“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
- Micah Herman
- Lylah Uttamsingh
- Lexie Werner
- Amanda Cash
- Daniel Chalk
- Loraine Chow
- Greta Mun
- Kemi Omisore
- Dylan Orr
- Robert York
- Amy Zhong
- DeLisa Hawkes
Spring 2020 Essays
Countering the Narrative of the Helpless Indian Woman
Western feminism has always had a tendency to “other” women in the global South. In Burdens of History, Antoinette Burton discusses the role of 19th and 20th century British feminists in othering Indian women in particular. She argues that “Victorian and Edwardian feminist writers relied on images of Eastern, and especially Indian, women to bolster a variety of arguments about female emancipation” (63).
It’s A Goy! Gentile Appropriation of Jewish Self-Deprecation in Modern Comedy
“Bear with me and I will speak, and after my speech you may mock.” Iyov 21:3
Paratext of Dystopia: An Analysis of Narrative Devices and Social Commentary in Black Mirror
“Once your children are born, you can never look at yourself through your eyes any more, you always look at yourself through their eyes,” explained Hans Zimmer, when asked to discuss his approach to composing the score for the 2014 film, Interstellar, a film of whose plot he knew nothing. Zimmer’s words strikingly relate to the ways that narrative, plot, and content interact in “Black Museum,” the final episode of the dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror.
The Ancient Sage’s Teaching Fulfilled: The Resolution of Confucian and Folk Tensions in “Student Yi Peers Over the Wall”
The romance “Student Yi Peers Over the Wall,” written by monk and scholar Kim Si-Sup in 15th century Korea, bears a remarkable similarity to “Ying-ying’s Story,” an account probably based on a true story (Yu 183) written by the politician Yuan Zhen in the Tang dynasty of China.
The Fight for the Sisterhood Phallus: A Psychoanalytic Examination of “Grave”
Julia Ducournau’s Grave views sisterhood rivalry through a bitingly horrific lens. The power hierarchy delegated by le bizuntage – the hazing culture of French university – along with the “sadomasochistic” and “gory” nature of a sisterhood carved down to its most primitive form stages Alexia’s violent and abusive relationship with her older sister Justine (Ducournau, 2017).