This section includes favorite essays culled (mostly) from coursework for a Bachelor's degree in English Literature. 

2016 Student Spotlight

Studying English Literature isn’t just about reading stories and writing analyses, it’s about thinking critically, communicating effectively, shuffling around for a foothold in abstract concepts and unfamiliar experiences, and building bridges between, across, and sometimes straight through an unlimited catalogue of ideas—new and old. As a senior double-majoring in English and Cello Performance, it has been fascinating to discover, over the past four years, the places that my two rather disparate majors intersect. (And I suspect I am only beginning to understand the ways they enhance each other.)

New Stories, Secret Selves- A Meditation on Literary Form in McPherson’s Elbow Room

James Alan McPherson’s Elbow Room is obsessed with literary form. The story pits an unnamed black author against his similarly anonymous white editor, positioning the narrative framework in a space of literary revision rather than publication. Within this tempered environment literary whiteness and blackness are thrown into high relief as McPherson wrestles with what it means to be an author or an editor, and the phenomena of “secret selves” and “new” stories. Elbow Room is challenging to treat with in that it extends unresolved threads in different directions, tantalizing a reader eager to tie them all into a neat little bow of literary theory. But with recurring concepts of morality and understanding in one hand, pervasive representation of the story’s only notable female character as a bird in the other, and a juxtaposition of idealism and cynicism slipping through their fingers, even the most perceptive literary analyst is likely to fumble in the act of ligature.

Daniel the Abbot on Spirituality and Tape Measures

Daniel the Abbot reveals, in an obsession with quantity, measurement, directional mapping and physical detail, his preoccupation with the tangibility of Christianity, building with his words a materially precise replica of the Church of the Resurrection for readers of The Life and Journey of Daniel, Abbot of the Russian Land to explore. Daniel takes great care to contextualize the church before he even reaches its doors, describing the “flat hill about a verst from the road to Jerusalem” on which pilgrims dismount and pay their first respects (127). Shortly thereafter, he locates the Church of St. Stephen the Protomartyr “on the left hand side of the road,” giving just the barest taste with “left hand side” of the overwhelming amount of direction and position-related detail contained in the pages of one Russian abbot’s narrative.

When Writing Feels Right

Today the bulk, brunt, and brute force of my written words are absorbed by the keys of a thirteen-inch MacBook Pro. Once in a while they are welcomed in great long rushes that start at the top of my head and race through my arms onto the screen, but most of the writing I do when I sit down to write feels like it comes in a rhythm of one step forward, two steps back that somehow still staggers across a page. The path of my cursor is never linear: surging forward, careening back to catch a forgotten comma, jumping from the end of a sentence to its beginning to add, erase, or rephrase. I consider myself a writer not because writing is an easy exercise for me, but because I like the process and feeling of wordsmithing an exceptional sentence enough to endure the blood, sweat, and tears shed while hunched over my Silicon Valley-made anvil.

Layers of Pursuit and the Sound of Victory

Two simultaneous and intricately paralleled hunts occur at the center of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Lord Bertilak engaging in the gentlemanly sport of hunting wild game, and a corollary hunt, his lady wife’s indecent and unrelenting seduction of courteous Sir Gawain. Lord and Lady Bertilak’s separate but related pursuits correspond especially strongly in their third and final episodes. As Lord Bertilak sets out on a last hunting excursion his hunting party rides into fields that are “dazzling, fixed with frost,” where “the crown of a sunrise rose scarlet and crimson” (1694, 1695). In turn the description of Lady Bertilak’s appearance as she enters Sir Gawain’s chamber, her own hunting ground of sorts, is subtly evocative of the fields and sunrise her husband encounters. “Her head went unhooded, but heavenly gems / were entwined in her tresses in clusters of twenty. / She wore nothing on her face; her neck was naked” (1738-40). Lady Bertilak’s “heavenely gems” undoubtedly glitter in a way that recalls the “dazzling” fields of Lord Bertilak’s own hunt.

'Style' in Language, and Music

In his book The Classical Style, Rosen says that the history of music cannot be understood in the same way that the history of a language can, even though both are communicative by nature and often compared. He identifies two main discrepancies within this comparison; the first being the idea that a musical style is not unlike a dialect of a language, and yet it is treated as an expression--not just a means of expression, and the second being the notion that in music, individual expression takes precedence over a collective norm. I agree with both of the points that he raises about the difference in the history of language vs. the history of music, and would like to elaborate on each of Rosen’s claims as I explain why.