Featured Minds: Henry Bernard

Henry is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara.  He specialized in Literature and the Mind in the English Department, and helped bring together fellow Mind-inclined students as an undergraduate representative for Lit and Mind.  He currently works at PathPoint as a Direct Support Professional, helping individuals with disadvantages and those with physical, developmental, or psychiatric disabilities reach their fullest potential.  Read on to learn more about his experience with Lit and Mind and its applicability to everyday life, and to see excerpts from “Feeling Attachments in Dickens’ Great Expectations.”  Congratulations, Henry!

How did you first get interested in studying literature and the mind?

At the end of my first year at UCSB, I took a class taught by Professor Kay Young called “Comic Turn of Mind.”  I feel as if my college education began there.  Never before had I been exposed to such meaningful material.  Throughout college, Literature and the Mind courses, mostly taught by Professor Young, inspired me to ask questions–to wonder and wander until I arrived at an understanding of my own passions and feelings.  My favorite class was Professor Young’s “The Meaning of Life,” in which we studied my favorite literary work, “Notes from Underground,” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Literature and the Mind provided a community in which I found genuine, deep people with interesting ideas.  Professor Young, as an extraordinary teacher and mentor, provided the sparks with which I would kindle my own fire of learning.

After a year of helping gather students to study the theme of “intersubjectivity,” what are your thoughts on this topic now?

Essential to our humanity is the search of meaning.  We must ask ourselves: why do I exist?  The meaning of our existence is fundamentally relational, for we come to know ourselves by coming to know others.  The self takes shape through interaction with the not-self.  Forms of otherness affect us, whether this be family, friends, strangers, enemies, authors, artists, lovers, lost ones.  The minds we meet in life define us, and intersubjectivity provides a path by which we can better understand our relational nature.  A life lived intentionally, with a deep, empathic awareness of the ways we affect one another, is a life rooted in humanity, connecting us to the essence of our existence.

Where do you think the study of literature in the mind is headed, or should be headed?

Hopefully Lit and the Mind continues to emphasize relationally, exploring the connections between self and other.  With this emphasis, Lit and Mind should stress the importance of empathy and imagination.  If taught to imagine the feelings of others, young minds will be encouraged to welcome difference.  I’d also like to see Lit and Mind think more about ambiguity and its effects on the mind.  Ideally, Lit and Mind will move people toward more meaningful lives, in which people feel connected to themselves, to the natural world, and to one another.

What would you like to tell current or prospective English Majors, or Literature and the Mind specialists, at UCSB?

Read as many books as possible.  Take a class with Professor Young.  Immerse yourself in nature.  Seek out meaningful moments and connections.  Don’t fear vulnerability.  Privilege passion and feeling above all else.

 

Excerpts from Henry’s paper “Feeling Attachments in Dickens’ Great Expectations,” composed for Kay Young’s course entitled Cognitive Dickens and drawing on sources ranging from Freud to contemporary studies of attachment and cognition:

Attachment informs cognition. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, different forms of attachment yield different ways of thinking. Pip’s realization of his secret benefactor fuels in him a newfound sense of agency and truthfulness in his interactions with Miss Havisham and Estella. Miss Havisham internalizes the loss of her lover, and her insecurities manifest in outward anger as Pip detaches from her. Estella is unfeeling toward Pip and removes herself from relationality, while Pip develops his sense of identity in relation to his feelings for Estella. Miss Havisham projects her loss upon Estella and Pip and feels her misery all over again when Estella and Pip reenact her trauma.

 

In “Chapter Forty-Four,” with the mystery of his benefactor known, Pip addresses himself to Miss Havisham and Estella with a newfound sense of identity. As soon as Miss Havisham and Estella see Pip, they see “an alteration” in him (380). Pip’s relation to others changes when he realizes his great expectations. His statement, “I have found out who my patron is,” immediately focuses the scene (381). All that proceeds his statement is the effect of his discovery on two of his deepest attachments. Pip’s language is direct and clear, reflecting clarity within his sense of self. Pip requests money from Miss Havisham on Herbert’s behalf, and he “reddened a little” in doing so (382-383). Now independent and no longer bound by the false assumption that Miss Havisham is his patron, Pip gains agency in interacting with Miss Havisham. He also reveals his attachment to Herbert and embodies the compassion he has for Herbert as he blushes. Pip grounds his expectations in truth rather than speculation and brings honesty to his attachments.

 

Pip is no longer dependent on Miss. Havisham, and she becomes defensive as he seeks the truth from her. As Pip brings up Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham responds in a “firm tone” (381). Miss Havisham’s tone betrays her sensitivity to the topic. Reprimanding Miss Havisham for leading him on, Pip asks, “Was that kind?” (381). Pip’s question challenges Miss Havisham’s character in a way previously impossible due to the mystery of his benefactor. With no ability to question his patron, Pip cannot exist as an individual apart from his patron. In inquiring information of Miss Havisham, Pip shifts the balance of power and illustrates the independence of his cognition. Miss Havisham’s reaction illustrates her guilt toward Pip. She cries, “Who am I?” and strikes her stick upon the floor, proceeding in wrath, “Who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?” (381). She repeatedly questions her own identity, for her anger is concentrated inward. Her internal indignation stems from the traumatic separation from her loved one. As Freud observes, “The shadow of the object fell upon the ego” (course reader 72). Miss Havisham’s loss is a shadow darkening her ego, for her suffering confuses her ego. As Pip questions her identity, she becomes enraged, for her identity is uncertain and veiled by the past disappointment. Attempting to conceal her internal suffering, she lashes out at Pip. Her anger protects her ego from guilt, for she refuses to feel guilt for her contribution to Pip’s disillusionment. She wields a stick as her material object with which she can strike out at her environment. Feeling the endangerment of her ego, Miss Havisham attacks her environment in order to distance herself from others and how others make her feel. Miss Havisham does not allow herself to feel, for as Freud elucidates, her ego is complicated “due to ambivalence” (course reader 76). Her relationality is ambivalent, evidenced by her sudden outburst. Miss Havisham claims, “You made your own snares. I never made them” (382). Miss Havisham distinctly separates herself from Pip, as she emphasizes “I” in contrast to “you.” In opposing her actions to Pip’s actions, Miss Havisham seeks to remove responsibility from her own ego. However, the harder she tries to separate her feelings from Pip, the clearer her attachment to him becomes. Miss Havisham is defensive because Pip actively affects her ego. Her words are beyond her immediate control, as they “flashed out of her in a wild and sudden way” (382). Miss Havisham is attached to Pip, and his detachment from her elicits resistance and insecurities within her which manifest in outward anger. Pip’s detachment from Miss Havisham is possible because he no longer depends on her as his patron.

 

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