Find the full final schedule HERE.
MARCH 15th, THURSDAY
10.30 – 12.00 PANEL 1: Mythologizing the Nation
(Alba Devo Colis, Western University) On Talion’s Law or the Demystification of the Rule of Law in Mexico
Mexico is a country of normalized corruption and violence normalized in which one lives events that are implausible yet real. A place in which one lives in a demystified framework of legality that has taken justice into its own hands: lynchings. Despite the fact that these events have registered more incidents in the last lustrum than in the previous twenty years -according to academics from the Autonomous Metropolitan University, UAM for its initials in Spanish, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM-, there is no official data from the authorities. Hence, facing an unsteady Rule of Law that causes impunity for the illegal acts committed, justice by its own hand has been established as the illegal way to achieve justice. Faced with this reality, social media has been useful as a spokesperson for injustice or as a framework for resistance. However, they have also been established as a means that materialized the voice that incites action against the opprobrium or omissions on the part of the authorities. Given the demystification of realities, legalities, and illegalities, it may be asked if there is a solution to such state of affairs, or if it is merely a symptom of this postmodern reality that has elevated unreason to a myth.
(Ashley Lanni, Concordia University) Making Memories and Museums: A Narrative for a New Soviet Society
Historians like Hayden White, Frank Kermode and Eviator Zerubavel have shown that humanity places narratives onto historical time. In order to understand the world around us, humans emplot time, connecting disparate events to weave together a digestible story that can be dissected and understood. Humanity creates these narratives in order to give random events meaning and purpose. Despite claims that history must be an objective process, it cannot present itself as just facts; as soon as we offer interpretation or connection, facts become stories. Nowhere is this more apparent than in times of political and social unrest, when history takes on an elastic form to legitimize and serve the wills of different groups. Periods of upheaval typically marry iconoclasm, i.e. the destruction of traditional symbols, with symbolic reinvention. Monuments, written histories and museums are adapted to fit a new narrative that typically empowers those at in authority. However, is there a typical form to this historical re-crafting process? Is it possible to keep the symbols of the past when the activities of the present denounce it? In a period of revolution, when the past and its injustices are being eschewed for a brighter future, how is historical reinvention used to inspire patriotism? For a country like Russia, which overthrew an imperial government for a communist state, how was history reframed to support a socialist narrative? Could some of imperial history be celebrated when revolutionaries decried its excesses? After 1917, a fledgling Soviet Union not only had to revolutionize its political and economic structure, but change how Russian culture viewed itself. My research explores how, in the first ten years of the new Soviet state, a new historical understanding was complicated by a pull to salvage elements of the past, creating a dualistic symbolic system. Using Frank Kermodes historiographic theories, I will present how the Soviets rebranded history in an effort to create a new national consciousness and socialist mindset.
(Ailén Cruz, University of Toronto) Subversive Beasts: Rewriting Argentine History through the Medieval Bestiary
200 años de monstruos y maravillas argentinas (2015), compiled by Gabo Ferro and illustrated by Christian Montenegro and Laura Varsky, is a subversive text that offers the photographic negative of 200 years of Argentine history. The work blends historical accounts, contemporary graphic design, and the medieval literary form of the bestiary to illuminate the darkest corners of the country’s history. The text is composed of unedited historical documents, contextualized by sardonic, sinister images that hold their written counterparts accountable. Between text and image, a dystopia is laid bare, one that does not occur in a parallel or abstract reality, but occupies a time and space already passed. The purpose of this paper will be to explore some of the lived dystopias of the Argentine past through the lens and implication of placing humans in a form traditionally reserved for animals.
13.30 – 15.00 PANEL 2: The Stories We Tell Ourselves
(Jenna Santyr, York University) Are the Lives We Live and Tell a Product of Fiction? Fictitious Life Writing
Life writing is a form of narrative that attempts to reconcile the life lived with the self-constructed. The narrative form is dependent on the distinction between fiction and non-fiction and ultimately becomes caught within a paradox of indeterminate reference to the real world. The artificial representation of life which life writing creates firmly establishes the self as merely a fictive construct. The question arises here of fiction and the use of fiction in understanding one’s life and recording it. If the self that is the centre of all life writing is a fictive structure, then are the fiction-making processes that produce the self central to a life lived and any form of art created in order to reproduce that life? By exploring how the content and form of life writing discloses the modes in which we construct meaning and reveals how the self relates to itself, others and culture through language, this paper intends to reveal the resistance and contradiction of life writing that acts as a strategy of self-representation. This paper will attempt to form an approach to understanding the importance of narrative as an expression of embodied experience, mode of communication, and form for understanding the world and ultimately ourselves. “The solidity of a consistent model and the construction of the self as a distinct entity give way to increased emphasis on the multiplicity of self-construction, varying textual strategies, and the location of the diary within cultural frameworks” (Bunkers & Huff, 1996: 5) and as such a braiding of fictive selves will be explored in order to identify the fiction-making processes that produce the self and reveal the multiplicity of self-representation in life writing. Narratively, the fictitious self appears on three levels; self by culture, self by other, and self by “I.”
(Nafise Shajani, Western University) Masqueraded Subjects and Subjectivization in Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy
My presentation focuses on the relationship between the reality of fiction and the assumption of fictional roles and disguises by characters in Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy, as examined through the critical lens of Slavoj Žižek. Žižek contends that in this postmodern age our problem is not believing in fiction or taking it too seriously, but on the contrary, our problem is not taking fiction seriously enough. He further argues that in real life, because of social constraints, we are unable to enact who or what we truly are or want to be. However, as soon as we adopt a false mask or persona—for instance, in the virtual space of a computer game—we can enact an identity which is much closer to our true selves. In other words, we need the excuse of fiction to stage what we truly are.
