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Current Undergraduate Fellows

Calvin Baker

Philosophy 

Buddhist Well-Being and Population Ethics

Advisors: Juliana Bidadanure; Paul Harrison

Calvin Baker is an undergraduate majoring in philosophy, writing an honors thesis with the Ethics in Society Program, minoring in international relations, and completing a certificate in human wellness. His primary academic interests include ethical theory, wellbeing, Buddhism, and Effective Altruism. He plans to complete a PhD in analytic philosophy and then work on mitigating existential risks, hopefully in conjunction with the Effective Altruism movement. 

 

What is the focus of your current research?
My thesis seeks to answer two questions: first, ‘what is the best articulation of a Buddhist theory of wellbeing?’ and second, ‘what implications does this theory of wellbeing have for population ethics?’ Wellbeing concerns how well a person's life is going for her, and more particularly, a theory of wellbeing attempts to isolate what is intrinsically good for human persons. Population ethics asks questions like, 'which is better—population A, which has 10 billion people enjoying a very high quality of life, or population B, which has 50 billion people enjoying a moderate, but still positive, quality of life?’ Different theories of wellbeing have different implications for population ethics, and so far, philosophers working on population ethics have not considered Buddhist wellbeing. It is my intention to do so.


What drew you to this topic?
I have spent my last two summers researching Buddhist meditation and Buddhist theories of suffering, happiness, and mind. I am still chewing on a lot of the philosophy, but I suspect that the philosophy and practice is correct about a number of essential points. Population ethics is currently a hot topic in moral philosophy, and the right answers to it--if there are any--will have far-reaching implications for many other parts of moral philosophy. My thesis allows me to dig deeper into a tradition in which I am personally quite interested, while at the same time (hopefully) contributing to an important area of contemporary philosophical research. 


How are you conducting your research?
My research primarily deals with contemporary philosophical scholarship on Buddhist wellbeing and population ethics. Over the summer, I supplemented my understanding of the literature by interviewing Tibetan Buddhist monks in Nepal and Theravāda Buddhist monks in the U.S. 


What would someone be surprised to learn about our topic?
The Buddhist view of wellbeing challenges many of our most deeply-held views about the nature of ourselves and happiness. According to Buddhism, there is no self that persists over the course of our lives, thinking our thoughts, doing our actions, and having our experiences. Rather, "persons" are merely bundles of causally interrelated mental and physical processes. All suffering is traceable to mistaken belief in self, and the cessation of suffering--as well as the highest happiness--is found in gaining direct insight into the selfless nature of our existence.


In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
If it were correct, or even if some of its sub-claims were correct, the Buddhist theory of wellbeing would have radical implications for how it is best to live. Since the theory is plausible, it warrants close analytic and comparative scrutiny. And, as I said above, if the correct theory answers population ethics it will have many implications for the rest of ethical theory. William MacAskill, a moral philosopher at Oxford, has suggested that population ethics is the most important unsolved problem in moral philosophy. 


How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
I study ethics to discover how to live. If I conclude that the Buddhist theory of wellbeing is more compelling than the other theories on offer, I will change many aspects of my life and practical deliberations to reflect this theoretical commitment. However, I anticipate that this conclusion will take more philosophical legwork than I am able to do in one academic year. 

Nick Burns

History

The Problem of Athens: Political Thought and Greek History in 19th-Century Britain and France

Advisor: Jessica Riskin

Nick Burns is a senior majoring in History with minors in Classics and Portuguese. His chief interests lie in historiography and the history of political thought. After studying Greek politics, history, and language during his first few years as an undergraduate, he has turned to studying the reception of classical political practice and thought in modern Europe and the Americas. His interest in ancient and modern languages and cultures has led him to dedicate his summers to work with the State Department in Lisbon and travel and study in Greece. During the year he serves as a staff writer on the Stanford Review and the Arts & Life section of the Stanford Daily. He also holds the post of Prose and Poetry Editor at Leland Quarterly, Stanford's main student literary magazine.

 

What is the focus of your current research?
I'm working on an intellectual history of George Grote's 1846 History of Greece seeking to connect Grote's landmark work of classical scholarship, which is often credited with helping to restore the reputation of Athenian democracy, to simultaneous developments in political thought, such as the work of J.S. Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, both of whom were friends of Grote. My work seeks to answer the question of whether the redemption of Athens—and of democracy—that Grote and his friends helped to effect, was really an embrace of classically democratic political practice, or simply a novel method of de-emphasizing the radical nature of Athenian democracy in favor of a more aristocratic, mixed system, as Britain pursued a course of reform rather than revolution.

