Tuesday, 5 February 2013

English Research Matters 2013

All students are invited to English Research Matters 2013, a conference presenting the wide range of exciting projects that are underway in the English department.

The conference begins on Friday February 15 in Arts 1043 with a session highlighting departmental collaborative and engagement work. Faculty members will present on research that includes archival work, oral history, contemporary culture, and creative endeavours, showing that bringing together community and academic expertise produces tremendous social and scholarly benefits.

The conference’s opening session will close with a performance and discussion by talented musicians (and retired English faculty members) Pat and Joe Byrne.

On Saturday February 16, morning sessions will focus on British, Irish, Canadian and Newfoundland Literature. Afternoon sessions will concentrate on creative and speculative fiction, medieval and early modern literature, modern performance, and American and World Literature.

For further information and a complete schedule of the event visit http://www.mun.ca/english

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Five Questions: Dr. Fiona Polack

Originally from Australia, Dr. Fiona Polack did her PhD at the University of Tasmania on contemporary writing about Tasmania and Newfoundland. She moved to Canada in 2001, and taught at the Université Sainte-Anne in south-western Nova Scotia before coming to Memorial in 2007. She predominantly teaches and researches in the fields of post-colonial and island studies.

1. What was your best grad school experience?

Getting a scholarship to do research in Atlantic Canada. Like most Australians, I'd heard all about Western Canada but had only the vaguest idea of the East. I ended up being so struck by the similarities between Tasmania and Newfoundland that I changed the topic of my thesis. Little did I know I would eventually have a job at MUN, and a daughter with a Newfoundland accent.

2. What was your worst grad school experience?

Waiting for the examiners' reports on my thesis. Oral defenses aren't part of the PhD examination process in Australia so a sense of closure can prove somewhat elusive.

3. What was the place outside your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

The hiking trails on Hobart's spectacular Mount Wellington. I had all my best ideas up there. I even ended up writing a chapter about the mountain for a collection called Imagining Australian Space.

4. What text/book did you do in grad school that you never, ever want to encounter again?

The 1927 silent movie version of Marcus Clarke's melodramatic novel For the Term of His Natural Life.

5. What was your grad school comfort food?

I'm ashamed to admit it was custard. My family still knows to dive for cover when I start rummaging around for the Bird's tin.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Life After Grad School: Jacqueline O'Rourke

 Into the Deep has been on hiatus since the end of May, but re-launches for the 2012-2013 school year with a profile of a former Memorial English graduate student, Jacqueline O'Rourke and her new book Representing Jihad: The Appearing and Disappearing Radical, recently published by Zed Books.

From the book's press release:

The jihad has been at the centre of the West's securitization discourse for more than a decade. Theorists constantly use the jihadist as a discursive tool to further their neoliberal, military and market agendas, perpetuating massive gaps of understanding between 'the West', Muslims and jihadists themselves. They are helped by Muslim interlocutors, who all too often play the role of 'good' Muslims explaining the motifs of the 'bad' Muslims.

This timely book argues that Muslim theory and fiction has been significantly commodified to cater to the needs of western ideology. It skillfully critiques the ideological contradictions of the debate around the jihadist by offering a comprehensive analysis of Muslim and non-Muslim cultural critics. Ranging from Edward Said to Slavoj Zizek, from Don DeLillo to Orhan Pamuk and from Mohammed Siddique Khan to Osama bin Laden, this vastly heterogeneous discourse produces a multi-dimensional Muslim response. O'Rourke examines some of its critical fault lines in postcolonial theory and literary analysis.

Jacqueline O'Rourke completed her PhD, M.A., and B.A at Memorial as well as a MEd and BEd at Saint Mary's and Dalhousie universities, respectively. She has worked as Consultant in Research and Communications for the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bit Nasser Al Missned where she was responsible for speech writing, messaging, media training, and research and policy advising which involved setting up various social organizations in the region such as Al Fakhoora, a humanitarian organization for Palestinian students, various projects connected with the U.N.'s The Alliance of Civilizations, as well as various youth initiatives and debate venues. She has also taught composition at various universities in the Middle East and Canada and authored a book of poetry, various articles of politcal and cultural analysis, academic materials for writing students. Her book Representing Jihad: The Appearing and Disappearing Radical grew out of her PhD thesis supervised by Dr Noreen Golfman. She recently returned to Newfoundland and works as an independent consultant offering the following services: speech writing, media training, messaging,designing communications plans and strategies,policy advice and research services.

The following interview is excerpted from a longer article about Jacqueline and her book in the online journal Jadaliyya:

What made you write this book?

