In a Kitchen Just Like Yours and Other Stories: Fictocritiquing Nostalgia
G. Douglas Atkins suggests that experimental critical writing has a long history that expresses an “increasing dissatisfaction with professionally sanctioned forms” of academic writing (104). Fictocriticism, which seeks to disavow the binary of creation and criticism, must be judged “not just on how well it does what it sets out to do but also according to what the experimental form accomplishes that conventional procedure could not” (110).
Tim O’Brien’s novel In the Lake of the Woods includes excerpts from theory, interviews, letters, and biographies alongside a fictional narrative to offer many angles of an unsolvable mystery obscured by trauma, and Anne Carson’s memoir Nox elegizes a deceased brother she barely knew with photographs, dictionary entries, translations, and letters among her own poetic reflections. These experimental collaged forms overlap and repeat information from various viewpoints, some historical, some fictional, to expand the analyses within the traumatic events of the books out into the world beyond the texts.
In the case of my presentation, this collage-like critical fiction practice* will focus on the common childhood items of Crayola crayons and televised PSAs. The stories I will present are, as the examples above, collages. They cross the historical experience of many Canadian, middle-class children in the 90s, with fictions that expand quotidian childhood memory into something more affective. The light, humorous, epistolary narratives of mundane concern which will (depending on those in attendance) cause a nostalgic response from the audience, also suggest spaces of adult obsession and confusion—infusing significance to the mundane and critiquing the breakdown not just of fictional and critical writing, but also between traumatic and “normal” experiences and memories, and the relationship between reader (or audience), author, and character.
*If I can locate one, I will bring a real house hippo to further push the boundary between fiction and reality.
Jess Nicol was recently chastised at Disneyland for wearing a Tinkerbell costume and asked to leave the premises. She is a 2nd year doctoral student at the University of Calgary, where she studies Creative Writing, Fictocriticism, and the Bob Gibson Collection of Speculative Fiction.
Psychology in Prosody: Rhythmic Variance as Habit in Gertrude Stein’s ‘Objects’
My paper, “Psychology in Prosody: Rhythmic Variance as Habit in Gertrude Stein’s ‘Objects,'” reads a duality between Stein’s text and neuroscience. Many scholars who connect Tender Buttons to theories from psychologist William James (Stein’s mentor at Radcliffe) argue that Stein’s seemingly nonsensical linguistic experiments symbolize eradication of cognitively ingrained habits, which can dull our sensitivity to language and life itself.
I, too, find reference to James’ theories in Tender Buttons. However, my argument analyzes a different component of the text: the prosody of Stein’s language, rather than the semantics. I examine the rhythm of “Objects” — recurrent alliteration, repetition and stressed syllables — and highlight connections between prosody and human cognition, referencing neuroscientific theories of rhythmic “grouping” presupposing linguistic development. In this parsing method, the dualistic nature of language is addressed, too; both semantic meaning and the sheer rhythm of text are given equal weight.
I argue that the biological certainty of rhythm — its innateness in the human body, from circadian rhythms to the pulse — connects with James’ theories of habit. Rhythm, with a similar root in our physiology, acts as a metaphor for bodily habit-space within Stein’s work. Then, the rhythmic dissonance within Stein’s “Objects” symbolizes a revision of habit that is not indicative of the habit-eradication critics read into her semantic play. Instead, Stein’s self-modulated “habits” resurface symbolically through her repetition of rhythmic structures. Ultimately, this argues against claims that habit is a “dulling of sensitivity,” stripping an individual of their autonomy to appreciate the world.
Rather, Stein’s work corresponds to the Jamesian idea that if an individual is capable of “restructuring” habits to their advantage, they have attained active agency in a cognitive process. Reading science into Stein allows us to not only recognize ties between body and text, but segues into optimism for a culture deeply dependent on habit.
Sarah Brown is a graduate student in English and Creative Writing at Concordia University. Born in B.C., she now writes and makes music in Montréal. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Room Magazine, Green Mountains Review, the Vancouver Weekly, and UBC’s Discorder.
Moving “Past Matter”: Challenges of Intimacy and Freedom in Spike Jonze’s her
Spike Jonze’s her is a film about objects, or rather, about one object — the love object — which also happens to be another present-day object of obsession, a device always at-hand: the phone, the gadget, the Operating System. It is also a film about humans. Their bodies, their desires, their limitations. her’s central love story, between an O.S. named Samantha and a human, Theodore, is fueled by nostalgia and the fetishization of technology. Samantha allows her boyfriend Theodore the opportunity to interact with what Timothy Morton calls a “strange stranger” — a mysterious entity or being whose sentience is unknown and which is “liable to change before our eyes.” As they spend more time together, the physical and emotional definitions between Samantha and Theodore start to blur, flattening the perceived hierarchy between human and thing, and inciting Levi Bryant’s “democracy of objects.” My paper explores the ways in which the O.S. serves both as a neoliberal fantasy of total freedom, or as Jane Bennett puts it, “independence from subjectivity,” for its users and how capitalism packages and sells the “smart” gadget as a means by which to acquire this fantasy. Using Katherine Hayles’ feminist analysis of the posthuman, I examine the gendered discourse of technology and the extent to which the female body is essential to the fetishization of technological objects and the freedom they claim to offer.
Hilary Bergen is in her second year of the English M.A. program at Concordia. She is a reader and a make-believer. She used to dance in theatres and now she dances in her living room to Rod Stewart. Her favourite things to think/write about are Performance, Film, The Body, Feminism and Posthumanism. Of course the list goes on.
My creative piece will explore the relationship between the Medieval and modern. I propose to read a passage from my novel, which uses elements from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and tropes of courtly romance to explore gender roles through a contemporary lens.