 

How are you conducting your research?
I'm reading Grote's monumental, four-volume History of Greece, paying special attention to his chapters on the rise of Athens, the sophists, and the demagogues. I'll also have recourse to Mill's political philosophy and Tocqueville's Democracy in America, as well as letters, book reviews, and records of meetings between these three major figures of my thesis.

 

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
The word "democracy" is simultaneously all-important and intractable in today's world. In my opinion, contemporary definitions of democracy such as those advanced by theorists of the "democratic peace" often fail to theoretically justify the requirements they set out, and fail to engage with ancient democracies in a  meaningful way. I believe it's very dangerous to be so committed to a certain word or idea that defines the regimes under which we live without knowing the history of the idea and the history of how that word came to be used in the way it currently is. I'm hoping to answer for myself and perhaps for others who are interested: How did we come to use the word "democracy" to describe our governments? And what is the nature of the uneasy relationship between ancient and modern democracy? The answers may challenge much of the accepted wisdom about the theoretical foundations of our governments.

 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
It's giving me a sneak peek into what graduate school in history is likely to be like, and also the chance to talk to professors in different Stanford departments who work at the crossroads of classics, modern history, and political thought. I feel like I'm getting the chance to synthesize and deepen a lot of strands of inquiry that I've pursued in various classes in the past. 

Laura Feigen

Art & Art History 

The Art of Illustration: A Critical Look at the Golden Age

Advisor: Marci Kwon

Laura Feigen is an undergraduate double majoring in art history and Italian language and literature. Her academic interests lie at the intersection of text and image, specifically in looking at the transmutation of this relationship across historical periods in manuscript, print and digital texts. The crux of her research explores how different production techniques—such as new writing or printing technologies—affect the compositional dynamic between text and image, and how this relationship can act as a lens through which to learn more about the period when these texts were created. In her extracurricular life, Laura is passionate about curating the museum experience in a manner that is both immersive and educative for the viewer. She has interned with La Opera di Santa Croce in Florence and ARTUNER Gallery in London where she helped to put on the exhibition "Beyond the Cartoon." As her second major suggests, Laura is also very interested in Italian literature and spent two quarters abroad in Florence before becoming the Academic Theme Advisor in La Casa Italiana (an undergraduate house on campus) and a Teaching Assistant for the class Itallang 126: Italy and the Italians Today


What is the focus of your current research? 
I am studying picture book illustration in the wake of the Industrial Revolution in England. Through an analysis of the works of George Cruikshank, Randolph Caldecott, and Beatrix Potter, three of the most innovative illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, my thesis seeks to understand how each artist employed the new mechanical possibilities of color wood block printing and steel engravings in order to construct fantastic and escapist fairy-tale worlds. The new compositional relationships between text and image, engendered by the new engraving methods, are the framework through which I explore how their illustrations articulate England’s larger social nostalgia for a pre-Industrial era that emerged at the beginning of the 19th century as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. Specifically, I am examining how this nostalgic sentiment gave rise to an idealization of childhood and an obsession with fantasy which is demonstrated in the allegorical engravings of Cruikshank, the playful illustrations of Caldecott, and the subversive watercolors of Potter.  


What drew you to this topic?
I have always been fascinated by picture book illustration. As an artist myself, I know the degree to which illustrations are informed by both the materials being used and the society they are being created in and for. Indeed, the subject of my thesis developed out of a desire to investigate the nature of illustrations to be a nexus for new printing technologies, artistic styles and social change. As for this time and place, when I was doing research on the history of illustration for the class “Rhetoric of Children’s Books,” I became intrigued by the fact that many of the first English picture book illustrators (such as George Cruikshank) were also political satirists; I wanted to further explore the reflexivity of this relationship and its correlation to changing printing/engraving methodologies. 


How are you conducting your research?
Last summer, I received a Major Grant to go to England and do primary source research in the archives of the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and British Library. I spent ten weeks in England, looking at the manuscripts, sketchbooks, printed editions, and letter correspondences of Cruikshank, Caldecott, and Potter. The materials that I was able to study and record during this trip form the central part of the analysis on which my thesis is based. 

 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
Existing scholarship on picture book illustration has been limited to viewing work by artists such as Cruikshank, Caldecott, and Potter as important contributions to the development of children’s literature, rather than works of art reflecting the technological innovations and social values of their period. Moreover, historical surveys and monographic considerations of these works fail to discuss their art historical implications. By analyzing the aesthetic, social, and affective dimensions of picture book illustrations as well as their importance to the broader print culture of Victorian England, my thesis aims to open up an academic, art historical framework through which these works can be discussed. 

