2018 Abstracts and Bios

Friday, March 23 & 24

Panel 1

“Nobody Know Chickens like Chickens”: Bojack Horseman and Animal Affect

This paper uses the Bojack Horseman episode “Chickens” as an opportunity to critically consider the use of animality in the show’s universe. The episode itself foregrounds the arbitrary and policed boundaries between human and animal, but does so by staging that boundary between one species of animals. The critique of the episode is facilitated by the fact that these animals are frequently consumed as meat. I undertake an affect-based analysis of the episode and by extension the use of animals in the show. The episode in question challenges the idea that identification with the animal other is necessary for addressing and confronting oppressive social structures. In other words, the episode’s investment in cross-species and inter-species relationality reveals the need for a political tool that critiques the treatment of animals by factory-farm practices and capitalism more generally, without requiring that human audience identify with or speak for the animal.

Emily Wilson is a PhD student at Concordia University studying the neuronovel and its antecedents in twentieth-century literature. Her research interests include cognitive literary theories, disability studies, comics studies, and finding a fourth research interest to fill in the list. She was recently featured on a promotional poster for the University of Winnipeg’s English department and will sign copies of said poster, should you come across any.

Children of the Sea: Celtic Animal-Human Hybrid Mythology in Contemporary Children’s Animation

Despite the surge in of interest in Celtic myths in both creative and academic writing, little research has been conducted on the role Celtic-style animal-human hybrids have had in children’s animation. What do these mythological representations imply in terms of post-colonial cultural shifts? What do Celtic female animal-human hybrid myths teach children about feminist values? My research will attempt to answer these questions by examining Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea (2014) through the lenses of history, film studies, and feminist studies. The essay will begin by exploring how the protagonists of Song of the Sea learn to develop a sense of post-colonial identity and emotional intelligence from animal-human hybrids. The work will also analyze what post-colonial, feminist lessons children learn through the presented Celtic animal–hybrid myths and thus, the benefits of learning about mythology.

Melanie Proulx is an English graduate student at Concordia University. She won Concordia’s Wynne Francis Award (2017) for best Canadian literature paper. Her article “Shameless Comedy: Investigating Shame as an Exposure Effect of Contemporary Sexist and Feminist Rape Jokes” will be published in the next issue of the academic journal Comedy Studies. She also has a forthcoming publication entitled “Deporting the Truth: Tracking the Impact of Longfellow and Deportation Literature in Quebec” in the interdisciplinary graduate journal To Be Decided.

Postfeminist Bunnies: Cuteness in Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets

Two animated feature films released in 2016, Disney’s Zootopia and Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets, star an anthropomorphic bunny, and both characters are contradictory figures. Zootopia’s Judy Hopps, the title city’s first bunny police officer, and Pets’ Snowball, the leader of the revolutionary group The Flushed Pets, combine charming looks with powerful personalities, challenging stereotypes of aesthetically cute individuals (a category that includes many women and a variety of animals) as essentially domestic and vulnerable. Unfortunately, both films undermine the subversive potential of their bunny characters: postfeminist rather than feminist, they promote individual choice and empowerment over collective action, and they do not advocate systematic social change, ignoring or outright undermining feminist politics. Zootopia focuses on Judy’s personal journey, avoiding analysis of the ideological and social systems that oppress certain groups, while Pets deradicalizes Snowball by pairing him with a human owner at the film’s conclusion. Neither film demands profound change in popular Western conceptions of cuteness, limiting their political potential and preventing them from making strong (eco)feminist statements.

Melanie Hurley is a PhD student in Memorial University of Newfoundland’s English Department. Her research interests include children’s media, girl culture, film studies, and feminist theory. She is currently working on her dissertation, a study of the Disney Princess franchise’s relationship with feminist and postfeminist discourses, particularly how those discourses manifest in girl culture media, and with attention to how the cross-media platform marketing of the characters affects how commentators interpret them in relation to these discourses.


Panel 2

Phallocentrism and Human-Animal Hybridity in the Bisclavret and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

This paper analyses the hybrid human-animal figures of the werewolf in Marie de France’s twelfth century lay Bisclavret and Edward Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s nineteenth century novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with particular consideration of critical animal theory and Georgio Agamben’s notions of the sovereign and the subject. By examining how human characters are allowed to possess and wield animal violence, and how this violence may be privileged in certain social contexts, this essay determines that Bisclavret and Jekyll and Hyde meet where animal violence becomes permissible in homosocial spheres; namely, knighthood and bourgeois professional settings. Ultimately, this work seeks to suggest that savagery is socially sanctioned in these texts if it is performed by the aristocratic male, towards the correct Others.

