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Presidential Undergraduate Prize Citation 2014

2014 Prize Winner:

This year's Presidential Undergraduate Prize for Best Undergraduate Essay on a Comparative Topic goes to Sherilyn Hellberg of Columbia University, for her paper, “Joyce’s “Mamafesta”: On Form, Femininity and the Awakening of ALP”.

This is an excellent thesis, for its scope, stylistic elegance and scholarly confidence.  It makes a persuasive argument in a lucid, well-referenced way, avoiding an easy re-claiming of Finnegan’s Wake for a female voice while at the same time making a strong and insistent case for ALP as a force for coherence.  Throughout the thesis Ms. Hellberg’s prose often imitates the poetic qualities of Joyce’s and Cixous’ texts, and achieves clarity and eloquence even when addressing the thorniest of textual moments. It generally avoids falling prey to the temptation to idealize or sentimentalize the chaos of Finnegans Wake; rather, its consistent attention to the interplay of multiple languages in Joyce’s text focuses on the linguistic play that is crucial to its performance and presentation. In terms of thinking comparatively, this thesis demonstrates how one text is, in itself, a comparative piece that ruptures binary understandings of singularity and multiplicity. Through the engagement with Cixous and the focus on femininity, Hellberg also scrutinizes gender binaries.

Although the concept of the gestalt may be a falsely imposed sense of coherence on a text that ruptures, and while a slightly more complex approach might reconsider the Derridean elements at play in Cixous’ early argument about Finnegans Wake, the level of achievement that this thesis presents is comparable – and at times superior – to that of many Masters theses.

2014 Presidential Undergraduate Prize Committee:
Esther Whitfield, Brown University (Chair)
Erin Labbie, Bowling Green State University
George Z. Gasyna, University of Illinois, Urbana