Tag Archives: Digital Literature Review

Blast from the Past: Revisiting Cultural Hauntings in the DLR with Founder Dr. Mix

By: Kylie Poling

Dr. Deborah Mix, Professor of English at Ball State University, obtained her BA at Oglethorpe University, and her MA and PhD at Purdue University. Dr. Mix’s area of expertise relates to experimental writing, especially poetry. Her current published works include literature by Gertrude Stein, Toni Morrison, and many others, ranging in topics from educational pedagogy to 20th-century women’s poetry. She will rejoin the Digital Literature Review for its next issue. Dr. Mix was one of the founders of the DLR, its first ever issue focusing on cultural hauntings. Next year, the DLR will revisit cultural hauntings with Dr. Mix once again at the helm. Recently, Kylie Poling, member of the editorial team for the DLR, conducted an email interview with Dr. Mix to discuss her plans for next year’s journal.

Kylie Poling (KP): Please describe your academic background and/or anything you think is important for readers of the DLR to know about you.

Dr. Deborah Mix (DM): Along with Adam Beach, I founded the DLR back in 2013. Also, despite the course’s focus on ghosts, I’m generally too chicken to watch scary movies or TV shows. So I’ve read The Haunting of Hill House, but I haven’t been brave enough to watch the Netflix series. Sad but true!

KP: Why did you decide to rejoin the DLR this year?

DM: I’m excited to be back with the DLR and to see all the ways the journal has grown since that first year. The technological landscape is so different now than it was 6 years ago, and I know I have a ton to learn. I’ve also continued to think about the ways we, as a culture, are haunted. I’m particularly interested in conversations about ways of understanding absences and erasures.

KP: The theme next year will be similar to the first year the DLR was published. What excites you most about revisiting this topic?

DM: When we chose the ghost theme for the first issue, there were dozens of texts we wanted to teach but didn’t have the time to cover. I’m excited that I’ll get to go back to that list again for this new issue. There will be one repeat on the reading list–Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is incredibly powerful and important–but everything else will be new for 2019-2020.

KP: What are the leading theories you plan to address in the course?

DM: We’ll be drawing on some psychoanalytic theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and feminist theory. What haunts us? Why are we haunted? What can hauntings tell us?

KP: How do you plan to make DLR different this year than previous years?

DM: I’m hoping to experiment with some digital humanities approaches–mapping, text mining, and more. 

KP: Every year the professor teaching this course changes. What is your teaching philosophy and how do you think that will impact the course?

DM: I teach from a feminist perspective, foregrounding students as makers of knowledge. I want to balance my own agenda for the class (and clarity about assignments and expectations) with real autonomy for students to define our areas of inquiry, their individual projects, and the trajectory for this issue of the DLR

KP: What are you looking forward to most in the class?

DM: I’m excited for the chance to spend an extended period of time on the subject of ghosts and cultural haunting and to learn from the students on the DLR staff. (I learned a ton the last time around.)

Check out more about cultural hauntings in the 2019-2020 edition of the Digital Literature Review, coming in Spring 2020!


“Deborah Mix.” Ball State University, www.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/english/connect-with-us/faculty-staff/faculty/mixdeborah.

Mix, Deborah, PhD. Personal interview. 22 March 2019.

Reflections on the DLR Experience

By: Leah Heim 

Everyone should do one or two things they do not think they can do. Me, I met my match in Ball State’s Digital Literature Review

When I first heard about the journal, I had four more wisdom teeth, thirteen more inches of hair, and a curriculum vitae smaller than my peanut of self-confidence. When Dr. Huff invited me to apply for an editing position in the DLR during my sophomore Victorian Literature class, I thought that it sounded too big for me. There are students who join internationally known journals. I was not one of them. Only after much encouragement (and a wisdom tooth removal) did I finally cave to Dr. Huff’s insistence and join, if hesitantly, the scary Digital Literature Review

Of course, the experience has been anything but scary, even when I have studied themes like Monsters, Post-Apocalypse, and Utopias and Dystopias. In all seriousness, the next three years would usher in some of the best experiences of my academic life. As a wee sophomore, I learned how to edit like an English machine and how to stand up in front of my peers to passionately defend favorite paper submissions. As a junior, I faced down a lead editor position in the journal, which was an intimidating job that inspired me to cut thirteen inches off my hair in favor of a short, edgier style. Even without my hair, the job was intimidating, but it was so worth it. I learned leadership skills through assigning work to my fellow editors, leading discussions about submissions, and presenting work at public forums like Butler University’s Undergraduate Research Conference. 

