Arts, Science & Culture Profile: Anya Bershad & Bill Hutchison

Bill Hutchison (Department of English) and Anya Bershad (Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience) were 2013-2014 recipients of an Arts, Science & Culture Graduate Collaboration Grant for their project Fiction Addiction. Anya is also a 2014-2015 Arts, Science & Culture Graduate Fellow

Fiction Addiction questions how our neurobiological brains and literary minds interact with “addictive” works of fiction, especially in the form of serialized television. Through discussions with scholars from the humanities & sciences and by undertaking original research and investigations, Bill and Anya are making a documentary that combines these interviews and their research. The documentary explores compulsive relationships with fictional worlds, examining the conceptual overlap of the notion of “bingeing” on media intake and other modes of addiction.

We caught up with Bill and Anya this Fall Quarter and had an opportunity to ask them a few questions about their collaborative process, in addition to getting an update on Fiction Addition:

How did your individual research interests lead to your collaborative project?

Our individual research interests led to our project first in the form of avoidance. We were hanging out together and avoiding doing our work by watching lots of Breaking Bad. Being the dutiful, analytic, skeptical graduate students that UChicago has trained us to be, we turned our gaze toward our own behavior—what was it about this kind of television show that could be so seductive? With our individual projects—Anya's work in an addiction lab and Bill's interest in 19th century serial fiction—the project just seemed to present itself to us.

After working collaboratively, have you returned to your research or writing practices with new insights or methodologies?

For Bill, there aren't as many opportunities for collaboration in the humanities as there are in the sciences. I'm really inspired to keep finding ways to work with others both in my field and beyond. I want to invent new projects just to have to chances to work with other people. For Anya, she's gotten very interested in what one might call the "mechanics" of texts; that is, how do individual texts with this compulsive narrative draw operate as structures? What are the parts inside them, how do they work, and how do they keep us so obsessed with them?

Where is “Fiction Addiction” going next & will there be opportunities to view the piece?

We're still conducting interviews! As with most research projects, we feel perpetually about 80 percent done. There's always one more interesting person to interview or another perspective we want to invite into the conversation. At some point, we know we just have to stop and put the whole thing together, but it's such a treat right now to still be in this research-and-interview phase. We're having some of the most fascinating conversations of our lives.

Anya Bershad is an M.D./Ph.D. candidate in Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Her thesis research focuses on the social and emotional effects of psychoactive drugs in humans. As part of the Arts/Sciences Initiative, she’s working on a documentary entitled “Fiction Addiction” in collaboration with Bill Hutchison (English). This project explores the concept of addiction as it applies to fictional narratives, especially serialized television, via a wide-ranging discussion with a variety of scholars and experts.

Bill Hutchison is a PhD student in English at University of Chicago. He studies animals at the intersection of Victorian science and literature, and how animal bodies operate as a space for knowledge production. With his project partner, Anya Bershad (Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience), he is producing Fiction Addiction, a documentary about serial television and the addictive allure of narrative. The documentary features interviews with a range of scholars and experts.

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