IDSVA Dissertations are archived as electronic documents at the Maine State Library website. Click on the title of the dissertation (when available) to download the pdf.
Awarded to one graduate each year, The Ted Coons Dissertation Prize was established in 2015 to acknowledge outstanding IDSVA dissertations. It was made possible thanks to a generous donation by Dr. Ted Coons, Professor of Psychology, Cognition & Perception at the Center for Neural Science at NYU. Ted Coons is a pioneer in the field of neuroscience and a major contributor to early studies in neuroaesthetics.
The contemporary role of information, as a driver and shaper of our technosocial era, is predicated increasingly on information’s usefulness for purging indeterminacy, streamlining situations, and circumscribing potentials. Are there alternate information modes that operate counter to this, predicated less on quantification, standardization and reification than on relational emergence and qualitative potentiation? In other words, whereas regulative information resolves indeterminacy and constrains difference, what about generative information that instead sustains indeterminacy and differentiation?As I show here, just such open and indeterminate information is what we otherwise call art. Specifically, I argue that information in its aesthetic mode is a différance engine that resists equilibrial settling into answer and fact, and instead unfinalizably produces, rather than resolves, differentiation and indefinition. By not only considering art in terms of information but also information in terms of art, I describe here how both are surface effects of the same deep operations of difference and disparity. Put simply, information is to art as difference is to differencing, and as being is to becoming.Defining art as a reciprocally differential feedback relation between an object of focus and its context, I articulate the above ideas by exploring the 1960s emergence of (and subsequent dissolution of) the artwork as object, which marked a shift from artworks that represent worlds to artworks situated as elements of the world. As I show, this ingression introduced complex perturbations into art’s traditional processes of actualization, catalyzing an efflorescence of such increasingly atmospheric and ambient information modes as entropic fields, theatrical space, artworld Umwelten, associated milieus, and adjacent possibility transspaces. By exploring how these aesthetic information processes operate, my goal is to reveal not only the differential and non-deterministic processes that underlie discourse formation and artistic progress, but also how information operates as an open and expansive generator of contexts and potentials, rather than as merely a regulator of situations and outcomes.
In the United States, the sideshow occupies a marginal and often controversial space in popular culture. Despite a decline of the sideshow during the early twentieth century, its postmodern reinvention in 1980 has inspired a proliferation of the aesthetics of the sideshow within mass media and culture as a highly profitable commodity. The current existence of the sideshow as a thriving genre can sometimes be met with surprise, disbelief, or disgust because of the history of sideshow and existing codes of “normality.” Although there is pre-existing scholarship on Bakhtin and the sideshow, what is missing is an exploration of Bakhtin’s dialogism in relation to the art of the postmodern sideshow. This dissertation argues that the postmodern sideshow as an art form is an example of a reinvention of intersubjectivity through Bakhtin’s dialogic and still relevant for understanding contemporary aesthetics. Furthermore, I propose that the carnivalesque is an aspect of the dialogic because the carnivalesque renews hope for a better future which reverberates through unfinalizable time. Instead, I will propose an intertextual genealogy between philosophical thought and the first-hand voices of sideshow performers and related show people in the spirit of dialogism. However, I assert that the dialogic is nearly impossible without a dissensus because of precarization and our permanent cellular connection as a result of our technological progress, which did not exist at the height of postmodernism. This new tyranny of normality has depersonalized our time, dissolved our friendships and communities, our ability to communicate, and our social consciousness to empathize with others in a fundamental shift to our notions of exploitation. A revolution of the aesthetic regime through the maternal will create a new paradigm that reorganizes our senses, our social consciousness, and the conditions for possibility in the dialogic.
