Category Archives: Student research

Our students shine at the Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference

2017 AAUEC presenters

Mount students at the AAUEC 2017

Each year, an English Department faculty committee selects among the best of our students’ work in literature and creative writing for presentation at the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference (AAUEC). This year’s conference was held at the University of PEI last weekend, March 3-5, when faculty and students from around the Atlantic region gathered to listen to and discuss various topics.

The following students were selected for the 2017 conference:

  • Katie O’Brien, “The Maternal Abject and ‘Passive Suffering’ as the Real Horror in Rosemary’s Baby
  • Kevin Smith, “A Picture Like a Poem: William Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress
  • Hope Tohme, “The Utter Unpredictability of Words: An Analysis of Translation and Transposition as it Pertains to Mary Stuart’s Casket Sonnets”
  • Sarah Vallis, “Polite Deference: Queen Elizabeth I’s tempering with gendered bodies and power”
  • Karlee Bustelli, “Flight”
  • Tuqqaasi Nuqingaq, “The Way the Earth Feels”

Congratulations to all of the English students who did such a great job of representing our department!

 

Hands-on Research by English Honours Students

Our English Honours students have a rare opportunity to spend a year researching and writing in the manner of professional literary critics and theorists. Under the supervision of a professor, they select a topic, develop it through research, and write a substantial scholarly work. Last week, our current Honours students presented their research to the department in our annual Honours Colloquium.

Meet our 2016-17 Honours students:

Kyle Cross

Kyle Cross Honours 2016-17

My thesis explores John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which is an adaptation of Beowulf told from the monster’s perspective.  In my project, I employ postcolonial theory — mainly the theories of Edward Said and Homi K. Bhabha — to explore the ways in which Gardner portrays the relationship between the monster and the Danes.

Allyson Roussy

Allyson Roussy Honours 2016-17

With a focus on children’s literature, I am examining how structures of surveillance, specifically the panoptical structure, are used for the social conditioning and social control of children. I will be working with Mary Martha Sherwood’s The Fairchild Family, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Alexandra Rudderham

Alexandra Rudderham Honours 2016-17

My thesis focuses exclusively on novels and short stories by Thomas King. A self-described “contemporary Native writer,” King blends written narratives with oral traditions. I am interested in his specific brand of interfusional storytelling: King creates an intentionally liminal space and deconstructs assumptions about the way stories are told and perceived. The novel Green Grass, Running Water, short stories “One Good Story, That One” and “Coyote Goes West” are a few of the texts I use to explore King’s methods of replicating the spoken voice through written narrative. In my research, I am considering authority and a possible capital-T “Truth” in storytelling.

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If you’re a Mount English student and think you might be interested in an Honours degree, speak to your faculty advisor or the Department Chair. You can find some information about our Honours program on our Course Guide webpage.

English Department research on display at Research Remixed

Research Remixed 2016The Mount’s annual research day will be held on Tuesday, November 15th in the Rosaria Multipurpose Room from 9:15 to 2:30. The day features short talks, posters, and booths displaying the research of Mount faculty and students across numerous disciplines. Everyone is invited to drop in, have some refreshments, and survey some of the work that goes on in our university.

A couple of English faculty and a former student will be participating. At 12:45, you can listen to Dr. Diane Piccitto‘s talk on “Reconsidering Heroism in William Blake’s Epic Poem, Milton.”  Dr. Anna Smol and Rebecca Power (B.A.Hons 2015) will be presenting a poster on “Adaptation as Analysis: Creative Work in a Literature Course,” which is based on their forthcoming essays in the book, Fandom in the Classroom (U of Iowa Press). The poster features some of the creative work done by students in ENGL 4475, Studies in Medievalism: Tolkien and Myth-making. (Poster presentations run from 9:45 – 10:55 and 1:15 to 2:30).