Amid all this work, though, my classmates and I always found time for fun. I think of blowing off steam before class by watching a YouTube video of tap-dancing noses from a Shostakovich opera. I think of one of my classmates slipping me a tampon to wear behind my ear like a flower while I presented my Carrie  research project at the DLR gala.

In addition to this fun, however, is the sheer personal growth I have experienced with my time in the DLR.  I think now of the inspiring warrior spirit of my classmates as we raged against the injustices of our current world. I think of how the fire in our eyes combusted into action when we stood up in front of an audience at the DLR  gala and dared to speak out about things like climate change, governmental corruption, and nuclear holocaust—things some people only stare down in their nightmares. The subjects I became passionate about in the DLR, like Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, ecofeminism, and post-apocalyptic theory, have become the staples of my literary interests. For example, I am mapping out an ecofeminist, postmodernist retelling of Anna Karenina   for my Honors Thesis, and I have recently submitted a paper on abjection to a graduate conference in Illinois.

Because of the Digital Literature Review’s important role in developing my sense of self, I am thrilled to be participating in the journal as this year’s teacher’s assistant. I have contributed to class discussions while also leading some of them, and I have helped students develop topics for their research papers. When someone struggles with the logistical aspects of running the journal, I drop a few hints here and there to get things on the right track again. Each of my TA duties, however, plays an important role in my greater intentions of continuing work with the journal: I hope to make the experience mean as much for this year’s students as it has meant for me. I want to ensure the continued success of a journal that has come to shape not only my academic life but also—in a very real way—my identity as a person. 

In the introduction for last year’s journal, I compare the DLR to a table; around this table, my classmates and I have discussed subjects that have frightened me. However, in a yearlong, intimate class like the DLR, students develop the trust and support to plumb these difficult subjects and devote themselves to academic bravery—skills which, I imagine, will only become more and more important as our lives progress. I could talk a parent’s ear off about how the DLR  offers their college kid opportunities for professional growth—conferences, research papers, teamwork, etc.—but to students I think I would say that the DLR turns nervous sophomores into seniors ready for graduation, doctoral programs, and beyond.

All it will cost them is four wisdom teeth, thirteen inches of hair, and their fear. 

A Look Toward the Future: Post-Apocalypse and the DLR

by Kathryn Hampshire

Dr. Adam Beach, Chairperson for the Department of English at Ball State University, was one of the key players in starting the Digital Literature Review (DLR) in 2013, and he served as its faculty mentor again the following year; he will be rejoining the staff next year, this time with the theme of Post-Apocalypse. Recently, Dr. Beach sat down with Kathryn Hampshire, the teaching assistant for the DLR this year, to talk about his plans for next year’s journal.

Kathryn Hampshire: How did you first get involved with the Digital Literature Review?

Dr. Adam Beach: My colleague Dr. Debbie Mix and I came up with the idea together and wrote the proposal five years ago. We had this idea that we wanted to have an undergraduate journal in literature. We really felt like we needed to take some steps to give our students professional experiences, to get them writing for public audiences, and to decenter the classroom in a way that would give them more autonomy over the scholarship they were doing and the kinds of projects that they were working on. So that was our original idea.

KH: Since you taught it the first and second years, how did you become the instructor for the project for next year?

AB: We don’t have a real system in place, but people volunteer to teach it, and I thought it would be fun to teach it again. In the future, we want to get more people teaching it.. We have some younger faculty who I think want to teach it in the future, so we’re going to try to keep rotating it and get as many literature faculty involved as we can.

KH: How did you select the theme for this year’s issue?

AB: I’ve been reading so much post-apocalyptic fiction, and I know that a lot of students are interested in it. There’s also a lot of young adult literature around focused on apocalyptic themes, so I thought it would be a really cool topic and timely given everything that’s going on in the world today. I’m excited to investigate this topic further, and I think that a lot of students are as well. I tend to read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction because I think it’s speaking to a lot of anxieties that people have, and really have had, since at least the advent of the nuclear age. Although, this year I read Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, which was published in the early nineteenth century, which I think is considered to be one of the first post-apocalyptic fictions. So, I think there’s something about modern life that creates these anxieties about our future, and this literary form has been a way to deal with and manage those anxieties—or exacerbate them. I think especially now, given everything going on in our world and our country, people have a lot of anxiety, and so there’s been even more of an upsurge of this form, so I think it’s a good time to be exploring it and thinking about it.

