I grew up in the remote northwest of Ireland, where one night I opened Kafka’s The Castle by accident and found myself trapped for good. When I began my BA in German & English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, I soon discovered that the bafflement, frustration and awe I had experienced on first reading were only increased by the alien sounds and squiggles of the original German. It was a fitting start to a meandering undergraduate career shaped both by an impatience to find out more – which resulted in a year spent researching Kafka, Joyce and Robert Musil at the University of Freiburg, funded by the DAAD – and by an underlying sense of literature’s irreducible mysteries. I recently completed this first degree, having been awarded a TCD Foundation Scholarship, the Carr-Jackson Dissertation Prize and a Gold Medal for outstanding final results.
My research has tended to focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, and on Austrian and Irish literature in particular. At Oxford, I will be delving deeper into the turn of the last century and Austrian modernism, as well as exploring the interconnections between literature and visual culture in Germany since the Weimar Republic. The prospect of learning more about other subjects from my fellow Ertegun scholars is a welcome one: my instinct has always been to work comparatively, and I most enjoy finding unexpected associations between texts, literatures and disciplines. My BA dissertation drew on contemporary philosophy, film and visual images in order to compare texts by Austrian writer Christoph Ransmayr and Swiss novelist Christian Kracht that seemed, at first glance, very different; I hope to expand on this topic in later doctoral study. My proposed MSt thesis, meanwhile, centres on the interplay between boredom and attention in novels by Kathrin Röggla and David Foster Wallace. Among the other avenues I would like to investigate this year are nature writing, the philosophy of speculative realism, and nostalgia.
Naturally enough for a language student, I love travelling, exploring unfamiliar places and making new friends: I spent the long summers of my undergrad years working and studying in Germany and Austria, including a stint at the Humboldt University of Berlin on a DAAD summer scholarship. I also enjoy running and hiking, graphic novels, musicals, and indulging my caffeine addiction.
The Humanities and the values of open-mindedness, creativity and intercultural exchange that the Ertegun program represents seem to grow more important with each year that passes. The opportunity to meet and work alongside such inspiring scholars of every discipline and from all over the world is a dream come true, and I am deeply grateful to have been selected. Like many others, I would not be at Oxford without the astounding generosity of Mica and Ahmet Ertegun. Now to make the most of it.