Taylor Tomko is a Masters student in the English Department at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in the carnivalesque, alchemy, occultism, spectacle and non- theatre entertainment cultures in Early Modern drama and the nineteenth century novel. For more of her academic adventures and bad witch puns, you can follow her on twitter @taylorktomkoubc.

“Questionably Fleshed”: Comparative Anatomy in the Poetry of Sylvia Legris

In Sylvia Legris’s latest poetry collection The Hideous Hidden (2016), each poem is a theatre of anatomy. The poems as theatres are drawn from historical texts, but we are also imagined to be standing in them, and we stand at the ready. A commanding mode of address puts the scalpel in the reader’s hand. Or, at most distant, we are huddled over Legris’s shoulder, assisting her—anatomist-poet—at “the island of prosections” (The Hideous Hidden 29-32), a prosection being a dissection led by a pro. Our hands are not clean. Human and animal bodies are open. They are dissected in textual experiments that enact new modes of scientific and poetic inquiry. Incising and writing are conflated in “The calligraphic race against putrefaction” (“The Lungs and Other Viscera, c. 1508,” HH 40). Reading this history as a colonizing of the language of the body, and thus of the body itself, provides a frame for some of the best work Legris is doing. Her poetry is an intervention that decolonizes the body by bringing the language of anatomy in all its complicity, complexity, and music to the surface for interrogation and creation.

Jesse Ruddock is a Canadian-American writer. Her first novel Shot-Blue (Coach House Books) was released to critical acclaim across North America this year. The New York Times says, “Ruddock writes with startling intimacy.” The Globe and Mail says she “has a horrible knack for immediacy.” Ruddock is currently completing her PhD at Concordia, focusing on contemporary poetry and anatomy. Her writing has appeared in The Newyorker.com, N+1, BOMB, Vice, etc. She is Editor of Jazz and Poetry for the magazine Music and Literature.


Panel 3

It Was Always the Hottest Year on Record: Obscuring the Anthropocene in Guillaume Morissette’s The Original Face

Since its inception, the notion of the Anthropocene has had a tense relationship with individual humans. While the term productively highlights the increasing impact of anthropogenic processes in the mediation of planetary life, it also asserts a monolithic conception of anthropos that undermines the individual’s capacity for agency. As a result, the Anthropocene confronts us with two divergent conceptions of humanity: the human as a participant in a local ecosystem, and the human as a global agent that actively mediates biological life of the planet. With that in mind, this paper will examine Guillaume Morissette’s novel, The Original Face, which offers a disorientingly contemporary portrayal of the the impact that this bifurcated notion of humanity has had on individuals living in the age of the Anthropocene.

David Shaw is a PhD student currently studying in the English department at Concordia University. His work focuses on critical posthumanism and the emergence of the neoliberal subject. In 2017 he completed his MA at the University of Manitoba, where he coordinated the Posthumanities Research Group. His work is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Liminality in Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson is an uncertain and fluid approach to liminality and the boundaries between the spiritual and physical world. Throughout the novel Lisamarie explores her relationship with herself, her family, and the world she lives in. Massey says, “From the symbolic meaning of spaces/places and the clearly gendered messages which they transmit, to straightforward exclusion by violence, spaces and places are not only themselves gendered but, in their being so, they both reflect and affect the ways in which gender is constructed and understood” (Massey 179). The novel follows Lisamarie as she moves from child to adult, a transformation that is not without its traumas and painful moments. This transformation can be seen reflected in the destruction of the land by the Alcan Aluminum company, a company that is destroying the rivers at the same time that it is providing jobs. The land becomes a source of healing for Lisamarie, and a place that she can use to reconcile the spiritual and physical world. This is crucial to ultimately helping her shape her identity, Lisamarie’s connection to both her spiritual and physical space is fundamental in her understanding and engagements of family, trauma, and tradition.

Nicola Sibthorpe is a Montreal born, Creative Writing MA student at Concordia. She is interested in Folktale and Mythology and the subversions that accompany them. She was the inaugural winner of the QWF’s Young Writers Award in 2017 and has been published in Carte-Blanche. Beyond spending her days writing, she is also a teacher, and enjoys spending time with her cat and a good cup of tea.