I was living in Canada in 2001 when the 9/11 bombings occurred and shortly after moved back to the Middle East, where I remained for 10 years ( I had already lived there for 5 years previously).  Throughout this period I was often befuddled by the diverse and multi-layered uses of the figure of the jihadist in virtually every discussion on the Middle East and contemporary Muslim cultures. I was further interested in how this figure was permeating Western cultures, in fiction, music, theory, and even fashion. As an avid student of culture, post-colonialism and Orientalism, I watched sometimes with amusement and sometimes despair, how this figure was being used to demonize Muslims even further and to justify the militarization of Muslim lands.  The proliferation of works by “good” Muslims explaining the motifs of the “bad” Muslims seemed to create only more misunderstanding as the jihadists demonstrated they were quite capable of articulating their demands and representing themselves. It was this disjuncture, of Muslims of various political persuasions and ambitions, vying for media attention and public sympathy, as well as the rebirth of a Western neo-Orientalism from both the neo-conservatives and the left that led me to explore the figure of the jihadist as a possible launching point of a critique on the state of ‘theory” today.  As such, my book maintains that the appropriation of the figure of the jihadist, whether it be contained within neo-Orientalism, anti-Orientalism, the globalization debate, media studies, post-colonialism or post-secularism demonstrates the deafening silence of genuine interaction between Muslims themselves, and Muslim theorists and their Western counterparts in thinking through some of the critical social and political issues of our times.  The contribution of my book is to bring into dialogue works of Muslim and non-Muslim writers, secularists, moderates and radicals, to demonstrate how a genuine contrapuntal discourse is required to understand complex issues of global cultures.

What particular topics and literatures does it address?

I begin with the Arab revolutions and the desire in the early days of these revolutions to make the figure of the radical jihadist disappear - as irrelevant to progress in the region.  As I predict in the opening chapter and as the title of my book indicates, the jihadist is made to disappear and reappear at will, and we can see this, of course, in recent discourse on both Syria and Libya. The book covers this fascination and usage of the jihadists in various “fields” such as Orientalism, particularly the use of the jihadist in popular literature, for example, in justifying the militarization of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the impending confrontation with Iran.  Culture and politics are inseparable here as books such as Reading Lolita, The Kite Runner, and even lesser known works such as those by Yasmina Khadra serve to humanize the “good” Muslims who need to saved from the “bad” Muslims by imperial partners. My book also examines how post-colonial theory, though formed through case studies of Muslim societies by Edward Said and Franz Fanon, whose works I nevertheless deeply admire, often largely left Islam out of their theoretical and revolutionary formulations.  For example, I look at intersections in the thoughts of Shariati and Fanon ,often ignored by post-colonialists, as well as examine Said’s secular bias which has been the cornerstone of post-colonial theory. Recent growth of post-secular theory such as the work of Ẑiẑek and Eagleton, though sympathetic to Muslim causes in intention, also display a lingering Orientalism, Ẑiẑek moreso than Eagleton.  I also examine the tendency of media studies to view the jihadist as a purely performative function and refute this by demonstrating some fault-lines in the seminal work of  Giroux and Devji for example. I  also highlight what I call the growing field of “Muslim cultural theory”, the work of Sardar and Ramadan, for example, who explicitly identify themselves as Muslims, intent on using indigenous Muslim vocabulary, in discussing various aspects of post-colonial and post-secular thought.  
How does this work connect to and/or depart from your previous research and writing?

For the past number of years, from 2002 to 2011 I worked as a consultant in communications and research at the Office of her Highness Shiekha Moza bint Nasser Al Missned in Qatar. At the same time I was working on my PhD focusing on cultural theory.  My work in Qatar, especially with organizations such as the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, as well as various other organizations with which I was involved which confronted problems of youth in the region, such as Silatech and Al Fakhoora, consistently illuminated to me the huge gap of both understanding and interlocution between Muslims of the region and the rest of the world.  I found the whole arena of interfaith dialogue, for example, to be incredibly disappointing, as only certain voices are heard and the radicals ignored or considered a lunatic fringe.  I was also disappointed to find Muslims fragmenting themselves in groups such as “moderates” and “radicals” with each one claiming a monopoly on truth, and each one, at differing historical moments, becoming ploys in the hands of superpowers and their imperial designs on the region. It is my contention that radicalism, in various forms, not only the jihadists, contains, perhaps in a more dramatized form, the fears, concerns and genuine contentions of the people – even though people may not agree with the actions of the jihadists, their arguments regarding imperialism and oppression are felt in a very real way by Muslims all over the world. At the same time I have been inspired by the rejuvenation of Muslim thought and vocabulary and the insistence on the usage of this vocabulary, for example in the work of Tariq Ramadan, in addressing questions of global concern.

Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

I hope this book is hotly debated.  I would like those whose work I admire and critique to read and comment upon my analysis.  My goal in writing this book is to open a space for discussion between worlds which normally do not intersect- the theorists of contemporary Muslim thought and those of contemporary Western , both secular, and post-secular theory. I think it is time that theory recognizes its deep indebtedness to Muslim thought from Ibn Khaladun to Ali Shariati, to the influences of Muslim writers in the works of Said and Fanon, and the growth of fascinating theorists such as Anouar Majid, Zia Sardar, Tariq Ramadan, and Faisal Devji, for example. I was particularly pleased when Sardar called my book “ground-breaking” and Ramadan recognized the contribution my book has made to a new area of “double critical analysis” as he has put it - in-putting Western and Islamic works into dialogue.  My goal is to encourage others to engage in a truly contrapuntal (cross disciplinary and cross cultural ) discourse on the “present”, to advocate for the growth of a vibrant thought culture in Muslim communities at large and to promote greater interaction between Muslim and non Muslim authors, beyond traditional Orientalist or area studies disciplines.

What other projects are you working on now? 

The projects I am working on now have grown out of Representing Jihad in many ways.  I am interested in continuing an analysis of the appearing and disappearing radical by focusing on the figuration of the radical in recent global movements such as the Arab revolutions, Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, Kony 2012, the growing celebrity philanthropy movement, etc. This will probably take the form of a new book on contemporary radicalism in general. Since I have relocated to Canada within the past year I am also interested in exploring the self-representation of Muslim “revert” organizations and particularly the music and literature which it is generating.  A few years ago I had published a collection of poetry, and I intend to publish another collection as well as attempt a novel. I like to blur the distinctions between the critical and the creative and to challenge myself with working in a variety of genres.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Grad School, the Continuing Saga: Olivia Heaney

Olivia graduated from the M.A. program in 2010, and celebrated by gallivanting around New Zealand farms for the first part of last year. Since then, she has made ends meet by dabbling in theatre, tutoring, and working for the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. Olivia begins PhD studies this fall.

When I was asked to write this post, it was suggested I discuss my thoughts on being in the liminal space between M.A. and PhD. Honestly, the only thing I can say is that right now I am pretty much scared shitless—about having to make a permanent move from my native Newfoundland, about re-adjusting to the workload of grad school, about churning out ideas and papers worthy of the level of study, and about keeping myself motivated to write on the same subject for an eternity. That said, coming up with what I would write for this blog post has been an exercise in self-awareness that I hope will prove helpful in the coming years. Hence,

Lessons Learned During M.A. That I Hope Will Get Me Through My PhD

  1. Be on time. Everyone hates it when you interrupt seminars.
  2. Ignore pretentious people. Chances are they haven’t read/viewed half the material to which they allude.
  3. When you want to throw in the towel, don’t...even when you feel like you don’t belong in grad school, and you are convinced you are the stupidest person in the room, and the red marks on your essay cover up everything you originally wrote.
  4. Surround yourself with encouraging people. This is the best way to get through #3.
  5. Pay forward the encouragement received in #4.
  6. Suck it up and hand in the damn thesis. In two months, you will be ashamed of it no matter how many times you’ve changed and reworked it.

While #6 is closely related to procrastination, I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I wrote that I learned not to procrastinate as a result of grad school. I wish I could say I did, but alas I have taken almost two months to write this 350-word blog post.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Five Questions: Dr. Jamie Skidmore

Dr. Jame Skidmore teaches contemporary theatre and theatre arts. After finally deciding to leave his work on the circus behind him earlier this year, he has been asked to write a book chapter on indentured child labourers in the circus in India. In addition to teaching theatre for the English department, Dr. Skidmore is also a theatre and film director, writer, editor, and designer here in St. John's. For good measure, he also plays the ukulele.

1. What was your best grad school experience?

I had to travel around North America and Europe to carry out the field work for my thesis on Cirque du Soleil. This included trips to Las Vegas, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Florida, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

2. What was your worst grad school experience?

I took a Japanese Theatre course with a professor who was retiring at the end of the year. You could tell he was pretty tired of teaching and focussed on obscure forms of Japanese theatre. He was a wealth of knowledge and I wanted to learn more about the conventions of Kabuki and Noh theatre. He was pretty burned out.

3. What was the place outside your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

Although I received a number of travel awards, I also had to work a lot to pay for my field work.
I was pretty lucky to find a job at the Art Gallery of Ontario and would spend many breaks studying the collection. Somedays it felt like it was my private art gallery.

4. What text/book did you do in grad school that you never, ever want to encounter again?

I still own all of my textbooks and will reference them from time to time. I don't remember a textbook that I didn't find useful in some manner.

