Pomona College students in the humanities have opportunities to apply for and conduct summer undergraduate research projects. Below are recent projects completed by students in the English Department.
Abysmal Theory: Excess and Paradox in Blanchot, Bataille, and Deleuze
Andrew Reischling ’19; Mentor: Paul Mann
In the dialectical tradition of continental philosophy and its related discourses of literary theory, the critiques of subjectivity and literature revolve around the progressive establishment of identity. Hegel’s “men of history” or Nietzsche’s “Overman,” both aim to affirm a holistic and unique “I” as the guiding force of progression and the apotheosis of history. Moreover, it is through “negative action” the denial of the world’s present conditions as the way in which something more complete or more “truthful is created” that this “I” is articulated. My project is thus concerned with the exclusionary principle of dialectical progression. For if negation is intimately connected with “Being,” then is “Being” itself not negated in its process? Furthermore, what is at stake in literature, which, as an attempt to make language supremely “unreal,” would be the utmost limit of negative action? And perhaps more insidiously, what does it mean that literature’s universal negation ultimately fails due to an irreducible excess of meaning? Using this framework posed by Blanchot’s major theoretical works, Bataille’s “principle of insufficiency” and notion of non-productive expenditure, and Deleuze’s theory of the surface world of sense and the “chaosmos,” I seek to explore the critical implications of the literary and existential paradoxes of sense and nonsense, excess and lack, “Being” and impotence, and the indeterminate impersonality of this abysmal theory.
Funding Provided By: General SURP Fund
Ashley Leader ’19; Mentor: Oona Eisenstadt
In many ways, the doctor in his hospital has deposed the priest in his church. We place quite a lot of faith in modern medicine and its practicants. We come to them with our problems, and they tell us what to do. If you’re sick and wish to be healed, you’ll call a doctor, not a priest. Modern medicine has rendered the supposed healing power of religion redundant, and now it is modern medicine we expect to work miracles. Wherefore this quasi-reverence for the doctor? Perhaps rather than having become obsolete, the shaman’s role has simply been subsumed into that of the doctor. I took it as my project to track down this figure who operates at the intersection of medicine and religion, perhaps even in their industrialized modern-day iterations. So, I tracked medicine men through the works of such authors as Zora Neale Hurston, Ishmael Reed, and Leslie Marmon Silko. I began to pick up on another way in which the figure of the healer (or if you prefer drug dealer) muddies boundaries and presents ambiguities. The med man is frequently identified with the con man, the trickster. When dealing with such types it is hard to tell if you are being had. And it’s a different issue altogether whether or not whatever he’s selling even works. Now that I have a more fully developed picture of the medicine man, I look forward to continuing to study his varied incarnations in literature.
Funding Provided By: Aubrey H. & Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund
Uncovering the Wagon: Narratives of White Imperialism in Nature Writing and Outdoor Recreation
John Flanagan ’19; Mentor: Aaron Kunin
This SURP explores the pervasive “whiteness” of natural recreation, specifically in national parks, through the medium of critiquing nature writing and the structures of imperialism and racism therein. Besides researching primary sources of nature writing and secondary sources of criticism, this SURP also included a two-week trip to Whitefish, Montana, gateway to Glacier National Park and home of notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer. It finds that deep within nature writing “and American Western culture at large” narratives of the hardy white pioneer continue to influence cultural engagement with nature, but that certain authors are moving towards a definition of “nature” that deprioritizes the idea of “wilderness,” that is, the classical frontier lauded by authors such as Emerson, Thoreau and Muir. Instead, this new wave preaches a more inclusive and holistic understanding of how humans fit into their local ecosystems, even in urban settings.