Panel 4

Interlocking Oppressions: Animal Liberation and Settler Colonialism

The colonisation of North America lies at the heart of most if not all social justice issues that exist in Canada today. Social oppressions exist under a system that is in power in large part because of land theft and violence against Indigenous Peoples in historical and contemporary times. This paper focuses specifically on connections between colonialism and the oppression of nonhuman animals. While decolonisation efforts and animal liberation movements fight against a shared source of oppression, the two commonly clash when it comes to Indigenous culturally-based hunting or fishing. I address these concerns through a case study in Southern Ontario which positions some animal activists in opposition to the hunting traditions of the Haudenosaunee First Nation, arguing that such oppositions are unjust and reproduce colonialism. I argue settler protesters are not in a position to deny Indigenous self-determined hunting, and that such actions hurt both the movement for decolonisation and for animal liberation.

Stephanie Piovesan is in her first year of graduate studies in Critical Sociology at Brock University. Her undergraduate degree in Sociology with a concentration in Critical Animal Studies ignited a passion for a variety of social justice issues including but not limited to animal liberation, decolonization, anti-racism, and feminism. In particular, she is interested in how social justice issues are interlocked within capitalist and colonialist systems, and how these connections impact marginalized groups.

Meta: Fictional Being: Posthumanism, Ecofeminism, and J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals

J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals is something of a contemporary standard in literature classrooms interested in critical animal studies and posthumanism. Broadly this paper considers the rhetorical difficulties that attend the representation of systemic, slow violence against nonhuman others. I also indicate how ecofeminist praxis may be appropriated by an anthropocentric ethical/academic apparatus, and consider possible avenues for working through what Lori Gruen names “entangled empathy” in literature that avoids human exceptionalism. I argue that Costello’s “animal print” allows us to imaginatively inhabit what Matthew Calarco designates a zone of “indistinction” between human/nonhuman others such that we are revealed to be radically both–“neither a god nor a beast” (Coetzee 18), but perhaps not strictly human, either.

Torin McLachlan is a Literature PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He enjoys sitting for extended periods of time just cogitating, slowly but surely destroying his eyesight and friendship after friendship as he has less and less time, becomes less and less translatable, relatable, more like a table, hard and flat affectively, quite sorry he hasn’t responded to your message sooner, it’s just been crazy lately. Fields: Affect and Apocalypse.


Panel 5

Do Pikachu Dream of Electric Mice?: Animality and Oppression in the Pokéverse

In this paper, I ask whether or not the Pokémon of the franchise of the same name are, themselves, animals. Though Pokémon interact with humans and natural/urban spaces in the Pokémon world in much the same ways that nonhuman animals do in ours, the series implies that Pokémon-human bond goes much deeper than (most) animal-human bonds do in our world. In this way, the Pokémon series allows the game’s players to experience an idealized version of human relationships with nonhuman animals. Unfortunately, however, this supposedly deeper connection between human and Pokémon is only possible due to an increased control exerted by humans on their Pokémon ‘friends’. Thus, I argue that though Pokémon are perhaps not animals in the way we know them, they do function as such within the world of the game—and further, that the franchise continues to rely on humanity’s absolute control over the nonhuman other. As such, the perception that there is greater human-animal respect and mutual understanding is only that—a perception, as the games ultimately reinforce the use of human tools to control and subjugate the nonhuman other.

Marika Brown is a recent graduate of Carleton University’s Masters in English Literature and Digital Humanities. Her research during her Master’s focused on animal and machine ontology in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Though she does not intend to continue that same project, she hopes to, someday, continue studying the intersection between animality and mechanality at the doctoral level.

Shapeshifting Allegiance in Radiant Dawn: Allegorical Alterity in Children’s Media

Didactic narratives, particularly those directed towards young people, have long used the figure of the animal as an allegory for alterity. As Kay Anderson notes in “The Beast Within,” animality “has been a crucial reference point for constructing sociospatial differences and hierarchy [which] has informed rhetorics of race” (4). The continued reliance on animals as metaphorical stand-ins for victims of racialized violence, however, elides the lived experience of the very groups these narratives purport to represent. Simultaneously, they problematically imply that humans cannot and should not empathize with non-human animals, that animals are not themselves victimized. This paper undertakes an analysis of the video game Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn to suggest that a narrative of allegoric alterity, while having the potential to challenge hegemonic structures of power through a depiction of human-animal indistinction, risks being coopted into an anthropocentric worldview that elides the violences experienced by both humans and animals.

