Thursday, April 28, 2016

Climate change and settler-colonials, redux

Image from the San Diego Free Press
So, I'm way, way, WAY overdue for ordering the texts we'll cover in my September 2016 course "Climate Change in a Settler-Colonial Environment," but these things happen. Here are the six likely candidates at this point, and I'd love to hear people's thoughts:

  • Maleea Acker, Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC's South Coast -- creative nonfiction, carefully researched, by a settler who gives lots of space to local First Nations voices
  • Larissa Lai, Salt Fish Girl - a near-future dystopic novel set mostly in the Lower Mainland, involving myth alive in the world, queer sexualities, and transgenic beings
  • Philip Kevin Paul, Taking the Names Down from the Hill - WSÁ,NEC poetry, anchored in place and thinking about time
  • Eden Robinson, Traplines - short stories, full of disaster and pain and humour, what the New York Times Book Review called proof that "Canadians are as weird and violent as anyone else on this continent"
  • Bertrand Sinclair, The Inverted Pyramid - a settler-colonial origins story about BC's rise into independence, via logging, financial speculation, and its role in the First World War
  • Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Red: A Haida Manga - a graphic novel (illustrating the looseness of that term) that retells a Haida narrative about a vengeance-bent leader so focused on his lost sister that his community finds itself on the edge of devastation.
And we'll be working as well with excerpts from the reports of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to ground what we're trying to achieve.

If this all comes together, it's going to be amazing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Gerry Alanguilan, Elmer

Am I late to the party, or was there unaccountably no party?

From the author's site
Does everyone already know Gerry Alanguilan's graphic novel Elmer, or is it instead some kind of cult object or under-appreciated gem?

If you read only one graphic novel this year, you owe it to yourself to enter this alternate Earth, where chickens have suddenly and inexplicably acquired human-comparable intelligence and consciousness, including ability to understand, speak and write in human languages. In what ways, Alanguilan asks, does our current mode of existence depend on the instrumentalization of other beings?

On the ideas front, Elmer questions the notions of species identity, discrimination, inter-species relations, and surviving trauma. It's a persistent, inescapable question, how one goes about recovering from a life of absolute subjection: the chickens who changed on that . On the details front, we've got Jake, a cranky and somewhat foul-mouthed young chicken as sensitive to discrimination as George Jefferson; his brother Freddie, a suspiciously metrosexual movie star who wants to be called "Francis" now; and their sister May, who's marrying a doctor -- and human. ("Fucking banana ketchup!" shouts Jake, in part of his rant about why chicken-eating humans must not, as a species, ever ever ever be trusted or forgiven.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

ENGL 478, Sept 2016 - text options

"Climate Change in a Settler-Colonial Environment": I'm confident that I'm under-qualified to teach this course, but if nobody else is going to teach a course that I could enrol in, what am I to do?

Image from Unsettling America
But of course I'm behind in my book ordering, because of course, and also because I'm more or less stuck. A single semester is never long enough to cover all the good stuff, and in consequence my usual approach is to blend some of the good stuff with some unpredictable choices. Sometimes these are works I haven't read but expect are worth my trust; sometimes they're not obvious fits, but I think there's something worth figuring out about them.

In sum, I need to choose only six or seven titles. Happy to hear other suggestions, but here's the shortlist I'm starting from, with bolding for the current lead candidates:
There's no link yet to the 2016 course calendar, so here's the 2015 base description for this variable-content course. More usefully, perhaps, here's the short description for our department handbook:
How can we read ethically and ecocritically on Canada’s West Coast, in our inescapably settler-colonial present? 
ENGL 478 will start from the position that Canadian literature, including West Coast literature, has been and continues to be shaped by the local, individual, collective ramifications of the ongoing colonial enterprise, its crises and momentum growing out of Canada’s settler-colonial past, present, and future. We’ll be reading realist fiction, science fiction, graphic novels, and eco-memoir by both Indigenous and settler authors, in the shadow of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob."

Have I read anything since February 20th? Absolutely, but it's complicated, and I haven't read as much as, or in the same way that, I'd normally prefer.

Most importantly, I'm a juror for a book prize. This means that I've read about fifteen books, rapidly and judgmentally, since mid-February. For obvious reasons, I'm not yet able to talk about those, and I won't be able to until after the mid-June announcement. This is my first time on such a jury, and I don't know that I'm cut out for it: everyone is awesome, everything is amazing, and how the hell do you choose? It's one thing to feel this pressure in a rich industry (hello, Emmy's!), and quite another when you're dealing with Canadian literary and academic presses.

The pressure's a nightmare, but the reading is deeply rewarding -- well, almost all of it, anyway....

More quotidianly, once bargaining concluded here at UVic, I moved back into the classroom on a full-time basis. I'm a platypus, technically, because we have a tenure-like line called "teaching professor." That's how my position is classified, so while I've got no publishing obligation, my teaching load is eight courses per year (unlike the four or five for research faculty), so I'm teaching four per term. Generally I've got three sections per term of composition, but sometimes two, plus one or two other things (most often this, this, or this), and all this is vastly more than is supported by the research.

And it turned out that in my three years of bargaining, I developed some unsustainable teaching and assessment practices (Utopia for Everyone!), and I'd also forgotten some long-ago-evolved tricks for managing workload (We Can Do Everything!).

So that's been fun.

Adding all this to the usual kinds of family and assorted personal things at play, I'm planning a summer of recovery. A certain amount of casual travel (the Okanagan in July, maybe Yellowknife in August), a little bit of academic travel, lots of reading and cooking: this starts now, or I won't be ready for September. And I really, really want to be ready for September--though a joyful summer may be higher on my priority list today!