The event begins at 9:15 with an opening and drumming by the Mount’s Nancy’s Chair, Catherine Martin. You can find the complete schedule here: research-remixed-schedule-2016 [pdf]

Jenny Davison. Sculpture of Doors of Durin. ENGL 4475 projectTake a look at the research that led to Jenny Davison’s sculpture of the Doors of Durin, from Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. One of several projects featured in the poster by A. Smol and R. Power. Image copyright Jenny Davison 2013.

Our prize-winning English students

We are proud of our students’ many accomplishments this year.

Writing Prizes 2016

Two of our English students have won University writing prizes:

Charlotte Kiddell (centre) winner of the 2016 library essay prize

Charlotte Kiddell (centre)

Charlotte Kiddell was awarded the Sister Francis de Sales Endowed Award, an essay contest sponsored by Mount Alumnae and the Library, “for her paper entitled:  ‘For the sake of one Japanese-Canadian Family: Mothertalk as Family auto/biography’ which considers the project of one man and his journey to record the life stories of his mother, a Japanese-Canadian immigrant raising a family in Canada during the period of Japanese internment during World War II.  Charlotte submitted her research paper for the directed study course ‘Contemporary Life-Writing by Women in Canada’ – ENGL 4411 – taught by Dr. Tina Northrup” (from the Library News page).


 

Hailey Stapleton at Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference

Hailey Stapleton

Hailey Stapleton was awarded the poetry prize in the university’s Student Creative Writing Contest.  This competition is sponsored by the Mount’s Writing Initiatives Committee and the Library.  As Hailey explains, “my poem ‘The Coast Land’ is intended to be read in conversation with (or as a socioculturally situated re-imagining of) T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” a poem that Hailey studied in the English Department’s Modern Poetry course (ENGL 3319).


 

Scholarly Awards and Prizes for English Students

 

Katelyn O’Brien has been awarded the Beryl Rowland Book Prize, given to the student with the highest average in English. She has also been awarded the Paul McIsaac Endowed Scholarship, given to an outstanding English student who has completed 10 units of study.


 

Hailey Stapleton (pictured above) has been awarded the Sister Marie Agnes Prize, which is given by the Alumnae Association to the graduating English Major with the highest academic average.

 


Congratulations to all!

Meet our honours students 2015-2016

Our honours students have been immersed in their thesis research for months now. We’ll get to hear more about their work at the departmental honours colloquium in February, but for now, here is a glimpse of our students and what they’re working on.

Charlotte Kiddell

Charlotte Kiddell

My thesis is on representations of diasporic and familial trauma in Hiromi Goto‘s The Kappa Child and Chorus of Mushrooms. Both novels tell multigenerational stories of Japanese-Canadian families. The Kappa Child and Chorus of Mushrooms depict personal family trauma experienced by the protagonist of each novel – childhood physical and emotional abuse, maternal illness, a grandmother’s disappearance – as well as the ancestral trauma of diasporic displacement. I’m interested in how Goto tells the experience of intergenerational diasporic trauma through modes of liminality to communicate her characters’ experiences of destabilization and displacement. Goto plays with childhood perspective, adaptations of folklore and magic realism to communicate the liminality of traumatic and diasporic experience.
P.S. The protagonist of The Kappa Child exclusively wears pyjamas.  I thought I’d follow her lead for this photo!


Joseph Legere

Joseph Legere

I will be looking at the works of Nawal El Saadawi, who is an Egyptian psychiatrist. Using postcolonial and feminist theories, I will be examining the way Saadawi depicts violence and trauma in these works.


Jenny MacKinnon

Jenny MacKinnon

“So if she weighs the same as a duck…she’s made of wood…. And therefore…. She’s a witch!” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

There is something of an ongoing witch-hunt in Arthurian scholarship, largely arguing over the nuances in the labels “enchantress”, “sorceress”, and “witch” and why some characters can be considered magic users and others who never actually use magic are still described in this way. My research examines various Arthurian women, focusing on Morgan le Fay and Guinevere, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur and in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Using a feminist approach to study women’s agency and power in Arthurian literature, I am also researching historical perspectives on late medieval women and witchcraft.