Alex Custodio is a second year MA student in English literature at Concordia University, where she also serves as the Vice President of Internal Affairs for the Student Association for Graduates in English. She works as a teaching assistant in the English Department, a research assistant at Milieux’s Media and History Research Centre, and a graphic designer for Headlight Anthology. Her research interests include archival practices in fan communities, and video game preservation and emulation. Her work is funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec—Société et Culture, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

“i lik the bred”: Animal Consciousness and Language in the “Cow Poem” Meme

The prevalence of talking animals in literature and media for children is undeniable, and this relationship between childhood and animality is played out in many different internet memes. The cow poem meme resists a simplistic representation of developmental hierarchy by mobilizing a sophisticated structure in a deceptively simple poem. The strict policing of meter and language—as exemplified by the arguments between internet-users—highlights the importance of adherence to the proper form, which indicates that it is much more complex than mere baby talk. The use of the pseudo-Chaucerian Middle English lends an air of prestige to the language by associating it with the highly regarded “Father of English poetry.” Although the cow poem meme seems to continue the tradition of associating animals with childhood and a lack of development, it actually complicates the hierarchical relationship between human and animal consciousness by lending to representations of animality a highly structured, rigourous form that prioritises prestigious language.

Katheryne Morrissette is a second year MA student in English at Concordia University. Her research currently focuses on the development of colonialism in medieval literature, and her interests vary from the very old (looking at medieval uses of ancient Greek and Roman literature and mythology) to the very recent (thinking about portrayals of “medieval” periods in contemporary media). She works as a research and teaching assistant in the English and Irish Studies departments, and serves as the Treasurer for Concordia’s Student Association for Graduates in English.


Panel 6

Funereal Fauna: The Rewilding of Mourning

In the span of four years, I faced the deaths of a close friend and my grandfather. While such experiences of mourning would have been life-altering on their own, both of these deaths were quickly followed by haphazard encounters with blue whales. As such, I cannot separate animals from my process of grief. I’m interested in the role that animals play in rupturing the quotidian. How do extraordinary encounters with animals reshape our grief? What do these ephemeral meetings tell us about loss? Is it possible to call for a rewilding of mourning. My presentation asks what we can learn from grieving in the presence of an animal. Though these chance encounters are finite and ineffable, they nonetheless hold potential for making life richer, even as we recognize our own mortality.

Mark Ambrose Harris received his MA in Media Studies from Concordia University in 2008. His writing appears in Nomorepotlucks, In the Company of Animals: Stories of Extraordinary Encounters, and I Like It Like That: True Stories of Gay Male Desire. His essay “Beautiful Books” received the Songe-de-Poliphile award from l’Académie de la vie littéraire au tournant du 21e siècle. He provided the exhibition text for artist Jamie Ross’ 2017 show at the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture. He’s a regular contributor to CBC Arts.

“Something That’s Dead”: Metaphor, Microbiotics, and Radicalized Empathy in the Anthropocene

In my autoethnographic paper, I investigate empathy as a tool to revaluate what our society deems to be ‘waste’. My understand of ecology is founded in making visible and fundamentally respecting the equality of human and non-human forms of life, including plant life and animals, all the way down to microbacteria. I then scale-down that argument, focusing on gut flora as an ‘acquired organ’ consisting of microbacterial beings which nourish us with their ‘waste’ as we nourish them with ours. Within the open ecosystems of our bodies, we thrive on this invisible cycle of life and death. I decentralize humanity as a marker of value, asking readers to perceive the lives of microbacteria beyond their role in metaphor (e.g., in regards to their relevance within the context of human consciousness). I urge us to understand them on their own terms—as autonomous life with a value equal to that of human life. I then expand the scale of this argument to examine life within the context of the anthropocene, engaging with theory on ecology (Timothy Morton), illness (Johanna Hedva), and empathy (Leslie Jamison). I establish what I call ‘radicalized empathy’ as a political tool to facilitate our ongoing observation of the vast interconnectivity of both human and non-human life. Though empathy is not an answer in itself, I posit that it is the first and most essential step towards ending exploitative global systems—towards living symbiotically within our bodies and planetary ecosystem.

Jessica Bebenek is a publishing poet, essayist, and scholar based out of Concordia’s English & Creative Writing MA. She teaches and works as a Coordinator at the Centre for Expanded Poetics, where she organized the recent international Occult Poetics Symposium. Her current research interested focus on lyric-conceptual poetry, materiality, textile arts, coded languages, and witchcraft.