Funding Provided By: History & English Department SURP
The Future of “the Family”: Feminist Criticism in Shakespeare Studies
Peter Brown ’19; Mentor: Colleen Rosenfeld
In this critical history, I consider the state of feminism in Shakespeare studies. Looking at academic feminism from the 1980s until the present. I begin with tracing Shakespearean feminism from its psychoanalytic origins, focusing on gender difference and the family. Throughout the 80s, feminism and other historically based literary movements interacted and argued over the inclusion of women in progressive analyses of Shakespeare. Moving into the 1990s, feminists in Shakespeare studies grappled more with issues raised by queer and critical race scholars, moving more into the direction of intersectional analysis. After 2000, I argue that feminist inquiry has slowed down in its rapid change of focus, even though it still remains engaged in a wide variety of conversations. Today, Shakespearean feminists attend to new methodologies as well as their historical foundations, using intersectionality as an approach to cross both disciplinary and temporal boundaries of scholarship. Overall, I contest the idea that feminism in Shakespeare studies is dead, tracking its history in order to better understand its new directions in the present. Shakespearean feminism today may not look like what it was in the early 80s, but it is as active as ever.
Funding Provided By: History & English Department SURP
Framing James’s “Turn of the Screw”
Nathan Johnson ’17; Mentor: Aaron Kunin
Critics have focused on the narrative reliability of the ghost story forming the bulk of Henry James’s "Turn of the Screw." My project examines the prologue, whose narrator is only the last link in a complex chain of story transmission between the heroine-narrator and us. Douglas, another link, tells in the prologue of the heroine-narrator telling him her story in person and later giving him a manuscript. The prologue narrator hears Douglas’s oration and claims to give us a duplicate of Douglas’s manuscript. James’s novel is about storytelling itself—narration and transmission. Gothic novels provide literary historical context for the prologue. These ancestors to James’s book also contain narrations within their stories. As a literary analytical project, my research consists in closely reading passages of story transmission. A pattern has emerged. Gothic novels thrive on sensational events, witnessed by one or a few who then rush to testify to an audience. Over time, Gothic novels’ story transmissions become more formal and structural. What is in one book a panicked character telling others a story in dialogue becomes in a later book a witness writing the account or telling a story heard from someone else. "The Turn of the Screw" is an extrapolated, intensified version of this; it is nesting dolls of stories given as oral narrations and manuscripts; it makes us the final skeptical and horrified audience.
Funding Provided By: Friedman
Interpretations of Shakespeare, or, What You Will
Emma Fredgant ‘17; Mentor: Colleen Rosenfeld; Collaborators: Alana Friedman ’16, Pieter Hoekstra ‘17
Our work this summer consisted of examining Shakespeare materials from the Honnold/Mudd and Denison Special Collections, allowing us to pursue our intellectual interests and ultimately curate three exhibits reflecting our research. By studying Shakespearean history, artwork, productions from the past four centuries, and secondary criticism, we explored themes including early theatre history, disability, colonialism, and Christian theology. Weekly blog posts allowed us to build on these themes, which ultimately led us to the overarching concept of “versions” of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets, and associated works are famously rich in thematic material and provocative moments, inspiring countless interpretations, adaptations, and imitations. While some of these interpretations are banal or bizarre, they often provide insights into possible readings of the original text. Our final exhibit at Honnold/Mudd explores readings of Shakespeare through items such as tragic burlesques, operas, a happy King Lear, and a forged Shakespeare play. At Denison, our exhibit questions manifestations of gender in Shakespeare by focusing on a range of female characters. This examination, stretching from an analysis of cross dressing to a look at women in tragedy, offers interpretations of gender in Shakespeare’s plays. These exhibits will be on display in Spring 2016, open to the students, faculty, and staff of The Claremont Colleges.