In my presentation, I aim to apply this Žižekian insight to a reading of Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy in order to uncover how the characters assume multiple masqueraded identities to actualize their potentiality as a way to subjectivize themselves. Indeed, their role-playing brings to mind Žižek’s controversial contention about disguise as a means of realizing the self and subjectivization because by insisting on a false mask, we are nearer to our true subjectivity than by throwing off the mask and displaying our true face. To be more precise, hiding under a mask (or pseudonym) of someone else, where one is supposedly not oneself, is tantamount to finding the position where one is ironically most like oneself. I shall argue that this indirect method of identity formation is strategically adopted by Auster’s characters in order to realize their potentiality as subjects.
(Jessica Ellis, Western University) Transnarrative Autobiographies and Bakhtin’s Chronotope
Dominant iterations of truth are perpetuated not only in theoretical spaces, but are also played out in everyday life. We must look at how dominant narratives exclude certain realities from becoming viable notions of truth. Trans scholar Jay Prosser went through the bulk of his F-T-M transition while teaching an intensive summer course. Neither he nor his students could find an appropriate moment to verbally acknowledge the situation, despite the increasingly obvious physical changes. He felt uncomfortable mentioning his own transition because “If in contrast my body remained as unspeakable for me as it was unreadable for students, it was in part because narratives of sexual crossing lay outside our designated subject matter. Indeed, such narratives had not yet to be formed into any kind of equivalent critical tradition.” His body was not yet framed in a dominant narrative; it was illegible, unreadable and consequently, not a viable truth or reality. Non-binary subjectivities are not realized as truths, argues Prosser, because they are “split” between a past and a present state of identity, which falls outside the heteronormative linear conception of reality. The split subjectivity, however, can be healed and the materiality of trans subjectivity can be established in narrative form by writing transnarratives or autobiographies that show how the body and narrative write and conduct each other. Though I take this approach to be productive by increasing the legibility of bodies in transition, I offer a critique with the hopes of bolstering its account of materiality. By focusing on the framing of the narrative as the key to establishing trans subjectivity, Prosser elides an expanded discussion of how the autobiographical narrative form itself has been influenced by dominant heteronormative literary traditions which abstract from material conditions and perpetuate a static subjectivity. Focusing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on the chronotope, which explains how social and material elements become transposed into literary forms, I aim to expand the materiality of Prosser’s transnarrative project.
15.30 – 17.00 Dr. Pauline Wakeham (Western University)
KEYNOTE: Truth and reconciliation in a Post-Truth Age: Settler Colonial Fictions and the Limits of the Sayable in Contemporary Canada
In December 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its multi-year inquiry into the history and ongoing impacts of the Indian Residential School system (IRS) and published a series of final reports that have catalyzed discussions about the history and present of settler colonialism in Canada. This moment of national reckoning with the foundational violence upon which Canada has formed itself, however, has coincided with the ascendancy of a post-truth culture in North America in which relativism and the right to free speech have been co-opted as alibis for the denial of gross human rights violations against Indigenous peoples. Amidst the exigencies of this climate of disavowal, it can be tempting to abandon more complex philosophical understandings of truth and to fight denialism by responding to their recitation of “alternative facts” with yet more facts—a strategy that can risk reducing context to atomized factoids. In this paper, I will argue that the longer context of the historical production of settler colonial truths and the division of the perceptible they establish is necessary for contextualizing the current crisis. Such analysis will shed light on the ways in which the more extreme factions of settler colonial denialism that are garnering national attention work to reinforce the validity of ostensibly more apologetic articulations of settler state reconciliation and the limits of the sayable they prescribe around the recognition of colonial violence. Additionally, by tracing the longer context of the historical production of settler colonial truths, it might be possible to ask whether, from the perspective of colonized peoples, the post-truth phenomenon may not be as new as it seems for dominant North American society.
17.15 – 18.45 PANEL 3: Truth and Responsibility
(Zachary Brewer, University of Calgary) Making King Lear Great Again: Obligations to Truth and Justice in a World of Alternative Facts
One of the most unsettling characteristics of the world of “post-truth” is that so many of the events which transpire during the 24-hour news cycle seem to be manifestly unbelievable, and that the “real issues” which confront a world of stagnating austerity economies, shocking inequalities of wealth and opportunity, global climate change, and political disinterest in significant humanitarian calamities are subordinated to social media self-congratulation and Twitter-verse arguments over whose “Nuclear Button” is bigger. Although Shakespeare may not have imagined a world which had taken such apparent leave of its senses in King Lear, one cannot help but find the play’s political climate of unprecedented administrative decisions and its chaotic structures of power functioning within an ecclesiastical and juridical vacuum disturbingly relevant to the daily realities of 2018. Historically, critics such as Samuel Johnson find Lear to be a fundamentally unjust play in which the nominally “good” characters – like Cordelia – suffer, and the “bad” characters – like Edmund – are allowed to thrive. However, neither Cordelia, who serves only truth, nor Edmund, who pursues his own brand of truth, survive the play, and this calls into question the relationship between truth and justice while also positing the question of whether a preoccupation with truth or “truthiness” proves valuable or effective in confronting situations of immediate civil crisis. Indeed, the dramatic business of King Lear suggests that questions of truth – which seem to have relative value only to specific political, philosophical, or epistemological organisations – may actually hinder just actions, actions which are necessary to the defeat of the brazenly malevolent forces at work in both public and political spheres.
