Friday, August 12, 2016

Kenia's Reflection

Watching Monterey Bay waves
Two years ago, when I first attended the Dickens Universe, I found it to be a pleasant sort of culture shock. I had never encountered so many people who loved literature - Dickens in particular - and who were also friendly and approachable. So it was with excitement and anticipation that I arrived once again to the sprawling campus of UC Santa Cruz for another week of laughter, learning, and literature. This year's week has been hectic, there's no denying that, but it's the best kind of hectic. From attending lectures, to analyzing the text in our undergraduate seminar, to wandering the woods (trying not to get lost), to taking the bus downtown and getting ice cream (my new favorite flavor is Peach)- it has been a busy, but well spent week.

It's hard to choose a highlight because every part of the week was a highlight in it's own. So instead of a highlight, I instead choose a cluster of experiences that resonated with me. They all concerned the merging of different subjects: literature, psychology, and programming. Literature and psychology could be second cousins but programming and literature don't seem to have anything in common. At this year's Dickens' Universe, however, two lectures showed me a new way to look at literature from a programming perspective.

The first was a lecture entitled "Digital Dombey" given by Professor Pete Capuano that demonstrated how programming can open up new avenues for literary analysis. This lecture made me very excited because I myself have coded using R, a well known statistic programming language. What further fascinated me was the way he took a quantitative method and used it to support a qualitative analysis. As a person who likes data (and the oftentimes tedious ways of mining it) the lecture left me bursting with new ideas about how to apply other programming languages to literature.

The second lecture almost (almost!) topped "Digital Dombey" and that's because it was based on something I personally love to do- code websites. The lecture, "Synchronic Serial Reading", was not really a lecture but more of a demonstration about a different way to read Dickens (and other Victorian novels). Professor Robyn Warhol displayed a website that had been made to keep track of other novels being published at the same time as, say, Dombey and Son. Aside from the fact that they were using a different platform to analyze Dickens (the web! the internet! code!), what really stuck with me was how even the act of curating such a website allowed them to experience the book in a new way.

In an attempt to keep this reflection from veering into a jumbled mess I'll move on to my third experience. During one of the many moments of mingling, I met Alethia, a graduate student from UCLA, who studies children's literature. As soon as she mentioned that fact, I remembered the classes I've taken in developmental psychology and how play is something essential to development. Alethia and I discussed how literature is a form of play and what implications being exposed to literature at a young age might have on development. In essence, we talked about something any lover of literature can attest to- how literature can change us, make us think critically, allow us to see from a different perspective. And in the case of the USC NAI Theater Workshop, how literature can offer an outlet for the students and their community.

I can't help but already be excited for the next Dickens Universe. This was only my second year, but I already feel invested. The friendships I've made, the new ideas I've encountered, and the general happiness I've felt encourage me to not think of this trip as a one time thing. I hope to be back again in Santa Cruz- not only because the weather is amazing and there are cute deer around, but also because I don't want my experience at the Dickens Universe to be finite. Books inevitably end but there will always be another book, another story, ready to be opened and experienced. Here's to next year's story!

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1 comment:

  1. Nice reflection, Kenia. Interesting week this year. Professor Grossman (UCLA)