The graduate representative for the Master's in English and joint Master's in English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is Miranda Peery.

Master's Research: Abstracts By Our Graduates


As the culmination of their tenure in the Master of Arts in English and Joint Master of Arts in English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies degree programs, Brandeis students prepare a significant research paper under the supervision of two faculty readers. 

We invite you to explore the abstracts posted here, listed alphabetically by student.  Please join us in celebrating the work of our master’s students.

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ANA ALBINSON, MA '13 : The Adapted Cinderella of the 21st Century

If fairytales are used as a warning or an analogy to teach those developing socially how to behave, then it is more than fair to look at the development of fairytales as a way to clue into how social development has changed. In this essay, I take a look at why various versions of the Cinderella tale have faded in popularity throughout history and why other versions have remained consistent in their popularity. Further, I examine the most recent versions of the tale and consider how the adjustments or changes in the retellings reflect back onto modern culture and depict how the roles of women, wealth, class and other social stations have changed throughout the twenty-first century.

LILY BEAUMONT, Joint MA '14 : A Sailing Away and Dipping Onward: Form, Gender, and Decentered Subjectivity in Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda has had a long and contentious critical history; famously, F. R. Leavis proposed excising the novel’s “bad half” and retitling what remained as Gwendolen Harleth. Somewhat more generously, later criticism of the novel has suggested that Daniel Deronda’s formal peculiarities—up to and including its notoriously bifurcated ending—are tied to problems of both genre and gender. With his final nation-building voyage to “the East,” Daniel takes on all the vague but impressive grandeur of the hero of romance or epic; Gwendolen, meanwhile, remains behind in the firmly realist world of nineteenth-century England, apparently excluded from the redemptive possibilities of Daniel’s quasi-Messianic project. In this paper, then, I aim to further explore the relationship between gender and form in Daniel Deronda by drawing on Elaine Hadley’s theory of “abstract embodiment”—the practices that, in marking an individual as both disinterested and engaged, universal and particular, effectively instantiated nineteenth-century liberal subjectivity. Thus, I argue that while cognitive detachment (and, in particular, a kind of cultural identification) becomes the paradoxical means by which Daniel’s identity as an individual is constructed and shored up, the efficacy of such practices hinges on his particular positionality as a well-off and (at least visibly) racially unmarked male. By contrast, for the novel’s female characters, the experience of detachment is one of fragmentation and alienation, even on the level of narrative structure; in shunting aside Gwendolen’s tragic narrative in favor of Daniel’s narrative of cultural and individual progress, the novel formally replicates the kind of marginalization of the (gendered/raced/classed) other on which the construction of the liberal subject relied. Ultimately, I suggest that the novel’s split structure is less the reflection of two different (and gendered) kinds of narrative than it is of two different (and de facto gendered) experiences of narrative; whereas narrative, for Daniel, is an exercise in both individual and communal agency—an arena, that is, in which individual and communal claims align—for Gwendolen, as well as for Daniel’s mother Alcharisi, it is a process of erasure in which subversive individual desires are violently assimilated into a teleological narrative of progress.

PAUL BOBOC, MA '16 : The Edge of World and Mind: A Study in the Semiotics of Richard II

In Richard II, authentic valuation and meaning-making occur at the boundary of the self, where the mind comes into agonizing contact with an exteriority that forces it to re-evaluate itself and grow into a fuller self-awareness, a deeper capacity for internalization. In the first third of the paper, I analyze the way in which words that seem to mean one thing mean many to explain how the sophistry of ceremony in Act I foreshadows the collapse of Richard’s world in the latter acts. In the second and third thirds, I analyze Gaunt and Richard (and, briefly, the queen) during moments of extreme psychological stress – moments when the threat of loss moves them into unprecedented inner worlds and novel methods of self-expression and self-understanding. Change comes to them through an extreme influx of sudden external disasters, acting upon their minds in ways that alter their self-perception, in similar modes. Disempowerment empowers them, finally reconciling them to the unavoidability of death. 