 

How is your honors thesis work impacting you academically and/or personally?
It’s a wonderful experience to work on a project that, every day, reveals new details and new stories. It’s also quite daunting to realize that this project must develop into a cohesive, coherent and, comparatively, colossal paper. In many ways, the experience of writing a thesis reminds me of a quote by Michelangelo: “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” Indeed, I don’t think I have ever been more attuned to my work ethic and study habits.   

Nathan Jae-Sun Large

Theater and Performance Studies

“Old, New, Borrowed and Bluesy”: The Marriage of Women to Tap Dance

Advisor: Janice Ross

Nathan Large is a Theater and Performance Studies major with interests in both practical and theoretical performance in a variety of mediums. He views academic writing as performative and hopes to spend his future life exploring the synonymy of performance theory and practice. While he does spend a great deal of time directing and devising theater works on campus, he also dedicates significant energy to his honors thesis, which asks questions surrounding tap dance choreography, performativity, and historiography.

 

What is the focus of your current research?
My current research puts theories of choreography, performativity, and historiography into a dialogue with tap dance archive and repertoire. Many of what tap scholars and dancers call the medium’s “canonical histories” attribute tap dance’s birth to intercultural scenarios. The most commonly cited of these scenarios are those that arose during the 16th-19th century era of transatlantic slave trade, the 19th century era of coincidental African slave labor and Irish indentured servitude on American plantations, and the 19th-20th century era of re-appropriative performance in American minstrel shows, vaudevillian circuits, and Broadway theater. This dark history has fueled a number of debates in the tap community especially concerning race and gender. I seek to engage these debates through embracing the singular plurality and in-betweenness of performance, which may allow for a nuanced take on the intercultural and hybrid nature of tap dance.

 

What drew you to this topic?
I come from a family of professional performing artists. It’s no surprise that I found myself tap dancing as early as the age of three. When I was a freshman, I was privileged to participate in the ITALIC program, a living-learning community that introduced students to undergraduate academic thought through examinations of texts and works from a variety of different artistic mediums. I was hooked, as the program opened my eyes to a world of thought I had never before experienced. I eventually declared TAPS as my major at the end of my sophomore year and have since dedicated all of my energy to a holistic understanding of what I’ve done almost my entire life. 

 

How are you conducting your research?
I received a UAR Major Grant to conduct preliminary research this summer, which consisted of both archival work and interviews. I read what many scholars and dancers consider to be the “canonical texts” of tap dance and proceeded to consult a number of archives including the New York Public Library Dance Division, the Rutgers University Library, and the Newark Jazz Institute. I also conducted interviews with major tap authorities such as Jane Goldberg, Brian Seibert, Brenda Bufalino, Acia Gray, and Margaret Morrison. I am now taking a number of PhD courses in the TAPS department in order to further develop a methodological framework with which to interpret by data.

 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
At one point, many people believed that tap dance “died” with the death of the great African-American hoofer, Bill Bojangles Robinson in 1949. These same people believed that tap dance was “reborn” in the late 70s and early 80s through the works of dancers such as Gregory Hines, Brenda Bufalino, Dianne Walker, Jane Goldberg, and others. Tap dance did not “die” only to be “reborn” three decades later. It was very much alive, only practiced underground by those who were not granted the privilege of popular recognition during this time period. It is thanks to the work of historians such as Jane Goldberg, Constance Valis Hill, Rusty Frank, Marshall Stearns, and Brian Seibert that we know of these dancers. But it is also important to note that many other instrumental tappers, especially women and people of color, have also fallen through the cracks of history and may never receive the same recognition.

 

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
Tap dance is very much alive, but it is not as popular as it once was. There are some incredibly interesting things going on in the tap dance community, from the musical tap orchestrations of Brenda Bufalino and the interdisciplinary movements of Acia Gray to the historically charged works of Michelle Dorrance and Savion Glover. Tap is a beautiful art form that is deeply intercultural and American. It is both relevant in the face of performance studies and the current political state of this country.

 

How is your honors thesis affecting you academically and/or personally?
This project is challenging me in ways that I have never encountered before. It has allowed me to join the TAPS graduate community and to create new relationships in the tap dance community. With these come new avenues of inquiry and new challenges. I am excited to see where this research takes me next!

