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Birger Vanwesenbeeck
SUNY Research Foundation, College at Fredonia (Fredonia, NY 14063-1127)
Loss in Translation: Mourning Across Language in Plath, Pynchon, and Whitehead

The writing of one chapter of a book on the linguistic challenge of articulating mourning in three American authors:  poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) and novelists Thomas Pynchon (1937- ) and Colson Whitehead (1969 - ).

Although psychologists and literary scholars have long held that the ability to verbalize a loss or trauma constitutes a key-component of the coping process, there is, to date, very little research on the actual linguistic aspect of this process. Is there such a thing as a “native” language of mourning? What happens when the native tongue is somehow unavailable (or undesirable) for mourning? Is it possible to mourn “across language"? These are questions that are at the heart of the three American writers analyzed in my in-progress book manuscript “Loss in Translation”: the poet Sylvia Plath and the novelists Thomas Pynchon and Colson Whitehead. Three chapters of “Loss in Translation” currently exist in draft from. I’m asking for NEH funding for the completion of a fourth chapter that will allow me to extend the notion of mourning-across-language to include a discussion of the issues of slavery and race.

Project fields:
American Literature; Comparative Literature; Literary Criticism

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2019 – 7/31/2019