English - Theses, Dissertations, and other Required Graduate Degree Essays

Receive updates for this collection

Moving Publics: Site-Based Dance and Urban Spatial Politics

Date created: 
2016-04-04
Abstract: 

Moving Publics develops a set of strategies for analyzing how professional site-based dances refunction and reframe the public spaces in which they are set. Using a site-specific methodology, I focus on five case studies in Vancouver (Canada) to advance a theory about the reciprocal relationship between ground and movement—a notion of “choreographic topographies” that is sensitive to the socially and politically inscribed grooves that constitute a given dance’s local emplacement. I examine an archival dance, an “urban proscenium” dance, a vertical dance, a danced walking tour, and a tactile dance to analyze how different forms of site-based dance hail audiences in their bids for curbside attention. These performances, I argue, contain important information about the relationship between a temporary public and the address (in the dual sense of salutation and location) around which that public coheres. I contend that choreographic explorations of public places bring us together to move, or in stillness to watch, in ways that challenge our atomized movement through city spaces. In doing so, these dance-based practices pose questions of aesthetics, use, access, exclusion, density, and mobility in resolutely physical terms. Framed by kinaesthetic concepts (arriving, gathering, following, turning, lifting, passing, and adjusting), Moving Publics proposes a model of choreographic thinking that takes movement as a critical lens as well as an object of study. Extending outward from my study of the choreographic object, I bring a movement interpreter’s attention to the physical arrangements of audiencing bodies in and around the dances I study. I analyze the consequences of coding as theatrical both the publics and the public spaces in which these dances are set, and I examine what dance—a form that regularly relies on directed, delegated, and aesthetic labour in the context of collaborative co-presence—can expose about how we move in and through our cities, with and past one another. The dances I study foreground how the city (a built, legislated, lived, and perpetually unsettled structure) orchestrates a set of quiet choreographies of the everyday even as they reimagine a “relational kinaesthetics” at the threshold of vicariousness.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Peter Dickinson
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Singing the Nation: British Song Culture

Date created: 
2015-12-09
Abstract: 

This dissertation investigates articulations of nationalism and empire found within British song culture from the early eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. It seeks to expand our critical understanding of song culture, reading it as a varied, complex and multi-mediated form and suggesting that song culture needs to be situated at the centre of the culture of the Romantic period. I consider the characteristics of fluidity, mobility, dynamism, transformation, capaciousness, performativity evident in the work of four cultural producers: Allan Ramsay (1684-1758), Robert Burns (1759-1796), Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), and Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Each one was involved in the production of song culture through such practices as collecting, editing, writing, or performing songs. Chapter One examines the complicated ways in which song culture, gender, and the tropological play in the idea of “voice” figure in the construction of national identity in Allan Ramsay’s song collection The Tea-Table Miscellany (1724-1876). Chapter Two discusses the fluid form of national identity expressed in the songs of Robert Burns resulting from the interplay of history, ideas of the nation, and his activities as a producer, collector, and reviser of Scottish songs. Chapter Three suggests how the sea songs of Charles Dibdin not only posit an expansive form of national identity but reveal the capacity of song culture to effect change as well as challenge our understanding of late-eighteenth-century radicalism. Finally, Chapter Four examines the issue of context, considering how the material (con)textualization of Moore’s Irish songs affects the form of national belonging they express. These case studies provide evidence of how national song culture during this period could serve multiple, sometimes oppositional political purposes.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Leith Davis
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The body in the room: Embodied poetics and the traces of loss

Date created: 
2015-08-13
Abstract: 

"The Body in the Room: Embodied Poetics and the Traces of Loss" investigates poetic and artistic practices that seek to foreground the materiality of art and of the body, and examines the ways in which the products of these practices are preserved. Taking as its starting point the Charles Olson archives at Simon Fraser University, this project focuses on three twentieth-century figures: a poet, Charles Olson; a pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff; and, finally, a painter, Carolee Schneemann. Each offer in turn a model of artistic embodiment and a method of material production. The spaces, both institutional and private, in which these bodies find their preservation, form, beyond a linkage between my examinations of separate artists, a call to further inquiry: while this project chiefly examines bodies, their rooms, too, bear exploring. These rooms are sites for a manner of reproduction facilitated by the material traces of embodied art – a process of reincarnation that is at odds with the alleged embodiment of these artists.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Stephen Collis
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Framing the Photographer: Discourse and Performance in Portrait Photography

