Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Politics of Muslim Intellectual Discourse in the West
The dissertation explores and defends the theory and practice of a Western-Islamic public sphere (which is secular but not secularist and which is Islamic but not Islamist), within which a critical Islamic intellectual universe can unfold, dealing hermeneutically with texts and politically with lived practices, and which, moreover, has to emerge from within the arc of two alternative, conflicting, yet equally dismissive suspicions defined by a view that critical Islam is the new imperial rhetoric of hegemonic orientalism and the opposite view that critical Islam is just fundamentalism camouflaged in liberal rhetoric. The Western-Islamic public sphere offers a third view, arising from ethical commitment to intellectual work, creativity, and imagination as a portal to the open horizons of history. Author Keywords: Critical Islam, critique, history, Islamic reformation, public sphere, secular
Transcendental Turn
This dissertation traces the concept of transcendentalism from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781) to Michel Foucault's historical a priori and Pierre Bourdieu's field and habitus, with implicit reference to Deleuze's `transcendental empiricism,' and the influence this trajectory has had on contemporary theory and culture. This general conceptual framework is used as the basis for a critical analysis of a series of examples taken from popular culture to highlight their transcendental conditions of possibility and the influence this conceptual paradigm has had on today's theory. The examples include the NFL `concussion crisis,' South Park's problematization of the discourse surrounding it, as well as the literature of Charles Bukowski, as an exemplification of an immanent writer-written situation. It is further suggested that, not only is transcendentalism an epistemological framework for thought, but it also doubles as an ontological principle for the emergence of a constitutively incomplete and unfinished reality. Author Keywords: Bukowski, Concussion, Foucault, Kant, South Park, transcendental
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
Technology of Consent
The 1980s in the United States have come into focus as years of extensive ideological and socioeconomic fracture. A conservative movement arose to counter the progressive gains of previous decades, neoliberalism became the nation’s economic mantra, and détente was jettisoned in favour of military build-up. Such developments materialized out of a multitude of conflicts, a cultural crisis of ideas, perspectives, and words competing to maintain or rework the nation’s core structures. In this dissertation I argue that alongside these conflicts, a crisis over technology and its ramifications played a crucial role as well, with the American public grasping for ways to comprehend a nascent technoculture. Borrowing from Andrew Feenberg, I define three broad categories of popular conceptualization used to comprehend a decade of mass technical and social transformations: the instrumental view, construing technology as a range of efficient tools; the substantive view, insisting technology is an environment that determines its subjects; and a critical approach, which recognizes the capacity for technology to shape subjects, but also its potential to aid new social agendas. Using Feenberg’s categories as interpretive lenses, I foreground these epistemologies in three of the decade’s most popular formations of literary science fiction (sf), and describe the broader discourses they participated in: military sf is connected to military strategy and weapons development (instrumental), cyberpunk to postmodernism and posthumanism (substantive), and feminist sf to feminist theory and politics (critical). These were not just discursive trajectories, I claim, but vital contributors to the material construction of what Antonio Gramsci would call hegemonic and counterhegemonic formations. While the instrumental paradigm was part of the decade’s prevailing hegemonic make-up, substantive and critical discourses offered an alternative to the reality of cowboy militarism and unchecked technological expansion. By engaging with the decade’s texts—from There Will Be War to RoboCop to “A Cyborg Manifesto”—I hope to illuminate what I call the technology of consent, the significance of technological worldviews for modern technocultures, where such views are consented to by subaltern groups, and at the same time the existence of consent itself as a kind of complex social technology in the first place. Author Keywords: American History, Discourse, Hegemony, Science Fiction, Technoculture, Technology
Genre Trouble and Extreme Cinema
This dissertation re-evaluates theories of genre and spectatorship in light of a critic-defined tendency in recent art cinema, coined extreme cinema. It argues that the films of Mexican director Carlos Reygadas and French director Catherine Breillat expand our generic classifications and, through the re-organization of the visual presentation of genre-specific clichés and devices, their films transform sense experience and thought. My approach loosely follows Stanley Cavell’s various assertions of film as a medium of thought or, simply, that films think. Reygadas and Breillat allow spectators to reflect on the genre-film experience; I contend that their films make it apparent that genre is not established prior to the viewing of a work but is recollected and assembled by spectators in ways that matter for them. In fostering this experience of collection, these two directors propose a kind of ethics of curatorship: spectators are tasked with