Kevin McNeilly

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


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.

Living song: an intergenerational investigation of Moravian folk song (2021)

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, biologist/ethnomusicologist VladimírÚlehla (1888-1947) transcribed hundreds of folk songs from Strážnice, his hometown in therural region of Slovácko, which lies at the border of present-day Czech and SlovakRepublics. For Úlehla, Slovácko songs were living organisms, intimately related to thelandscape and carried through time by family clans. Some of his interlocutors were relatives.Others were relations forged by decades of friendship. Vladimír was my great-grandfather,and his monograph Živá píseň (Living Song, 1949) provided a means for me to enter into amusical-cultural heritage that was ruptured when my father escaped communistCzechoslovakia and entered North America as a refugee. Informed by song transcriptions,Vladimír’s ideas about living song, childhood experiences musicking with family members,and ethnographic fieldwork, this dissertation seeks to address the life of song, even whenhybridity, rupture, and transplant figure into that inquiry.Through a networked, rhizomatic framework and mixed-methods approach, thisresearch brings a number of theoretical, historical and methodological contexts to bear onaddressing the living nature of song. Family oral history, interviews with musicians, and folksong poetics gesture towards a Slovácko cosmology that inscribes a world co-inhabited byhumans, ancestral spirits, birds, trees, waters, mountains, and storms, all of which areconceived as animate and interrelated. Participant observation, my own research-creation andsubsequent song-bartering (Bovin 1988) offer glimpses into the powerful role that songsplay in connecting people with one another and with their ancestors. I describe how duringfieldwork, the cultural hybridity of my performing body called many complex and painfulhistories into question and disrupted folk song’s alliance with cultural purity, which wasespecially provocative in an era of heightened xenophobia. Weaving together a considerationof the formal qualities of songs, their affectual, emotional power, and the historical/politicalcontexts in which they appear, Slovácko songs emerge as agentive entities with which ahuman might collaborate in a variety of culturally-specific performance ecologies, therebyopening possibilities for ethical, anticolonial research practices and interpersonal encounterswithin a heterogeneous, multicultural society facing crises of social injustice, the COVID-19pandemic, and impending climate catastrophe.

View record

Performing memory: American poets theater and the poetics of the archive, 1945-1995 (2021)

This dissertation uses the methodological tools of archival research to interrogate the relationship between performance, community, and memory in an extended study of American poets theater, a quasi-genre or aesthetic tendency that aligns poetic practices with the conventions of theatre and site-specific performance. At the same time, archival theory provides a theoretical framework for thinking through poets theater’s coterie function. I trace a poetics of the archive across American poetry after 1945 to argue that poets theater creates an accessible record of past communities and community events. In keeping with this community-focused approach, each chapter of this dissertation addresses the origins of American poets theater in the social and aesthetic contexts from which it develops, including the New York School and second-generation New York School of poets, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the New Narrative Movement. Each community, I argue, contributes to the development of poets theater as we recognize it today. Building on these situated contexts, this dissertation also draws on the work of Rebecca Schneider to suggest that poets theater should be read as both a form of re-enactment and an archival-theatrical event. I argue that poets theater operates as a trans-historical tool of the coterie that, through the process of re-enactment, works to capture, recreate, create anew, or signal affective connections across spaces and times. This allows poets theater to extend the parameters of coterie to include both the original event and the re-performance of it, eliciting community membership to both audience members and performers alike across times and performances.

View record

"The megaphone of destiny--" composition, voice, and multitude in the auditory avang-garde of the twentieth century: Gertrude Stein, Samuel Becket, John Cage, and Frank Zappa (2014)

