ThesisCrazy 2022 Part 2: Lesbian Communes

Thesis brought to you by Wii music

We’re back! Today we have Jules White ’22 talking about why weird novels are weird, Avi Friederich ‘22 reconnecting with his German heritage through the 12th Century Holy Roman Empire, and Maren Beriss ‘22 exploring queer utopias. Go on a journey with them under the cut!!

Interviews by zoomy, missweazy, and Soap

Jules White ‘22 (they/them), English major with a Theory certificate, thesis in English, Carrel # “I gotta tell you I haven’t been in it since the first semester and can’t remember. I’ve been a real homebody recently. It’s somewhere on the fourth floor.” 

Working title: “I don’t know my subtitle yet. But my title is Desire for history, which is like a really, really like jargony sort of title, but it’s designed for history. And then the subtitle is something is going to be something like the historicity of form, or like, I don’t know, the novel and blah, blah, blah, you know, the standard humanities titles. I think it’s nice.”

On their topic: “As of right now, it’s a thesis mostly in method rather than an overarching argument. But I’m trying to generate historicist, materialist readings of a couple of novels that I’ve chosen from different periods of American history. I’m trying to do a deep dive on the form and how they’re constructed internally as texts to come out the other side with some sort of historical point about how the text relates to history and the world. I’m asking, how do these texts attempt to put themselves in or desperately try to take themselves out of a world that’s changing? That’s as close as I can get to an elevator pitch. But the three texts that I’ve chosen are My Antonia by Willa Cather which is a great, modernist novel. My second text is Edgar Allen Poe’s only novel that’s super weird and no critics touched for decades because they were like, ‘he’s a short story writer so let’s not pay attention to this one.’ And my third text is The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, which is this really weird, satirical, postmodernist detective story.”

On how they thought of the topic: “The whole process has really been flying by the seat of my pants and just seeing where my research takes me. I started with an idea of writing about modernism, specifically about one book My Antonia. My junior year, second semester, I did a tutorial with the person who’s now my thesis advisor, Professor Garrett. There was a midway point where I was attempting to write about a specifically settler colonial history, because My Antonia is kind of like a prairie novel. The way that it kind of writes out (or pushes to the side) how the prairie came to be, or how the town in which the drama is all happening came to be, is super interesting to me. I thought that I wanted to engage with a sort of textual residue or rather read symptomatically for how these texts engage with America as a settler colonial project (or try desperately not to). That’s how I came upon Edgar Allan Poe’s novel because it’s weird: it’s an adventure novel that does not take place in America at all but is often read as an allegory for antebellum slavery and the political struggles that lead up to the Civil War. I dwelled on these two books for a long time before I was able to write anything about them. I came up with really interesting questions about how they’re formally weird in terms of like the plot and everything not making sense.”

On their progress: “Well, I, you know, I worked on my first chapter for about four months, I worked on my second for like three, and my third chapter. I have not started yet, although I’ve done a bunch of preparatory work, but I’m gonna have to bang that out within the next week or so. So, pressure is mounting. My good friend who wrote a thesis last year always told me, ‘Ah, don’t worry about your best work because it always comes together in the last couple of days.’ And that’s the thing that I’ve had to repeat myself, just to not go insane. But yeah, no, I really just have my third chapter and my introduction left to do.”

On their current mental state: “It’s so complicated, because your thesis is both a distraction from but also highlighting the fact that this is really the last thing you’re doing at the University. I’m not mentally there yet. I think it’s been rough recently, especially with being at the end of your college career. And knowing that, at least for me, I’m going to very foolishly try to apply to grad schools, which means my thesis is something that’s going to be relatively important. So I’m trying to put as much work and thought into my thesis as possible even if that means saying no to a lot of opportunities that I’m not going to get once I’m out of school. I think that there’s an emotional toll to that. And also it’s hard just managing the relationships in your life and trying to keep friendships and everything when you just have to be like, ‘sorry, I’m busy’ all the time. It’s not super great, but I will say that I’m much more comfortable with it now than I was a week or two ago. I don’t know what exactly changed there. I think it’s just the knowledge that there’s only two more weeks of thesis writing and then I’m going to try to have as much fun as possible.”

On their most upsetting thesis experience: “This is a very specific anecdote, but I was supposed to get my second chapter done two weeks ago. And the night that I was supposed to do it, you know, I sort of left off the work a lot until the end of the night and that happened to be the night that Russia invaded Ukraine. And you know, I think a hysterical reaction to this is kind of normal but like, I just had to scroll Twitter for the next three hours to make sure that like, there wasn’t going to be some sort of nuclear war. I was instantly like, ‘oh my god, this is so important. And my thesis is so not important.’ And yet this is also preventing me from being productive.”

