2017 Thesis Abstracts
What Works?; Modes of Drama in Twentieth Century Dublin Working Class Theatre
Directed by Susan Cannon Harris
This thesis addresses the legacy of Irish working class playwright Seán O’Casey, and how his work manifests itself in more contemporary Dublin writers like Paula Meehan. O’Casey and Meehan’s writing spans the entirety of the twentieth century, but the problems plaguing the working class in O’Casey’s tenement plays of the 1920s seem to be the same as those in Meehan’s play Mrs Sweeney produced in 1997. As we move through generations, substantial cultural change is often confused with what Joe Cleary refers to as “basic novelty.” Simply the emergence of new women writers or new urban writing does not signify some great cultural shift; this novelty is meaningless unless it arises from the rubble of its previous system, and unless that metamorphosis is properly assessed in criticism. The importance of Paula Meehan’s Mrs Sweeney is not found in that fact that she is a female playwright—though the likes of which are few and far between in the Irish theatre tradition—nor is it found in the fact that this play gives microcosmic insight into a 1990s Dublin working class community crushed by the weight of a heroin epidemic. Mrs Sweeney is in fact not novel; theatre critic Fintan O’Toole asserts that the play might as well be called Juno and the Pigeon because of its blatant reproduction of O’Casey’s 1924 Juno and the Paycock and its allusion to the Irish myth Sweeney Among the Branches. I argue that O’Casey’s impact on Meehan’s writing goes even further; Mrs Sweeney is an attempt to find a solution to the battle of dramatic modes that spans O’Casey’s oeuvre as he tries to leave the naturalism of his Dublin trilogy behind to experiment with expressionist forms. While Mrs Sweeney is a tenement play with similar themes as Juno, Meehan does not relegate herself to the strictly realist drama of the trilogy. She takes O’Casey’s less successful, but more experimental, plays from his middle period into account. By replicating and updating these quintessential works of Irish drama and mythology, Meehan makes the bold statement that life in Dublin’s inner city is not novel by any means. By subverting the determinism in Juno, Meehan proves that the simultaneous employment of realist and expressionist techniques is absolutely necessary when attempting to show an audience the objective truth of working class life while still leaving room for hope and the possibility of social change within the current world order.
Finding Heaven: Space, Time, and Mercy in Bleak House and The Wire
Directed by Sara Maurer
Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and David Simons’ HBO show The Wire are both concerned with cities governed by strict rules and rigidly partitioned space. In both works, life is dominated by the rules that characterize “the game,” and space as finitely gridded as a chessboard. But Dickens and Simons both write off-script moments—acts of mercy—that occur despite the presence of the rules and disrupt the usual order and rhythm of life. Most acts of mercy in Bleak House are an acknowledgment that it is possible to suspend the rigid rules governing social class and to challenge the respectability afforded—or not—to certain spaces. In The Wire, mercy functions slightly differently: it often opposes the institutional or adversarial nature of many spaces, reordering them into places momentarily organized according to personal relationships rather than official ones. And for both texts, the fundamental function of acts of mercy is the same. Mercy cannot be mapped, but its presence allows for a momentary suspension of the rules. Via acts of mercy, Dickens and Simons ever-so-slightly alter the space of the cities they have written. Acts of mercy create liminal spaces, slivers of place just outside the regular order of the rules, and it is the existence of this liminal space that challenges characters and readers alike to view their worlds a little differently.
I Shot a Man in Brooklyn (Just to Watch Him Die): Lineage and Location in Paul’s Boutique and Underworld
Directed by Matthew Wilkins
Released in 1989, The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique speaks to the postmodern cultural context
in which it was created and the anxieties of consumption. Postmodernity entails an ever-present
feeling of presentness, a result of societal inundation of mass production and impersonality. The
work addresses such concerns within with the limitations of its own media form, especially
through its characteristic use of sampling. Brief sections of existing songs are pieced together to
form instrumentals with the listener made to reify the track as one song. Fundamentally, Paul’s
Boutique is an album about temporal location, about the process of making a record out of that
which came before. In the same way, Don DeLillo’s Underworld reorders readers in a
fragmented world, making them assemble the narratives of that world’s constituent elements.
