Department of English

Undergraduates Win George Mitchell Student Awards

Thu, May 14, 2009

Congratulations to Ari Schulman, whose Honors thesis on Walker Percy (directed by Professor Jim Garrison) won a $2,000 dollar prize at the George Mitchell Awards, and to Jesse Cordes Selbin, an LAH/English dual major, whose thesis on Oulipo was directed by Alex Wettlaufer, and also won a $2,000 prize.

Jesse's thesis departs from the premise that France in and around 1968 was a setting in which many began to very deeply explore what Jean-Paul Sartre called "the extension of the field of possibility." In order to ground this notion within the context of her English major and literature-heavy Humanities major, Jesse juxtaposed the theories and texts of a group of writers called Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle) with those of Algerian-French feminist philosopher and novelist Hélène Cixous. Both Cixous and the writers of Oulipo used formal changes to highlight issues of "potential" or possibility in the literature they produced, and while the methods and texts were highly disparate, the camps shared integral concerns about the future of literature.

Ari's thesis explores the depiction of existential despair in the 1961 novel The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.  The work depicts a young man living in New Orleans, who is alienated from society but, in true postmodern fashion, is playful and ironic about his alienation.  He is no Mersault from The Stranger, for that would be too passe.  Ari analyzes the novel's depiction of existentialism through the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, a contemporary moral theorist.  He argues that MacIntyre's critique of modernity corresponds very closely to the implicit critique that Percy offers in the novel.  Putting the two in conversation, Ari attempts to ascertain the novel's answer to the question it implicitly poses: how might we recover our sense of living in a world that seems to be inherently meaningless? 

The department of English congratulates Ari and Jesse on their success! 

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