Career/Educational Goals: English Teacher/Writer/Translator in Europe 
AUDREY CERCHIARA, Joint MA '14 : Sustainable Gender and Pedagogies of Rebellion in The Hunger Games

Drawing on feminist theory, in particular Judith Butler’s theory of performativity, andecocriticism, in particular theories on the use of nature metaphors in literary texts, this paper reveals the Hunger Games trilogy as working machinery against binary gender systems. The novels provide an alternative performance that can be understood as a sustainable gender, wherein one constructs a gender out of available resources in order to navigate social structures. Through an ideology of empathy, the novels are specifically designed to communicate to adolescent readers a methodology of understanding and navigating social power structures, most importantly, the interconnectedness of these structures. Just as the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, finds a connection between her gender and her hunger, so the reader may find connections between heteronormativity and classism, for example. These connections allow one to form a deep understanding of natural and cultural environments. 

JAMES COBB, MA '13 : A Wordy Existence: The non-phenomenological functioning of intertextuality in the poetics of Samuel Beckett's Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable

Beckett’s oeuvre is not the representation of nothing or language’s failure, it is the understanding of language as the locus of existence in literature through the denial that language is as able to go beyond itself.  In incorporating the philological philosophies of W. V. Quine and the later Ludwig Wittgenstein, the mimesis of Beckett is one of intertextuality.  The novels of Beckett, specifically Watt and Three Novels, actively destroy the possibility of language to be anything more than the consideration in a particular instance of text of a background theory created through intertextuality.  At each moment the relationship between a particular instance of text and the background theory is created and then destroyed as Beckett removes the possibility of universality or subjectivity from his work.  The functioning of his literature requires that it function only qua language.


ANNA COOLEY, MA '12 : "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman": Role Manipulation in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion

Due to the limited number of female characters in his works and the minimal roles they have in the plots, many critics accuse J.R.R. Tolkien of being a chauvinist.  In recent years, however, other critics have started to excuse this dearth, stating that it is either because of his Victorian upbringing or because he was a medievalist and utilized medieval conventions in formulating his plots and characters.  In my paper, I address the latter.  I analyze how Tolkien utilizes medieval gender conventions and archetypes in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, as well as how he manipulates them to reflect a progressive, rather than chauvinistic, view of gender roles.  Specifically, I analyze the conventions of the romance heroine, the garden scene, and the peace-weaver, as reflected in the characters of Arwen, Éowyn, Galadriel, Melian, and Lúthien.  I refute the accusations of chauvinism, not because he used medieval conventions in writing his novels, but because through his manipulation of these conventions he promotes active female characters, such as the ones listed above, rather than passive ones.

LARRISA CVACH, Joint MA '17 : Punks, Bulldaggers, and Poor, White Trash: Reading for Coalition across Marginalized Positions in Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Sapphire's Push

One day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, people around the word participated in an international women's march. The march was a site where people could raise awareness for any issues that impact women around the world. Whether the march succeeded or failed, it raised questions for those invested in coalitional politics: who profits from the labor of whom, who may be allowed to be representative of which issues, how is womanhood experienced differently at different intersections, and who is allowed to claim legitimate womanhood. It is especially timely to undertake scholarly research that attempts to think through these questions. This paper undertakes the question of coalition, especially in regards to how one looks for strategies to form coalitions across different(ly) marginalized identities. I engage with Cathy Cohen's "Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?" (1997) as a structural framework for my readings of Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) and Sapphire's Push (1996). Reading these texts together offers us the opportunity to think about how to look for and draw lines of alliance across marginalized positions. I read the representations of abuse suffered by the protagonists as metaphorical for the ways girls and women are victims of institutional violence. I argue the girls form communities with queer women who become adoptive maternal figures, suggesting the need to look beyond the (inherently violent heteronormative patriarchal family for repair. Finally I argue that not only may we read these texts together, but in fact, we should and must read them together, as the shared reading constitutes a praxis of Cohen's theory, forcing us to read these texts across race, temporal setting, geographic location, and literary genre. Rather than ignore or dismiss identity differences, I read for the ways identity constructs experiences differently, and for the ways female adolescent protagonists form queer kinship communities as a means of survival.

Future plans and goals: Larissa plans to pursue her doctorate in literary studies with emphases on cultural and performance studies, eventually. She intends to continue her research on performances in music and youth subcultures. Until she returns to school, Larissa is interested in public relations and music journalism. Currently, she is taking a hiatus from academia in an effort to spend time traveling and being with family.