Jason McKenna

Jason McKenna

I am looking at stream of consciousness literature spanning from the modernist period all the way up to the 2000s (how it’s been done, consistencies, differences). The specific novels I’m focusing on are To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, and Umbrella by Will Self.


Colton Sherman

Colton Sherman

With a central focus on urban spaces, my thesis explores the intricacies of content and form featured in psychogeographic texts—narratives in which the protagonist explores and engages with the city, such as Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory and Paul Auster’s City of Glass. Cities are inherently textual spaces capable of being read (as well as written in) and it is this metaphor of the city as text which centers my analysis. Furthermore, I postulate that this metaphor is reversible, with the texts themselves exhibiting structures—forms—that mirror the urban landscape.


Hailey Stapleton

Hailey Stapleton

I am writing about feminist poetic adaptations of Helen of Troy from the modern to contemporary period. I will be working with H.D.’s “Helen,” Anne Carson’s “Helen,” and Margaret Atwood’s “Helen of Troy Does Counter Top Dancing.”


Sarah Vallis

Sarah Vallis

My thesis explores the racial politics of the Harry Potter novels. I will be looking at four major categories: Rowling’s questioning/problematizing of authority and institutions (Hogwarts, the Daily Prophet, and the Ministry of Magic); the sentient creatures of the novels, such as the house-elves, the goblins, and the centaurs, and their identity; the politics of the “real-world” races and ethnicities present in the novel; and the pure-blood politics and Voldemort’s rise to power through the already-existing systems of authority.


English honours students at the Mount take a full-year credit course in which they do independent research under the supervision of a faculty member and write a substantial thesis on a topic of their choice. You can find more information about our honours program here.

 

The Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English DepartmentThis year’s conference takes place Cape Breton University March 13th -15th, and two of our intrepid faculty and six of our magnificent students will be there. The Mount’s participants include four academic papers and two works of creative writing:

  • Charlotte Kiddell, “Tradition and the Individual Tyrant: The Historical Sense in Titus Andronicus and Richard III.”
  • Rebecca Power,  “Breaking Down the Civilized/Uncivilized Binary: The Representation of Oucanasta in Wacousta.”
  • Colton Sherman,  “Breaching Boundaries and Taking Back the Pen: An Analysis of Parkour.”
  • Hailey Stapleton, “Stripping the Scripts: An Analysis of Script Decay in Medieval Writing.”

Creative writers:

  • Monica Albert and Alexandrina Hanam, “Let’s make Our Lives Amazing.”
  • Alexandrina Hanam, “Into the Deep.

Honours Colloquium 2015

English Honours Colloquium 2015 posterCome and hear what our honours students are working on — four of our best and brightest in one place at one time. Click the presenter’s name below to read her abstract.

February 12, 2015
Rosaria 401 4:30 – 7:00 pm

Jessica Herritt
Geena Kelly
Shelby MacGregor
Rebecca Power

Refreshments provided, of course. All welcome. Come hear about The Lord of the Rings, The Left Hand of Darkness, Frankenstein, and The Hunger Games.

Spray Paint Signatures: an ENGL 4446 project

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department

This term begins with a new display on our Student Research bulletin board (Seton 5th floor, English Corner). Katrina Haight’s “Spray Paint Signatures” was created for Dr. Graham Fraser’s Contemporary Culture course in 2014.  If you haven’t seen the bulletin board, you can view excerpts from her project in today’s post.

Dr. Fraser’s explanation of this innovative assignment is followed by Katrina Haight’s text and images.

(And in case you missed last term’s display, an assignment by Shelby MacGregor, you can view it here).

