Judith Paltin

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Literary or Artistic Work Analysis
Artistic and Literary Theories
Artistic and Literary Movements, Schools and Styles
Cultural Theory
Gender and Sexuality Studies
Literature and Mind
Literature and Music
Modernist Studies

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round

I welcome graduate projects in modernism, understood broadly, twentieth-century Anglophone literatures, postcolonial, cultural, and materialist studies, intersectional work in feminism, gender, race, and sexuality, and media and technology studies.

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

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Graduate Student Supervision

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.

Eco-illusions : uncovering urban nature in the modernist short story (2023)

A recurring theme in literary modernism is a feeling of alienation in the modern individual. Most critical readings of the modernist city have focused on urbanity as the main site of alienation thus far. However, this approach overlooks the great presence of nature in modernist descriptions of city landscapes. Due to the common impression that nature and city are binary opposites, urban nature is either perceived within cultural conventions of nature or within the context of the natural world. Both of these interpretations lead the reader away from a true understanding of nature as polluted and altered by the city space. Using selected short fiction by James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield, this thesis investigates the ecocritical value of illusory symbolism and characters’ misperceptions of nature in cities of the Western World. During a moment of internal crisis or epiphany, characters often notice the nature in their surroundings, like the snow in “The Dead” or the pear tree in “Bliss”. Other times, the narrator notes the character’s distance from nature in relation to their immorality, like the obscured moonlight in “Two Gallants”. However, the language of covering and blurring used to describe nature reveals its integration with the city. This thesis then proposes a third landscape of ‘urban nature’ in modernist short fiction with its own unique structure of meaning. I argue that the character is aware of this landscape, but applies false symbolism to nature in order to disguise their imperfect lives from modern society. In this way, emotional alienation exposes the city’s alienation of nature in the early twentieth century. This study explores various features of society – namely social normalcy, marriage, and fame – that distances the modern subject from feeling connected to their sense of self, and by extension, to the natural world.

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Exilic and national consciousness in Ulysses (2023)

In the past forty years, many critics have increasingly read James Joyce’s Ulysses through attention to the author’s subtle political attachments, focusing particularly on his parodies of Irish nationalism and his anti-colonial commitments. I continue this discussion by examining the novel in conversation with Edward Said’s writings on “exilic consciousness” and “secular critical consciousness,” arguing Leopold Bloom exhibits both through his ability to criticize the Dublin environment he finds himself enmeshed within. He separates himself from his surrounding cultures while still integrating his external environment into his understanding of reality. Conversely, Stephen Dedalus, ostensibly an exilic figure due to his departure from and return to Ireland, fails in establishing an exilic consciousness, as he does not liberate his mind from a subservient, colonized positionality, rather seeking escape in aestheticism, isolation, and material concerns. I particularly examine these two characters in the “Telemachus,” “Nestor,” and “Calypso” chapters in relation to the nationalist forces (Irish, British, and Zionist) prevalent at the time. Then, through application of Frantz Fanon’s post-colonial writings and discussions of national consciousness, in contrast to nationalism, I demonstrate how the novel mocks Irish Nationalist rhetoric without denying its anti-colonial basis. Through a stylistic examination of the “Cyclops” chapter inspired by Roland Barthes Mythologies, I argue that the nameless first-person narrator, antisemitic Citizen, and omnific arranger exhibit similar cyclopean drives for hostile mockery, in contrast to Bloom’s parallactic vision of empathetic love and compassion. Through this vision, Bloom finds a means of resistance even within the hostile Dublin environment that ostracizes him based on essentialized notions of Irish purity, establishing the basis for a national consciousness that can lead into an international consciousness of solidarity among marginalized peoples and groups.

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Myopic design and entropic domesticity: an exploration of computationally enhanced dwellings in contemporary gothic narratives (2023)

No abstract available.

The donkey's bray : analysing the modernist democratic crowd's political strategy in Finnegans Wake's III.1 using narrative viewpoint theory (2023)

Many Joyce scholars agree that the first chapter of the Wake's third book is narrated by a donkey (Atherton 2009: 115; Attridge 188; Cheng 36-38; Gordon 45-47; Leland 66; Mierlo 77-79; Norris 17) yet none has explained why Joyce would choose a donkey to both narrate and play the foil to Shaun in a chapter centered around a pointed dialogue between a populist political leader and his audience. This thesis explores the role of the donkey as both character and narrator in the first chapter of the Wake's book of the Democratic Age in order to discover its political aims. In the first part of this thesis, I apply Barbara Dancygier's Narrative Viewpoint theory to trace out a map of the chapter's narrative spaces, triangulating through verb tense and pronoun usage to identify where, when, and how the viewpoints shift. Once this map is created, I then use its topography to analyse the chapter's ecology in the second part of the thesis. Re-reading the map through the magnification lens of Judith Paltin's Modernist Crowd theory, I juxtapose what the donkey says, and where, with what Shaun says, and where, according to the standards set out by Paltin for identifying modernist fascist and democratic crowds. By examining the choreography of their politically charged conversation and analysing their speech patterns and viewpoint shifts according to Paltin's criteria, I discover that the donkey and Shaun are engaged in a verbal political tussle between modernism's democracy and fascism. This thesis concludes that, in the Wake's III.1, the donkey is an avatar of the modernist agile crowd. As such, it presents an early twentieth-century strategy for confronting authoritarian populism head-on in order to create space for democracy.

