem never to have been fully synthesized until the emergence of rock and roll, never fully realized in a single lineage (among other lineages in other media) until Dylan, the Beatles, and others produced complementary syntheses of the mode Presley and his milieu had initiated with numerous other artistic and intellectual movements.

  • Reading for the Pause: The Uses of Suspension in Nineteenth-Century British Poetry

    Author:
    Anne McCarthy
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Yousef
    Abstract:

    Reading for the Pause investigates the relationship among ethics, epistemology, and form in nineteenth-century poetry. Although they represent a number of different genres, the central texts--Coleridge's Christabel, Shelley's "Mont Blanc," Tennyson's Maud, Robert Browning's "An Epistle...of Karshish," and The Prince's Progress by Christina Rossetti--employ paradigmatic techniques, forms, and images of suspension, unsettling habitual patterns of language and knowledge. The pause of suspension, as distinct from the delays of narrative suspense, both marks the site of epistemological crisis and functions as a potentially powerful response to uncertainty that offers alternatives to skeptical detachment. The first two chapters establish suspension within Romantic discourses on the sublime. Coleridge defines the sublime as the "Suspension of our Comparing powers." Christabel--a text identified with both the "willing suspension of disbelief" and presumably unwilled conditions of "suspended animation"--dramatizes the impasse of an ambivalent sublime. The "trance sublime and strange" in "Mont Blanc" has often been taken as a figure for passive receptivity, but a broader consideration of Shelley's poetry reveals suspension to be a creatively enabling, embodied posture. The second half of this project traces the development of suspension as a mode of not-knowing in the poetry of the later nineteenth century. Maud mobilizes images of suspended animation and premature burial in order to draw attention to dilemmas of signification caused by a language whose referential status always remains uncertain. The dramatic monologue "Karshish" has generally been read as a straightforward retelling of Christ's miraculous resurrection of Lazarus, yet a reading attentive to forms of suspension reveals a more complicated approach to gospel truth. Readers must suspend their own religious knowledge and enter into Karshish's drama of uncertainty. The concluding chapter uses suspension to reconsider the manifestations of religious faith in the poetry of Christina Rossetti. Far from reflecting a posture of renunciation and withdrawal, Rossetti's poetic practices reflect a deep engagement with what she elsewhere calls the "divergences" that order the human world. What thus begins as the visionary experience of the Romantic sublime emerges in mid-nineteenth-century poetry as "poetic faith": a posture of awareness, receptivity, and engagement poised between knowing and not knowing.

  • THE PROTEUS OF THE MIND: CREATIVE IMAGINATION IN PSYCHOLOGY AND LITERATURE AT THE FIN DE SIÈCLE

    Author:
    Elizabeth McCormick
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard Kaye
    Abstract:

    This project will demonstrate the critical role writers played in the fin de siècle cultural conversation about the mental faculty of creative imagination through an analysis of the many characterizations of artists and scenes of creative action in biographies and fiction written by Oscar Wilde, Jean Lorrain, Una Ashworth Taylor, Rachilde, Maurice Barrès, W.B. Yeats, Arthur Symonds and A. Mary F. Robinson. While earlier philosophic orthodoxy had treated creativity as an essentially mysterious process, by the turn-of-the-century, the agnostic cloud that had settled over a post-Darwinian intelligentsia transformed these earlier notions of creativity in radical ways as biology came to dictate the terms of socio-medical discussions about psychology. New models for the imagination emerged out of the era's discourses about evolution, degeneracy, psychosis and the supernatural. Late 19th century biographies of artists - like those of Ernest Dowson, Rachilde, Emily Brontë and William Blake studied in this project - illustrate many of these new concepts. Jean Lorrain's "The Man Who Made Wax Heads" and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray explore the sexual, psychological and violent dimensions of human creativity. Ideas about gender and creativity in the period were challenged in texts like Rachilde's Monsieur Vénus and Una Ashworth Taylor's "The Truce of God."

  • The Open Wound: Writing Black Female Bodies

    Author:
    Stacie McCormick
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Barbara Webb
    Abstract:

    This study explores the various methods that black women writers use to depict the black female body in pain. Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World theorizes that pain has a language-destroying power and that it often defies expression. Thus, I will argue that in endeavoring to express pain, the writers examined in this study utilize the creative process to work around the barriers presented in the effort to express pain. I discuss various creative approaches that the writers under discussion take up and what results from those approaches. Works examined in this study include: Suzan-Lori Parks' Venus, Robbie McCauley's Sally's Rape, Octavia Butler's Kindred, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Gayl Jones' Corregidora, Edwige Dandicat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother and Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother. The collection of writers that I have assembled for this analysis write the black female body into visibility, narrativize the history of black women's bodies in the West, and illustrate the difficulty in expressing black women's pain. This project will take on a multi-genre approach which includes drama, novels, and non-fiction prose by black women writers. I not only intend to analyze the function of the written word in these works, but with respect to drama, I will analyze how the black female body is presented on stage. Also, I will explore how non-fiction deepens our understanding of fictive works. A multi-genre approach allows for an understanding of how black women's bodies are depicted from several vantage points. In addition to analyzing various approaches to expressing pain, I will consider how these works prompt deeper thought on various theoretical notions such as: the difficulty inherent in rendering experiences of pain into language and the implications of doing so, and whether or not there is potential for healing the historical wounds by grappling with these experiences of pain.

