CAAS 2020 (Virtual) Conference

Conference Program:

Canadian Association for American Studies: 2020 (virtual) Conference 

October 16 and 23, 2020, via Zoom 

Abstracts and Presenter’s Biographies 

October 16, 2020 

10:50: Greetings and Opening Remarks: Ross Bullen (CAAS President) 

11:00-12:15: Session One: Poetics, Politics, and Aesthetics 

Geordie Miller: geordie.miller@gmail.com 

“Not Quite as Slowly as the Rest”: The Revolutionary Letters of Diane di Prima and Wendy Trevino 

Abstract: Wendy Trevino’s poetry collection Cruel Fiction (2018) includes an inspiring imitation of Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters (1971). Through “Revolutionary Letter” Trevino thus follows her own advice: “find the people who will help / be loud / & clear so they know where you are.” In short, Trevino locates di Prima as a comrade in the struggle to destroy the racial capitalist order so as to lay claim to an emancipatory future. My paper explores how both poets—in their avowedly communicative, anti-experimental writing—work against the bourgeois lesson that art that exhorts or persuades is compromised and aesthetically crude. 

Geordie Miller is an Assistant Professor of English at Mount Allison University and has been a member of CAAS since 2011. His current book project examines the effects of university underemployment on professional activity. This is his first virtual conference. 

Maria Rovito: mrr354@psu.edu 

Towards a New Madwoman Theory: Reckoning the Pathologization of Sylvia Plath  

Abstract: Psychoanalytic criticism has often relied on pathography in order to cast women writers such as Sylvia Plath as “crazed” authors who “suffered” from mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. The critics have used and appropriated these author’s impairments in order to explain their writing abilities and productivity, arguing that their works were only possible through their mental differences. Particularly in Plath’s case, critics have psychoanalyzed her works using diagnostic language, pathologizing her using the language of the medical model of disability. The article argues that these readings are driven by patriarchal norms and institutions and are a product of an attempt to control and diminish the voices of disabled women. Using a framework of feminist disability studies articulated as madwoman theory, the argument is that scholars of literature should refrain from using diagnostic terminology to describe fictitious characters and their real-life authors. The article interrogates ableist readings of Sylvia Plath and negotiates a madwoman theory analysis of her works, including The Bell Jar and the bee poems in Ariel. A madwoman theory analysis privileges the voices of disabled women writers over critics’ ableist readings. Further, the article argues that analyzing writing about lived experiences with disability enables a future in which the voices of disabled women are privileged over these diagnostic categories. 

Maria Rovito is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Penn State University. Her research is focused on Mad studies, feminist disabilities studies, and American literature. 

12:15-1:45: Lunch Break 

CAAS Executive Meeting: 12:30-1:30 

Session Two1:45-3:15: Pulp, Noir, and Crime in the Golden State 

Arthur F. Redding: aredding@yorku.ca 

“Los Angeles and Me Had Had Enough of Each Other”: Donald Goines on the West Coast 

Abstract: Though he was one of the best-selling and most beloved Black writers of his time, and a key founder of “street fiction,” whose impact has been enduring, the pulp novels of the fiendishly prolific Detroit writer Donald Goines (1936-1974) have been largely scanted by critics and literary historians. This talk will provide a brief introduction to his writing; I will focus on the allure of (and dis-infatuation with) the west coast and Los Angeles in particular to this midwestern crime writer. Focusing on Goines’s depiction of late 60s/early 70s LA as a false or abortive utopia for African Americans, I’ll consider such works as Street Players (1973) and Never Die Alone (1974), and in particular, the militant phantasmagory of the Kenyatta quartet (1974-75), as well as on Goines’s own brief, unhappy sojourn in LA. 

Arthur F. Redding is a Professor of English at York University. He has written four books on American literature and culture and is currently engaged in a SSHRC-funded study of tough-guy and crime fiction. An essay from this project, “The Eisenhower Blues: Returning GIs and Racial Masquerade in Post-War American Film and Fiction,” was published in the spring 2020 issue of Canadian Review of American Studies. Another recent publication is an essay on Cold War literature in North America in The Palgrave Handbook of Cold War Literature, edited by Andrew Hammond. 

