Borgesian time travel: A Sweet Briar student’s journey through words

Kiley Jolicoeur '17
Kiley Jolicoeur ’17

Kiley Jolicoeur ’17 embraces her inner nerd with equal measures of confidence, enthusiasm and self-effacing humor.

“I was always a bookworm as a kid. I didn’t go to a restaurant with my parents without a book in my hand,” says the Lovell, Maine, native.

“Which probably says a lot about my social skills, ” she adds, letting her words trail off.

Because Jolicoeur read so much, her response to the work of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges surprised her. She was introduced to him in a first-year honors course in philosophy, “Memory and Mortality,” which focused entirely on his works. Even his poetry — her least favorite literary form — hit home.

“I was reading [his writing] and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I thought about so much of this stuff before and I didn’t realize anyone else had thought about it, too. Which, I mean of course, it’s shortsighted to think that, but I’d never really connected with another author’s work as much as I did his.”

Four years later, Jolicoeur recalled those feelings as she talked about her Honors Summer Research project on Borges’ conceptions of time. That class in the fall of 2013 had set off a chain reaction and led to her declaring philosophy as one of her two majors, a yearlong investigation of Borges’ works as a Pannell Scholar, the topic of her 2016 Honors Summer Research (her second HSRP project) and her Senior Honors Thesis proposal.

During that time, Jolicoeur worked with three different philosophy professors, most recently Heidi Samuelson, her HSRP faculty sponsor this summer.

Meanwhile, she also is majoring in classics and minoring in creative writing. Her first HSRP project in 2015, “Memory and the Afterlife,” dealt with Orphic gold tablets, ancient Greek texts on scraps of gold leaf found in graves that seem to offer a guide for the deceased in the Underworld.

But it was Borges, especially his various treatments of the concept of time, who truly stuck with her. (It helped that she’s always been intrigued by time travel stories.) She’s grateful that Sweet Briar and the Honors Program afforded her the opportunity to “chase” the topic through all four years in college — and beyond: She’s applying to graduate programs for an advanced degree in philosophy.

Borges Poem“What excites me the most about the [HSRP] project is that I have the chance to follow it wherever it leads, even after the program is over,” she said during summer.

Jolicoeur will learn in the next couple of weeks whether her Senior Honors Thesis proposal has been accepted. Once it is settled, she anticipates using the final paper as a writing sample for her graduate school applications.

Her intellectual journey at Sweet Briar is different from other students’, but not unique in its scope. The curriculum and the professors and administrators charged with bringing it to life encourage students to go where their curiosity takes them. Whether it’s a narrowly focused, short-term research project or a multiyear, cross-disciplinary exploration, students may study what they want as intensely as they want.

This graphic illustrates what that path can look like through Jolicoeur’s experience.