Protagonist Nick Shay as well as a game-winning baseball from a Giants-Dodgers National
League championship raise questions as to their respective origins, which the novel’s non-linear
plot gradually answers. The reader has to reconstruct their backgrounds. I will examine both
texts as they relate to the work postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson and how each employs what
Jameson calls a “cognitive map” as a way of orientation within a disordered milieu, both for the
consumers of the art and for the artists themselves. Specifically, I will look at the function of
waste; waste constitutes the unavoidable remnants, the formative moments, the cultural
consumption that is important but difficult to deal with. Ultimately, each text is executed towards
the same ends – reconnection and engagement with the past.
Masculinity and Independent People: How Laxness Negotiates Icelandic Sagas with Hemingway’s Modernism.
Directed by Tim Machan
Born within three years of each other, winning Nobel Prizes in Literature in consecutive years, possessing writing styles reminiscent of each other’s, and both heralded as masters of the modernist novel tradition, authors Halldór Laxness and Ernest Hemingway in many ways had parallel careers. Despite these similarities, in their writings, they proclaimed vastly different ideas about the social structure of their world and the place of masculinity. What accounts for that divergence? This thesis will explore how masculinity is portrayed in Ernest Hemingway’s works and in Halldór Laxness’ Independent People. For both authors, masculinity is represented as something of a burden, but for Hemingway this burden is one that must be negotiated into meaning because it is an intrinsic part of their identity and place in society. Struggles to reach a masculine ideal are endured in earnest. However, with Laxness, the masculine ideal and any attempts to secure it are treated satirically, revealing those strictly gendered rules not only limiting and harmful but also just wrong. To explain this difference in two such parallel writers’ worldviews, I consider how these modernist writers are necessarily affected by the environment out of which they arise, and will consequently define the world differently. Focusing on Laxness, I explain his understanding of masculinity as a direct descendent of the social commentary found in the medieval Icelandic sagas. Through a close analysis of his writing as well as the writing in Njál’s Saga in particular, I reveal how that ancestry plays a more influential role in configuring Laxness’ perspective on masculinity than the Hemingway modernism that so influenced his writing style.
The Leech in Literature: The Scarlet Letter and Sovereignty Politics Exposed by the Physician Character in 19th Century American Literature
Directed by Nan Da
My thesis in fulfillment of an honors concentration in English focuses on physician characters in literature, particularly in the 19th century American sphere. This investigation addresses the purpose of identifying a character on the basis of profession and how profession came to be so intimately linked with identity. In the context of American literature, this conversation encompasses the interplay between literature of the age and historic realities that affect the reception of those works. In particular, this requires an understanding of how physician characters negotiate boundaries of national sovereignty and personal autonomy as they bridge the gap between authorities and citizens, especially in a space as delicate as human healthcare.
The critical sources with which I am engaging tend to fall into two classes: (1) those that address Roger Chillingworth and his role in The Scarlet Letter (either specifically as a physician or generally in relation to other character of Hawthorne’s world, such as in the position of foil to Arthur Dimmesdale) or (2) those that confront the nature of 19th century physicians and contemporary opinions concerning their role in American society. While much as naturally changed since the 19th century, many of our conceptions of physicians remain intact and are consistent across scholarly analyses throughout the 19th-21st centuries.
My role is to link these two critical contexts by highlighting Chillingworth as an example of the social consciousness surrounding American medical professionals in the 19th century, specifically the role of the physician as one component of a rich fabric of sovereignty politics in America. While most critical sources regarding Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter reference the fact that Chillingworth is a physician, they do not delve into the reasons why he is characterized by this profession and what his position is in society. The scholarship notices the professional identity of Chillingworth, but stops short of investigating its significance.