(Andrew Woods, Western University) Intellectual Leprosy: A Crisis of Attention
In my paper, I unpack one of the French philosopher Simone Weil’s most enlightening, albeit neglected, concepts: intellectual leprosy. In her polemical 1943 essay On the Abolition of All Political Parties, Weil contends that party politics infects citizens with the habit of thinking “only in terms of being ‘in favor of’ or ‘against’ any opinion, and afterwards (seeking) arguments to support one of these two options.” I argue that Weil’s conception of intellectual leprosy is a premonition of the post-truth condition, because it denotes a state in which an emotional commitment to one’s in-group precedes sincere and reflective thought.
Intellectual leprosy depends on the degradation of attention. In my paper, I expand on Weil’s distinction between spontaneous and voluntary attention. Whereas the former is a state of tense and sudden alertness triggered by extreme emotion, voluntary attention is more purposeful and relaxed. I argue that spontaneous alertness typifies the post-truth condition, because polarizing political discourse aims to fuel outrage and disdain before it attempts to persuade and convince.
Additionally, I contend that Weil’s ideal of voluntary attention is increasingly unattainable in the age of Semiocapitalism. I investigate the impact of social media platforms and smartphones on intellectual leprosy, and explain how these Semiocapitalist mechanisms encourage partisanship through the commercialisation and “clickbaitization” of journalistic practices. I develop Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s notion of “chronopathology” to demonstrate that the attention economy strives to capture social time to prevent people from cultivating voluntary attention. Finally, I revisit Weil’s proposal in On the Abolition of All Political Parties for the complete upheaval of our political and media infrastructure, and speculate on what we need to do to develop a lasting antidote to intellectual leprosy.
(James Belford, Western University) Infantilized Rigidity and the Authoritarian Personality
The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the relationship between psychological rigidity, psychological frailty and authoritarianism from a psychoanalytic perspective. The paper will analyze modernity in terms of the seemingly contradictory increase of certainty and ambiguity, of zealous overconfidence and deep insecurity. The essay will show how this phenomenon arrived in history along with highlighting its’ relationship with the contemporary rise in “strongman” political figures; characters that best exemplify a dogmatic overconfidence stemming from a fear of transitivity.
To begin with, the paper will analyze the various factors contributing towards psychological rigidity. The increasing abstraction characteristic of capitalist rationality is at least responsible for this, as the world has been continually divorced from specify and particularity, the “subject” becomes increasingly abstract and rigid. This is characterized by the tendency for the western subject to prefer the “either/or” statements of symbolic logic to a more transitive subjectivity.
This increasing contrast between these two aspects is a major force of alienation for the modern subject. The alienation inherent in the symbolic and semiotic leads partially to the subject’s sensitivity and frailty. The subjects increased relationship in modern society is becoming increasingly infantilized, in which the subject’s needs are being increasingly and instantly gratified. While the subject is increasingly viewed in abstract, symbolic terms, the semiotic aspects of the subject are continually and easily fulfilled.
The paper will culminate in how these notions lead to authoritarianism. The desire for the subject to mastery, is increasingly alienated due to a simultaneous active and abstract mastery compounded with a still-present, passive and ambiguous corporeality. The fact that the only authority is an abstract one will lead towards a desire to transgress this dichotomy through new authoritarian policies. These authoritarian leaders exemplify this contradictory imago.
MARCH 16th , FRIDAY
9.00 – 10.30 PANEL 1: Documenting (Un)Seen
(Ariel Leutheusser, CUNY) The Impetus to Hyperreality – The Documented, The Immersive, and The Uncanny
When the possibility of enchantment by the unknown is incapacitated by immediate access to and the ever-presence of digital knowledge, we cleave to the prospect of the documented unexplainable. We require the factual, the documented, to shape our conception of what constitutes a believable narrative before we can release ourselves to the power of the uncanny. The aesthetics of the hyperreal are practiced to convince the skeptical contemporary individual of the remaining stakes of the uncanny.
In this paper I examine the contemporary German-Canadian conceptual artist Iris Häussler’s immersive installation art alongside the genre of found footage horror, from its emergence in 1999 in the film The Blair Witch Project, with a particular focus on the 2009 film The Fourth Kind, towards a theory of the aesthetics of the hyperreal, and the particular stakes of the hyperreal in this so-called “post-truth” era.
In found-footage horror, in its use of the aesthetic conventions of documentary, a filmmaking mode cleaving fast to fact in order to weave a belief in its narrative, to represent – or not represent – the unknown, often out-of-frame menace, the form confronts and appeals to what Kristeva terms our incredible need to believe. We believe because we want to and cannot help ourselves. We need to believe in the veracity of the images that are presented to us in order for us to give ourselves over to the pleasures and unpleasures of the unknown.
(Wil Patrick, Western University) Infrastructure of Misery: Bracketing Violent Relations Inflicted by the Internet
Prevailing epistemologies imagine the Internet as a cloud: a digital mist permeating our world that is captured in screens. I assert these fantastic epistemologies constitute a bracketing of relations that distance the user from the materiality of the Internet by what the imaginary entitles its users to forget. This epistemology of ignorance allows users to resist fully implicating themselves in the extractive relations necessary for perpetuating the Internet. First, I build on Tung-Hui Hu’s analysis of Internet infrastructure and epistemologies to expose the actively shaped forgetting of material conditions, which constitutes an epistemology of ignorance. Second, I expand on Elizabeth Povinelli’s idea of “enfleshment” and apply it to Ingrid Burrington’s documentation of Internet infrastructure to describe how flesh and materials are arranged by the state and capital to shape and maintain the Internet in North America. Third, I show how the construction of materiality that shapes the Internet inflicts Rob Nixon’s concept of “slow violence” on persons and land, and how these relations of violence have been normalized or bracketed by Internet epistemologies. I conclude that dominant Internet epistemologies facilitate ethical distance from the violence the Internet inflicts. In order to engage with the violence caused by global infrastructure projects, alternative epistemologies are necessary. Finally, I propose such an epistemology by developing concepts previously discussed.
