“My official concentration is ‘literature and philosophy,’ but at the center of it all is existentialism. For the past year and a half I’ve been writing a collection of existential fiction, which is now about a hundred pages. By ‘existential literature’ I'm referring to such books as Notes from Underground and Nausea, which took philosophical concepts like dread and made them concrete by showing characters actually struggling with them. I’m interested in what it is about that branch of philosophy that lends itself to fiction so well.
“How I got to this point has been a really organic process. I knew I wanted to study literature, but toward the end of my first year I realized I also needed something more specific. I had taken Philosophical Reasoning with Karen Gover, and existentialism interested me. That’s when I went to my advisor, Mark Wunderlich.
“Mark has been a guide for me the entire time I’ve been here, and working with him, I began to use existentialism as a lens through which to look at literature and other subjects. The next year, I took Existentialism and Phenomenology. I took a course on the history of Europe between the two world wars, and a literature class on Kafka—that’s existentialism right there. And then last fall, I studied abroad in Copenhagen and took a class on Kierkegaard—who is regarded as the father of existentialism—in the same building where he himself studied.
“I’m working on two senior projects. One is a philosophy thesis addressing writers such as Camus and Sartre, who wrote both fiction and philosophy. I'm arguing that the literary aspect of existentialism is part of what makes it so relatable and, for lack of a better word, real. The other is the short story collection, which I first began in Becky Godwin’s Reading and Writing Short Stories class; I had always wanted to write fiction, but never fully completed a story until I took that class. Now I have nine stories for the collection and four that I’m still working on. Recently it came into my head exactly how I’m going to structure and order them. I’m excited to look at these ideas from both sides: the creative and the critical. When I think about graduating and having these two huge stacks of paper in front of me, the thesis and the fiction, it’s a really satisfying image.
“Bennington puts so much emphasis on interdisciplinary work, and what I’m studying has been a perfect vehicle for that. At my Plan meeting we were joking that the Plan process itself is almost existential. It’s this blank canvas that you have to make something out of—you have guidance, but ultimately it's up to you.”