COURTNEY FIELDS, Joint MA '12 : Push and Pull: One Process of Queer Genealogical Re-Orientation Investigating Queer Memoir in Alison Bechdel's Texts Fun Home and Are You My Mother?

This paper explores how in both of Alison Bechdel’s memoirs the author/artist is focused on ways of using the queer identity she has come to embody as a marker to retrospectively orient and dis-orient herself around her perception of her parents, creating what Sidonie Smith refers to as a “mobile subject[ivity].” Both of Bechdel's memoirs explore how recognition (in Butlerian terms) binds the author/artist to her parents. With this theoretical context in mind, this paper focuses on how Bechdel's creation of graphic memoirs employs the knowledge of her parents’ experiences in order to perpetually realign her artistic construction of 'self' along a tangential axis to them both through a representational push and pull of objects and signifiers in literary space. Bechdel uses the question of her own sexuality and gender presentation as a central point from which to re-orient her identity production in relation to her parents', and in these two texts, I argue that she challenges what queer subjectivity looks like in the post-modern queer memoir through retrospective, queer, psychological spacial re-orientation.

EMILY FINE, Joint MA '13 : “Why are poore women blamed”: Reinterpreting Scripture in Lanyer and Speght

Although critics recognize both Amelia Lanyer and Rachel Speght as contributing to the querelle des femmes in the early seventeenth century, they rarely discuss these two writers in conjunction with each other.  In Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), Lanyer transforms a poetic narrative about Christ's Passion into a powerful defense of women, giving a traditional topic an unconventional twist.  Through her focus on women's honor and faithfulness during the crucifixion and on the apologia for Eve delivered by Pilate's wife, Lanyer embeds within her poetic narrative a powerful polemical argument that exonerates women for the Fall by blaming men for both the Fall and the crucifixion.  Similarly, in her polemical pamphlet A Mouzell for Melastomus (1617), Speght seeks to redeem women from their inferior status by responding to Joseph Swetnam's humorously invective pamphlet, The Araignment of Lewde, idle, forward, and unconstant women (1615).  She criticizes not only Swetnam's message in his pamphlet, but also his hermeneutical methodoloy, arguing that his interpretive framework for reading and analyzing scripture is incorrect.  Though she is often critiqued by scholars for being too conventional in her response, she strongly disputes Swetnam's misogynist claims using scriptural authority to help establish her authorial legitimacy.

Examining Lanyer and Speght together helps illuminate their shared tactics and reveals Speght to be less conventional and Lanyer to be more polemical than each appears when she is examined on her own.  Although they write in different genres and rhetorics, they share a similar strategy by relying on biblical traditions in order to undo them, and they believed themselves to be divinely authorized for this task.  Both women critique religious convention withing an apparent patriachal framework and utilize the scriptural passages typically turned against women in order to shift blame for the Fall to men and to give women equal, even superior, moral status.  This paper examines how Lanyer and Speght's use of scripture indicates that they did not passively receive the patriarchal values found within biblical stories and mandates, but reinterpreted the passages used to repress women in order to assert their equality.


MELISSA-LEIGH GORE, Joint MA '13 : "Love Invents the Body that is not an Object": Feminist Body Poetics in Sharon Olds

Once proclaimed “pornographic” by Harvard poetry critic Helen Vendler, and elsewhere considered “odd” (Calvin Bedient) or “bestial” (Diane Wakoski), Sharon Olds's representation of the body in poetry has often been a target of critique. Often as she is celebrated for her body-talk, she is also shamed for what she is willing to say through the speaker of her poems. I dismantle these critiques—primarily because they seem to strike at the heart (so to speak) of her thematic pleasures and talents. The aspects of her work that make some cringe are exactly due to her rhetorical strategies and strengths, and perhaps are even misunderstood by analysts and scholars who do not situate them as feminist theory activated or embedded within poetics. I argue that Olds’s work presents a markedly postmodern feminist aesthetic that eliminates the dualism between body and mind, creates a permeability between the bodies of self/subject and others, and asserts the embodiment of the political as she sketches it out of the family romance. Some of her critics devalue or perhaps fail to recognize these strategies as they are deployed in Olds’s poems. Therefore, the remainder of the analysis is dedicated to examining more closely just how her feminist poetics has evolved in its expression over the course of three landmark works—Satan Says (1980), The Father (1992), and Stag’s Leap (2012), particularly as the works consider the feminine speaker and her relationship to her own body and the bodies of two primary men that appear again and again in her work—her father and her husband. Most markedly, Olds makes possible what I term “a different kind of union,” reorganizing power structures and reconfiguring body logics to create space for them outside of the religious or the moral and bringing them into consideration as the focal-point of a distinctly feminist poetic ethics.