KH: What kind of theoretical basis will you be using for this year’s class?

AB: We’ll be reading different theoretical work about different modes of apocalypse: of course, there’s religious apocalypses from the Book of Revelations, to more technological ones like The Matrix films, to even more fantastical ones like alien invasions and zombies. So, we will explore the different kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction and film, but we will also be thinking sociologically about why certain texts are popular at any given moment.  What does a text’s popularity say about a particular culture or a particular historical period in any society? Why are readers and viewers gravitating toward these texts? And I think we will also examine the psychoanalysis of reading: if we talk about anxiety, that gets us into psychoanalysis. How does fiction create anxiety, or maybe assuage anxiety, or help us manage anxiety? Going back to Aristotle, there’s the notion of catharsis, that we go to read and see really tragic action, and it kind of makes us feel better afterward. I’m really curious about that—does post-apocalyptic fiction help us manage anxiety, or is it actually creating a lot more anxiety in our society? I’m not sure what I think about that, but I want to explore these questions with the students.

KH: What else can students who sign up for the class expect?

AB: I think they’re going to have a great intellectual experience, and they’re going to develop an expertise in post-apocalyptic literature. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun: we’re going to learn a lot, and we’re going to be talking about things that are really relevant and really popular right now. I always think it’s good for us to think critically and really hard about what’s going on in our popular fiction and popular culture. But then they’re also going to get a ton of professional experience, getting to have leadership on the Editorial Team, the Publicity Team, and the Design Team, to have ownership over the project and to really be able to say, “I created that,” or, “I made that decision,” or, “I helped design that journal.” They’re going to get a lot of experience that will help them with job interviews. It’ll help them get their resumes in good shape, and it’ll give them experience that will be relevant throughout their professional lives. In the past when I’ve taught this class, I’ve never seen students work harder or accomplish more, and really grow, not just in terms of where they’re at, not just academically and intellectually, but also as people and as budding professionals, and that’s what our goal is.

KH: For any of our readers who are thinking about submitting for this edition of the journal, what kinds of submissions are you hoping to see?

AB: There’s just so much, there’s an endless variety: animated films, young adult fiction, fiction, movies. From Mary Shelley on, we have a ton of examples, and there’s just so much new post-apocalyptic fiction coming out. So I think it’s a great opportunity for students to do research projects and publish on works that really haven’t been studied very much, and that’s always exciting if you’re one of the first people to write an article about a new film or a new book that’s come out in the last ten years. I think that’s really exciting academically: to be able to put your voice out there and give a reading on the text right at the initial stages of when it’s starting to be studied.

KH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AB: I just have so much fun with the DLR. It’s the coolest teaching thing I’ve ever done—and the hardest. I think that a lot of the students would say it’s one of the hardest academic experiences they’ve ever taken on, but also one of the most satisfying. I always tell students how, since I graduated from college 25 years ago, the main things I remember now are the challenges, the classes and the professors that challenged me the most. Those are the things that I remember, and I’m pretty sure that students will remember the DLR 20 or 25 years after they graduate because it’s such a great and such an intense experience, but I think that it’s so worth it, and I hope that we can keep it going.

“Traveler’s Notebook: Monster Tales”: A Video Game to Encourage Cultural Empathy

by Kaley Rittichier, Ball State University

“Traveler’s Notebook: Monster Tales” is a two-player digital game in which players travel the globe encountering monsters, piecing together stories, and acquiring new skills. They can travel to Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. Each one of these locations has monsters specific to that location; these monsters exhibit something about their cultures. The goal of the game is to foster in children empathy for different cultures through monsters, who are engendered by their cultures.

This game is a product of a Ball State Immersive Course, created by a multidisciplinary group consisting of myself, nine other undergraduates, and a mentor. The game was inspired by a certain form of narrative gameplay which is exhibited in the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights. To us, the interesting aspect of the board game was its ability to represent the culture that appears in the renowned book of the same title. The question arose as to whether this same idea could be stretched further to include more cultures. This is how we began our project.

