Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Ludic Fictions, Lucid Games
This thesis elucidates the role of play and games—the ludic—in Julio Cortázar’s novel Hopscotch (1966; translation of Rayuela, 1963) through a range of resonant theories. Literary gameplay dominates the formal, linguistic, affective, reflexive, and thematic dimensions of Hopscotch, which are analyzed through concepts borrowed from play theorist Roger Caillois, among others, and literary theorists including Mikhail Bakhtin and Wolfgang Iser, whose ludic theories of fiction begin to map the field of ludic fiction. The analysis positions Hopscotch as an exemplar of the ludic counter-tradition within the novel, a perennial tendency from Don Quixote to postmodernism and beyond. Hopscotch, like other ludic fictions, enacts a complex convergence of the ludic and the lucid. It provokes active reading over passive consumption, diminishes the hegemonic function of serious mimesis to elevate other forms of gameplay, notably chance, competition, vertigo, and enigma, to dominant positions, and ultimately demonstrates a profound affinity between play and critical consciousness. Author Keywords: Bakhtin, Cortazar, Iser, Ludic, Novel, Play
Visions of the Sedantary “I”/eye
This thesis explores the seemingly innocuous call to “grow up,” which is never simply a biological imperative. It is also a moral one. Demanding that one should “grow up” is not demanding that one grow older, but that one transform into a specific kind of subject – the “grown up.” In the reading advanced here, The Little Prince thermalizes the suppleness of the figure of the grown up through a series of fantastic encounters. In particular, perception and corporeality will be taken up as the two interlocking ways we are often pushed towards an understanding of adulthood that is coextensive with an Enlightenment conception of subjectivity. Perception, having emerged from a sedimented economy of looking, produces norms and practices of attentiveness where much of our perceptual field is consigned to infrastructural obliviousness. This intensification of attention, in turn, coincides with a broader project of corporeal discipline that began with the body’s sedation through the chair. The chair is itself an element of the disciplinary machine that regulates attention, where the pedagogical injunction to “pay attention” is often accompanied by the postural injunction to “settle down” and “sit up straight.” The chair, then, not only individuates and renders those individuated bodies docile, but also readies them for an entry into the world of grown-ups. Author Keywords: Attention, Enlightenment, Maturation, Saint-Exupery, Sedantariness, Subjectivation
Thin Line Between Hell and Here
The end of the Cold War and the global triumph of neoliberalism were accompanied by the evolution of certain themes in dystopian fiction. According to some of its advocates, such as Francis Fukuyama, neoliberalism’s success signified the “end of history,” understood as ideological evolution, since the decline of communism left Western liberal democracies without any major opposition in terms of global governing and discursive practices. This thesis critically compares neoliberal rhetoric concerning invisible power, the end of history, technology, freedom of consumption and the commodification of human relationships with the ideologies represented in four neoliberal dystopian works of fiction, namely Black Mirror, Feed, The Circle, and The Fat Years. These examples create a “one-dimensional” dystopian subject who is rendered incapable of possessing the utopian imagination necessary to organize political resistance, precisely as a result of the governance and discourse of neoliberalism. Author Keywords: dystopia, dystopian fiction, dystopian subjectivity, neoliberalism, post cold war fiction, subjectivity
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
Nature without Balance
This thesis critically analyses the connection between ideology and nature, and in particular, aims to reflect on the dominant discourses on the topic of ecological crisis. The ecological thought framework that I adhere to rests on a combination of Frankfurt School and Žižekian theories. This combination is not without serious tensions and deviations; however, central to this project are the ways in which their respective works extensively critique ideology, and propose subversive alternatives to and new meanings of how we can conceptualize nature without domination. Dominant ideas and critiques of nature and natural history emerged during the Enlightenment era, and as Adorno argues, fell victim to a “reduction ad hominem,” or the claim that in order to free oneself, one must dominate, appropriate, and master nature. I claim that the extreme choices in environmental politics today - namely organic populism on one hand and increased technological intervention on the other - fail to account for the ways ‘nature’ is a socio-historical construct, and moreover, is situated within a false reality wherein the ‘essence of existence’ is reduced to technological mastery. What we encounter in this cautionary armoury of paradoxical approaches to nature, then, is the ideological currents of established belief systems. By exposing the illusions within the concept nature, such as the argumentative persuasion that there exists an inherent balance, the elementary cell of ideology reveals itself alongside revolutionary possibilities. Author Keywords: Crises, Critical Theory, Ideology, Nature, Slavoj Zizek, Theodor Adorno
Mythopoeia Sylvatica
Since British colonization of North America and the beginning of Anglo-speaking Euro-Canada and the United States, myth-making or representations of the forests have witnessed degradation and loss of old-growth forest ecosystems or intact sylvan landscapes. Canadian and American versions of the story of the North American Forests shared the same trajectory: forests as ‘wasted-land’ or the sylvan wilderness (terra nullius) divided into properties and cleared to “improve” the land for settlement/agriculture, forests as storehouses for timber and imperial expansion, forest landscapes and specific forest trees as identity politics and sources of industrial and economic power. While forests are recognized according to various stakeholders’ values today, what is commonly accepted as a forest varies widely. The meaning given to “forest” determines related terms and concepts, such as “sustainable forestry” and “reforestation.” This thesis addresses the issue of social-bioecological degradation, loss, and dis(re)membering of old-growth forests and problematizes traditional Western relationships with old wildwoods shaped by notions of space, politics, and economy. In the forest topos, the core question becomes which forest(s) are being imagined, represented, and remembered? Whose environmental imagination is shaping the landscape? As a critical topographical exploration of the North American forests through six witness trees, this thesis demonstrates how the meanings imbued in trees and wild woods come to determine the fate of the forests. It reveals how colonial values and trends persist in our societies still, and calls for an ethical social-ecological reimagining of the forests through traditions of ethical storytelling and environmental witnessing. Author Keywords: critical topography, environmental generational amnesia, environmental witnessing, forests, social-ecological systems, witness trees