This is a phenomenological study of patriarchy through the examination of its genealogy as it relates to/parallels with the creative process. I argue patriarchy, while a product of human creativity itself, has artificially elevated itself to prominence, and as such, has dominated and shaped subjectivities to its own end. It has done so by undermining individuality, necessary for establishing the foundation of a more democratic form of government in the region of the Middle East. In this democracy, a dynamic balance and equity is envisioned between the subject and community. Therefore, this study is concerned with the power of imagination, in the broad sense, encompassing all creative endeavors that shape the subject. It focuses on the relationship between subjecthood, freedom and the infusion of Neoplatonic ideas with iterations of Islamic principles manifested in art and philosophy serving patriarchy. This study is predicated on the idea that the exploration of art and subjectivity can uncover the hidden, implicit power relations between humans and the creative process, and it relies upon the philosophy of power to establish a theory that aims to reach beyond what Foucault developed. Further, it intends to highlight the issue of “gap” in general, and the gap in particular that existed between the major Islamic text/principles—a variation of the Platonic “gap”—and the ideas/actions that have unfolded to this day, but has never been questioned. The objective of this study is to create a space in which the Middle East and the West, each through its “other,” can recognize the importance of the process of the formation and preservation of individual within a collective subjectivity. Finally, this research through a new theory, aims to make more visible the current movements underscoring the individual subjectivity in the Middle East and work toward protecting and preserving individual rights.
The Cartesian paradigm, in its modern existence, can be understood as comprised of four pillars—the founding principle of cogito ergo sum, dualism, a mechanistic worldview, and mathesis universalis. Each of these four pillars contributes to aesthetic philosophy in foundational ways that are largely unacknowledged. This error is owed to literal readings of Descartes’ works that neglect the operational intentions of his paradigm. When one approaches the Cartesian paradigm operationally, it is revealed that aesthetic philosophy owes a tremendous debt to Descartes’ works. Moreover, modern philosophers have dedicated substantial efforts to connecting subjective concepts such as mood and sensation to Descartes’ paradigm. These connections, which all rely on literal readings of the paradigm, are often tenuous and depend heavily on large extrapolation from small notations. However a broader reading of Descartes’ model of the soul reveals a unique niche for subjective expression which provides a distinct role for aesthetic considerations in his epistemology. Revelatory knowledge—knowledge of a nonscientific nature that reveals things as they are—need not be marginalized from mathesis universalis. What is more, it is revealed that aesthetic philosophy is one of the largest contributors to the overall project of mathesis universalis in modernity. This contribution is based on the act of poiesis—a form of knowledge-making that is grossly overlooked as an epistemological process. A series of paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby provide a case study of how revelatory knowledge can be integrated with, and inform, the Cartesian paradigm. Concepts of modernity by Hans Blumenberg illuminate the need for understanding revelatory knowledge as integral to mathesis universalis by imaging the pillar as an evolving mechanism of human construction. In conclusion, a discussion of the parallels between aesthetics and other marginalized epistemic sources (women, artists, and fiction) reveal consonant efforts to reshape mathesis universalis as more inclusive of revelatory knowledge.
This dissertation is a response to Martin Heidegger’s call to action asserted at the conclusion of his oft-cited essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in which he offers the realm of art as the mainspring for our emancipation from the grip of technological enframing. The following chapters investigate artists Martha Rosler, Christian Boltanski, Krzysztof Wodiczko and finally, collaborators Noor Mirza and Brad Butler, whose artworks offer a counterbalance to the erosion of the human capacity for thought as a particular feature of our Being, or Dasein, as proposed by Heidegger. Their shared characteristic lies in truth’s manifestation within artworks as happenings or events rather than a quest for fixed certainty or correspondence. Through their work, the artists catalyze a reckoning, compelling the viewer to question and reflect on his intersubjective ethical responsibility for the other. The common thread connecting them is a powerful shifting of thought — in a distinctly revelatory acting upon the viewer’s awareness. I will argue that, as technological aesthetic narratives are increasingly sophisticated and nuanced, politically conscious artists such as these become better able to harness their potential voices in deeply critical ways allowing the inter-subjective ethos of care to manifest and thrive in dialogic expressions of truth. Furthermore, they begin to formulate a way of considering and using technology that not only resists enframing by interrogating the very essence of our relationship with it, but also functions as a way of engaging with the question of Being itself (which encompasses Heidegger’s fundamental project). In the end, this dissertation will demonstrate that Being comes to itself in the site of exchange as his/her awareness of responsibility grows and thought is returned to its poetical dwelling. In these times of narrowed perspectives and technological addiction qua enframing, Heidegger’s call to action and the works responding to it must be brought to the fore and celebrated
