“So I imagine that day on the steps to be white-washed with the sun, and everybody that you ever cared about or loved, gathered, so it’d be like heaven, reuniting with your dead grandma kind of feeling. … Kind of, it’s like entry into the afterlife, the afterlife of Wesleyan.”
Welcome to the final installment of THESISCRAZY 2016, the series where we interview seniors who have spent a wild amount of time working on extremely specific topics. All of these interviews were conducted between March 31st and April 2nd, but aren’t getting posted until now, after theses are due, because I, hopefully unlike most thesis writers, left things to the very last minute. Let’s hope this is not an indication of how the thesis I may or may not write will play out. Check out read parts one through eight of this year’s installment here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And THESISCRAZY archives are here. And be on the look out for pictures from the Olin steps soon!
Holt Akers-Campbell ’16, Philosophy and Classics, thesis in Classics
Working title: Farm Like a Roman: Livestock in Ancient Italy
On his topic: I basically go chapter by chapter for the ten most common farm animals and clarify/analyze everything the six major Roman farm writers ever said about them.
On his progress: I’ve got 197 pages. I put a full draft on my advisor’s desk on February 28th, I want to say, and since then I’ve done some minor edits.
On his current mental state: About the thesis? Not thinking about it much.
Most traumatic thesis experience: Hmm, maybe reading about some of their methods seem really mean to us. Like when they would take a chicken and put it in a very tight cage so it couldn’t turn around and they’d make pellets out of soaked grain and stuff it in their throats until they got really fat. In many ways like confinement raising today.
On procrastination: I don’t know, sitting in the bathtub, maybe?
Plans for April 12: I’ll be in Vermont, working. March 1st I moved to Vermont and through March I’ve been living there half the time, then I’ll be there full time, and that’s where I’ll live through October. I’m working at a farm called Wild Carrot farm, it’s a small family farm with a vegetable CSA that’s powered by draft horses.
Advice for future thesis writers: I did a lot of reading the summer before which allowed to kinda know what I was getting into in the fall, and I didn’t have to worry about what my topic was or what my sources were. I mean obviously not everyone can do that and for some people it might be helpful to have a process where they don’t really know immediately? But if you know what you’re doing, for me it was really helpful to have read things over the summer.
Favorite part: My favorite part is just some of these wacky superstitions the Romans had. They thought if you had an animal, such as a horse, with colic which is an intestinal condition that can be pretty dangerous, it can be cured by putting a duck in front of it. So there’s some funny stuff like that.
kitab: What? Just like momentarily or for like a certain amount of time…?
HAC: Like the sight of an aquatic bird, particularly a duck, will cure colic.
If his thesis were a TV show: Huh. Well it’s like kinda long and obscure and would be only of interest to–well, I guess a lot of theses are like that. Hmm. Oh! It would be Tales from the Great Valley, the BBC documentary, about traditional farming methods.
How he came up with his topic: Well, I wanted to write about farming and I’m a classics and philosophy major. I knew there were these six principal Roman sources who wrote pretty extensively about how they were running their farms, and there wasn’t much secondary literature on it, so I thought it was a good opportunity.
Most used word or phrase: Probably animal.
On his theses feces: Well I didn’t have a carrel, so I did a lot of my thesis in downstairs Sci Li, which is also a pretty nice place to poop.
Emily Pfoutz ’16, Anthropology, Patricelli Board Room
Working title: I’ve changed it like five times today, but right now it’s “Vulnerable Becomings: Reimagining Humans, Horses, and Other Beings.”
On her topic: So it’s like an ethnographic and autoethnographic project focusing mostly on time I spend near wild horses in Costa Rica, over last summer and some of this year over winter break. Looking at the ethics of how humans relate to horses in a larger ecofeminism intersectional framework of theory, and looking at how human relationships with horses are often structured by domination and dominion of humans over horses. But then also looking especially through personal experience and interviews at ways there are more reciprocal and more mutual relationships and what the conditions of those are, and relating that back to the theoretical framework, what implications that might have for our relationships with other humans and with the earth and the possibility of relating outside the framework of mastery and control over others. It’s been a weirdly creative project. This is why ethnography, especially autoethnography is so funny, and also multi-species ethnography is like a new turn in anthropology. And writing about animals and other non-human beings is ‘in’ right now.
On her progress: Good, because it’s a much more creative process than I realized or intended it to be, I feel like I started in the middle. All my chapters I wrote like backwards. But my advisor has been very good about having intense deadlines. So I have a thing that’s somewhat done and because it’s more creative, too, it’s like a lot more editing and just crossing out all of my words a bunch. But in general I feel pretty okay. There was definitely some panic last weekend but this is eventually just gonna end.
