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Meet the Committee: James Hussey

James Hussey is a PhD candidate in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, and was recently elected as one of our Postgraduate and Early Career Representatives.

How did you end up where you are now?

I completed my B.A. (Hons) in Trinity College Dublin in 2013 and, after taking Prof. Stephen Matterson’s “Hawthorne and Melville” course during my final year, I decided that these ostensibly gloomy nineteenth century writers had a pretty good view of things. This inspired me to opt for Trinity’s MPhil in Literatures of the Americas. After trying desperately to stay within the confines of New England I realised there was only one thing for it, and, here I am, over three years later, working towards a PhD on the life and career of Nathaniel Hawthorne, for whom solitude, sherry and good cigars often took the place of companions or friends. Apart from the first of these I haven’t quite got the hang of the latter pair.

Tell us a little bit about your current research interests?

I’m in the penultimate year of a PhD that researches the influence of Jacksonian individualism on the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne. My contention is that Hawthorne’s career and writings were informed and influenced by a societal-acceptance of individualism that transcended mere ethical concerns, and took on identifying qualities for Americans of the era. I have published on Faulkner and Hawthorne respectively, and have contributed to a wide variety of panels, largely on nineteenth century American literature, at international conferences, including the MLA and ALA. Other interests include baseball literature and culture, Thomas Pynchon, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the lyrics of Hank Williams.

Favourite book/film/album?

My favourite book is The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard. I’m not a fancy, big city lawyer usually one for big claims or statements, but Kierkegaard is my vote for best prose writer of the nineteenth century. This work, quite apart from its philosophical implications, is written with wondrous dexterity. It’s a fascinating look at the self from an interesting, unique perspective.

My favourite film is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I never get tired of Bill S. Preston Esq., Ted “Theodore” Logan or Rufus, not to mention the fact that “strange things are afoot at the Circle K”. Is it the best film ever? Absolutely not, but it’s unapologetically my favourite.

There are a couple of albums I could choose as a favourite (Ok Computer, Songs for the Deaf, Sea Change), but I’ll go against most critical belief and all sense of public taste or decency and say Be Here Now. Sure, “All Around the World” is nearly 10 minutes long and they probably should have eased up on the arguments (and cocaine), but it was initially considered the most ambitious British album since Sgt. Peppers, and we can all get behind ambition right?

Universities don’t exist. What job would you have instead?

A baseball writer. The “thrill of the grass” as W.P. Kinsella put it. The chance to get paid to do something you love is rare, so to be paid to watch something I love is unimaginable. A beat writer for the Yankees, couple of books on the historical tidbits that the game accumulates. I reckon I’d settle for that.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

If I was to answer this seriously and ask for a sympathetic portrayal I would go with Casey Affleck. He’s been my favourite actor for years, and after Manchester by the Sea I feel like his next great acting challenge could be that of a PhD candidate/academic.

If Casey passed up on this opportunity to impress the Academy, then a mid-fifties version of Robert Mitchum would do just fine, maybe without the “Love” and “Hate” tattoos on his knuckles.

How did you get involved with the IAAS?

Throughout my MPhil programme in Trinity, the IAAS was advertised as an excellent way to meet like-minded, academically-inclined postgraduate students at symposia, the annual conference, and various other occasions during the year. I, of course, promptly ignored all advertisements and spent the following year, the first of my PhD, wondering at my own foolishness. From the start of my doctorate onwards, I began to engage with the aforementioned events and learned that this organisation provided a friendly, not-at-all sarcastic view of academia, one that encouraged scholarship and participation within a community of emerging students and established professors.

In an alternate universe to question 4, you have somehow ended up establishing your own university. What’s the motto?

“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.” I was tempted to quote Dante, but Melville will do fine – just to welcome the undergraduates on the right note.

We’re all going to call around this evening. What’s for dinner?

Chili con carne. Various dried and fresh chillies, lots of spice, and no kidney beans (blasphemy!).

Who is your hero, academic or otherwise?

I’ll go with Alessandro del Piero. The only time I have ever cried over a “celebrity” was when he injured his ACL against Udinese in November 1998. I can tell you where I was, what I had just eaten for dinner and other strange little details of which traumatic incidents tend to provoke remembrance. My 7 year old brain, attempting to process the Channel 4 commentary, genuinely believed that football was about to end.

Free space! You have about 200 words to plug something dear to your heart/announce plans to take over the universe/tell us about the grand plans you have as a member of the committee…

Well, apart from telling everyone to get on the Jackson-as-comparison train before Trump gets impeached/resigns/couldn’t be bothered, I would implore all students and teachers of American Studies to explore the heterogeneity of approaches that the IAAS brings to an already varied field.

Symposia, conferences, guest lectures, workshops, funding applications; not only is this a list of rejected 1960’s Batman sound effects, it is also an indication of the breadth of opportunity provided by this tireless association. I must also take this chance to ask people to visit and re-visit this website, which is updated regularly and is, truly, a one-stop shop for all things American Studies. It is a resource that cannot be underestimated.

Look out for news about upcoming postgraduate events over the next year, as your representatives, Sarah and I are looking forward to putting together an exciting, fruitful symposium that caters for the diversity of students applying themselves to the study of the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave. Of course, we also encourage study of South and Central America, I just got a little hyped there.