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English 4446 Contemporary Culture:
Psychogeographies: Wandering, Lostness, the City as Text

by Graham Fraser

[T]hey are walkers…whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.…The networks of these moving intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alternations of spaces…. The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language.   
                                                                      — Michel DeCerteau, “Walking in the City”

Walking is a way of seeing – a way of knowing.  Since ancient times, peripatetic literature equated walking with the practices of thinking and writing that underscore literature itself.  The rise of the modern city brought about a corresponding body of literature and theory to express the particular experience of the pedestrian exploration of the urban environment, from the Parisian flâneur of Baudelaire and Benjamin to the psychogeographical experiments of the situationists’ dérive.  English 4446: Psychogeographies explores these ideas, investigating urban walking as an embodied metaphor of the acts of reading, writing, thinking, knowing and not-knowing in contemporary culture.

Having studied the cultural theory of urban pedestrianism, the poetics of cartography, the aesthetics of collage, and the semiotics and politics of urban design, and after reading novels, zines, journalism, records of performance art, and creative non-fiction documenting the streetscapes of New York, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Venice, and Boylan Heights North Carolina, students then took the opportunity to put their reading and theory into practice by undertaking their own psychogeographical exploration of Halifax.

The work presented here is Katrina Haight’s record of a graffiti-reading tour of the North End of Halifax in the form of an intertextual palimpsest/collage that reflects the nature of graffiti itself.

(Please note: all photos and text: copyright Katrina Haight 2014)

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Spray Paint Signatures:
A Psychogeographic study of North End Halifax’s Public Art

by Katrina Haight

Spray Paint Signatures: A Psychogeographic study of North End Halifax`s Public Art by Katrina HaightSpray Paint Signatures: I explored a section of the North End of Halifax one early morning before class. I wanted to see what the voices that spoke from murals and signs on the walls of cafés, pubs, alleyways, parking lots and restaurants had to say about their city. I found that these numerous artistic expressions each fit into a certain theme. This walk revealed to me such a layered, colourful portrait of just a small part of Halifax.

Spray Paint Signatures copyright Katrina Haight

Spray Paint Signatures © Katrina Haight

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Love and Solidarity: As I began to leave the slightly more suburban section of Agricola Street, I came across some graffiti with a particularly positive, constructive message. Spray-painted on a fence in red and blue were the words, “HELP EACH OTHER.” It was an appeal for compassion, and it really caught my attention. Farther down Agricola, I notice someone has written in black permanent marker next to someone’s front door, “I love you,” which is a terribly intimate thing to leave on someone’s front door.

When I get to Gottingen Street, I wander down near the corner of Cornwallis and Gottingen. Across from Menz Bar near Alteregos Café, I see the memorial “healing garden” made for Raymond Taavel, a gay rights activist who was beaten to death after trying to break up a fight outside Menz Bar between a patron and a man who was severely mentally ill. Not far off is a sign spray-painted on a wall that says “EACH SMALL ACT IS A REBELLION – WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER – WE CAN WIN.” Both Raymond’s memorial garden and this spray-painted message offer a sense of solidarity for those who might feel alone.

Vibrant City

Vibrant Expressions Katrina Haight

Vibrant Expressions © Katrina Haight

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 Walking around Halifax early in the morning when the sun has only just risen really brings out the vibrant colours painted on the walls. Before stopping for a coffee at Alteregos Café on Gottingen Street, I notice a bright and surreal mural of an old woman in a mask covering the entire side wall of the café. Serving as the backdrop for the Raymond Taavel memorial garden, the mural is so striking, because it is simultaneously so bizarre and so beautiful. It is one of the many example of gorgeous public art around Halifax. ….

Street Calligraphy

Street Calligraphy Katrina Haight

Street Calligraphy © Katrina Haight

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Gottingen Street is full of elaborate, colourful examples of graffiti signatures. While I found the writing difficult to decipher, I could appreciate it for its aesthetic value. Often done in bright blues, greens, yellows and pinks, these signs brought the street to life through how colourful and unique they were. Each served as a testament to the artistic skill of the tagger with crisp lines and vibrant colour schemes that made the sign practically jump out at pedestrians as they walked past.