On her mental state: Haha, it like really varies moment to moment, I definitely feel depleted. I’ll try to hang out with people at the end of the day or I’ll interact with non-thesis writers and just have nothing to say. Like I’m no longer interesting. But there’s also been a lot of bonding over delirium with other thesis writers and because of that it’s been a lot more connective process than I thought it would be. So that’s good. And that’s definitely the most frazzled and shamble-ly I am, usually with other people, lying on the floor of Olin. Collective falling apart.
On her most traumatic thesis experience: I don’t think I have any that would live up to that word. It’s generally been a very positive process. I thought I lost all my field notes after the summer, because my computer crashed in Costa Rica, which was terrifying. I mean I had half of them in a real journal, but it was also like, whoop!
kitab: Did you get them back?
EP: Yeah, it ended up that my power button broke, and I just didn’t know for a month, I didn’t fix it until I was back in the States, but then nothing was lost, which was great. But it’s generally been a very humbling process, for reasons like that, and I’m writing partly about the importance of relinquishing control over others, so not having individual one-sided set agendas, and having let go to some extent of the outcomes of our actions, especially in relationships, but also throughout this whole process I find myself doing exactly the opposite, because I want to control every part of it and know that it’s going to turn out a certain way. Which is a lot easier to do in a paper than in relationships with others but also, everything time something like that happens I’m like, ‘Well, this is what I’m supposed to be telling myself, that I have to let go.’
On procrastination: Whenever I’m in Olin with other thesis writers I just end up doing a lot of like rolling around on the floor and giggling and running around Olin being distracting and doing handstands.
Plans for April 12: Everyone has this picture of the steps, where I definitely will be, but I dunno, I have the sense that something is going to happen after the steps. That we’ll just like be on a journey–drunk–but who knows? I’ll probably end up falling asleep. I’m just gonna go with it.
Advice for future thesis writers: Yeah. So I really was set on not writing a thesis last spring and then I was writing a paper for another class and I was talking to a professor about maybe doing a senior essay and I was already going to Costa Rica for the summer experience grant. And this was in May, so it was past the proposal deadline and she was like, ‘This is a thesis, you can’t do that in 50 pages.’ But because the topic was really important to me and it’s connecting a lot of things I’ve thought about most of my life in a non-academic way, it’s been really rewarding and motivating and I haven’t ever hated the topic or gotten bored of it. So I think, do it if you care about the subject matter enough that it is something you wanna write that many pages about, but don’t do it for the sake of writing a thesis.
Favorite part: I think that it’s probably been the experience and it’s really changed this year, because it’s given me a way to connect to other students and my professors intellectually in a way I didn’t before, just because I didn’t have any one thing I was invested enough in to learn a lot about and feel like I could engage intellectually in a field of work. It’s cool, I feel like I understand academia now, and why people go into it–not that I want to. It’s been a really connective process in that way, which I didn’t expect, and that’s been really rewarding.
If her thesis were a song: I think this is just because I was listening to it, but “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell because she’s amazing and I love her and that was like my childhood lullaby. But it really is fitting, also like she is using a metaphor of painted ponies in a carousel, but also I’m writing a lot about rhythms and cyclical time–well it was cyclical time, it’s not anymore–but yeah, about time passing and control so that just popped into my head.
How she picked her topic: So stuff that’s in it is just me having worked with horses most of my life and always having had nagging unacknowledged ethical questions about it, but like, should we ride or domesticate horses? Whenever I step back and think about it it seems very strange. But then I also have had really powerful mutual intimate feelings of shared joy when working with horses, so it didn’t line up. So those were always kind of there.
And then I was in two classes in conjunction–Animal Minds and the required Theory II class, Anthropology of Affect–and … putting those together and I was just like, ‘Does this all relate, is this crazy?’ And I was talking to my professor and she was like, ‘Yes it relates, you just can’t do it in 50 pages.’
Most used word or phrase: I was actually thinking about that because I’ve been trying to figure out the title. Mutuality a lot, resonance, vulnerability is a big one, connection? Relationships?
On her process: Definitely the whole process feels like it’s a creature. I don’t know how it happened, I’m astounded that I wrote that many words. It definitely erupted into being of its own accord and it didn’t feel like I had control over it. It feels like giving birth.