Toward an econo-aesthetic points to a much needed shift to recuperate, or at this point, to imagine a comprehensive approach to being in the world. As such, the artist contains the promise of a reconciliation of the lost connection linking aesthetics and economies. The relationship between art and money has ambiguous overtones increasingly inherent since the end of the renaissance. Porcelain contains clues to that ambiguity because of its tight relationship with both. The history of porcelain or ‘white gold’, so called since its advent in Europe during the 18th century, is the paradigmatic material for deconstructing what I consider a false schism between finance and aesthetics. In this dissertation, I argue that through a conflation of economics and aesthetics, using the history of porcelain as an art material, the role of the artist in community is more clearly identified as essential, in opposition to the marginalized position the artist currently employs in the west, especially the United States. I approach my argument through the history of porcelain in Europe and the US, and by linking that history to a history of economics I found a strong case for a hidden component of vitality through the expression of aesthetic materiality in the processes held within porcelain and economics. The marginalization of the artist is part of a hegemonic imperative seeking to repress the free expression and visionary potential of the creative spirit. Exercising the agency integral within aesthetic practice, in particular through the materiality of porcelain’s vernacular, the most basic characteristic of a free and vital condition contains the seeds of alternative futures leading out from a darkness born of an increasingly myopic view of the modern world.
Jackson Pollock has long been heralded as the quintessential Modernist. His work marks the pinnacle of the Golden Age of Modernism and the culmination of a long experiment with modernist ideas elaborated by theorists such as Croce, Fry, Bell, Greenberg and others. Within the predominant concerns of Modernism (including intuition, imagination, and abstraction), Pollock is the paragon of the modernist solitary genius. However, this view of Pollock depends primarily on analysis of his drip paintings and disregards the development of processes inherent within them. This enframing critique of Pollock overlooks the presence of symbol, allegory, and ritual upon which Pollock’s work depends. It neglects to account for the fact that far from pure abstractions, Pollock’s work crosses the boundaries of abstraction in order to reinstitute mimêsis in art. My analysis of Pollock’s work views his methodology as a recuperation of indigenous American aesthetics through mimêsis. I claim that through the forms, modes, and functions of mimêsis Pollock’s work transgresses modernity’s claims to pure form in favor of an inquiry into the forms and techniques of indigenous American aesthetics, thereby reintroducing notions of ritual and mythos in contemporary art.
The research that I am about to embark on focuses on the shift in expressions of gendered race in a screened world. This study is primarily centered on this mode of representation as it has been transformed through the evolution of image technology in film, television, and cyberspace. These three media platforms, in particular, are greatly influential on our cultural understanding of self-image, and the image of others. I will look closely at how depictions of gendered race have been authored in each medium, and the mental impact of these images on our individual and collective consciousness.I will argue that race, although not an invention of mass media, derived its meaning in large part from the mythology of images. And mass media, film and TV most specifically, used images of race to invent narratives about collective identification. There is an inherent connection between the images we see and how we identify or are identified, and the screen has been highly successful at mediating this delicate relationship to both detrimental and productive ends. I will be examining gendered race, as a performance of the double. The double is a mental function and an appearance. It signifies the psychological equation of the self + the other - as well as the social condition of race consciousness.The appearance of the racial double, in its earliest form in Hollywood film and television, was a corrosive image. It was designed to misrepresent, stigmatize and belittle. This was the case for the predominate image of blacks, which pointed back to the black body and reified the experience of racism and oppression within American culture. This is the image of the racial double that I reference throughout as the unproductive other because it is meant to draw sharp, impassable lines between white and black, or more theoretically the self and other. This traditional way of image identification comes from a colonial structure of white/European supremacy, from which the subjugated position of the racial other was founded.In this dissertation, I make the claim for a productive other. This form of doubling acknowledges but is liberated from the old practices of racial individuation. The new form of the productive other accepts images as pure copies, without origin, that do not point back to a single, organic source. It is an appearance that embodies transcendence, and is constantly seeking to be in connection with others. I refer to the process of embodied transcendence as eRacial, and it is the method by which we obtain a new, tertiary experience with image-identification in cyberspace. The tertiary experience breaks out of old pathological binaries, recognizes the image as myth and therefore carries the potential for radical identification.
