Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Instabilities in the Identity of an Artistic Tradition as "Persian," “Islamic," and “Iranian” in the Shadow of Orientalism
This dissertation is a critical review of the discursive formation of Islamic art in the twentieth century and the continuing problems that the early categorization of this discipline carries. It deals with the impact of these problems on the conceptualization of another category, Persian art. The subject is expounded by three propositions. First, the category of Islamic art was initially a product of Orientalism formulated regardless of the indigenous/Islamic knowledge of art. Second, during the early period when art historians examined different theoretical dimensions for constructing an aesthetic of Islamic art in the West, they imposed a temporal framework on Islamic art in which excluded the non-traditional and contemporary art of Islamic countries. Third, after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian scholars eventually imposed academic authority over the discipline of Persian/Islamic art, they adopted the same inadequate methodologies that were initially used in some of the early studies on the art of the Muslims. These propositions are elaborated by examples from twentieth-century Iranian movements in painting, The Coffeehouse Painting and The School of Saqqakhaneh, and the incident of swapping Willem de Kooning’s painting Woman III with the dismembered manuscript of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp in 1994. The conceptualization of Islamic art as a discipline is also discussed in relation to the twentieth-century cultural context of Iran. The argument is divided into three chapters in relation to three important historical moments in the history of contemporary Iran: The Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911), the modernization of Iran (1925-1975), and the Islamic Revolution (1979-onward). The formation of the discourse of Islamic art is the fruit of nineteenth-century Orientalism. Out of this discourse, Persian art as a modern discourse addressing the visual culture of Pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran came into being. I claim that after the Islamic Revolution, Iranian academics demonstrate a theoretical loyalty to the early theorizations of Islamic/Persian art. By this token, visual signs are given a meta-signified in the narrative of Islamic art. The ontological definition of this meta-signified is subjected to the dominant ideology, which determines how different centers of meaning should come into being and disappear. In the post-Revolution academia, the center is construed as the transcendental signified. Such inherence resulted in a fallacy in the reading of the Persian side of Islamic art, to which I refer as the “signification fallacy.” The dissertation draws on the consequences of this fallacy in the critique of Islamic art. Keywords: Persian art, Islamic art, Iranian art; Persian classical literature, Narrative. Image, Representation, Aniconism, Abstraction, Modernity, Tradition, Orientalism, The Constitutional Revolution, Modernization, The Islamic Revolution. Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, The Coffeehouse Painting, The School of Saqqakhaneh; Modernism: Woman III. Author Keywords: Iranian Art, Islamic Art, Orientalism, Persian Art, The Constitutional Revolution, The Islamic Revolution
All Things Fusible
This dissertation presents the work of the American science fiction writer Neal Stephenson as a case study of mediations between literature and science by mobilizing its resonances with contemporary science studies and media theory. Tracing the historical and thematic trajectory of his consecutively published novels Snow Crash (1992), The Diamond Age; or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995), Cryptonomicon (1999), Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle I (2003), The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle II (2004), and The System of the World: The Baroque Cycle III (2004), it approaches Stephenson’s fiction as an archaeology of the deep history of science that leads from late twentieth-century cyberculture, to world-war-two cryptography, and the seventeenth-century rise of the Royal Society. Refracted through a parallel reading of Stephenson’s novels and the theoretical work of Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, Friedrich A. Kittler, Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, and others, this dissertation offers a literary discussion of the relations among cybernetics, complexity theory, information theory, systems theory, Leibnizian metaphysics, and Newtonian alchemy. Recognizing these hybrid fields as central to contemporary dialogues between the natural sciences and the humanities, Stephenson’s work is shown to exhibit a consistent engagement with the feedback loops among physical, artistic, narratological, and epistemological processes of innovation and emergence. Through his portrayal of hackers, mathematicians, natural philosophers, alchemists, vagabonds, and couriers as permutations of trickster figures, this dissertation advances a generalized notion of boundary transgressions and media infrastructures to illustrate how