On her theses feces: I poop so much. I think it’s just because I’m drinking a lot of caffeine. But that’s like the very concrete connection, I just have been pooping a lot. Which is great, I would prefer that to not pooping. I think it would be miserable to write a constipated thesis. But also I’m sure I could think of a metaphor. Like it feels like giving birth but also like taking a large shit sometimes. Like ‘get it out!’
Alexis Fineman ’16, Anthropology, carrel #407
Working title: “Drawing the Line: Consumers, Killjoys, and Alternative Food at the Edge of the Anthropocene”
On her topic: So basically my thesis is about this idea of ethical consumerism and environmental ethics and alternative food in Marin County, which is known for being a wealthy suburb of San Francisco. I’m kind of looking at class and the environment and food and how they come together in three different foodscapes, the first of which is what I consider corporate foodscapes, places like Whole Foods for example–and I look at farmer’s markets a little bit, even though they aren’t corporate–and just how the logic of labels like ‘local’ and ‘organic’ comes through in them. And then the second one is veganism as both a classed project but also a more comprehensive political undertaking. At least in Marin, the vegans that I met were more radically opposed to a lot of the things I was studying and critiquing myself, so that was an interesting thing to find and become a part of. And then the third chapter is looking at recreational foraging, so people who go out for a day or an afternoon in a group and learn about which weeds you can eat and whatnot. So I went on a group that does that, and I’m basically talking about constructions of nature in the sense that recreational foraging is not a project of ethical consumerism, you’re not purchasing a commodity, but the logics of capitalism and colonialism create this interesting relationship to nature that disavows a lot of like, settler-colonialism and just, the very basic exploitative taking-and-not-giving-back relationship that we have to pretty much everything that surrounds us.
On her progress: It’s okay, I still don’t have a complete draft, but I edit a lot as I write so hopefully my intro will be done tonight (Saturday, April 2) and then I’ll be in good shape.
On her mental state: Um, fluctuating. Obviously I’m stressed, but I also am kind of over it. I’m ready to be done, to move on to different things in my life.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: I think probably submitting a proposal and getting it back junior year completely destroyed. Which is very normal, but is just kind of a weird way to start the process. Overall it’s been a pretty positive experience.
On procrastination: Probably just researching a lot of articles I should read but never will.
Plans for April 12th: Well, champagne on the steps probably, and I would really like to go to sleep in a clean bed, but we’ll see if I have time to do laundry on the 11th.
Advice for future thesis writers: By and large, it should be fun. If it’s like a year-long process, maybe ten and a half months should be fun. Even if the topic isn’t fun, there’s something–like mine is like a pretty hearty critique for a lot of it, but there are ways to enjoy that process. If you enjoy it, then do it, and if not?
Favorite part: The anthropology department is just wonderful, so it’s been fun to work with my advisor, Anu Sharma, who’s amazing, and also getting to go through this process with other anthro people.
If her thesis were a TV show: You know, it would probably be a reality show. Like kind of maybe a mix between Real Housewives and Survivor. That would be my ideal media project. But it’s not all critique, it’s important not to get lost in that, and like, use critique as a blanket for dismissal.
How she picked her topic: It kind of came from a lot of directions at once. I grew up in Marin so I’m very familiar with the culture of food that pervades the county, but I also have a lot of friends who work in alternative corporate food worlds, Good Earth is a really popular store in Marin. Someone really close to me worked for quite a number of years in the deli of this store and the conversations we would have and the stories I would hear. And then I’ve worked for a food justice nonprofit in the North Bay the past two summers and that whole experience, plus just my own beliefs about the anthropocene all inspired this.
Most frequently used word or phrase: Ooh. Probably consumerism.
On her theses feces: I don’t know if I have thoughts on that, but I do know that somebody is always pooping in the 3rd floor Olin bathroom, and I assume it’s theses feces.
Henny Jeong ’16, Philosophy and German, thesis in both and
Kotaro Aoki ’16, Philosophy
Henny’s working title: “Dialectic of Thinking and Talking”
Kotaro’s working title: “The Myth of the Sheep”
HJ: Oh god, okay, well I guess I’m gonna be the normal foil to [Kotaro’s] craziness, but I’m thinking about what I’ve been doing for the last four years, because as a philosophy and German major it’s been so much thinking and reading thoughts and then encountering them through my thoughts, and it’s been an exchange, it’s been talking, being talked at, and then talking back and I felt so, impotent? In terms of what I really wanted to do for this world. Like I don’t know how to take one right step in the direction when I get out there. And that frustration led me to think about what good has all this done for me and from that I wanted to think about how theories can help us out. And I thought maybe the best answers could be found in the three giants of theory: Marcuse, Marx and Hegel. I really just wanted to read them and get credit for that. So I’m just writing about what I’ve found in terms of answers to the motivating question.
