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Deming ’20 Explores Narratology in Opera


Zachary Deming '20
Zachary Deming '20

Zachary Deming ’20 was the recipient of an Emerson Foundation research grant and spent this summer exploring narratology in opera with his adviser Peter Rabinowitz, the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis, ’38, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Comparative Literature. Deming is one of 200 Hamilton students conducting research or completing an internship supported by the College.

What is your research project?
Mechanically, I’m looking at the narratives of operas that are adapted from canonical literary texts, because the actual content of an opera—people singing to each other back and forth, facing the audience to narrate their thoughts and feelings, etc.—is so obviously artificial. The realism of the original [narrative], wherever it exists, can't withstand the transition.  So I’m trying to see why certain details find themselves eliminated or exaggerated in the adaptation, and how this "enhances" the clarity and deliciousness of these [opera] narratives' drama.

What do you hope to accomplish through this project?
I’m intrigued by the idea that by stylizing something we can make it “more truthful” than “the truth.” All use of language is sort of corruptive and destructive like this, since it reduces lived experience into verbal matter, which essentially murders and then supplants the real thing with concept. But that inherent deceptiveness can be used archly, to cleverly create something that (because of its falseness) presents a more coherent and intuitively

Zachary Deming ’20

Major: Literature and Russian Studies

Hometown: Litchfield, N.H.

High School: Bishop Guertin High School

read about other student research

understandable rhetoric for other people to grasp onto . . . So, to speak more broadly, that’s the real basis of the project and that about which by August I’d like to be literate enough to make some critical claims. 

What do you like best about your project?
… This project allows me another method of elaborating on the extent to which people think, desire, and interpret the world around them by constructing internal narrativesand will thus hopefully help me understand more incisively how considerations of narrative form play into what we find satisfying — and, maybe more intriguingly, motivating — in our lives, and others’.

What's your prior interest in this field?
I’ve done two other Emerson grants on narrative theory type stuff, and certainly some classes have helped foster an interest, along with recreational reading of fiction and criticism. Writers like Pushkin, Chekhov, Proust, Dostoevsky, Duras, and Lermontov have also been an excellent inspiration. I also love to gossip, and I think that’s a fabulous example of the sort of casual, reflexive narrative self-definition in which we engage every day.

What are your plans for the future?
I’ll either get my doctorate in Slavistics or join the Jesuits. Either way, though, I’m certain that narrative and narratology will continue to be an interest, if only because it permeates absolutely everything we experience, do, and think about.

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