School of Culture and Communication - Theses

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    “Unbearable Brightness”: a Study of Enchantment in Alice Oswald and Robert Macfarlane
    Letcher-Nicholls, Thomas Max ( 2021)
    This thesis explores notions of (re-)enchantment in British “new nature writing”, as represented by writer Robert Macfarlane and poet Alice Oswald. It argues that their work describes a world of lively and potentially dangerous entanglements that disrupt the binary divisions (between subject/object, nature/culture, human/nonhuman) that framed old forms of “enchantment” and modern “disenchantment”. For both writers, re-enchantment registers our entanglement with our damaged world and, by occupying the terrain between enchantment and disenchantment, offers the groundwork for a future politics.
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    Reading the Vegetarian Vampire
    Dungan, Sophie Alexandra ( 2020)
    The vampire of folklore, like its offspring in cinematic and literary productions and popular culture, is an undead creature of the night who drinks, by preference, human blood to survive. Not only is the vampire’s lust for human blood the source of their evil, it also informs the threat they pose: they want to feed on women, men and children. It is surprising therefore to find, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the emergence in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (2005) of the so-called ‘vegetarian’ vampire, who abstains from consuming human blood. The so-called ‘vegetarian’ vampire chooses to slake its thirst with animal or synthetic blood and/or to access human blood in ways that do not harm the human from which it is drawn. With this major revision of the vampire’s long-standing hunger as its primary focus, this thesis traces the rise of the vegetarian vampire in popular culture, while also exploring the changing significance of this creature’s diet, as seen in recent works of vampire television and literature: The Twilight Saga (2005-8), The Vampire Diaries (2009-17) and True Blood (2008-14), and the novels on which the second and third works are based: L.J Smith’s The Vampire Diaries (1991-3) and Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries (2001-13). It also considers Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) and Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1998-2003). I argue that, since the early years of the twenty-first century, the vegetarian or human-blood abstinent vampire has developed primarily in response to notions of environmental conservation, sustainability and greater ethical responsibility and care for other species—notions that reflects concerns raised by the Anthropocene, the geological age now upon us, which calls for creative ways of reimaging our interactions with nonhuman and inhuman species. In vampire fiction, these notions are most clearly evident in the vampire’s changing diet, which is to say on whom or what and how the vampire feeds. Adopting a theoretical position that is informed in large part by the modern practice, politics and ideologies of vegetarianism, I trace some of the ways in which contemporary vampire fiction explores the relationship between species and, in so doing, echoes the concerns and anxieties promoted by the Anthropocene. This thesis thus provides an original contribution to knowledge in three key areas. First, it provides an in-depth genre study of the history and development of the animal-blood diet in vampire fiction (still critically underacknowledged), which to the best of my knowledge has not previously been attempted in one over-arching study of this length, while also outlining how important the broader role of diet is to the genre. Second, it offers a new critical perspective by reading the vampire’s changing diet through a vegetarian lens. And third, by charting contemporary portrayals of vampiric consumption as a response to the Anthropocene, the thesis elucidates some of the ways that vampires in contemporary literature and television reflect growing concerns regarding how humans should live in our geological age.
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    Taiwan in Their Hands: cultural soft power and translocal identity making in the New York Taiwan Academy
    Bourke, Hannah Louise ( 2019)
    In 2011, Kuomintang (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou created the Taiwan Academies as a cultural exchange initiative to enhance Taiwan’s soft power and introduce Taiwan’s culture to the world, while also competing against China for space in the realm of competing notions of Chineseness internationally. Three Taiwan Academy resource centres were established that year in New York, Los Angeles, and Houston. This thesis presents a historical case study analysis of the Taiwan Academy resource centre in New York between 2012-2014, in order to examine the context of production of soft power discourse and the empirical consequences within a specific program, among a target audience. To this end, it examines soft power from the perspective of translocality, in order to uncover the often-overlooked socio-cultural, relational, and spatial aspects of cultural strategies aimed at generating soft power. This study responds to two central research questions. First: what kind(s) of cultural messages were being produced and exported to New York by Ma's administration in Taipei? Second: how were these messages translated, interpreted and received in practice, in their implementation at the New York Taiwan Academy? To address these, this research first re-conceptualises a de-Westernised, localised framework for interpreting cultural soft power discourse under Ma’s KMT administration. It then considers Taipei’s strategy of generating cultural soft power through Taiwan Academy from two perspectives: from “above”, in Taipei, and “below”, in New York. From “above”, it evaluates Taiwan Academy as a political strategy, in relation to relevant domestic, cross-Strait, and international contexts. From “below”, this study conducts a grounded analysis of two Taiwan Academy cultural programs and the translocal processes and practices that re-/defined the role of Taiwan Academy in New York. The conclusion integrates these two perspectives in order to address the dynamics and limits of Ma’s use of cultural soft power within the Taiwan Academy. In doing so, this thesis aims to explicate the contingent, relational, and inherently translocal nature of soft power practice.