This Arthurian fantasy explores the idea of pursuit that characterizes both courtly romance and quests: the hunter and the hunted, the lover and the beloved, subject and the object. This piece appears to be a love story, but in fact it is a story about power. I explore how a not-so-virtuous peasant women would figure into a world of knights and other nobility. How would she find her place in this world? What would she make of a knight whose life revolves around the hyper-masculine: hunting, swordplay, his fellow knights. What would they think about the idealized courtly love, which exists only in the pursuit and dies once the object has been obtained? What gives one person power over another, and how does this balance shift? I will look at what it means to play these roles, the dynamics between them.
The heroine of my tale is a peasant woman who is rescued by Sir Pellinore, a knight who happens upon her while on a quest for the beast Glatisant, a monstrous creature that is part dragon, part lion, part leopard and part deer. Defying the conventions of romance (and Vivienne’s expectations), Sir Pellinore does not fall in love with her and live happily ever after. Instead, he abandons her to take up his quest again. Vivienne, who is heartbroken, decides that she must become the beast so that Sir Pellinore will be devoted to her instead.
My hope is that my reading will spark discussion on the use of medieval characters and tropes in contemporary culture, and particularly in fiction.
Isabelle Johnston is currently working on a creative thesis in the English Department at Concordia. She teaches ESL and is a director for Arts and Science at the Graduate Students Association, and she really loves cats.
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple: Defying and Redefining Stereotypes
The idea of a stereotypical gossipy spinster a detective could be quite odd, if it were not for the fact that such a character exists: it is Miss Marple. My essay examines the ways in which Agatha Christie uses and redefines the stereotype of the gossipy spinster in Miss Marple. It also aims to examine how Christie’s unique depiction of characters usually considered negative contrasts her work to other types of detective fiction and question what role this depiction of femininity might have in the low status of her corpus.
In Miss Marple, Christie valorize qualities that are usually ridiculed in the stereotyped irrational, gossipy, intuitive spinster. Miss Marple gossips, knits, and is indeed a fragile old lady. At the same time, however, she is very intelligent and perceptive, not despite, but because of her femininity and old age. Unlike male detectives, however, Miss Marple has to consistently prove her worth and overcome prejudice.
Miss Marple was created based on a female character from The Murder of Roger Akroyd. In a theatre adaptation of the novel, the character was substituted by a young and sexually attractive woman, and, according to Christie, that was when she had the idea for her sleuth detective. Miss Marple thus represents an effort to counteract the idea that women are only valuable while sexually attractive.
The feminist criticism on Christie, and in fact any serious criticism on Christie, is quite recent, dating from the last fifteen years. I frame my argument with studies from Gill Plain, Merja Makinen and Alison Light, among others. In fact, the low amount of studies on Christie is a matter to be questioned in itself, considering the huge amount of work on writers with traditionally heroic masculine detectives.
Denise Marques Leitão is a Master’s student in English at Concordia, with a special interest in Medieval Literature.
The Future of the Nelly: Sexuality, Gender, and Richard Simmons’ Cultural Renaissance
Viviane Namaste, pioneering transsexual scholar and activist, calls for critical writing that challenges “the ways in which categories of sexuality and gender work against each other, even as they are syntagmatically aligned” (11). My paper will explore how the sexuality/gender binary continues to trouble representations of cisgender gay men in popular culture, even in an age of unprecedented acceptance. In recent years, straight and gay critics alike have praised gay media, including ABC’s Happy Endings and Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, for its portrayal of so-called “normal” gay men, or gay characters who do not experience a tortuous coming-out process, eschew dance clubs and sites of public sex, very rarely interact with AIDS narratives, and refuse to participate in a gay culture that relies upon venerated starlets and pop divas for its source material. All of these distinctions are enabled by a systematic rejection of traditionally feminine traits. Through all this critical discussion about the correct way to characterize a new generation of gay men, Richard Simmons, fitness guru and now drag performer, has gained prominence once more through a savvy use of social media, including a robust and interactive Facebook and Twitter presence, as well as YouTube videos. Simmons not only focus on physical health, but also consistently references his favorite divas and starlets, while remaining unapologetically flamboyant in his mannerisms and style of dress. By considering the reception of Richard Simmonds’ cultural productions alongside contemporary portrayals of “normal” gay men, I will suggest some of the ways in which the sexuality/gender binary continues to marginalize those who don’t conform to its strict boundaries.
Peter Forestell is a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of Calgary. His work on effeminacy in gay literature is supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship. His creative work has been published in Plenitude, and has been nominated for the Journey Prize.
Carrying the Fire: Myth as a Redemptive Force in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
Despite its barren, colourless landscapes, explicit scenes of violence, and the prolonged suffering experienced by its protagonists, critics generally consider Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to be his most optimistic novel. The Road differs from most of McCarthy’s work in its presentation of protagonists that are not as excessively violent as those found in his other novels such as the critically-acclaimed Blood Meridian. Much of McCarthy’s writing serves to shine a light on the brutality of a frontier mythology that fiction has glossed and glamorized to the point where a simulacrum is now embedded in the American consciousness. In a similar fashion, the past haunts The Road’s setting, manifesting itself in the physical objects, decaying memories, and anachronistic myths that are of uncertain use. As such I would like to argue that the novel questions what the past has to offer the present. In its portrayal of characters that struggle to find and make use of the remnants of the old world that still function, the novel offers a flexible form of self-mythologizing as a method through which to honour and make use of what may otherwise be a distorted and inapplicable past.