Funding Provided By: Friedman (Friedman), NEH (Fredgant, Hoekstra)
Symbols of Evil: The Nature of Evil and Temptation in Epic
Grace Ann Brew ’17; Mentor: Sasha-Mae Eccleston
My research involved investigating symbols of evil in the following three related narratives: Homer’s the Iliad, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. In one way, each text originates from a different period of literary history and represents a different genre. In another way, they all strive to create an encyclopedic feel with their epic narratives, which thereby stand as representations of the entire culture from which they were born. The way in which each work’s symbol of evil (which are two urns, wind, and a ring) tempt and overcome humans exhibits the evolving relationship between evil and the individual from a social to a rational to a subconscious one in the Iliad, Paradise Lost, and The Fellowship of the Ring respectively. My project highlights how these symbols engage with cultural norms, and how genres change to accommodate contemporary notions of morality.
Funding Provided By: Friedman
The Posthuman Grotesque: Transgressive Bodies in Dark Romantic, Afro-Speculative, and Ethnographic Literature
Pryor Stroud (2015); Mentor(s): Valorie Thomas
Abstract: In the discourse surrounding Afrofuturist fiction and, its parent genre, speculative fiction, the “ontological hygiene” of the human – that is, the sense of uniqueness that separates Homo sapiens from animals, machines, and other (in)organic materials – is called into question. For my specific purposes, though, it is the supposed uniqueness and separateness of human corporeality that I would like to focalize and, subsequently, “disarticulate.” What happens when the skin – the perceived barrier between inside and outside, self and other, individual and world – is ruptured or removed? What happens when technology, monstrosity, or a combination thereof encroaches upon the body or, conversely, when the body encroaches beyond itself? Finally, is a posthuman body – an unraced, ungendered, unmarked body – horrific or utopic? Employing Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of grotesque realism, Donna Haraway’s “cyborg” writings, teratology (the study of monsters, malformations, and anatomical anomalies), phenomenology, and structural anthropology, I hope to answer these questions through a close scrutiny of Nalo Hopkinson, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Octavia Butler’s stories. At this point, I am also concerned with Toni Morrison’s injunction from Playing in the Dark: identifying and “disinterring” the Africanist presence in nineteenth century American literature. Blackness – the flesh of shadows, the terror of “inhumation,” the vertigo of darkness – is an obvious “other” in Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville’s fiction; however, it also serves to dis-integrate, animalize, and “other” the subject’s anatomy.
Funding Provided by: Donors to the History and English Department SURP
The Aesthetics of the Internet in the Fiction of Tao Lin
Joseph Ocon (2014); Mentor(s): Kevin Dettmar
Abstract: Tao Lin is a novelist, poet, and publisher currently working in the ambiguous space between literature and the internet both in his literary work and his extra-literary work. His extra-literary work, which, occurring primarily on the internet, frames his literary work, establishes the internet as part of his artist’s practice. Furthermore, the literary and extra-literary influence each other in his practice. This duality, between the internet and literature, exists in most of Lin’s work. Lin’s fiction is a space in which the formal and aesthetic structures of the novel and the internet interact. In his novel Richard Yates and novella Shoplifting from American Apparel, internet text forms are “novelized,” making an aesthetic claim: the form of the novel dominates other text forms. Certain aesthetic qualities of the internet must be elided. These works draw attention to the elision that occurs in the process of integration, gesturing toward an intimate space beyond the surface of the text. The elisions, conspicuously absent, create negative texts that provide the characters of the works with a closeness that excludes the reader and defies the novel’s power to make its world public. In Taipei, Lin’s third novel, an inversion occurs. The computer becomes a machine for making information public, for turning people into information. The computer has the potential to create new forms of intimacy but also allows for the creation of massive public databases in which privacy is obliterated, intimacy is unimaginable. Lin extends this idea to the novel itself.