Katrina Younes: kyounes@uwo.ca 

The Mimetic Femme Fatale in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest 

Abstract: The femme fatale figure moves beyond the cinematic realm and into the fictional realm, and further by commenting on the real world of her time, specifically on gender roles and stereotypes of American society. In Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (1929), Hammett adds complexity to the figure of the femme fatale as it was developed as a stock character in American popular pulp magazines, novels, and cinema during the same period. Hammett’s first novel demonstrates the diversity of the femme fatale, therefore showing both the complex relationship between misogynistic views toward women and providing women with a sense of empowerment. I want to explore how Hammett complicates the stereotypical representation of the femme fatale through the use of the femme fatale’s feminine body language and masculine verbal/body language, which consequently display the faulty logic of the male order, and thus the PIs’ loss of faith in it. In doing so, this article will draw on the theories of Luce Irigaray and Sigmund Freud. Together, the theories and close readings of the selected Hammett texts draw an image of a femme fatale who is a chameleon, one who appears to be submissive but is in fact rebellious. 

In focusing on Red Harvest, I will address the question of how masculinity and femininity are encoded and performed in body and verbal language in Hammett’s fiction by reading the representation of gender roles through the psychoanalytic lens of Irigaray and Freud. Specifically, I will attend to two key elements in regards to Dinah: her body as object of the male gaze, the use of her body against the illogical male order through feminine behaviour (that is they are consciously using their sexuality as prescribed by the male order) and lastly the Op as a melancholic figure, coping with the loss of faith in the male order that Dinah show to be faulty. 

Katrina Younes is a doctoral student at Western University’s Department of English and Writing Studies. Her area of research involves tracing the role of women from the hard-boiled genre of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (as femmes fatales) to contemporary television shows such as Netflix’s Jessica Jones and The CW’s Veronica Mars (as Private Eyes). Her exploration of women from criminal femme fatales to contemporary hard-boiled PIs will comment on the gender dynamics of criminal law with a focus on women as being against the law, as being representatives of the law and as being victims of criminal acts. Popular culture studies can provide us with a unique lens through which we can critically asses how women’s desire, their relation to the law, and responses to stereotypes of femininity make their way into the public consciousness.  

Susan Ingram: singram@yorku.ca 

The Places and Politics of Violence: Investigating 21st-Century Crime Scenes 

The appeal of acronym-titled investigatory crime television serials has been a hallmark of 21st-century television, with first the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) media franchise and then the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Services) one enjoying immense popularity. As has been well researched, these television serials, and the media empires they spawned, helped the American Boomer generation maintain its corporate hegemony and capitalize on the massive changes the global mediascape underwent in the first two decades of the century, intensifying the neoliberalization ushered in during the Reagan/ Thatcher regimes.  

That the series profoundly affected imaginaries of crimes and the uses to which technology could be put can be seen in the so-called CSI effect, something the original series proudly celebrated by starting off its final season with an episode by that name (“The CSI Effect,” season 15, episode 1). That the implications of the series’ pernicious influence were understood as its popularity soared can be seen by reading the television series through the looking glass of Melanie Pullen’s High Fashion Crime Scenes (2003-2017), a collection of over 100 5’x6’ glossy photographs, in which Pullen re-enacted crime scenes she had found in the files of the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Coroner’s Office with models and actresses such as Rachel Miner and Juliette Lewis, whom she outfitted in current haute-couture and photographed in elaborately staged settings in and around Los Angeles. The series is loosely organized according to the type of crime committed. There is a “Hanging Series,” a “Barrel Series,” a “Taxi Series,” a “Water Series,” and a “Metro Series.”  

In this paper, I argue that High Fashion Crime Scenes’ aim was to resensitize viewers by confronting them with the spectacularized viewing pleasure to be derived from, and inherent in, quotidian aestheticized graphic violence inflicted on fashionable female bodies that the television series celebrated, and I support the argument with a comparative analysis of the photographs and the television series’ depictions of such bodies that takes its cues from Judith Butler’s recent work on violence.  