This dissertation examines the steampunk movement as a significant contemporary expression of the human condition. Although its aesthetic inspiration comes from the Victorian past, as re-tooled, re-imagined, and re-energized for the twenty-first century, steampunk’s underlying interest is in a speculative view of the future and a concern for the contemporary individual’s struggle to retain autonomy in a de-centered, de-territorialized world. As such the steampunk movement participates in, and contributes to, an important ongoing philosophical and aesthetic dialog.The project examines the motivations for steampunk’s visual inspiration in the Victorian. Technological and scientific advancements in that period greatly impacted societal traditions and the role of the individual within it. Economic, social, and political changes revolutionized daily life and the individual faced a new self-consciousness as she confronted, and adapted to, these significant changes. Today, similar technological advancements force new tensions between the individual and the world around her. Astounding developments in computing and artificial intelligence, and the concept of the cyborg and other hybrid beings challenge the contemporary individual’s sense of self. By looking to the past, steampunk seeks to recuperate the Victorian individual’s successful navigation of technological change. She does so in order to facilitate our own navigation of current waters. The project traces the movement’s modest roots as a literary sub-genre of science fiction, explores its sources in the Victorian, and describes the movement’s rapid evolution to global phenomenon. Today steampunk is fully integrated into contemporary culture as an aesthetic observed in visual, decorative, and fashion arts, comic books, movies, and television. The project explores the current landscape of art and philosophy in order to position the steampunk movement within the larger scope of the contemporary scene. A triad of prevailing philosophical trends—postmodernism, transhumanism, and post-humanism, help to reveal steampunk’s involvement in the contemporary philosophical and aesthetic dialog.
During Winston Churchill’s long career he painted hundreds of landscapes which have been viewed as picturesque, a British genre popular to painters and landscape gardeners, mimicking nature. Artists sold flatwork, architectural designs, or led countryside tours; for the gentleman, painting was merely an aristocratic pastime. I will argue that analyzing Churchill’s bright palette used to saturate spatiality on canvas, often resembling military field mapping, uncovers considerations beyond a pastime.Russian Constructivism permeated Britain’s art groups between the wars, acting as a backdrop to Churchill the painter, thus providing contextual contrast in the form of abstracted works to his representational landscapes. Applying a cultural Marxist methodology in the guise of Russian Constructivism to his art elucidates his unintentional responses to social and political change, along with his commitment to the survival of Britain, while allowing for aristocratic ideologies expected in Churchill’s aesthetics.Overlooked contextual underpinnings such as Britain’s struggles with two World Wars while maintaining the Empire, are layered into Romantic and Modernist stylizations. Artists, primarily Cezanne with his determination to objectify Impressionistic light, appealed to Churchill who painted Britain’s place even when abroad. I will argue that the category of amateur placed on deceased artists continues to be ill- defined. Insightful content found beneath Churchill’s paintings has been overlooked because he was deemed a gentleman painter during his life. Churchill’s aristocratic lineage, evident at Blenheim, left him the social status of amateur artist no matter how much talent he exuded or how many works he sold. Post World War II commercialism produced Kitsch which Churchill readily embraced, thus eroding his amateur status which contributed to increasing the value of his artwork. Contextual analysis of Churchill’s landscapes through a Constructivist-cultural Marxist framework allows contemplation of his paintings not just as a gentleman’s pastime but also as troped imagery imbibed with social and political thought complimenting his writings and orations, leading to a better understanding of the man and his times.