collecting and recollecting their film experience to generate particular social, cultural, and political critiques. To further accomplish and foster film as thought, the directors appeal to spectators’ sense experiences. I therefore deploy contemporary film theories on the senses, both phenomenological and affect theory, and partake in close readings of the films’ forms and narratives. The Introduction outlines my intervention in genre theory, discusses the key theoretical texts, develops the phenomenological framework I employ for the chapters to follow, develops my methodology through a description of Cavell’s style, and presents the stakes of my argument. Chapter one considers the place of experimental narrative cinema in Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux (2012). I argue that through his realist style, this film aims at an experience for spectators “as if” in a dream and through this film experience I posit the critique I find internal to the film. The second chapter turns to Catherine Breillat’s oeuvre and the confrontation her work poses to conceptions of pornography. I bring her 2001 feature Fat Girl (À ma soeur!) to bear on what I claim to be a new style of pornographic work and its challenge to patriarchy. The final chapter brings together Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005) and Breillat’s Sex is Comedy (2002) to accomplish an analysis of sexual performances in otherwise dramatic films. Author Keywords: art cinema, Carlos Reygadas, Catherine Breillat, contemporary cinema, film theory, genre theory
On Tilt
On Tilt: The Inheritance and Inheritors of Digital Games accepts and extends Eric Zimmerman’s contention that literacies currently being developed during video-game play will be more broadly applicable (outside games) in the next hundred years as Western work, education, entertainment, and citizenship spaces become ever more shaped like video games. To the end of better understanding both video games and the players and literacies contiguous with them, this dissertation interrogates comparisons between video games and... non-digital games, film and other fictional texts and worlds, blogs, casinos’ games of chance, and the strategies employed by face-to-face criminals, always asking about the roles and responsibilities the human participants in these systems take; that is, this dissertation investigates what video games inherit from other forms of art, including non-digital games, and what the gamers and audience of today and tomorrow inherit through their contact with video games. The dissertation examines in detail works by Jodi Dean, Bernard Suits, Bruce Sterling, T. L. Taylor, Walter Benjamin, Gavin de Becker, N. Katherine Hayles and Nicholas Gessler, and Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, considering their work, the video game, and gamers, in terms of power gaming, genre, fiction and suspension of disbelief, audience, motivations, fungibility, the zombie vs. the robot, value vs. meaning, agency, slipstream, capitalism, and ontology. Ultimately, the dissertation suggests that there are two disparate strains of gamification building Zimmerman’s future, arguing first that the penetration of video games into culture is changing the way we behave and exist as audience and more generally, and, second, that what is at stake, in terms of the attitudes, labels, and gameplay that we accept in terms of games and gamification is significant to what it means to be human, especially within systems that are only partly human, in the next hundred years. Author Keywords: digital, gamification, genre, literacy, new media, videogame
Pedagogy of Renaturalization
This three-part dissertation will consider both theoretical and practical implications that Baruch Spinoza's (1632-1677) immanent philosophical system holds for developing a contemporary “pedagogy of renaturalization.” One of the intents of this thesis is to draw out how “intellectual slut shaming” is a naturalized part of neoliberal subjectivity. In chapter one, we will make the case that the Cartesian and neoliberal subjects share several parallel structures, including mind-body dualism. We will look at how Spinoza’s work supplies us with a powerful critique and expansion of the Cartesian subject. The intent here is to explore how we might apply a similar critique to the neoliberal subject and construct a more joyful subject that resists guilt, shame, and self-hatred. In chapter two, we will explore how Spinoza’s method of affirmation can give us a process to engage ourselves in a pedagogy of renaturalizing ourselves; in other words, to engage in the radical self-reflexivity of understanding ourselves as a part of Spinoza's Nature in order to better affect becomings of ethical joy. We will also examine the challenges and criticism of the affirmative method, and how paradoxically these criticisms serve to reinforce intellectual slut shaming. Chapter three will explore the potential of the methodology of autoethnography and the development of what we are calling “auto-ethology” as a way to put such an affirmative method into practice. By reviewing the dissertation as a whole, we will show how it has been an engagement with Spinozist radical self-reflexivity all along and a performance of auto-ethology. Author Keywords: autoethnography, Baruch Spinoza, Cartesian dualism, critical pedagogy, intellectual slut shaming, neoliberal subject
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
Lacanian Realism
