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

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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.

Body histories and the limits of life in Asian Canadian literature

Date created: 
2014-07-24
Abstract: 

Histories of racialization in Canada are closely tied to the development of eugenics and racial hygiene movements, but also to broader concerns, expressed throughout Western modernity, regarding the “health” of nation states and their subjects. This dissertation analyses books by Velma Demerson, Hiromi Goto, David Chariandy, Rita Wong, Roy Miki and Larissa Lai to argue that Asian Canadian literature reveals, in heightened critical terms, how the politics of racial difference has consistently been articulated through the language of bodily health, life, and feeling. Building upon existing debates in Asian Canadian literary studies, and drawing from interdisciplinary scholarship in biopolitics and affect theory, the dissertation reveals how the discourse of “life” and “health” has served as the rationale for practices such as internment, sterilization, and unauthorized medical experiments, but also how the literature and theory of the feeling body, including its memories, symptoms, and conceptual limits, can promote awareness both of historical injustice and of the new terms informing the cultural politics of race today.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Dr. Christine Kim
Dr. David Chariandy
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The Lisle Letters: Lady Honor Lisle’s Epistolary Influence

Date created: 
2014-05-05
Abstract: 

This dissertation offers an original contribution to Tudor studies by examining The Lisle Letters as an illuminating example of how aristocratic Tudor women used the epistle to manipulate networks of obligation and gain socio-political influence. Women, such as Lady Honor Lisle, the primary subject of this study, fashioned letters to create and maintain communities of influence in order to assist their families, advance their social position, and bring various other projects to fruition. By using the lens of practice theory to examine the Lisle Letters, I will demonstrate that the relational aspects governing an individual’s agency, in the light of ever-changing variables – friends, kinship groups, societal knowledge, socio-economic status, and so on – are what allowed aristocratic women such as Lady Lisle to exercise influence, despite the fact they could not hold official positions of power, such as judge, magistrate, or Lord Privy Seal. I will argue that women’s involvement in the socio-political world was a perpetual process of negotiation and adjustment within a web of imbricated relations, and that mastery of this diplomatic process could put considerable power in a woman’s hands. The Lisle Letters highlight the importance of the epistle as a particularly important device of power accrual. The epistle, with its underpinning of obligation, its various styles, and its discursive conventions, allows us to consider how power was accessible outside of purely formal channels in a social (and political) context that attached great importance to written entreaties and the informal cultural rules surrounding them; it is because of such rules and conventions, that we discover, in the letter, a privileged tool for bridging the gap between formal and informal avenues of power. The Lisle Letters, for example, allow mistress and servant to traverse boundaries of gender and class by using the stylized rhetoric of patronage and the warm and more natural language of friendship. The various discursive styles allow for the boundaries between mistress and servant to be crossed by establishing intimate connections and trust – an area that has been little examined in epistolary scholarship. The letters further illustrate how the epistle could be used to create and maintain bonds across international borders – making connections and accruing influence to assist in a bid for upward mobility. The Lisle Letters also document Lady Lisle’s negotiations with one of the key power figures of the Tudor era, Thomas Cromwell, in the male public arena of the court. The letters show us not simply her personal strategies and tactics, but how she uses all of her resources, including the conventions of the epistle, to negotiate a better hand than the one she had been dealt. By examining the language of obligation and such rhetorical scripts as deference and assurance, we can see how women manipulated the epistle to create alliances and reinforce previous associations to bring their personal projects to fruition.

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

Obscenity and the Publication of Sexual Science in Britain, 1810-1914

Date created: 
2014-03-28
Abstract: 