Using monsters as the theme wasn’t decided at the beginning, but a few weeks into the project. We decided on monsters as a theme because a) they are especially interesting to kids, and b) we realized that monsters have a quite unique unifying aspect to them, in that, although each culture has its own monsters, there can be, not only differences from, but also similarities to the monsters of other cultures.

It is important to note the level of empathy that we hope to achieve. There has been much research devoted to fostering empathy, especially in children,, none of which sets it up as an easy task. It  can’t be achieved simply by hearing a few facts about a culturally different  person/group. It is, therefore, important for us to note that we simply want to put a foot in the door regarding this

phenomena and give kids the idea that different people have different customs and views. This goal may seem small, but the understanding is crucial to a child’s ability to more fully empathize with people.

Jeffery Cohen, in his paper “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” offers terrific arguments about how monsters represent the culture that they reside in, specifically the cultures’ fears and customs. Cohen argues that a lot of the fear of monsters can come about because they challenge customs. This gave us some dimensions to work with when it came to writing the stories. On the one hand, the writers were able to have the monsters demonstrate their cultures through the way a player must deal with them. An example from the game is the way in which the player is supposed to deal with the Kappa. The Kappa, a monster from Japan, exhibits certain features of that culture by requiring customary mannerisms, such as traditional Japanese bowing to show respect.

The other way we can familiarize the kids with the cultures is through the fear that brought about the monster. An example of this is the New Zealand monster Taniwha. This monster shows the fear small villages had. The monster could be viewed as being good/helpful to the villagers because it would protect the village. The fear exists in that it might turn bad/hurtful, especially if villagers do not do certain things. This demonstrates to players some of the fears of living in a small village, leaving the players to wonder what it would be like to be one of the villagers.

One of Cohen’s main theses is  “The Monsters Dwells at the Gates of Difference” (7); that is, monsters represent differences, which makes them scary. This can obviously be seen as a drawback to our project. If we are showing other cultures through what is scary about them, are we just further instilling the scariness of otherness? Yet the stories in the game are written so as to showcase the sameness of a lot of the monsters. Some might be scary in different ways, but none of them are necessarily scarier than the others. All of the monsters incite fear, demonstrating a unity amongst the differences.
You can play–and find more information about–the game, including our paper in Game Learning Society (GLS), at:


Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Cultureedited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. University of Minnesota Press, 1996. pp. 3-25.

Consequences of Selfishness: Historical Allusions within Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

by Jessica P. Ramos, University of Florida

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity… If this rule were always observed… Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.” (Shelley 53-54)

Despite centuries having passed since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), its handling of human nature has ensured its place within the literary canon. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is found under mysterious circumstances by the captain of a ship, Robert Walpole. He is nursed back to health and eventually entrusts Robert with the story of how he came to be where he is, revealing that it all started with a scientific experiment to give life to the nonliving. In the middle of his story, he breaks free from his narrative in order to directly address Robert, who is listening to him. The above quote is taken from this address; the placement and meaning of the chosen allusions emphasize a possible motive behind Victor’s sharing of the story with Robert, while also implying a grander message from Shelley to her readers.

Though it is emphasized throughout the novel that Victor is more of a scientific man than a cultural one, the chosen allusions in this excerpt refer exclusively to events in history that had negative effects on culture. Using words such as “enslaved,” “would have spared,” “discovered more gradually,” and “not been destroyed” suggests that Victor disagrees with how these historic events have played out: though not a literal form of “enslavement,” when the Greeks became a part of the Roman Empire, many of their original copper sculptures were destroyed; Julius Caesar’s assumption of a dictatorship stripped the people of their democracy; the desperation to obtain new land in the Americas led to the mass death of the native people; ancient empires were completely obliterated in the quest for power. All of these examples portray the loss of culture due to the ambition of another sovereignty. The decision to focus on the cultural advances of society rather than the scientific suggests that one holds greater importance over the other, even in the eyes of this genius scientist. By comparing his situation to these iconic events, Victor suggests that his desperation to fulfill his own curiosity led to consequences that are just as historically poignant as those he alludes to, implying that his mistake is just as damning to the course of human history. In the sentence following this quote, Victor admits to “moralizing” within his own story, meaning that he is giving Robert his present opinion on the topic of passion in relation to collective society. At the same time, these allusions help set the foundation for the ongoing juxtaposition of science and nature throughout the course of the novel; science brings about ambition, stress, and selfish consequence, while nature and the liberal arts (often in the form of Henry Clerval) bring about tranquility, comfort, and peace of mind.