(Busra Copuroglu, Western University) Fast and Loose with the Tangible: Archive Dreaming and Dreaming Archives
In “The Universal Library” (1901) Kurt Lasswitz declares the “triumph technology” as he comes up with a formula to store all the books in the world. Then, Jorge Louis Borges in “The Library of Babel” (1941) conceptualizes a library universe that is able to house all the books. Moreover, in Spring 2017, contemporary artist Refik Anadol launches his media installation titled “Archive Dreaming” , creating a digital library that unites 1,700,000 documents via employing machine learning algorithm. He presents it as a conception of the AI, that goes into a dream stage where it creates correlations among documents. Furthermore, in December 2017 he launches its 3D version, entitled “Virtual Archive.” As these installations transform the gallery space and generate a digital library experience, they also blur the line between technological innovation and contemporary art. They also incite a discussion on the future state of the libraries as tangible storages of an archive. He challenges the traditional understanding of a tangible and a factual world. What inspires to bring these two writers and a contemporary artist together, is the way they play with the matters of our factual worlds: storage of books, information and facts.
Ongoing advancements in technology, AI studies offer another reality. This reality can be described in terms of Beth Coleman’s perception of X-Reality, which she defines as “a continuum of exchanges between virtual and real spaces… describ[ing] the mutual impact of real and mediated engagement” and “an interlacing of virtual and real experiences.” Her statements can also be read together with Lev Manovich’s conception of “augmented space”, which he explicates as “[a] physical space overlaid with dynamically changing information, multimedia in form and localized for each user.”
Delineating Manovich’s “augmented space” and Coleman’s “X-Reality”, this paper questions the physicality of the factual world Anadol creates, inspired by the conceptions of libraries of Lasswitz and Borges and the illusion(s) of reality they create using the storage of various “facts” as their tools.
10.45 – 12.15 PANEL 2: The Stories We Tell Others
(Manuel Antonio Paradela Maceiras, Guelph University) Places that Reject. Structural Failure and the Abyss of the Real in the Works of Witold Gombrowicz, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Ikuhara Kunihiko
The most interesting momento in the Platonic allegory of the cave may be its ending, and with it the suggestion that the prisoners will try to murder their liberator; as Slavoj Žižek suggests, Truth is a violent and traumatic force. This work will present a study of several instances in which Truth presents itself as a force capable of breaking down the structure that sustains the very existence of a subject, in a manner analogous to the Lacanian Real. Thus, Truth presents itself as that which escapes and subverts the very essence of the order of representation, an order which is revealed as what Bran Nicols calls “conspiration of the Symbolic”. This disruptive Truth produces a trauma in the subject’s psyche, a trauma which may provoke a series of different modes of reaction, of which I will study: the paranoiac, as in Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, understood as an obsessive attempt to reconstruct the Symbolic; and the mystico-suicidal, essential in El viaje vertical, by Enrique Vila-Matas. Lastly, the animation series Shōjo Kakumei Utena, directed by Ikuhara Kunihiko, suggests the possibility of a rejection of the system through the figure of Byung- Chul Han’s “idiot”, whose very incapacity to understand may function as a incarnation of Truth itself – provoking a trauma not in the subject but in the very web of the Symbolic, opening wounds that cannot be closed and that point to the abyss of the Real. To conclude, I will suggest ways in which the association between trauma and Truth have affected our perception of it and led it to its current conundrum.
(Bahareh Nadimi Farrokh, Western University) The (Im)possibility of Gender Factuality in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I live In
We are living in a post-truth period in which we could not be certain of the accuracy of multiple waves of narratives submerging our consciousness. In such era, whether the issue of gender has a reliable and identifiable external significance is an inevitable encountered challenge. Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish screenwriter and director has always been known for challenging the hegemonic system of gender and sexuality, and for promoting a transitory and shifting approach to these categories. In his 2011 film, La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I live In), he creates a film within film, and a narrative of gender ambiguity and murder in which transition and transgenderism, gender resistance, multiple sexualities and human identities are very well represented. In my essay, I analyze The Skin I Live In to illuminate the fictive nature of the normative gender constructions. Multiple versions of one story and little fixity and certainty in Almodóvar’s narrative depict an oasis where the processes of recognition and gendering and sexuality are very volatile, and forever in flux. Almodóvar challenges the reliability of factual recognition of gender; as a result, he questions the dependability of truth and factuality. Through the analysis of this film, this essay sheds some light on the issue of gender recognition and what happens to the ‘reality’ of gender in the post-truth era that we live in.
(Sheetala Bhat, Western University) Is There an Outside to the Closet?
Delineating Sedgwick’s arguments about silence, and the separation between the axes of sexuality and gender in her work Epistemology of the closet, this paper attempts to understand closet as a nature of knowledge about sexuality, rather than the stage of development through which one “passes.” This paper traces Sedgwick’s debt to Foucault by reading sexuality in the light of Foucault’s arguments about silence and extending these concerns for the productive effects of discourse to the realm of “ignorance.”