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Spanning the impossible gap: alternative spatialization in Djuna Barnes's and Mina Loy's Parisian writings (2021)

This thesis examines the ways in which queer/female authors engaged with, altered and represented interwar Paris in two prominent novels: Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (1936) and Mina Loy’s Insel (1991). Both of these texts are concerned with repressed queer/female subjects who engage with the city in a way that deconstructs bourgeois social mores. I argue that these novels, though often read as “placeless” or “ephemeral,” are, in fact, intimately aware of spatiality, and its potential to serve or repress dissident subjectivities. I employ a theoretical approach that is indebted to “geocritical” scholarship, both recent and ancient, at the core of which are works of: Robert Tally, Michel Foucault and Zeno of Elea. I begin, in my first chapter, by reading the represented spaces of Djuna Barnes’ opus, Nightwood. I examine how Barnes demonstrates disdain for dyadic partitioning of space, and how she instead sees generative potential in a radically osmotic relationship between places. I thereafter turn to Michel Foucault’s theory of “heterotopia” in order to delineate a reading that suggests Barnes sees in her form a potential to figuratively rebuild a world lost to her. In my second chapter I move on to a discussion of Barnes’ friend, Mina Loy, focusing mostly on her novel, Insel, but also attending to her poetry and political writings. Reading Loy’s writings in consideration of her relationship with two radical artistic movements – futurism and surrealism – I parse how Loy crafts spaces indebted to each group’s expressed scientific interest. I focus in on Insel and how its spaces are conceived of as analogous to non-Euclidean geometry, specifically as it was delineated in Zeno of Elea’s “paradoxes,” which were of interest to the surrealist movement. The culmination of this reading ends with my suggesting that Loy’s retention of Insel from the exchange economy was a gesture equivalent to a non-Euclidean conception of infinite space. I argue that these authors’ attention to alternative spaces, when considered together with their writing’s own formal qualities, as well as that of the art depicted within their texts, evidences a vital elucidation of space that thwarts the hegemonic, entirely logical, construction thereof.

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The relationship between truth, power, and the subject: the speech activity of the trans child as parrhesia (2021)

In the past ten years we have experienced a mainstreaming of trans politics through the rapid circulation of images of trans people and especially trans children on the Internet in digital communities on social media circling out into traditional media, and in political discourse. This saturation of trans* has led to a regulation of political discourse, new laws (putting “X” in passports as a third gender marker), changing spaces (bathrooms, changing rooms) etc. In this thesis I discuss the figure of the trans* child and what its emergence in the mainstream in the West means socio-culturally and politically in our current moment in the light of the historicity of “the child” as metaphor within medical discourse and its ties to the invention of the sex/gender binary, and sex as a racial phenotype (Gill-Peterson 2018). I further look at the speech activity of trans* children online on the social media platform YouTube and consider what makes the trans* child audible in the mainstream in our current moment? I consider this by thinking with and applying Michel Foucault’s thought on the relationship between truth, power, and the subject in the Western critical tradition in his engagement with parrhesia (truth-telling). Foucault argued in his last lecture series in Berkeley in 1983 that parrhesia did no longer function within the western critical tradition. What I posit in this thesis is that the Internet enables parrhesia to function again through digital communities and social media as a platform to speak truth to power. I argue that the trans* child functions as parrhesiastes in our current moment both enabled by the Internet and by the specificity of the history of “the child” as metaphor within western medical discourse. The trans* child resides between metaphor and materiality in our current moment and it is this ambiguity that allow them to speak truth to power as a parrhesiastes.

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Intermediality and the incommunicable: musical memory in Willa Cather's My Antonia (2020)

In My Ántonia’s final sentence, narrator Jim Burden describes the past as “precious” and “incommunicable,” suggesting that the novel confronts the problem of communicating memory and its subjective value (MÀ 196). One critical paradigm simply asks, “How does one share what cannot be communicated?” (Tellefsen 232). This thesis refocuses My Àntonia’s paradox of “communicating the incommunicable” to the limitations of what literature can communicate as a medium. It considers music as an alternative mode of communication in Jim’s memoir. The permanence of literature, combined with the temporality of music, enables him to capture his memories while conveying their transience. Therefore, analyzing My Àntonia’s intermedial form offers insight into how Jim addresses paradoxes of time, memory, and communication. I reconsider My Àntonia as a work of art or affect, giving special attention to Jim’s artistic process. Building upon Jeffrey Swenson’s assertion that Jim takes “memories of his immigrant friends and set[s] them into […] classical modes,” I demonstrate how Jim uses intertextuality and intermediality as artistic tools to aggrandize his memories (25). He maps Ántonia onto Vergil’s Muse: a method to instill symbolic value. Through intertextuality, she becomes a timeless inspirational figure. Additionally, many of Jim’s memories are described through musical metaphors or occur alongside dances, shows, or plays. Intermediality in the form of musicalized prose is a hyperbolic strategy to communicate incommunicable emotion. Levinasian and Deleuzoguattarian aesthetic theory provide the conceptual framework to explain how Jim makes his art objectively moving. His memoir, an image, is more impactful than reality because it is crafted with what I argue is “rhythm,” an aesthetic force that occurs “in the in-between,” permeates the reader’s senses, and affects their emotions (Levinas 4, ATP 313). By combining multisensory imagery and intermediality, his memoir forces interaction between the five senses and two media, thereby generating rhythm. Through a critical lens combining intermedial studies and aesthetic theory, I argue that My Ántonia is a musical-literary memoir that communicates Jim’s axiological beliefs regarding ephemeral beauty and value. Ultimately, this thesis claims that Jim uses technical intermediality to convert subjective emotional significance into an objectively moving piece of art.

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