This thesis traces the critical history of the term ‘auditory turn.’ Following Marshall McLuhan, I argue that the emergence of sound and sound-oriented concepts in Twentieth-Century literature and culture exemplifies a paradigm shift in the way a literary text operates. This shift affects not just literature but forms of literacy and literary analysis. By drawing on McLuhan’s notions like ‘the scandal of cubism’ and the ‘acoustic space’ as well as Walter Ong’s ‘secondary orality’ along with subsequent research in media and sound studies, I examine a group of selected works that manifest the idea of auditory text, a text characterized by performative sonority, aspiring to the condition of music. The thesis offers four ‘representative anecdotes’ of the ‘auditory turn’ in avant-garde and experimental literature, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, John Cage, and Frank Zappa, each of which is engaged in a separate chapter. Chapter 1 draws on the relationship between sound and presence and landscape as it applies to Stein’s ideas concerning composition and landscape theatre. Chapter 2 turns to selected short prose works of Beckett to demonstrate the attention to sound in the way in which the problem of voice as a marker of self preoccupies Beckett. Chapter 3 examines selected writings of John Cage that engage the problem of sound and voice both theoretically, as themes addressed critically, and in his practice of using voice as an instrument. Chapter 4 directs critical attention to Frank Zappa’s writings as well as musical compositions that explicitly engage the issue of sound, voice, and noise in popular culture. The four chapters help develop systematically the structural argument of the thesis concerning the interface of sound, text, and image, demonstrating this interface to manifest in three related ways, as composition, voice, and multitude (also referred to as peopling).

View record

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.

"What remains remain remains": scrapbooking grief in the memoirs of Alison Bechdel, Anne Carson, and Karen Green (2019)

This thesis explores multimodal, scrapbook-style responses to loss in three autobiographical works: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Anne Carson’s Nox, and Karen Green’s Bough Down. With particular consideration to their use of the deceased’s documents, scraps, and detritus in articulating their grief, I argue that these authors manipulate their archives and reassemble their contents to generate new past, present, and future conditions for their relationships both to the dead and to themselves. From the wreckage of artifacts – paper scraps, paste, and ink – counter-histories emerge framed by desire and affection: works that present fragmented histories as changed by the material engagements of those left behind. By virtue of these books’ experimental, collage-style forms, and their often-intertextual meditations on loss, this project necessitates diverse theoretical engagement. It draws on scholarship primarily from the fields of media studies, cultural studies, queer and feminist critical theory in accounting for Bechdel, Carson, and Green’s formulations of grief, memory, and time. As becomes apparent over each case study, all of these works ultimately resist their authors’ closure and resolve in suspended irresolution. This project considers how these authors’ formal experimentation stresses the impossibility of their catharsis; the gap between body and shadow, past and present, dead and living refuses reconciliation.

View record

A pauper of pop: Mac DeMarco, sound fidelity, and the politics of noise (2018)

This thesis is a subcultural reading of Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco’s recording style. I examine how acoustic noise, crude production values, and do-it-yourself ethics exact symbolic and practical resistances to pop music hegemonies that privilege hi-fi sound and elite studio technologies. As an expression of what Dick Hebdige calls a “spectacular subculture,” I argue DeMarco’s self-taught recording style challenges technical standards in the recording arts, tastes underpinning the economy of popular music, and codes of masculinity in popular rock music. Borrowing from the work of Jacques Attali and Tony Grajeda, I explain how DeMarco’s “lo-fi” Makeout Videotape recordings use noise and distortion to symbolize and enact ruptures in procedural and aesthetic scripts that denounce non-professional music production. However, many of DeMarco’s other recordings are not decidedly lo-fi. Focusing on songs from Rock and Roll Nightclub and 2, I argue DeMarco also challenges lo-fi mythology as a form of resistance, using its crude DIY production technologies to instead create a more refined aesthetic, downplaying noise and distortion. Drawing from ideological and material histories of sound fidelity in the work of Friedrich Kittler and Jonathan Sterne, I argue DeMarco exposes what Sterne calls decompositionism, “a plurality of relationships to noise for engineers, for listeners, and for many others through the total disassembly of sound” (MP3 126). While privileging music production rooted in the quotidian, DeMarco maintains an ironic distance, often disavowing the importances of his work. Borrowing from Susan Sontag, I analyze how DeMarco engages “camp” style through sound reproduction, turning his sociopolitical disruptions into cultural satires that he is himself also implicated in. My overall aim is to examine, through DeMarco’s sound reproduction processes, how subcultural music styles can express and manifest their own alternative social codes and economies within pop music’s aesthetic and technological hegemonies.

