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“Complicate the Narrative.”  

It’s what they do, writers. They leave fake trails of breadcrumbs. They set pointy caltrops in the path of innocent and eager readers, leaving them bereft of meaning, satisfaction, and self-esteem. Generations of booklovers have solemnly abandoned volume after volume with the refrain, “Such a hard book to get into!” --not realizing that the whole point of writing is to cultivate hardness and ambiguity. I.e., to complicate the narrative as much as possible. The fact is, great writers have always honored us with difficulty.

All this un-plain-dealing starts in the nursery. The pussy cat who pays for an economy round-trip on British Air to visit the queen and then only frightens a little mouse under her chair, is meant to be seen as a bland dope? What?  So “Live up to your Potential,” kiddies! Or are you “not-college-material”? 

Reading is practice for life. We live in a vast, tangled bank of hints and allegations. Our life’s work is always to ask the essential question, “What is this about in the deepest sense?” Even the dullest soul in Hamlet, poor Polonius, knows that by “indirection [we] find direction out.” 

This is what college is for. To create readers who can kneel down in a gulch, press an ear to a cold iron track, and tell us what’s coming. And what it means. Sometimes it’s a train. Sometimes, the rest of our lives.

Just so, this latest iteration of Paper Shell Review presents a rich and varied haul of five analytical papers –wildly separated in time and place and style and culture --but all grasping the nettle of meaning in the deepest sense. Here, five humanities undergraduate critics have one emergent goal: to un-complicate the narrative:

Julia Walton (Princeton University) unpacks a 15th-century Korean story, Student Yi Peers Over the Wall, a tale of attraction and love, by Kim Si-Sup (1435-1493), influenced by both Confucian and Folkloric traditions.

Maryam Gilanshah (George Washington University) considers the adage that “Comedy is good for the Jews” and looks at its usefulness and validity in light of today’s stand-up comics and internet streaming. 

Liyanga De Silva (University of Maryland) is interested in the trope of the “helpless Indian woman” in modern South Asian fiction and film as well as attempts to counter that common storytelling expectation.

Connor Ethan Yen (University of California, Berkeley) is concerned with the notion of “female frenzy” in the 2016 French film Grave, directed by Julia Ducournau. Yen seems, by the way, to have coined the term “Sisterhood phallus” for this intense psychoanalytic investigation.

Eitana Friedman-Nathan (Wesleyan University) looks at the architecture of narrative in “Black Museum,” the last episode of the Netflix series, Black Mirror (2017).

At the end of the day, it’s plain that narrative and linguistic obstacles, ambiguity and even mistakes --not unlike Dante’s dark and tangled wood-- make us work harder and use other resources, such as our imaginations, to find new and unforeseen solutions to what formerly may have seemed intractable scrums.

Five young scholars called Julia, Maryam, Liyanga, Connor, and Eitana plainly get all that. They’ve got past the complications.  “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” That’s the thing.

Michael Olmert, Professor of English

Journal Information


William Wong

Managing Editor

Lexie Werner

Cover Design

Maddi Rihn

Reading Group Leaders

  • Micah Herman
  • Lylah Uttamsingh
  • Lexie Werner

Editorial Board

  • Amanda Cash
  • Daniel Chalk
  • Loraine Chow
  • Greta Mun
  • Kemi Omisore
  • Dylan Orr
  • Robert York
  • Amy Zhong

Graduate Advisor

  • DeLisa Hawkes

Spring 2020 Essays

General Essays