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    Seeking Arrangement: Essays on Work
    Olds, Sally Elizabeth ( 2019)
    This thesis is about work and collectivity under post-Fordism. It examines social and artistic forms that loosely organise reproductive labour outside of formal institutions. Polyamorous relationships are conducted on a spectrum from spontaneous to Google-calendared to commune to cult. A secret men’s club is comprised of working-class unionists who ban politics from discussion at their meetings. The nightclub is celebrated as a utopian melting pot, but exacerbates as much as alleviates workaday alienation. I explore these sites across five essays; in the sixth and final essay, I turn to the form of the essay itself, arguing that contemporary hybrid nonfiction derives from and expresses its precarised conditions of production in syntax and structure. If post-Fordism is most readily associated with the collapse of work into leisure, as well as the destruction of workplace- and class-solidarity, the polyamorous relationship, the nightclub, the men’s club, and the essay not only take this collapse for granted, but grow from it and reproduce it. They exist in an ambivalent zone of resistance and complicity that runs parallel to, and separate from, organised solidarity. In doing so, they usefully refract contemporary debates around leisure, automation, reproductive labour, and aesthetic production. The creative component of this thesis is comprised of the six essays outlined above. The critical section contains an introduction, a literature review, and exegetical statement contextualising my use of the essay form and my research on post-Fordism.
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    Otherness and Ambiguity: Coding Difference in British Gothic and Sensation Novels
    Bracegirdle, Nadia John Clarum ( 2020)
    This thesis reads British gothic and sensation novels through their historical contexts, examining Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796), Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya, or The Moor (1806), and Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White (1860) through the themes of cultural and social transgression, examining how transgressive experiences of religion, gender, sexuality, race, and class are registered in these novels through coded rather than explicit modes of representation. My analysis illuminates these novels' indirect engagement with contemporary discourses – about Catholicism, Orientalism, femininity, sodomy, tribadism, and domestic violence – through the utilisation of similar modes of language and theme. With this combination of literary and historical analysis, I examine how these texts reflect change across time and genre. In particular, I focus on gothic uses of excess and violence in The Monk and Zofloya, and how this facilitates the inclusion of other, more coded, transgressions and marginalised cultural Others in the texts. I then apply the same framework to a central text of the sensation genre, The Woman in White. By analysing this novel alongside its gothic forebears, I examine the different approaches taken by these genres and their authors to the same cultural issues, as well as how they are strikingly similar, in order to unpack the changes caused by shifts in setting and plot from the distant and outlandish, to the familiar, domestic, and contemporary. The thesis utilises a non-binarist approach to analysis that allows for contradiction and inconclusiveness, resisting a critical history which relies on false or restrictive methods of classification and opposition. I emphasise the complexities of the novels, particularly within the full context of cultural debates, rather than attempting to define them as radical or conservative on particular social issues. By allowing the texts to stand within their contradictions, the thesis seeks to illuminate how we can gain a greater understanding of both text and history, and how these dynamic and powerful texts resist categorisation.
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    Collecting Australian art history: Dr. S.A. Ewing and the Ewing Collection
    Rosier, Cathleen Gabriella Marie ( 2018)
    This thesis is a study of collector Dr. Samuel Arthur Ewing (1864–1941) and his collection of Australian art at the University of Melbourne. Although Ewing was considered one of the leading collectors of his day, little is known of Ewing’s collecting activities or the conceptual design directing his acquisitions. This thesis provides a reassessment of the University’s Ewing Collection by identifying and analysing Ewing’s original thematic design for his collection. This thesis therefore returns the conceptual understanding of Ewing’s Collection to its creator. I begin by contextualising Ewing’s collecting activities amongst the art collectors of his era. To address the current paucity of research on Ewing’s peers, I identify collecting trends of the day by analysing a historic, but little known, newspaper series. Through this analysis, I reposition Ewing as an eminent collector of his era. I then utilise material cultural studies and narratology to chronologically delineate Ewing’s collecting career and postulate that Ewing collected a visual exploration of Australian art history. I then conceive art history as a broader cultural activity undertaken, in this study, through art collecting, and analyse the structural framework of Ewing’s Collection. Returning to material cultural studies, I interpret the structural framework through Ewing’s scientific background and contemporary literary histories of Australian art. By reconceiving the Ewing Collection as an exploration of Australian art history, this thesis highlights alternative cultural engagements with art histories being undertaken prior to and outside of the professional discipline in Australia.
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    The interpretive gesture: Heiner Goebbels and the imagination of the public sphere
    Matthews, Luke ( 2019)
    Heiner Goebbels’s Stifters Dinge and When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing are examples of “postdramatic” theatre works that engage with the political by seeking to challenge socially ingrained habits of perception rather than by presenting traditional, literary-based theatre of political didacticism or agitation. Goebbels claims to work toward a “non-hierarchical” theatre in the contexts of his arrangement of the various theatrical elements, in fostering collaborative working processes between the artists involved, and in the creation of audience-artist relationships. I argue that, in doing so, he follows a familiar theoretical trajectory that employs the theatre as a convenient metaphor for the public sphere. Two broad traditions exist concerning this connection between theatre and publicness: first, a line of thought that sets theatre against the rational community of equals; and, second, an opposing tradition which looks in hope to theatre for the possibility of a participatory democracy. In situating Goebbels’s practice within this second tradition, I moreover argue that the metaphor of the theatrical public sphere may also be understood in terms of a negotiation between Kantian sublimity and the notion of the beautiful.