Funding Provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities
Figuratively Speaking: Printed Marginalia in Early English Texts
Emma Smith (2014); Student Collaborator(s): Alana Friedman (2016); Katherine Snell (2015); Mentor(s): Colleen Rosenfeld
Abstract: The purpose of this project is to do a detailed study and catalogue of Early Modern figures of speech in order to identify trends in their usage. We endeavor to explore the relationship between argument and figures of speech, content and form. Despite Early Modern pedagogy’s attempts to separate the two, our research has consistently shown the interconnectedness of language and modes of writing and thinking. For our sources, we used the Early English Books Online database (EEBO), searching documents chronologically for relevant marginalia. Our project began last summer with the creation of a shared Google spreadsheet cataloguing each text we examined by Title, Author, Date of Publication, Type of Figure, Marginalia, and Related Text, preserving the original spelling. This is the first database of it is kind, given that the majority of marginalia in Early English documents are not key word searchable. Although this project is still in progress, we have already witnessed a marked increase in all printed marginalia per year and are on track to generate a body of data from which we may draw further conclusions. Printed marginalia represents an intersection between print culture, pedagogical practices, political and religious controversies of the time, theories of language, and the history of English.
Funding Provided by: Donors to the History and English Department SURP (ES), National Endowment for the Humanities (AF, KS)
Titles, Un-titles, and Non-titles: A History of Evolving Poetic Functions
Sam Corfman (2013); Mentor(s): Aaron Kunin
Abstract: The title is part of what Gerard Genette calls “Paratext” – that is, something that exists outside of but still informs a text. Because of the poetic convention for each poem to have a title, there is an especially close relationship between the poetic title and the body of the poem. My research focused on the history of poetic titles and how they came to be seen as necessary components of a finished poem. I found that the title is inextricably linked to the publishing process. After consumerism began necessitating titles to poems, poets began to claim the title from publishers, expanding its function beyond the descriptive. However, while looking at Marianne Moore and the Modernist poets, I concluded that these “authorial” titles must still be mediated through a physical object (the book), which can affect the weight and meaning of the title. I will continue my research into this relationship between title and physical text as my senior thesis.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP
Trekking through early modern marginalia
Aliza Lalji (2013); Student Collaborator(s): Emily Brotman (2013); Mentor(s): Colleen Rosenfeld
Abstract: Two research assistants browsed chronologically through the Early English Books Online database (EEBO) in search of printed marginalia about rhetorical figures. Beginning their trek in 1473 and working through the 16th century, the assistants compiled a searchable index of marginalia found in early modern English texts. This project marks the first comprehensive attempt to catalog all references to rhetorical figures in the printed marginalia of early modern English texts. Professor Colleen Rosenfeld intends to use this index as she writes her book, Indecorous Thinking, which discusses rhetorical figures as ways of thinking rather than as mere ornaments of expression. Much of the book is dedicated to a discussion of the historical anxieties surrounding the use of rhetorical figures. Further research by Lalji traces England’s own linguistic narrative as it began to translate a framework of eloquence held primarily within Greek and Latin in order to create a more powerful English. This mode of translation became an integral part of the religious dissension at that time. As such great thinkers as Zwingli and Luther began to question key Christian elements such as the Eucharist, it started to become a question of rhetoric: Hoc est corpus meum. Was it simply a metaphor? And, more broadly, how do these rhetorical labels, in any context, construct a framework that then limits the parameter of meaning within an actual text? This is what our research sought to explore.
Funding provided by: Pomona College SURP
Stories Worth Sharing: Insight, Life-Lessons, and Truth from the Women at Crossroads
Theresa Pfister (2013); Mentor(s): Valorie Thomas
Abstract: Crossroads is a transitional home for women who were previously incarcerated. Since 1974, they’ve offered unconditional acceptance, support, and practical assistance to women reentering the community. In the country with the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, Crossroads is responding to a desperate need. In my research here, I’ve learned of the inefficiencies, inadequacies, and injustices of the prison system and the beauty, knowledge, and strength of the women who’ve gone through it. By writing the stories of the women who went through the courts, stood behind the bars, and are now transitioning back into society, I believe that we can encourage social change. I believe that these women’s stories have the power to break down the walls of ignorance and misunderstanding and bring forward the much-needed shift in public opinion and legislation concerning the prison system. I believe their stories are stories worth sharing.
Funding provided by: Pomona College SURP