By breaking out of his role as storyteller and addressing Robert directly, Victor interjects his present thoughts regarding his past actions. Before this narrative interruption, Victor is recounting how he became so devoted to his desire to create life that he began ignoring everything else—including his family. When he resumes his storytelling, he admits to being “checked by [his] anxiety,” “oppressed by a slow fever,” and “nervous to a most painful degree” (Shelley 54). This emphasizes the negative effects of the reckless passion Victor entertained in order to satiate his curiosity. Before Victor begins retelling his story, he tells Robert, “the strange incidents connected to [my tale] will afford a view of nature, which may enlarge your faculties and understanding” (Shelley 25). This preface to his story solidifies the idea that the breaches in narration serve as direct addresses to Robert himself, but this only leads to another question: why must a character who hardly has anything to do with the main events of the story be addressed in the first place?

Victor’s narrative is framed by Robert’s letters in order to further imply a particular reading of the text. Robert’s opening letter states that “[his] life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but [he] preferred glory to every enticement,” therefore sharing the same passionate drive as Victor (Shelley 10). When he later gets to converse with the man, he admits that he wants a companion who is “wiser and more experienced than [himself], to confirm and support [him]” (Shelley 24). This desire to fulfill a single, long-term goal, while receiving confirmation and support from peers is not uncommon and is in fact a common facet of human nature. Like Robert, the readers of the novel are listening to the tale of Frankenstein; when Victor breaks his narrative to “moralize” with Robert, he is also addressing the reader and warning them to be careful of what they allow to have control over their lives. During a time when the Romantic love for nature was being replaced by the rapid development of science, Mary Shelley used this novel as a medium through which she could express her thoughts on the changing world around her. In Frankenstein, human curiosity leads to the destruction of the innocent, just as human selfishness led to the deterioration of human culture in her chosen historical allusions. By comparing curiosity to selfishness within the debate of nature versus industrialism, Shelley raises moralistic questions about human nature itself that remain unanswered even to this day.


Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

The Walking Dead: A Commentary on our Monstrous Society

By: Shannon Walter

Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society and our society’s station in the world. They show us gore and violence and all of that cool stuff too but there’s always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.”

– Robert Kirkman

When watching a television show based on a zombie apocalypse, it makes sense to assume that the main antagonists are, in fact, the zombies themselves. After six seasons of The Walking Dead, it is now clear that this is not always true. Yes, the show is overflowing with decaying, flesh-hungry corpses, referred to as “walkers.” But are these “walkers” really the true monsters in this storyline? No. Over the course of the series, what our beloved TWD cast realizes is that their fellow surviving human beings are the ones they should really be fearful of. The writers and producers are forcing their viewers to take a step back and consider the possibility that our society, with its desensitization to murder and death, and its fear and distrust of societal change, is not far off from that of this post-apocalyptic television show.

Whether it be The Governor, Gareth and his band of cannibals, or Negan with his ever-impending doom, human monstrosities have taken over the “new world order” in which our characters are fighting to survive. TV Tropes, a pop culture wiki that focuses on motifs used throughout various mediums, discusses a trope they label “Beware the Living.” Within this trope, “zombies, on an individual level, aren’t really that threatening. . .  the protagonists will often come to realize that zombies are the least of their problems. The real threat will come from roaming gangs of bandits. . .  or even normal, everyday people who were Driven to Madness by the horror going on around them” (“Beware the Living”). The Walking Dead utilizes this trope exactly as it is defined by TV Tropes. But what is this “Beware the Living” trope saying about our society today? What does it say that these characters are more fearful of their fellow human beings than of half-dead, rotting monsters that roam the Earth in search of human flesh? I would like to revert back to Robert Kirkman’s statement that The Walking Dead serves as a type of commentary on the happenings in our society. The idea that, according to TV tropes, people inherently go “crazy” when faced with a new type of society or a new idea of what it means to “live” calls into question a human being’s ability to endure major changes in their lives. Thinking specifically of our own society in comparison to that of The Walking Dead, we can recognize that both societies become increasingly more violent with time. According to The New York Times, as of May 2016, there was already a 9% increase in homicide nationwide over the previous year. On The Walking Dead, this increase in violence is illustrated through a particular one-eyed dictator.

