Academic passion

Even before I officially declared my major, I knew I wanted to write an English thesis. If anyone asked me why, I likely would not have been able to produce a satisfyingly articulate answer. It wasn’t as if I had an idea in mind, let alone a well fleshed-out topic that I thought could span a year of sustained inquiry and 60-plus pages of dedicated writing. The thesis writing process itself naturally seemed daunting, but, as a first-year and sophomore, I also understood it as a far-off “eventually” that would happen to work itself out, like graduation, finding a job and paying rent.

The point was that I knew I liked to read, write and think – Williams taught me that much – and that I loved literature, especially weird literature. But I never expected, in those early years, to end up writing a thesis that was equally weird, and even stranger, that was so simultaneously personal and all encompassing. Over the next five-and-a-half weeks, I will conclude a year’s work on my English thesis, which analyzes what I understand to be the philosophical function of synesthesia, the mixing of the perceptual senses, in William Faulkner’s writing. At this point in the year, I, like almost all senior thesis students, am exhausted and eager to finish. But I am also pleasantly surprised that this once-daunting process has proven to be manageable, and even fun.

The “fun” exists in my personal connection to my topic. As those who know me well have heard countless times, I have grapheme-color synesthesia, a neurological cross-wiring in the brain that causes me to understand each number and letter (and some whole words) as appearing in color. Others with synesthesia may see musical notes or chords in color, taste words, feel sounds or even perceive letters and numbers as having genders and personalities. Hence, the weirdness. But for me, synesthesia isn’t weird because I’ve had it as long as I can remember. For me, it’s just as natural as seeing or hearing.

But you can imagine the excitement I felt when I started stumbling across synesthetic descriptions in literature, especially in the modernist and post-modernist writings of Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce and Faulkner. Once I got over my initial surprise and delight, I decided that it couldn’t be a mere coincidence that synesthesia was so prolific in these writers’ works and the seeds of my thesis proposal were planted. At the useful and necessary suggestion of some of my professors, I narrowed down my inquiry to just Faulkner’s work, and rightfully so. I am not necessarily overwhelmed, but have learned the truth in “less is more.”

I think it is fair to say that, throughout the course of the year and my project, I have learned some other “truths” as well. Something I explore in my thesis is synesthesia as a way of thinking, beyond just sense perception, as a holistic, connection-based means of understanding the world. The thought stemmed from a necessary argument I needed to make in my academic piece, but over time, it became apparent that such a way of thinking in part defines who I am, synesthetically and otherwise.

Needless to say, I’ve learned more about myself during this academic project than I have during any other. Without sounding overly attached to my work (though I am), I want to encourage those of you who are about to write off the senior thesis project as too daunting, too boring, too isolating or too difficult to reconsider and those of you who are considering a senior thesis to consider it even more. I spent last semester in a seminar with other English thesis writers, other students who cared just as much about their projects as I did about mine, and that experience – and the encouragement and collaborative commiseration it provided – was invaluable. I am lucky enough to have one-on-one meetings with my advisor in which we work through nuanced questions in a way that is not as possible in a larger class. I hope to have at least in part busted the “impossible” myth that surrounds thesis writing.

But I should clarify what I mean by asking you to “consider” writing a thesis. What I mean is, consider your investment in the process. If you do not have a burning passion for your topic, a personal connection, an age-old interest or a newfound fascination, then perhaps a thesis is not for you. In the beginning, I wanted to write a thesis, but perhaps I wanted it for the wrong reasons or for no reason at all. Of course, if you can find something that you think needs to be investigated, explored, uncovered, no matter how seemingly difficult, by all means, dig it up. I guarantee you’ll discover yourself in the dirt.

Taylor Bundy ’13 is an English and philosophy major from Lancaster, Penn. She lives in Brooks.

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