*2011–12 PHF Research Assistant
Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellows
in the Humanities, Faculty Advisor:
Warren Breckman, Associate Professor of History
My dissertation project seeks to understand how Zen Buddhism became such a key component of American cultural and intellectual life since the 1950s. The first chapter argues that much of its impact comes from issues relating to alienation from civilization which are most powerfully formulated in Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. By showing how the knowledge of the "New World" changed the history of thought, Rousseau's work is a fundamental example of how adaptation to new circumstances can cause a conceptual revolution. In the Discourse, Rousseau argued that primitive life had certain superiorities to contemporary civilization, but that Europeans were now helplessly cut off from that life. Rousseau did not think that we should return to earlier forms of society. Rather, he helped initiate a modern project which declared the necessity for human society to adapt to a world which was alienated from instinctual ways of being (a problem to which Zen would provide a near perfect answer). Using as an example the definition of modernity found in Foucault's essay, "What is Enlightenment?" I argue that Rousseau is a hidden but fundamental interlocutor for such prominent conceptions of the modern.
Consuming the World: The Rhetoric of Commodities in Eighteenth-Century Britain
This project asks how eighteenth-century British writers adapted to a society increasingly shaped by the presence and pursuit of commodities. I use "commodities" to represent consumer goods, including personal accessories, decorative objects, even pets – the types of goods constantly
proliferating during this period. While recent scholarship has explored the rise of consumer
culture in the eighteenth century, I propose examining how newly accessible and familiar commodities shape the literary tropes available to period writers such as Daniel Defoe, Eliza
Haywood, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, James Thomson, and Oliver Goldsmith. In other words, this project suggests that when commodities are incorporated figuratively into a text, their
presence demonstrates the significant attempts of eighteenth-century writers to come to terms with their ever-more material culture.
Fellini's La Strada: A Journey Through the Written Word, the Screen, and the Stage
This project is a comparative analysis of the screenplay, movie, and play of La
Strada by film director Federico Fellini and (screen)writer Tullio Pinelli. It draws on
important theoretical contributions to analyze the structural defining features of each
media and how they relate to one other in the specific case of La Strada. The beneficial
exchange and the clash between written and visual signs in La Strada aims at addressing
the overarching question of the reversible and irreversible implications of adaptation and
interrogates the key problem of authorship in relation to the different media. It moreover
wishes to illustrate the nature of the Fellini-Pinelli relationship and its consequences for
Remote Intimacies: Multilingualism in
My dissertation argues that contemporary multilingual poems use languages other than English to explore attachments to distant persons, times, and spaces. I trace a constellation of recently published works from throughout the Americas, examining their nostalgia for vanished writing systems, murdered slaves, dead languages, wartime childhoods, and bitter enemies. Combining attention to the formal structures of individual texts with a theoretical approach informed by recent work in queer theory, I argue that multilingual techniques index alternative modes of intimacy that challenge mainstream formations such as the couple, the family, nation, and language. Avant-garde poetry is infrequently considered in other fields, but the unusual attachments described in these poems constitute a uniquely rich resource for scholarship in sexuality studies on orientation and nostalgia.
Theater in the Novel: The Dramaturgy of American Fiction in the Age of Edwin Forrest
leading up to the American Civil War saw radical changes in theatrical practice, as blackface minstrel shows catapulted in popularity, melodramas focused on controversial local
themes like slavery, labor, and temperance, and homegrown stars like Edwin Forrest deployed new acting techniques with staggering success. Literary historians and critics have largely
scorned antebellum stage practice for being "subliterary" entertainment, but my project takes these theatrical innovations of the 1840s and 1850s seriously, for they offered major novelists—like Melville, Hawthorne, and Fanny Fern— cultural fodder for their lasting works of art. In particular, my dissertation argues that these authors adapted mid-century "stage
language" and "theatrical thinking" to their work in order to confront serious questions about race, gender, and freedom in aesthetically, philosophically, and politically sophisticated ways.
History of Art
Confronting Modernity: White Birch Magazine and the Japanese Avant-garde
From 1908 to 1912 the second generation of modern Japanese artists returned home to Tokyo after studying in Europe. Reframing the debate on Japanese painting, they used the venue of the avant-garde art magazine White Birch, to engage in a process of transferring, exchanging, appropriating, and, most importantly, adapting European sources to create a new modernism. My work examines key moments in modern Japanese art by focusing upon the careers of three White Birch affiliated artists; Takamura Kōtarō, Kishida Ryūsei, and Umehara Ryūzaburo. I argue that their participation in White Birch's dialogue with modern styles in painting and sculpture revolutionized the production and exhibition of art in Tokyo during the nineteen-teens and twenties. "Modernism," I propose, became an international language, style, and attitude, transformed for early-twentieth century Japan.
