Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 201 pages) : color illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Eric Keenaghan

Committee Members

Pierre Joris, James Lilley


Charles Reznikoff, Philip Johnson, poetry, Postmodernism, Ronald Johnson, Stan Brakhage, Materialism in art, Materialism in literature, Positivism, Arts, American

Subject Categories

Architecture | English Language and Literature | Film and Media Studies


Making Thought Matter: Postmodern Models for Material Thinking, crosses disciplines to trace the aesthetic contexts of Postmodern American artists whose work employs the senses to make legible creative and critical modes of synthesis. I contend that in practicing a material thinking—the artistic mobilization of the intimate and affective qualities of conceptual and physical surfaces—these artists reinsert perceptual knowledge and bodily agency into Postmodernism’s “emptied” surfaces. Consequently, their work opposes late theorists of Postmodernity who characterized contemporary artistic forms as immaterial, abstract, and emotionally deficient. To assess contemporary syntheses I develop Philip Johnson’s late International Style Glass House into an analogy for a material thinking that reconsiders the alienating surfaces of Postmodernity as sites of innovative dwelling. I assert that the home’s extensive glass surfaces provoke sensations common to affect and deeply inflect an early Postmodern environment with disjunctive historical, temporal, and spatial syntheses. Johnson’s house provides the framework to analyze Ronald Johnson, a poet who for much of his life made a living writing cookbooks. I argue that his hybrid practice conceptualized taste as a poetic and pragmatic synthesis that reconsidered how food, as a metaphoric, metabolic, and cultural force, commemorated the past and seasoned the living present. To further question received polarities and links between body and world, I assess how the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s hand-painted films visualize a creative and embodied synthesis between consciousness and television. I conclude by reading Charles Reznikoff’s documentary, found poem, Holocaust, as a cinematic surface on which narrative motion and emotion is juxtaposed. I claim that this relationship discloses an affective gap between the poem’s usage of legal “facts” and the testimonial “truth” it posits. Analogous to the surfaces of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the poem establishes conditions through which a reader is embedded in lived historical particulars and must employ their senses to adjudicate, adapt, and improvise emotional responses to the text. The genealogy I trace is thus defined by surfaces reconceived as sites of transmission, transformation, and communication, on which Postmodernism is not a synonym for alienation, but rather becomes an aesthetic and philosophic practice of mutual transformation.