DISCOVERIES | Fall 1995, No. 1
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Cover Art | Cheryl Yun '95
Phrenology Recovered | Gibson '97
The Body as a Sign of Class | Graev '98
NICOLE L. GRAEV, who will graduate in the spring of 1998, has “no definite professional plans” as yet, but is sure that art and writing will somehow play important roles. Both reach back to her life before Cornell: editing her high school’s literary journal, taking courses in the history of art, working independently on poetry (somewhere down the line she “would like to write a book of poems”). The key to good living, Nicole believes, is being able to use her imagination: “I like to create.” And, clearly, too, Nicole likes to contemplate and explicate what others create. Her critique of class as an aspect of representation in two nineteenth-century French paintings won the James E. Rice, Jr. Award, Fall ’94; it was written for Frazer Ward’s Modernism: The Image of the Body (History of Art 105). Nicole lives in Manhattan.
Amblyopsis Spelaeus | Hurvitz '96
JENNIFER HURVITZ, class of ’96, has always wanted to win the Nobel Prize, “but in case that doesn’t happen,” she says, “I would just like to do a lot of research (I was a born lab rat).” Her piece on spending a summer in the genetics labs and patient rooms of Boston’s Children’s Hospital is “a true essay,” written for David Staudt in Writing from Experience (English 135) during the spring of her freshman year; it was selected as the best 135 paper from that term. For Jennifer, whose family have all been artists “in some fashion,” beauty “extends to everything” and is equally compelling wherever it turns up: “I see one beautiful thing in the sciences and I want to understand it; I see another beautiful thing elsewhere and I want to write about it.” After graduate school (in chemistry, her Cornell major), she would like to teach—“so I can corrupt the minds of the young.”
Aquatic Adaptationists | Pace '95
CHRISTOPHER PACE credits Paul Sherman’s course Animal Social Behavior with sparking his interest in the adaptationist program. “The subject of evolution,” he says, “particularly the evolution of behavior, may well prove to be something I study throughout my life.” In that spirit, he might eventually take an advanced degree in Behavioral Ecology (the study of the evolution of animal behavior) if a “conveniently located graduate school” should present itself; meanwhile, he will pursue his other passion: film, especially production and writing screenplays. “Aquatic Adaptationists” was written for Dan Shapiro in Richard Harrison’s Evolutionary Biology (Ecology and Systematics 278) and won Honorable Mention for the Knight Prize for Writing in the Majors, Spring ’95. Chris graduated this past spring with a major in Neuro- biology and Behavior. He grew up in Higganum, Connecticut.
What is Time? | Shocklee '95
PAUL D. SHOCKLEE, who graduated in May of this year, wrote “What Is Time?” as a freshman in The Practice of Prose (English 136), taught by Lauren Kiefer. Paul went on to major in physics, never far from preoccupations with time and its associated effects, and ended up becoming “particularly interested in the possibility of constructing closed timelike curves, that is, time machines.” His graduate work at Princeton will most likely concentrate on theoretical physics, but he believes that it is “the duty of every scientist to educate the public about science.” As suggested by his freshman paper—an essay in two versions envisioning two kinds of audiences—the project of science is, for Paul, closely linked with writing and, more generally, with communicating across disciplinary and rhetorical boundaries. Paul’s essay won the James E. Rice, Jr. Award, Spring ’93.
Reading "The Garden of Forking Paths" | Li '98
JENNY JIE LI, who lived in Beijing, China until she was ten years old, hopes to “survive sleeplessness and poverty long enough to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature or English.” Her special interest as a student of literature lies “in the intersections between critical race theory and feminist theory”; bracing herself against possible charges of naiveté, she nonetheless believes in “the ability of academic discourse to effect real social change.” She did her reading of “Garden of Forking Paths” for Harry Shaw’s seminar, The Reading of Fiction (English 270), winning the Elmer Markham Johnson Prize, Fall ’94. Why Borges? “He is just so smart.” Jenny is a College Scholar and a member of the class of ’98. Since her arrival on this continent, she has “moved around various spots in Maryland.”
Saying Something to Mean Nothing | Martineau '95
KIMBERLY MARTINEAU, a College Scholar with a concentration in psychology, literature, and anthropology, graduated this past spring. She envisions her future as “a line-up of -ing words that includes writing, rock-climbing, restoring Italian frescoes, reporting, studying (English, film-related studies, or art restoration), possibly teaching.” Her essay on Stevie Smith’s “Pretty,” which won the James E. Rice, Jr. Award in the spring of Kimberly’s freshman year, was written for The Reading of Poetry (English 271), taught by Dorothy Mermin. It was her seminar instructor, Kimberly claims, who first alerted her to the elasticities of language by her refusal to call the “chair” of the English Department a “chairman.” Writing has been central to Kimberly’s studies at Cornell, and she intends “to go on writing as long as reading is still practiced.” Kimberly grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and has been a great traveller, spending semesters in Sri Lanka and Italy.