Susan Ingram is Professor in the Department of Humanities at York University, Toronto, where she coordinates the Graduate Diploma in Comparative Literature. She is the general editor of Intellect Book’s Urban Chic series and co-author of the volumes on Berlin, Vienna, and Los Angeles. A past president of the Canadian Comparative Literature Association and its current web systems administrator, her research interests revolve around the institutions of European cultural modernity and their legacies. 

Page Break 

Session Three: 3:30-5:00: Race, Ethnicity, and Erasure 

Laura J. Beard and Lindsay Sorell: lbeard@ualberta.ca and sorell@ualberta.ca 

“Notwithstanding the treaty rights”: A Life Narrative of the Black Hills 

Abstract: John S. McClintock’s memoir, Pioneer Days in the Black Hills: Accurate History and Facts Related by One of the Early Day Pioneers (1939; U Oklahoma P 2000), is widely regarded as one of the most reliable published accounts of settler history in the Black Hills, consulted by historians writing on the Black Hills, Deadwood, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and more. His life narrative glorifies the history of the gold rush pioneers who entered Dakota Territory even while he recognizes the illegality of settler presence on treaty-protected lands. McClintock’s life narrative thus provides a direct view through the moral window constructed by gold seekers in order to justify their defiance of the 1851 and 1868 Treaties of Fort Laramie and the direct restraining orders from the United States government. This paper illuminates tensions between illegality and claims to integrity in McClintock’s life narrative, critically examining exclusion and inequity in this narrative of the “glorious” Wild West. While focusing on these ongoing tensions on their impact on the reliability of McClintock as narrator, we also reflect on our own relations to and responsibilities to this text, this story, the places, the peoples included and excluded, and to each other. Laura Beard is a settler scholar originally from the United States and related to John S. McClintock but now living and working on ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Amiskwacîwâskahikan), Treaty Six territory and Métis homelands in Edmonton, Alberta. Lindsay Sorell is an artist and MA student of both Métis (from kistapinânihk) and mixed European descent learning in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at University of Alberta, grateful to be living in and a pupil of kistapinânihk. Working together on this project, they both approach the text from their own positionalities and reflect on the stories to be drawn from what it tells and what it does not tell.   

Laura J. Beard is Professor and Associate Vice President (Research) at the University of Alberta, on Amiskwacîwâskahikan, Treaty Six and Métis homelands in Edmonton, Alberta. Her research interests include life narratives, Indigenous literatures and cultures, stories and storyworlds.  She holds a PhD from The Johns Hopkins University and has held internal and external funding, including from SSHRC, NEH, and Fulbright, for work in Mexico, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S. She is a consulting editor of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, a member of the Steering Committee for the International Auto/Biography Association Chapter of the Americas, and author of Acts of Narrative Resistance: Women’s Writing in the Americas (University of Virginia Press).  

Lindsay Sorell is an artist and MA student of both Métis (from kistapinânihk) and mixed European descent learning in the department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at University of Alberta, grateful to be living in and a pupil of kistapinânihk. Her focus of research is on coalition-building between diverse people groups through artmaking – how can we use art to generate learning and listening spaces that radically empower Indigenous sovereignty and facilitate decolonization in our present? Lindsay served as the founding editor of Luma Quarterly journal for Western Canadian media art and film, has been published in Canadian ArtAkimbo, and the Independent Media Arts Alliance’s Perspectives, and has exhibited her paintings, performances, and media art in various spaces such as Contemporary Calgary, Untitled Art Society, and Illingworth Kerr Gallery. 