Curves of the Road

Curves of the Road Katrina Haight

Curves of the Road © Katrina Haight

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On Gottingen Street, there are a number of murals of beautiful women. In some of these paintings, the women stand at about twenty feet, accented by a tag beside her or in the background. As I noticed these women when I looked around, I was reminded of how Gail Scott paid particular attention to the women of Paris, as though her fascination and love for the city and her intrigue and lust for Parisian women were interchangeable. Here, on Gottingen, the beauty of women and femininity can literally be seen in the streets.

Layers of a City

Each piece of street art, from the small signatures to the large scale murals, illustrates an element of Halifax’s culture. A small written message on a wall in an alley might give insight into the struggles of a complete stranger. Vibrant murals make us appreciate the way the city comes alive in the sunlight. A simple spray-painted message may attempt to appeal to someone’s sense of compassion and remind them that they are not alone. Each serves its purpose and contributes to the city’s sense of identity.

—Katrina Haight

 

The Honours Podcast, episode 1

Ever wonder what it’s like to write an undergraduate Honours thesis?

Our Honours students have recorded a frank and informal conversation about their thesis research plans, their struggles to overcome distractions, and their efforts to get some writing done in their busy lives. Listen as Shelby MacGregor, Jessica Herritt, Rebecca Power, and Geena Kelly share their experiences in what we hope will be a series of podcasts following their progress throughout the year.

 

Comments? commiseration? advice?  We welcome your feedback.

Mount English Honours students take a full-year credit course in which they research a topic of their choice under the supervision of a faculty member with the aim of writing a substantial thesis. In February, they present their research to other students and faculty in our Honours Colloquium.

Alternative link to the podcast [YouTube]

Honours: The Next Generation

Emily BagnaTerms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Departmentld, Geena Kelly, and Shelby MacGregor are three of our department’s incoming Honours students: in the 2014-2015 academic year, they’ll write theses exploring a range of issues in feminist science fiction and speculative fiction. This spring, they chatted with contract faculty member Tina Northrup about their interests, aims, and academic experiences so far.

All three students had taken Dr. Northrup’s ENGL 3363 : Feminisms and their Literatures course in 2013-14, which helped them develop and refine some of their ideas.

Tina Northrup (TN): So, what interests you about the genres you’ve chosen to work on for your Honours theses?

Emily Bagnald (EB): The books I’m writing about, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy and The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, are science/speculative fiction. Primarily I’m interested in these genres because I’m interested in social and political structures: in the ways that societies function, and specifically the role (or lack thereof) of the state in a more just, compassionate, and free society.

I’m also interested in revolution, intentional community building, and unintended consequences. Speculative fiction grapples with all these things. To be honest, I’m less interested in these books as works of literature than I am as socio-political thought experiments. I want to know: if we want to be free, if we want an existence that honours the earth, and all animals (including humans), what could that look like? Because I think these are the ideals of many—if not most—people. There is so much political rhetoric about freedom, democracy, and justice. I would argue this rhetoric is frequently a tool of manipulation used to achieve antithetical ends, but it would not be so often deployed if it were not effective, if it did not speak to the people’s values.

Geena Kelly (GK): What I like about my thesis is that hopefully it will portray women in science fiction in a better light. In the Science Fiction class both Shelby and I took last year, we learned that in the beginning science fiction was portrayed as big buff oily guys and women in shiny leotards getting attacked by aliens. In contrast to all of that, we have the heroines from the books I’ve chosen, such as Elizabeth from Frankenstein, the characters from The Left Hand of Darkness, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and other current sci-fi heroines. I like the idea that we’ve gone past needing to be rescued and defined by some weirdo muscly man, and turned into our own protagonists.

