Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
English & Film Studies
Nation, Diaspora, and Culture
Faculty of Arts
Dr. Tanis MacDonald
Dr. Jenny Kerber
Dr. Mariam Pirbhai
The reception studies that comprise this dissertation take up contemporary depictions of psycho-affective pain from the field of Canadian literature that are embraced by prominent literary publics as an act of social responsibility. Each study contextualizes the publics that review these texts within the ongoing use of literary culture to justify the settler state’s land claim, nationally reparative reading practices, and trends in the therapeutic use of literature. Tracing the affective reactions documented within each text’s reception, this study finds that narratives that fail to locate the nation as a reparative project are susceptible to interpretive practices that pathologize, rather than materialize, depictions of suffering through recourse to narratives of social progress that have historically justified colonial occupation. Simultaneously, the reception of many texts reveals a parallel use of the literary arts to create alternative public cultures that narrate traumatic experiences without recourse to pathologization, often outside of national frameworks (Cvetkovich). The interactions between these literary uses indicate that alternative literary publics must contend with the threat of being used as evidence of national progress, often in a way that obscures the material and historical conditions emphasized within the literary works themselves.
The study employs Jasbir Puar’s vocabulary of debilitation-disability-capacity to frame explorations of the ways in which literature depicting psycho-affective pain within conditions of debilitation (the slow wearing down of racialized and gendered population aggregates) is sometimes used as a tool of “recapacitation” towards the status quo, and to locate the ways in which artists, reviewers, and scholars, have sought to position the same narratives as tools for creating publics that “capacitate” towards other reparative ends. Examples from CanLit’s ‘discovery’ of Indigenous literatures in the 1970s, queer-feminist critiques of psychiatry from the 1980/90s, the debates surrounding medically assisted dying, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission indicate ongoing tensions between the use of literary artifacts as a vehicle for performing acts of national citizenship and the role of literature in creating alternative public cultures. This history is framed as supporting contemporary demands for accountability in review cultures, as well as institutional support for equitable access to publishing and distribution, and it calls for a further examination of the conflicting ways in which literary artifacts are framed within overlapping public cultures.
Ludolph, Rebekah, "Debilitating Publics: Reading CanLit's Investigations into Psycho-Affective Pain and Social Change" (2021). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2393.
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