Suchismita Dutta: sdutta@miami.edu 

“What the Schools Didn’t Do For Me”: The Politics of Arab American Visibility in Najla Said’s Looking for Palestine 

Abstract: Najla Said’s Looking for Palestine highlights the structural silencing of the non-white other, specifically women in spaces of lower and higher education in the U.S. I read this structural silencing or taking a neutral stance or the act of not talking about non-white minorities in the classroom as a process that reproduces whiteness. This silence perpetrates racial non-visibility and legitimizes forced institutional passing within academic spaces. This article studies Said’s memoir by investigating the complex and changing interconnections among race, class and gender. Said’s narrative exposes the fallacy of seemingly inclusive multicultural spaces that are never safe for negotiating multidimensional identities of being a woman, an Arab, and an American. Historically, the institutional schema of the United States has categorically penalized groups organized by gender and by race which has resulted in racial passing or the public disengagement with one’s multiracial ancestry. Hence my analysis of forced institutional passing alongside Bhabha’s theory of colonial mimicry, Lacan’s register theory and Sara Ahmed’s notion of institutional whiteness adds a new dimension to the already established frameworks of the phenomena of passing. Furthermore, this essay argues that Looking for Palestine opens avenues to distinguish the different aspects located within the politics of recognition; such as, non-visibility, non-recognition, misrecognition and colonial mimicry as separate from each other.  

Suchismita Dutta is a PhD candidate at the Department of English, University of Miami. Her research interest lies in contemporary American immigrant writing, multiethnic literature and digital humanities. She has presented research papers at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference (SAMLA) and MELUS previously. Her paper titled, “Indelible Race Memories and Subliminal Epigenetics in Octavia Butler’s Kindred was recently published in [Inter]Sections: The American Studies Journal. She has worked as the Assistant Editor of Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal. Currently, she is the Composition Program Fellow at UM’s Department of English. 

Jenna Hunnef: jenna.hunnef@usask.ca 

Painted Indians and an All-Black Cast of Oklahoma!: The Meta-Politics of Race in HBO’s Watchmen 

Abstract: 

This paper considers how the accumulation of visual, textual, and historical cues in HBO’s television series, Watchmen (2019)—a loose adaptation of the limited 1980s’ DC comics series of the same name—permits an enhanced understanding of the discursive kinship between Blackness and Indigeneity in the figuration of Whiteness-as-power in the US. The series envisions these methods not only in its portrayal of a racially diverse cast of superhero vigilantes and villains, but also in its palimpsestic layering of densely textured allusions to the history of anti-black racism in Tulsa, Oklahoma—a near-future version of which provides the series’ setting—and the violent dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands in the former Indian Territory (which is now part of the state of Oklahoma). The history of Oklahoma is intimately bound up with the series’ thematic preoccupations with outlawry, anti-black racism, and settler-colonial state power. However, I suggest that while the series permits this enhanced understanding, it nonetheless fails to acknowledge that discursive kinship in any kind of overt way, therefore missing a critical opportunity to depict the intersectional histories of African Americans and Indigenous peoples during the nadir of American race relations (ca. 1877-1923), and consequently risks the erasure of Indigenous peoples within popular depictions of the history of US race relations. 

Jenna Hunnef is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research specializations include late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Indigenous North American literatures, and the influence of place on the relationship between law and literature.  

Page Break 

Session Four: 1:45-3:15: Political Narratives from the 1960s to the Present 

Stephen Schryer: stephenschryer@gmail.com 

Garry Wills’s Conservative Apostasy 

Abstract: In 1964, National Review author Garry Wills published an essay supporting Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. In contrast to other National Review writers, who championed Goldwater as an economic libertarian and defender of states’ rights, Wills bizarrely imagined him as a racial liberal who would ease tensions arising from the Civil Rights movement. In retrospect, the essay, along with an earlier review of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, marked the beginning of Wills’s disengagement from the conservative movement that launched his career as a journalist, historian, classicist, and religious scholar. In this paper, I argue that this defection followed a pattern shared by National Review writers like Hugh Kenner and Joan Didion. All of these writers used Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign as a screen on which to project and resolve their emerging sense of the contradictions that beset the conservative movement; those contradictions became unresolvable when subsequent politicians like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon adopted Goldwater’s policies and rhetoric. In Wills’s Goldwater essay, the politician thus became an unlikely vessel for Wills’s sympathy for black activists and emerging appreciation for the post-New Deal welfare state. This projection quickly give way to Wills’s awareness of the incoherence of conservative ideology, the theme that became central to Nixon Agonistes (1970), his first major work of literary journalism. 

