Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





John Brenkman

Committee Members

Eric Lott

Richard Kaye

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | American Literature | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Audio Arts and Acoustics | Continental Philosophy | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America | Music Performance | Radio | Theory and Criticism


Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, Rock 'n' Roll


This dissertation proposes a reevaluation of the overlooked connections between American popular music and modernist literature’s scope and formal experimentation which arose in the mid-20th century. Because Lou Reed’s ever-changing persona situates his work uncomfortably between high art and pop-culture, modernism and “post-modernity,” literature and music, and ethics and aesthetics, I intend to consider Reed as this dissertation’s empty, refracted center. One that will allow for a critique of several major intellectual movements, both inside and outside the academy, that continue to influence thinking about art, ethics, and material culture. Additionally, I hope to show that the work of a figure like Reed benefits from the kind of rigorous close reading not often applied within conventional conversations about pop-cultural figures. In short, I will demonstrate, not only Reed’s importance to rock ‘n’ roll’s neglected literary mode, but Reed’s status as a writer, player, and thinker essential to hearing the polyphony of the fragmented modern tradition.