View record

An ecocritical approach to tourism in the writings of Kathleen Jamie (2018)

Kathleen Jamie is a Scottish author whose work often details her travels through both the “natural and unnatural world” (Findings 1). Previous criticism has examined her work in the context of nature writing and Jamie has suggested that she writes “‘toward' the natural world” (“Author Statement”). Jamie also frequently represents herself as a tourist, travelling ‘toward’ different regions of the globe. I argue that Jamie’s writings as a tourist and as a naturalist are inextricably intertwined. The fusion of these two positions results in an approach that is self- reflexive and constantly reconsidering the limits of the human body in its connectedness to the world. Primarily, I examine the intersections between ecocriticism and tourism through an exploration of Jamie’s writings. I employ tourism theory, incorporating discourses of desire, imagination, and authentic connection, alongside ecological approaches that assess corporeal limits in the context of the natural world, and I do so to explore how the categorization of nature and culture affects our perceptions of other-than-human-world and the histories we write about it. I argue that her poetry and non-fiction map an ecocritical tourism that understands the complex dynamics of humanity’s failure to separate “the natural and unnatural world” as foundational to theories of ecotourism. This fusion of ecology and tourism maps an ecocritical form of tourism that reassesses the boundaries of culture and nature and, in doing so, emphasizes engagement, inquiry, and histories of shared vulnerability.

View record

The practice of everyday crimefighting: urban space in three eras of Batman comics (2017)

This thesis project uses the spatial theory of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life to articulate an incipient delinquency in the movement of the superhero – in this case, The Batman – by examining three different serial runs of comic: the Golden Age pulp of the 1940s, Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Scott Snyder’s 2011 “Court of Owls” story arc. The attendant images of diegetic urban space are crucial to this analysis and, by examining the narratives imbued therein, offer a new approach to the superhero comic beyond mere historical referent.

View record

'We Gon' Be Alright': Kendrick Lamar's Criticism of Racism and the Potential for Social Change through Love (2016)

This thesis explores Kendrick Lamar’s criticism of institutionalized racism in America and its damaging effects on African-American subjectivity on his albums Section.80, Good Kid M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly. The albums address the social implications of racism in the present day, throughout Lamar’s life and throughout the lives of his ancestors. In my analysis of Lamar’s albums, I address the history of American chattel slavery and its aftermath as a social system that privileges white over black. On the basis of my interpretation of the penultimate track on To Pimp a Butterfly, “i,” I propose a love ethic as a means through which the American social order can be changed. I take the term love ethic from Cornel West and bell hooks. A love ethic is a means through which individual bodies hurt by racism can be recognized and revalorized. Through the course of his three studio albums Lamar offers a narrative remediation of America’s discriminatory social order. In so doing, Lamar enacts the social change he wishes to see in America.

View record

Voice in Text: Translating Orality in Robert Bringhurst's A Story as Sharp as a Knife, Harry Robinson's Write It on Your Heart, and War Party's The Reign (2010)

Voice in Text investigates the process of translation that occurs when transmitting oral stories into a written framework with the intention to bridge the gaps that exist between oral traditions and technological scholarship. This thesis explores the potential motives behind Robert Bringhurst’s retranslation of John Swanton’s Haida texts, Wendy Wickwire’s transcription of Harry Robinson’s stories onto the page, and War Party’s use of Hip Hop as an expression of Native identity. Translating (one culture into another and the spoken into the written) can be used as a tactic to reinscribe cultural priorities and also to enact resistance. A storyteller’s allowance of the transcription and translation of their stories can be read as a plea for a listening that functions cross-culturally, a listening in which we can gradually learn to hear the storyteller’s voice in a written context. I apply theories of hybridity and intersubjective approaches to listening in my investigation to uncover how the translator and storyteller engage in a cross-cultural mode of transformation. Because of the highly sensitive nature of translating First Nations literature into a European poetic context, as both Bringhurst and Wickwire do, I explore some of the debates surrounding cultural appropriation, as well as show how potential divergences between written and oral practices interact to question what constitutes a respectful rendering of another culture. In many cases, writing and orality can function within a unified synthesis that reflects the priorities of both mediums simultaneously. Ultimately, this project is intended to provide an ethical approach to listening, an approach that places responsibility on a reader’s own approach to a text, in order to show that a sensitive reading is itself a process that involves a highly dialogic and integral role in the process of uncovering a human voice in text.

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Follow these steps to apply to UBC Graduate School!