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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Humanities Honors Program

There are 10 publications in this collection, published between 2017 and 2019.
Humanities Honors Theses 2017 (5)

When Things Fall Apart: Understanding (in) the Postcolonial Situation

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) published his major novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), in postcolonial Nigeria. In it he presents a colonial narrative using English as its primary mode of communication. However, his use of native Igbo words and the world they invoke problematizes a eurocentric assumption of the totality and universality of a given language, in this case, English. He employs acts of translation and introduces hybrid languages in order to engender dialogue that subverts the dominance of any one language and the world that it creates for its speakers. In a parallel fashion, this thesis uses two different theoretical approaches that have not typically been placed in dialogue with each other — postcolonial theory and hermeneutics — to view and interpret the nuances present in Achebe’s text that neither could illuminate on its own. This dialogical approach reveals insufficiencies in the independent theories and allows them to mutually supplement each other. Together these theories show how the novel subverts the presumed authority of the English language and universalizing discourses in order to identify the confrontation of lived linguistic worlds and horizons in the postcolonial context. The novel reorients those structures of understanding and interpretation around a subject that has historically been denied a voice.

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Blood, Guns, and Plenty of Explosions: The Evolution of American Television Violence

American television, as a mass medium of storytelling, often gets scrutiny over its content, facing industry standards, censorship, and audience pushback. While sex and obscenity have been intensely studied, TV violence has had most scholarship aimed at the effects of viewing violence. This study is focused in a different direction, seeking to analyze the evolving presentation of violence on American airwaves. TV violence is composed of two parts: The first is the graphic portrayal of violence through fights, gunshots, and death. The second is the role violence serves within TV narratives, which has morphed from acts of justice and self-defense to plotlines intertwining moral indifference with pointless killing and righteous vengeance. Three case studies utilizing close reading and image analysis of various shows are used to analyze both aspects of TV violence. The first case study centers on Bonanza, a TV western that presents violence within strict moral boundaries. The second looks at The Day After, a TV movie that employed special effects, dialogue, and set design to portray the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon. The third case study analyzes The Walking Dead, a culmination of the changing TV landscape of the 2000s that led to a hyperreal level of graphic violence and storylines that emphasized moral ambiguity, villains that escaped punishment, and endless death. The portrayal of violence on American television has changed drastically in the last 80 years, and this study hopes to reflect the reciprocal relationship between a changing TV industry and a shifting American society.

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The Gospel of Mary: Reclaiming Feminine Narratives Within Books Excluded from the Bible

Religious history is often preserved by the winners of ideological debates. The twenty-seven books composing the New Testament canon were selected by prevailing players in the battle for ideological supremacy within the early Christian movement and the emerging Catholic Church. The struggle culminated with an accepted definition of orthodoxy and a tradition of apostolic succession for legitimizing religious texts. The Gospel of Mary is an early Christian text deemed unorthodox by the men who shaped the nascent Catholic church, was excluded from the canon, and was subsequently erased from the history of Christianity along with most narratives that demonstrated women’s contributions to the early Christian movement. My thesis explores the intricacies of early canon formation within the context of the controversy surrounding women’s participation in authoritative roles within early Christianity and how the Gospel of Mary was labeled as an unorthodox text due to its pro-feminine narrative. I maintain that the motive for excluding the Gospel of Mary was not the text’s lack of conformity to the requirements of apostolic succession or orthodoxy, but was grounded within the struggle to suppress the agency and participation of women from the patriarchal hierarchy that defined the developing structure of the Catholic Church. I claim the exclusion of the gynocentric narrative of the Gospel of Mary facilitated the androcentric interpretation of religious doctrine and history that has predominated Christian scholarship for almost two millennia.

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2 more worksshow all
Humanities Honors Theses 2018 (2)

Apparitions of You and Me

Identity is depths beyond what human beings perceive when they look into a mirror-- rather, it is the rich history of time, people, environment, and matters of the heart that afflict and influence them from their earliest memories to their present moment. This collection of poetry, composed of three sections representative of significant periods of one's personhood, is meant to explore the nuances and complications of one's being both a product of their experiences and carrier of memories from those experiences. The first section is composed of poetry concerned with identity formation in the early memories of childhood, with familial influence rooted at its core. The second section is focused on the movement from innocence of childhood to the infatuations, love, and heartbreak that come with young adulthood. The third section is comprised of poetry that looks introspectively at the former two in order to inform an identity that does not abandon those experiences, but builds independently from them. This collection strives to clarify the immense influence memories and human connection have on the development of one's sense of self. It is in hope that this exploration of identity and one's relationship to its ever-transforming essence will provide better understanding of the significance in claiming one's own identity while, at the same time, valuing even the experiences which may haunt them.