KA: Wow, sounds very appropriate for a thesis writer. So yeah, mine is a study of the sheep as a symbol of mainly capitalist economy. The title is derived from Marx and Thomas More’s quotes about how the sheep was replacing the human, how the process of enclosure was the beginning of everything in capitalism. Hm. Actually. That’s just a symbolic meaning of my thesis and what I’m actually doing in my thesis is a philosophical interpretation of Haruki Murakami’s first trilogy. I’m writing from a perspective of a protagonist, self-analyzing what’s happening to him in that trilogy (called The Sheep Trilogy). In that third novel, the motive of the sheep is very much key to the message of the story.
I was originally writing on the mental health care system in Japan, last semester, and then I changed my thesis topic completely in the spring semester.
HJ: We were talking about how it kind of makes sense in that he kind of deteriorated in mental health and thus began talking about sheep. And so it’s kind of like embodiment of knowledge to like, the epilogue of that embodiment, or something.
KA: Yeah, I think I really embody the struggle of writing a thesis.
HJ: I’m doing well, I’ve actually finished the first draft. Actually I’ve been hearing about his process and how I interpret his work is as kind of a philosophical fiction, very iconoclastic and eccentric. It made me very envious, I felt like I hadn’t thought about what I wanted to truly write. Now I was like, ‘No, I must produce something actually authentic, that I can call my own and be proud of and call a capstone experience!’ And then rereading mine I found it super problematic because I argue against parochialism and inaccessibility of text, but then that’s exactly what I’m doing. So the hypocrisy really struck me, and now I’m kind of giving it a makeover? Which isn’t just superficial, I’m finding myself having to rewrite a lot of the parts, because now I’m trying to shave all the bullshit. It’s rewarding!
KA: Ah, it’s so painful to hear. Yeah, as I mentioned I started writing this topic this semester and I did some readings before, but most readings I’m using for my thesis right now, I did that during this semester. So I’m conceptually 95% done? But uh, materially, it’s maybe 25%. And we have 12 more days? It’s not very healthy to think about what will happen.
HJ: How many pages of writing do you have?
KA: Depends, depends on my professional rigor. So far, if I don’t care about the quality, it’s like 35. But I have to graduate, so. Yeah. I can continue my study after I graduate but right now I have to just get it out.
kitab: Hm, what does that say about capitalist production?
KA: I guess what I’m interested in is mediocrity? So in mass production, any products are produced for the social use, and you can’t just produce one thing and call that capitalist production. I’m sort of using that perspective to see our individual existence in capitalist society, how are we put in the position of things, even though we are human beings. How the conflict between becoming and being is played out. I’m using the symbol of the sheep from Murakami’s Wild Sheep Chase. It’s a story where a divorced man gets on the search for the sheep, anyway, it’s a long story…
HJ: What are the opening words to your thesis??KA: So my opening words are, “Once upon a time, there was a sheep, a very special sheep.” And I’m sort of writing in a mythological tone for the introduction.
On their current mental states:
HJ: Disappointed at myself, but at the same time, enjoying the process. And actually stressed out about my sculpture class, actually, more than my thesis. Incidentally, I am carving a sheep out of plaster. This was before he decided on his topic, so I’m like, whoa, everything is coming together!
I was actually thinking of giving it to him when he finishes his thesis, like here, now the sheep can enter you and then he has to like, eat it
Anyway. It’s going horribly, and it’s due on Monday and I don’t know what to do and I don’t know what I am doing here, I should be spending all my time carving my sheep.
KA: I think I, yeah, I’m trying to maintain a healthy mental state. I run every day. It’s a really great solution to this thesis marathon, mentally. And also, if I don’t finish this thesis, I can’t graduate. So my whole existence here is at stake.
HJ: He has this sheet of paper that says “Platonic Weeks: Eat, run, sleep and WRITE!” kitab: Wait, platonic weeks? Like Plato-platonic?
KA: Yeah, Plato-platonic. So I decided for this two weeks I won’t have any interaction with my girlfriend.
kitab: Well, more conventional-platonic than Plato-platonic.
KA: Oh yeah, conventional-platonic. I wasn’t being philosophical there.