newness emerges by way of the turbulent con-fusion of disciplines, genres, knowledge systems, historical linearities, and physical environments. Uninterested in rigid genre boundaries, Stephenson’s novels are explored through the links among artistic modes that range from cyberpunk, to hard science fiction, historiographic metafiction, the carnivalesque, and the baroque. In a metabolization of the work performed by science studies, Stephenson’s fiction foregrounds that scientific practice is always intimately entangled in narrative, politics, metaphor, myth, and the circulation of a multiplicity of human and nonhuman agents. As the first sustained analysis of this segment of Stephenson’s work, this dissertation offers a contribution to both science fiction studies and the wider field of literature and science. Author Keywords: Complexity Theory, Cyberpunk, Michel Serres, Neal Stephenson, Science Fiction, Science Studies
Making Mockeries, Making Connections
Parody has been a strategy within cultural production since the ancient Greeks: “paraodia” referred to a song sung alongside the main narrative thread of a dramatic work; the prefix “para-” also signifies “against.” In A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-century Art Forms, Linda Hutcheon offers this core definition: parody is “a form of repetition with ironic critical distance, marking difference rather than similarity … [with] tension between the potentially conservative effect of repetition and the potentially revolutionary impact of difference” (xii). This and other aspects of Hutcheon’s theory guide my interpretations of works by three contemporary artists working in Canada: Sybil Lamb’s novel I’ve Got a Time Bomb; Ursula Johnson’s (Mi’kmaq) three-part exhibition Mi’kwite’tmn (Do You Remember); and Kent Monkman’s (Cree and Irish) exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. I argue that the presence of parodic elements in these artists’ works enables them to do two things: to claim spaces that enable recognition of their subject positions, and to critique an aspect of hegemonic norms in contemporary society. I read Lamb’s novel as a critique of the heteronormative gender binary via parody of the picaresque genre and of heteronormative discourse/language. Certain pieces in Monkman’s exhibition parody the epistemological and display strategies of traditional Eurocentric anthropological museums and archives, as can Johnson’s work; her sculptural-installations may also be read as parodying the traditions of Mi’kmaw basket-making. The work of both artists critiques colonial narratives that sought (and may still seek) to denigrate and/or erase Indigenous peoples; such narratives of cultural genocide were both tacitly and directly propagated by museums. I analyze these three artists’ works, considering key features of parody (ambiguity; irony and “double-voicedness”; trans-contextualization; and humour), and their effects (defamiliarization; ontological instability; complicity; and laughter). Parody challenges the post-structuralist emphasis on the “decoder,” (viewer/reader) reinstating the “encoder” (artist/author) as agent. Decoders recognize their complicity within the context of the hegemonic narrative, whether the heteronormative gender binary or colonialism, and may come to shift perception – as per Hutcheon’s “potentially revolutionary impact.” Author Keywords: contemporary art, Indigenous art, museum history, parody, picaresque, transgender literature
Agony of Writing Or Ambivalent Reversal In Baudrillard's Stylistic Metamorphoses
Following Baudrillard's conceptual and stylistic shift of the mid-70s, this thesis argues that said shift is accounted for by understanding the ontological quandary Baudrillard found himself in after developing a theoretical agonism impossible to divorce from the practice of writing. By tracing the conceptual metamorphoses of key terms including semiotic ambivalence, symbolic exchange and theoretical writing itself as a total agonistic process, this thesis demonstrates that theory is not reducible to epistemic production but is rather the contentious site of challenge and aesthetic (dis)appearance. Each chapter examines a conceptual tension revealing insoluble, conflicting social forms. These forms reveal the reversibility Baudrillard finds at work in all social phenomena. These culminate in a chapter that tackles Baudrillard's writing itself as a social form that endeavours to embody the agonistic theoretical concept as a process rather than remaining a representation, or commentary on, ambivalent social conflict. Author Keywords: agonist, ambivalence, Baudrillard, reversibility, style, writing
From Negation to Affirmation