the sex killer drives a panel pin into his ear-hole
I have two goals. One, to offer new insights into Vienna Actionism (VA) and their notorious performances, through Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of the body without organs (BwO); and two, not simply to provide descriptions of the Vienna Actionists’ performances, but also to write what I am calling a thesis without organs. Documents from the Vienna Actionists, specifically Muehl’s Leda and the Swan (1964), Brus’ Vienna Walk (1965) and Nitsch’s O.M. Theatre (1960-present), become documents without organs; they are documents that do not simply document original performances, but re-perform original performances while acting as performances themselves. Challenging the notion of live performance as fundamentally separate from its documentation (as performance theorist Peggy Phelan argues) through what Philip Auslander calls the document’s performativity and what Christopher Bedford calls a viral ontology of performance, my thesis becomes a performance in and of itself. A thesis without organs. Keywords: performance, performativity, viral ontology of performance, body without organs, rhizome, dirt, metaphor, metonymy, Vienna Actionism, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Peggy Phelan, Philip Auslander, Christopher Bedford, Mary Douglas. Author Keywords: Body without Organs, Performance, Performativity, Vienna Actionism
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
Becoming Hybrid
Institutional military strategists are developing theories of asymmetric and unconventional warfare that complicate the notion of strategic agency, the idea that military action emanates from a coherent agential source or subjectivity. This thesis attempts to push the conceptual trajectories of the theories of Hybrid War, Unrestricted War and Onto-power towards an even more radical complication of the notion of strategy - towards an ecological understanding of war as an unwinnable, self-perpetuating process. Recent geopolitical events are meticulously examined, as are institutional doctrinal and theoretical frameworks that stop just short of imploding the conventional agential notion of strategy. Insights from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, as well as Brian Massumi, particularly the concepts of multiplicity, assemblage, and ontopower, are employed in the thesis, which is itself a “heterogeneous assemblage” of elements ranging from Israeli war theory and Chinese military doctrine to etymology and post-structuralist philosophy. Author Keywords: Agency, Assemblage, Deleuze, Hybrid warfare, Multiplicity, Strategy
While the Lonely Mingle with Circumstance
Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy focuses on the idea that no human subject exists outside of their relationship to other people. Each of us holds a profound degree of responsibility to and for all others. Since responsibility is fundamental to human (co)existence, it does not impede on freedom but proves that the sovereign individual is a dangerous myth: any philosophical, political or economic system which places us in antagonism is inherently violent and arguably fallacious. Many instances of injustice and violence can be attributed to advances in technological rationality and other forces of modern egoism with historical roots. By forwarding a somewhat politicized interpretation of Totality and Infinity and drawing on Jacques Derrida’s landmark reading of Levinas, this thesis explores the implications of Levinas’ thought for modern politics and the potential of Levinasian ethics as a remedy for both the alienation of the modern subject and the continued justification of oppression. Author Keywords: Ethics, Levinas, Other, Relation, Responsibility, Subjectivity
Spatial Bestiary
In my Master’s thesis, I consider how the space of the animal laboratory shapes human-animal relationships, and how, in turn, these relations impact the laboratory, and more specifically, the spatially-bound practices that unfold in this space. I use the frameworks of biopolitics and animal geography, both of which help in illuminating the space of the lab as a site of power, within which human-animal agency becomes exercised. Alongside these analytics, I conducted participant interviews with individuals who work with animals in laboratories or settings similar to laboratories, which animate several themes that I locate at the intersection of biopolitics and animal geography. These themes include a discussion of human-animal relations of power, scientific biopower and scientific market economies, the animal-industrial complex, and the relationship between human binaries and their effects on spatiality. This project is as much about animal lives as it is about human lives. Author Keywords: agency, animal geography, biopower, human-animal relationships, spatiality, the animal laboratory
Materiality and Ontology of Digital Subjectivity
New conditions of materiality are emerging from fundamental changes in our ontological order. Digital subjectivity represents an emergent mode of subjectivity that is the effect of a more profound ontological drift that has taken place, and this bears significant repercussions for the practice and understanding of the political. This thesis pivots around mathematician Grigori ‘Grisha’ Perelman, most famous for his refusal to accept numerous prestigious prizes resulting from his proof of the Poincaré conjecture. The thesis shows the Perelman affair to be a fascinating instance of the rise of digital subjectivity as it strives to actualize a new hegemonic order. By tracing first the production of aesthetic works that represent Grigori Perelman in legacy media, the thesis demonstrates that there is a cultural imperative to represent Perelman as an abject figure. Additionally, his peculiar abjection is seen to arise from a challenge to the order of materiality defended by those with a vested interest in maintaining the stability of a hegemony identified with the normative regulatory power of the heteronormative matrix sustaining social relations in late capitalism. The first chapter analyses the formal aesthetics of legacy media representations of Perelman. The second chapter focuses on new media aesthetic productions pertaining to Perelman and the political ontology of digital media. The third chapter interrogates the political ontology of the materials utilized in Perelman’s work and seeks to clarify the status of the conditions of the challenge of a digital hegemony. Author Keywords: abjection, archive, autistic reason, digital subjectivity, Grigori Perelman, ontological drift


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