Oscar Lee

Anthropology

Official Feeling: Fashioning Economies of Affect in Dallas

Advisor: Sylvia Yanagisako

Oscar Lee is an undergraduate majoring in Anthropology. He is originally from New Jersey and has interests in contemporary art, affect, and political economy. On campus, Oscar is a banking manager at Stanford Student Enterprises' Capital Group, kitchen manager at 576 Alvarado Row, member of the Judicial Panel, and leader for an Alternative Spring Break course and trip on domestic workers rights.

 

What is the focus of your current research?
My research looks at shifting sets of encounters between the so-called “personal” and “professional” selves at the Dallas headquarters of a luxury retailer. I am interested in how those selves generate (and are generated by) processes of capitalist stratification, and how they network with interproductive understandings of passion, value, and desire. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in the buying offices of this retailer, I attempt to reveal the critical accumulations of feeling on the part of professional buyers, examining how these structures of feeling materialize alongside formalized functions otherwise typically characterized as “unfeeling.” I am interested in engaging a study of political economy as capacious, manufactured, and thoroughly sentimental.

 

What drew you to this topic?
When I was a kid, I used to think that all my teachers lived at school—that every day, after we left for home, they would pull out a foldaway cot from underneath their desks and sleep until we filed back into the classroom the next day. At that time in my life, it was difficult for me to imagine their lives outside their work so I collapsed them together; their work became their lives and their lives became their work. In a lot of ways, I am still deeply fascinated by those kinds of totalizing ideologies of work and their imbrications in our own day to day lives; see our own Career Development Center's recent renaming to BEAM: Bridging Education, Ambition & Meaningful Work. And from my own experiences cycling through unpaid internships in the art and fashion industries, I have grown even more acutely transfixed by the circuits of affect that course through and legitimate our worlds of work.

 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
As a senior, I am beset with many questions about what I want—to do, be, go, have. Recently, in a job interview, I was asked where I saw myself in five years. Through this honors thesis, in conversation with my many interlocutors about their own hopes and aspirations and desires, I find myself wrestling with those very questions—what do I want and what does that mean? 

Madeleine Ota

Archaeology, Classics

Classical Heritage Communities: The Relationship Between Classical Archaeology and Modern Identities in Southeast Sicily

Advisor: Justin Leidwanger

 

Madeleine (Elle) Ota, a double major in Archaeology and Classical Studies, is interested in the role of the classical world in modern Mediterranean heritage.  Her current research is focused on how modern communities in Southeast Sicily derive identity from classical archaeology and how researchers can integrate communities into the archaeological process.  She has spent two field seasons working on the Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project ­– an underwater excavation of a Late-Roman shipwreck off the coast of Sicily – and has worked on various archaeological projects on Stanford campus, including field surveys, Stanford Archaeology Collections, and an exhibit for the university’s 125th Anniversary.  When she is not digging into books or archaeological materials, Elle serves as the Archaeology Undergraduate Peer Advisor, tutors students in ancient Greek, works as the Kitchen Manager for Grove, and sings with her a cappella group, Stanford Talisman.


What is the focus of your current research?
As humans, we construct identity from our relationship with the past – its memories and its material remnants.  My current research examines how classical archaeology (material culture from Ancient Greece and Rome) contributes to modern identities in Mediterranean communities today.  For my Honors Thesis in Archaeology, I am studying perceptions of classical heritage in the town of Marzamemi (located in southeast Sicily), which is known for its ancient underwater archaeology and maritime heritage.  In tandem with this research on cultural heritage, I am also exploring how archaeologists can conduct community-based research and involve local residents in the archaeological process.
 

What drew you to this topic?
I have always been fascinated by how archaeology affects the modern world.  Throughout history, political entities have waged disputes over the ownership of statues, the destruction of monuments, and the appropriation of symbols from the ancient world.  Hailing from a background in classical archaeology, I am interested in the ethical management and excavation of classical materials.  In the summer of 2016, I participated in my first excavation season of the Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project – an underwater excavation of a Roman shipwreck – and became invested in learning how the archaeological project affected the local community in Marzamemi.  In the time since then, I have worked to enhance my understanding of how we, as archaeologists, can use classical archaeology to cater to the cultural needs of the people to whom these materials belong.