  • "'The Naked Gospel': Varieties of American Religious Poetry, From Richard Henry Dana to Herman Melville

    Author:
    Mark McCullough
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    "'The Naked Gospel': Varieties of American Religious Poetry, From Richard Henry Dana to Herman Melville" examines the term "religious" in nineteenth-century America poetry. Without ignoring the enormous influence of European and British Romanticisms, it positions a rich but neglected body of nineteenth-century American religious verse vis-à-vis American commentary and criticism of the period. It surveys attempts by nineteenth-century American editors and writers to collect and represent a native religious verse and outlines the standards by which an American poem was judged as "religious." These judgments, my study argues, reflect how deeply rooted Romantic thought had become in American denominational identity, even before the influence of Emerson on American culture was widespread, and reveal the extent to which temperament, not theology, was the shared interpretive frame for the selection, as well as the production, of American religious poetry. In light of these views of the period's interpenetration of Romantic thought and American religious identity, my study examines further the verse of three Americans who were identified by their contemporaries as "religious" poets: the contemplative verse of Calvinist-Romantic Richard Henry Dana, the devotional lyrics of Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier, and "The Cathedral," James Russell Lowell's poem which, in narrating a pilgrimage to Chartres, depicts the collision between the ecclesiastical imagination of Anglo-Catholic poetics and the iconoclasm of modern skepticism. Selected for their commitment to an established faith-tradition (Calvinism, Quakerism) or, in the case of "The Cathedral," a recognizable "indebtedness to the faith...eschewed" (Anglo-Catholicism), these religious poems resist the dichotomy between tradition and insight, or the easy passage from doctrine to imagination, and seek insight through available forms of Christian tradition, though not without great difficulty. In keeping with the desire to discuss nineteenth-century American religious verse within an American context, I call upon James, whose work Varieties supplies my study with a critical vocabulary, a structure, and an interpretive frame. Like the religious anthologies outlined in my introduction, James' discussion of religious experience is a compendium of Christian temperaments not theologies, "ways of feeling" religious, not "spiritual." Two of these temperaments, "the sick soul," and "mysticism," along with what James identified as the twin ends of the "ecclesiastical system" and "naked gospel scheme," provide a structure for my study's individual chapters.  

  • Gracious Affections: Affect and the Rise of Evangelicalism in Early America

    Author:
    Neil Meyer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I build on current theorists of affect in order to critically foreground the centrality of embodied religious experience in the spread of evangelicalism through the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century United States and the larger Atlantic world. I argue that the social and embodied religious practices within evangelical public spaces altered the writing and reading practices of evangelicals in the early republic by attempting to recreate, but also limit, the powerful and embodied religious feelings created within those spaces. This dissertation is structured around the writing and embodied practices of lay publics who were animated by the ecstatic religious experiences found at revivals and other religious gatherings and the work of ministers who sought to both propagate and control that energy through the authority of the clergy. By bringing the fields of literary studies, religious history, queer theory, and theories of affect into conversation around evangelicalism, this dissertation revises the conventional wisdom of American religious history, and offers new ways to understand evangelicalism's complex influence on early American writing practices and the greater culture at large.

  • Everyday Masochisms: Charlotte Bronte, George Moore, D.H. Lawrence, and Jean Rhys

    Author:
    Jennifer Mitchell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard Kaye
    Abstract:

    This dissertation argues for the magnitude of a critical literary period in the development and exploration of theories about masochism. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth-century, discourses about sexuality become more publicly accessible. Circulating ideas by sexologists Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, and psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud, encourage a public conversation about sex, desire, and identity. Both novelists and their readers find themselves in a groundbreaking space that fosters a rethinking of sexual selfhood. Instead of relegating masochism to institutions, brothels, and case studies, Charlotte Brontë, George Moore, D.H. Lawrence, and Jean Rhys provide representations of masochism that are far more ordinary, surfacing in various everyday experiences. I analyze the existence of different portrayals of masochistic relationships: courtships and partnerships in Villette (1860), unrequited lesbian desire and its reincarnation as religious zeal in A Drama in Muslin (1886), surprisingly dynamic marital partnerships in The Rainbow (1915), and an adulterous love triangle in Quartet (1928). I begin with a reading of the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah in conjunction with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's foundational Venus in Furs in order to develop and contextualize a transhistorical masochistic lineage. Finally, this project looks ahead to Ian McEwan's TThe Comfort of Strangers (1981), which notably returns to the enactment of more literal sadistic and masochistic fantasies, furthering emphasizing the unique literary approaches to masochism covered by the four main authors in this project.

