Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

MALS story


Meg Cook MALS '20 reflects upon her Nabokov paper and being a Reed MALS student.

The Reed MALS program is pleased to announce that Meg Cook has been awarded the Best Interdisciplinary Writing of 2018 award by Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies. This is the second year that a Reedie has won the award (Mark Pettibone in 2017), which recognizes excellence in interdisciplinary scholarship from students and faculty in Graduate Liberal Studies programs nationally. Cook’s paper “America’s Poshlust Vacuum: The Young-Girl, Émigré, and Artist in Nabokov’s Lolita,” traces the complex intersections between mid-century American identity, the rise of the “teenager” as subject and object of capitalist culture, and the anxieties of the artist within the novel. Poshlust is the Russian term for something “falsely attractive,” the word Nabokov used to describe the specious promise of advertising: “The rich poshlust emanating from advertisements … is due not to their exaggerating (or inventing) the glory of this or that serviceable article but to suggesting that the acme of human happiness is purchasable and that its purchase somehow ennobles the purchaser.” In her paper Cook investigates Lolita through the lens of poshlust. As Nabokov spins an American landscape filled with commercial excess and the false promises of consumerism, Cook traces the philosophical underpinnings of this cultural landscape and the price it extorts from both creators and consumers. As both a participant in and product of poshlust, Lolita herself represents both consumer and consumed, her body an object of false salvation for Humbert Humbert.

Cook traveled to the University of Arizona, Tempe, to accept her award at the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Conference in October. You can read her paper here on the Confluence website. She took the time to answer a few questions about her paper and her time in the MALS program.

1. Where did you get the idea for this paper? Did you come across any surprises when you were writing it?
This paper originated in work I did for Lena Lencek’s "Vladimir Nabokov: The Novels" in spring 2017. Aside from the usual surprises (some helpful, some not) that inevitably come up when researching a topic and reading what’s already been written, I think what surprised me about this paper was the process of writing it and how easily the ideas came together in my head. I had some pretty disparate avenues of research with this project—neocapitalist manipulation of young girls, Nabokov’s memoirs and anxieties as an artist, the midcentury origin of the “teenager”—so when it all came through as a cohesive argument, I was like, “Whoa! I did it!”

2. What initially drew you to the MALS program?
After graduating from a huge state school in Florida, I didn’t feel that I pushed myself, academically, as much as I’d wanted. I wanted to further my liberal arts education at a school with smaller classes and greater academic rigor that would allow me to think as big as possible (I also wanted to escape the Florida heat). Reed’s allowed me to hone in on particular areas of interest while expanding upon myriad academic disciplines and modes of thought. I feel supported by the brilliant professors I’ve met, challenged by my peers, and accomplished in the work I’ve done.

3. What has been your favorite part about studying in the MALS program?
As a lifelong voracious reader and undergraduate English major, my academic interests include literary criticism and critical theory. I love that reading texts through the lens of different theoretical frameworks deepens one’s understanding of the text, as well as informs broader thought processes outside the classroom. I am particularly interested in the role of the Author and its function (as well as the Reader), and everyone’s implication in the writing/reading process. Other areas of interest include semiotics, linguistics, rhetoric, film theory, and gender theory. My favorite part about studying in the MALS program is how self-directed it is, and how I’m encouraged to explore different areas of interest. Most of my work has revolved around my interest in literature, critical theory, and literary criticism—but when I can supplement my work with knowledge I’ve gained in other, not-specifically-related courses, I think it really enlivens my writing and gives my work a greater depth. Favorite and most informative classes at Reed have been Lena’s class, Laura Leibman’s "America Dead and Undead" (Summer 2015), Jay Dickson’s "James Joyce" (Summer 2016), Dana Katz’s "Renaissance Space" (Fall 2016), Nathalia King and Luc Monnin’s "Literary Theory" (Fall 2017), and, currently, Ülker Gökberk’s "The Immigrant as Protagonist" (Fall 2018).

4. What do you do when you aren’t at Reed?
I work full-time at the Northwest Film Center, a regional media arts nonprofit (and sister organization to the Portland Art Museum) managing the Film Center’s membership program and helping with development and fundraising efforts including grant writing, managing events, and producing film festivals. On weekends you’ll likely find me reading in a bagel shop.

5. What are your future plans in MALS?
Next semester will be my final semester of coursework, and then I’ll probably spend the summer doing pre-research and work on my thesis, which I hope to write in Fall 2019. I’m not sure where my thesis will end up, subject-wise, but I hope to further explore some topics I touch upon in my Nabokov paper (though, I’m not sure I can spend much more time with Lolita!)


Congratulations to Meg and Mark!
Julie Felix, MALS '13