Date created: 
2015-05-15
Abstract: 

Framing the Photographer: Discourse and Performance in Portrait Photography reconsiders photographic criticism, theory, and history in terms of the photographic event. I argue that discursive frames—whether formed through art history, juridical language, technological format, or otherwise—inform and interact with the formal composition of photographs, the channels through which photography circulates, and the attitudes and performances of the photographers themselves. Rather than representing a moment, fixed in time, I argue that photography is an event characterized largely by contingency and the relationships between players; these include the photographer, subject, viewer, and critic. This project expands the parameters of the discursive definitions of portraiture to allow for what might be considered the portrait’s opposite – indecorous representations, photography used as a tool for violence or torture, and the act of hiding one’s face before a camera. I therefore consider photographic performances that clash against, or overlap with, conventions of portraiture, a genre defined largely through its ability to confer some form of personhood through the act of looking. In drawing a more inclusive discursive frame, I create space to consider the value of critical models that pay attention to the way viewers experience photography throughout their bodies, rather than simply emphasizing vision. My study of portraiture not only considers faces, then, but also bodies and body language, tears, textured surfaces of skin, memory, haptic qualities of touching or feeling, and the relationship between sound and vision. Each chapter is organized around a central term that reappears across various discursive frames: “Invisibility,” “Intimacy,” “Circulation,” and “Sharing.” Built around these terms, my project establishes the ways in which the various discourses overlap and interact. As a whole, this project combines the study of rhetoric and theory with analysis of the visual and material properties of photographs in order to parse out the histories, theories, rituals, and beliefs that frame body, word, and image.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Clint Burnham
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

A Polar Projection: The Northern Dimension in Modern Scottish Literature

Date created: 
2015-04-08
Abstract: 

Drawing on a transnational turn in recent Scottish literary criticism, this dissertation examines a transnational northern dimension in modern Scottish literature. Following a ‘No’ vote in an historic referendum on independence in 2014, the question of what Scotland and ‘Scottishness’ is in a post-referendum twenty-first century world is once again being debated and reimagined. Literature, as always in Scotland, will play a major role in this process. While the nation and national identity remain important subjects of critical focus and investigation, the writers examined within this dissertation offer ways of reorienting and reconsidering the conceptual, cultural, and creative boundaries of Scotland and Scottish literature, moving northwards into an awareness of as well as engagement with a Nordic and broader circumpolar world. For these writers, the North is both a physical as well as conceptual space, and it is articulated in a number of ways: as an aspirational identity; a metaphysical space, theological as well as philosophical; as the cultural, historical and geographical world of the Norse sagas; and a larger cartographic and physical space of being in the natural world, or more geographically, ecologically, and topographically defined, being in the North. By looking North, the writers I consider in this dissertation have complicated essential notions of Scotland and transcended proscriptive conceptions of Scottishness through a reorientation of their imaginative and creative perspectives. At a time when the North is becoming an important transnational subject of critical study, these writers provide an opportunity for Scottish studies to expand its critical scope into a broader global context. From James Macpherson’s transnational northern epic Ossian (1765) to the northern ecophilosophical writing of Hugh MacDiarmid, Kenneth White, Kathleen Jamie and John Burnside, and from the creative engagement with the Icelandic sagas in the Norse novels of George Mackay Brown and Margaret Elphinstone to the transnational northern imaginative and discursive space in the contemporary Shetlandic poetry of Robert Alan Jamieson and Christine De Luca, there has been and continues to be a strong transnational northern dimension in modern Scottish literature. I will conclude by suggesting new critical directions in Scottish northern studies.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Leith Davis
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The ends of adaptation: comparative media, digital culture, and performance

Author: 
Date created: 
2015-03-30
Abstract: 