On their favorite form of procrastination: “I’ll do this thing where, like, I won’t even like academically-procrastinate, I’ll just thesis procrastinate. If there’s extra credit assignments or emails, and it’s not my thesis, I’ll do it. You know, my whole thesis is based on narrative theory. And it’s a sort of discipline where if you’re watching, or playing, or doing anything, you can always think about it as a narrative form. So I use that to give myself an excuse for procrastination. Recently, the video game Elden Ring came out and that’s probably the reason I don’t have a fourth chapter. Procrastination in the form of Twitter, literally any other schoolwork I could be doing, even if it’s something that’s not due soon, or whatever, just things that are not my thesis because of how avoidant I am.”

Their plans for April 14/after they hand their thesis in: “I don’t have any for April 14 specifically, but thinking about it now, I’m gonna want to turn it in on April. 13th so that April 14th can be like…. *WOOO*  Well, what I want to do is enjoy the weather, but it seems like that’s not been great lately. And I want to see as much of the film series as I possibly can. That was something exciting to me coming to Wesleyan as pre freshman. I was like ‘this is the best thing ever and I’m going to go and I’m going to see all these good movies!’ And then I almost never went. I think I went to the film series maybe only 10 times over four years. So I want to sort of play that out.”

Their advice for future thesis writers: “This is definitely not as helpful to people in the social sciences, or the hard sciences, or the actual real stuff, but for people in the humanities, I would say: do the work and don’t worry too much about your argument. Because if you do the work well, your argument comes through. If I’m giving advice to someone who, for example, is in their Sophomore year right now and are thinking about doing a thesis, pick your favorite professor, get them on board early, and do a tutorial with them. So many students don’t know that they can do this. You could literally just ask for your favorite professor to do a class with you with a syllabus that you choose for a normal class credit. It was so helpful to do some thinking before I started my thesis. I cannot recommend that enough.”

On their favorite part of the thesis: “Coming to the end of a chapter when you’re on fire, and you’re starting to say things that really sum things up. That’s very exciting, and it makes you feel like it’s important. It might not actually be super important, but it makes you feel like you’re a real academic.”

If their thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “The answer is embarrassing. I have this weird childish, neurotic fixation on the Nintendo Wii system music. That’s what I play whenever I write. I might have to credit Kazumi Totaka in my acknowledgments because of how much that has been the soundtrack to everything I’ve read.”

Their most used word: “There’s just a lot of dialectical buzzwords like ‘dynamic’ or, ‘we can say that in a sense, the x is y, but also, with reading it carefully. The Y is also x y.’”

Theses Feces: “Regular.”

Avi Friederich ‘22 (he/him). Government and Medieval Studies Major, International Relations Minor. Thesis in Government and Medieval Studies. Carrel #401.

Working Title: “How Frederick Barbarossa Governed and Expanded to the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th Century by Institutionalizing Economic and Financial Practices”

On his topic: “I’m writing about the Holy Roman Empire of the 12th century. I’m trying, on the one hand, to show that Frederick Barbarossa, this Emperor King had certain institutions and economic policy that he wanted to implement throughout this empire. And then, in the second part, I am comparing his empire to the Kingdom of England and France and Flanders to see how their economic standing was and how significant economically the Empire was at the time.”

On how he thought of his topic: “I’m from Germany. Close to home I guess. And I was always fascinated by the medieval ages. That’s why I’m studying medieval studies. And Barbarossa came up just because there’s a big myth of him sleeping under a mountain and once he wakes, the Holy Roman Empire will be reinstated throughout the lands.  I wanted to explore why he was seen as one of the greatest rulers of Germany in the Middle Ages.”

On his progress: “My thesis is structured. I have five chapters, an introduction and conclusion. Currently, the chapters are done. I just need to work on the intro and the conclusion and edit a lot.”

On his current mental state: “A little stressed, but also confident that I’ll get it done.”

On his most upsetting thesis experience: “I think the different views of currencies and how unregulated historians of the past designated certain currencies and figuring out how much one currency is worth compared to another and how much it can buy. I think that that has been very tricky to figure out, find out.”

On his favorite form of procrastination: “I did play video games, but I quit those. So now I think I just watched a lot of Netflix movies.”

On his recent favorite Netflix movies: “I watched the old Girl with the Dragon Tattoo some time ago. It was very good, surprisingly, and apart from that just some Netflix documentaries.”

On his plans for after it’s turned in: “I’d pick up video games again. Trying to get a Elden Ring, a new video game and probably relax and enjoy my senior year as far as I can.”

His advice for future thesis writers: “Although I did start very early, I think I first had the topic in mind spring of my junior year, and I was writing then. Even then, there’s never enough time. You have to be very sure that you enjoy your topic. I still enjoy writing my thesis, it’s still fun. That’s why I think I’m still doing it. I’ve never thought about quitting it. For me a big saving thing was just to start writing and figure it out on the way and do your research on the way to see what you really need and not need instead of doing a lot of research and then throwing a lot away.”