Stephen Schryer is a professor of English at the University of New Brunswick. He is the author of Maximum Feasible Participation: American Literature and the War on Poverty (Stanford UP, 2018) and Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction (Columbia UP, 2011). His current project focuses on the circle of writers and literary critics fostered by William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review between the 1950s and 1970s. 

Hasmet Uluorta: huluorta@trentu.ca 

Neoliberal Supremacy and the Class and Race Based Sacrifice of Dissent: From Reagan to Trump 

Abstract: While there is on-going consent for neoliberalism in the United States, it has also triggered dissent clustered around: racial, redistributive economic, nationalist and gender justice. This research seeks to develop a model of American neoliberal subjectivity in order to understand how dissent functions to re-affirm and strengthen consent for a neoliberal political economy. Beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan through to the presidency of Donald Trump, I argue that American subjectivity is divided between an ideal-type I refer to as an ethical All-American and an everyday one seeking to bridge this gap. Bringing four theorizations of neoliberalism together – contentment (John Kenneth Galbraith), disciplinary (Stephen Gill), enjoyment (Slavoz Žižek and Todd McGowan) and probability I discuss how these form the core of class-based subjectivity in this neoliberal era. As an example, Galbraith’s argument of contentment reveals that the newly forming neoliberal logic of necessity (e.g., there is no alternative) makes the disparities faced by African Americans both permissible and natural outcomes to white middle- and upper-class Americans. Gill refines this sacrifice discussing it in terms of the active necessity for individual disciplinarity (e.g., the poor are poor because they lack discipline). What emerges, I argue in discussing all four, is an important way to understand why, how and to what extent dissent is differentially accommodated (e.g., divergences in class) and sacrificed producing a neoliberal political economy of supremacy. 

Hasmet Uluorta is Associate Professor of World Politics and International Development at Trent University, Peterborough Canada. His research focuses on the U.S. model of development, seeking to clarify why consent may be forthcoming despite the existence of hyper-contradictions. His recent research 

also focuses on the US model of development and digitization. He is author of the 2009 book The Social Economy: Working Alternatives in a Globalizing

Era. Lindsey Banco: lmb222@mail.usask.ca 

Techno-Conspiracies and Petrocolonialism: The Strange Case of Dr. Judy Wood 

Abstract: A pair of related phenomena have come to characterize the nearly two decades since 9/11: (1) conspiracy theory as an increasingly popular exegetical tool for understanding that day and managing the sense of cultural emergency it has engendered, and (2) a growing awareness of how global energy regimes, including the landscape of petrocolonialism, contribute to climate emergency. This paper takes as its premise the idea that the techno-conspiracy—a hermeneutic model in which technology is imagined as a means of revealing secret knowledge—in fact speaks loudly to post-9/11 anxieties over what comes next. Contemporary techno-conspiracies (from Hurricane Katrina to chemtrails to HAARP) purport to reveal the existence of secret technologies in the hands of shadowy power structures, but in their rhizomatic connections to ecological anxieties, they actually point to the overt but often unspoken power structures and energy regimes informing both the events of 9/11 and the incipient climate emergency. Not only distraction or delusion, techno/ecological conspiracy theories represent complex, troubled, and troubling ways of attempting to understand these interrelated phenomena. This paper’s centerpiece will be a discussion of Dr. Judy Wood’s remarkable 9/11 conspiracy theory about directed-energy weapons, as self-published in a book entitled Where Did the Towers Go? (2010). It is my contention that the language of Wood’s theories reveals a complex nexus of anxieties over American technological regimes—skyscrapers and aviation, media technologies, the legacy of the atomic bomb—but, perhaps most of all, anxieties over petrocolonial “blowback,” energy and carbon footprints, and the existential threats posed by ecological destruction. 