  • "IT WAS EASY": HOW AMERICAN CULTURE TURNED THE VETERAN INTO THE MAN, 1944-1959

    Author:
    Erin Mock
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    When millions of GIs returned in 1945, Americans tried to establish a brand new era, infused with optimism and prosperity, in which the war was decidedly over. In historic numbers, Americans married, had children, and purchased goods and homes, but they did so while mostly concealing their fear that the war was not over, at least not in the psyches of men. As such, the protection of society from men was the central concern of postwar American culture. Many scholars and historians have studied "shellshock," which illustrates this dangerous potential turned inward, but the apocalyptic possibilities of an entire generation of men erupting in violence are rarely commented upon, though they are quietly ever-present in period. Furthermore, this terror of veterans deepened into a generalized fear and suspicion of men's "inherent" violence and hyper-sexuality, which defined masculinity thereafter. This dissertation engages with film, media, literature, earlier treatments of the period, and gender and sexuality studies to advance a new perspective on the artistic and cultural output of and about the "Greatest Generation," arguing that anxiety about men's violent and erotic potential emerged differently in different forms, genres, and media, but nonetheless permeated American culture in these years.

  • Embedded Forms and the Progressive Wonders of The Winter's Tale

    Author:
    Emily Moore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard McCoy
    Abstract:

    Written in an age of theatrical experimentation, The Winter’s Tale stands out even amid the lively playhouse practices of its day for its allusions to multiple genres, ranging from the overt theatrical genres of tragedy and comedy, to contemporaneous subgenres such as pastoral tragicomedy and masque, to non–theatrical entertainments such as bearbaiting, broadside ballads, and statue–viewing. While prior critics have treated the play’s numerous generic allusions in isolation, this dissertation reads The Winter’s Tale as a progression of embedded forms meant to condition a sequence of affective and increasingly interactive audience responses, thus preparing Shakespeare’s audience for the redemptive, participatory wonders of the final act. My three chapters trace Shakespeare’s evocation of tragic tropes and rigid pageantry in the first half of the play; his nods to raucous, contemporaneous forms such as bearbaiting and pastoral tragicomedy in Acts III and IV; and the fading, nostalgia–inducing miracle plays and “old tales” he uses to frame the wonders of Act V. I argue that, through this progression, Shakespeare rejects the tyrannical, controlling visions of Leontes in favor of the participatory marvels of Act V, dismissing rigid, patriarchal forms such as Leontes’ show trial while ultimately elevating generative, interactive, feminine forms such as Marian miracle plays and old wives’ tales. Reading The Winter’s Tale as a late career ars poetica designed to test and reinvigorate the theatrical faith of Shakespeare’s audience, my dissertation explores the sprawling yet rigorous poetic logic behind the play’s generic mixing.

  • Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters

    Author:
    Claudia Moreno Pisano
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters presents the correspondence of twentieth-century American poets Edward Dorn and Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) between the years 1959 and 1965. Having seen several poems of Dorn's in various small literary magazines, Baraka began writing to him with praises and a request for poems for his own magazine, Yugen. During this time, Dorn lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and then Pocatello, Idaho, while Jones lived in New York City. The major basis of their relationship, and these letters, is undoubtedly an artistic one, the early 1960s finding both poets just beginning to publish and becoming active, public figures. With the sense of art as not only a valid but a necessary means of grappling with and understanding both the beautiful and the horrific in the world fueling each poet, the letters become both reflection and place of creation, the ground upon which to experiment. Baraka's independent magazines Yugen and The Floating Bear and independent publishing house Totem Press were key in providing space for numerous artists from several different strands in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. He published two of Dorn's poetry collections through Totem/Corinth presses, and saw several of Dorn's poems into print in both Yugen and The Floating Bear. These two little magazines became focal points for mid-century artistic ferment, publishing new, highly outspoken and radical poets from all over the U.S. This publishing space helped break down the geographical and human isolation in which so many of these poets found themselves, which is part of the story of Dorn and Jones's friendship itself. If we think of a text as defining political boundaries and providing historical continuity, these letters constitute the history of these poets and their times better than many other forms of documented history. As both historical and autobiographical lens into two key writers at the very pulse of the turbulent cultural and political happenings of mid-century America, these letters reveal an extraordinary snapshot of American identity and history.