Selected Alumni AbstractsStudents in the joint Master of Arts degree study a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches and emerge with crucial research and communication skills. After graduation, Brandeis Alumni go on to a variety of careers as well as making significant contributions to academic, civic, and other organizations.
Selected Alumni Abstracts
Project Title: Maternal Orientalism: Chinese Transracial Adoption, White Motherhood, and the Construction of the Chinese Birth Mother
Abstract: This article examines three documentaries about transracial adoption from China to the United States: Adopted, Found in China, and Somewhere Between. In each film, familiar patterns of white saviorism, colorblind racism, and American exceptionalism combine to create and sustain a sentimental image of transracial adoption. In response, I develop the term “maternal Orientalism” to describe the racialized and gendered ways in which the white adoptive parents construct the Chinese birth mother. Section 1 explores Adopted and draws out the often-overlooked continuities between Korean and Chinese adoption. In Section 2, I discuss Found in China and Somewhere Between, both of which document heritage trips, in tandem. Together, they demonstrate how adoptees often internalize mythical narratives of war and rescue that dominate the white American imagination. Furthermore, I demonstrate how, in order to protect the structure of the white adoptive family, adoptees themselves may inadvertently reify problematic constructions of the Chinese birth mother. By listening to and centering the voices of adoptees, rather than their white adoptive parents, this paper advances the field of critical adoption studies and expands our understandings of transracial adoptees who embody a complicated intersection of race, gender, nation, and kinship.
Title: Getting Gritty With It: The Politics of Cultural Production Under Late Capitalism
Abstract: In this paper, I explore how the NHL mascot Gritty exemplifies the fraught relationship between work and play in late-stage capitalism, one I show to be particularly tangled in professional sports, and Gritty’s relationship to this tension is what makes him relatable to so many young, left-leaning people who have had to struggle in the gig economy. Using Sianne Ngai’s theoretical framework in Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, I analyze Gritty as an emblematic zany figure—understanding his performance “as not just artful play but affective labor” and as expressive of white male anxieties about the feminization of labor (1). At the same time, I argue that Gritty resonates with many left-leaning people because they are accepting of the anxieties he represents. I try to better understand the paradox of why Gritty, as a capitalist marketing tool, has become a symbol in the leftist movement. As I examine memes and viral content, I consider the role that race has played in popularizing Gritty—a mascot arguably coded through white masculinity that has used historically Black methods of cultural production to rise to fame. These explorations lead me toward a meditation on the question of whether cultural subversion is truly possible within a system that frequently profits from this resistance.
Project Title: “There is no person without a world”: Towards a Theory of 'Companion Objects' Through Anne Carson’s The Autobiography of Red
Abstract: Many posthumanist scholars have articulated the importance of nonhuman agencies—bacteria, microbes, viruses, etc.—within the ostensibly human body. However, much less work in this field has focused on the ways in which disability studies could benefit new materialism. Nonetheless, disability studies scholars have contributed invaluable theoretical work complicating what we think of as "the nonhuman" and "the body"; and, therefore, what we define as “humanness” in the first place. Through an analysis of Anne Carson’s The Autobiography of Red, I aim to extend such work, focusing specifically on how materialities such as prosthetics, speech technologies, and adaptive/assistive technologies all contribute to the construction of disabled bodies. But rather than reifying "the disabled body," acknowledging these co-constructions necessitates attending to the ways in which all human bodies are always already nonhuman. Building upon Haraway's work on companion species, I develop a definition of what I term "companion objects": the capabilities objects, technologies, and artificial materialities have of becoming-body. Companion objects—such as mobility aids, speech technologies, and prostheses—challenge any kind of clear-cut delineation between subject/object relations. Acknowledging the objects and technologies constructed alongside or within bodies would, I ultimately suggest, require a radical shift in how we conceptualize our coexistence with nonhuman agencies.
Project Title: “Compassionate Women” and “Lying Men”: Biblical Interpretation and Gender in Aemilia Lanyer’s “Salve Deus Rex Judæorum” and Arcangela Tarabotti’s Paternal Tyranny
Abstract: Words like “freedom” and “liberty” are often overused in the modern world. However, at their heart, they represent extremely high stakes and material consequences that lie at the center of any progressive society. During the enlightenment, these ideas were being heavily explored as society grappled with the parameters of freedom – how far it extended, upon what grounds, and to whom. For Renaissance women, these questions had heavy implications, and as such were the subject of much debate. For two women of the seventeenth century in particular, these questions were highly personal, and each decided to answer them by taking up the pen and becoming a writer, albeit of very different kinds. The first, Aemilia Lanyer, became the first British woman to publish an entire volume of poetry, complete with prefatory dedicatory verses that requested patronage from some of the most powerful women in Britain. The other, an Italian nun, Arcangela Tarabotti, issued a polemical manifesto arguing for the emancipation of Venetian women who were being detained against their will, which included a literary debate against one of the foremost writers in Italy. Each of these objectives demanded deliberate planning and inventiveness in order to be heard and to have any possibility of being taken seriously. Perhaps surprisingly both of these women writers, half a continent and four decades apart, came to similar conclusions about how best to approach their problems: biblical exegesis. In this paper, I engage in a comparative textual analysis of the work of Arcangela Tarabotti’s Paternal Tyranny and Aemilia Lanyer’s “Salue Deus Rex Judæorum”. In each of these texts, the authors engage in biblical interpretation that radically alters the ways in which certain scriptures are read, thus attempting to reform the biblical basis for Renaissance views on women. Their approach to this illustrates an alternative possibility for practices around reading and writing about women, creating a rupture in early modern gender views.
Project Title: Punks, Bulldaggers, and Poor, White Trash: Reading for Coalition across Marginalized Positions in Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Sapphire's Push
Abstract: One day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, people around the world 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.
Project Title: 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?
Abstract: 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.
Project Title: Queer Negativity: Anti-Humanism in The Living End
Abstract: This paper traces conversations about the viability of communitarian politics among LGBTQ people by investigating Gregg Araki's 1992 New Queer Cinema classic, The Living End. The film stages some of the most important debates that would occur among queer theorists nearly a decade later. Using as a compass the classic 2005 PMLA forum, "The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory," particularly the disagreement between Jack Halberstam and Lee Edelman about the concept of futurity, the paper explores how and why queers have been as eager to create relationships as they have been to disavow all of society -- including those very bonds that sustain them.
Project Title: 'At odds and ends of time': Performative Futures in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse
Abstract: 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.