5. What was your grad school comfort food?

There was a Chinese food truck outside of the library that made great noodles. I would love to eat some of them right now!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Life After Grad School: Alana Cahill

Alana Cahill graduated from Memorial’s M.A. program in 2010. These days she splits her time between work, hanging out at the beach and planning her next adventure.

I owe a lot to St. John’s. My hometown has given me a sense of belonging, exposure to an outstanding arts community, and the opportunity to study at a great university. Despite my sincere praise, I have a confession: I really hate the snow. Maybe my status as a “true” Newfoundlander is going to be revoked for saying that, but I’m going to risk it. The winters are scary; much like a Stephen King novel… or a 100 percent final…or the Harper government. Being a St. John’s native doesn’t make you any hardier for those never ending winters. That’s why, after completing my M.A in 2010, I moved to the south of Thailand where I’m teaching grade 5 students English, math, science, humanities and ICT.

I’m working at an international school where my adaptability, critical thinking—and patience—are tested daily. I’m fortunate enough to work with colleagues and students who come from every continent with a diverse range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. As someone who is fascinated by the way people communicate, it’s pretty incredible to teach 10-year-olds who speak everything from Thai to Portuguese; in fact, most are proficient in two or three languages in addition to English. When I’m not learning from my students and peers, I’m travelling around South East Asia with my roommates and co-teachers (fellow St. John’s natives escaping Old Man Winter’s reign of terror).

While I gallivant around the globe, I lug as many books as I can carry. Since finishing my M.A., I read pretty much everything I can get my hands on. After the 5 millionth person suggested it, I read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and then moved onto Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. On a recent flight to China, I was reading Philip Norman’s biography The Stones when my seat-mate struck up a lively conversation about Mick Jagger’s influence on current musical acts. I found myself headed for Shanghai talking about the likes of Kesha (…should that be Ke$ha?) and that skinny lad from Maroon 5. I’ve since moved on to Sunjeev Sahota’s Ours are the Streets and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which comes highly recommended from friends and relatives in a variety of disciplines.

If I can offer current or prospective grad students any advice, I would strongly suggest you choose the courses that are most interesting to you. I know that might sound obvious, but the M.A. provides a space to explore ideas you are passionate about with other individuals who are eager to engage in discussions and debates rarely entertained in other arenas. Make sure you make the most of that opportunity by picking your courses wisely. While I was in the program, I really enjoyed a Newfoundland literature course offered by Dr. Matthews and an Irish literature course with Dr. Farquharson. I was also incredibly fortunate to write my Master’s research paper with the great Dr. Pat Byrne. The profs that you encounter at Memorial are definitely the program’s biggest asset. Avail yourself of these people. They can help you sort out a particularly tricky theorist or give you life advice on a random Monday afternoon.

Most importantly, ignore every person you meet who makes “That Face” and asks what you’re going to do with an M.A. in English. Like so many others, I finished my M.A. without a clear idea of what my next step might be. Whatever it is you might want to do, the skills you’ll learn during the M.A. will be invaluable. The best assurance I received as a student was delivered with an offhand shrug: “you’re resourceful. You’ll work it out.” Upon closer reflection, the M.A. is a lot like my native province: it can be pretty rough out there, but it’s worth it. Both the ruggedness of life in Newfoundland and the demands of the program will help you sort out what (or who) you want to be. It’s not always glamorous, but rewarding experiences are a little wild and, in the end, uniquely beautiful.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Five Questions: Dr. Denyse Lynde

Dr. Denyse Lynde began her university career at Queen’s where she completed a B.A. with honours in English and Drama, before moving on to pursue both and M.A. and a PhD at the University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama. She has been teaching at Memorial since the mid-1980s.

1. What was your best grad school experience?

Well I had many. At the top of the list would be directing main stage plays at Hart House Theatre. With a full professional team and amazing pool of talented actors, I spent several years in theatre heaven as I completed my Ph.D.

2. What was your worst grad school experience?

There really weren't many but during the first two years of my Ph.D. I was a Don at one of the University's undergraduate colleges. Kinda combination role as big sister, cop and God....not much fun. Resident food was pretty awful too. I also really disliked teaching Engineers English. They felt the same about me.

3. What was the place outside your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

Two places - the library or the theatre

4. What text/book did you do in grad school that you never, ever want to encounter again?

Dukore's Dramatic Theory and Criticism

5. What was your grad school comfort food?

Not really a comfort food kinda person. Loved eating at small ethnic restaurants on Bloor Street. For comfort, a bunch of us would meet at the Grad pub and bitch and bitch and bitch.