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The Thought of Him I Love: Mystical Drifts in Whitman's Leaves of Grass

In 1860, Walt Whitman released what he called the “new American Bible.” This claim scandalized American readers of the day though, since then, much more than the small circle of intellectuals has recognized its importance. The 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass was also the first edition (of seven) in which he claimed to inaugurate a new religion. The centerpiece of this new religion was the mystical experience in which poet and reader embarked together. Through printed text, poet and reader, individual and cosmos, citizen and the democratic would unify. Or, at least, the poet would lead the reader through a mystical journey that may or may not have a destination. The character of this journey changes, like Leaves of Grass itself, from edition to edition. This thesis traces the unstable and multifaceted character of this mysticism with a special emphasis on its blossoming as a mysticism of death.

In doing so, it will hopefully complicate an often overlooked facet of Leaves of Grass and vindicate Whitman’s status as a mystic which has been a subject of both debate and embarrassment for Whitman scholars. Many have shied away from applying the “mystic” label. A brief outline of the appearances of mysticism of Leaves of Grass followed by a tracing of its roots constitutes the introduction. Then, a chapter on Whitman’s more egotistical mysticism focuses on the dynamics within the self. Following this is a chapter on Whitman’s expansive mystical role and the final chapter identifies death as the ultimate mystical transfer and explains the reasoning behind this bold claim.

Humanities Honors Theses 2019 (3)

Weights of the World: An Examination of the Evolutionary Histories of the Atlas Stone and Gada, and the Philosophy of Resistance Training

In an age when everyday life demands less and less of the human body, it often feels as if we are growing further divorced from our nature as moving creatures. As the gym becomes the only sphere of life in which real physical exertion is experienced, our understanding and performance of exercise grows all the more distant—we get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, using machines that isolate the muscles and limit the body’s movement. Our blood, sweat, and labor are transformed into numbers, cold steel, and increments of time. In this thesis I call upon the wisdom of both ancient and nascent strength communities to offer a perspective on exercise that is more human but does not lose sight of the importance of empirical data and quantitative values. In doing so, I give a brief account of the evolutionary histories of two not-so-typical exercise implements—the Atlas Stone and gada—as well as the myths and peoples to which they are tethered by history, legend, and science. Following my examination of the implements, I outline a three-phase exercise routine that synthesizes exercises performed using them with contemporary training principles and methodologies. Thus, in drawing upon the wisdom of the Indian wrestling and European stone lifting communities, I propose the need to cultivate a fitness culture that marries ancient techniques and attitudes with empirical findings and innovative technologies to produce trainees that are smarter, fitter, and greater in number.

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“Dance a Clean Dream”: Agency In Language In Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons

In the words of Gertrude Stein: "Composition is the difference." Tender Buttons, her poetry collection published in 1914, is one of the most compositionally daring and misunderstood works within the modernist canon. Stein's composition brings into existence a way of seeing words: she forms her own use of language, both interpreting the rules of grammar and showing clear linguistic choices. In Tender Buttons, the word becomes the microcosm for larger philosophical issues embedded within language: identity, the body, being and knowing, and power. My thesis will closely observe how Stein's poems lend themselves to productive dialogs and/or cross fertilization with the linguistic theories of 20th century language philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, and Valentin Voloshinov. In placing Stein in conversation with these philosophers, I hope to draw Stein in closer proximity to popular language theory and introduce new lenses to help perceive her work. More importantly, I hope to show how uniquely Stein challenges and pushes the boundaries of language, demonstrating to her readers the practice of choice and intent in the language of the everyday.

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The View from an Open Window: Soviet Censorship Policy from a Musician’s Perspective

Under the leadership of Joseph Stalin from 1924 to 1953, censorship notoriously became a central aspect of Soviet society.  As citizens were rewarded for exposing any possible opposition to the government’s policies, no sector was left unmarked by what scholars now call the “Great Purge.”  While music was not an obvious victim of this movement, the Soviet music scene nonetheless found itself at the forefront of government criticism and reform.  In this thesis, I conduct case-studies of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and his Fifth Symphony, as well as Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky film soundtrack and his cantata Zdravitsa.  Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District brought its composer, and Soviet music as a whole, to the disapproving eye of Soviet censorship policy, while Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony saved him from further consequences.  Alexander Nevsky and Zdravitsa played instrumental roles in Prokofiev’s reintegration into Soviet society after spending years abroad.  I examine the Zhdanov Affair of 1948, in which both prominent and upcoming composers were called into a government conference concerning the unsavory music production in the Soviet Union, as a central event in the history of censorship.  Music magnifies the inherent futility of censorship, and as such, I use this investigation in conjunction with the case-studies to evaluate censorship practices within society: past, present, Soviet, and beyond.   

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