Here ignorance is not a single state of being which one can overcome through knowledge. Silence is a necessary condition to the proliferation of discourses, which are “hierarchized, and all highly articulated around a cluster of power relations” (Foucault 30). Hence, this paper, drawing from Foucault and Sedgwick, attempts to see ignorance as a locus upon which discursive category of closet is called into question, by opening the possibilities of resistance and change. This paper argues that as ignorance is an inevitable part of this knowledge system, one is always in the stages of discovering and rediscovering one’s sexuality, and hence permanently caught within the closet.
Mapping sexuality onto a different axis than gender, Sedgwick frees sexuality to its indefinite, moreover, infinite possibilities. Sexuality becomes a free play of meaning not located in the gender of the object of desire. It spans across multiple sites, runs through multiple nodes, and opens up different permutations and combinations. This paper attempt to understand this theoretical move as rendering the person an insurmountable amount of agency, allowing that person to choose from a vast range of possibilities which cannot possibly be exhausted. Therefore, one can never explore one’s sexuality completely. There would always remain unseen territories, and untrodden paths of pleasure and desire. This paper, by queering everyone, attempts to argue that there is no outside to closet. It also explores the questions regarding the relevance of this theoretical move to the queer politics in the realm of activism.
13.30 – 15.00 Dr. Steve Bailey (York University)
KEYNOTE: Prophets/Villains: Three Stops on the Road to Post-Facticity
In this talk, I explore the potential for developing a strong analysis of “post-factual culture” (the culture associated with but hardly limited to Trumpism and related socio-political phenomena) through some older modes of critical theorizing. Through three sections—“Adorno’s Theses,” “Althusser’s Science,” and “Kroker, Kroker, and Cook’s Panic”—I explore the anticipation of “truthy” culture in the work of some important twentieth century theorists.
The foundation for my analysis is located in Adorno’s injunction to “think the unconditional and endure the conditional” (from his Theses Against Occultism), a call that finds curious echoes in the work of the later thinkers. Preserving a space for the unconditional, as in Althusser’s somewhat clunky attempt at a Marxist science and in Kroker, Kroker and Cook’s more flamboyant analysis of art practices, is a requirement for building a meaningful critique of present circumstances, against giving in to the language game of the troll or, more dramatically, a fuller renunciation of both subjectivity and meaning. The talk then explores the curious fact that the critical traditions reflected in these schools of thought, and particularly the Frankfurt School (Adorno) and cultural postmodernism (Kroker, Kroker, and Cook) are frequently identified by critics as leading the charge for an undermining of very notion of truth through an insidious relativism; this critique is made predominately but not certainly not exclusively on the cultural and intellectual right and echoed in a range of mass cultural venues. Thus, the prophets of post-factual culture are for many the villains of the same. Returning to Adorno, I conclude with reflection on the importance of not reducing the truth to “the conditional” (a temptation across forms of fundamentalism, dogmatic materialism, and even some corners of contemporary theory) and struggling with the necessity for something more than the “metaphysic of dunces,” to use Adorno’s term.
15.15 – 16.45 Panel 3: Contact Zones
(Ryan J. A. Phillips, Ryerson University) Frames as Boundaries: Rhetorical Framing Analysis, Narrative Construction, and the Strategic Confines of Public Discourse
Framing is the attempt to draw attention towards certain aspects of a topic while deflecting attention away from other aspects; similar to how a picture frame might be chosen in order to emphasize some aspects of a photograph and/ or de-emphasize others. Understanding this phenomenon is significant given the demonstrated effectiveness of framing in influencing the perceptions of audiences, whom typically rely on the most readily available information in order to make decisions or interpret social phenomena. As rhetorical scholar Jim A. Kuypers has argued, facts remain neutral until we frame them in particular ways. While some form of framing may be necessary in order to convey a message by means of constructing a coherent narrative, framing can become insidious when it is used for political or ideological purposes.
Many media scholars now generally agree with Walter Lippmann’s notion that, while mass media might not necessarily be effective in telling people what to think, they do tend to be particularly effective in telling people what to think about. This phenomenon is known as agen- da-setting, and is usually associated with the related concept of agenda-extension—the process by which, once facts have been framed in a particular narrative, that narrative is then expanded upon until it becomes the dominant narrative regarding a given issue. However, little scholarly work has thus far addressed the boundary work that frames perform. My work therefore address- es the methodological concerns regarding how frames create discursive boundaries within which an issue is able to be discussed, while simultaneously working rhetorically to exclude other facts and relevant information from that discourse. In this paper, I discuss both the methodological significances of this phenomenon (which I call agenda-dismissal), as well as some prognostic rhetorical strategies for reframing public discourses and debates.