The starting point of this dissertation is a history of ideas tacitly organized around the conception of adaptation as a formal object—which is to say as a specific kind of intertext defined by its incorporation of material drawn from one or more precursor works. Within this framework, scholars have struggled against a set of recurrent methodological pitfalls having to do with the relative importance of medium specificity, the place and purpose of aesthetic evaluation, and the perennial reappearance of that critical bugbear, fidelity. Recognizing that the blanket acceptance or rejection of these concepts has so far done little to curb the problems associated with them, I argue in favour of treating these conceptual sticking points as symptoms of a more basic problem: the formal model of adaptation itself. In response, I make a case for shifting critical focus away from what adaptations as cultural objects are to what adaptation as a cultural discourse does. Accordingly, my approach in this project is primarily meta-critical and methodological. I lead with an analysis of the intellectual history that centralized an ontological definition of adaptation and maintained its basic assumptions even as post-structuralist thought and sociological inquiry began to influence the field. As this analysis proceeds, however, my attention increasingly moves towards articulating a performative model of adaptation, which turns around the idea that what makes adaptations adaptations is not inherent in any given object; it is generated as part of the cultural work performed through identifying one text with another, in contexts of production as much as in the processes of reception. In developing this model, I explore how it accounts for the role of desire in the recurrence of fidelity discourse, the (non)literal materiality of adaptations, the shifting mediascapes of digital culture, and the embodied work of interpreting adaptation as such.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Peter Dickinson
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

Authorial Self-Fashionings: Eliza Haywood in Text, Image, and Performance

Author: 
Date created: 
2015-04-17
Abstract: 

Answering recent calls in Haywood scholarship for a re-evaluation of the ways in which we understand Haywood’s life and work, this dissertation offers one such re-evaluation through the lens of authorship, particularly authorial self-fashioning. Approaching the career of eighteenth-century author Eliza Haywood from the methodological standpoint of authorship and print culture studies, I analyze Haywood’s career through the lens of her self-representations in text, image, and performance. Through a consideration of sustained themes and genre elements of Haywood’s oeuvre, I focus on a range of self-fashionings found in Haywood’s texts. These form the bases of chapters on her career-long interest in amatory fiction, her use of paratext as collaboration in the world of the 1730s theatre, and her frequent creation of authorial personae. I also examine visual representations of Haywood, including portraits, printers’ ornaments, and frontispieces, and suggest that these visual representations are essential for understanding how Haywood and her publishers built and maintained her authorial image. An analysis of these representations of Eliza Haywood’s brand of authorship also reveals how she uses authorial assertions to shed light on issues she found important, such as female education and the prevention of sexual violence. These representations illustrate the embedded nature of Haywood’s career in the literary and theatrical milieus of the early eighteenth century, and her position as a woman who was both self-conscious of her authorship and aware of its ability to effect change. This in turn demonstrates the complex interaction between self-fashioning and the context of literary production in shaping the eighteenth-century author.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Betty Schellenberg
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

Not Until I Stand Up: Framing a Disability Theory of Value for Contemporary Narrative

Date created: 
2014-06-17
Abstract: 

This dissertation investigates the ways in which representations of disability in fiction, film, performance and media from the modernist period to the present reflect and resist dominant histories of ability, creating surplus moments of disabled agency and value. I employ disability theory, close reading and sociocultural analysis to address inequitable representations of disability across a range of high and pop cultural narratives, from an early novel of Samuel Beckett's to films that use CGI prosthetics. I use the term “sociotextual inequity” to identify moments when disability’s employment and representation (as metaphor or aesthetic signifier) in cultural texts is disproportionate to the materiality of its lived histories and experiences. I then rematerialize such representations in order to generate more equitable understandings of disability in narrative and the larger social world from which they emerge, challenging the oppressive treatment and consumption of the disabled subject. My first chapter uses a critique of normative narratives of the institutionalization of the disabled subject to offer a paradigm shift on canonical readings of Beckett’s Murphy (1938), valuing its material and metaphorical engagements with experiences of disability rather than romanticizing Beckett as author-genius. My second chapter considers two films, The Station Agent (2003) and Freaks (1932), contextualizing their representations of disability amidst past and present socioeconomic inequities in an industry that polices normalcy in ways that are then taken up by the dominant cultural imaginary. In chapter three I place in dialogue and dialectical tension Peter Handke’s language play Kaspar (1967), the historical autistic figure Kaspar Hauser, and disabled playwright John Belluso’s Voice Properties (2002) to reveal dominant stereotypes of disabled experience, and to reflect on alternate ways of communicating embodiment. My final chapter reconsiders theories, histories and materialities of prosthetics to interrogate their use in such pop-culture films as The Machine Girl (2008) and Planet Terror (2007). Examining these works alongside Flannery O’Connor’s classic short story “Good Country People” (1955), I questionoverdetermined meanings of the prosthesis in culture, and call for an ontological shift inthe terms by which we read disabled embodiment and what it means to be whole.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Peter Dickinson
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

