Between Bodies: Cultural Entrenchment and Enchantment in
Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties
I completed my paper on Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties for Professor Bill Johnson Gonzalez’s CES 410 class in spring 2019. The paper analyzes two short stories from the collection based around the themes of cultural entrenchment, the peculiar, and body horror. This paper was first revised for the Midwestern Conference on Language, Literature and Media that was to be held at Northern Illinois University in April 2020. After being accepted, I asked Professor Gonzalez if he could read through the paper again and share some comments on revising. Most of my revisions are in part because of his guidance.
I had completed the paper in rather a rush on the first go-around — true to my nature, I ended up getting lost in the research weeds and tried to pull together too many contrasting ideas. Initially, the paper included reference to Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia alongside themes of cultural entrenchment and fantasy. This did not work so well, perhaps since I still have a loose handle on the term and have difficulty applying to a literary analysis. In my revision I ended up cutting out mention of heteroglossia altogether (to my chagrin, it was not consistently used throughout the paper and barely made an appearance after the introduction). I also reorganized the paper as to keep the analysis of each short story separate. Beforehand, I had jumped between stories, which Professor Gonzalez and I both agreed was too jarring of a transition. This was not so much rewriting paragraphs but rather rearranging them. Also, I noticed that I tend to write a bit too cryptic, thinking that a reader will be able to infer meaning or supposing that the language carries more weight. It mostly reads like a half-assed analysis and it is presumptuous to assume my readers are mind-readers. If I simply pushed these analyses a step further, they would be complete. So, I mostly worked on finishing my thoughts to make my meaning clearer.
I was extremely excited for the conference because it seemed to fit perfectly with the kind of criticism and research I foresaw for my own academic career. With the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the conference was cancelled. Participants were welcome to upload videos of themselves reading their work for the conference to share on social media. I am really focused on accessibility in academia and hybridizing literature and popular media studies, so what better way to experiment than to share a public YouTube video of my research? I do not find it belittling to self-promote, or even self-advertise, my own research because I would rather have it available to the public sphere than published in expensive, exclusive, academic journals or available only to conference attendees. Like, yeesh, my friends couldn’t even hear me read because it was a $45 entrance fee!
I shared the video on my public social media and with the conference organizers, who shared it on the conference page, as well. I was surprised by the positive reception, including a shout-out from Machado on Twitter, as well. I’m sure her current popularity helped, but it was nice to hear from others who watched the video and are not directly involved with academia.
Monstrous, Musical Beings: Analyzing the Gothic Mode from Mary Wollstonecraft to Amy Lee
Sometimes, I have ideas for research papers that work better in theory than they do in practice. That’s how I feel about my “Monstrous, Musical Beings: Analyzing the Gothic Mode from Mary Wollstonecraft to Amy Lee” paper for Professor Gross’s Godwin and the Shelleys course. Whenever I would think about this paper after turning it in for the final, I would get secondhand embarrassment. I don’t know why I thought it was so poorly written, or so silly, or such a failure. The idea came from James Rovira’s Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms, which included a collection of literary theory that connected to Dark Romanticism in music. I’m all for experimentation with research, so I wanted to extend that analysis to our class readings. I took a chance and it might not be perfect, but it was fun to read and, at the time, to write.
After revisiting it for revisions, though, I realized it wasn’t bad. It was complex and perhaps could have been better articulated if I stuck to one album and one book, but my critical analysis was interesting and innovative. This may have also been the semester after I spent a summer reading Lester Bang’s collection of rock criticism. It shows with some of my cringy music journalist writing. I just cut those sentences out. They might have been fun to some readers, but I think these were also the root of my secondhand embarrassment.
I often made interjections that I thought would support my larger argument but instead were only tenuous connections. For example, Siouxsie and the Banshees referring to themselves as Gothic rather than goth does not have much emphasis on their music or connect to Gothic literature. It is just the same term, used in different contexts. I cut whole sections of comparative analysis because the connections were too tenuous. I would analyze a song, but then provide little support or no direct passages for how it connection to Gothic literature. Often, it felt I spent too long on music history or song analysis and not enough on the literary analysis or connection, which is the point of the essay. I also noticed I had a lot of missing citations, which is a lazy and unprofessional error. I cannot quite recall why I would forget citations, other than egregious errors brought by the timestamp of finals.
With my studies, I was also exploring ways to promote open-source information and accessibility in academia. I thought this topic might garner more public interest in literary theory and wanted to publish it online. If you click on the link provided, you can view an archived webpage of the essay published on my old zine site. Since it is no longer in use and was costing me too much to keep up, I ended up archiving the webpage after a year of having it online. I understand this defeats the purpose of digital publishing, but I was able to have it be open access for a while and utilize online interactivity, including music, that cannot be found in the text.
Turning Sorrow into Sonnets: Melancholy in John Donne’s Holy Sonnets
My paper on John Donne’s Holy Sonnets and their use of the humors as a symbol for melancholia was first completed for Professor Heffernan’s ENG 429 John Donne class. I took the class my senior year as an undergraduate at DePaul, and I believe my inexperience shows in the paper. Initially, the paper was heavily reliant on outside quotes and my analyses of the selected sonnets was bare boned. In my revision, I worked to strengthen my own analysis by revisiting the sonnets and removed quotes that spoke for my analysis, rather than alongside my analysis.
This year, I took a chance with the paper and, to my surprise, it was accepted to the 2020 Center for Renaissance Studies’ annual graduate student conference. I really thought the paper was not up to conference caliber, and after attending the conference I do not think Renaissance Studies is my desired area of focus. Renaissance Studies can be quite exclusive Still, I was grateful for the experience and the ability to present my research.
I edited the paper by reviewing the comments Professor Heffernan left on my paper after I turned it in for my final. I also did my own heavy re-reading to clean up the tone, sentence structure and organization. Since the conference also needed paper’s to be edited for specific presentation time constraints, I ended up cutting full paragraphs from my paper. It worked for the better because while these paragraphs were interesting, their connection my thesis was tangential and did not support my main argument. To strengthen my analyses of the sonnets I ended up revisiting them, fully, not just lazily trying to rewrite based around selected quotes already in my paper. Revisiting the sonnets with a fresh eye allowed me to see connections I had previously missed, or previously overlooked, and add them to my argument. Rather than acting as if the chosen verses spoke for themselves, I made sure to support my analysis by explaining word choice, double meanings or subjectivity in the poems. I think revising helped me realize that what might seem like an obvious argument as an author is not always obvious to the reader.
Besides the deleted paragraphs, the biggest change to the paper was the ending. As aforementioned, in my inexperience I thought it would be ok to end my paper with a quote (this was a bad undergraduate habit of mine). I thought it added “weight,” but really it was just lazy because I can never find a solid concluding remark. Professor Heffernan commented that the end of my paper should be my voice, so the reader ends with my voice in their head and the paper ends with conviction. I still have trouble with conclusions, but at least I learned to drop this bad habit!