Fall 2013 Graduate Student Fellows
Lauren Olin’s (Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology) dissertation project, “Housing Mirth: Humor and the Nature of Normativity,” focuses on the philosophy and psychology of humor. Its guiding hypothesis is that attention to the human capacity for humor intimates important lessons for the philosophy and psychology of normativity more broadly construed. Olin argues that we can use humor as a foil to focus our thinking about the fundamental nature of normative capacities, such as capacities for moral, aesthetic and epistemic judgment. She explores extant approaches to the explanation of humor and other normative capacities that are often regarded as problematic from the perspective of natural scientific inquiry and engages some of the foundational questions that arise in doing so. Olin concludes that her view of what humor is, and the view of normative capacities it implies, promises progress on many of those questions.
Jacob Ari Labendz’s (History) dissertation project, “Jews and the State in Communist Central Europe: The Czech Lands, 1948-1989” focuses on the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s rise to power. For the country’s Jewish minority, those years were marked by renegotiations of ethnicity, nationality, religion, and citizenship, periods of persecution and periods of renaissance. Labendz uses the Czech case to think broadly about how the terms of integration into Central Europe’s nation-states changed for Jews after the Holocaust. He argues that the period represents the final chapter of a two-century-long experiment in which Central European states sought bureaucratically to answer the so-called Jewish Question. Despite the pretentions of Communists to have revolutionized society, their thinking about Jews reflected continuities from earlier periods. Officials — even Jewish leaders — struggled to adapt traditional beliefs and inherited administrative strategies to a communistic framework. Over four decades, they not only radically altered them, but marked them as communist, which had tremendous repercussions after 1989.
Spring 2014 Graduate Student Fellows
Barbara Barrow’s (English) dissertation project, “‘Fossil Poetry’: Victorian Science and the Consecration of Language,” explores the literary response to the scientific study of language in the 19th century. Once thought to be the product of a divine dispensation, a power given to the first biblical man in what was known as the “Adamic” theory of language origins, the study of language underwent a change in the Victorian period as natural scientists investigated human speech as a function of biological organs and evolutionary adaptation. Barrow argues that this demystification of language prompted anxieties that poetry was becoming desacralized and subject to the authority of a rapidly growing scientific professionalism. Focusing on the works of Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Mathilde Blind, she shows how these authors — part of a “Spasmodic” school of writers whose works were characterized by affective, embodied imagery — explored the status of poetry in the context of the new sciences of geology, biology and physiology. In so doing, they investigated the origins of human speech in a global context, revealed surprising overlaps in the seemingly antithetical realms of science and religion, and inaugurated discussions about interdisciplinarity that continue to the present day.
David Holloway's (East Asian Languages and Cultures) dissertation project, “Hunger Artistry: Gender, the Body, and Eating in Contemporary Japanese Women’s Fiction,” explores the tension in contemporary Japan between surfeit and dissatisfaction. Having survived the destruction of the Second World War and more recently an economic crash, Japan is a country where commodities are bountiful and purchasing power is resilient. And yet, many — particularly women — sense a fundamental lack. On the surface, women’s options — including access to education and more opportunities for employment — are limitless. But in fact, women continue to be valued based on looks. And the appropriate look continues to involve a smaller and smaller waistline. The thin body carries significant social capital, as it is coded with socioeconomic symbols and feminine ideals. Ironically, however, thinness is also firmly embedded in a milieu of rampant consumerism. Holloway’s project explores women who are unapologetically devoted to the topos of thinness, and it grants us the opportunity to think critically about the gendered nature of thinness and the ways body size elicits particular individual and communal emotions that are governed and reaffirmed by public discourses on beauty, health, aesthetics and the body.