Current Graduate Dissertation Fellows
Fall Term 2014:
Ph.D. Candidate in English
Cultivating the Arts of Peace: English Georgic Poetry from Marvell to Thomson
Virgil completed his Georgics in 29 BCE, the same year in which Octavian’s triumphs at Rome signaled the conclusion of the civil wars. In celebration, Roman authorities closed the doors of the Temple of Janus. This act communicated to the Roman people that the entire empire was at peace. Despite its festive meaning, however, such a symbol represents peace as highly mutable. Closed doors can be opened again: peace communicated in this way makes no promise of permanence.
Likewise, the Georgics portray peace and war as mutable states derived from the same fundamental materials. In Book I, sudden war compels a farmer to hurry into combat, so he forges a sword from the metal of his scythe. This transformation suggests that implements of war are simply implements of peace recast. Yet since a metal shaft can only take the form of one object at a time, we might understand the Georgics’ agricultural precepts as instructions on the labor of maintaining peace.
I propose that this georgic ethic informs English poetic representations of peace, particularly between 1629 and 1730. During this age of intense conflict at home and abroad, such poets as John Milton, Andrew Marvell, John Dryden, and Anne Finch depict peace as a state of constant labor. English scholars have long associated the georgic with formal imitations of Virgil’s poem, attending to the genre insofar as it helps us understand loco-descriptive and didactic poems written between Cooper’s Hill and the Romantic period. Only recently have they begun to value the georgic as a mode. I hope to show that this mode provides a language for articulating the problem and process of making peace after war.
Ph.D. Candidate in Romance Studies
Writing on Stage: Performative Authorship and Contemporary Francophone African Writers
Never a stable category, the concept of the author has changed over time along with the forms of media used for the circulation of texts. In my dissertation, I unpack assumptions about writers with roots on the African continent through representations of authorship in their fiction and how they are represented in the public sphere. I explore changes in both the academy’s and the public’s perception of literature in French, and examine their relationship to current conceptions of migration, transnationalism, and “legitimate” cultural production. After re-appropriation of language or form by artists once under political and cultural domination, seen in the generation of writers working after independence from European colonialism in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, what happens in the next phase of production and reception?
I study the writings and the embodied acts of five prominent writers working in French today: Calixthe Beyala (Cameroon), Fatou Diome (Senegal), Bessora (Gabon/Switzerland), Alain Mabanckou (Congo), and Léonora Miano (Cameroon). Through their public performances as well as in their published work, these five writers strategically perform the repertoire for the writer labeled as “African” or “immigrant.” They may play into or play up some of these prescribed roles, but in so doing they highlight the very apparatus that structures the publishing industry, including the problematic vestiges of colonialism that remain in place there.
Literary theory re-incorporating the author into the study of texts has not yet been applied to writers outside the Franco-French, Parisian-centered literary field. I examine the implications of theories of the posture de l’écrivain (posturing of the writer) when applied to works by French-speaking authors with origins outside this hyper-centralized industry. My corpus includes their written works, their presence in both traditional and digital media, and their appearances in person at literary events. While many actors in the contemporary literary field in French have been well situated in this way, writers with ties outside dominant French culture have not yet been studied from this perspective. My project fills this gap in contemporary criticism while asserting a new, more complete method of reading authorship, bringing writer, text, and performance all into the fold.
Spring Term 2015:
Ph.D. Candidate in Classical Studies
Myth-making in Greek Comedy
Drama was one of the most popular forms of mythological storytelling in Classical Athens. Today, Athenian tragedy is nearly synonymous with mythology, but comic poets also produced plays with mythological plots and featuring gods and heroes as characters. Typically, scholars have assumed that these mythological comedies simply parody and, therefore, are derivative of other literary treatments of myth. Although comedians did indeed incorporate parody, especially tragic parody, into their plays, parody alone does not completely account for comedy’s engagement with mythology. Not simply crude and inferior adaptations, mythological comedies engaged with myth in innovative and sophisticated ways.
My dissertation will broaden our understanding of how Greek comic poets of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE responded and contributed to their culture’s mythology. This is demonstrated primarily by analyzing hundreds of extant fragments of mythological comedies and comparing them to mythological accounts found in other genres, especially epic, lyric, and tragedy. On a practical level, comedians transmitted and revitalized old stories for new audiences, especially myths not decorous enough for tragic treatment. But like their tragic counterparts, comic poets did not simply repeat their inherited stories; rather they reshaped mythical tales for their plays, some of which even influenced later accounts in other genres. I hope to show that the comic mode of myth-making, forgotten but not lost, was just as vibrant as that of other poetic genres.
Ph.D. Candidate in English
The Catholic Margin in Contemporary Narratives of Slavery
In the second half of the twentieth century, a new genre of African American literature emerged: the contemporary narrative of slavery. This genre, also called the “neo-slave narrative,” refers to a collection of fictional works that re-imagine the experience of being enslaved in the United States. Motivated by the radicalism of the civil rights and Black Power movements—as well as by evolving scholarship in the fields of African American history, religion, and sociology—these contemporary narratives challenge traditional representations of slavery, revising the way we remember that “peculiar institution” and think about its legacy in our culture today.
Critics have long recognized the power of this genre to transform the discourse of slavery in the U.S. And yet, until now, no study has addressed the Catholic themes and images that appear at the margins of so many of these texts. Therefore, one of the fundamental goals of my dissertation is to account for the way that a critical engagement with Catholicism informs a wide range of contemporary narratives of slavery, from some of the earliest generic examples to the most recent. In contradistinction to the prevailing scholarship suggesting—both directly and indirectly—that Catholicism does not figure significantly in the African American literary imagination, the project documents the many instances in these works where Catholic imagery is imaginatively deployed to represent the historical experience of slavery. Specifically, my dissertation proposes that three tropes which have come to be associated with the contemporary slave narrative—“rememory” (Toni Morrison’s influential concept), possession and time travel—depend upon a recognizably Catholic worldview that, in turn, determines their expression. Not only does this argument push the current scholarship on African American literature and Christianity beyond its nearly exclusive focus on Protestantism, but it also supports my larger claim that in the works I examine Catholicism emerges as an oppositional discourse.