Vassar Critical Journal

The Vassar College English Department Student Journal of Critical Essays

To begin this edition of the Vassar Critical Journal, I’d like to, on the behalf of the Editorial Board, express a debt of gratitude to all of our contributors. Editorial work is often depicted as a slog, but the Board found no such tedium in our curation of this edition. We learned something from every essay we read, whether we accepted or rejected it, and the depth and breadth of our contributors’ interest and knowledge astounded us. Every step of the process, from initial evaluation to final editing, was a privilege for the team, especially the opportunity to work directly with our contributors, who were to-a-person gracious in regards to our suggestions. The result, we hope, is a journal that illuminates the work that inspired our contributors and ourselves, while expanding the frameworks and lenses through which this work is traditionally read.

As this year’s journal began to take shape, we noticed a throughline that connected all of our favorite pieces. Consistently, the most thought-provoking essays evaluated by us were ones that recontextualized canonical texts by emphasizing bodily and ideological alterity. Zhiyue Ding’s “‘Crip Time’ for the Compsons: Reading the Compson Family as a Disabled Body in The Sound and The Fury ” reads The Sound and the Fury’s Compson family as a disabled body, examining how using different modes of time in the novel “challeng[es] compulsory able-bodiedness by providing alternative views towards temporality and futurity.” Chenxuan Hu’s “Cultural Distinction and Asexual Selfhood in Henry James’ The American” is a thorough examination of the protagonist’s expatriated and self-made identity in aristocratic Paris, drawing on Christopher Newman’s erratic taste and ambiguous sense of self to propose an asexual reading of his character that intersects with class anxiety. The exploration of queer sexualities continues in “Uncanny Desire and the Production of Marginal Gender in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood,” where Bryn Marling explores how marginalized identity is created through defamiliarization of the body, a process which both fabricates and destroys the internal perceptions of marginalized people. Some essays blurred the boundaries between the self and the environment; In “Environmental Processes of Subjectivation in the ‘Proteus’ Episode of Ulysses,” Kai Speirs applies Felix Guattari’s concept of “ecosophy” to the modernist novel, exploring how Joyce depicts Stephen’s subjectivity as produced not only by withdrawn, interior experience but by interaction with the natural environment.

The emphasis on subjectivity and self-actualized identity is of special interest to our contributors. This year’s journal has a particular focus on the literature of the early twentieth century that includes but extends beyond the canonical modernists. All our contributors consult critical theory in some way, as seen in Bryn Marling’s “Caves and Valleys: Grotesque Corporeality and Space in Frank Norris’ McTeague,” which explores the experience of urban modernity in 1890s San Francisco through the lens of Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque. We hope that the Journal’s emphasis on continued scholarship of American literature reflects both this scholarship’s enduring power and its problematic components, and provides further insight into the works discussed.

The work of further illuminating these texts, though, is never finished. As we learned from this year’s crop of submissions, there is always further work to do, more perspectives to be drawn upon. These new ways of conceptualizing selfhood are ever-evolving; in Alexander Swift’s “Look Who’s Talking: The Evolution of the Black Public Intellectual from Kelley to Smith,” for instance, the role of the individual as a public force is examined and critiqued in the context of broader movements and institutions. In these six essays, we believe that we’ve only scratched the surface. We thank our contributors for their work, and hope that you enjoy what we have curated for you.

Thank you,

Willem Doherty ‘25

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