Dr. Karen Macfarlane was an invited speaker at the 15th International Gothic Association conference, which was held at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois from July 30 to August 2. She presented a keynote address, “Where Have All the Monsters Gone?” on July 31st.
Dr. Macfarlane explains the topic of her presentation:
Monsters are undergoing an identity crisis in twenty-first century popular culture. In this paper, I explored the layered and problematic rethinking of the monstrous in contemporary Gothic and horror. Where there were once creatures that terrified and preyed and menaced there are now lovers who sparkle, victims, saviours and, sometimes, just everyday people with slightly odd proclivities. Because the monster has functioned traditionally as a sort of barometer for the fears and anxieties that plague a culture, warning of potential transgressions and allowing a cathartic removal of threats to social order through conflicts with human protagonists, the disappearance of the truly monstrous seems to be a particularly troubling trend. Without them, how can a culture imaginatively identify and work through threats to its world view? In this talk I argued that the disappearance of the traditional monster might be evidence of the ways in which neoliberal social practice works to limit political and collective action through an apparently benign discourse of “sameness” that denies the value of difference, specific historical and cultural experiences in the name of “equality” and obscures the fact that operations of power are systemic. As many critics have noted, “sameness” almost inevitably means “mainstream” (that is, “white”) in the contexts in which it is used. To be equal is to conform to mainstream definitions of identity. By looking at the ways in which monsters have been “mainstreamed”, I explore the possibility that with all of the monsters safely relegated to the spaces of human-like sameness, they are unable to warn us of the threat of those imperatives of individualism, competition, and conformity and that true monster is the one that absorbed and silenced all of the others; the one that is too big to see and that threatens to devour us all as we speak.
This story first appeared on the MSVU website as part of the English Department’s celebration of Pride Week. It was selected as a Top Ten pick on Academica.ca for August 1st.
The English Department is pleased to introduce a new queer-centred course to our offerings in time to recognize the 2019 Halifax Pride Festival.
Dr. Karen Macfarlane and Dr. Diane Piccitto recently designed ENGL 2207: Queer Literature and Culture to explore themes in 2SLGBTQ+ literature from a range of historical periods in combination with theory, art, film, television, and/or other forms of popular culture.
Given its focus on 2SLGBTQ+ material and topics, this course speaks directly to Mount Saint Vincent University’s strong tradition of social responsibility and its commitment to the advancement of women. The course also reflects the English Department’s commitment to teaching courses and texts that examine gender and related topics. Last year, during Pride week, we highlighted our Queer Theory course (ENGL 4407/WOMS 4407/GWGS 6607), a course developed in the mid-1990s. This fourth-year course is designed specifically for students with a solid foundation in English and/or Women’s Studies and those trained to engage with theoretical concerns. Nevertheless, students across various disciplines and in varying years of study have also shown interest in the course, demonstrating the need for a more accessible offering.
seems more important than ever to offer venues to learn about queer identities
and communities, the ways in which they are formed, marginalized, and empowered,
and to examine and critique not only controlling structures, systems, and
institutions, but also the way socio-political power is harnessed, attained, and
Literature and Culture fills this need. ENGL 2207 is a queer-centred
2000-level course that aims to introduce students to literature and
culture through a framework other than that of heteronormativity. From
year to year, the course could take various forms based on the research
and teaching interests of the instructor. The goal is to encourage
students to explore representations of marginal identities and
experiences in the context of sexuality, sexual orientation, gender
identity, gender expression, embodiment, and desire.
The perspective of literary studies offers an important complement to other disciplinary approaches to 2SLGBTQ+ issues as it provides an opportunity to analyze, question, and better understand queer representations in a wide range of material, taking into account their history, significance, and contemporary impact.
In addition, this new course does several important things in the department and the wider university:
creates an extra thread in the cluster of English courses that focus on
gender and sexuality, thus bolstering this area of study;
it provides an anchor at the 2000 level for ENGL 4407: Queer Theory as well as ENGL 3363: Feminisms and their Literatures (which already has ENGL 2242: Themes in Women’s Writing as its lower-level springboard);
its interdisciplinary focus on both literature and popular culture, it
provides a perspective on queer topics that will most certainly resonate
with other disciplines;
and it provides a lower-level course on
queer material that requires less theoretical rigour than the
4000-level Queer Theory course, making it accessible to more students.
