Virtuality, 2010-11

bullet Asma Al-Naser
bullet David Alff
bullet Julia Bloch
bullet Scott Enderle*
bullet Ellery Foutch
bullet Joseph Lavery
bullet Deirdre Loughridge

Phillip J. Maciak

bullet Melanie Micir
bullet Christen Mucher
bullet Emily Zazulia

*2010–11 PHF Research Assistant

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellows
in the Humanities,

Faculty Advisor:
Warren Breckman, Associate Professor of History

Asma Al-Naser, English

Afterlives: Specters of the American Century in Post-WWII American and Palestinian Literature

My dissertation is a comparative analysis of American (Bowles, Wright, Bellow and Silko) and Palestinian (Jabra, Kanafani, Khoury) novels in second half of the 20th Century. The dissertation is organized around a concept that I am calling the “afterlife,” a liminal space between life and death that can have social, political and ethical significance. The texts I have chosen all deal with different losses or “deaths,” ranging from personal to historical, and present the reader with a sense of being “undead.” My project attempts to construct an alternative model of the cultural and political relationships between American literary production and the Palestinian Question. I also aim at interrogating the ethics of the different responses to historical loss and their relevance to the post-war period.

David Alff, English

Public Works, National Futures: Projecting Early
Modern England

In seventeenth century England, the term “projecting” designated a variety of activities associated with improving management of the nation’s financial, agricultural, and infrastructural resources, from orchard cultivation and fen drainage to the repair of highways and the establishment of a national bank. My research analyzes how projecting writings imagined a virtual reconstruction of English topography and polity in this period. Through close readings of project proposals by writers like Walter Blith, Carew Reynel, and Andrew Yarranton, and consideration of moments where projecting topoi surface in the more canonical writings of Defoe, Milton,  Astell, and Dryden, I seek to understand early modern England’s preoccupation with what a speculative investment of physical and cognitive labor in public works could produce for a collective future.

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Julia Bloch, English

Genre Trouble: Gender, Lyric, and the Long Poem

This dissertation analyzes the ways in which avant-garde long poems written by women after World War II confront the relationship between lived gender and poetic genre. I propose that genre appears as a kind of “trouble” akin to that theorized by Judith Butler in her formative work Gender Trouble: as a space of both indeterminacy and possibility, and as an inevitable problem of modern subjectivity. Drawing on the fields of poetics, queer theory, and genre theory, this project argues that the revision of previously feminized lyric modes in postwar women’s poetry rewrites the relationship between gender and poetic form.

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Scott Enderle, English

Properties of Reading: Copyright and the English Novel, 1739–1774

While copyright since Foucault's "What is an Author" has been associated with the emergence of modern authorship, I show how eighteenth-century debates over literary property in Britain also transformed ideas about readers and reading, particularly in prose fiction. Analyzing works by Fielding, Richardson and Sterne, I argue for a view of copyright not as authorial property, but as a covenant between writer, printer and reader centered around a social abstraction—the work.

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Ellery Foutch, History of Art

Arresting Beauty: The Perfectionist Impulse of Peale’s Butterflies, Heade’s Hummingbirds, Blaschka’s Flowers, and Sandow’s Body

This project investigates nineteenth-century ideas about perfection and its preservation. Studies of Titian Peale’s butterfly projects, Martin Johnson Heade’s depictions of hummingbirds, representations of bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, and Harvard’s “Glass Flowers” reveal a period desire to stop time at a perfect moment, arresting a “perfect state” amidst turn-of-the-century fears and hopes about change, decay, progress, and evolution. As technologies of representation and reproduction radically changed expectations and understandings of images and their circulation, centuries-old debates about mimesis, idealization, realism and naturalism acquired greater urgency. These works are distillations of a perfect moment captured in a culture that was made increasingly aware of temporality by the introduction of standardized time, alarm clocks, factory schedules, and the emerging media of instantaneous photography and film.

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Joseph Lavery, Comparative Literature

The Form of Ethics in British Aestheticism

This project reads the text of British aestheticism in the light of psychoanalytic theories of desire, aesthetics and ethics, as proposed in recent work by the theorists of the Ljubljana school. Alenka Zupančič has argued for the importance of ethical categories to aesthetic thinking, since both aesthetics and ethics are discourses for mediating desire. The famous aestheticist proclamation of “art for art’s sake”, far from suggesting the apparent remoteness of art from a logic of ethics, can be seen as gesturing towards something similar – the generation of an ethical responsibility – a “sake” – for art.

