Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies (PhD)
Go Figure: Writing Numerate Literary Fiction
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.
My dissertation examines popular authorship in the antebellum United States. Following the print explosion of the 1830s, American authors found themselves participating in a slowly emerging mass print culture. While most scholars agree that massification proper did not characterize the production, circulation, and consumption of popular literature until after the Civil War, I argue that the idea of mass culture emerged in the antebellum decades. The idea that reading could be a mass-scale phenomenon provoked many antebellum authors to attend to the material effects of reading, while their relative freedom from institutional constraints enabled these same authors a degree of pre-culture industrial experimentation that was unique to the antebellum period. The title of my dissertation, “Secondary Authorship,” refers to a loss of confidence in the idea of authorship as origination; authorship in antebellum America, I argue, was a circular game of observing the effects of writing and experimenting in their causes. My first chapter analyzes Edgar Allan Poe’s recasting of Kantian disinterest in terms of mass interest in his short tale “Berenice.” In my second chapter, I extend Poe’s theory of interest to a consideration of antebellum city mysteries fiction, and, in particular, to the reformist poetics of George Lippard’s The Quaker City. My third chapter reads Herman Melville’s Pierre; or, the Ambiguities as ambivalent about its participation in mass reading. Finally, my fourth chapter examines the “minor” relation to Emersonian Transcendentalism that Louisa May Alcott constructs in her novel Moods. In the course of my analyses of antebellum fiction, I make literary critical use of systems theory, Immanuel Kant’s aesthetic theory, American Pragmatist philosophy, and the affect theories of Silvan Tomkins.
This thesis argues that one way to resolve some of the discrepancies in the theory ofidentification proposed by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics, such as his mask metaphor, is to approach his theory via theatrical conceits. By thinking of identification in the terms of an actor playing a masked character, in which to read a comic and identify with a cartoon character means to put on a mask and imaginatively play the character, McCloud’s contention of cartoons matching our basic mind-pictures becomes readily resolved by virtue of the fact that the mask is serving as a dramatic signifier of the reader’s inner reality. That is, by imaginatively bringing to life the iconic cartoon form, the reader mimetically becomes the character, hence making it entirely plausible for anyone to enter the world of the cartoon and see themselves in the faces of the characters. The mask thus becomes a logo that transforms the reader’s body into logos, granting access to the realm of the symbolic by covering up a reader’s personal identity such that he or she becomes a cipher, at liberty to see whatever he or she wants in the cartoon image. However, regarding the comics panel as a kind of dramatic stage in which the identifying reader is intimately involved as both actor and initiator of theatrical communication, raises other problems. It not only problematises the distinction between reality and artifice in an imaginative performance context, but also ignores the fact that masks are frequently used for purposes of preventing rather than promoting audience identification. McCloud’s theory, in attempting to circumvent the issues surrounding the fraught relationship between self and other that are inherent in any discussion of identification by applying the mask as a structuring term, raises new issues of its own.