Gediminas Dainius holds a BA in Honours English and Creative Writing from Concordia University, where he is currently completing his MA in English. His research interests include violent masculinity and the perseverance of the frontier myth in contemporary American fiction.
Degenerate Topologies: Weird Naturalism and the Horror of Phenomenology in Uzumaki
This paper will examine recent debates on the phenomenology of horror through an analysis of Junji Ito’s manga series Uzumaki, engaging the serial comic with what Graham Harman terms ‘weird realism.’ For Harman, the only mode of thinking that may resemble science fiction more than philosophy is science itself, but since he is more interested in the speculative dimension of these disciplines rather than, say, their literariness, there is little to differentiate science from science fiction. Uzumaki’s story of a Japanese town that becomes “infested with spirals” evokes the strangeness inherent in the very physical makeup of the universe, calling to mind Harman’s description of physics “a discipline bewitched by strange attractors, degenerate topologies, black holes filled with alternate worlds, and holograms generating an illusory third dimension.” The spirals that infest Uzumaki’s pages render the familiar strange — not only in the psychological sense of the uncanny, but in the material makeup of the real world — revealing how a singular, fixed object can still unfold endless depths of strangeness. Much like the famous example of Husserl’s mailbox, the argument for weird realism is better served by showing how the straightforwardly rendered object withdraws from definition, not the inherent insufficiency of language to describe an object beyond our comprehension. It resides in making the familiar strange, not the inherent indescribability of the already strange. Uzumaki then extends the Lovecraftian tradition and offers a new entry point to working how speculative fiction can be reconciled with physics within a realist framework.
Robin Graham, Concordia University
Materiality and the Archive in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The question of how materiality and media intersect in Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been widely debated in Victorian criticism. Scholars have argued that the novel is the fantasy of an empire united not by force or civil control but by information (T. Richards 1993); that it expresses and contains the anxieties of the period inherent to the dissemination of information (L. Richards 2009); and, in a Marxist materialist critique, that the vampire is both capital and capitalist (Moretti 1982). However, these perspectives have not adequately addressed the issue of how Dracula represents and engages with concepts of the Victorian archive.
Much as Moretti describes the vampire as both capital and capitalist, I argue that Dracula is in fact archive and archivist. Dracula is a privileged text for these lines of inquiry, and my paper addresses the issue of its archival nature with special attention to the Derridean notion of archival violence, which redefines the archive as a tool of power and control, used by the archivist, or archon, to maintain hegemonic structures. The archive’s dual function of recording and controlling are applied to the two main archives in the text, Dracula and Dracula; the novel itself, the very book-object readers hold in their hands, serves as a metafictional materialization of Mina Harker’s epistolary journal, in which she has created an archive of the information she and the other protagonists require to vanquish the vampire. In a more occult version of the archival process, Dracula collects blood, gold, and languages, for the sake of preservation and sustainability. Various forms of the Dracula exist as archivally preserved manifestations; his undead minions, his telepathic ability to see through his victims’ eyes, and his shape-shifting are all proof. Indeed, his own self-preservation necessitates certain material physical conditions. In order to survive, he must wrap himself in his native soil, like an archived object in acid-free paper. In this sense, the vampire is the perfect allegory for the archive, because of its violence, power, and eternity. This reveals new connections between the novel’s internal structures and their relationship to the Victorian anxiety about the intersections of knowledge and power. Thus, this project, by closely examining Dracula’s materiality, sheds new light on the rarely acknowledged issue of the novel’s archival nature.
Alanna Bartolini is a graduate student at Concordia University, Montreal. Her research interests include nineteenth-century literature, archival theory, print culture and the digital humanities.
(In-Between Is a Place): Reconceptualizing Nation and Identity in Shani Mootoo’s The Predicament of Or
Since the publication of her first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night, Shani Mootoo has continued to present us with literature that defies boundaries and binaries. From Cereus’s fictional Caribbean setting to Vancouver’s Little India in “Out on Main Street,” Mootoo’s works always have a strong sense of placeness and nationality – that are constantly complicated by other senses of identity. In my paper, “(In-Between is a Place): Reconceptualizing Nation and Identity in Shani Mootoo’s The Predicament of Or,” I explore the way that Mootoo composes articulations of her multiple identities (Indo-Trinidadian, Ireland-born, Canadian, Lesbian, Woman, Person of Colour) and exposes how these identities, when placed in distinct national settings, often deny coexistence with one another but that such coexistences and articulations of multiple selves are possible between these spaces. In so doing, Mootoo problematizes the conception of fixed national identities and those characteristics they mandate, as they necessarily marginalize and exclude in order to include their specified group. As such, those with multiple identities – especially marginalized identities – are left in liminality and unbelonging.
Mootoo, though, does more than point to the problem at hand; Mootoo suggests an alternative. By pledging allegiance and “citizenship […] to this State of Migrancy” (Mootoo 81), she constitutes the in-between as a space of nation in which the unbelonging can belong, by virtue of its fluidity and lack of defining characteristics. In this paper, I analyze the ways in which identities are limited within national spaces, fluid and possible when untethered to strict national ideas, and the importance of multiple identities within the nation of “self” in Mootoo’s The Predicament of Or, thereby demonstrating how the volume presents an alternative to nation discourse and the importance of allowing multiple selves to be expressed rather than placed in opposition in order to create a space of belonging.
Ffionn Purcell is a graduate of Concordia’s BA Honours English and Creative Writing program, currently pursuing Concordia’s MA in English. Their research focuses on the narration of marginalized identities in contemporary (Canadian) poetry. They are the founder of Spectra, a queer journal with an emphasis on intersectionality, and current co-editor-in-chief of Headlight Anthology.