(Jonathan Nash, Western University) Not Quite Queer Enough: Zones of Exclusion and Homonationalism at the Border
In this paper, I turn to the spaces in-between Euro-American borders, such as the refugee detention centre, that have been “deemed devoid of human life,” to think through how life in these spaces offers alternative cartographies, political ruptures, interruptions, and refusals of both normative and ethnographic objects of knowledge. I situate this paper within the scholarship on queer refugee claimants to interrogate how the “queer” object of knowledge limits, detains, and turns away those bodies that do not fit the “queer” standards of Euro-American nations. As Rachel Lewis writes, “movement across borders [often] reinscribes heterosexuality, regulates homosexual expression, and renders invisible the bodies and self-identities of those who dare to cross” (2014). This paper, then, contends that nation-state borders inscribe the boundaries of what is acceptable as a queer body through the refugee application process. Indeed, queer refugees and asylum seekers are contained at the borders of Euro-American nations, where they are tasked with proving their racial and sexual “identity” through stories, documents, and genealogies filtered through Euro-American ethno-epistemologies of sexuality and race. What does it mean to seek out a queer body as an object of knowledge outside the Euro-American borders? What configuration of epistemologies enable researchers to mis/un/recognize this body Following Lisa Duggan’s and Jasbir Puar’s term homonationalism, I critique the Canadian state’s projection and classification of the ideal queer person, which replicates white, (hetero)normative values. I also think through how the “queer” refugee body is exploited by the Canadian gaze to sustain the sexual exceptionalism of the state. Sexual Exceptionalism is the “double play” of exception and exceptionality whereby the State posits itself as exceptional for its “progressive” sexual politics in comparison with the “regressive” global south. In addition, the state maintains an exception from its own rules insofar as non-white or non-homonormative populations within and without the state are subject to exclusionary violence.
(Rachit Anand, SUNY Buffalo) De-Scribing Truth in Defoe’s A Journal of a Plague Year
What does it mean to assert that what I wish to describe cannot possibly be described? Defoe’s Journal (1731) poses its readers and the whole tradition of story-telling with this question. On one hand Defoe’s imagined narrator H.F. relies heavily on exhausting facts and statistics to make his reader come face-to-face with the extremities of the London Plague and on the other hand he incessantly asserts that what he seeks to narrate lies beyond the bounds of narration. This gives rise to a fiction of de-scription—writing that inscribes the limits of description. 1 This form of story-telling may also be characterized as the fiction of disaster, an experience which cannot be described but only de-scribed. Disaster, in Defoe and others after him, fosters an imagined “Body of the People.” This body of the collective must be protected against a disaster that cannot be apprehended in words. This use of language—with its negative valency—poses a challenge to the enlightenment edict of facts and testimony as a mode of truth telling. This paper will explore the technology of this form of story-telling that precedes contemporary apprehensions about “post-truth” by three centuries but concealed within which lies the seeds of the limits of truth and realism. If realist fiction captured life and tragedy in “sentences,” then Defoe’s disaster fiction makes use of vague numbers and assertions about the limits of description. This may be seen as the break-away point of fiction, the road to the outside that is inaccessible within the fictive, but fiction can illuminate the boundaries beyond which it cannot traverse.
17.00 – 18.30 PANEL 4: Archiving, a Shifting History
(Kelsey Perreault, Carleton University) Human Rights Museology: Issues in Past Future Dissonance and Curating Difficult Knowledge
In my MA thesis, “Remembrance as Presence: Promoting Learning from Difficult Knowledge at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights” I proposed a theory I termed past-future dissonance. This theory proposes that the contact zone of past and future within the museum is always in a state of flux or disagreement because time is continuously moving. Thus, to plan for the future by looking backward proves impossible. I selected the Canadian Museum for Human Rights(CMHR) as a case study to think through my theory and suggested remembrance practices and engagement with difficult knowledge as possible solutions for overcoming past-future dissonance. My current PhD research expands beyond the CMHR to negotiate how this dissonance elides contemporary human rights issues in museums on a global scale. Principally, my research now includes visits and interviews being undertaken at the Imperial War Museum (London, UK). This new paper and presentation on “Human Rights Museology” questions if and how truthful representations of human rights injustices are sacrificed in favour of Nationalistic narratives, in which a shameful past is cast against an idyllic future. I ask: What is the curators role in revealing or concealing truths? Can human rights debates be brought into the present within museums? What is the museums responsibility as a socially conscious institution and how are museums influenced directly or indirectly by external forces?
(Tajdeep Brar, University of Toronto) Agnatology and Lead Poisoning
This paper examines the creation of a dominant understanding of the effects of lead on human health in the 1920’s and 1930’s, that served to prevent the recent invention that was leaded gasoline from being perceived as the extreme hazard to human and environmental health that it was later shown to be. This understanding was deliberately created by scientists and doctors associated with industries that had distinct interests in the continuation and spread of leaded gasoline usage, using emerging conceptions of the body and health, the results of purposefully-erroneous studies, the authority granted by scientific publications, and racial and sexist assumptions prevalent at the time. It was used to overcome the longstanding and widely-held conception of lead as a human health-hazard that led to a fierce opposition to leaded gasoline when it was first marketed in the early 1920’s, and also served to move the scientific discourse on leaded gasoline from the realm of public health to that of industrial hygiene, where it could be better controlled. By examining studies on the health effects of lead and leaded gasoline published in medical journals in the United States of America between the years 1920 and 1935, I show that industrial scientists and doctors were able to form and cement fundamental assumptions about the danger of lead upon which all later scientific understandings were built, and shifted the scientific discourse and understanding of lead and its relation to human health and the environment away from any domains that could harm the lead and leaded gasoline industry. Thus I show how a false scientific “truth” was constructed, perpetuated, and rendered unquestionable via the very tools of science itself, demonstrating an early facet of the development of industrial agnotology.
