Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Charles Bernstein

Abstract

This dissertation engages the interdisciplinary fields of critical discard studies and media studies to investigate the material, social, and discursive stakes of waste management and maintenance practices in contemporary poetry, film, and new media. Materials Poetics: Landfills and Waste Management in Contemporary Literature and Media proposes that twenty-first century writers, artists, and filmmakers experiment with inventive forms to explore the afterlives of the discarded in cultures of disposability. With specific references to American and Anglophone poets and artists (Yolanda Wisher, Caroline Bergvall, Jennifer Scappettone, Teri Rueb, Lucy Walker, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis), this dissertation underscores the mobility of the cultural perceptions on the discarded across different forms of media. Throughout, collage emerges as a potent documentary practice, which poets have mobilized into an environmental critique on the problematic materialities of landfills and waste management. By accumulating fragments and scraps of found language, matter, waste, or sounds, the poets and artists in this project use collage as a tool to criticize the rhetoric of corporate waste mismanagement. In the introduction, Yolanda Wisher engages with the waste sites in Ambler, Pennsylvania, to concretize the uneven impact of asbestos dumping on communities of color. In chapter one, Jennifer Scappettone uses photographic and textual collages to defamiliarize the corporate mismanagement of New York’s wastelands, such as Syosset Landfills and Fresh Kills. In chapter two, Teri Rueb’s sound collages collapse the geological, material, and cultural histories of Spectacle Island and the Back Bay Fens in Boston. Chapter three explores Lucy Walker’s documentary Waste Land and the aestheticization of waste in Brazil’s largest landfill Jardim Gramacho. Chapter four attends to thematic middens and watery wastes in Caroline Bergvall’s Drift. Chapter five turns to sonic discards and prefatory excesses in the University of Pennsylvania’s PennSound Archive. Far from being matter out of place, PennSound underscores that prefatory remarks are critical objects for textual and media inquiry that trouble the notions of a ‘poem proper.’ Finally, the coda concludes with a reading of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Graphic Novella and proposes that scholars might revisit DuPlessis’ assemblages in light of feminist labor practices. Through close reading and listening of these selected case studies, archival work, films, and poetry, Materials Poetics underscores the utility of the discarded as a vital lens through which to engage twentieth and twenty-first century literature and media.

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