On his favorite part of his thesis:  “It’s a hate-love relationship, I guess. I like that it’s very broad. I chose a broad topic. So I get to write about very, very random stuff. I wrote about the comparison of the Holy Roman Empire to the Nazi empire, because they called themselves the Third Reich. And that’s based on the first reich, which was Barbarossa. So I got to write a little bit about that, but then also got to write big parts on the Third Crusade. I like that it’s very broad, but that’s also what I hate about it because I have to research a lot. It’s a lot of different things I have to write about.”

If his thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “It would be Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.”

His most used word or phrase: “I think for now it’s ‘therefore’ but I think I’m going to change that.”

Maren Beriss ‘22 (she/her). CSS Major, Thesis in CSS, Carrel #313

Working Title: But I’m A Separatist!: Queer Past/Present/Future and Lesbian Separatism”

On her topic: “It’s about lesbian separatism specifically in the context of today’s mainstream LGBTQ politics, which I feel like are sort of assimilationist in the sense of the major things that people have focused on in recent years, like same-sex marriage or gay people joining the military. I didn’t want to discount how those things are important, but I thought what would be more interesting is to look into why they’re important at all. It’s really about how the state as this overarching institution determines what rights we have, and sexuality is a huge part of that. Rather than trying to fit people into the borders that exist within the state, I’m looking at why those borders exist at all. So then I look at lesbian separatism, which was basically this movement in the 70s and 80s among lesbians who were basically like “I’m just not gonna talk to men anymore”. Some were more “I’m not gonna talk to men in my daily life,” but then a lot of women moved together onto land that they bought themselves, which weren’t quite comunes exactly, but kinda, and they spread all over the country and became a big part of lesbian culture. So yeah, my thesis is really looking at that as an alternative to the mainstream politics of today, not because I think we should go back to that because it was pretty transphobic and racist and bad in a lot of ways, but to get a sense of how we can imagine a future that is different. My last chapter is all about queer utopia and how we can create different futures for ourselves even if we accept that we’re never going to get to a world without patriarchy.”

On how she thought of her topic: “I knew that I wanted to do something about queer studies, and in a class last fall I read this book called Terrorist Assemblages by Jasbir Puar which I thought was super cool. It’s all about this idea of homo-nationalism, which is basically the concept that the U.S. slightly expands its borders to be more inclusive for gay people who want to get married and join the military, but they only do that to make themselves seem welcoming and inclusive, while at the same time they’re bombing the Middle East constantly and there are people across the country who don’t want to get married and so aren’t able to access benefits and rights. So I was thinking about that a lot, and also I’ve just been sort of obsessed with lesbian separatism since I found out about it because they’re so crazy and cool. Initially I wanted to write more expansively just about communities of queer women, but then I had to narrow it down a little bit.”

On her progress: “I think for the most part it’s been fun! Right now I’m kind of losing steam but it’s been good overall I think. I wrote a lot over winter break which was fun, and I feel like in general it’s something that I really care about and I keep reading stuff about it and thinking ‘woah, this is so cool!’ which is really exciting.”

On her current mental state: “It’s okay. I think I’m definitely stressed out, and sometimes I’m like ‘okay I need to take a bit of a break right now,’ but it’s okay. I have a draft done, so I just need to edit it now, which is making me feel better.” 

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “It took me a long time to find an advisor, because nobody in CSS does queer studies, so for a second I wasn’t sure if I would be able to write this thesis at all. But it worked out and I like my advisor. The one professor in CSS who does queer studies is on sabbatical right now so I couldn’t use him, but I just reached out to this anthropology professor that I took a class with.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “Yes! I will procrastinate with anything but I’m including these Alison Bechdel cartoons before each section of my thesis, so I like to check out a bunch of her comic books and I’ll go through those sometimes. So it’s productive procrastination, but it’s not really what my work is about. Yeah. I also just, like, Twitter.”

On her plans for April 14/after she hands her thesis in: “Yeah I think probably the Olin steps with everybody else and hopefully we’ll have some fun stuff going on that night, and then I’m actually going home that weekend because it’s Passover. So I’m gonna party for two days, take a break from campus, then come back and chill for the rest of the year.”

Her advice for future thesis writers: “I think the most important thing is to just pick something you’re passionate about. I feel like people get burnt out on their theses a lot, and if you’re not really deeply invested in it then it’s not worth it. But I also think it’s really fun, which I know is kind of a nerdy thing to say, but if you pick something that you care about it can be great. I mean I get to go sit in the library and read about lesbians all day, it’s not a bad way to spend a year. It’s just a cool opportunity to spend a year researching something you really care about. Obviously it’s a lot of work, but I’m excited to hold my thesis at the end and be like “wow, I wrote this whole thing.”

Most used word/phrase: “Probably ‘separatism.’ Or ‘lesbian separatism.’”

Theses Feces: “It’s all been pretty normal I would say.”

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