The Governor, who appears as the villain in season three and four of the series, illustrates this commentary through his very drastic alternations between a typical, American man and a murderous, power-tripping monster. The Governor was a normal person before this “zombie apocalypse”— he is a husband, a father, an overall “typical” human being —and then his world is turned upside down. In addressing the new standards of society, he says, “In this life now, you kill or you die. Or you die and you kill” (“Welcome to the Tombs”). The Governor takes this sentiment to a new level through torture and cold-blooded murder. Throughout his reign of terror, we experience characters being held captive in rooms with “walkers,” mass killing sprees, beheadings, and much more. While in this new society it is true that you must kill in order to survive, The Governor is transformed by his new, chaotic surroundings into a murderous monster. This “kill or be killed” mentality is one that is adopted by many “monsters” that have appeared in The Walking Dead.

We can see this “kill-or-be-killed” mentality in our society today, although we do not have the excuse of a world full of flesh-eating zombies, whose only true goal is to eat human beings. It is often argued that because this mentality is portrayed in the media so often our children are becoming desensitized to violence. These outlets incite mass amounts of fear and rage in the members of our society, thus provoking people to fight back against perceived attacks on our community. There are violent murders on the news every single day. In their study on violence and the media, Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson come to the conclusion that “[p]eople exposed to media violence become ‘comfortably numb’ to the pain and suffering of others” (277). I believe that Kirkman and his writers are pointing at this violent phenomena through their social commentary on The Walking Dead. Monsters such as The Governor are being used to show that even “typical” human beings have the capability to turn into blood hungry monsters when exposed to constant killing and death. Our societal dynamic, as a whole, is changing, along with the members of our society. We need to address this rise in violence in our society, criticized by The Walking Dead, in order to make a positive and lasting change to the long, bloodthirsty road we are heading down.

Works Cited

Anderson, Craig A. and Brad J. Bushman. “Comfortably Numb: Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media on Helping Others.” Psychological Science, vol. 20, no. 3, 2009, pp. 277-277.

“Beware the Living.” TvTropes. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BewareTheLiving Accessed on 10 October 2016.

Kirkman, Robert and Tony Moore. Introduction. The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone By by Kirkman, Image Comics, Inc., 2008. pp. 4-7.

“U.S. Homicide Rates Rise Early in 2016”. The New York Times, 13 May 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/13/us/document-violent-crime-data.html?_r=0, Accessed on 8 Nov. 2016.

“Welcome to the Tombs.” The Walking Dead, season 3, episode 16, AMC, 31 Mar. 2010. Netflix, goo.gl/gt6iJXcontent_copy.

Monstrous Nihilism: An Analysis of Bill Cipher and His Effects on the Characters of Gravity Falls

by Natali Cavanagh

Gravity Falls is a Disney Channel children’s television show that follows Dipper and Mabel Pines, twelve-year-old twins visiting their great uncle (or “Grunkle”) Stan for the summer in the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Stan is a con artist who has transformed his home into a kitschy tourist trap, the Mystery Shack, which promises to reveal the “mysteries” of Gravity Falls. In actuality, all the exhibits are fake, their sole purpose being to make Stan money. Still, Dipper discovers a journal buried in the forest that catalogs all of the real anomalies and monsters of Gravity Falls, and, over the course of the show, he and Mabel use the journal to fight the creatures they encounter. Of all the monsters described in Dipper’s journal, the most dangerous  by far is Bill Cipher, an all-knowing, smart-mouthed, one-eyed, triangle-shaped demon bent on the destruction of the human dimension. Interestingly, though, Bill’s nefarious intentions go beyond superficial evil, and, upon closer investigation, he appears to be a physical manifestation of Dipper’s desire for what Nihilists would call “absolute” knowledge. He thus serves as a warning for the dangers Dipper’s desire presents.