Public Lives, Intimate Archives: Queer Biographical Practices in British Women's Writing, 1928-1978
My dissertation argues that biography became the primary site of generic activism for queer women's writing in mid-century Britain. For Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain, Hope Mirrlees, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, the biographical acts of their late careers carried the promise of substantial pedagogical impact, and I argue that they became increasingly committed to biography as a genre in which to critique the marginalization of non-normative genders, sexualities, desires, and friendships. 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 these writers, disrupting, adapting, and reshaping the formal conventions that marginalize feminist and queer life stories became an urgent ethical process.
History of Art
The Machinic Artist and Decentered Subjectivity,
My dissertation focuses on a persistent tendency towards the machinic processes in Western art from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. In their adaptation of patriarchal, mass cultural or institutional practice, artists Yayoi Kusama, Cindy Sherman, Marcel Broodthaers and Andy Warhol rendered themselves machine-like. Ironically, this mode of adaptation, fueled by a desire to repeat, culminated in a complex critique and parody of the leveling impact of patriarchal structures, industrial culture and art institutions on the Western subject of 60s and 70s. The project explores the masochistic and humorous aspects of the strategies of adaptation underlying decentered subjectivity in the work of these artists in the socio-cultural context during the period preceeding what eventually would be codified as "postmodernism." It differs from existing scholarship on the representation of the subject in postmodern art in that the subjectivity here is by no means fragmented or canceled, but rather suspended in a masochistic desire for mimetic adaptation.
Legendary Effects: The Women Saints of the Legenda aurea in England, 1260-1563
My dissertation studies the inflience, translations and literary adaptations of the Legenda aurea within England from the thirteenth century through the Reformation. As writers translated these Latin saints' lives into the vernacular, they addressed new audiences, specifically female audiences; in the vernacular, women readers could access the second most-copied, and the most-printed, text of the Middle Ages. These tales dramatize many controversial issues in medieval religion: religious violence, female sexuality, gender roles, the potential teaching authority of the laity, and changing mores of religious practice. Such hot-button issues made the stories exciting and popular, but also inspired a fair amount of rewriting and adaptation by English writers with varying agendas, ranging from promoting Franciscan piety to encouraging English national identity. These translators singled out women saints as the focus of their strategic revisions. The English Legenda aurea tradition suggests that translation, rather than simply transmitting a source, can produce major effects. Adaptations can enable authors to transform the cultural meaning of familiar stories, potentially conveying contradictory and subversive messages within material of impeccable orthodoxy.
The Fate of Kant's Antinomies
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues that traditional metaphysics inevitably leads to contradictions that can be resolved only by accepting Kant’s critical philosophy. However, Kant does not limit his discussion of such contradictions (which he calls “antinomies”) to the 1st Critique; instead, Kant continues to present and resolve new antinomies throughout his mature writings. My dissertation analyzes Kant’s overall antinomy theory, emphasizing the overlooked philosophical and historical importance of antinomies presented in Kant’s writings after the 1st Critique. These later discussions develop a theory of teleological purposiveness that substantially refines and clarifies the relationship between morality and nature in Kant’s philosophy. My dissertation critically evaluates this mature antinomy theory and, then, examines its reinterpretation and adaptation in the writings of Schelling and Hegel.
Allegory Effects: The Romance of Redemption, the Redemption of Romance, and the Queste del Sain Graal
The medieval French Arthurian romance La Queste del Saint Graal transforms the tradition of Grail writing by interpolating interpretive ("allegorical") readings of the events it describes into its own plot. Rather than devaluing the historical time of romance narration in favor of theology's timeless truths, however, the Queste's allegoresis foregrounds the contingent nature of meaning necessarily produced in the linked acts of narration and reading (and especially of self-interpretation). The text shows us medieval romance's struggle to appropriate moral, spiritual and historical truth-claims usually reserved for the Bible while avoiding parody by acknowledging the fundamental difference between fiction and revelation and reflecting on the conditions of possibility of Truth's emergence in the narratable—that is, the historical as well as the fictional—world.
The Poetics of Molecular Biological Animation: Hybridizing Art and Fact in the Digital Realm
My project explores contemporary 3-D molecular biological animations, their production and their impact in the public sphere. Such hybrid objects, created through collaboration between animation studios and molecular biologists are part of the history of popular science exhibition, documentary cinema, animation and digital media, as well as biotechnology. It is important to recognize that these animations do not form some sort of objective atlas for use by scientists themselves; these are threshold, transitional objects occupying space in a discursive divide, mediated by aesthetic choices en route to the public of general audiences, students, investors, and policy makers. The trajectories of these animations are emergent and unpredictable as they orient intended audiences in the biomolecular realm and spread as video files on the internet, passed along as objects of curiosity, knowledge, and wonder.