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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Department of English Honors Program is designed for English and American Literature and Culture majors interested in pursuing the extra challenges and rewards of the honors curriculum--a course of study that culminates in a substantial critical paper, the honors thesis. After the thesis is completed, the faculty advisor and a faculty reader review the thesis and award it highest honors, honors, or no honors.

Cover page of Violent Rapture in the Age of Comfort: Mapping Chardinian Convergence in O'Connor's South

Violent Rapture in the Age of Comfort: Mapping Chardinian Convergence in O'Connor's South


The body of scholarship regarding Flannery O’Connor generally falls into one of three camps: biographical or historical readings of her work that attempt to either characterize a period of her life or ascertain her political beliefs, using her stories to reveal religious allusions that show her attempt to reinforce Christian morals, or, finally, readings engaging with a generally Girardian framework to show her criticism of Christianity itself. Biographical documents show O’Connor’s lifelong devotion to the Catholic faith, which, for many readers, problematizes the subversive prevalence of violence and blasphemous imagery in her body of work. However, these perspectives overlook the immense impact that 20th-century French Jesuit theologian and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had on her work, especially during her final years. As my argument will show, O’Connor critically responds to Teilhard de Chardin’s theory of convergence in a way that anticipates the later theories of French anthropologist René Girard regarding the social connections between violence and religion. Using the theories of these two thinkers in conjunction with discourse from the tradition of kenotic Christology, (a line of theological thinking which assumes that God partially or totally emptied himself of power when incarnating as Christ), I analyze four recurring stylistic devices that illuminate O’Connor’s own original theological framework: setting, pedagogical encounters, disfigurement, and the role of violence in relationship to revelation.

Cover page of Gayme On! A Queer Game Thesis

Gayme On! A Queer Game Thesis


Gayme On! A Queer Game Thesis consists of four separate games from various genres: “Bury Your Gays and They’ll Just Pop Right Back Up,” “Escape from Straightsville,” “The League of Extraordinary Bisexuals,” and “Roll That Gay Saving Throw!” “Bury Your Gays and They’ll Just Pop Right Back Up” is a visual novel about the relationship between the couple Tomasa and Shoshannah and what happens between the two when Shoshannah is killed in a violent hate crime but then resurrected from the dead. “Escape from Straightsville” is a text adventure game about an unnamed non-binary narrator (later revealed to be named Em in “Roll That Gay Saving Throw!”) who is running away from home and is forced to journey through one of four bizarre, fantastical scenarios in order to successfully escape. “The League of Extraordinary Bisexuals” is a Twine-based interactive fiction game following three different characters—Rosa, Indi, and Jay—who are superheroes that each go on their own heroic adventures as they try to defeat a villain representing a biphobic myth. “Roll That Gay Saving Throw!” is a choose-your-own-adventure comic book about a normal Dungeons and Dragons session led by the Dungeon Master Tessa and played by the various queer characters from the previous games: Tomasa, Shoshannah, Em, Rosa, Indi, and Jay. All the games deal with themes revolving around queerness, with “Roll That Gay Saving Throw!” serving as the comfort of queer community produced after various moments of pain from the games before.

Cover page of Mythic Pizza: Semiotic and Archetypal Significance in the Conspiracy Narrative Known as 'Pizzagate'

Mythic Pizza: Semiotic and Archetypal Significance in the Conspiracy Narrative Known as 'Pizzagate'


During the height 2016 American presidential election, the far-right community on 4chan’s political message board (/pol/) contributed to a conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate.” Still believed by some today, the theory proposes that a group of media elite and democratic politicians used pizza places throughout Washington, D.C. as a front for a world-wide child trafficking ring. While Pizzagate may seem like another crackpot conspiracy theory, it actually fails to fulfill the traditional definition of what a conspiracy theory is. Whereas traditional conspiracy theories seek to explain historical events, Pizzagate creates a historical event that it then explains, signaling the creation of a new type conspiracy: conspiracy narratives.

