Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Reading Engineered Spaces: Bridges as Texts in Modern American Culture
J.N. Nodelman
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
University of Alberta
Thesis Supervisor
Dr. Shyamal Bagchee
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
English and Film Studies/English
Languages Familiar to Author
English, French, Latin
URL where full thesis can be found
Narrative, Space, Text, Gear-and-Girder, Engineering, Transportation, American Literature, Modernist Literature
Abstract: 200-500 words
This dissertation, breaking with recent trends in the study of space, literature, and culture, contends that we read built spaces as narrative texts, not as inert objects or static containers of events. It furthermore proposes we understand bridges’ evocations in novels, poetry, and other writings not as aloof, supplementary descriptions of these spaces, but as instances where such narratives are both enacted and made readable—in ways that substantively construct and renovate the spaces themselves. By examining such writings in this light, one can trace a literary-historical argument: the rise and fall of the 20th-century “gear-and-girder” age in United States, compared to its manifestation in other Modernist literatures and cultures, involved a unique sense of machine technology’s challenge to ethics, and a concomitantly distinctive progression of ways of narrating built space. Chapter I establishes this argument’s theoretical frameworks. It diverges from the Marxist theorist Henri Lefebvre, contending that bridges are not containers of experience which subtly shape their contents but experiential processes in which meaning shifts dramatically. In narrating such shifts, writers of fiction make readable these spaces’ potentials for transformative significations. Chapter II considers Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge (1912) as both contribution and challenge to a discourse which narrates bridge construction as the achievement of lasting, complete objects. Chapter III examines a series of tales about the adoption of newly constructed bridges into the spatial practice of their immediate communities; in this context, Thornton Wilder’s Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) makes an unconventional proposal that bridges challenge people to make connections across time, not space. Chapter IV concerns fictional texts about bridges which remain in use generations after their construction, contending that several writers, particularly Hart Crane in The Bridge (1933), account for the mystical significance which such a structure frequently takes on as its transformation from tangible passage into structuring metaphor. Finally, Chapter V examines how one particular gear-and-girder era structure— Edmonton, Alberta’s High Level Bridge—has been variously narrated from its completion in 1913 to the present moment in literary fiction, non-fictional writings, and in the words of generations of city planners, politicians, and residents.