Monday, September 6, 2010


[I've got an honors undergraduate thesis to do this year, and I had to write up a letter explaining what I propose to do. Here's the little essay I wrote:]

Art refers back to other art, and literature is no exception. Literature written in English rests on a canon not only of other English writing but of classics from the Greeks and Romans. The Iliad and Odyssey, ancient Greek epics, belong to the body of literature that has deeply shaped English writing, past and present. A knowledge of these poems and the mythology that accompanies them can enrich a reader's experience of a much greater body of literature, from the Roman masterpiece the Aeneid, to Dante's revolutionary Inferno, to modern books like James Joyce's Ulysses.

Moreover, these epic poems describe timeless human experiences: patriotism, friendship, love, voyage into the unknown, the return home after a long absence. In exploring ancient accounts of these experiences, the modern reader can find that the writing still resonates with present-day emotions and events. Subsequently encountering those experiences in personal life, then, the reader can recall the attitudes and expressions given to the experiences by the ancient writer. This recollection can add new meaning to events that might otherwise seem mundane, or bring comfort in the face of daunting challenges. These poems can thus add another dimension of meaning to personal experiences. In the case of the Iliad and Odyssey, the discovery of this resonance is particularly powerful, because the original author and audience are so far removed in time and space. The writer/reader intimacy, forged across so great a contextual gap, roots the modern reader in a broader human identity.

The surest way to really know an artwork is to imitate or respond to it. For my thesis project, I propose to read the Iliad and Odyssey closely, and write a collection of poems responding to the epics. By interacting with them this way, I hope to absorb their literary and emotional content, to carry with me into the rest of life and into the rest of literature. In addition, I will create a small body of my own artistic work that interacts with the larger body of literature as well as expressing some of who I am at this moment in life, when, like Odysseus preparing to set off for the Trojan war, I am poised between my “home” of [insert college name here] and the voyage of graduation and entrance into the world at large.

[Apparently I am one of the very few students from the honors college who got cleared to do a creative project... I am grateful.]

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