Auto-Ethnography: What It Means to be a Polish Polish Jew in the Contemporary World
Upon the armbands which you wore in the ghetto the Star of David was painted. I believe in a future Poland in which that star of your armbands will become the highest order bestowed upon the bravest among Polish officers and soldiers. —Julian Tuwim
Many Jews around the world identify as Polish Jews. This generally means that they have ancestral roots in the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, some with roots in portions of Poland that are no longer within the boundaries of what is generally understood as present-day Poland. Perhaps this is why Jews in contemporary Poland feel the need to self-identify not as “Polish Jews,” but as “Polish Polish Jews.” The repeated use of the world “Polish” implies that they are not Jews of the diaspora whose grandparents or great-grandparents moved from Poland to escape the Holocaust or pogroms, but rather that they are Jews whose grandparents and/or great-grandparents stayed in Poland through these tragedies because they profoundly self-identified as Poles. In the same way that Primo Levi identifies himself in his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz, not as an “Italian Jew,” but as an “Italian citizen of Jewish race” (Levi 13). Similarly, many Poles put their Polish nationality before their Jewish “race.” Their identity—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—is essentially inflicted by its Polishness. Polish Polish Jews are Polish Jews whose families lived in Poland through communism, families who are experiencing a renaissance in their culture through the contemporary Polish lens. Applying simultaneously a critical and an autobiographical lens, in this personal essay I examine my own Polish-Jewish identity through writings such as Julian Tuwim’s “We, Polish Jews” and Katka Reszke’s doctoral research on identity narratives of the third generation of post-Holocaust Polish Jews. I will discuss what it means to be a “Polish Polish Jew” in the contemporary world and how that identity differs from that of Polish Jews of the diaspora. Coming into conversation with Nira Yuval-Davis’ and Craig Calhoun’s respective theories on nationalism, while drawing on scholarship on postmemory by Marianne Hirsch, contemporary Poland by Erica Lehrer, and views on post-Holocaust Poland expressed by Elie Wiesel, I will examine my own claim< to this label of “Polish Polish Jew.”
Lizy Mostowski is currently pursing her Master’s in English Literature at Concordia University. Her poetry and fiction have previously appeared both in print and online publications including The Center for Fiction’s The Literarian. She is presently the Miriam Aaron Roland Fellow at Concordia’s Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies.
Termination: The Intersectionality of Abortion Rights in Canada
My creative research project, “Termination,” uses theories of nationalism to analyze women’s autonomy with regard to abortion rights in Canada. Abortion issues in Canada have been covered from many angles, and have been mainly seen as a medical issue according to the law instead of an issue of autonomy over a woman’s body. Lack of clarity in Canadian law after abortion was legalized has continued to mean uneven access to abortions in different regions of Canada. This short story follows the interactions of a group of university students in Fredericton, New Brunswick during protests over the closing of the local abortion clinic. It is a multi-genre work, using the POVs of various characters, including an Indian-Canadian woman, a Mexican Catholic woman (Permanent resident), and an Indian man (International student). Academic footnotes are used to apply the work of feminist and post-colonial nation theorists such as Nira Yuval-Davis and Partha Chatterjee, as well as the history of abortion rights in Canada and media coverage of protests in Fredericton following the closure of the Morgentaler Clinic. These footnotes add historical and cultural background to the story, such as with the influence of Christianity on Canadian cultural codes regarding sexuality, or the influence of traditional cultural roles from India and Mexico on tensions between individual beliefs and relationships to various diasporic communities in Canada. Yuval- Davis’ work is used to speak to the resistance to gendered roles among different ethnicities, the burden of representation for women, the ‘rigidity and freezing’ of cultures in diasporic communities, and the gendered body as territory, while Chatterjee’s speaks to post-colonial narratives of nationalism and how social conservatism and a new type of patriarchy has infringed on the rights of women in India. Through this project, I hope to further discussion of how belief systems have obstructed objective updates to abortion access, violating the rights and freedoms afforded to Canadian women.
Mona’a Malik grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick and completed the creative writing diploma program and the English honours degree at Memorial University. She is currently completing a MA in English and Creative Writing at Concordia University.
Life is But a Dream: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as Medieval Dream Vision
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is about finding one’s identity in childhood outside of the rigid Victorian ideology of the childhood ideal. Catalina Balinisteanu argues in “Subversion of Authority in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that the traditional moral narratives designed for children in the Victorian era give children the autonomy to subvert the adult’s authority. In fairy tales, specifically, female protagonists are given “more freedom and space in the beginning (many female protagonists rebel against the adults and try to elude the constraints imposed by the society), but later she [the female protagonist] is confined to the domestic sphere just as the Victorian woman is” (Balinisteanu 72). Carroll subverts the authority of the fairytale by situating the adventure in Wonderland within Alice’s dream—by invoking the trope of the dream vision, Carroll facilitates societal subversion with the promise that Alice will return to reality. First, however, Alice must fall into a dream vision to find her identity as a child amid the ideologies of education and womanhood in Victorian England, distinct from the earlier didactic writers that Carroll parodies in the novel.
In what ways does Alice in Wonderland qualify as a medieval dream vision? In what ways does Lewis Carroll subvert the medieval dream vision to fit his Victorian audience? How are these subversions significant to the text and to the child audience of Alice in Wonderland? How do Alice’s experiences in the dream world help her to return to the reality of the Victorian world and her role as a Victorian girl and ultimately a Victorian woman? In asking these questions I will show the function of the medieval dream vision in Victorian childhood ideology and how Alice’s exploration of her dream vision shapes her understanding of the reality that she ultimately returns to.
Calista Michel is a Master’s student at Queen’s University. She studies medieval and 19th Century childhood literature and its function in the dissemination of social ideologies in an attempt to understand modern constructions of childhood.
