Romance Studies Honors Best Essays
At our end-of-year-party, a number of graduate students were awarded essay prizes in Spanish and French. Spanish essay prizes went to Vasileios Ioannou, Aura Dovidjenko, Adel Faitaninho, and Gerry Dunn, and French essay prizes to Sophia Mizouni and Isadora Nicholas.
In “Mudarra González, un héroe castellano,” Vasileios Ioannou brings to the fore the problem of characterization and poses questions relevant to the growth of Mudarra González, from minor character in Estoria de España, into full personhood in Crónica de 1344. Vasileios associates this textual transformation with historical circumstances of medieval Spain, showing how Mudarra González became the first great Castilian hero.
Close to the topic of characterization is Aura Dovidjenko’s analysis of “presence” in Golden Age theater and narrative, through the case of Aldonza/Dulcinea. In her essay “Dulcinea y el problema de la presencia,” Aura studies the relationship between natural and arbitrary signs in the realm of theater and poetry showing how, in the age of Cervantes, the human body was presented both as a text of artificial signs and as a representation of nature. Aura studies the Second Part of the Quijote through a creative and insightful exploration of the somatization of the actor’s body.
“No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain”, wrote Susan Sontag in her classic book Reading the Pain of Others. Adel Faitaninho picks up this universal theme in her essay “Vallejo y Picasso: ‘en humanidad su arte, en arte su guerra’”, a comparative study of Vallejo’s España aparta de mi este caliz and Picasso’s Guernica, works which bring the resistance and dignity of victims of war near to us; they make us engaged with the pain of others despite the inevitable distance, in space and time.
Gerry Dunn explores similar ethical concerns within the context of the American cinema of the Mexican Revolution. Gerry studies the way Sam Peckinpah deals with the theme of war and violence through a reworking of an American foundational myth, the far west, in The Wild Bunch. Gerry highlights Peckinpah’s critique of violence through the paradoxical enactment of graphic violence.
In “De Mise en bouche à Eye Candy,” Isadora Nicholas analyzes the transition of Philippe Dijan’s 2003 novella, Mise en bouche, into a graphic novel. In the story based on the terrorist takeover of an elementary school in the outskirts of Paris, Isadora shows how the illustrations highlight certain elements of the novella and transform its impact. Its visual representation of the modern isolation and dehumanization of the characters allows it to communicate our immersion in hyper-media coverage and the commoditization of violence, and to reveal the dangers they bring to society, in a way that pure literature cannot.
Sophia Mizouni’s “Microcosme parisiennes sous verre: la serre dans Renée de Zola” studies Zola’s representation of the effects of Haussmann’s transformations of Paris on the lives of those who interact with the city. This new Paris transforms everyday life into a spectacle, and Sophia shows how the main character, Renée, has become a spectacle who needs to be displayed in order to be validated. For her theater stage, she chooses the greenhouse in her new showcase mansion, a miniature version of the new Parisian iron and glass structures; however, instead of a validation of her reality, her scenes in the greenhouse merely reveal the artificiality of her existence, end in her death, and reveal the dehumanization of machine age technology and life.