Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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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
Finding Space, Making Place
Independent music venues are important hubs of social activity and cultural production around which local punk scenes are both physically and conceptually organized. Through interactions with participants over extended periods of time, these spaces become meaningful places that are imbued with the energy, history and memories of local music scenes. When a venue is shut down, local punk scenes experience a temporary disruption as participants struggle to begin the process of re-establishing a new autonomous social space free from outsider interference. Therefore, moving from the local, to the national, to the international, from the small and personal to the vast and global, as well as from the physical to the virtual, this dissertation illustrates the actual, everyday practices of local scenes across Canada, addressing the larger issue of the loss of alternative music venues occurring on a global scale and the resulting impact on punk scene participants. Through the use of ethnographic research methods such as participant observation, photographic documentation, interviews and surveys, this dissertation engages with contemporary punk scene participants in order to give voice to those often ignored in grand narratives of punk history. As such, traditional concepts of punk as a utopic countercultural space are challenged to reveal the complexity and diversity that exists within contemporary local punk scenes, where participants often experience equal amounts of cooperation, competition, tension and struggle. By choosing to engage with contemporary experiences and interpretations of punk culture, this research addresses the changing landscape of local scenes, as punk participants attempt to carve out spaces of representation for themselves in an exceedingly mediated world. Author Keywords: Canada, music venues, punk, scene, social space, subculture
Nineteenth-Century Aesthetics of Murder
This dissertation examines how sex crime and serial killing became a legitimate subject of aesthetic representation and mass consumption in the nineteenth century. It also probes into the ethical implications of deriving pleasure from consuming such graphic representations of violence. Taking off from Jack the Ripper and the iconic Whitechapel murders of 1888, it argues that a new cultural paradigm – the aesthetics of murder – was invented in England and France. To study the ‘aesthetics of murder’ as countless influential critics have done is not to question whether an act of murder itself possesses beautiful or sublime qualities. Rather, it is to determine precisely how a topic as evil and abject as murder is made beautiful in a work of art. It also questions what is at stake ethically for the reader or spectator who bears witness to such incommensurable violence. In three chapters, this dissertation delves into three important tropes – the murderer, corpse, and witness – through which this aesthetics of murder is analyzed. By examining a wide intersection of visual, literary, and cultural texts from the English and French tradition, it ultimately seeks to effect a rapprochement between nineteenth-century ethics and aesthetics. The primary artists and writers under investigation are Charles Baudelaire, Thomas De Quincey, Oscar Wilde, and Walter Sickert. In bringing together their distinctive styles and aesthetic philosophies, the dissertation opts for an interdisciplinary and comparative approach. It also aims to absolve these writers and artists from a longstanding charge of immorality and degeneracy, by firmly maintaining that the aesthetics of murder does not necessarily glorify or justify the act of murder. The third chapter on the ‘witness’ in fact, elucidates how writers like De Quincey and Wilde transferred the ethical imperative from the writer to the reader. The reader is appointed in the role of a murder witness who accidentally discovered the corpse on the crime scene. As a traumatized subject, the reader thus develops an ethical obligation for justice and censorship. Author Keywords: Censorship, Jack the Ripper, Murder, Trauma, Victorian, Wilde
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
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
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
Socioloegal Mediation of Rave Sound System Technologies
The central scholarly contribution of this dissertation develops through bringing the theories of Michel Foucault to bear in a sociolegal study of rave culture's criminalization by the United Kingdom's 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. My methodology develops rave as a cultural keyword. This keyword navigates through a quasi-materialist definition of rave as a cultural codification of sound system technologies. I theorize the way in which sociocultural discourse indexes aestheticized representations and the cultural mythologies that rave sound system's technical mediation generate. These ideas trace the facticity of the legal documentation of rave’s criminalization. I inform this sociolegal history by situating Foucault's work on the genealogy of liberalism as a practical toolkit for associating the legal discourse on rave culture with the genealogy of festival. This opens up a dialogue with the work of Mikhail Bakhtin's theorizing of the festival’s ambivalent political climate. Such ideas are useful in documenting rave as an enduring mimicry of the tension between State and civil society. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 painting, “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent”, captures this tension beautifully. The aptness of reading rave's criminalization in relation to Bruegel’s portrayal of landscape is accomplished by returning to Foucault, who defines liberalism's political technologies in relation to Judaeo-Christian precedents. I explore how these political technologies, pastoral power in particular, are helpful in tracing rave's genealogical relation to the festival's sociotechnical cartography. Author Keywords: Bakhtin, Carnival, Christianity, Festival, Liberalism, Materialism
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
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
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
At the Intersection Between History and Fiction in Biography and Autobiography; A Repositioning, Using the Quest for the Historical Jesus as a Case Study
The modern sense of historicism developed over time that brought different textures at the intersection between history and fiction. The life of Jesus of Nazareth, prolifically researched after Herman Reimarus (1694-1768) right until today – a phenomenon known as The Quest for the Historical Jesus – provides an instructive case study for a wider discussion about the intersection between history and fiction in biography and autobiography. As a result of these centuries of Jesuanic research, one can identify a set predictable challenges which life-writing may need to confront. Furthermore, interesting historiographical criteria to detect factual authenticity versus factual inauthenticity for life-writing were also developed. Nevertheless, the depth of disagreement about a well-researched narrative such as the Jesuanic chronicle can eventually feel almost insurmountable. Pessimism, in fact, has become widespread. Thus, this dissertation raises the question: Is it but a vain attempt to search for truth by attempting to draw a sharp line between fiction and history? Hence, the discussion moves to Mikhail Bakhtin whose insistence on dialogism rather than truth seeking provides a more relational approach to appreciating the intersection between history and fiction in biography and autobiography. Author Keywords: biography, Copernicanism, dialogism, fiction, historicism, monologism

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Format: 2020/11/30