Ross School - Senior Project 2008-09

Student: Zach McDowell

Mentor: Alex Cromwell

Title: Opinions of the Great Beast

Description:

My Senior Project was the creation of a long short story centered in and around my hometown of Greenport. My protagonist, who serves as the narrator is Andre Kilroy, a former journalist, who, along with his best friend and former colleague, Tom McMurphy, investigate the recent, inexplicable death of the town's long ruling mayor Dave Adler. The piece is a very satirical indictment of modern consumer culture, with a myriad of characters that function as allegorical representations of different philosophical approaches to modern life. I incorporate various non-fiction events that occurred either in my life or in the news though much embellishment and alteration of events takes place. I attempt to portray all dimensions of the town, and contrast the perception offered to tourists by day with the seedy underbelly and abject poverty that lies just under the surface. I pay homage to various authors I admire including Hunter S. Thompson, Dostoevsky, and Plato.

Details:

Opinions of the Great Beast

Initially, I wasn’t positive what sort of senior project I wanted to pursue, although I settled on a writing product immediately. I entertained an amalgam of ideas, among them were, Soviet history, a series of short stories, a philosophy paper, literary criticism, or political research paper. I decided on the novella form, seeing as I had never written a fictional piece more than five pages in length. The form appealed to me as it enabled significant plot and character development, while still remaining a manageable length. For this reason it would conveniently fit into my time constraints. Furthermore, I had read three novellas I found particularly powerful, The Metamorphosis, Heart of Darkness, and Notes from Underground. Technically my product qualifies as a Novelette, at roughly 11,400 words, although I’m unsure if that category exists outside of a very small circle of science fiction writers. My novella was approached from a gonzo journalist perspective, heavily influenced by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My general satire on mainstream American culture and the visceral, hyperbolic portrayal of the drug culture hark back to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. I also included a prominent discussion of contemporary political and social issues, contrasting a neo-Bolshevik perspective to right wing politics, religious and social conservatism. I endeavored to denounce the dominant Western materialist culture, to disparage the plutocratic truth of so-called democracy in the age of corporate supremacy. My title is taken from an excerpt in Plato’s Republic, Book VI:

“That each of those salaried individuals whom the public call sophists and regard as their rivals, teaches nothing but those beliefs which the multitude express in their assemblies, and this they call wisdom. It is as though a man who is keeper of a huge and powerful beast had got to its tempers and its desires, how best to approach and how best to handle it, when it has its sulkiest and when its mildest moods and what causes them, on what occasions it is in the habit of uttering its various cries, and what sounds will soothe or provoke it. Now, suppose him, after he had got to know all these things from long experience of the animal, to call this knowledge wisdom, and systemizing it into an art to take to teaching. He has no true knowledge as to which of these beliefs and desires is beautiful or ugly, good or bad, just or unjust. He employs all of these terms in accordance with the opinions of the mighty beast, calling things that please it good, things that displease it bad. Other reason for his use of these terms he has none, but calls what is compulsory just and good. He has never perceived, nor could he teach another, the vast difference which really exists between the nature of the compulsory and the good. In heaven’s name, do you think that a man like that would make a strange instructor?”

I centered the project in Greenport as I had a vast array of characters to draw from, and it was a pertinent example of the polarities of American society I aspired to capture. My story draws on my own true experiences as well as other historical events, embellished and altered to suit my plotline. The project confirmed my interest in pursuing writing, fiction and otherwise, by demonstrating my ability to complete a fairly long piece and cope with the drafting process. Procrastination threatened the completion of my project on several occasions, and working through that strengthened my mastery of time management.  In college I plan to be either a literature or journalism major, and I hope to write throughout the entirety of my life.

Works Consulted

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hunter S. Thompson

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

Plato’s Republic

Culture Jam, Kalle Lasn

Community Member (Details)

Mary Ann Duffy is a professor at Stony Brook University. She teaches an HEOP English program that educates underprivileged minority students with hindered language abilities. Her email is miamadinny@yahoo.com.