MCLA English Professor to Complete Brandeis University Fellowship

MCLA Professor Victoria PapaMCLA Assistant Professor of English Victoria Papa.

This academic year, Assistant Professor of English Victoria Papa will have the opportunity to delve deep into her scholarly research via a fellowship at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center. 

Papa, whose research focuses on cultural trauma and the way it is presented in literature and art from the modernist period to the present, is currently working on a book project that details a counter-narrative of modernist literature and traumatic experience.

She is interested how literature approaches trauma in the everyday. Traditionally, “trauma theory has been formed around an event-based model,” like experiencing a war or violent occurrence, she said. “There has been a very fraught history—both in humanities scholarship and clinical practice—of failing to recognize trauma’s relation to structural forms of oppression. In literature and visual art, particularly by BIPOC, femme-identified, and/or queer writers and artists, we see a more expansive portrayal of trauma that bears witness to the everyday violence of systematic injustice.” At MCLA, Papa teaches a cross-listed English and Honors Program course, “Creativity & Survival,” which explores how creative pursuits offer life-affirming counter-narratives of recognition and resiliency.

Dr. Papa’s book, tentatively titled Aesthetics of Survival: Modernist Literature and Minoritarian Worldmaking, will trace an account of radically experimental modernist writing and its intersection with the rise of psychoanalysis, made popular by Sigmund Freud beginning in the 1890s.

In her fellowship work, Papa will be researching and writing a book chapter that looks at the relationship with Freud and one of his psychoanalysis patients, the modernist poet Hilda Doolittle, better known as H.D. “Much has been said about Freud’s influence on H.D.’s writing, but there is no established account of H.D.’s influence on Freud,” said Papa. 

Freud’s last original work before his death, Moses and Monotheism, was completed in 1939. It reinterprets the story of Moses, and in this text, Freud's ideas about trauma and the relationship between creativity and survival become more imaginative. “My theory is that H.D. helped shape Freud’s final offering,” she said.

Though her Brandeis fellowship will be conducted virtually, Papa will have access to the university’s libraries and archives, the chance to work with a graduate student assistant, and opportunities to network with other scholars who focus on a wide range of issues relating to women’s studies. “There is a really strong community of feminist scholars at the center—there are many different generations of scholars represented,” Papa said. “As a millennial, third-wave feminist, I might not always have the opportunity to be in direct contact, or workshopping my work, with a multigenerational feminist community.”

Papa will continue teaching classes through the fall, and was granted a course release via the Three-Credit APR Award by MCLA for the spring semester so that she can conduct academic research. “It’s really affirming to have my research recognized, and chosen to be representative to the work that is coming out of the Women’s Studies Research Center. I’m particularly proud this is a center that’s been doing feminist work for a really long time,” she said. “It’s great for MCLA to have faculty involved in scholarly and artistic endeavors with other institutions.”