Lindsey Michael Banco is an associate professor of American literature and culture at the University of Saskatchewan and has interests in gothic literature, nuclear culture, and conspiracy theory. His articles and book reviews appear in The French Review of American Studies, American Literary History, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Arizona Quarterly, and Gothic Studies. He is the author of two books: Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature (Routledge, 2009) and The Meanings of J. Robert Oppenheimer (University of Iowa Press, 2016). 

Session Five: 3:30-5:30: A CAAS Mixtape: Ringwood’s Afro-American Journal, Jesmyn Ward, John Guare, and Ellen Forney 

Jennifer Harris: jennifer.harris@uwaterloo.ca 

Fashion, Fitness, and Freedom in the 1890s: Recuperating Ringwood’s Afro-American Journal 

Abstract: For a brief moment in the 1890s, African American women had the option of reading a fashion magazine created especially for them, written, edited, and managed by their peers. Unfortunately, just one issue of Ringwood’s Afro-American Journal of Fashion has survived, and as a result this endeavor has been understudied, only addressed by Noliwe M. Rooks in her 2004 book Ladies Pages: African American Women’s Magazines and the Culture that Made Them. Yet Rooks reads Ringwood’s as a conventional light-skinned enterprise, and does not step outside of the pages of this surviving issue to determine what more we might learn by researching the writers and editors of the magazine, or its advertisements and press coverage. By contrast, I want to argue for the ways in which its editorial staff represent significant diversity, and not simply in terms of skin colour. Their occupations—ranging from a professional wood carver to newspaper agents—are not staid or expected. Likewise, while fashion may be foregrounded in the title, subscription campaigns also promoted bicycling, at the time a suspect pastime for American women. In an era when African American women were striving for respectability, positioned as fundamental to racial uplift, for a fashion magazine to promote an activity seen as unfeminine suggests a willingness to defy convention. Through amassing contextual archival evidence to try and compensate for the lack of surviving issues, this essay argues for a new understanding of Ringwood’s Afro-American Journal of Fashion. 

Jennifer Harris is past-President of the Canadian Association for American Studies. She is the author of over thirty essays, appearing in African American Review, Legacy, Early American Literature, Canadian Literature, English Language Notes, Journal of Canadian Studies, the Canadian Review of American Studies and elsewhere. She is the co-editor of From Page to Place: American Literary Tourism and the Afterlives of Authors. (U of Massachusetts Press) as well as the Norton Critical Edition of The Coquette and The Boarding School. 

Tricia George: tgeor025@gmail.com 

Orienting Around Animality in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing 

Abstract: Among and between the many abuses of disciplinary and biopolitical power Jesmyn Ward addresses in Sing, Unburied, Sing is a complex representational relationship between humans and animals, particularly as regards the ways in which racially and economically marginalized African Americans are stripped of rights and reduced to bare life through the manipulation of a human/animal binary. By addressing this novel from a philosophical posthumanist angle, specifically through Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment and the essential function of language in intercorporeality, as well as the ethical recognition of other(ed) subjectivities, this paper orients analytical focus toward the type of moral connectivity that Ward’s characters work and long for. Through an examination of River’s orientation around animality in comparison to Richie’s orientation toward whiteness, and Jojo’s ability to understand animal language extended through baby Kayla’s pre-grammatical slippages as creative ways of accessing reciprocity and communication for marginalized, marked bodies, this paper concludes that Sing, Unburied, Sing both challenges the hierarchal ordering of human and animal life and explores new interpretive possibilities for individuals and communities who are made into animals by racist discourse. Intertwining species through both flesh and language extends Merleau-Ponty’s embodiment theory beyond the human, expanding ethical horizons and humbly locating humanity within a planetary environment rather than a merely anthropocentric one. 

Tricia George received her MA from the University of Ottawa in 2011 and is currently an international PhD candidate at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea. She specializes in contemporary North American minority literature, and is currently in the process of writing her dissertation on the topic of ethical hospitality in Canadian refugee narratives. Her most recent publication is “‘It’s the Real Thing’: How Mad Men Sells America to the World” (JEAS), and she presented a paper entitled “American I(n)perialism: Subjectivity and Property Discourse in Paul Beatty’s The Sellout” at Queen’s University, Belfast’s 2019 Common Ground conference. 