Women and Voice in Song of Solomon | Kirkham '96
FREDA KIRKHAM, an “apocalyptic lesbian” from California, describes Comparative Literature 103 (Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds, Other Worlds: Fictions of the Americas and Regional Spaces), the freshman seminar in which she wrote her paper on Song of Solomon (James E. Rice, Jr. Award, Fall ’92), as “a spray-painted mural on the brick wall of my first semester.” Her instructor, Gail Holst- Warhaft, introduced her to the fictions not only of Toni Morrison, but also of Grace Paley, Luisa Valenzuela, and Julio Cortazar. From that point forward, she learned to take her cue from “the engaged scholarly types” who have mentored her progress as a College Scholar and helped her to launch what she terms “my life’s work: balancing scholarship and social action.” Freda’s studies at Cornell focus on the Americas—“exploring the hemispheric tango that links literature, personal transformation, and social change.” After Cornell (class of ’96), she plans a Ph.D. in American Studies “or one of its interdisciplinary relatives,” all the while hoping “to approach the millennium with both fists open.”
House of Cards | Kolchinsky '98
PETER KOLCHINSKY, from Andover, Massachusetts, is majoring in biology with a concentration in microbiology, cell biology, genetics and development; he expects to graduate in 1997. His dialogic essay, “House of Cards,” was written for Peggy Burge in Russian Science Fiction (Russian Literature 109) and won Honorable Mention for the James E. Rice, Jr. Award, Spring ’95. It represents some- thing of a departure for one who claims he “can write a mean lab report or biology research paper” but finds himself struggling with creative demons when “there is no clear beginning or end.” In an inspired move, he summons Plato, whose philosophy has long interested him, to assist in building a critique of Alexander Bogdanov’s early twentieth-century work Red Star. After Cornell, Peter expects to go on to graduate school and, from there, to start his own biotech company.
Kannon | Gump '96
STEVEN GUMP spent the summer of 1991 in Japan as an exchange student and, despite entering Cornell as a prospective engineer the following year (his older brother “went off to MIT, where his creative impulses were put on the back burner”), he found himself drawn to Asian Studies, the eventual field of his major. His research into the figure of Kannon, for Jane Marie Law’s Asian Studies 110 (Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Religion) , produced the prize-winning article printed in this issue (James E. Rice, Jr. Award, Fall ’92) and opened the way to a new interest: religious studies. After he graduates from Cornell (class of ’96), Steven plans an extended return trip to Japan, possibly followed by seminary or divinity school. He credits his mother with having taught him “how to write in the first place,” while he was growing up in Richmond, Kentucky.
From the Director | Jonathan B. Monroe
For a number of years, the John S. Knight Writing Program has awarded prizes for outstanding work in the approximately 170 Freshman Writing Seminars taught each semester. In keeping with the Program’s guiding principle that the relationship between language, learning, and writing is a fundamental concern of all academic disciplines, the awards are decided by ad hoc committees composed of faculty drawn from the thirty departments that offer Freshman Writing Seminars.
Clearly, much is to be gained from sharing the results of these efforts. In gathering together some of the prize-winning essays of recent years for this inaugural issue, we hope to provide tangible examples of what students enrolled in the Program might themselves hope to achieve. We also hope to strengthen further the bonds of Cornell’s already vital cross-disciplinary writing community. As is clear from the quality, range, and inventiveness of the essays selected for this issue, the University’s commitment to field-specific writing- intensive courses across the curriculum plays a crucial role at the freshman level and beyond in encouraging the kind of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization on which continued intellectual growth depends.
The collaborative efforts of many dedicated and talented under- graduates, graduate students, and faculty continue to shape and trans- form our thinking about what it means to write and to belong to a community of writers as diverse and dynamic as Cornell’s. While Freshman Writing Seminars, begun in 1967, have long provided a university-wide meeting place for attention to writing, in 1988 former Knight Program Director Harry Shaw began a program for upper- division writing-intensive courses, Writing in the Majors. Now under the able guidance of Keith Hjortshoj, these courses help prepare stu- dents to participate in the construction, revision, and exchange of knowledge within their given fields. Redesigned in 1992 are the upper- level writing courses, English 288/289, Expository Writing. As devel- oped by director Stuart Davis, each English 288–89 section is shaped by a genre or use of expository writing, by the common concerns of several discipines, or by an interdiscipinary topic intimately related to the written medium. Such courses, we hope, help enable Cornell under- graduates to realize their full intellectual potential.
