Sandra Tomc


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Scorching irony : anti-hypocrisy in antebellum U.S. literature (2023)

Scorching Irony: Anti-Hypocrisy in U.S. Antebellum fiction argues that hypocrisy served as a key heuristic for those on all sides of the U.S. slavery debates as they navigated and negotiated their positions in antebellum society’s racial capitalist economy and liberal political order. Accusations of hypocrisy flooded the U.S. public sphere during the 1840s and 50s, but previous scholars have generally ignored these exchanges, which can seem nothing more than distracting noise. I demonstrate, however, that anti-hypocritical discourse enabled important negotiations of political solidarity, agency, and responsibility. The period under study witnessed rapid capitalist development, accelerated by slavery, which disrupted the traditional ways that white Americans conceived social relations. The national economy’s increasing dependence on slavery challenged faith in the liberal subject’s autonomy and agency. At the same time, racialization enabled relationships of domination necessary for economic exploitation, creating subject positions that overdetermined established class distinctions. Hypocrisy discourse registers responses to these rapid changes. I look to this discourse’s refraction in the period’s literary productions, where authors both participated in the cultural exchange of accusation and reflected upon it through experiments with ironic modes of address that explored hypocrisy within the microcosmic relationship between text and reader.In chapter one, I read the work of Henry David Thoreau alongside white liberal abolitionists to explore their various attempts to extricate themselves from hypocritical complicity in slavery by aspiring to a personal purity through boycott and withdrawal—without, however, mounting a challenge to the racial capitalist system. In chapter two, I read the ironic innovations of William Wells Brown’s novel Clotel in the context of a Black rhetorical tradition that used hypocrisy accusations to expose and critique slavery and other modes of economic exploitation, treating hypocrisy as an index of material relations rather than an issue of individual morality. In chapter three, I argue that Herman Melville’s novel The Confidence-Man reflects a cultural exhaustion with the exposure of hypocrisy, as suspicion gives way to cynicism as the dominant attitude toward hypocritical inconsistency. Finally, in the conclusion, I briefly explore the afterlife of antebellum anti-hypocritical discourse through the Civil War and into the present.

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The daemonology of unplumbed space: weird fiction, disgust, and the aesthetics of the unthinkable (2017)

“The Daemonology of Unplumbed Space: Weird Fiction, Disgust, and the Aesthetics of the Unthinkable” explores the aesthetic and metaphysical significance of disgust in weird fiction. Beginning with the weird’s forefather, Edgar Allan Poe, the study traces the twisted entanglement of metaphysics, aesthetics, affect, and weird fiction through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, considering along the way the myriad attempts of authors such as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and H.P. Lovecraft to stage encounters with the unthinkable. Drawing on recent philosophical efforts to reinvigorate metaphysical thought – including speculative realism and new materialism – as well as affect theory, the dissertation argues that in contrast with earlier Gothic writers, whose focus on sublime aesthetic experience reified the importance and power of the human subject and entertained fantasies of spiritual transcendence, authors of weird fiction exploit the viscerality of disgust to confront readers with the impermanence and instability of a subject polluted by nonhuman forces which seep into it from the world around it. In doing so, weird fiction helps us to think about the nature of this queasy, nonhuman world, to glimpse an existence beyond the world merely as it appears to us. By investigating the intertwinement of the aesthetics of disgust and metaphysical speculation about the nonhuman world, the dissertation expands our understanding of weird fiction and the study of affect in literature. It thus contributes to a growing understanding of weird fiction as more than a pulp, essentially commercial genre, rather interpreting the weird as literature of ecstatic yearning for a non-anthropocentric reality, literature which dwells on questions of being, becoming, and the ultimate nature of the universe.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Haunted by desire : hallucinations and fantasy spaces in Henry James's The turn of the screw, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and Shirley Jackson's The haunting of Hill House (2023)

The settings of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House all take place in monstrous old buildings with horrendous pasts. The memories of Bly, Manderley, and Hill House are all haunted by the untimely deaths of past occupants, influencing each of the novels’ narrators to perceive the house itself is haunted. Because all three novels are ambiguous pertaining to the existence of the supernatural phenomena, criticism on the novels oscillates between reading the paranormal activity at face value, and in opposition, interpreting the paranormal activity as each of the narrators’ personal hauntings. These two differing interpretations split into countless other possible readings by debating why the house is haunted or why the narrators hallucinate the paranormal activity. This thesis joins the ongoing conversation through a psychoanalytical perspective and argues that the houses are not haunted, the narrators’ unconscious psyches are. It aims to examine how a lens of desire can help render visible possible readings that may have been overlooked when dealing with ambiguity in literature. While each of the thesis’s three chapters focuses on different novels, all three chapters come together to convey the same message; desire reveals a narrator’s disconnect from reality. The first chapter illustrates how the unnamed governess’s desire for her employer causes her to hallucinate apparitions in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The second chapter examines how the unnamed narrator’s desire for an identity is tied to her elaborate fantasy spaces in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The third and final chapter assesses how Eleanor’s desire to belong in a familial structure in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House leads her to believe that Hill House is haunted by supernatural phenomena. Together, these three chapters exemplify how desire can be used as a lens to uncover what is actually happening in each narrative.

