Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Re-specting graffiti: Transgression at play in art, language, and ritual
by Millar, Carolyn L., Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2010, 205; 3475543
Abstract (Summary)

The tradition of writing, drawing, and inscribing on public and private surfaces persists historically from the painted and inscribed images on natural subterranean walls in the Upper Paleolithic era to the vivid and inventive writings on manufactured hard scapes in present-day cities around the globe. These illustrations differ in time—ancient and modern, in landscape—natural and urban, and in acceptance—respected and maligned; nevertheless, mark-making endures as a universal pattern in the human psyche that is recognizable in diverging patterns in all cultures.

These archetypal motifs emerge in the arts, rituals, dreams, and mythologies as imaginative phenomena independent of the subjectivity of the scientific and historical world of logical reasoning. Undertaking an archetypal examination of graffiti shifts the literal thinking about contemporary markings as illegal and unwanted defacement to enter the realm of the mythical and metaphorical that respects expressions of creative discovery and imagination. Graffiti function as an empowering vehicle for personal and social expression at the same time they upset traditional cultural categories by simultaneously being venerated and respected as art and outlawed and denigrated as crime.

In contemporary discourse, individuals and social groups polarize between narratives of graffiti as marks of cultural expression and art on one hand, and destroyers of property and civic order on the other. Rather than scrutinize and focus on the illegality and vandalism that articulates contemporary graffitist's violations against public and private property, this inquiry intends to disentangle what amounts to a current criminal narrative that plagues graffiti in order to weigh and evaluate the transgressive social actions that unsettle fixed binaryisms in relation to art, language, and ritual.

This study utilizes an interdisciplinary method that re-imagines and de-literalizes the mythology of polar oppositions and differences that weave within graffiti's paradoxical context in a variety of disciplines. Furthermore, it examines the problematical and relational hierarchy of dual oppositions. Transgressing boundaries, as well as opening up the structured to anti-structure, the novel markings illustrate the individual will that affirms itself without the need for authorization or acceptance. Graffiti is memory marking that transgresses conventions to allow psyche another illustration.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Slattery, Dennis Patrick, Odajnyk, Walter
School: Pacifica Graduate Institute
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 72/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Social research, Psychology
Keywords: Art, Graffiti, Language, Mythology, Ritual, Transgression
Publication Number: 3475543
ISBN: 978-1-124-88418-9
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