Forensic scientific practice is conventionally understood as a solution to absence. With every technological advance the power and span of the archive grows and with it revives hopes of uncovering facts and locate bodies that might put genocide denial and/or negationism to rest. Destruction, however, continues to define the reality and conditions for testimony in the aftermath of mass atrocity. This means that even as forensic scientific practice grows in its capacity to presence that which was previously unpresentable, destruction and the concomitant destruction of archive require that we consider what it means to remember with and without the archive alike. This dissertation explores the impact of forensic science on cultural memory through a choice of two case studies (set in Kosovo and Srebrenica respectively) where forensic scientific methods were involved in the investigation of atrocities that were openly denied. This dissertation makes an agnostic argument that the biblical example of the empty tomb can serve as a paradigm to understand the terms of witnessing and testifying to absence in the era of forensic scientific investigations. Specifically, it posits the following theses with regards to the empty tomb: it is a structure and an event that emerges at the intersection of forensic science’s dual property as an indexical technique and as a witness function, it cannot be validated through historiographic or forensic scientific methods (it is un-decidable) and as such serves as a corrective the fantasy of the total archive, is represented in the contemporary genre of forensic landscape; and because it breaks with the forensic imperative, it compels alternative uses for testimony and memorial practices that need not be defined by melancholia as it can accommodate forms of testimony that are joyous and life affirming. Author Keywords: Absence, Archive, Forensic, Memory, Testimony, Witness
Eros noir
The dissertation explores the aesthetic anthropology of Georges Bataille and his collaborators in the Collège de Sociologie, a distinguished group of intellectuals including Roger Caillois, Michel Leiris, Pierre Klossowski, and Walter Benjamin among others. At the dissertation's outset the role, influence, discovery and indeed invention of the Marquis de Sade as the almost mythic prefiguring for so much French aesthetic thought in the period beginning after World War One and up until even the present day is advanced. Before Freud in Vienna, Sade in Paris: the central thematic axis of the following addresses Eros noir, a term for reflecting on the danger and violence of sexuality that Freud theorizes with the "death drive." The deconstruction of the nude as an object and form in particular in the artwork of Hans Bellmer and the writing and art of Pierre Klossowski comprises the latter two chapters of the dissertation, which provides examples of perversion through the study of simulacra and phantasms. The thwarted pursuit of community in the vacated space of Nietzsche's death of a God is a persistent leitmotif of the following in the account it offers of the thought of Georges Bataille and other members of the Collège de Sociologie. Eros noir, at the fatal cusp between ascendant manifest sex and a latent diminished Christianity, underwrites much of the French intellectual contribution to the symbology of cultural modernism. Author Keywords: Bataille, Georges, 1897-1962, Collège de Sociologie, Eroticism, Sade, marquis de, 1740-1814, Surrealism, The Uncanny
On (Digital) Photographic Image-Objects
On the first page of the much read, Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes reveals his motive: “I was overcome by an “ontological” desire: I wanted to learn at all costs what Photography was “in itself,” by what essential feature it was to be distinguished from the community of images.” The impetus of this thesis might be called a Barthesian desire to learn what distinguishes digital photographic images from all other photographic images. Throughout, I ask: what is a digital image? The first exploratory turn reflects upon photographs and touch. While photographs are objects that are both touched and touching, digital images are inscrutable data assemblages that resist touch and are predisposed to speed. Digital images cannot be touched, yet are responsive to touch. Through the mediating magic of touch sensitive glass, we command digital images to move. Chapter two considers prevailing late twentieth century theory on the digital photograph that claims the eclipse of film by digital imaging will render [digital] photographs totally unreliable documents. The results have been surprising; although suspicion about digital image bodies has crept into the cultural psychological fabric, I argue that we still believe in the basic veracity of [digital] photographic images. Finally, I turn my attention to the objecthood of digital imageobjects in a discussion of the widely unacknowledged materiality of data. Digital image-objects—those speedy, untouchable, dubious, things—are heavy. The weight of their bodies moving in the vast—unseen—global technological infrastructure is the burden of my final reflection. Author Keywords: death of film, digital materiality, digital photographic realism, ontology of the image, philosophy of photography, photography after photography
Time, Being, and the Image
