by Ana Fonseca
After full semesters of extensive research, numerous drafts, and plenty of caffeine, senior English majors have come out the other side bearing thoughtful, creative, and compelling senior theses.
Below they share their insight on the capstone process, their work, and what we can expect from their upcoming Founders’ Day presentations:
Q: What will your speaking about on Founders’ Day? What is the subject of your senior capstone?
Cassie: My capstone is a hybrid piece of creative nonfiction that involves telling my grandfather’s story of moving to Alaska when he was 19 years old in combination with telling my own story of growing up with this brave, courageous, adventurous man. It is, at its center, a piece about love, whether for others or the journey.
Athena: I will be talking primarily about three subjects: hipsters, rap, and Rembrandt—which, of course, may not seem related. But they are, I promise.
Essentially, my capstone investigates the cultural and interpersonal implications of the 21st century deconstruction of “high” and “low” forms of art in E.M. Forster’s Howards End and its 2005 update: Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Smith satirizes an academic/hipster tendency to approach art ironically (rather than emotionally or sincerely) by introducing a rapper from Roxbury into the community of a Boston-area liberal arts college. This character, Carl Thomas, represents the ways in which the multicultural, technological, and youth-oriented artistic environment of postmodernity effectively challenges traditional forms of ownership over “high art” (see: those who are wealthy, educated, and white).
Ultimately, inspired by a David Foster Wallace essay called “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” I examine the ways in which pretension and exclusivity in the contemporary artistic environment destroy our personal and communal experiences of art. DFW says, “I find gifted ironists sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures.”
Zadie Smith seems to agree with this, as she valorizes forms of art and art-interpretation that are based on community and radical authenticity—like rap, spoken word, and slam poetry—rather those that are characterized by exclusivity and detached intellectualism.
Hannah: My capstone is centered on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and the poem “Jabberwocky”. Specifically, I address how Carroll toys with the boundaries of language and meaning and how his work responds to the theories of Victorian philologist Friedrich Max Müller.
Megan: My capstone considers how some debates in literary theory impact editing. On Founders’ Day I will be speaking about different methods of editing and how they shape what we read. All of this will be presented in the context of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Q: Why should other students come learn about your capstone? What is the “so what” that we should be looking for?
Cassie: Everyone should come! My capstone is an incredible piece about a person that left everything, for the great unknown of Alaska in a plane flown by a friend with a paper map. There aren’t stories quite like this anymore. These stories need and deserved to be heard because they change the way we view our own experience. It is about being fearless in the face of great change and how to love the journey, a message all of us need to hear at the age of ~20.
Athena: The “so what” of my paper is not only that the artistic environment of postmodernity is one of heterogeneity and subversion, but also—on a more human level—that exclusion, pretention, vanity, and ego prevent us from accessing art in beautiful and constructive ways. I genuinely believe that art in all its forms (but particularly in the forms of music, visual art, and literature) has profoundly healing capacities, and that we must approach art openly and sincerely in order to access these healing capacities.
Hannah: While Lewis Carroll’s work is very well known, the work of Friedrich Max Müller is not as recognizable or widely known. Müller’s theories concerning language were very popular in Victorian England. I think it’s extremely valuable to examine how his theories influenced the literature of his time. Additionally, I think many people miss the genius concealed in Lewis Carroll’s writing. While the themes and plot of the Alice in Wonderland stories are very well known, many of the unique writing techniques Carroll implements are not widely discussed or recognized.
Megan: Student should come learn about my capstone because considering editing makes one view books differently. We take a lot of things for granted when we talk about books, and I hope my capstone can challenge some of those assumptions.
Q: What is one piece of advice you’d like to pass on to underclassmen for their senior capstones?
Cassie: 1. Don’t be afraid of your passions. I felt ill at the prospect of doing my capstone in a traditional academic format but all my english major friends were taking that path and I felt a strange obligation to take that path too until I lurched off it after a conversation with Fr. Hannon (thank you again for everything!!!).
2. Know yourself and what style and form you enjoy writing in. I thought my piece was going to be strictly autobiographical, a piece that was long form journalism in a way. I interviewed my grandpa and some other individuals he was with in these early days in Alaska but when I sat down to write I realized there was the man I was hearing about, the young man of 20, and the man I knew, this incredibly wise person of ~75. I altered my piece to put myself more in it. It was challenging and daunting to weave autobiography, personal essay, and memoir together but it was also incredibly rewarding.
3. Your capstone CAN be the best semester of your college years if you do the right thing. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, it’s not. It’s challenging and arduous even when you’re writing about something you are passionate about. However, that can be alleviated if you are genuinely exploring concepts and forms you love.
Athena: While you are writing your capstone, love both your subject and yourself. And I don’t mean that ironically.
Hannah: My advice to underclassmen is to start writing early. The earlier you start thinking about what you want your capstone to be about, the smoother the writing process is. Similarly, the sooner you begin writing the smoother the entire capstone process is. Also, make sure you pick a topic that you really like and are genuinely interested in!
Megan: DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT IGNORE YOUR CAPSTONE AS I HAVE SO FOOLISHLY DONE.