Shelby MacGregor (SM): That’s a lot of the same for me as well. I’m interested in strong female characters in science fiction, and fantasy more broadly. My thesis primarily comes from how angry I am at the representation of Katniss in The Hunger Games, because I find that she’s presented as a strong genderless character, when in reality she is very gendered, and all of her actions reflect her gender. Overall, I’m trying to analyze her gender and how aware she is of it versus her gender neutrality, and then talk about how that fits into film and film adaptation: what the end result is when you see it on the screen rather than see it in the written word.

TN: So, Shelby, your thesis will juggle both the books and the film franchise?

SM: Yep. It’s going to be a bit more of juggling the themes of both. Mockingjay is going to be particularly difficult, because the fourth film will not be out until December 2015, but the third one will be out hopefully in December 2014, so I can watch and write that section of my thesis when it comes out. But a lot of what I’ll be doing will be speculative, and the specific scenes in Mockingjay (the novel) that I think speak to Katniss being stifled, which speaks to my belief that her agency is taken away at the end of the franchise, will not exist on film yet, which will make a book-to-film comparison difficult. So, I’ll be looking at specific themes found in the novels and then discussing how they change once they are adapted to the screen.

TN: Geena, you were saying that you’re interested in an arc in science fiction, in which initially we might be likely to find a lot of muscly men and damsels in distress, whereas now there seem to be a lot of strong female characters. Picking up on some of what Shelby has just said, I’d like to know how you—and Emily, you too—see those female characters being represented as protagonists. Is there anything about the specific ways they’re portrayed that interests you?

EB: Representations of women in my chosen texts are pretty fascinating. Woman on the Edge grapples with gender performance more so than Dispossessed. In both of the ambiguous utopias, Mattapoisett in Woman and Annares in Dispossessed, women generally do very little in the way of gender performance or displays of femininity. There are other societies in the texts that are largely there for contrast: in Woman this is Earth’s past and also an alternate future; in Dispossessed it is Urras. It is clear from these societies that exaggerated gender performance is correlated with sexual oppression, and even, in Woman, sex slavery. When Connie, the protagonist of Woman, first encounters Luciente, her female guide from the future Mattapoisett, she initially believes Luciente is male because Luciente does not engage in the kind of gender performance with which Connie is accustomed. There are similar things going on in The Dispossessed, to a lesser extent. Both Piercy and Le Guin are feminists, but in writing these particular texts Le Guin was more influenced by anarchist political theory, and Piercy by feminist theory.

GK: For the novels I’ve chosen, what interests me is the ways in which the female characters interact with their femininity and how they try to adopt their own agency, despite the pressures coming from the world around them. If you look at Elizabeth in Frankenstein, she tries to have an impact on the events unfolding around her. She doesn’t have any of her own agency, but she tries to make an impact on Victor’s life. She’s always writing him to him, she’s always saying, “look: are you okay, what are you doing? are you doing bad things? if you’re doing bad things, you should probably not be doing those things.” And while she can’t come out and stop him from doing anything, she’s trying as hard as she can, within her own limits. With Katniss, you can almost see that same thing, where she doesn’t have any of her own agency versus the Capitol, and how she’s trying to make her own impact on them with her own life, and how she’s trying to keep Prim safe, and all that kind of stuff wrapped up with how, as hard as she can, she can’t really affect the Capitol the same way the Capitol can affect her, just like how Elizabeth can’t affect Victor the same way he’s affecting her.

TN: That’s really interesting: I wouldn’t have thought to align them as being similarly limited or similarly powerless in those ways, but now that you say that I think that’s absolutely right. And what about in The Left Hand of Darkness?

GK: What always interests me about that book is that Le Guin came under a lot of fire because of how she wasn’t super, “women are awesome, yay!” but rather she kind of painted everyone under the male light. I was always interested in that because I think the time in which she wrote this book needs to be taken into consideration. She was writing this book in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, and when we were reading the book in class I was thinking about how at that point in time, women wouldn’t have had that much representation anyways, and if they were out in public, they were either secretaries or in some other “gendered” occupation. If you were trying to be an actual career woman, you were harassed, or you were seen as, “oh, you’re trying to be like a man,” or that kind of thing. For someone in Le Guin’s position, maybe a genderless world would have been utopia, because if you don’t have a gender, you can’t be harassed. And so it’s going against the whole “embracing femininity” thing to saying, “no, we don’t have any gender, you can’t harass us anymore.”

