Tis the Season…

December 5, 2013

In university, the end of November usually brings one thing (or maybe two) – papers and snow. In the Bachelor of Humanities (Great Books) program, the former is especially prevalent. End of term papers, or for full-year courses, mid-term papers, are due in every class. If you’re lucky, a paper will replace a formal exam. Well, this year I got lucky. Not only do I have just one formal take-home exam, but I also get to research stuff that I am really excited about. I thought I would use this opportunity to give you a rundown of a few things that I am working on, hopefully providing a window into what the Bachelor of Humanities is all about.

For my fourth year Humanities research seminar, Utopia USA, I just handed in a paper on the book The Stars My Destination. It’s a dystopian science fiction novel written by Alfred Bester, and it has tons of cool stuff in it like teleporting, time-travel, and interplanetary wars. My paper provided two readings of the text: the traditional literary reading of the hero and the salvation of humanity at the end, and the political theory reading predicting the demise of humanity due to the destruction of a political realm. I argue that while the ending of the book (where the main character frees the common people from the grips of the capitalist elite) seems hopeful on the surface, it actually puts the planet in a poorer position than it began. I use Hannah Arendt’s “On the Social Question” to conclude that a people’s revolution is just as hopeless as a corrupt monarchy/parliament when the people are themselves guided by passion and emotion. This project was of special interest to me because I got to combine the humanities with my background in law; it is really quite exciting when you can bring a different angle to these traditional texts.

On the other hand, in my Modern Legal Theory class I brought the humanities to a piece of political theory. I am in the middle of researching the prevalence of Judaic theology in Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence,” and how he uses the Hebrew Bible as a launching point for his contemporary political views. I jumped at the chance to write on this topic because in the first and second years of the Humanities program we become very familiar with the Hebrew Bible and the study of Abrahamic religions. I am absolutely thrilled to bring yet another original perspective, one that might reside ‘outside the box,’ and in doing so I get to combine the two subjects I love so much.

At the end of the day, I would always recommend writing something you are passionate about. Even if the topic seems outside your comfort zone, there is always a way to add a piece of yourself to the project. This will make the work rewarding in a whole new way; hopefully rewarding in the grade, but also rewarding in that you are assured of your handle on important themes in your areas of interest. The more you are able to apply the things you love about humanities (or any other subject) to what you are working on, the more assurance you have that you are really grasping it. Best Christmas present ever!