ZACH HALPERN, MA '15 : "'The shimmer and the smell, the peculiar force of money': Class and Ambivalence in the Fictions of John Cheever

John Cheever’s work is typically interpreted as a critique of middle-twentieth century suburban culture—a culture associated with dullness, alienation, and rigid social mores. Early on in his career, during the ’40 and ‘50s, Cheever was often lambasted by left-leaning critics for not going far enough in his condemnation of suburbia. Alfred Kazin, for instance, called him a “toothless Thurber,” thinking of him as a writer who complacently upheld bourgeois values instead of exposing their hypocrisy. Later critics read Cheever more charitably, recognizing a puzzling and compelling ambivalence in his social position. He seemed to be both celebrating suburban life and critiquing its shortcomings. In this paper, I try to move away from articulating Cheever’s attitudes towards suburban culture, for he wrote great stories about New York City, Americans abroad, and prison. And he wrote about characters from a wider range of social classes than only the upper-middle class. Many of his characters, regardless of their class, are preoccupied with money and its adverse influence on their lives. Drawing on Blake Bailey’s recent biography of Cheever and criticism by Alan Nadel and Stephen Schryer, I examine Cheever’s hallmark ambivalence as having to do with his ideas about socioeconomic class in general—ideas that stem from his coming of age during the Depression and from his professional experiences during an era in which literary labor became increasingly professionalized.  In addition to focusing on his most famous stories, such as “The Country Husband” and “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” I look at classics from the late forties and earlier uncollected works.


LAUREN LAPERRIERE, MA '13 : Propriety and Prejudice: Mapping the Social Sphere from Longbourne to Pemberley

In this essay, I explore the discrepancies between class and moral worth in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice.  I argue that while social class should be indicative of how a person behaves in the public setting, this is simply untrue.  What is proven is that the social behavior of characters in the novel reflects their true moral character rather than their social class status.  Austen allows the reader to judge her characters based on their moral worth rather than their social standing to show that it is not always social rank that defines how a person acts or what their worth as a person is.  I also connect this with the difficulty between choice and familial duty.  Throughout the novel, there are some characters who operate under the roles in which they are obligated to while there are others who push against the norms and expectations of their culture and society.  I ultimately argue that in this novel, Austen has written a critical commentary about her time by pushing against the idea of familial duty in order to promote the idea of choice for her characters despite what their families or society expects of them.

MARY KATHRYN MAHER, Joint MA '12 : "He fumbles at your Soul": The Erotics of Death and Religion in Emily Dickinson's Canon

Many of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters illustrate her inability to separate the powerful experiences of sex, death and religion.  While these facets of life evoke a superficial binary between terror and exaltation for her, Dickinson depicts their simultaneous existence.

She explores her intense attraction to extremely dark experiences through a metaphorical lens.  Yet, Dickinson’s attraction to such experiences does not reveal itself as dismal.  Rather, her exploration of death and the erotics of religion ultimately reveal Dickinson’s intimate struggle to understand God and her eventual union with Him. 

Dickinson and her speakers’ religion can be defined through a negative theological lens, in which their religious understanding is attained through doubt.  Dickinson’s vision of God is complex and tortured and focuses more on absence than presence.  She explores the moments of crisis in one’s religious journey.  These experiences can be mistaken for doubt; yet, viewed from another perspective, it is clear that they are the most powerful religious experiences.   The speakers direct struggle with God validates the relationship in a way that is not possible in the absence of such intimacy. 

It is the speakers’ doubt that forces them to engage in a direct relationship with the masculine other, resulting in this greater intimacy.  Emily Dickinson’s language poses a controversy regarding the nature of the masculine other, since her rhetoric appears the same as an address to a lover who has disappointed her.  The intimacy created through the speakers’ uncertainty appears as an erotic connection with a lover whom they both rebuke and adore.  Yet, these female agents express their ambivalence toward God’s power, not knowing whether to submit or defy Him, based on their own desires to assert feminine authority in the face of masculine domination.