The three projects that make up this dissertation try to articulate an ontological idea of art; which is to say, they all approach art, or the imagination (as in project two), from the standpoint of a philosophical question concerning the sense of being. The ontological question is elaborated in terms of a theory of the spatial-temporal structure of the aesthetic or sensible realm. This kind of ontology contrasts with a more traditional metaphysical one, where the sense of being is sought within the purely intelligible realm, a realm that transcends the sensible. In projects one and two, the contrast is developed in terms of the Nietzschean/Heideggerian critique of metaphysics, and through the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, who appropriates this critique. In project three, it is developed in terms of Bergson and Deleuze’s critique of objective time, or of any attempt to define being and time in terms of what is static and unchanging. Art is central for the ontology at stake here, and the ontology is one of art, because it is a matter of questioning the spatial-temporal being of the sensible, and not the being of the purely intelligible; and because art (as I try to show) is itself essentially concerned with revealing this ontological dimension of the sensible. Author Keywords: Aesthetics, Art, Being, Fragment, Image, Time
Critical Topographies of two films
The following thesis is a work in Critical Topography that choses as its site of study two documentary films. The films being studied are El Sol del Membrillo by Victor Erice and Rivers and Tides by Thomas Riedelsheimer. My approach to critical topography in the thesis is twofold: first, I have traced the topical motifs that have appeared to me as I looked at the two films; second, I have translated the films into writing –with the purpose of creating a sourcebook for my analysis- thus bounding the visual content of the films into the delineated space of the written word. I have sought in my analysis to make visible the numerous conceptual, aesthetic, and philosophical notions that are repeated in each film. These notions include materiality, formal operations, temporality, memory, and failure. All of which are ideas that find expression - despite their significant differences - in both documentary films. Author Keywords: Art, Critical Topography, Film Studies, Land Art, Painting, Time
Archaeology of Vagabondage
My research examines the figure of the 'vagabond' as a case study to illustrate how 'modern' perception of the 'vagabond' has depleted the diversities in its 'pre-modern' counterparts. It argues that the paranoia towards the 'vagabond' was inherited from the west out of the colonial contact leading to the birth of the nation-state and its liaison with 'instrumental rationality' during the high noon of advanced industrial capitalism, while (quasi-religious) itinerancy, on the contrary, had always been tolerated in 'pre-modern' India. The problems I am addressing are: What is the line of thread that separates the 'traveler' from the 'vagabond', the 'explorer' from the 'wanderer'? How do we then politically account for the historic 'ruptures' in the vagabond having been tolerated in the ancient 'Indic' thought [cf. Manusmriti, Arthshastra], encouraged in early Buddhist discourse [cf. Samannaphala Sutta], revered as the 'holy Other' in the Middle Ages [cf. Bhakti-Sufi literature], and eventually marginalized in the 'modern'? While considering issues of cultural differences, my thesis points to how the epistemic shifts from the classical to the medieval, from the medieval to the modern radically alter the value system immanent in the figure of the 'vagabond'. The research argues that the cultural baggage that the expression 'vagabond' is generally associated with, is a product of a specific western/utilitarian value system, which is a distinct 'cultural' category of the 'modern' west that had no resonance in 'pre- modern' India, and hence cannot be necessarily universalizable. The project works in a number of registers: historical, archival, cultural, philosophical and representational, involves analysis of literary, filmic texts, also legislative documents, and is genuinely interdisciplinary in nature. As of discourse analysis, the project studies the politics of cultural representations both of and by 'vagabonds'. Author Keywords: 1943 Bengal Famine, Homelessness, India, Vagabond, Vagrancy, Vagrancy Act
American Acropolis, American Ruins
Since 1979, photographer and sociologist Camilo José Vergara has taken repeat photographs of American cities in decline, focusing on evolving landscapes of postindustrial decay. Vergara's images subscribe to an aesthetic of ruin while providing a record of America's crumbling ghettos rooted in social documentary concerns. Vergara's work diverges from the ahistorical tendencies of contemporary ruin porn photography: by challenging the photograph's temporal stasis Vergara bears witness to the ongoing reality of disenfranchisement, assembling an archive that takes up the Benjaminian task of doing history in images. Vergara's photographs challenge standard photojournalistic portrayals of violence, particularly the ways in which `violent' African American and Hispanic inner city populations have been erroneously cast as the cause of their own economic misfortune. The Invincible Cities website assists Vergara in drawing attention to forgotten places but also complicates his mandate to engage outside viewers by distancing them from the real-­world environments his photographs portray. Author Keywords: Camilo José Vergara, imagistic history, postindustrial decline, repeat photography, ruin porn, Walter Benjamin

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