Eval by Baco Ohama and Karen Campbell
Justin Moynihan’s Senior Study is comprised of 3 distinct parts that converse with each other because each intertwines academic research, multiple levels of experience and a variety of creative processes. The core is his novella, I’m Fine, a creative writing project, influenced in part by Hermann Hesse, Knut Hamsun and René Daumal, that he’d been working on throughout his undergraduate career. The novella explores ideas drawn from research, experience, inspiration, imagination, and some tough philosophical questions regarding the respective roles of the Guide, the Initiate (student), and what Justin calls “the Gracious Beast (or the unknown)”:
The story uses fiction as a vehicle for philosophical expression; it uses prose, illustration, and the permission of non-ordinary reality to communicate ideals that might inspire the reader … It is about friends who move to the woods and wander…[engaging] liminality, ritual death, actual death, disenchantment, limitations, perspective, love, reality… The anchor of the endeavor is the Guide. Even that role is questioned, but the Guide might introduce the reader, the Initiate, to the power, the unknown or the Gracious Beast, that meanders through the work. (Moynihan, “[t]he Guide’s Role.”)
The novella is accompanied by [t]he Guide’s Role, a six-part podcast series in which Justin invites into Socratic Dialogue friends and family who, with Justin, are involved in a variety of fields connected to “guiding” (including professional rock instructors, mountain climbers and guides, first responders, spiritual leaders, practitioners of complementary medicines, a risk management assessor and a theater director). And while the musings may pertain to a Guide and Initiate (student) climbing a mountain and the transitions or transformations that might result from that experience, the Guide and Initiate may just as easily be invested in other activities, and themselves interchangeable – along with the Gracious Beast.
In the third part, the context paper also entitled “[t]he Guide’s Role,” Justin’s voice in the present intervenes in pieces of podcast transcript to creatively contextualize the podcast dialogues. The conversations range across sciences, artistic practices, official guiding principles, the moral dilemmas of literary protagonists, or literary theory, as the different “interviewees” bring professional expertise and personal interests to tussle with Justin’s persistent efforts to deconstruct dogma, and notions of truth, in order to “create room for inspiration.”
This Senior Study was a brave undertaking because Justin was determined to allow new understandings and inspirations to emerge from the creative process itself, rather than shape his product according to that which he’d already identified as having learned. It reflects the doggedness – and the generosity of spirit – that has characterized so much of the work he has done as a student, and as a wonderfully supportive member of this community. I expect his novella to find its way to print before long, and wish him well as he continues his quest to learn (from the Gracious Beast) and be all he can. Bravo Justin!