Through an examination of conspiracy narratives as literary objects, it becomes clear that these narratives gain their potency, not through a factual assertion of rhetoric, but through an exploitation of mythology’s semiotic process. During conspiracy narratives’ creation, language is militarized to instill or reaffirm subversive values within its audience. In Pizzagate, democrats become Satanists, children become victims, and pizza places become sites of occult ritual. These outlandish characterizations survive off their appropriation of mythological archetypes, which, when close-read, highlight the twisted psychological complexes of the authors. Through its exploitation of semiotic ambiguities and corruption of archetypes, conspiracy narratives gain epistemological powers to influence the world view of individuals who read and believe it. While the average reaction to these conspiracies would be to debunk and ignore them, a deeper understanding of their exploitation of language can aid in combating the misinformation they spread.

Cover page of Posthuman Time Beings

Posthuman Time Beings


This thesis examines the potential ethics and politics of the cosmopolitan subject in a posthuman world in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Cosmopolitanism refers to the idea that all human beings live in a global community and are citizens of the world. Although cosmopolitanism initially emerged as a humanist idea with its ethics and politics lying only within the realm of the human, the novel moves beyond this anthropocentric approach due to its setting in the Anthropocene. I assert that Tale showcases a posthuman turn in the literary narrative by depicting environmental agency in the processes of literary production and circulation within the novel. With this posthuman turn, there is also a posthuman shift in the epistemological framework of the novel as it refers to the cosmopolitan subject as a “time being,” including both the human and the nonhuman within it. However, I contend that this temporal mode of cosmopolitanism diminishes the ethics and politics of the cosmopolitan subject due to the ontological challenges to reality that come up with the distortion of literary time. Instead, I suggest that Tale turns toward literary and environmental affect to grapple with the dilemma of posthuman cosmopolitanism and to materialize the cosmopolitan connection, while also maintaining an affective ethics and politics that transcends the human figure.

Cover page of Lost in Migration: Digitalizing Diaspora and Decolonizing Syrian Refugee Narratives

Lost in Migration: Digitalizing Diaspora and Decolonizing Syrian Refugee Narratives


Although there are traditional works in print about the Syrian refugee crisis, an unprecedented amount of digitalized narratives demonstrates a shift in the body of diaspora literature towards using internet technologies to convey refugee stories. Mobile devices in the hands of refugees have made the crisis one of the most self-documented in history and yet the most prevalent and influential digital representations of Syria are those created by third parties. How do digital literary forms effect diaspora narratives, especially when the texts are created by distant mediators? I argue that digital narratives of the Syrian refugee crisis create two layers of liminality. The first layer is the migration narrative itself; the second layer, though, is a new type of liminality created by digital spaces in which narratives hybridize as they encounter alternative values, beliefs, and social constructs embedded within the structures of digital texts. My thesis takes the form of a website that deconstructs the design elements of the digital texts “Searching for Syria,” migrant-related selfies and memes, and “Heln’s First Year.” I use these case studies as examples of how synthesizing post-colonial theory with postmodern deconstructivism can work to decolonize digital texts as well as identify the ways in which hypermediacy can be used for ethical design.

Cover page of "The Great Soup of Being": Autotheory &amp; Intersectionality in Cherríe Moraga's<em> Loving in the War Years</em> and Maggie Nelson's <em>The Argonauts</em>

"The Great Soup of Being": Autotheory & Intersectionality in Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years and Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts


This thesis asks the following question: why is fluid form appropriate and even necessary in intersectional feminist narrative – and how does such form reflect changing politics of feminism and of theory? I will extrapolate from two hybrid works by two unique intersectional feminists, Cherríe Moraga’s Loving in the War Years (1982) and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), to explore this relationship between form and politics, or the ‘autotheoretical’ and the political. These works, though written in their disparate personal and political contexts, share a number of formal similarities and an investment in “queering” or reconstituting gender, sexuality, and domesticity. Accordingly, I map the paradigm shifts in form, content, and politics in which Moraga and Nelson participate in each of the three major sections of this thesis. I situate the two works against a theoretical background that includes José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications and Grace Kyungown Hong and Roderick A. Ferguson’s Strange Affinities. Ultimately, I argue that Moraga and Nelson find a shared critical energy that proves significant not in spite of difference but because of it and that this energy anticipates a future with more fluid understandings of both genre and identity.