The central experience of negative theology centers upon that which one cannot understand.  However, contrary to prevalent beliefs, the struggle to understand God represents a mode of faith.  The negative theological approach forces Dickinson and her speakers to engage in a more intense spirituality – not a lack of spirituality.  The transformation of the speakers occurs when they realize that their relationships with God have become so intense that they can see in the absence physical vision; they realize an intimacy based on faith.  Thus, they abandon their doubts and desire the ultimate consummation of love with the Divine in the celestial realm.

ASHLEY MANCHESTER, Joint MA '13 : Why?: The "Other" Last Man: A Critical Discussion of Power, Masculinity, and the Graphic Medium

Much current scholarship on comics and graphic novels examines the relationship between author and reader of such texts, attributing authorial and creative power to both parties.  In fact, scholars, artists, and authors alike have all commented on the possible revolutionary capability of comics to provide transformation, empowerment, and even reconciliation with personal or historical trauma for the reader.  In this paper, I seek to intervene in this scholarship and investigate how cultural codes are embedded in graphic texts a  nd how the process of reading the visual and textual together can (potentially) implicate a reader in reinforcing those same coded messages.  I situate my own experience as a comics reader in tandem with a queer reading of the Vertigo series, Y: The Last Man to comment on the ways in which the comics form sometimes forecloses possibilities for readers to gain authorial power.  I conclude by suggesting alternative modes of reading comics that can open up what Judith Halberstam calls a “grammar of possibility” for successfully queering graphic texts.


EMILY NISKA, Joint MA '13 : "Then she usurps upon another's right / That seeks to be by public language graced": How Cary's Mariam Provides Insight into Women's Use of Alternative Literacies as a Means of Negotiating Their "Official" Absence from Symbolic Power

In my Master's paper, I argue that some scholarship on the Renaissance and Early Modern period assumes a “straight-forward” approach to research, which suggests that access to linguistic and social authority happens in a singular, top-down fashion. In this top-down fashion, Aristocratic men, linguistically, socially, and intellectually superior by virtue of birth and physiology, enact a form of symbolic domination  by enforcing symbolic violence on those deemed inferior; symbolic and linguistic violence occurs when an elite male reveals the inferiors’ speech to be ineffective, impotent, absurd. When approaching Elizabeth Cary’s text, The Tragedy of Mariam, from a “straight-forward” analysis and analyzing it according to this type of prescriptive model, Cary’s vocal agency can be lost. Approaching the text as an open signifier of meaning that cannot be fully explained by a prescriptive, “straight-forward” analysis allows for the play to attest to multiple means of achieving symbolic power. A historically-contextualized approach to the text allows for the possibility that Cary achieved linguistic authority in a manner other than the “top-down” approach assumed as “official.” I argue that in The Tragedy of Miriam, Elizabeth Cary asserts female linguistic legitimacy and enacts symbolic domination in a somewhat non-traditional manner.  Cary resisted and quite possibly could have aided in reshaping the production of knowledge in early modern England that both enforced and was reinforced by the “naturalized” connection of masculinity, elite class status, humanism, and verbal authority. By revealing the impossibility of complete vocal control by anyone in the drama, Cary destabilized the aforementioned linkage.  I see Cary as either subverting, taking advantage of, or revealing a different avenue for accessing linguistic authority and with that authority, I claim, she achieves agency and social power.