On the occasion of this first issue, special gratitude and recognition are due to Katherine Gottschalk, Director for many years of the Fresh- man Writing Seminars; her contributions to the John S. Knight Writing Program continue to be indispensable. The University is fortunate to have such an invaluable resource and inspiration for all who care about the teaching of writing. The first issue has benefited enormously from the inventive and meticulous work of Bruce Roebal, Administrative Manager of the Knight Program, and from the editorial expertise of Lydia Fakundiny, Senior Lecturer in the Cornell English Department, whose accomplishments include co-authoring a novel, The Restorationist (SUNY Press), and editing The Art of the Essay (Houghton Mifflin). Her help in launching Discoveries and especially her close work with students in the final stages of fine-tuning their essays for publication have been exemplary and are much appreciated.
Many thanks are due also both to Don Randel, the University’s new Provost and Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences during the two years during which this project began to take shape, and to Phil Lewis, Acting Dean of the Arts College, for their strong, steadfast support of writing at Cornell. Finally, we would like to thank the Knight Foundation, whose generous endowments have made this publication possible along with so much else that continues to benefit and strengthen the teaching of writing at Cornell.
Editor's Note | Lydia Fakundiny
If an essay doesn’t at some point surprise the writer, it probably isn’t worth writing. The surprise usually happens somewhere in the process of composing when the thought takes an unpremeditated, perhaps difficult, turn. The new turn is disruptive, the route from start to finish no longer predictable. But something about this disruption and unpredictability is exciting: a fresh possibility has entered the picture.
Now the draft takes on a life of its own in which the writer’s intentions are not merely on record but also under scrutiny. And, now, if the writer cares about the piece in progress and isn’t merely comply- ing with a request for a paper, everything that seemed settled in the planning phase, only to be written out as preconceived, is open to question. A different sort of beginning may be called for along with a more complex staging of the thought across paragraphs, and the end— no longer clearly foreseeable—has more the feel of a door opening than of one politely being shut in the reader’s face. The writing has become a scene of exploration; the composing and revising lay out a route of discovery. As the essay moves into its last phases of rewriting and editing, the sense of discovery imbues every word chosen precisely and well, every phrase and sentence reshaped with just the right emphasis and cadence. Even the lowly comma, nicely placed, sheds light. For the attentive reader such an essay is sheer pleasure, education and adven- ture rolled into one.
The pieces that make up this inaugural issue are that kind of writing. Each bears the productive traces of its author’s search through the terrain of his or her subject and the rhetorical riches of English prose. As a group they range broadly through the disciplines—history, biology, religious studies, physics, literature, art, political philosophy. But there is a kind of creative restlessness in them that resists narrow disciplinary pursuits. Science and social history work hand in hand in “Phrenology Recovered” by Brent Gibson; art criticism meets feminist class analysis in Nicole Graev’s “The Body as a Sign of Class in Courbet’s The Stone Breakers and Manet’s Olympia”; a summer job in a hospital lab becomes a context for pondering genetics, medical practice, and personal values in Jennifer Hurvitz’s “Amblyopsis Spelaeus”; in language accessible to non-scientists, evolutionary theory undergoes critical assessment in Christopher Pace’s “Aquatic Adaptationists”; Paul Shocklee’s “What Is Time?” takes the translation from technical to general one step farther by means of parallel texts; in “Reading ‘The Garden of Forking Paths,’” Jenny Li models the prac- tice of literary criticism as personal reflection and self-reflection; Kim- berly Martineau pushes close reading to an encounter with language as language in “Saying Something to Mean Nothing, Saying Nothing to Mean Something”; Freda Kirkham’s “Women and Voice in Song of Solomon” presents a case study of the politics of identity via a contem- porary novel; “House of Cards” by Peter Kolchinksy constructs its own dialogic fiction as critique of a Soviet utopian work; and Steven Gump’s “Kannon: Figure of the Bodhisattva in Japanese Buddhism” answers personal inquiry by means of wide-ranging research and scholarly synthesis. Both singly and as a group these essays take the reader on intellectual journeys that challenge, stimulate, and inspire.
Special thanks to the artists whose graphics and photos grace this issue and to their instructors in the Art Department for helping us to make Discoveries an all-student publication.