Burnett Defends Her Dissertation

August 10, 2021

Burnett Defends Her Dissertation

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Hearty congratulations to Kassi for a successful defense!

Kassi Burnett's dissertation, Differently Abled Natures: Being Other than Human in Contemporary German Literature, examines what it means to be human in contemporary German literature and how the cultural meanings of “human” and “nonhuman” are tied up with gendered cultural notions of ability and disability.  Three novels are analyzed: Die Mansarde by Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer (1969), Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän by Swiss author Max Frisch (1979), and Etüden im Schnee by Japanese-German author Yoko Tawada (2014). 

In Kassi's analysis of Die Mansarde, she elucidates the ways that human status and belonging for a woman in the mid-twentieth Century in Austria are inevitably tied up with her ability to listen, empathize, and serve. The analysis of Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän highlights the harmful effects of a Western masculine able-bodied human norm for an elderly man with dementia and draws attention to the agency and abilities of other living and nonliving beings within the story. And finally, the analysis of Etüden im Schnee demonstrates the fluid and culturally determined nature of the category of human by focusing on EIS’s supplantation of the traditional human subject with three, active, differently abled polar bears in nonhuman bodies and their integration (or failed integration) into human society. Though these three works differ in terms of time, place, and authorship, each offers insight into the ways that disability, gender, and the cultural meanings of human and nonhuman are bound up inextricably in the Germanic and wider Western world.

Advisor: Prof. Katra A. Byram  
Committee members: Prof. Matthew Birkhold, Prof. May Mergenthaler
And a special thank you also to Prof. Leslie C. Moore (Teaching and Learning)