Immortal to Mortal: Writing About a Parent’s Death in Creative Non-Fiction
This presentation will focus on why we feel lost, as well as lonely, after a parent’s death. Why is it that after a loved one dies we feel more like we have lost ourselves than them, and how do we come to terms with this ‘selfish’ reaction to grief?
I will read a piece of my own creative non-fiction entitled “Love, Me.” The piece is about me finding a box belonging to my mother, four years after her death. By searching through this box I found some poems she had written. I did not know that she wrote poetry. However, it was not the uncovering of these poems that surprised me most but the raw, real emotions conveyed in the lines. After reading these poems my mother finally transformed from ‘Immortal to Mortal.’ In my presentation I will explore how we eventually must accept that our parents are not immortal, not only in the fact that they will die one day but also in that they are human. They are flawed. They feel things we do not want them to, like sadness, fear, and desire.
As well as discussing my own work and experience I will be looking at creative non-fiction works that explore life after a parent’s death, focusing specifically on the popular 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.
Caterina Incisa is originally from London, U.K. She has been living in Montreal since July 2013 and has fully embraced the cold and poutine. She completed a BA (Honours) in English Literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K. and is currently in her first year of the MA program in English and Creative Writing at Concordia University.
On A Bridge of Dreams: Dreams, Reality and the Unconscious Collective in M.T. Anderson’s Feed
In M.T Anderson’s Feed, individuals are connected to a live stream of images and advertisements through a chip implanted in their brains: the feed. Feed’s similarities with contemporary Western society provides much ground for critical discussion; however, the current discussions by Clare Bradford, Abbie Ventura, Elizabeth Bullen, and Elizabeth Parsons are limited as they examine the novel primarily as a capitalist dystopia. Ventura explores the dehumanizing effects of Feed’s global capitalism, whereas Bullen and Parson explore the novel’s political implications. Bradford, meanwhile, discusses the social implications of Feed’s consumer society on agency and the individual. However, this focus on solely the capitalist-consumer dimensions of Feed ignores the significant dimension of dreams. As Titus’ dreams are increasingly infiltrated by feed-media and hackers, one begins to question his ability to dream on his own. Reality is also manufactured in this way, as the feed-technology mediates Titus’ experience with the world, alienating him from the world outside of America and the feed. I apply Walter Benjamin’s critique of the capitalist dream, the spell cast over society by commodity fetishism, to interpret the distorting effects that feed-technology has on reality and dreams. I propose, then, to interpret Feed as a dream dystopia, and pose the question: “What does it mean to dream in a world where reality is manufactured, and even your sleeping state can be infiltrated by hackers and corporate agendas?” or, more simply, “What does it mean to dream in a world where your dreams are not your own?”
Caleigh McEachern is a Master’s student in English at the University of Toronto. She is interested in critical theory, posthuman literature and criticism, media studies, and video games. Her current research obsession is with examing the role of interactivity and spatial interpetation in video game narratives.
The Autobio[graphic] Novel: Trauma Through Comics
As a genre, the graphic memoir takes an intersectional approach to the memoir, the graphic novel and a linear narrative. That is, graphic memoirs are able to blend different literary elements that may otherwise not be used together to complete a narrative. By blending such elements, literary binaries begin to emerge that blur the lines of genre and form. While combining elements of text, pictorial representation, and linear storytelling, graphic memoirs also distinguish between these forms effectively creating binaries that at times, work together to render complete narratives. Drawing from such graphic memoirs as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Ann Marie Flemming’s The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, this presentation aims to explore the relationship between these narrative formats and how they come together to render a complete life story. Also drawing from Scott McCloud’s influential work, Understanding Comics, this presentation hopes to offer an explanation as to why these binaries have made the graphic memoir such a successful avenue for the life-writing text.
Rachel Wong is a first-year MA student in Comparative Literature at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. She previously completed her BA and Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in English Literature at Simon Fraser University. Her research interests include Asian North American diasporic fiction and theory, issues of hybridity and liminality in diasporic and travel writing, narrative theory and the memoir.
The Very Secret Diaries of a Fan in Academia
The division between literary fiction and its less “complex” cousins such as genre fiction, pulp fiction, and fan fiction has been widely discussed, as has the juxtaposition between how the academy treats literary fiction and how it treats said cousins. Fan fiction in particular is viewed with disdain in many corners of academia and literary society; the parasitic, mawkish fumblings of those unable to produce more meritorious works, fan fiction is relegated by many to the realm of the childish, the kitschy, and the intellectually lacking. However, in the wake of former fanworks such as E. L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments attaining worldwide fame and generous profits, it seems that fan fiction is not nearly as inconsequential as some within the academy would like it to be.
My presentation, named after Clare’s popular series of Lord of the Rings fanworks, is a hybrid of formal literary analysis, autoethnography, and my own fiction, both fan and literary. By juxtaposing my Master’s thesis — in progress, titled Kōan, and dealing with complex issues of queer representation and neoliberalism — with a Lord of the Rings fanwork I wrote in 2003, I’ll trace the interaction between fan culture and contemporary literary fiction, analyzing how the 13 years I’ve spent in various fandoms have contributed to my studies in English and anthropology; my knowledge of formal aspects of fiction such as plot, characterization, metaphor and zeugma; and the inspiration for many of my academic and creative works throughout my undergraduate and graduate career. By combining academic evidence, anecdotal illustrations, and my personal experiences and writing, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between literary fiction, literary studies, and fanworks.