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    The sociology of the chick lit of Anita Heiss
    Morgan, Fiannuala ( 2018)
    Wiradjuri woman, Anita Heiss, is arguably one of the first Australian authors of popular fiction. Since 2007, she has published across a diversity of genres including chick lit, contemporary women’s fiction, romance, memoir and children’s literature. A focus on the political characterises her work; and her identity as an author is both supplemented and complemented by her roles as an academic, activist and public intellectual. Heiss has discussed genre as a means of targeting specific audiences that may be less engaged with Indigenous affairs, and positions her novels as educative but not didactic. There remains, however, some ambivalence about the significance of the role that genre plays in her literature as well as for the diverse and differentiated audience that she attracts. The aims of this thesis then are two-fold: firstly, to present a complication of academic conceptions of genre, then to use this discussion to explore the social significance of Heiss’ literature. My focus is Heiss’ first four chick lit novels: Not Meeting Mr Right (2007), Avoiding Mr Right (2008), Manhattan Dreaming (2010) and Paris Dreaming (2011). Scholarship in the field leans toward an understanding that the racial politics of non-white articulations of the chick lit genre are invariably incompatible with the basic formula of chick lit texts. My thesis proposes a methodological shift from the dominant mode of ideological analysis to one that is largely focused on reader response. This approach is influenced by Bourdieu’s sociological approach to literature and adapts his multi-tiered analysis to account for the author, the text and the reader. Still implicit in academic writing on chick lit is an argument for formula as constitutive of the genre, this thesis negates this position and follows John Frow’s (2006) understanding of genre as an interpretive frame. This holistic approach allows for a complication of pessimistic readings that reproduce racially thematised chick lit as deviant or politically problematic. I pursue the question of how Heiss’ writing functions in the public sphere, as well as undertaking broader enquiry into the significance of genre for both author and reader. Heiss’ readership is constituted by committed readers of romance and chick lit as well as politically engaged readers that are attracted to Heiss’ dual authorial persona; and, both groups bring radically distinct expectations to bear on these texts. Through analysis of online reviews and surveys conducted with users of the book reviewing website Goodreads, I complicate the understanding of genre as a cogent interpretative frame, and deploy this discussion to explore the social significance of Heiss’ literature.
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    Blind spots in motion: antinomies of distance in Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing (2013) and The Lesser Bohemians (2016)
    Cattach, Ella ( 2018)
    Eimear McBride is an Irish experimental novelist whose striking two novels—A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing (2013) and The Lesser Bohemians (2016)—are bound together by the dreams and voices of their narrators. In them, McBride recuperates from literary modernism a technique of formal opacity, which she uses to aim for transparency in representing sex and sexual trauma. I examine McBride’s novels according to the dialectic of transparency and opacity, showing that blind spots, as well as distance, make vision possible. I investigate McBride’s avowed aim to collapse distance and dissolve boundaries between the readers and narrators of her novels. By showing that they draw attention to the irreducible gap between reader and text, I argue that McBride’s stated aim—like her impulse towards transparency—exhibits its own impossibility. I argue that transparency and the dissolution of boundaries are beyond the capacity of representation; there is always a quotient of opacity in transparency and a measure of distance in closeness. Precisely through opacity and distance, McBride finds a paradoxically appropriate form for the representation of sexual trauma, which serves to circumvent its eroticisation. Both of her novels figure their readers within their fields of vision, casting reader as witness to the traumas they depict. McBride, I suggest, has much to offer contemporary culture: she asks us to consider the antinomies of transparency by showing us the power and possibilities of literary opacity. She wills us to think desire, sex, and sexual trauma in their most startling and uncomfortable dimensions.
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    Haunting fear: literary encounters with medieval, renaissance, and gothic ghosts
    Whittem, Cassandra Elaine ( 2018)
    The ghost is an enduring figure in literature, one that has appeared over centuries in a plethora of different forms. The power of the ghost as a literary figure and the key to its endurance lies in the intense, heightened emotion prompted by the moment of encounter between living and dead. When these moments of heightened emotion are depicted in popular cultural forms, changing cultural expectations governing the expression and representation of emotions are revealed. This thesis examines an emblematic text from three key periods in literary history: the anonymous fifteenth-century romance The Awntyrs off Arthure, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c.1605), and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). It will examine the emotions with which each text engages, through the form, environment and genre in which the ghost appears, and through the language in which these are expressed. By comparing the representation of ghosts in these texts, this thesis offers new insight into the evolving representation and narrative function of the ghost in literary culture, and explores some of the different forms of emotional expression in response to the supernatural.