Buried in Books and Drowning in Coffee: The English Senior Thesis

The process of writing my English thesis has gone a little like this:

– image from gunshowcomic.com

I check my library account every other day to renew books I forgot I even had, yet cannot bear to return because I might need them (read: I can’t find them under the piles of notes littering my living room floor). My notebook is scattered with random snippets of ideas, directions, and options for this paper. I have Post-It notes galore, dancing like rainbow-colored confetti among creamy, pale pages of literary theory. My books are dog-eared and graffiti-ed with annotations. My head is brimming with harpoons and tattoos, sperm whales and peg legs, anguished isolation and the camaraderie of true friendship, and that eerie, colorless “intangible malignity.”

Some days are better than others. Sometimes I can spend five hours in the library working diligently on sussing out the root of Ahab’s traumatic amputation and its effect on his psyche. Other days, it’s like pulling teeth to even pick up Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, let alone consider a whale.

I’ve always been one for a challenge, so, naturally, I chose to undertake Melville’s 663 page behemoth, Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. Dr. Davis first introduced my American Renaissance class to the whopping whale of a tale last spring and I was hooked (all puns, previous and following, are absolutely intended). If you haven’t read it, and I strongly suggest you pick it up for a taste, the book is an American classic for a reason: it’s a masterpiece of adventurous pursuit, with a monomaniacal peg-legged captain intent on revenge at any cost, tangled with the spirituality of a whirlwind, unexpected friendship, and ending with a single survivor floating on a coffin in the great, blue ocean. Rip out my heartstrings, why don’t you!?

Right now, I’m about 12 pages into my final paper. I’m exploring and juxtaposing the bodily experience of pain and trauma with the redemptive potential of touch, and it’s going swimmingly (not really, I’m actually drowning in the work–throw me a buoy!).

I haven’t reached the panic-stricken phase where I start pumping coffee into my veins with an IV or chasing people around asking, “Hast ye seen the white whale??” But I’m sure this breach of sanity is just on the horizon. The due date for our final paper, all 20-25 pages, is fast approaching, which is terrifying but also exciting–kind of like a whaling journey, I’d imagine.

All I need to do is pin my ideas to the deck and strip them sinew by sinew, then boil them in oil to concentrate the gritty, raw reality of my paper into the page parameters. If you’re at all interested in the bodily experience of pain, the effects of traumatic amputation, the redemptive potential of woven camaraderie, or you’re just a fan of whales–go out on a limb and let’s chat.

Wish me luck as I, along with my fellow English Senior Seminar students, embark upon our final journey in the department. May our thesis statements have always have a clear porpoise, our ideas be supported by an orca-stra of textual evidence, and our final papers be over-whale-ming.

– Rachel Tennison ’16


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