Modernist Angels of History: Reading the Politics of the Historical Self in Walter Benjamin, Katherine Mansfield, Gertrude Stein, and Laura (Riding) Jackson

Date created: 
2014-08-15
Abstract: 

This dissertation reads the self-representations of four modernists—Walter Benjamin, Katherine Mansfield, Gertrude Stein, and Laura (Riding) Jackson—as exemplars of the complexity of modernity and as productive subject matter for a dialectical criticism. Benjamin’s writing of the 1930s, both his autobiographies and his critical writing on historiography, provides a foundation for the “oscillatory” method pursued: seeking after contradictions—of self/history and of subject/object, especially—not to resolve them but to examine their movement in language. Each chapter examines a particular modernist in depth, working to arrive at a model or strategy for close reading his or her texts and to discover a politics of form. What comes together in these readings is the unerring complexity of self-representation in the context of modernity, so that these particular writers become variations on Benjamin’s famous Angel of History—staring melancholically at the “catastrophe” of received history, forced to “see” and to represent the horrors of the past. The question for each of Benjamin, Mansfield, Stein, and (Riding) Jackson becomes: how does one encapsulate the complex experience of the present, powerfully coloured by the past and indeed the future? In reading these translations from perception to text dialectically, recognizing that they are never fixed or closed, we can begin to identify a politics of critique and of revolution.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Stephen Collis
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Fantasies of Oblivion: Post-9/11 Literature and the Passion for the Real

Date created: 
2014-08-21
Abstract: 

Fantasies of Oblivion proposes that a series of post-9/11 literary texts – including David Foster Wallace’s The Suffering Channel, Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, Martin Amis’ “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta,” Teju Cole’s Open City and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge – reveal contradictions inherent to the dominant historical narratives of 11 September 2001. In their fiction, these authors stage a set of cultural, social and historical fantasies that obscured the material and symbolic implications of the terrorist attacks, but show those fantasies to be misleading and incomplete descriptions of American history and identity. My project converses with two dominant strands within studies of post-9/11 literature: one strand claims that the current archive of texts reproduces the ideological myopia already evident so soon after the attacks; the other contends that the texts participate in a necessary and therapeutic project of personal, urban and national healing. In contrast, my dissertation argues that Wallace, Moore, Amis, Cole and Pynchon take oblique approaches to 11 September 2001 in order to displace the dominant temporal genres of traumatic shock, nostalgic return and melancholic futurity that circulate around the tragic events. I claim these temporal genres are fantasies of “oblivion” not just because they are fantasies fixated on erasing the traumatic spectacle of real death at the hands of foreign powers, but also because they facilitate disavowal of symbolic death, preventing the realization that America is non-identical with its self-image and in fact, this non-identity is built into its self-image. If the nation retreated into its founding myths of altruism, innocence and exceptionalism, and thus missed an opportunity on 11 September 2001 to better understand itself and its role in the world, then the post-9/11 literary archive reveals the limitations of this retreat and in doing so generates an opportunity to traverse the fantasies of the nation and re-open the void the nation too quickly closed, the abyssal “Ground-Zero” of the psyche.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Jeff Derksen
Jon Smith
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.