(Maryam Golafshani, Western University) Barring Witness to Reality in Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls
Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby never wants you to forget that his 2013 film, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, is precisely that: a film. Barnaby often describes Rhymes as a kind of “bare knuckles cinema,” an apt and visceral description of theoretical framework I will use to analyze his film: “barring witness”—my way of integrating Audra Simpson, David Gaertner, and David Garneau’s theories of Indigenous refusal and settler scopophilia. Rhymes simultaneously lays bare the complexity of Indigenous experiences on the reserve while also refusing to present “realistic” renderings of those experiences for the settler scopophilic gaze. In this way, the film is barring (striking or punching out) settler desires to consume the “reality” of Indigenous experiences. By barring settler scopophilic desires through a unique blend of horror, action, and drama, Barnaby’s film is able to—instead—tell the story of a teenage Mi’gmaq girl’s desire for revenge against an abusive Indian agent. Rhymes intervenes in the highly saturated audiovisual field depicting Indigenous experiences for settler audiences—a field that is overdetermined by claims to transparently and wholly offer settlers the “painful reality” of Indigenous life, especially through documentaries and the “theatre” of testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Rhymes disrupts fallacious assumptions that photographic / cinematographic lenses always capture reality; instead, Barnaby never lets viewers forget that what they are watching is mediated by a highly stylized lens. As such, the film reminds settler viewers that they are only ever presented with a re-presentation of Indigenous life—a fiction of sorts, never a complete nor transparent reality.
MARCH 17th, SATURDAY
10.30 – 12.00 PANEL 1: Staging Narratives
(Brittany Reid, University of Alberta) Fact or Romantic Biofiction: Biomythography in Contemporary Plays about the Shelleys
Although it has been nearly two hundred years since they lived and wrote, nineteenth- century writers Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley continue to haunt the theatre in the twenty-first century. But while their writing remains a subject of interest for theatrical practitioners, especially Mary’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, biographical plays about the Shelleys themselves have emerged as a popular theatrical genre. However, although playwrights often employ the established documentary record as the basis for their scripts, recently, many have used the Shelley’s own imaginative ideas as the impetus to stage inventive biomythographies1 inspired by their lives. Accordingly, such plays about this husband and wife from literary history consciously eschew strictly factual representation or documentary realism. Instead, these Romantic Biodramas employ biography’s generic hybridity to create biomythographical dramatic portraits based on the lives of these historical writers. With this theatrical history as my point of departure, this paper then investigates how the Shelleys’ lives, relationship, and authorial interactions have been creatively reimagined and reconceived through contemporary biographical plays, or, Romantic Biodramas. More specifically, I am focusing on plays that represent radical departures from the established documentary record about the Shelleys’ lives.
My study draws from two distinct case studies, Rose Scollard’s Caves of Fancy (1997) and Darrah Teitel’s The Apology (2013), to demonstrate how the Shelleys have been uniquely reconceived through the theatre. Through these two exemplary performances, what emerges is a multifaceted dramatic portrait of the Shelleys that speaks to the mutability of their shared biographical image, presented here onstage as anachronistically modern or supernaturally mythical, respectively. Ultimately then, my paper explores how the documentary history of these canonical writers has been theatrically reimagined through their biomythographical representation and considers what these radical departures reveal about the relationship between fact and fiction in Romantic Biodrama.
(Sarah Warren, Emory University) Much Ado About Technê: The Role of Rhetoric in Ethico-Political Discourse
In an era characterized by the towering predominance of social media and deep ideological rifts between competing political parties, the romantic notion of pursuing the ideal of “truth” is habitually tempered with the pragmatic necessity of calculating to what degree such truths will resonate with valuable demographics. Part and parcel of such calculations is determining not only what one might say, but why and how one might say it. When discourse manifests as pithy 140-character messages promptly relegated to the bloated labyrinths of digital archives, it is easy for truth to become handmaid to the demands of the now—demands that sacrifice integrity and consistency to more immediately profitable considerations. Rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, overshadows its epistemological underpinnings.
Yet rhetoric is a practice of ancient, not recent, vintage. In Plato’s Gorgias, we are given a skeptical account of rhetoric that, framing it as both conceptually wanting and ethically troubling, is strikingly pertinent to our contemporary situation. Positioning philosophical exercise as the proper corrective technê (expert craft) of the soul against which its rival, rhetoric, vies for preeminence, Plato argues that rhetoric prioritizes the acquisition of power through unsound tactics at its own peril: either it is myopic and hence misguided in its pursuit of its (purported) good via the corrosion of its practitioner’s soul or it is merely philosophy by another name. While logically compelling, however, it is far from clear that Plato’s Socratic account is convincing to its narrative audience—why? Moving from textual exegesis into non-Platonic conceptions of expertise and moral intuition, this paper examines how a tiered system of technê might make space for rhetoric as a complementary form of expertise that lends affective traction to the cold logic of Socratic philosophy—an expertise that Socrates himself seems to come, albeit underhandedly, to appreciate.
(Anna Nguyen, Concordia University) Hierarchies of Knowledge: From Food Writing to Understanding Food Through Science Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have supplemented our understanding of perceptual knowledge in the context of food; however, some of these perspectives may seem incomplete because of the overemphasis on subjectivity. Food is indeed personal, yet, it has become apparent that this thing called “food studies” is caught between academic and cultural paradigms. That is, some food scholars want to continue to explore its personal dimensions while proposing a scientific explanation of how and why we should understand our food. In this paper, I address the possibility of food writing and attempt to explicate sensory language and knowledge by exploring food memoir as a literary genre. M.F.K. Fisher, Jacques Pépin, Ruth Reichl, and others have long written about their connection to food and cooking. A recurring theme in these food memoirs is their inefficacy to truly write about food universally or prescribe sensory categories. What are the goals of writing a food memoir? To teach the reader the tastes, smells, and textures of food and foodwork? How can these lessons be learned through reading? In an attempt to address these questions, I use Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological framework to guide my literary analysis of the meaning of food writing, as he expresses that first-person sensory narratives are important and can express embodied knowledge. I then compare phenomenological food accounts to current scientific food writing, in which food “facts” and sensations can be legitimized by science. We then might ask ourselves why we trust a particular food critic or writers’ tastes, and whether or not we change our opinions if we do allow ourselves to submit to scientific facts and rhetoric.