Nihilism is a philosophy developed primarily in the West that focuses on the meaninglessness of existence, or, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated” (Pratt). In  Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism, scholar John Marmysz notes that Nihilists believe that “[h]umans are alienated from such perfections as absolute Being, Truth, Goodness, Justice, Beauty, etc. . . . There is nothing that humans can do to change this circumstance” (91). It is in our nature to desire perfection, and we hold the idea that striving toward said perfection will create a better world. But, to the Nihilists, these ideals of the absolute are beyond the realm of the possible because it is impossible to obtain a single, objective definition of ultimate goodness, knowledge, etc. Because we are human and are limited by reality, our interpretations of the world will always be flawed, and therefore we can never truly reach “absolutes,” or perfect definitions and ideals (Marmysz 69).

Throughout the last two seasons of the show (in which Bill is the main antagonist), Bill represents the impossibility– and danger– of the idea of the absolute. He serves to guard the boundary between the human and the conceptual but also acts as a sign that the hopelessness typically associated with Nihilism can be defeated. Many people tend to associate Nihilism with bleakness, operating under the idea that if we can’t ever reach perfection, then what is the point of doing anything? In many ways, Bill embodies this hopelessness; Bill comes from the Nightmare Realm, a mysterious world of absurdity where the rules of reality are nonexistent and irrelevant. This sense of meaninglessness is projected in Bill’s perspective and outlook on life. His carelessness and disregard for anything, in his world or the human world, are what make him especially monstrous; he does not care if humans suffer because any emotion, logic, or understanding of reality that we have is extraneous. Uncle Ford, Grunkle Stan’s genius twin brother, tells Dipper, “To Bill it’s just a game. But to us it would mean the end of our world” (“The Last Mabelcorn”).

What Bill Cipher ultimately represents and preys on, though, is Dipper’s desire to know and understand everything (that is, to acquire absolute knowledge). From the beginning of the series, Dipper is established as a character who values logic, discovery, and research. He wants to uncover all the mysteries of Gravity Falls and will go to any length to find them, holding his journal of mysteries and the knowledge it contains as sacred. The problem is that absolute intelligence is impossible to attain in the physical human world, and it is dangerous to believe that we can attain it; Marmysz states, “We can never truly understand the world in all of its details and intricacies . . . Worse than this, such attempts do damage . . . words corrode and distort reality, moving our understanding farther and farther away from the world of concrete existence” (66).

Dipper will never be able to know all of the secrets of Gravity Falls because of his various human limitations: his age, his lack of experience, his physical weakness. Believing that he can transcend these limitations is dangerous because it gives him naive expectations about how he can change his world but such illusions cannot save him in the real, concrete world. For example, in “Sock Opera,” Dipper desperately needs a password to open a computer that is important in his investigation of the mysterious author of the journals. Eventually, because he has entered so many attempted passwords, the computer begins to erase all of its information; in that moment, Dipper knows there is nothing he can do. And, hypothetically, there should be no humanly possible way for Dipper to acquire the password until Bill offers him the code (“Sock Opera”). By giving into the dream of absolute knowledge, Dipper risks losing his sense of reality and his place in the human world.  From this perspective, then, Bill stands as a monster at the gate between the human world, the realm of possible knowledge, and the absolute, the realm of infinite knowledge.

In  “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” Jeffrey Jerome Cohen notes, “From its position at the limits of knowing, the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demesnes” (12). Bill appears to the characters in moments of intellectual weakness, tempting them with forbidden knowledge that cannot be attained through the human world; using “Sock Opera” as an example again, Bill uses Dipper’s desperation to his advantage by tricking Dipper into giving Bill his body in exchange for the password to Dipper’s computer  (“Sock Opera”). Dipper endangers the human world by giving Bill a physical form and an opportunity to open a portal from the human realm to the Nightmare realm. While Bill’s offers superficially seem well intentioned and beneficial, his master plan to destroy the world is always his fundamental goal. By crossing from the human to the impossible and accepting Bill’s offers of absolute knowledge, the characters risk the destruction of their universe.

In Dipper’s pursuit of knowledge, he finds many ways to save his family, friends, and the citizens of Gravity Falls. He prevents countless deaths and goes on adventures beyond his wildest dreams. But Bill is a reminder to him and the rest of the characters that there is only so much that he can save through brute intelligence. Humans are not supposed to know, or even have the ability to know, all the mysteries of the universe; if we give into the dream of the absolute, we risk losing our sense of reality. Clinging on to that illusion of absolute knowledge is what will be the death of us. By the end of the series, Dipper and his family do destroy Bill, but in order to do so, they first have to relinquish those dreams of ultimate knowledge and remain rooted in reality.


