2020 Drake Award: Undergraduate & Graduate

richard drake award for student writing

Undergraduate/English

Noah Belanger

“The Eternity of Memory: Knausgaard, Augustine, and the Fictive Self Portrait of My Struggle”

Abstract: Much of the criticism surrounding Karl Ove Knausgaard’s book My Struggle has to do with its form, which disregards traditional ideas of genre in favor of something that is autobiography and fiction, narrative and philosophical handbook. This essay, however, is primarily concerned with the existential questions the book raises. The literary and psychoanalytic contexts of these existential questions offer an opportunity for a new interpretation of the book’s form. Knausgaard is obsessed with time and how to locate a stable human self within ever shifting temporalities. In this way, Knausgaard’s work is part of a long tradition of semiautobiographical writing that questions the nature of the temporal subject, and in particular, My Struggle can be seen as a modern iteration of Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine celebrates memory as a human reflection of the eternal nature of God, but since memory is only an imitation of eternity, Augustine never truly resolves his anxieties. My Struggle, however, accepts the psychoanalytic notion of the self as a construction of narrative, and as a result, Knausgaard’s writing knowingly blends fiction and nonfiction into one form, a fictive self-portrait. The form of My Struggle, therefore, is Knausgaard’s answer to the existential questions that plague him, and the memory on which the book’s 3600 pages are based is a semi-fictional creation that reasserts the self in a modified version of the Augustinian celebration of memory.

Graduate/Environmental Philosophy

André Kushnir

“Overcoming Climate Crisis Apathy Through Virtual Ethics”

Abstract: One of the major issues facing contemporary environmental decision making is inconsequentialism—the idea that the sustainable actions of the one (or few) are inefficacious in a culture in which the super-majority acts harmfully towards the environment. According to Ronald Sandler, this happens for one of three reasons: 1) there is no political arrangement in place to address these issues; 2) there is a political arrangement, but it is inadequate to address the problem; 3) there is an adequate arrangement but the costs to the individual of contribution are greater than that of not complying. This essay gives examples of why all three of these drivers of inconsequentalism accurately describe the socio-ethical conditions in the United States. Then, I discuss how we can overcome our atomistic way of thinking about responsibility that results in the driver 3) of inconsequentalism—the one that still remains even if adequate policy is in place—by replacing it with a relational ontology. Finally, I argue that it is through practicing virtue ethics that we will best be able to actualise this relational ontology. The future we envision through environmental thinking is going to require some fundamental changes in our behaviours; in order to see these changes through to their ends, we will need to have a practice that compliments our principles: this paper attempts to give an idea of what that practice might look like.

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