It has now been 50 years since the Stonewall riots in New York and the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada. Decades of work to counter oppression and raise visibility have followed. Despite the years, our current socio-political climate does not make the work any easier. It seems more important than ever to offer venues to learn about queer identities and communities, the ways in which they are formed, marginalized, and empowered, and to examine and critique not only controlling structures, systems, and institutions, but also the way socio-political power is harnessed, attained, and articulated. It is particularly important to do this in the academy, where critical thinking, textual analysis, testing ideas and theories, and debating and discussing are the means by which we achieve our goal: higher learning.
This fall term will mark the first time ENGL 2207: Queer Literature and Culture, taught by Dr. Macfarlane, will be offered, while Dr. Piccitto will once again offer ENGL 4407/WOMS 4407/ GWGS 6607: Queer Theory. We are delighted to offer and teach these courses at the MSVU. We also recognize that the addition of this queer-focused course is long overdue to both the English Department’s offerings and those of the University more broadly, and is only a start to redressing the lack in the curriculum. Here’s to the achievements made and the work ahead.
In the final year of my English degree at the Mount, I decided to apply to the Graphic Design program at NSCC rather than pursue a B.Ed or a Master of Arts like I had originally planned. Many people that I told this information to thought of it as a drastic change. However, when I told my peers and professors, they immediately understood the connection. I had always possessed an interest in communication and storytelling (which is probably why I ended up taking an English degree!). However, I discovered that my interests had expanded to the more visual side of communication while writing my honours thesis.
While English literature emphasizes written and oral communication, Graphic Design focuses on the visual aspect of communication. I find myself able to critique design in an objective way thanks to the skills I learned throughout my degree. Just like a story, it is not valid to argue that you “like” or “do not like” a design. A design is either successful or unsuccessful in its mission due to adherence or failure to adhere to principles such as alignment, repetition, tension, etc. This kind of distance and objectivity is key when interpreting and analyzing media. During my English degree, I learned the type of critical thinking necessary to analyze media objectively, a key skill when making judgements regarding art. I also learned how to communicate these critiques in a clear and concise manner during my degree. This ability to discuss design in an objective way is necessary in the field, when we have to pitch our designs to potential clients. We also need to be able to sell our clients on our designs and communicate to them why our design is the best one to meet their needs. I now feel more confident in my oral communication skills as I learned how to clearly articulate my ideas and thought processes throughout my time at MSVU.
In our field, we are required to do a fair bit of independent research. For example, if we were required to design a logo for a local coffee shop, it would be useful to look at the design landscape. In order to do this, we would look at other logos for local coffee shops to find common visual themes. Issues of semiotics apply in the visual space as well as the written and oral space. What kinds of colours convey the meaning of local coffee? What kinds of shapes (e.g., more organic or more geometric)? Design has a language; it just happens to be a visual language. I am able to independently navigate this kind of research with confidence due to the research skills I learned in my undergrad degree. I know the resources I have at my disposal and the proper tools I need to use to gather the information I need.
design also requires a fair amount of organizational skills, as the design
process is lengthy and it is likely that a designer will go through many
iterations until producing the final design. This means keeping my working
timeline (as well as my physical files) extremely organized so that I can be
prepared for unexpected issues. Due to my time at university, I felt very well
prepared as my English degree forced me to manage my time and complete certain
tasks by a given date.
Now that I
am studying design at NSCC, I have had others ask me if I would do things
differently in terms of my education if given the chance. The truth is that I
would not. I feel that I will be far more prepared and successful in the design
or communications field thanks to the skills I learned in my English degree
than I would be otherwise.
This term, students in ENGL 2201: Shakespeare were tasked with a group assignment called a Dramatic Adaptation, in which students were challenged to produce their vision for an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays. They certainly rose to this challenge! In small groups, students chose a play that we had discussed in the course and presented their concept for staging the text, taking on the role of director.
ENGL 2201 is an
intensive full-year course focused on the four main genres of Shakespearean
dramaturgy (comedy, tragedy, history, romance), examining a selection of plays
in their historical and performative contexts. The course includes a number of
performance exercises, which are based on the premise that to understand
Shakespeare fully one must understand what it means to stage his drama—a very
explicit mode of experiential learning. The Dramatic Adaptation assignment
asks students to design a theatrical or cinematic concept for a play
based on their interpretation of it, assuming that they have an unlimited budget
and a very skilled crew at their disposal for any effects that they wish to incorporate.
