We’re all interdisciplinary. Vision, perception, and analysis – all are incomplete if they’re not going beyond the narrow limits of a subject. Knowledge itself is incomplete if it is not crossing subject or discipline barriers.
– Prof. Shubha Tiwari (Professor of English at APS University, Rewa, M.P, India)
The keyword for UC Berkeley’s Comparative Literature department this summer has been ‘interdisciplinary’. A group of us have worked tirelessly for six months to create a one-of-a-kind event called “de-Othering the Humanities: The Comparative Literature Research Symposium.” As implied by its name, the purpose of the Symposium is to demonstrate the strong link between the Humanities and other areas of study that are considered ‘applicable’ to everyday life, such as politics, economics, and technology. What the Symposium is endeavoring to convey is that the Humanities, contrary to popular belief, is not only important to, but also inherent in, other areas of academia. The mission of the Symposium, by a happy accident, is absolutely reflected in a majority of this issue’s pieces.
In “People Fill the Streets: The Nature of Coping in American Fiction since 9/11,” Elisabeth Denison analyzes three literary works that reflect the coping process of the U.S. since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Drawing from our Presidents’ speeches and commentary by journalists, authors, and theorists, Denison explores how the language and thematic material used in the works she analyzes reflects the decade in which they were written and how they may enable a catharsis that the U.S. has not yet achieved.
Christen Hammock also explores an issue that our nation has been facing in recent years – the intersection between literature and technology. In “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Grows Up: Children’s Literature and the New Media Novel,” she argues that, although new media novels have been deemed “revolutionary,” they in fact derive many of their basic elements from children’s novels. Comparing the two side by side, Hammock argues that children’s books and new media novels use similar functions of pedagogy and play to open up the world of reading and create a new stage of emergent literacy for adults.
Converging economics with literature, Parker Towle applies little-known Silvio Gesell’s economic theories to Daniel Defoe’s successful novel, Roxana. Applying Gesell’s monetary theory to the novel demonstrates that our interpretation of Roxana’s actions and motivations as corrupt must be altered when we reconsider our notions of value.
On a psychoanalytical note, in her piece “Cosa de Mujeres: An Uncanny Reading of Almodóvar’s Hable conella, Volver, and La piel que habito,” Mackenzie Cooley applies Sigmund Freud’s famous essay “The Uncanny” to Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s disorienting films. Through a Freudian reading, Almodóvar establishes the uncanny nature of the female form and blurs the boundaries between men and women, whether dead or alive.
In “Finding Humor in Selfhood: The Permeability of Body and Soul in the Works of John Donne,” Corinne Zeman argues that the writings of John Donne can be used to explore humoralism and demonstrate its transition into modern thought on selfhood (post-Descartes). While Descartes dissociated corporeality and cognition from each other, this paper touches on each field, situating them in relation to John Donne’s writings, and eventually offers the possibility of humoral selfhood.
The last two articles present us with literary analyses of some of the greatest works that arose from the Middle Ages. In her piece “Vladimir and Estragon, Descendants of Edgar,” Natasha Chenier compares the theme of “nothingness” in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and Samuel Beckett’s contemporary play Waiting for Godot.
Mimi Zhou, in “’Le Senestre Chemin’: Aporia, Paradox, and the Ritual Act of the Search in Chretien de Troyes’ Conte du Graal,” explores how the famous incompletions of the text affect the poem’s structure, how they affect the interiority Perceval develops, and, ultimately, how they affect the readers of the Story of the Grail.
This summer marks the first year since the journal’s inception. I am truly proud of the team we have assembled over the year and am grateful for their dedication for the journal. I admire the quality and the intellect that our authors continue to demonstrate from issue to issue, and for the interdisciplinarity that these pieces in particular have exhibited this time. I hope to continue to expand the horizons of the term “Comparative Literature” in further issues, but for now,
August 12, 2012