My task is to define for my reader what exactly it means to be a physician, especially within the framework of 19th century America, and how Roger Chillingworth uses his professional title in relation to the other characters in the novel. Those relationships, particularly that with his primary patient Reverend Dimmesdale, chart the evolution of clinical practice at this point in medical history. The emergence of hospital-based medicine translates into an often-inequitable relationship between doctor and patient but the maintenance of some principles of older medical cosmologies indicates a trend of compromise and social navigation accomplished by Hawthorne through his physician character. In this way, The Scarlet Letter is deeply representative of the time of its publication, in which social anxieties abounded in the age of the American Renaissance, and literature sought to mitigate these concerns.
Blessed are the Best Minds: Beat Spirituality in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl
Directed by Henry Weinfield
Ginsberg’s 1956 protest poem Howl became a manifesto of the Beat Generation. In its examination of the poem, this thesis considers four primary connotations of the word itself: first, “beat” as a pulse and rhythm, as in jazz; second, “beat” as a condition of being outcast, marginalized, down-and-out; third, “beat” as a state of emptiness that encourages sympathy, understanding, and human connection; fourth, and most profoundly, “beat” as in beatitude, which refers to blessedness and spiritual illumination. I argue that each of Howl’sfour sections reflects one or more meanings of the term in both form and content. As such, it is highly representative of the movement and that for which it stood. The progression of these senses of “beat” confirms a movement toward religious illumination and fulfillment that, in my view, is central to the poem. The condition of being “beat” has a purpose that is redemptive; the overwhelming tone of suffering associated with the condition of being “beat” is redeemed by the religious and beatific illumination made manifest by the time we reach Part IV of the poem. Beatness is, at its heart, an opening to transcendent, religious encounter. This paper—which largely takes the form of a close reading of the poem’s four parts—explores the ways in which the presence of each connotation of “beat” lays the foundation for this beatific redemption.
The Nature and Consequence of Ezra Pound’s “Conservatism”
Directed by Stephen Fredman
Despite strong authoritarian tendencies and eclectic policy predilections, Ezra Pound is often popularly understood as a “conservative” writer and thinker, a shorthand that fits nicely on our modern bipolar political spectrum, but is not particular useful for understanding Pound’s philosophical complexities. This paper explores the political ideology of Ezra Pound and how the poems that make up “The Fifth Decad” of his epic The Cantos can be used to understand where Pound stands in relation to conservatism, as defined by Russell Kirk in his urtext on conservatism, The Conservative Mind. Rather than a true conservative, Pound is a reactionary, and a revolutionary one at that, and he shares little affinity with conservatives for the preservation of present institutions like liberty, Judeo-Christian morality, and Western tradition. This conception of Pound’s politics is vital, as it offers a means of understanding his anti-Semitism, which is a direct result of his reactionary anti-liberal and anti-conservative views, rather than an incidental attribute of his ideology, arising from happenstance, personal experiences, or otherwise. By understanding Pound ‘s bigotry as a necessary result of the political ideology espoused in his poetry, we are better equipped to counter bigoted politics in our modern day and recognize the language used to formulate reactionary and authoritarian politics that lead to such bigotry.
“Enquadrando as Massas:” The Effects of Rhetoric on Memory During and After Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo
Directed by John Duffy
During the 1960s and 1970s, more than 150,000 Portuguese people left their native Azores islands and settled in the US. In 1974, Antonio Salazar’s government, Estado Novo, was overturned by a military coup in Lisbon, Portugal. Distance--geographic, cultural, and temporal-- created a sociological divide between Portuguese-Americans and Portuguese citizens who were born in the same place but came into adulthood in different countries. I look specifically at how Salazar used rhetoric to shape Portuguese identity through the education system, emphasizing the importance of God, family, and Fatherland. I analyze Portuguese textbooks printed during Estado Novo in conjunction with the secondary analyses to understand Salazar’s use of propaganda and political power in shaping cultural identity. I then present interviews from Portuguese and Portuguese-Americans who lived during Estado Novo, demonstrating the divergence in cultural memory based on their understanding of Salazar’s regime.
