The question that this dissertation explores is what cultural narratives about reproduction and reproductive control emerge in the wake of this demographic shift.What’s at stake in a woman’s decision to reproduce, for herself, her family, her nation? In order to explore these questions, this dissertation broadens the very term “birth control” from the technological and medical mechanisms by which women limit or prevent conception and birth to a conception of “controlling birth,” the societal and cultural processes that affect reproductive practices.Methodologically, moves through historical events and textual representation in two ways: chronologically with an attention to archival materials through the antebellum era (beginning with the specters that emerge with the Panic of 1837) and interpretively across the readings of a literary specter (as a space of lack and potential, as exchange, as transformation, and as the presence of absence).
I read this spectral space in canonical works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman and in emerging texts by Robert Montgomery Bird, Theophilus Fisk, Fitz James O’Brien, and Edward Williams Clay.
My dissertation expands the range of dissociation by applying it specifically to visual contexts and using it to critique visual arguments in a series of historical moments when political, religious, and economic factors cause one form of media to be valued over the other: Byzantine Iconoclasm, the late medieval period, the 1950’s advertising boom, and the modern digital age.
In each of these periods, I argue that dissociation reveals how the privileged medium can shape an entire multimodal argument.
Mitchell has famously noted that we are in the midst of a “pictorial turn,” and images are playing an increasingly important role in digital and multimodal communication.
I argue that the relationship between the two media is more dynamic, and can be better understood by applying ’s concept of dissociation, which Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca developed to demonstrate how the interaction of differently valued concepts can construct new meaning.