How are you conducting your research?
This past summer, I received a UAR Majors Grant to conduct ethnographic research in southeast Sicily, where I also worked on the Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project.  Over the course of six weeks, I interviewed residents of Marzamemi to investigate how people perceive their classical and cultural heritage in this region.  In the mornings, I worked with the archaeological materials themselves – both underwater and in our conversation lab – to gain a better understanding of how specific materials relate to notions of heritage.
 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
Most people in southeast Sicily believe they are descended from the ancient Greeks, which is not necessarily true of other places in Italy (like Rome or even the western side of Sicily).  Sicily’s central location in the Mediterranean Sea made it a hub for maritime connectivity in the ancient world; as a result, the island was colonized and inhabited by a plethora of ethnic groups, including Sicels (the original indigenous people of Sicily), Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Byzantines, and later, Arabs and Normans.  Despite Sicily’s history of multiethnic occupation, modern regional communities associate themselves with particular cultural groups from the past.


In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
As classical archaeologists, I believe we have a responsibility not only to the materials themselves, but also to the modern populations whom they affect.  Over time, classical materials have become imbued with controversial meanings.  Yet, when it comes to the discipline of classical archaeology, there is a paucity of heritage-related work with modern populations.  In studying classical heritage in the context of modern communities, we can better understand how the world engages with the classical past and thus, how archaeologists can handle these materials in positive and ethical ways. 


How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
It has been an extremely fulfilling experience to conduct independent research over the summer in attempts to tackle ethical questions about cultural heritage in the Mediterranean.  In addition to writing my thesis during the academic year, I am also working with the Haas Center’s Public Service Scholars Program to delve deeper into issues relating to archaeology and community development.  My research thus far has not only enhanced how I think about the classical world, but has also strengthened my conviction in the necessity of community-based research in archaeology.
 

Nicole Phillips

Urban Studies 

Criminal to Trendy: Art and Urban Justice in Sydney, Australia 

Advisor: Michael Kahan

Nicole Phillps is a fourth-year Urban Studies undergraduate student with a concentration in Urban Society and Social Change. Within her concentration, she focuses on the ways in which art can restore justice, especially in the urban realm. Her studies are interdisciplinary--spanning economics to anthropology to creative writing. She considers herself a writer above all and seeks to find ways to make academic research accessible beyond the academy. The unifying aspects of her all her pursuits--academic and otherwise--are social impact, creativity, and community. Outside of her scholarship, Nicole is the Artistic Director of BLACKstage theatre company, the President of Students for Education Reform, and a Resident Assistant on campus. She also enjoys reading poorly-executed Young Adult novels, baking cookies, and creating aesthetically-pleasing excel documents. 


What is the focus of your current research?
There is a link between culture and economic development, resulting in an increase of public art initiatives to attract “more desirable residents." Displacement of “less desirable” residents, often low-income, people of color often ensues. For 10 weeks in Sydney, Australia, I explored how different forms of housing injustice (gentrification, land encroachment, unethical evictions) were reflected in the types of art commissioned and not commissioned by the city government and corporate interests, as well as how communities resisted this injustice through illegal or non-commissioned urban art. Sydney markets itself as a creative city and makes efforts to create legal spaces for public art. These initiatives have the potential to uplift communities or further erase them. At the forefront of my research was the question: how can street art, public art, and graffiti serve as public monuments that either halt or perpetuate systems of urban injustice, especially for Aboriginal communities in Sydney?


What drew you to this topic?
I am an artist and an urbanist. I've studied the effect of art on various U.S. neighborhoods in my coursework. I was interested in the ways the concepts of art as a mechanism of renewal might manifest in a global context. From there, my research unfolded in really incredible ways. 


How are you conducting your research?
I received an Undergraduate Advising Research Major Grant to travel Sydney, Australia. To explore the effect of urban art on the city, I interviewed 16 people both formally and informally. I walked through neighborhoods. I observed and I took extensive notes. I ate in cafes, and I counted the number of “trendy spots” in over 10 different neighborhoods. I took and analyzed photographs. I made maps to track patterns. I am now continuing my research on campus: coding and transcribing interviews and analyzing economic and census tract data in order to produce a work of creative non-fiction by the end of the year. 


What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
People might be surprised to learn that Aboriginal communities in Sydney deeply identify with the Black Power movement and it has greatly informed the activism in recent history. I was personally surprised by how much the narrative in Australia mirrors the narrative in the United States. Redfern in Sydney is considered the Black capital of Australia and it is disproportionately unequal in comparison to other Sydney neighborhoods. It is also one of the most gentrified and most of the original Aboriginal population was pushed out in 2007.  