Throughout this course, students have performed abridged versions of plays, read scenes aloud, considered certain film and stage versions, and enacted scenes. Building on this experience, the Dramatic Adaptation assignment is a chance for students to bring it all together and take a hands-on approach to Shakespeare and performance. On 11 March 2019, students presented their vision of their selected text in ten minutes or less to the class followed by a question and answer period. The result was one of the most dynamic sessions we have had to date! Here is a brief outline of the various adaptations, produced by hard work, innovative ideas, and interpretive skills
As You Like It
A mix of reality television and bro culture, this staging involved producing an episode of a TV show, which highlighted the melodramatic lovers, homoerotic desire, and humour of the original play. Keep an eye out for the encounter between Oliver and Celia—not your typical meet cute:
Taking the tragedy out of Shakespeare’s most famous play, this group presented a Wes Anderson-style film trailer—Dear Ophelia—depicting Hamlet as an oddball artist with the Mount providing the setting. Don’t miss the non-duel between Hamlet and Laertes, which is sure to have you giggling: : https://vimeo.com/322504638
Lear is the jock who needs to be taught a lesson, Goneril and Regan the mean girls who antagonize him, and Cordelia the girl who can bring him redemption in this high school re-imagining that does away with family drama to examine the trials and tribulations of teen life.
The Taming of the Shrew
Set in the world of a 1970s fashion magazine, this adaptation tackles the misogyny of the original play by turning its gender politics on its head. Kate is the powerful CEO and editor choosing Pet(ruccio) as her husband to expand her empire. Check out the cover of Kate’s current magazine issue:
Have you ever wondered what a Michael Bay-esque Shakespearean play might look like? Well, this group did and provided the answer with a blockbuster of the Roman revenge tragedy filled with explosions and general mayhem and a protagonist making characters die harder than ever before. Watch their trailer: https://vimeo.com/325916002
With this assignment, the five groups demonstrated that boldly
analyzing canonical texts, taking creative risks, and having a strong sense of
team work can yield wonderfully productive results. The students of ENGL 2201 have
inspired each other and me as their instructor all year, and we will all leave the
course with new insights on Shakespeare and performance as well as with enduring
St. Thomas University hosted this year’s Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference (AAUEC) March 1-2. Five students represented the Mount––Rebecca Foster, Shawn Hunt, Michelle Russell, April Stevens, Samantha VanNorden––who each presented their respective academic papers or creative pieces. They were accompanied by Dr. Karen Macfarlane, Dr. Nathaniel Street, and English Society Co-President Darcy Eisan. The AAUEC, which was first held at the Mount 38 years ago and, most recently, last year, is a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate students not only to meet fellow English students from other universities, but also to showcase some of their work. The AAUEC runs like any other conference and allows students to see another side of academia outside of the classroom. It also is a great chance for students to learn new discoveries within the field. Above all, attending the AAUEC is a rich learning experience for both presenters and volunteers.
Mount students presented the following papers and creative pieces this year:
“____: Narrative, Perspective, and History” [erasure] by Michelle Russell
“Drowning in a Sorrowful Hall: ‘The Wife’s Lament’ Translated” by Rebecca Foster
“Funeral Play” by April Stevens
“A Poetics of Cartography: A New Narrative Form Found in the Collection of Maps and The Narrative Atlas” by Samantha VanNorden
“A Solitary Journey: An Experience in Translation” by Shawn Hunt
“We’re All Wile E. Coyote: A Psychogeographic Report of IKEA” by Michelle Russell
Shawn Hunt (far left) and Rebecca Foster (far right)
Sam VanNorden is an English Honours student and Co-President of the English Society.
Everyone is welcome to the last of this year’s English Department Seminars on Wednesday, March 27, 4:30, in Seton 404. Dr. Nathaniel Street will be speaking on “Re-animating the Writing-Mind-Body Complex.”
The English Department is hosting another event in its regular series of dramatic readings. This semester’s selection, Shakespeare’s Richard II, gives students, faculty, and staff a chance to get together for an informal reading of the play. Come read or just listen. Everyone is welcome!
Our English Honours students take a full-year Honours Thesis course, supervised by a faculty member, to research a topic of their choice and to write a substantial thesis. As part of this independent work, they give a presentation to Department faculty and students. This week, Sam VanNorden will be speaking about her research on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which was supervised by Dr. Karen Macfarlane. Students and faculty are welcome to attend.
“Verbal Semaphore. Amputated Speech”:
Wounded Language in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale