Abstacts by Alumni
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.
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.
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.
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.