SM: Yeah, and there’s also—going off of what you said: if it’s all in a male light, Le Guin is almost reclaiming traditionally female roles because all characters do everything, and the king is pregnant. So, it takes traditionally female and, like, meek, I guess, characteristics and puts them in that harsh male light, so it’s kind of a form of reclaiming femininity through maleness, in a weird way, or feminine aspects in a genderless way

GK: “You can’t be mad at us ‘cause you have to do it too.”

I think the thing about The Left Hand of Darkness is that while you have Genly Ai, the lead protagonist, sitting there making negative associations about people based on whether or not he’s giving them “male” or “female” characteristics, I feel that there is also this subtext when reading in another character’s point of view of how wrong Genly Ai is for doing this. A point is made within the book that Genly cannot wrap his head around the fact that these people have no genders and that their male and female characteristics, regardless of negative or positive associations, are wrapped around each other to create unique individuals. To the people on this new planet, it is Genly Ai’s maleness that is foreign and strange. Later on in the book, a point is even made that Genly’s “male pride” is inhibiting the progress he and Estrevan are able to make on their journey.

EB: Oh, all that is so interesting. Similar things are happening in Woman on the Edge in regards to reproduction and child rearing. No one carries pregnancies physically: that is all done by tech. Then three people parent a child and several will breastfeed, including men. The protagonist’s, Connie’s, reaction to women not carrying pregnancies was similar to my own: she was saddened and shocked. It was explained to her that carrying pregnancies was the one thing that women had to give up to attain true equality for all, but she was appalled that they would lose the potential to have this experience and connection to offspring. This was an example for me of why Mattapoisett is an ambiguous utopia, rather than a straight up utopia, largely because I agree with Connie that carrying a pregnancy can be an amazing and empowering experience, but also because I questioned how they prevented women from becoming pregnant in Mattapoisett. What kind of bodily control is practiced so that it seems to never happen? How is that control enforced? This was one of the few features that made Mattapoisett an ambiguous utopia for me. Otherwise I would be pretty ready to move there. You know, if it were real.

TN: Shifting the conversation slightly, I’m interested to know whether or not our discussions in the Feminisms seminar this year—or, Geena and Shelby, your discussions in Science Fiction last year— influenced your thinking about these texts and how you might approach them. If so, how?

EB: For sure our discussions in Feminisms gave me a broader context from which to approach specifically Piercy’s work. Also, for me the debates ongoing about feminisms are linked to the debates ongoing within the broader politics I pay attention to and am attempting to explore here. What I mean is, I hear a lot of politicos saying that freedom is about choice: about having negative liberty. I hear the same thing from so-called third wave feminists: that freedom and feminism is all about choice . . . negative liberty again. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily opposed to negative liberty, but I also don’t believe that a fervent belief in negative liberty is enough: not for political justice and not for feminism. The extreme individualism that characterizes liberalism, in feminism and more broadly, is detrimental to the formation of egalitarian communities. The attitude of self and choice before all else does not foster unity, or community, or address the root causes of oppression. I know that seems a bit tangential, but that is what I spent most of the year in Feminisms thinking about. Initially I wondered: why are we talking about “feminisms” plural? Of course, I quickly saw that is because the movement is split, and that those splits are over deep and fundamental differences. Also, I kept wondering, why do so many people insist that feminism is just about equality and choice, when this was not the extent of the original meaning or intent of the movement? Increased personal options improve the lived experiences of some individuals, but the existence of more options for some does not mean the systems of power that reinforce misogyny and oppression have been dismantled, far from it. I think of what is beginning to happen to anarchism on Annares in Dispossessed: it has become stagnant, dogmatic, counterproductive, and even, in some ways, the antithesis of its originators’ dreams of true liberation from systemic oppression. I fear, although it is an imperfect analogy, much the same can be said for the modern feminist movement—at least popular liberal feminism.

