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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Welcome to the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal, a biannual publication dedicated to publishing exemplary undergraduate research in the humanities and social sciences.


Repression and Resistance in Roman Comedy

Rape plays an essential role in Roman comedy plays, also called palliatia, which is a difficult subject matter for relatively humorous plays to include and tackle. What makes these comedies unique in the context of Roman literature is their portrayal of domestic scenes: the marketplace, the neighborhood street, the home. In these comedies, we get a sense of the ways in which Romans thought of the processes of gender power played out in the places where rape happened the most. The critical literature has taken a piecemeal approach to addressing the approach palliatia has taken towards rape and its victims and, for the most part, considers these plays liberatory. That is, the literature’s perspective on palliatia is that they subvert repressive elements of Roman culture such as patriarchy and heteronormativity. This paper presents a contrasting view in my comprehensive overview of rape in these comedies: while these plays enact certain scenes of liberatory elements, they are ultimately repressive. Repression is the dominant force that crushes and appropriates the energy expressed in liberatory elements, always leading to endings that systematically exclude victims from their own narratives. This paper will seek to answer the following questions: how do dominant groups within comedies such as fathers and rapist feign sympathy with the victim while still performing repressive acts? What incentives do traditionally subordinate groups have to support these dominant groups? Above all, what is the cost to the victim each time these actions are taken?

Do It for The Kids: Dismantling Norms of The Family in Cli-Fi Literature

“Do it for the kids,” cry climate activists, in an appeal to intergenerational responsibility. Climate change fictions make similar emotional appeals to their audiences by centering their plots around a family struggling to beat the odds of the Anthropocene. Electing the nuclear family as the genre standard reinforces heteronormativity, relies on the misleading catharsis of the “child savior” figure, and furthers procreational narratives. To examine the norms of the family in Cli-fi, this paper examines two popular short stories, “Quiet Town” by Jason Gurley and “The Smog Society” by Chen Qiufan and two Climate Disaster films, 2012 (2009) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004 dir. Roland Emmerich). To contextualize my exploration of such tropes, I consulted theory across multiple relevant disciplines: particularly, Edelman’s Queer theory of reproductive futurism and James Hughes’ work on Sociological Biopolitics informed my analysis. Close reading analyses found that even as Cli-fi work blocked the agency of children they also placed upon them the responsibility of maintaining and perpetuating generational and heteronormative tradition. Times of crisis within the story were mirrored by the destruction of the nuclear family, and times of environmental sustainability were signaled by the nuclear family. With this paper I hope to encourage further research into the emerging genre of Cli-Fi and the norms of gender enshrined within it.

“So Here is a Plot to Ruin Me”: Legal and Literary Forms of Female Consent in the Marriage Plots of Pamela and Mansfield Park

Much has been written about the literary conventions of the marriage plot, a common narrative in literature that originated in the mid-eighteenth century and focuses on the courtship between a heroine and her suitor. However less has been written about this plot’s relationship to the law—specifically to eighteenth and nineteenth-century legal notions of consent and marital autonomy. My project attempts to bridge this gap. I turn to legal doctrines and court cases about marriage and sexual assault to examine representations of consent in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature, specifically in the marriage plot of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814). A legal analysis reveals that legal frameworks of the time positioned consent in exclusive and negative terms; everything but a verbal, witnessed expression of refusal became consensual. Meanwhile, literature provided a more imaginative landscape in which authorship and plot complicated the notion of a refusal and gestured instead toward a vision of affirmative consent. Pamela reveals that consent and refusal can be constructed in silence—and that the absence of verbal refusal does not constitute consent. Mansfield Park demonstrates that marriage can be both a state of desire and a condition in which a woman’s consent becomes incorporated into her husband. Ultimately, a legal and literary analysis of consent highlights the importance of authorship—questions of consent can be viewed as investigations of who controls the “plot,” whether that is the plot of a work of literature or the plot of a courtroom.

Beyond Mindfulness: Meditation for Mystical Experience and Persisting Benefit

Modern psychological research on meditation has demonstrated its extensive psychological and physical benefits. Much of this modern research relies on ‘mindfulness’ training protocols, such as the popular MBSR program (from the 1970s) and similar offshoots. Though certainly useful, these mindfulness interventions are limited in scope. Their contents do not reflect voluminous recent research into related practices, nor the immense breadth of the traditions from which they come. Such mindfulness interventions derive generally from Buddhist teachings, but include only a fraction of the traditional meditative path – and they omit profound, essential elements.

I created a novel curriculum to expand on existing mindfulness protocols, better represent the complete traditions that have been their source, and improve their efficacy by encouraging self-transcendent and mystical-type experiences. This program was offered as a semester-long Berkeley undergraduate course. Self-report assessments revealed myriad benefits: increased psychological well-being, resilience to stress, confidence, purpose; improvement of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and insomnia symptoms; and bolstered compassion, patience, focus, and empathy. 70% of students responded that in terms of overall life value, the meditation course was equal to or greater in significance than anything they had ever experienced.

Students reported surprising levels of mystical experience as a result of the class. Intriguingly, out of all dimensions assessed, only mystical experience possessed a truly significant relationship with total reported participant benefit (Pearson coefficient=0.72). These findings demonstrate the efficacy of this novel meditation protocol, the accessibility of mystical experience with proper instruction, and the central importance of such experience for maximum participant benefit.

The Federal Reserve and the Decision to Let Lehman Brothers Fail: A challenge to the legal explanation put forth by the Fed, and an exploration into the real reasons for their decision.

In the most dramatic moment of the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) withheld an emergency bailout from Lehman Brothers, a peer investment bank among other firms infamously deemed “too big to fail.” In light of Lehman’s banefully consequential bankruptcy, the Fed’s decision remains a most controversial one. Yet Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of the Fed, and other key players maintain that they made the right decision. They submit the argument that there was no alternative to Lehman’s failure because the Fed lacked the legal authority to provide a bailout.

The Fed’s account of the Lehman decision is wrought with erroneous economic and legal arguments. To illustrate this, I inspect the language of Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act to determine the Fed’s true legal bandwidth, and Lehman’s balance sheets to assess if the bank really was insolvent. The second dimension of this paper explores the real reasons the Fed chose to let Lehman fail. The Fed made a subjective decision to allow Lehman’s bankruptcy. They had their reasons why, but a legal constraint was not valid reason among them. Instead, it was a combination of legitimate financial constraints and political and social concerns.

The conclusion of this investigation goes beyond the fact that the Fed’s otherwise spectacular response to the crisis is tainted by what appears to be deceit; this study lends credence to the idea that, as both accountability and transparency are indispensable for the overall wellbeing of the American economy, there is work to be done.