Caitlyn Spencer is a first-year MA student at Concordia in the creative stream. She has BAs in English and Anthropology from the University of Calgary, and has won awards in both disciplines. A fan fiction writer and former roleplayer, she has been active in the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Les Misérables fandoms.
Postcolonial Play: Deconstructing Narratives in Settlers of Catan
With over eighteen million copies sold worldwide, The Settlers of Catan has become for many the unofficial figurehead of what has been described as a board game Renaissance. However, despite the medium’s surge in popularity, little criticism has been written on the interactive narrative construction (comparable to growing video game criticism), nor object-oriented ontological study (analyzing the role of components and rules in their relation to emergent gameplay). In a blog article entitled “Postcolonial Catan,” French game designer Bruno Faidutti begins such a critical conversation in stating that “natives are nowhere to be in seen in [The Settlers of] Catan.” Indeed, speaking of the game’s narrative more broadly, Faidutti asserts that “Catan is colonization as we dream it, or as we would have liked it, to be, colonization of a new world which looks just like the old one as is void of alien presence.” Settlers of Catan provides players with a narrative persona with which they can engage in simulated, sanitized colonialism. This redacted experience of colonial narrative is reinforced through physical components, art design, and ruleset. For my presentation, I propose an experimental application of critical and literary theory. Through a postcolonial critique, specifically a Spivakian lens, of Settlers of Catan, I hope to problematize what may constitute a tacit endorsement of imperialism unconsciously disguised by an uncritical promotion of the thematics of play.
Colin Young is currently a first-year MA candidate at Concordia University in Montreal, QC. He received his Honours English BA at York University in Toronto, ON, after which he spent three years working for the Snakes & Lattes board game café as a Game Guru. Colin has been playing, teaching, and thinking about board games for the past decade, and is currently trying to develop a critical lens with which to examine narratives of play.
False Face Society
My submission is a short fiction story. The narrative focuses on a few pivotal days in a young man’s search for meaning and direction. After being fired from his sales job, Barry decides to take a clown workshop to discover his deeper self and what he might want out of life, and open up the possibilities of Toronto’s bustling entertainment industry. He comes away with the cynical conviction that he is living in a false face society – that people perform some version of themselves, wearing masks, so to speak, that are never static. The anxiety and restlessness of his situation are heightened by loneliness and a budding drug addiction. He likes to think of himself as an unreliable character and narrator, operating on the margins, but realizes that his desires and goals, those that haunt him in the darkness of his windowless bedroom, might solidify his mask, and threaten him with the possibility of failure in his performance.
A community of strange artists and bohemians, mentally ill beauties, and drug addicts populate his building, which is itself a symbolic in-between space – old and crumbling brick amidst the proliferating glass condos of Toronto’s fashion district, precariously preserved in a cloud of porcine death stench emitting from a slaughter-house with a 100-year lease just upwind. The vast lake lurks in the distance.
The character attends an open casting call for the Blueman Group, and as he makes his way through the days of auditions, he finds himself teetering on the brink of an abyss. To want something is to open oneself up to difficulty and the possibility of failure. To avoid trying is to remain the puer aeternus, an eternal child in an aging body, steadily pulled down by the march of time. He realizes that his conception of the pure clown character (the marginal jester, operating outside the binaries constructed by society) is theoretical and itself needs to be upset, flipped, and blurred by his need for money, acceptance, and some measure of security. It needs to be lived.
Yann Geoffroy grew up in the woods of the Eastern Townships, east of Montreal. His dog’s name was Gabbi, which was his made-up word for mouse. He could hear many Gabbies scratching in the walls and ceilings of his home. He has milked many cows but is not a farmer, and was once the youngest member of the Barbershop Harmony Society of North America because of his killer pre-pubescent falsetto. He is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Concordia University. He makes a mean eggplant parmesan and always roots for the underdog. Music plays from the basement of his apartment.
Between Bodies: An Autobiography Without Self
Antonio Damasio theorizes three dimensions of “self:” the nonconscious “proto-self,” the conscious “core self,” and the “autobiographical self.” The autobiographical self frames thoughts and actions within the ownership of the individual body, producing a distinct sense of identity. The question, though, is the extent to which this identity is formed independent of its social surroundings. Matthew Ratcliffe argues that “registering the presence of another involves a change in one’s own orientation towards the world” (159). Damasio recognizes external influences as requisite to the formation of the core self from the proto-self, but he fails to fully take into account the community affect from which the individual body develops into consciousness. While the “autobiographical self” implies personal singularity, this paper will explore how deeply embedded the “individual” self is in relation to its social environment, and how this makes us rethink our understanding of the autobiography as the story of just one individual.
In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf manipulates the narrative plane to emphasize the experience of core consciousness, often confusing the reader’s understanding of who is experiencing the world from moment to moment. She does this to privilege the collective experience over the individual, emphasizing the almost incidental nature of the identity being fixed to a body. As Woolf weaves through the consciousness of her characters, a community accrues between the blurred lines of what might otherwise constitute a self-contained subjectivity. Woolf experimented with the autobiographical form in her diary, using it as a means to try on identities other than her own. Through a narrative that moves across gender, age, and class, Mrs.Dalloway continues this tradition, as an intersubjective autobiography of moments and feelings, unconfined to a single self. My project will thus propose a novel re-reading of the modernist canon and demonstrate the ways in which literature and science can work together to engage with the problem of consciousness as it has been studied in philosophy, literary criticism, and science.
Sara Press is a first year graduate student in the Concordia English department. Originally from Toronto, she did her undergraduate at the University of Guelph and a third year exchange in Nice, France. She is happy to be in Montreal.