SM: Science Fiction, for me, was more helpful in broadening my horizons with science fiction: taking me out of the oiled men and damsels in distress and giving me more subtle and questioning forms—showing what science fiction can do, and what purpose it can serve in society. So that changed my mindset with regard to the way I look at certain forms of fiction and the questions I ask. And the fem lit discussion class: it’s more shaped my thesis more than anything, because I wouldn’t have picked up The Hunger Games to read if it had not been for that class, just because I have no time to read other books. Since it was on the course material, it’s like, “okay, you have to read this now,” and I was like, “this is amazing! how did I not read it before? what was I doing?” And we had one discussion that I remember in particular where Emily said something like: “I ask more of young adult fiction, and its representation of women, and what it says to women” (if we’re presuming that women are the primary readers of a book written by a female author with a female protagonist). She said she holds it to a higher moral ground, and I agree. That’s why I have all of these thoughts about Katniss and her representation in film, because I think that because it’s a young adult book and it’s marketed to a very specific group of people, even though other people might read it or watch it, then that initial group takes certain things away from it that I would not as an adult reader. Since it got adapted into film and it reaches a wider audience, if the film and the text become paratexts to each other in very strong and significant ways, I am interested in investigating how that would affect readership of Katniss from the film to the book and vice versa, and what that would mean to those broader audiences now.

GK: I know when we were doing all the cyborg stuff at the end of the semester in Feminisms, whenever we’d start talking about it all I could think of was about these two other books we read in Science Fiction, Neuromancer and He, She, and It, and how similar they were to our course readings at the end of Feminisms. Whenever we would talk about the cyborgs that’s all I could think about. He, She, and It had a woman who fell in love with a cyborg, and within the book it was viewed as this negative thing that she wanted to hide from her community. But in the book almost everyone had cyborg parts—or not necessarily parts but I mean they all had like implants, pretty much Google Glass. And so whenever we were talking about it all I could think about was that book and how they already were cyborgs, I guess, and how it was completely normal in that timeline for people to just have robotic parts, but even still, how the main protagonist ends up falling in love with a cyborg, but that’s unheard of, in the book. She ends up falling in love with a cyborg, and it’s this big hush hush, “don’t tell anyone, ‘cause it’s bad,” which I found interesting, at the end, ‘cause I mean, they’re all pretty much kind of robotic themselves, but dating an actual robotic person is bad.

EB: I was really fascinated by Haraway’s essay on cyborg identity. I might incorporate her ideas somewhat when talking about Woman on the Edge. That book was published in 1976 and citizens of Mattapoisett wore devices called “kenners,” which are eerily like our modern “smart phones.” There are other ways, certainly, that Haraway’s ideas could relate to the texts I’m working with, but I think if I do mention these ideas they won’t feature prominently. As much as I am interested in Haraway’s essay, I think extensively pursuing her ideas would be too much of a digression: really I want to look at the ways people engage with each other socially and how that looks in the absence of a centralized state. If I had to name my theoretical lens I would say it is Anarcho-Marxist / radical-feminist. I thought a lot about this initially but what that amounts to at the moment is simply me looking at the texts through the same lens I always use to see the world.

Update: Since this interview was conducted, Emily Bagnald has chosen, due to family and work obligations, to graduate with a general BA.  She may return to her thesis project at a later date.

Honours: The Next Generation, Part 2 will feature our two other honours students, Rebecca Power and Jess Herritt, who are both writing theses on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Next February, you can hear more about how our Honours students’ thesis research has developed when they will present their work in a departmental colloquium, to which all students and faculty will be invited.