In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
When drafting my project proposal, it was important to me to connect art with social issues because I believe art has a great deal of power to increase or decrease awareness of social circumstances. I studied how the erasure or creation of street art is connected to housing injustice (gentrification, displacement, unethical eviction). Much has been written about the urban art landscape, but there is a gap in the research. There is little said about the tension that exists between these different types of art and how that tension might further urban injustice.  There is not enough literature about the ways in which street art commissioned by corporate interests and state institutions attempt to co-opt the graffiti art form. My research is partially situated in this context. 

Why Sydney, then? Sydney's housing market is the second least affordable in the world (Hong Kong is the first) and its affinity for hip-hop culture made it a prime spot for my research. Urban art, both illegal and legal, is multiplying rapidly. Hyper-gentrification and "hipster culture" are growing exponentially. Sydney seems to be at a tipping point, both politically and economically. Although Sydney is situated on the world's largest island, my research has global implications.


How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
The work I'm doing has reinforced, in my own mind, how important it is to produce accessible research findings. The further I venture into the process, the more excited I am by the output. Personally, my work has given me a lot of confidence about entering the real world. I was able to establish myself in a new city on a different continent 7,419 miles from home. I independently established contacts and kept myself on track with my goals. It's reassuring to see a project that I poured so much of myself into taking shape. 

Abigail Schott-Rosenfield

Comparative Literature

Truth Created/Imparted in Poetry of Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore

Advisors: Alexander Key, Roland Greene

Abigail Schott-Rosenfield studies Comparative Literature, focusing mainly on American and Arabic poetry. In addition to her own research, she has worked with Professor Ahmad Diab on tracking references to the Balfour Declaration through British and Palestinian literature, and with Professor  Joel Beinin on mapping trade routes and labor strikes in the oil industry. She has written for and edited a number of student publications, including the Stanford Arts Review and Topiary, and is currently running a workshop on technological and rationalist feminism. 

 

What is the focus of your current research?
I am analyzing the work of three modern poets, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and Adonis. The first two will be familiar to anyone who has studied the canon of American literature, and Adonis is perhaps known as the most important poet writing in Arabic today. I am investigating the ways in which these poets’ respective conceptions of the nature of reality influence how they theorize poetry’s relationship to absolute truth. 

 

What drew you to this topic?
I have loved Stevens for years. As a poet myself, he was an early inspiration, and I memorized “The Idea of Order at Key West” long ago. It’s really my fascination with what that work proposes—an unbridgeable separation between poetic creation and reality that nonetheless depends on the mutual tension between the two—that made me want to spend this year working out the details and implications of its logic, and the ways in which other poetics diverge from that logic. 

 

How are you conducting your research?
I’m drawing my argument mainly from texts by the three authors I’ll be dealing with—that’s Marianne Moore’s Observations, Wallace Stevens’ Ideas of Order, and Adonis’ Songs of Mihyar of Damascus. I’ll also make reference to the critical work of each poet. For a comparative project like this, it’s also important to be able to show what makes it feasible and interesting in the first place. Not much English scholarship on Adonis in particular exists, and more generally, works that link or juxtapose Arab and American poets are rare. And if the poets in question are not already linked by geography, language, or engagement with the same literary canon, what are the grounds for comparison? My tentative answer is that these poets are dealing with a similar problematic via three different poetic logics, and that this tells us something about the map of the problem itself. But doing more theoretical groundwork so I can give a better answer to this question is part of the project as well. 

 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
As I’ve mentioned, I imagine some would find the comparison between an Arab poet and two Americans unusual. Since it’s a project with few precedents, I will be surprised, no doubt, as I get deeper into the research, by the connections I am able to make between the three!

 

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
One reason I think it’s important is that I’d rather study “world literature” than “national literatures,” but it’s rarely clear just what “world literature” means. Doing this project will help at least me understand how that could possibly work. I’m in Comparative Literature rather than a department organized around a language or a geographical location because I can’t let go of the idea that there is a method out there by which we can trace literary patterns at a more global scale, rather than limiting our scope to a particular canon or locality or set of cultural contingencies. Plenty of suggestions have been made towards methods like this (Franco Moretti’s “distant reading” is one that’s been particularly inspiring to me) but none have settled it. It becomes a question of whether there are such things as universals, and where and how they exist—in poetry, politics, philosophy, etc. 

 

How is your honors thesis work impacting you academically and/or personally?
I have a number of intellectual projects going right now: running a workshop on rationalist feminism, editing and writing for a new journal, working on my own poetry, etc. When one begins to feels more important than the others, it can be hard to keep the fire lit under the rest. But I’m also continually coming to see new links between all these separate commitments, which is really exciting as I try to figure out what projects I want to keep engaging with in the future.