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Dreaming in Crisis: Angels and the Allegorical Imagination in Post-War America

Bauman, Emily Therese (2004) Dreaming in Crisis: Angels and the Allegorical Imagination in Post-War America. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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DISSERTATION ABSTRACTDREAMING IN CRISIS: ANGELS AND THE ALLEGORICAL IMAGINATION IN POST-WAR AMERICAEmily Bauman, PhDUniversity of Pittsburgh, 2003This dissertation bridges literary and cultural studies in order to offer a critical reading of the fascination with angels that appears in America at the beginning and end of the Cold War. Though the contemporary wave of interest spans genres of mass entertainment, pop psychology, and high modernist literature and film, I find angelic representations to be consistent. Invested in the idea of a separated intelligence, these representations expose larger concerns with personal sovereignty and historical determinism. From fantasy to true story, the encounter with the pure and providential spectator consecrates the subject within a special temporality, a temporality of imagination and reception. Angelic illumination thus answers a crisis of attention that renders the human paralyzed. In all of the texts considered the attendant spirit confers personal chosenness and historical beginning through the act of judgment, an idea I discuss in reference to the theories of agency of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Immanual Kant.One distinguishing feature of the angelic spectrum is that popular and highbrow treatments differ radically in their attitudes toward angelic revelation. It's a Wonderful Life and other movies of the sentimental fantasy genre, the true stories books, the self-help books, and the TV drama Touched by an Angel represent the angel-guardian as a figure of completion that assimilates an unsteady future to the rational structures of the past. Implicit already in Tony Kushner's Broadway hit Angels in America and fully expressed in the angelic poetry since the second world war, angels appear as expressions of partialness, ruin, and decay. I analyze the differences between sentimental and tragic appropriations of angels by investigating them in relation to the logic of allegory. A paradoxically populist-hierarchical way of reading, allegorical thinking defines both the angels of annunciatory blessing and the angels of impotence and destruction. Through a final engagement with the work of Walter Benjamin, I argue that as a way of reading experience through its own alterity, allegory is itself an angelic hermeneutic.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Bauman, Emily Thereseetbst1@pitt.eduETBST1
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMacCabe,
Committee MemberArac,
Committee MemberCondee, Nancycondee@pitt.eduCONDEE
Committee MemberJudy, RonaldBuchnfar@pitt.eduBUCHNFAR
Date: 16 January 2004
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 September 2003
Approval Date: 16 January 2004
Submission Date: 17 December 2003
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: american popular culture; benjamin; self-help literature; surrealism; true encounter stories; allegorical logic; angels
Other ID:, etd-12172003-113848
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:11
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


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