BRITTANY NORTON, Joint MA '13 : The Reiteration of Heteronormative Kinship Structurs in LGBTQ Children's Literature
There is a great war being waged in this country over how Americans define the family in a legal, religious, moral, and normative way. These definitional battles are being waged on multiple levels and to explore some of these questions, my Master’s paper examines the field of popular contemporary children’s literature which features same-sex parents. In this paper I suggest that while traditional notions of kinship are being expanded to include same-sex parented families, there remains an element of heteronormativity which does nothing to eradicate the conditional nature of families as they concern parenthood and children. As a site of cultural production, children’s texts are crucial in this debate because the values being presented to them are indicative both of what mainstream publishers are willing to produce, but also what schools are legally allowed to instruct on. By examining some of the most popular –– and most controversial –– children’s texts on this subject matter, we can begin to develop an understanding of how same-sex parents are aligning with, complicating, and challenging the current understandings of kinship and family in contemporary American society. As it stands, the predominant conception of a family is the conventional patriarchal heterosexual family unit. The texts that have been chosen seemingly feature alternatives to this paradigm. However, I argue that not only are these couples being portrayed in hetero-normative ways, there is a conditional nature to their acceptance which is couched in the notion of “family” and romantic love. The arguments presented by the children’s texts suggest that in order for a same-sex couple to achieve the status of family, a child must be involved, and they must present themselves in ‘homo-normative’ ways. I argue that these texts are not to be seen as sites of rupture but rather are a reiteration of the family “values” being presented in contemporary conservative political discourse.
BRENDEN O'DONNELL, Joint MA '12 Toward an Aesthetics of Queer Negativity: Anti-Humanism in The Living End

Many debates in queer theory revolve around its tendency toward negativity: why is it valuable to suspect homosexuality’s ability to contribute to or change the heteronormative social order? Why must, instead, queers invoke negative affects like hopelessness, melancholy, and vengeance in their processes of calling for justice or radical awareness? By navigating discussions surrounding the queer aesthetic archive, my paper analyzes how art can resist queer negativity while simultaneously refusing to disengage from it. Theorists have located negativity in the queer archive in two major ways: Lee Edelman uses a theoretical lens to analyze elitist, academic art, and Judith Halberstam uses low theory to observe pop- and sub-cultures. My paper tries to establish a new category of texts that can be categorized in either or both archives, channeling both the negative affects of Proust or Woolf and the punk aesthetic of the Sex Pistols. Instead of the bitter irony of "God Save the Queen," we can declare, per The Smiths, "The Queen is Dead": an enigmatic and affectively conflicted statement. My paper searches for these declarations in texts such as Gregg Araki's 1992 film The Living End and Oleg Kulik's 1994 performance art piece, Mad Dog: Or the Last Taboo Guarded by the Lone Cerberus. These texts mix the blatantly irreverent with the melancholic, misanthropic, or contemplative, and manage to produce a more dynamic queer negativity that does not exclude companionship, satisfaction, and even love.

Brenden O'Donnell is taking a year off from school to work while he applies to Ph.D programs for Fall 2013.

MAXWELL PATCHET, MA '13 The Community in the Tube: Situational Comedy and the Isolated Individual

The situational comedy is one of those genres that only really work on broadcast mediums. The style of regular, weekly programming is central to the way that the sitcom works and what it is doing for audiences. It is the pleasure that one gets out of sitcoms that is the subject of this paper, and how this is related to the medium in which it is distributed. The sitcoms that were airing within the last year share striking similarities, which strangely are not noted by other analyses of the genre. It is this lack that this paper is attempting to address. Understanding the medium in which the sitcom is distributed in relation to the similarities in the shows’ structures causes one to realize why the shows have such striking similarities. These similarities point to what the sitcom is doing and how it operates. The sitcom promotes community while isolating individuals.

Maxwell Patchet intends to pursue a PhD in English literature and eventually teach English at the collegiate level.

MARIA FRANCESCA RAGGI, MA '13 : Between Despairing and Becoming: The Kierkegaardian Self in Woolf's To the Lighthouse

The scope of this paper is to show how self-despair is articulated in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in a way which I argue is very similar to Søren Kierkegaard's formulation of self-despair in The Sickness unto Death. Whether Woolf read and knew Kierkegaard is a question that no critic has focused upon yet. Neither has any critic considered her in relation to the Danish philosopher. Although from her private writings there is no mention of his name, my point is that either she was directly influenced by his ideas and put them into her novel or, more interestingly, she did not know him but came to a formulation of the same concepts which much resembles his.

