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Grad Studies: A Thing of Joy Is a Beauty

This doctoral candidate is exploring the role of pleasure in literary scholarship
October 11, 2018

Image of doctoral candidate Amy Fairgrieve

Image of doctoral candidate Amy Fairgrieve
Doctoral student Amy Fairgrieve at the Royal Observatory in London

PhD candidate Amy Fairgrieve (above, at the Royal Observatory in London) received a very competitive Graduate School Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship for 2018-19, allowing her to focus on researching and writing her dissertation "I’ve Got a Bad, Bad Feeling: Rethinking Negative Affect in Literary Studies." Curious about the role of pleasure in literary studies, Fairgrieve is writing about the connection between literary-critical knowledge and literary-critical affect. "As in," she explains, "how does what we think literary knowledge is, or should be, impact our emotional investments and responses to our critical work?"

What was the genesis of your interest in your dissertation topic? Did certain professors significantly nurture the project?

I had a fellowship in the Spring of 2015, just after I finished my preliminary exams, through the Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World (CSPW). I was really flailing around trying to figure out what I wanted to write about and get myself started on the dissertation in earnest. Andy Elfenbein is my dissertation advisor, and at some point in the semester I met with him to talk about what I'd been working on; during that conversation I asked, "Why is there so little joy in literary studies?" Andy just sort of looked at me and said, "Why don't you write about that, then?" I had been reading a few scholars who were railing against what they perceived as a sort of prohibition of pleasure, and I wanted to know whether that was true and how that prohibition might have developed. I hadn't really realized I could write about that. And Juliette Cherbuliez, who was the faculty advisor for that same fellowship, has been really supportive of me and my work, then and now.

"I try to make sure I'm honest
and a little vulnerable with
my students to help create
an atmosphere of trust."

The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship allows a year off from teaching responsibilities. But you've taught multiple classes during your studies here. What do you enjoy most about teaching, and how has being a teacher enhanced your scholarship?

As a teacher I focus heavily on building a classroom community. I try to make sure I'm honest and a little vulnerable with my students to help create an atmosphere of trust and allow for a little fun and humor. My favorite moments are when I can see a classroom community coming together, whether that's because everyone has been having fun as a class or because my students are able to be vulnerable or go out on a limb themselves, trusting me and their classmates to engage with them seriously and respectfully. On that note, teaching has enhanced my scholarship by reminding me how important having a close community of my peers is to the quality of my own work.

If you are not from Minnesota, what has been your favorite discovery, living here?

I'm from the Chicago area, so I'm used to winter, but I love the way that Minnesotans embrace the weather all year long, especially in the winter. I loved stumbling across the annual Loppet Festival one year, where I discovered skijouring, a sport where a single dog pulls its owner on cross country skis. Pretty adorable and weird.