Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



“Thrillology: Affective Intensities and the Everyday-Spectacular in American Literature and Culture” presents thrill as a powerful thematic component centered on immediate affective gratification informing character development and narrative. This perspective rethinks theme as always having an affective dimension that accompanies its conceptual articulations, with the former, in many cases, being the more important element. Thrilled psycho-emotional states emerge, in their own right, as legitimizations of individuality and cultural autonomy from the perspective of the passional subject. Engaging with a broad spectrum of literary and cultural sources spanning the last hundred years, this project investigates various ways in which the self-fulfilling affective intensity of thrill imparts a compelling spectacularization to everyday experience. Case studies featuring Naturalist novels by Norris, Sinclair, and Dreiser expose the pursuit of material success as an intoxicating affect that drives central figures, regardless of the attainment, and inevitable loss, of wealth. In contrast, Ishmael Reed’s MumboJumbo presents a very different frisson of social rebellion that is determined to find fulfillment within its defiance and re-appropriation of cultural identity, no matter the stacked-odds confronting protagonists. And, book-ending nearly a century of fictional engagements with the pervasiveness of fame, fortune, and celebrity in mainstream consciousness, Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust and Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama portray the pursuit of thrill as an end itself, regardless of any realization of stardom. Finally, these thrillological considerations extend into contemporary American social texts, here embodied by the recurring spectacle of the Super Bowl broadcast and the extravaganza of’s 2010 web-based introduction of the iPad. Through its examination of thrill as a positive affective power and the capacity of such excitation to translate into modes of expression and identification, Thrillology adds new perspectives to the body of contemporary affect theoretical literary analysis that has been prominently concerned with the examination of negative affective dimensions. This project brings a variety of theoretical fields into conversation in order to achieve a versatile conception of thrill’s affect, combining literary and cultural modes of analysis that co-involve affect theory, performance studies, theorization of spectacle and The Everyday, and effects of mass-media and consumerism.



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Committee Chair

Freedman, Carl