We think of childhood as some elusive element of the past, unattainable except for the memories – however imperfect – of our selves in that fragile and fleeting span of our lives. But what happens when you return to the place of your childhood only to find certain features different from the way you remember them? Has your sacred place of the past changed, or have you? This piece is a work of creative non-fiction which explores the dissonance between our present and past selves and the relationship between self and place – that is, whether place shapes our selves or whether our selves shape our memories and understanding of place. Patricia Yaeger speaks of “the geographic equivalent of a ghost story” (5-6): how a place, through narrative, can be endowed with character or an identity and thus seemed to have lived and, in the time since those memories, passed away. For me this place was my grandparent’s farm, and because they have since moved away from there, it is a place somehow containing both the spectres of my childhood and questions of my identity in the present. While I would like to say that this piece attempts to reconcile the past and the present, it (more truthfully) seems to ask whether we can reconcile, or if we even need to.
Chris Brown is a grad student in English Literature at Concordia University and currently working on his creative writing thesis. He grew up in Saskatchewan before moving to Montreal for school, and though he tries to write about an array of his interests and experiences, the prairies just have a way of showing up in everything his pen touches.
The Fourth Wall of Kars: Space, Genre, and Rhetoric in Orhan Pamuk’s Snow
Tom Stoppard’s absurdist drama Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967) plays on the notion of life and death, entrances and exits—all the while focusing on the two title characters that never manage to leave the stage. Stoppard uses theatrical space, the physical stage, as a lens through which to examine mortality and existentialism, fate and free will, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s agency, or lack thereof. Orhan Pamuk’s novel, Snow (2005) deals with similar questions of agency as Rachel Hile outlines in her article, “The Spanish Tragedy as Intertext For Orhan Pamuk’s Kar (Snow).” Hile maintains that, by re-rendering Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (c 1592) in his novel, Pamuk illustrates the agency of the headscarf girls in Kars who have been committing suicide under immense religious and social pressure. Hile juxtaposes Kyd’s heroine, Bel-imperia, and Pamuk’s Kadife, noting that Pamuk grants more autonomy to Kadife by disregarding Bel-imperia’s final suicide written in Kyd’s script. While her discussion centers quite nicely on Pamuk’s appropriation and re-rendering of revenge tragedy characteristics, she overlooks a critical difference between The Spanish Tragedy and Snow: their forms. Pamuk’s novel not only adapts itself in terms of genre, but formally as well. The novel, while not a script, appropriates theatrical formal elements and themes similar to those in Stoppard’s play. These spatial elements are key in Pamuk’s disruption of the revenge genre. In Snow, male agency is contingent upon authorial connection to the text while female agency is predicated upon a woman’s commitment to her role therein. Pamuk’s coupling of the revenge tragedy and absurdist drama, however, indicates that females can assume agency through their performances; their bodies, though subject to the male gaze, are also vessels through which they can assert agency within a male-dominated performance.
Courtney Church is an MA Candidate at Concordia University. Though she has many aliases, including Emcee Puns-a-lot and Churchmaster C, her true name has never been ascertained or spoken aloud.
Civilizing Violence: Evolving Frontiers in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Eastwood’s Unforgiven
Clint Eastwood’s depiction of an American anti-hero in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy created one of the most iconic cinematic figures in the Western genre. The Man With No Name’s ambivalent nature as a killer who displays instances of moral behavior and a sense of justice produced a complex representation of frontier life in a time during which the American identity began shifting towards new standards with the onset of the American west’s settlement. Eastwood’s reoccurring character embodied a gradual shift from moralistic awareness to a pure manifestation of impassive brutality as his character evolved within the Dollars films. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Eastwood’s character conveys a standard of self-actualization through his pursuit of wealth by killing those who interfere with his goals. Through Eastwood, Leone represents violence as an integral part of the American west prior to its settlement, while the supporting characters in his film similarly disregard human life in their pursuit of Confederate army gold. Eastwood’s character in Leone’s films – particularly The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – consequently established a romanticized rendition of extreme violence in the absence of any form of moral, judicial, or religious presence.
Eastwood’s character undoubtedly contributes to discussions on the nature of the American identity particularly during its frontier development. Authors such as Cormac McCarthy who participate in the American West’s exposition do so with figures such as Eastwood’s Man With No Name as a significant representational model given his compelling resonance within the Western genre. Indeed, his character established impassive frontier violence in an unparalleled model of which McCarthy would have been aware when crafting his novel Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. Whether or not McCarthy actually drew specific inspiration from Eastwood’s character while he wrote his novel does not bear much relevance. Conversely, what is significantly more compelling is the dialogic body of work to which these two authors contribute on the nature of the American frontier and identity, and the process by which their art mutually influences and enhances discussions on this topic.
McCarthy’s novel articulates the transition between the old and new West through his representation of frontier violence. Violence is pervasive throughout McCarthy’s West and he does not frame violence in terms of a moral quandary. Instead, violence is symptomatic of the human condition within a context in which brutality and murder exist as unguarded facets of the American spirit. Regardless of cultural or national distinctions, acts of violence among individuals become equalizing forces through which the same potential barbarity threatens all subjects, which leads McCarthy to reinforce violence as an integral aspect of the human spirit that transcends moralizing efforts or any shift within the frontier from an unsettled environment to a civilized setting.
Eastwood’s film Unforgiven likewise articulates the shift between the old and new West; however the frontier division on which he focuses his film concerns the personal frontier between justice and violence. William Munny’s claim to being a reformed killer cannot withstand his natural inclination for violence when he returns to an environment where self-preservation mandates killing as a necessary practice. Munny embodies the transitionary nature of the American West towards the end of the 19th century; however Eastwood likewise reinforces violence as a necessary component of the human spirit.