The overarching argument of this manuscript concerns Lacanian Realism, that is, the Lacanian theory of the Real. Initially, my argument may seem quite modest: I claim that Lacanians have been preoccupied with a particular modality of the Real, one that insists on interrupting, limiting, or exceeding the various orders or agencies of the human mind. The implications of such a position are worth considering. For example, one must, as a consequence of holding this position, bracket questions pertaining to Things outside of the Symbolic and Imaginary psychical systems. Careful study shall expose the extent to which this position has infuenced each of the major felds inspired by Jacques Lacan: clinical psychoanalysis, radical political philosophy, and mathematics or topology. My task has been to explore the consequent occlusion which psychoanalysis has suffered in each of these three felds and to tease out the possibility of a return to the Real. Author Keywords: Alain Badiou, Anarchism, Hysteria, Jacques Lacan, psychoanalysis, Slavoj Zizek
Anarchist Periodical Press in the United States
This dissertation focuses on the English-language anarchist periodical press in the United States in the 1890s and early 1900s. Each of the three chapters of this dissertation examines one anarchist paper and its coverage of a specific issue. The first chapter focuses on Prison Blossoms, which was started by Alexander Berkman, Carl Nold, and Henry Bauer and written and circulated in the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania, and its engagement with Alexander Berkman's attempt to assassinate Henry Clay Frick. The second chapter examines Free Society, a weekly edited primarily by Abraham Isaak, and its contributors' writings on the assassination of President William McKinley by self-described anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Finally, the third chapter focuses on The Demonstrator, specifically its first volume which was edited by James F. Morton Jr. from the intentional community of Home, Washington, and the paper's work in supporting John Turner, the first anarchist targeted for deportation under the Immigration Act of 1903. Drawing upon critical discourse analysis, this dissertation incorporates examination of the context in which these papers were written (particularly the immediate concerns to which the papers' authors responded), the form and generic conventions of the anarchist press, including the approaches of the papers' respective editors, and the arguments advanced by their authors. It pays particular attention to the intertextuality of the anarchist press -- the ways in which those writing in anarchist papers addressed one another both within and across periodicals, generating anarchist thought through conversation and debate and enacting their anarchist ideals in the practice of publishing. This dissertation demonstrates that the anarchist periodical press, an element of anarchist history that has received little attention, offers important insights: it details how anarchists immediately responded to important issues of their time, and reveals the ways in which the emergence of anarchism was itself a collective effort, emerging from conversation, debate, and disagreement about how best to create radical change and what that change should look like. Author Keywords: anarchism, anarchist periodicals, critical discourse analysis, Free Society, Prison Blossoms, The Demonstrator
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
Politics of Memory
In dialogue with the critical scholarship on war and remembrance, my research deals with the construction, contestation and negotiation of collective memory in contemporary Vietnam with a focus on commemorations devoted to dead soldiers. Utilizing the methodologies of cultural studies and ethnography, this research seeks to comprehend the politics of memory which characterize collective memory as a social phenomenon whose meanings, interpretations and forms are variedly constructed from a certain social group to the next. Empirically, in this research, constitutive elements of Vietnamese postwar memoryscapes including the hero-centered discourse sanctioned by the Communist Party and the Socialist state, the family remembrance rooted in religious and kinship mandates and the newly emerged online ecology of memory are examined in their own nature as well as in their complicated intertwinements and constant interactions with each other. Case studies and specific methods of individual interview, participant observation and cultural analysis enable the author to approach and identify a wide range of forms and intersections between official and vernacular practices, between oral and living history and institutionalized and cultural presentations of memory. While considering these issues specifically in the Vietnamese context, my dissertation contributes to the increasing theoretical debates in the field of memory studies by exploring the relation of power and the symbolic struggle within and between different social agents involved. As it emphasizes the dynamic and power of memory, this research furthermore situates the phenomenon of collective memory in its dialogues with a broader cultural political environment of postwar society, which is characterized as a hybrid condition embracing processes of nationalism, modernization and post-socialist transformation. Significantly, during these dialogues, as demonstrated in this research, memory works embrace presentism and future-oriented functions which require any social group who is involved to negotiate and renegotiate its position, and to structure and restructure its power. Last but not least it must construct and reconstruct its own versions of the past. Author Keywords: collective memory, Dead soldiers, postwar society, Socialist Vietnam, the politics of memory, war remembrance


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