Graduate Theses & Dissertations


"Society Doesn't Exist"
This thesis attempts to provide a psychoanalytic discussion of the institution of paternal authority and its crisis in modernity within a theoretical and literary-historical framework. It proceeds from the psychoanalytic view that far from liberating the subject, the decline of the father’s function generates new inhibitions and complexes, and illustrates this with examples from literature, history, and politics. It reads the Freudian Oedipal Father and Lacanian Name-of-the-Father both as symptoms, serving as means of avoiding the libidinal deadlock evoked by the absence of paternal authority. It employs a particular literature on the absurd represented in the works of Franz Kafka’s The Trial and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s The Time Regulation Institute in order to explore the inconspicuous effects of this deadlock within the politics of nationalism in modern European and Turkish history. While it approaches Kafka’s The Trial as a prophetic text that anticipates the Nazi totalitarian state of the coming decade in its unique fictionalization of the failure of the paternal metaphor, or the Name-of-the-Father, it detects in Tanpınar’s The Time Regulation Institute traces of the trauma of Turkish modernization perceived as a half-hearted patricide which is commonly construed in Oedipal terms. Author Keywords: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, Franz Kafka, Oedipus complex, paternity crisis, psychoanalysis, turkish 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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


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