Congratulations to the Graduates of our Ph.D. in English Program

May 14, 2020

The Department of English is pleased to congratulate the latest Doctors of Philosophy in English.

Brian Davis

In “Books as Archives: Archival Poetics in Post-1980 Experimental Writing and Book Design,” Brian Davis takes on one of the most interesting and unexpected critical questions of our time: why is it (and how is it) that books, as material artifacts, have evolved into archives—collections and compendiums not only of content but of entire cultural forms?

Davis defines this new mode of writing and bookmaking that he terms “archival poetics” through a set of nuanced and sophisticated readings that span some of the most difficult experimental texts of our era (Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Anne Carson’s Nox) and platforms that also include first-generation electronic hypertext (Bill Bly’s vintage computerepic We Descend) as well as genres ranging from fiction to memoir to pseudo-autobiography (Warren Lehrer’s A Life in Books). The dissertation is at once amodel of criticism and an original critical contribution to the study of each of these texts—all of it grounded in Davis’s clear and exacting prose.

—Professor Matthew Kirschenbaum, Dissertation Director

Emilee Durand

What stories do we use to understand the origins of society? In “‘At All Times andin All Places, Adored and Oppressed’: Gender, Temporality, and Conjectural History in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800,” Emilee Durand argues thatseventeenth- and eighteenth-century contact narratives set in “America” offer apowerful cultural repository for thinkers in the Enlightenment to imagine what agood society ought to be.

“America” in these works is imagined as remotegeographically and temporally, far away in space and in history, a set ofdisplacements that likewise posit the difference between then and now as one ofprogression. Yet, as Durand persuasively shows us, such stories of contact are stories of gender and race. These scenes repeatedly imagine violent, disruptive commerce between European men and Indigenous women, relations that simultaneously conflate the idea of Indigenous women with that of natural—that is, pre-civilized—women.

Drawing upon prints, maps, plays, poems, travel narratives, and novels throughout the Anglo-Atlantic world, Durand adroitly teaches us that long enduring fables of Enlightenment political order fundamentally rely upon the systematic reordering of time and an active forgetting of their own racial and sexual violence.

—Professor Tita Chico, Dissertation Director

Lewis Samuel Gleich

What do Jacques Derrida, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Native Americanwomen writers Zitkála-Šá and Louise Erdrich, African American novelists Richard Wright and Margaret Walker, and U.S. Southern novels, including Gone with the Wind and William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, have in common?

In “American Hospitality: The Politics of Conditionality in Twentieth-Century U.S. Fiction,” Lewis Gleich shows how all focus crucial attention on the idea of hospitality. Gleich reimagines the landscape of twentieth-century U.S. literature in terms of a multiethnic counterpoint of voices, each engaging scenes, figures, and concepts of hospitality, while all challenge the abstraction and disguised hostility to othersoften at work in dominant U.S. attestations of hospitality.

“American Hospitality” fundamentally turns on an alternative ethics of what Gleich calls “affirmative hospitality”: an open-ended engagement with hospitality defined both by active attention to the real-life conditions and contingencies situating decisions abouthow to treat others, and by values of affirmed singularity, difference, face-to-face engagement, and generosity in doing so. A new conception of twentieth-century U.S. literature emerges predicated on tropes of hospitality and ethical investigations to these ends.

—Professor Peter Mallios, Dissertation Director

Nabila Abdullah Hijazi

In “Syrian Refugee Women in the Diaspora: Sustaining Families through Literacies,” Nabila Hijazi draws on interviews and community-based work with Syrian refugee women in the Washington, D.C. region to examine the cultural, economic, and political dimensions of their Arabic literacy practices and English literacy learning in the United States.

Hijazi’s research reveals how these Syrianre fugee women use literacy to negotiate competing gendered expectations for their personal and public lives. For example, Hijazi traces how these women take upfood- and craft-based Syrian literacy practices within the spaces of their homes both to pursue economic opportunities in the outside world and to strengthen their families’ connections to linguistic, religious, and cultural traditions.

Hijazi’s dissertation deepens rhetoric and composition scholars’ understanding of the social, cultural, political, economic, and religious contexts that shape what literacy is and how it is enacted by women within refugee communities.

—Professor Scott Wible, Dissertation Director

Gerard Holmes

For the last 130 years, scholars have asked what the variant words, x’s, and slanted marks inscribed by the nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson on her manuscript poems—her “letter to the World”—mean. In “Discretion in the Interval: Emily Dickinson’s Musical Performances,” Gerard Holmes persuasively argues that these handwritten variants offer a set of instructions for reading akin to an improvising composer’s marked-up score.

In this extensive transdisciplinary critical examination of Dickinson’s writing, Holmes demonstrates the importanceof improvisational techniques for her poetry, and the profound effects of her environs’ soundscapes on her artistic sensibilities and compositional strategies. When analyzing the dynamic, cyclical, and generative process through which Dickinson created a growing set of performance possibilities each time she inscribed a given poem or added a variant word, phrase, or punctuation mark, Holmes also contextualizes Dickinson’s scriptural improvisation and shows how deeply embedded her poetics were with the European-American and African-American improvisational aesthetics prevalent in musical and writing cultures during her lifetime.

The archival discoveries that inform the acute analyses of “Discretion in the Interval” place Holmes at the vanguard of literary and cultural studies and have far-reaching implications for studies of authorship and composition, poetic traditions and poetics, literary history, and nineteenth-century American cultural exchange.

 —Professor Martha Nell Smith, Dissertation Director

Daniel J. Kason

How has globalization changed the way we experience everyday life? Daniel Kason’s ambitious, theoretically astute dissertation, “The Crisis of Scale in Contemporary American Literature,” answers this question through the analysis off our major experimental novels.

These novels try to represent the way we experience scale in an increasingly interconnected, globalized world. Specifically, Kason shows how China Miéville’s The City & The City, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, and Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand depict different experiential scales: the global city, the nation-state, the world, and the galaxy, respectively. Kason suggests that contemporary novelists have specifically turned toward the intellectual resources of genre (detective fiction, magical realism, space opera) to render the disorienting experience of living on our globalized planet.

—Professor Lee Konstantinou, Dissertation Director

Setsuko Yokoyama

The fact that Robert Frost frequently gave talks with the goal of making poetry accessible to general readers is not well known. In “Digital Frost: Accessibility and Public Humanities,” Setsuko Yokoyama redresses the critical neglect of Frost’s public talks, long overlooked because of the inaccessibility of recordings housed inarchives, by developing a publicly available pilot audio edition. “Digital Frost” foregrounds the poet’s dedication to a democratic integration of literature withdaily discourse and features how he, through humor, practiced auditory attentiveness to the figures of speech used by a range of citizens.

Yokoyama’s analyses of the audio edition’s design are part of a larger effort to build a cross institutional platform in partnership with literary scholars, special collections librarians, Frost’s family members, and his literary estate and publisher. The pilot audio edition showcases the social responsibilities of editorial productions and contests the seemingly monolithic discourse around “accessibility” through analyses framed by archival, literary, disability, and digital studies perspectives. The edition demonstrates that a culturally appropriate access design for online literary collections is only possible when technical accessibility is conceived from diverse socio-historical perspectives. Yokoyama’s work provides a model for other projects disseminating the written and spoken word, for effective information collation, and for digital humanities and the humanities at large.

—Professor Martha Nell Smith, Dissertation Director