Graduate Student Sylvie Thode on “Why do we do what we do in criticism, and how do we do it?”

February 27, 2024

Woman with brown hair sits at a desk with one hand holding a book downSylvie Thode is a graduate student for the English department, whose work focuses on gender and sexuality studies, textual criticism, and drama. After having Sylvie as my graduate student instructor for a course on Shakespeare and talking with her about her research, I realized she would be an amazing addition to our column, as her work centers literary studies, but is highly informed by other disciplines within the Arts and Humanities. 

Firstly, I would love to hear more about how you chose to pursue a graduate degree in English, and what your research currently focuses on. 

I first started thinking about grad school in my junior and senior years of college. Where I went to undergrad, students do long research papers as upperclassmen: we had a thirty-page research paper as juniors and then a hundred-plus-page senior thesis. It was a big part of our undergraduate education. I found that, as I was working on those, I really loved digging into long-term research. By the time I finished my thesis, I didn’t want to stop—I still had so many questions open in my mind that I felt I hadn’t had the time to answer yet, and I felt like grad school would be a good place to start thinking about those things more. 

I also have always liked teaching. I taught middle-school after school throughout college, and I felt like I would really enjoy the teaching aspect of grad school. Grad school is really composed of two main things: one is your own research, and one is teaching. I felt like I wanted to do more of both, so that was that. I was also really lucky in undergrad that I had a couple of mentors who really encouraged me to apply to grad school, and they convinced me that I would be a good fit for it. 

As for my research, I work on poetry and poetics, with particular focus on poetry from the HIV/AIDS crisis. In addition to the poetry, I think about the state of literary criticism and literary theory in that time as well. Beginning in the late ’80s, and following the work of people like the queer theorist Eve Sedgwick, literary criticism started to take a very self-reflexive look at itself, and ask, “Why do we do what we do in criticism, and how do we do it?” Many of those questions came out of queer theory, and, I would argue, out of the world historical crisis of HIV/AIDS. Part of my project going forward is going to be to trace the interrelation of those three things–literary criticism, HIV, and poetry–at that particular point in history, and think about some of its lingering effects now in criticism. 

Division of Arts & Humanities