Works Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1996, pp. 3-25.

Hirsch, Alex, performer. Gravity Falls. Disney Channel and Disney XD, 2012-2016.

Marmysz, John. Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism. State University of New York Press, 2003.

Pratt, Alan. “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2016.

Ritter, Jason, performer. Gravity Falls. Disney Channel and Disney XD, 2012-2016.

“Sock Opera.” Gravity Falls, season 2, episode 4, Disney XD, 8 Sept. 2014. Google Play, www.play.google.com/store/tv/show?id=H6_Fk60qM-s&cdid=tvseason-TfwV4D2uBPbqv1lSRFleGA&gdid=tvepisode-Vd60-9wKDRE&hl=en

“The Last Mabelcorn.” Gravity Falls, season 2, episode 15, Disney XD, 7 Sept. 2015. Google Play, www.play.google.com/store/tv/show?id=H6_Fk60qM-s&cdid=tvseason-TfwV4D2uBPbqv1lSRFleGA&gdid=tvepisode-Vd60-9wKDRE&hl=en


The “Making Literature” Conference Experience

By Isaha Cook


The Team

On February 26, 2015, a group of DLR students—Esther Wolfe, Daniel Brount, Jeff Owens, Bryce Longenberger, and Isaha Cook—traveled to Taylor University to attend the “Making Literature” conference. If I were to say that the DLR team’s efforts at the conference were epic in their nature, my exaggeration would only be a minor one. It takes a few special individuals to go from opening for a main act, to becoming the sole act in only a few productively panicked moments. While they were preparing to be followed by the conference’s keynote speaker for that night, Miho Nonaka, the team was informed that Miho was stuck in bad weather and would not make it on time. Our team members were then asked if they could stretch their fifteen-minute presentation while the conference organizers found a way to cover the loss of their keynote speaker. Of course, like academic superheroes, the members of DLR humbly agreed to give it their best.

Esther and the team decided that it would be best to proceed with the original plan and present on the Digital Literature Review’s ins and outs, current topics, and the upcoming issue for next year. Then, each team member would, on the spot, explain their own individual research projects, something that they had not planned on discussing. In this way, the team members would each get to expand the total presentation time, while also further illuminating potential forthcoming work in the DLR’s second issue, Slavery Now.

The first part of the presentation went smoothly. Esther started off by explaining her role as the lead of the Editorial team for the DLR, and laying out how the process worked for members of that team. She explained that members of the Editorial team took part in reviewing submissions, producing acceptance or denial letters, and finally slogging through the task of ensuring that each accepted article was perfect in the areas of grammar and structure. Following her, Daniel spoke about his role as the leader of the Design team. He explained the process: brainstorming, refining, and layout. Members of the Design team were responsible for the creation of advertising materials, the designing of the cover art, and the layout of the inner pages where the articles are found. He provided examples of some of the design elements they were currently working on for Slavery Now.

The Presentation

The Presentation

Lastly, the two other members of the presentation team, Bryce and Jeff, explained the responsibilities of the Publicity team and how our WordPress blog was being run to promote the issue before its release. They also went on to promote the DLR’s involvement with the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. In tandem, the two were able to clearly explain the duties that a member of the Publicity team performed: creating content for our social media, overseeing the publication of blog posts on our WordPress site, and ensuring that the advertisement materials are disseminated to the proper places.

Under the watchful gaze of instructors, students, and the conference organizers, our courageous DLR members finished the initial presentation and stretched their fifteen minutes into a glorious main event lasting nearly an hour. They explained, one after another, the various research projects related to “Slavery Now” that they had been working individually on for a semester and more. They spoke about delicate topics from how best to represent slavery issues to a modern world, to how authors can broach the sensitive subject with younger readers.

The audience members seemed to take to the personalities of our presenting members, but, more than that, they recognized the passion that Esther, Daniel, Jeff, and Bryce had for the content of this year’s DLR issue. Our team spoke with intelligence, precision, and passion, inciting the audience to pepper them with questions and positive feedback. As the DLR team left the stage, a good portion of the audience lined up to continue the discussions on a more personal basis, and I couldn’t help but wonder: “What’s in store for our release, if we can garner this much interest with improvisational efforts?” I do know that I look forward to it with great eagerness.