Comps Insider: Chris Wortman ’19

14 February 2019
Chris Wortman and William Gass

What is the title of your Comps?

Right now it’s called, “Coming to B: The Logic of Representation in In The Heart of the Heart of the Country.” I’m sure that could change though; titles are usually the last thing I write for any kind of essay.

What is your Comps topic?

I’m doing an analysis of a weirdly beautiful collection of short stories called In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass, and focusing on the unique representational modes he uses in these stories. From my reading of the bizarre, virtuous worlds Gass creates, along with a handful of critical and philosophical essays, I’m arguing that Gass is departing from the traditional underlying logic and structure of language, breaking it apart, and using the pieces to create a vast literary mosaic unlike anything I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Why did you choose your Comps topic?

I knew I wanted to write about these stories from the very beginning—they have a strange power over me and always leave me with more questions than answers. I see my Comps as an opportunity to understand this power, answer some of my questions, and figure out how this power is present in all great stories and how it captivates the minds of all keen readers. My aim is to take a look at these stories in a way no one has before; I want to get inside their “heart,” so to speak, and find out what makes that heart beat. I’ve always been interested the role of representation in art, and not just the effects of different modes like film, paint, or words, but how these modes function within their respective mediums. For Gass, words are kaleidoscopic, not monochrome, and I’m interested in how that shades the characters and themes of his stories. 

What was the most interesting article or piece of information that you found while researching your Comps?

I’ve run across a whole bunch of interviews and conversations with Gass, and it’s been a joy to read about who he was outside of the text. Although I try to not let my perception of an author affect my conclusions about their work, so much of what Gass says in these dialogues reflects what he writes in his essays and fiction. His character, and the commitment of that character to the written word, shines whenever he speaks, and to me it has its own vivacious presence on the page.

What was your Comps process like?

My research has been a twofold process; on the one hand there’s sources on the stories and on the other there’s sources I’ve been using to create my critical framework. This first half has been much easier because there’s such a limited amount written on Gass and his fiction, which means my essay has room to make some original, and hopefully contributive, points. But to make these points, I’ve had to enter into the dense jungle of theory, full of critical rabbit-holes which can end up getting me sidetracked from the argument I’m trying to make. The thing is there’s an almost endless amount of material to read, and with enough time, all of it could prove meaningful. But at some point you need to sit down with what you have and start writing. That’s where the real fun begins, and that’s where I’m at right now.

Why do you think it was valuable for you to write a Comps?

For me, I think there’s no better way to wrap up my time studying English at Carleton. No stone has gone unturned, in terms of reflecting on what I have learned here. Every little piece of writing advice or tidbit of insight has proved valuable to me during this project, regardless of whether it came from my A&I (Argument & Inquiry) or my senior seminar. It’s made me appreciate my education in new ways, and helped me understand the benefits of that education beyond academics.

Will you expand on your Comps in any way?

I hope to, but that all depends on what my future has in store for me after Carleton. There’s a couple of paths I have in mind, and while continuing to read and write about literature is on that list, I’m confident that everything I take away from my Comps experience will help me no matter what I end up doing.

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