After tracing how Kierkegaard's concept of self-despair gets his way in To the Lighthouse, in the second part of my paper I will focus on the way out Kierkegaard and Woolf propose and here I will show again how their solution takes an almost parallel development. This is still more interesting when we consider the essential basic difference that informs their philosophical conceptions. Kierkegaard's philosophical basis is religious, Woolf's is secular, so that their roads should traditionally be antithetical from the start. Instead, I argue that this is not the case: Woolf accepts Kierkegaard's thought and makes it hers. The language she employs is reminiscent of his as well. Yet, her following pari passu Kierkegaard's philosophy and informing the novel with it, does not mean that a religious basis is given to the novel, which remains profoundly secular, as Woolf's thought was. When she feels that an adjustment is needed not to compromise her own secular thought, she does not adapt her secular view to the religious; vice versa, she is able to translate Kierkegaard's religious thought to her secular perspective.

As regards the question of the particular kind of secularism I think she embraces, there has not been significant scholarship yet either, but a couple of critics have considered her in relation to religion. Pericles Lewis has argued that Woolf is seeking in her novel “to effect a re-enchantment of the world, a new form of spirituality independent of the Christian God and appropriate for the twentieth century”(144). According to him, Woolf was seeking to preserve, against the materialism dominating her age, “an intimate, imaginative sphere, a remnant of religious life and locus of mystical experience, which she called 'the wedge-shaped core of darkness' or 'the privacy of the soul'" (146). While Lewis thinks that Woolf's work rebels against her father's agnosticism, Mark Gaipa sees her novel as coming to terms with it. Gaipa gives an interpretation of the novel which is primarily based on Woolf's relation to the religious views of her parents (who stand behind Mr Ramsay and Mrs Ramsay). According to him, Woolf had always thought of her mother as a spiritualist, and of her father as a materialist: these views for her were irreconcilable. What he argues Woolf is able to achieve in her novel is “to bring them together” (30) in embracing agnosticism. For him “agnosticism connects her father's materialism and her mother's spirituality”(18). These critics' studies show, at least, that there has not been a void around "Woolf and religion," but the question I primarily engage myself with, namely "self-despair" from a Kierkegaardian perspective, has still to be considered. I argue that what emerges from a Kierkegaardian reading of Woolf goes against the critical perspective on the question of the self in Woolf which dominates at present. Critics such as Ann Banfield and James Naremore have argued that Woolf's world is “without a self,” while my point is that not only is the self present in Woolf but it is also her primary concern. Reading her novel through Kierkegaard helps to see this going on, but it also shows what is at stake in her particular secularism: if the basis of the novel remains secular in the proper sense of the word, her dealing with such an inner question as the self, and complicating it by adding despair as its inherent characteristic and the task of becoming itself as its central task necessarily compels her to acquire a spiritual dimension, both in the language she employs and in the solutions she advances. Religion is always outside her sphere, so that the secular is not in question. Yet, spirit is there.


JAYNE ZIEMBA, Joint MA '12 : 'At odds and ends of time': Performative Futures in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse is widely read as an elegy, or even a tragedy, as a novel that represents an immobilized sadness brought on by death and war. Such elegiac readings of the novel risk overlooking Woolf's "mistrust" in the absolute significance of an event.  I argue that To the Lighthouse is Woolf's aesthetic argument for an open-ended temporality, not necessarily an argument for progress but for potential. The characters in the novel turn toward performative modes of innovation via metaphor and identification with objects in order to find that the differences between the future and the present, between the virtual and the actual are not strict determinations but an opening up of possibilities. Resisting the precipitation of the virtual into the actual, Woolf anticipates Elizabeth Grosz's philosophy of temporality. In particular, the novel provides temporalities of futurity and possibility which perform latent or deferred significance through descriptions of "deflection," "intrication," and "elaboration." In the novel, the linguistic referent which attaches meaning to the word is made complicated through "intrication"; it ricochets through "deflection"; but it aesthetically persists through "elaboration." As I argue at length in this paper, Mrs. Ramsay identifies with the lighthouse and performs and personalizes its significance. Similarly, Lily Briscoe identifies with her process of painting and performs its "distance" and "space." These subject-object relations, in their intimacy and self-reflexivity, both enable and constrain the access to knowledge and even reality. By extension, the status of the object, in relation to the subject who defines it, designates the subject and her time as ontologically resistant; the time of the object is a "direction without destination" and selfhood is a becoming, a "movement without prediction." Ultimately, Woolf's experimental narrative temporality, when described in Grosz's terms of phenomenology, reconciles it to feminist and queer commitments to denormalization of metaphysical givens.