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After couture: crisis, collapse, and the future of fashion (2021)

“Like art itself, haute couture plunged into a process of ruptures, escalations, and profound changes that related it to the avant-garde,” writes Gilles Lipovetsky in The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy (1987). Parisian haute couture, or high dressmaking, has long been regarded as a hallmark of the fashion industry. By contrast, ready-made garments—which prefigure modern fast fashion—are antithetical to haute couture’s association with original design and handmade craftsmanship. In response to this crisis of originality, the industry had to mobilize a legal arsenal to protect itself against plagiarists and imitators. As such, this thesis interrogates couture’s crisis of originality in the context of the industry’s litigation against fashion copies and counterfeits in the 1920s American fashion scene. Given this textured history, I maintain that the current crisis underpinning the industry is less a result of design copyright issues, as it has always had to safeguard itself against such counterfeits. Instead, I contend that the real crisis is the hyper-accelerated production mode that fast fashion champions. Against this backdrop, my thesis considers how this crisis of acceleration blurs the line between craftsmanship and design, as both processes undergo digitization, and fashion becomes increasingly dislocated from its late nineteenth-century roots in couture. However, the emergence of prêt-à-porter is a modern uprising against the hegemonic tradition of Parisian haute couture, and a prelude to modern fashion. Even though Anzia Yezierska’s Salome of the Tenements (1922) and Frédéric Tcheng’s Dior and I (2014) record a cultural structure of Parisian haute couture as the private, privileged space on one hand, and prêt-à-porter as the public space of modern, democratic fashion on the other. Yet, both texts deconstruct the false dichotomy between haute couture and ready-to-wear through democratizing fashion. This thesis argues that these two works of art invert couture’s cultural hierarchy and that modern fashion requires this other mass-produced realm for itself to exist as someplace special. Thus, for couture to maintain the artistic, the haute, it needs to create its own other. Therefore, these texts not only disrupt fashion through avant-garde creation but also intervene in a broader conversation after couture.

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Monstrous progeny: revisiting Mary Shelley's creature in Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2020)

Frankenstein’s Creature is the ultimate adaptation. Not only does he adapt mankind’s behavior and appearance, but it he is a literal collection of parts strung together and brought to life. It unsurprising that this position has encouraged filmmakers to further deconstruct and restore the Creature for decades. The process of adaptation mirrors Frankenstein’s method, as both Victor and the adaptation genre take apart old and decaying bodies and introduce them into new bodies of work. For figures like Guillermo del Toro, a renowned monster maker and film director, the Creature represents the definitive union of cinema and literature. Like Victor, del Toro is interested in collecting parts from previous media and creating new cinematic bodies. His projects thus focus on the overlap between real and unreal, literature and cinema, living and dead. A pivotal example of this is his 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth, which indirectly extends Shelley’s Creature both thematically and compositionally. Because del Toro treats his film as a body, one which can be divided and cut, he incorporates Victor’s principles into the filmmaking process. I am interested in the ways in which del Toro’s fascination with Mary Shelley’s 1818 text, and its later 1931 film adaptation by James Whale, influences his understanding of film. I suggest that del Toro’s Pan creates an ambiguous and liminal environment, where the boundaries between real and unreal overlap. Because the film juxtaposes its fantasy realm with fascism, it suggests that fascism corrupts the very foundations of imagination, making fairy tales political, and vice versa. I continue this discussion by suggesting that Pan’s liminal emphasis represents a broader engagement with overlapping parts, those which the Frankenstein narrative emphasizes. My first chapter focuses on the overlap between ideology and fantasy, the second on the adaptation genre, and the third details the female body, one who is frequently dissected and repurposed by these texts and the adaptation process. I do so to illustrate how the Creature’s body informs both del Toro’s subject and approach to filmmaking.

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The medium is the massacre: broadcasting from the apocalypse in The War of the Worlds (2018)

In this thesis, I discuss the 1938 radio play The War of the Worlds, analyzing the circumstances of its broadcast, its representation of apocalypse, and its manipulation of the medium of radio through its form of a simulated news program. I propose that the immediate hysteria it caused and the enduring anxieties it left were because of its medium more than any verisimilitude achieved in its tired and recycled narrative of Martian invasion. I consider qualities of radio as a telecommunicative and single-sensory medium, the demands of apocalyptic representation, and how the broadcast manipulated these qualities of radio to satisfy these representational demands, thus portraying an account of simulated apocalypse that was, on a formal and medial level, indistinguishable from a real one over the radio. Borrowing from the work of Richard Berger, I discuss how apocalyptic representation must occur immediately and immanently with the apocalypse itself; that is, the representation must be separated neither by time nor space with what it represents, right until the annihilating end. While many media cannot facilitate these demands of apocalyptic representation, instead reverting to prophetic or post-apocalyptic representation, I suggest that telecommunicative media are able to navigate the demands of truly apocalyptic representation through their overcoming of spatial separation and temporal delay. Working with the theory of Andrew Crisell, I consider the single-sensory nature of the medium of radio, and its propensity to render real and imaginary events indistinguishable. As a purely acoustic medium, radio necessarily incites an indexical process while simultaneously prohibiting its completion. Because radio prohibits the ability to index a sound with a particular source, and its specific temporal and spatial location, it creates a level playing field for reality and simulation where the two cannot be differentiated. As such, broadcast sounds become untethered from their particular source, ungrounded in time, space, and even reality. Thus, War was able to represent a simulated apocalypse indiscernible from a real one because of the single-sensory nature of radio, and satisfy the demands of apocalyptic representation with the immanency and immediacy inherent to the telecommunicative medium of its broadcast.

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