HJ: I think this works in both senses, actually, he is existing in the pure abstract realm and in order to do that, he is participating in the common platonic sense.
Most traumatic thesis experience:
HJ: Yeah, so my boyfriend, because he was so behind on his thesis, decided that we won’t see each other for the next two weeks, like complete hiatus. And then of course I freaked out, but then we called it off after 3 hours. We’ve established a better balance.
KA: It’s been traumatic ever since I decided to change my topic. I guess maybe a few days ago I was talking to my friend who is also writing a thesis, and he said that we only had two more weeks, and I was like, ‘Two weeks? Isn’t it three or four or something?’ That was a moment when I made myself resolute. Actually, I might not be graduating, I’ve got to actually start working seriously. My professor has been telling me, ‘The time is now.’ He’s a very chill guy, but I think gradually, he became very concerned about my lack of awareness about what’s actually going on. I think the most traumatic thing is lack of pressure? I wish I could feel more pressure.
kitab: You still don’t feel pressures?
KA: Not quite, actually. I’m traumatized that I’m not traumatized.
HJ: Does it make you question your own moral psychology?
KA: Kind of, like am I actually a capable individual in a societal sense?
HJ: There’s a really nice window in my room and I just stare out the window. When it was snowing I would look at snow, whenever there’s a sunset, I look at birds flying, leaves falling, squirrels playing on the roof. It’s good.
KA: I think spending time with my girlfriend.
Plans for April 12:
HJ: Whenever I bump into people who do theses, or even who don’t, the thing to say is, ‘Hey, we should get lunch! After thesis.’ So I imagine that day on the steps to be white-washed with the sun, and everybody that you ever cared about or loved, gathered, so it’d be like heaven, reuniting with your dead grandma kind of feeling.
kitab: But what does that metaphor say, does that mean that thesis is death?
HJ: Kind of, it’s like entry into the afterlife, the afterlife of Wesleyan. You’ve basically graduated, and you embrace the people through tears and champagne, and then you frolic out into the woods.
KA: I think sleep.
kitab: Are you planning on sleeping between now and then?
KA: -laughs- Yeah, that’s a question.
Advice for future thesis writers:
HJ: Pretty boring, professor-ish, but just do something that you’re gonna be proud of. You’re gonna have to spend a lot of time on this, and you’re gonna hear about other people’s exciting projects. Do something that you’re passionate about.
KA: If you wanna graduate, like for sure, you should not change your topic after winter break.
HJ: I think it was really nice to be here this spring break. The weather was super, I like the campus when it’s empty, there was necessary cooking and a cohort.
KA: Oh yeah, changing my thesis topic. Before I was writing on something I had sufficient knowledge about, but the motivation wasn’t that real. But after I changed my topic I’m learning a lot of new things that I didn’t know before, so that made my thesis process more authentic, I think. I’m really glad that I changed my topic.
HJ: I think, to go off of what I said early, being here over spring break distills the whole thesis experience, it’s this horrible masochistic thing that you do to yourself. But somehow you find like small delicious joys in it. Like it’s being in a horrible situation that makes you appreciate the small things in life. Like, ah! I’m breathing and eating food, great great stuff! Praise Jesus! I think that accentuation of the every day is the most beautiful part of the thesis experience.
KA: I’ve actually only met him three times throughout the whole process.
kitab: Was he your advisor for the old topic too?
KA: Yeah. Oh actually four times. I met him three times last semester, once this semester. Oh yeah, he used to send me “are you okay?” kind of emails, like “Are you alive?” I was like, “You know, yeah, it’s going. In my head.”
On theses feces:
HJ: Oh yeah, poop, your stool, texture and color definitely reflect your stress level and diet. So usually I don’t consume that much, but since delving into the writing process, I’ve been pretty careless about my diet? I’ve been eating a lot of meat. That makes my stool firmer. And just like rounder? Like goat poop.
KA: I was thinking about the question of what happens to the theses after they’re done, and I think my thesis is like poop in that sense. I live, I suffer, and what I end up producing is just this thing to be discarded.
kitab: Maybe we could develop that metaphor in a more positive way, like it’s a necessary process? So maybe the end product is something that should be disposed of, but the process is nutritive, it gives you life.
HJ: Mmm, I totes feel that. That is my thesis experience. I produce a piece of shit, but I understand Hegel now.
KA: Yeah, maybe the poop hasn’t come out yet so I can’t really say anything about what’s going to happen to my poop. It’s just gonna be dumped and, alright, that’s life. Maybe I will feel this way when I… produce my poop.