I hope to explore how Salazar’s legacy through education as propaganda has challenged what it means to be Portuguese in the twenty-first century, both for those in America and those who remain in the Azores Islands.
Unmasking Stigma: Chaos as Settings for Identity Experimentation in Frances Burney’s Camillla, or a Picture of Youth
Directed by Essaka Joshua
In Frances Burney’s Camilla, settings of chaos allow characters to break from expected, ritualized performances of identity. This deviancy creates opportunities for the emergence and management of social stigma. Stigmas associated with gender and disability are then performed or managed in accordance with the social value they are given. One character, Indiana, exploits the expected performance of femininity as fragility to wield her social power. In settings of chaos, social order is confused and ambiguous. It is a fluid space of experimentation. Samuel Johnson defined chaos as “The mass of matter supposed to be in confusion before it was divided by creation into its proper classes and elements.” As this definition suggests, chaos must be resolved into an ordered structure or the dominant state. In the midst of the French Revolution, Burney grapples with the issue of a stable social order, experimenting in particular with inadvertent adherence to and deviance from social norms.
Hard New World: An Examination of Dissociative Masculinity in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Directed by Cyraina Johnson-Roullier
Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao explores the Dominican immigrant experience following Rafael Trujillo’s tyrannical reign, and Trujillo’s influence reverberates throughout the novel. The De León family’s members all bear scars from Trujillo’s regime, physically and emotionally, just as many other Dominican immigrants do on the streets of Washington Heights. Trujillo’s legacy casts a long shadow, one that has chilling effects on individuals who fail to meet masculinity benchmarks, such as Díaz’s protagonist, Oscar De León. Oscar lacks a killer instinct, an intangible, aggressive nature that so many “alpha-male” Trujillo cronies possessed. These cronies held positions of political and social power and were universally feared in Santo Domingo. They were not individuals that one would ever cross, and if a person were to say the wrong thing or make the wrong move, the poor sap and all of his descendants would suffer mightily. Oscar, like many of his peers, cannot help but recall these sorts of masculine figures, corrupt paragons of power whom he knows that he will never resemble, not even in his wildest dreams. However, his harsh social reality does not prevent him from fantasizing about power in his own way. Oscar’s ability to dissociate himself from this reality grants him a form of power that he would have never otherwise possessed. In this way, Oscar rewrites himself as an "alpha-male” whose powers allow him to obliterate his competitors.
Transcending Localities: Space, Place, and Nostalgia in the Writings of Bruce Springsteen and John K. Samson
Directed by Romana Huk
In this thesis, I will examine two important questions. First: How do the writers Bruce Springsteen and John K. Samson take their constant utilization of familiar landscapes and turn them into spaces that seem familiar to listeners, spaces that transcend their own localities? Second: Why do Springsteen and Samson perpetually return to their hometowns in their writing? The two writers work within what we might recognize as new paradigms of nostalgia, particularly on the margins – types of nostalgia that can be positive and poignant, rather than negative. Additionally, they operate in between-spaces that allow their deeply personal lyrics to move beyond the specific areas about which they are written. The writers are able to move beyond their own specificities through the use of liminalities and between spaces - spaces such as highways and construction sites, or spaces that seems to exist on the periphery of our own world.
Ultimately, Springsteen and Samson diverge in their types of nostalgia – Springsteen works toward a restoration of his personal past, while Samson retraces histories. Both Springsteen and Samson write about leaving and returning - residents of the towns are pulled away, yet there is always a pull back. These qualities could describe any number of towns in today’s Canada or United States. By operating within spaces of liminality and within ideas of restoring or retracing nostalgia, both Samson and Springsteen truly capture what is perhaps the most natural and familiar feeling in the world: the desire to escape from your hometown, only to realize, when you have matured, what you’ve left behind, or left unfinished in your personal life. The process of Springsteen’s and Samson’s attempts to grapple with those feelings reveal the different, yet powerful ways that nostalgia, space, and place allow them to transcend the localities of their lyrics.