Proceeding through readings of Pater, Wilde and Swinburne, I argue that the loose conception of art that they shared is a logic of desire with as much in common with ethical thinking as aesthetics, and that what is sometimes name the “autonomy” of the artwork means, for these writers, desire mediated by responsibility.

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Deirdre Loughridge, Music History

Technologies of the Invisible: Optical Instruments and Musical Romanticism

To early Romantics, music revealed distant worlds, inner lives, and spirit realms. Though musicologists have traditionally viewed these as metaphors for the noumenal reality of idealist philosophy, they in fact have a material basis in the telescopes, microscopes, peepboxes and magic lanterns of the eighteenth century. Tracing music’s interactions with optical instruments in popular entertainment, opera, and musical discourse from 1770 to 1820, I demonstrate that early Romantic aesthetics and listening practices grew out of music’s associations with optical images, and that they solidified a new attitude towards mediated perception and virtual realities. Whereas Enlightenment era thinkers worried over the capacity of instruments to deceive, early Romantics embraced the sensations delivered by instruments as closer to truth than the gross corporealities of unmediated experience.

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Phillip J. Maciak, English

Technologies of Belief: The American Life of Jesus,

My project examines representations of Jesus Christ in U.S. fiction and early film—texts like Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Black Christ” stories, and D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation—from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. These works act as sites of convergence, employing a wide variety of techniques to materialize, naturalize, or simply represent belief. Blending genres and discourses—historical romance and academic historiography, documentary and trick film—these artists create hybrid technologies of belief in order to represent the supernatural in an age of scientific rationalism. By collapsing past and present, sacred and secular, seen and unseen, these imaginative improvisations on the gospels attempt to come to terms with the horror of racial violence, the unsettling advance of technology, and the rise of American Empire—constituting a vision of American society more alive to both the terrible and the transcendent.

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Melanie Micir, English

Public Lives, Intimate Archives: Queer Biographical Practices in British Women's Writing, 1928-1978

My dissertation suggests that five modernist women writers—Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Hope Mirrlees—take up the historically conservative genre of biography in order to critique the marginalization of non-normative genders and sexualities in traditional biographical histories. If biography investigates, charts, records, and memorializes individual lives, then the formal structure and generic conventions of biography are directly related to the types and ways of life that are understood as normal—or even possible—for future readers. For each of these writers, experiments in biography signal moments of generic activism in which they question the changing boundaries of the memorable—if neither traditionally narratable nor necessarily imitable—life story. This dissertation illuminates the ways in which the textual politics of these interventions in modernist biography are also sexual politics.

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Christen Mucher, English

Virtual Pasts: Technologies of Reconstruction and the Modern Human Sciences

From the Madrid “dinosaur” of 1795 to the mock-up Mexican temples at the 1867 Paris Exposition, from Frances Lee’s 1940s “Nutshell Studies” to CGI simulations on CSI and Bones, modern processes of reconstruction offer a certain virtual proximity to the supposed actuality of the past. Yet, while a replica’s materiality makes claims to authenticity and accuracy, technologies of modeling often rely on ideal, imagination, and pastiche—resulting, for example, in “dinosaurs” that resemble elephants or fantasy passed off as museum artifacts. My project examines the ways in which the modern human sciences—specifically history, archaeology, and forensic anthropology—have used technologies of the virtual to bridge the gap between past and present, while at the same time challenging the line between actuality and virtuality.

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Emily Zazulia, Historical Musicology

From Note to Tone: The Enigmatic Notation of
Matthaeus Pipelare

Experienced singers normally require no instruction on how to read music—that is, how to translate written symbols into heard song. However, sometimes the musical symbols are not the only source of information. Fifteenth-century music occasionally includes inscriptions, known as verbal canons, which tell the singer what to do with the notes they accompany. This notation opens up a space between the written and the sounding, with musical manipulation taking place off the page. My project for the Humanities Forum is to consider the notational usage of Matthaeus Pipelare, a composer who took particular interest in both verbal canons and complex notation. Pipelare’s music advances considerations of what exactly notation was for when it was more than a written record of sound.

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