This dissertation examines the fringe publication of medical and scientific works about sex in the long nineteenth century. It argues that these works fell into a moral, legal, and commercial ‘grey zone’ in this period between the categories of the legitimate and the obscene, and that battles over these works’ publication fostered a concomitant development of sexual science and pornography. Medical and scientific publishing were unruly fields in nineteenth-century Britain, open to many different players, including fringe publishers interested in exploiting medical and scientific eroticism. This dissertation establishes for the first time how the obscenity trade, a precursor to the modern pornography industry, comprised an important route of sexual-scientific dissemination in the period. Nineteenth-century publishers of obscenity exploited the ‘grey zone’ into which medical and scientific works about sex fell to market them as erotica, bringing them into circulation alongside explicit fiction in both the popular and elite literary spheres. Such fringe publishing activity motivated rising cultural movements to situate the legitimacy of explicit representations in relation to their contexts of publication and circulation, a paradigm that this dissertation argues had a far greater impact on both literary and scientific production than previously recognized. Examining a range of social-scientific studies, translations of Eastern works, and anonymous obscene literature, it shows how new discourses and reading practices, evolving around culturally imagined links between publication context and obscenity, encouraged cross influences between emerging social-scientific disciplines and the developing genre of pornography. The first sustained study of overlaps between scientific and obscene print cultures, this thesis provides a compelling new material and discursive history which contextualizes surprising historical intersections of science and pornography that challenge current understandings of the culture of scientific knowledge during a period associated with the medicalization of sex, and makes the case for bringing publishing history and historical methods of interpretation to bear on the historiography of nineteenth-century sexual culture.

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

The business of writing home: Authorship and the transatlantic economies of John Galt's literary circle, 1807-1840

Date created: 
2013-05-16
Abstract: 

This dissertation examines nineteenth-century Scottish author John Galt’s dialogue with the political economics of his time. In particular, I argue that both in his practices as an author and through the subject matter of his North American texts, Galt critiques and adapts Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776). Galt’s critique of Smith becomes evident when we examine the relationship between his engagement with political economy in his most important North American literary texts and his overt political interests, specifically those concerning transatlantic land development and colonial expansion, a project he pursued with the Canada Company. In Chapter One, I examine John Galt’s role with the Canada Company. Through a literary analysis of the Canada Company coat-of-arms and charter, I argue that the Canada Company ideologies were written into the very language of the charter as well as reflected in the imagery on the coat-of-arms. In Chapter Two, I examine the group of writers Galt employed in the Canada Company and the texts they wrote as a result of their work in Upper Canada. I argue that this coterie of Canada Company author-agents deployed the British periodical press to promote the Canada Company and its land speculation in Upper Canada. In Chapter Three, I turn to Galt’s most explicit critique of Adam Smith: his 1830 novel, Lawrie Todd. I argue that Lawrie Todd should be read as an adaptation of The Wealth of Nations that ultimately provides a model for British emigration that accommodates a desire for continued British national loyalty. In Chapter Four, I turn to Smith’s theory of authorship as being unproductive labour and examine Galt’s lengthy response to this categorization found in his 1831 novel, Bogle Corbet. I argue that through Bogle Corbet, we can see the central role of a transatlantic literary marketplace for successful middle-class North-American emigration. The project concludes with an evaluation of Galt’s correspondence with British politician Robert Peel. In this correspondence, Galt makes explicit the need for a literary periodical to respond to British political unrest.

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

Novel Shocks: Bureaucratic Surrealism and the US Novel from 1948-1962

Date created: 
2013-07-26
Abstract: 

Novel Shocks argues that the US novel transforms in the 1950s. Treating the post-war period as a key transitional moment between the decline of the economic and geopolitical systems that operated under what Giovanni Arrighi terms the British “systemic cycle of accumulation,” and the rise of the US cycle, I argue that the US novel too enters a period of transition. I develop a theory of a genre I term “bureaucratic surrealism” that captures the formal and political concerns of this transitional period. I take up Franco Moretti’s claim that, beginning in the wake of World War I, the novel was no longer able to absorb the “traumas” of modernity, but suggest that the novel understands what Moretti terms “trauma” as forms of what Sigmund Freud calls “shock.” The central claims of this dissertation are two-fold: first, that the novel’s temporality, spatiality, and subjectivity are not only, as Moretti suggests, “dismantled” by shock, but that shock also begins to generate and produce different kinds of narrative time, space, and subjects; second, that throughout the 1950s, novels approached the most pressing political and social questions of their moment through the language, imagery, and symptomology of shock. In short, I suggest that shock acts as what Fredric Jameson terms an “ideologeme” of the social and political struggles of the 1950s. This dissertation opens by framing the problem of shock in the 1950s novel through Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The following chapters trace how three seemingly disparate novels—Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch—offer a series of narrative solutions to the problem of shock. I conclude by suggesting that after Catch 22 a new novelistic regime emerges, one in which shock moves to the centre of the form. Looking ahead to the works of Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, Samuel Delaney and William Gaddis, I suggest that the neoliberal novel emerges, in a sense, from Snowden’s wound.

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