Cover page of Victims, Perpetrators, and Implicated Subjects: The Effects of Trauma in Sherman Alexie's <em>Indian Killer</em> and Toni Morrison's <em>Beloved</em>

Victims, Perpetrators, and Implicated Subjects: The Effects of Trauma in Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer and Toni Morrison's Beloved


This thesis begins by introducing literary trauma theory and the debates about the ethics of representing the perpetrator perspective. I address these debates by turning to two novels that complicate the dichotomy of “victim” and “perpetrator” that can be found in most works of trauma literature. Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer (1996) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)— novels that take up the experience of Native peoples and the effects of slavery, respectively— shed light on the various kinds of trauma that led some of the victims depicted in the novels to become perpetrators themselves. In this essay, I analyze how the novels tackle the question of responsibility for these complicated figures: does their victimhood prevent their culpability as perpetrators of violence? I ultimately argue that the two novels raise and then move away from the question of responsibility of the victims-turned-perpetrators. Instead, they turn the focus towards people who are implicated in the perpetration of trauma in more subtle, non-violent ways. By drawing attention to the “ordinary” participants of the perpetration of trauma who are ignorant of their own implication, the novels demonstrate the colonial/neocolonial attacks that characterize the past, persist into the present, and threaten the future.

Cover page of About Face

About Face


I am grateful to have worked with Professor Stefans to create About Face, a screenplay with a corresponding video miniseries about young adults at Los Angeles Air Force Base. This story is a concentrated summary of five people’s life choices: an 18-year-old Bostonian, fresh from Basic Training, decides whether he can handle military life on the West Coast; a misunderstood civilian girl struggles to form a real romantic relationship; a plucky 19-year-old Airman and his former high school sweetheart, now wife, question whether they should have ever gotten married; and a career-driven female Airman realizes she is pregnant.

I decided to take my thesis one step further, beyond the written word, by creating a video miniseries of my thesis. To develop this miniseries, I storyboarded key scenes, created a detailed shotlist of the scenes to be filmed, acted as a lead character, directed 10 actors, filmed for dozens of hours, and edited the entire miniseries into a 40-minute film. While I learned many technical, creative, and interpersonal skills developing this video miniseries, my primary concerns were incorporating what I learned in my English classes: narrative, characters, and culture. My main goal was to create a compelling story, build three-dimensional characters, and reflect the current zeitgeist.

I appreciate that the English Department allowed me to create this piece, which helped me grow as a creative writer and as a person. I am thrilled to present this piece for your consideration.

Cover page of Embodied Disease: Femininity, Domination, and De Sade

Embodied Disease: Femininity, Domination, and De Sade


This thesis offers a new reading of a libertine tradition that is continuously producing a poetics of the body, organizing itself around sexuality and disease. Previous scholarship has acknowledged the eighteenth-century trope of the diseased and sexualized woman as an effect of corruption, an effect of indulgence, and so on. However, I attend to the diseased woman as a formation by and through the material, as an effect of disease. I ask: what does it mean when disease becomes a vector between the hyper-sexualized female form and Enlightenment thought? In what follows, I connect the physical human body to Enlightenment philosophy via a materialist framework that compels an interdisciplinary focus on organic and inorganic embodiment. Through the works of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, Marquis de Sade, and William Blake, I show how women are animated by the physical energy of disease. Namely, that this material matter, its persistence and vitality, becomes a way for women to participate in and pass along a form of violence typically enacted against them. Ultimately, by tying people together in nonproductive ways, I propose that venereal disease is a form of collective power that challenges Enlightenment attitudes about progress and self-preservation.

Cover page of Female Power and the Supernatural in Early Gothic Literature

Female Power and the Supernatural in Early Gothic Literature


Early gothic literature often goes overlooked as sensationalist writing dependent on a repetitive plot and character types. However, Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, and Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, or The Moor, offer insight into political and social issues of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This essay examines the use of the supernatural in early gothic literature and the way in which it effects, possesses and even controls female characters within the novels. By analyzing the heroines of each novel as a basis for the study, their varied fates in relation to the supernatural make evident that there is a gendered power dynamic. The male characters’ abilities to use the supernatural to their advantage show further how the supernatural works in favor of masculinity. Thus, early gothic literature presents the idea that the supernatural works inherently against women, symbolizing the oppressive and patriarchal chaos of the everyday.