Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Alien Imaginaries
This dissertation offers a cultural analysis of UFOs and extraterrestrials in the United States. In it I look at what I call real aliens — extraterrestrials believed to be real and interacting with humans on Earth. Beliefs in real aliens are often denigrated and dismissed in official discourse, yet they continue to not only persist, but thrive, in American society. Hence, this dissertation asks: Why do so many people believe that extraterrestrials are visiting our planet? Part One begins by tracing the invasion of real aliens in the United States using Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” as a starting point. Here, I look at how and why the broadcast registered with listeners’ anxieties and created a fantastic and uncanny effect that made it possible for some to conceive of aliens invading the United States. In Part Two, I trace the rise of ufology, which involves the study of extraterrestrials currently interacting with humans on Earth, and I consider how the social and political climate of the Cold War, as well as the cultural environment of postmodernity, provided the necessary conditions for stories about aliens to be made believable. Part Three explores the case study of the Roswell Incident, a conspiracy theory about the origins of an alleged flying saucer crash and government cover-up. I look at the reasons for why many individuals have come to believe in this conspiracy theory and I reflect on the tensions between “official” and “unofficial” discourses surrounding this case. I also consider how and why Roswell has become such an important site for ufology, and I examine the performances given by ufologists at the annual Roswell International UFO Festival to appreciate how ufologists offers seductive explanations of why things are the way they are; for many, their stories offer a better version of events than the purely rational and positivist explanations offered by official sources, especially since they tap into the disillusionment and mistrust that many Americans feel about contemporary politics. Author Keywords: aliens/extraterrestrials, America, conspiracy, official and unofficial, storytelling, ufology
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
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
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
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

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