13.00 – 14.30 PANEL 2: Whose Truth Is It Anyway?
(Isabel del Toro, University of Guelph) “More humans than humans”: An analysis of the nature of truth and memory in Blade Runner 2049
“Truth is a matter of the imagination”. Ursula K. Le Guin says so in her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, a novel deeply concerned with the ways we conceive constructions such as gender or nation. In it, she talks about the nature of science fiction as a “thought experiment” where possibilities can be tested to reveal something about our own reality. The idea of fiction that reveals a truth and becomes a truth in itself is very relevant in an era so full of constructs that it is difficult to determine what is “real”. A great example is the 2017 movie Blade Runner 2049. The main character, a replicant, begins to question the legitimacy of a series of memories regarding his “childhood”. These memories, he believes, were implanted to make him “more human”, empathic and, consequently, easier to manipulate. Yet, a series of events lead him to suspect that the memories he possesses may have not been implanted at all. At the end of the movie, he discovers that the memories were never his own but intended to make him do exactly what he is expected to. Still, he is changed by them; even when the memories are not his own, they ultimately are. This poses a series questions. Does the main character act out of conviction or was he simply programed to do so? How is his experience different than our own in a reality where we are exposed to a multiplicity of narratives? Are our ideas our own? In this paper, using affect theory and science fiction theory, I aim to explore the ways in which the movie looks to reveal how we are emotionally affected by culture and media and how this impacts the way we think and behave in an era where facts and truths are no longer easy to elucidate.
(Nicholas Tostowaryk, Western University) The Entropy of Truth and Reality: Dust in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
“‘Everything is true,’ he said. ‘Everything anybody has ever thought’” (Dick 209). This statement comes from Rick Deckard, the protagonist of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, as his response to the debunking of Mercerism, a world-religion based on empathy. In the novel’s world, empathy has become the sole quality that distinguishes humans from androids, humanoid beings manufactured to serve humans on a newly colonized Mars, many of which have attempt to escape to earth. Society responds to androids by orienting itself toward empathy and locating the ability in the relationship between humans and other organic animals, an attempt to affirm a narrative of the human and organic life as integral aspects of reality. Meanwhile, androids undermine this reality; Deckard notes as much when he broaches the novel’s titular question: “Do androids dream? . . . Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee” (Dick 169). Androids prove as unwilling to conform to the reality of servitude imposed upon them as humans prove unconsciously willing to conform “reality” to ever-changing strictures. In this way, Deckard’s rumination on truth concerns as much the truth of Mercerism as it does that of the human and, by extension, that of truth itself—as that which conforms with or informs reality. Dick thus sets up truth and reality as entropic constructs—seemingly permanent structures subject to the decomposition and recomposition inherent to material existence, that is, until “a point comes when it does not even decay” (Dick 196). Dick evinces this constructionist perspective through the dust which figures throughout the novel. The “legacy” of a third world war (8), dust manifests the materiality of history, as it is caught up in the inherent entropy of material existence. This paper reads an emancipatory potential in dust’s particulate form, as it engenders the unavoidable disintegration of truth and reality, the realization of which reveals a liberating malleability as concomitant to their impermanence.
(Donatas Sinkunas, Western University) The Fusion of Author/Subject and Character/Object, and Entropological Creation of Reality in Digital Era
Our daily lives and academic discussions are increasingly more focused on the economy and market of attention (Tim Wu), the relatively new phenomenon of mobocracy, the increased ideological polarization of masses, and the role of “keyboard armies” used by those interested in the dissemination of fake news. This way it is sought to confuse and manipulate people and turn them into a certain type of political subjects, which, I argue, complicates the traditional philosophical distinction between the subject and the object. Moreover, the artificial creation of like-mindedness redefines the concept of intersubjectivity. In order to better explain these newly emerged analytical distinctions, I invoke and modify the following notions from literary theory: three levels of authorship, the ungraspable nature of artwork (understood in a broad sense), and the process of the creation of characters. Authors of all three levels succumb to the principle of entropology (the term made of the words trope and entropy understood simply as randomness, disorder, or unpredictability). Entropology is an incessant process of producing tropes that must be relevant, timely, reliant on already existent knowledge (Timothy Williamson) and able to successfully reach and inhabit the recipient’s mind. The outcome of this process is the disappearance of clear and fixed boundaries between fiction and reality and the emergence of an ideological chaosmos in which not only the latter boundaries are blurred, but also the distinction between being an author or a character is not clear. I will illustrate these statements by referring to recent political campaigns and events from around the globe, the use and abuse of social networks and an Irish author, Paul Murray, whose novel The Mark and the Void deals with these themes handsomely and creatively mocks the entropological way banks operated before the financial crisis of 2008.
14.45 – 16.15 ROUNDTABLE – Construction of Truth and Reality: Are we done with facts?
Moderator: Busra Copuroglu (Western University)
Participants: Dr. Pauline Wakeham (Western University); Dr. Louis Charland (Western University); Dr. Christopher Keep (Western University); Chris Coughlin (Western University, Theory and Criticism), Alexandra Lépine (Western University, Theory and Criticism)
16.30 – Grad Club Closing Reception