Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.