For both McCarthy and Eastwood, Violence remains a crucial aspect of the American identity, while it extends to broader claims on the nature of the human condition. Ultimately, both authors participate in a dialogic process by which they works mutually impact one another’s understanding of frontier violence, which leads them to assert that social evolution and progressive standards may influence the frontier’s texture and qualities, yet the frontier that divides the human spirit between passivity and violence remains in irreconcilable tension.
Alexander Flamenco, Concordia University
‘To a Dronke Man the Wey is Slider’: Alcoholic Actants, Agency and Atonement in The Canterbury Tales
My paper, titled “‘To a Dronke Man the Wey is Slider’: Alcoholic Actants, Agency and Atonement in The Canterbury Tales,” investigates the implications of alcohol consumption on Chaucer’s text. Grounding my analysis in Jane Bennett’s political and cultural theory of edible matter, which posits that food and drink are autonomous substances that undermine our notions of subjectivity, I examine how wine and ale in Chaucer’s text “weaken[s] or enhance[s] the power of human wills, habits, and ideas” (Bennett 43).
“Alcoholic Actants” lends fresh insight into the ways in which Chaucer uses the nonhuman to make a unique statement about the nature of agency. Jill Mann’s argument that in medieval culture “a perversion in eating and drinking leads to a perversion in words, and vice versa” (538) assumes that the “sober” narrator is better suited to revealing and explaining him or herself authentically. This presumption is in fact contrary to the figures of Chaucer’s Miller, Pardoner, and Cook, who exude agency despite a dependence on alcohol. What we see then is not drunkenness personified but a particular kind of drunken subject, thus drawing attention to the unpredictable nature of alcohol, to its Eucharistic-salvific and destructive-intoxicant qualities. We are therefore never sure how the various qualities of alcohol are going to interact and react with a given pilgrim, and so the questions become the following: how does the vexed status of alcohol clarify the nature of narration? And how does the drunkard’s excess of conviviality lead to his or her stigmatisation within the community?
Matthew Lively, Concordia University
A Porous Partition: The Relational Ontology of Subjects and Objects in Infinite Jest
In David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest an enigmatic locker room guru urges a student not to “underestimate objects” (395). At another point a lengthy diatribe on how to cultivate good tennis skills becomes a metaphysical incitement to see oneself as “[a] body in commerce with other bodies” (160). Neither object-oriented nor corporeal-based philosophies are unfamiliar in themselves. However, Wallace’s narrative depicts recursive subject-object relationships wherein objects are estranged from their traditional categories of use and imbued with an unexpected ontological significance that is inextricable from the corporeality of the characters that interact with them. With respect to instruments of play in athletics, objects used as tools for social mediation, and the corporeal insistence of biomedical prostheses, this paper will examine some of the ways in which the ontological distinction between body and object is rendered obsolete. Furthermore, it will show that the nature and definition of each is fundamentally reliant on the other. Throughout, Infinite Jest evokes what Elizabeth Grosz calls the “osmotic” body, wherein a person’s corporeality is engaged in an “ongoing interchange” with external objects such that the rigid division between the two dissolves (Volatile Bodies 79-80). By demonstrating that the body defies containment just as the objects it interacts with refuse to remain discrete from it, Wallace’s narrative gestures towards a reconception of somatic ontology in which both human corporeality and nonhuman materiality mutually and recursively constitute each other. Not only does this philosophy offer a vision of ecological selfhood that implicates the embodied subject in a system much larger than itself; it also provides a helpful means of liberating objects from what Bill Brown calls commodity culture’s “humiliation of homogeneity” (Sense of Things 9).
Karl Manis has a Masters Degree in English from the University of British Columbia. His interests include postmodern and contemporary fiction, critical theory, and the intersections of philosophy, science, and literature. Specifically, his research examines literary depictions of subjectivity and how these might contribute to an expanded, ecological ontology of selfhood.
Caesura, Hematopoiesis, and the Refusal to “Flow:” Considerations of Blood in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Beyond
The quintessential scene from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus features a man preparing to use his own blood to sign a contract bequeathing his soul to Satan in exchange for twenty-four years of unlimited worldly power. Upon stabbing his arm, however, Faustus exclaims, in horror, “My blood congeals, and I can write no more.” Aside from providing a strange poetic caesura in the flow of dramatic events, this sudden hemorrhaging forebodes a conflict that is theatrically unstageable and scientifically irreconcilable. Blood not only delays the transaction between man (Faustus), negotiator (Mephistopheles) and overlord (Lucifer), but temporarily steals the stage, revealing what Lowell Gallagher calls “a second-order drama in which the central protagonist is blood itself.” Although this peculiar intervention is quickly suppressed — indeed, as the plot resumes, we see how the show must go on – and Faustus eventually coerces the trickle to resume from his arm, blood reveals itself as more than a passive constituent of the human body, forcing a radical revision of nonhuman agency at work in the play. Demonstrating a capacity to communicate (and obstruct written communication), to create impressions, and to divide opinions, blood “confluates” an interactive community that exceeds Faustus himself. We are left to wonder how long the show can go on before another disruption occurs. The vibrant materiality of blood provides a fresh perspective of Marlowe’s play, but also spills into new theoretical territory. In an examination of the extent to which blood has been and continues to be an active participant in linguistic and mythical frameworks, this project re-imagines blood’s role as an agent within rituals and ceremonies. Contemporary scientific theory on hematopoiesis (the generation of blood cells) substantiates a portrayal of blood that bifurcates according to its own mysterious and creative processes. Above all, blood’s inconsistent flow through combinations of determinism and chance demonstrates novel perspectives of the nonhuman powers that circulate around, within, and beyond us.
Robert Regier, Concordia University