Luke Bresky: Luke.Bresky@stmu.ca 

John Guare’s “Non-Controversial Mapplethorpe”: Six Degrees of Six Degrees 

This paper examines John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation (1989) and Fred Schepisi’s successful film adaptation (1993) in the context of the public arts funding debates that continued to escalate between the play’s composition and the film’s release. Guare’s professional and social networks linked him personally not just to the story of con-artist David Hampton, which inspired Six Degrees, but to the NEA controversy itself. Among several circumstances confirming this connection, the most compelling proves tantalizing: Adele Chatfield Taylor, Guare’s wife, had held a senior NEA position for ten years when she resigned in 1988. If Guare’s informed interest in the paleo-conservatives’ politicization of NEA policy looks certain, his freedom to comment publicly on that issue looks doubtful. By way of signaling an indirect comment, my title alludes to a 1993 New York Times interview conducted in Guare’s home; significantly, but 

without elaboration, the interviewer recalls Guare directing his attention to a “non-controversial” Mapplethorpe photograph, displayed prominently in the living room. At the textual level, Guare’s satirical, broadly allusive thematization of various central issues in the culture wars (such as performed identity, homophobia, racism, “family values,” arts patronage, and the commodification of art) does call considerable attention to itself. Reframing Hampton’s impostures as a timely metaphor, Six Degrees dramatizes cultural-conservative anxieties about NEA funding for homoerotic art. Specializing in a guerilla form of dinner theatre, the central character figures as a performance artist who charms wealthy baby-boomers in his role as Sidney Poitier’s neglected son, only to slide from studious grantee to public enemy when his patrons discover he uses their money to subsidize, and in one case to promote (almost evangelically), gay sex. 

Luke Bresky is an Associate Professor in English at St. Mary’s University in Calgary; he serves as Secretary on the CAAS Executive. Although he has published on various 19th- and 20th-century American writers, his recent research has focused closely on Nathaniel Hawthorne, yielding a Broadview edition of The Blithedale Romance, co-edited with Michael Colacurcio, and 2 articles on that novel, one in Stories of Nation (2018), the other in the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review. His current book project concerns the intermediations of political civility, social manners, and literary decorum in antebellum writing. 

Sarah Blanchette: sarah.blanchette@uwo.ca  

“‘no magic bullet solutions or happy endings’: Graphic Memoir, Mental Health Literacy, and Biomedical Recovery in Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo,+ Me.” 

Abstract: In Arthur Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, & Ethics, he identifies that “[i]llness becomes a circulation of stories¸ professional and lay, but not all stories are equal” (5). He notes that the way in which sick persons understand their embodiment of illness “depends on the imaginative conceptions of illness provided by storytellers,” with published stories having a significant influence on how “others tell their stories” by creating a “social rhetoric of illness,” particularly the medical narrative of illness, which has “the considerable weight of institutional authority” (187, 21, 191). As a result, “[s]torytelling is for an other just as much as it is for oneself,” because each shared story becomes a narrative resource for other ill persons to use in their own re-conceptualization, or re-mapping, of their identities and experiences after the interruption of illness (17 emphasis original). Analogously, I argue that the biomedical narrative of mental illness, which is primarily disseminated through national mental health literacy, dominates the narrative imaginary of mental distress and, thus, limits the narrative resources available to the public to story and understand their experiences with what is diagnosed as mental illness. I examine how Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, + Me relies on biomedical narratives of mental illness to story her experiences of mental distress. However, the memoir also critiques the dominant narrative in mental health literary of “magic bullet solutions or happy endings,” suggesting the necessity for alternative approaches to mental health discourse. 

Sarah Blanchette recently completed her PhD in English at Western University, and she is currently an assistant professor at Huron University College in London, ON. Her research areas include anti-psychiatric literature, Mad Studies, medical humanities, narratives of embodiment, disability, and illness, and representations of Madness in American literature.

Article written by

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Leave a Reply