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Genres, Vulnerable Voices, and Posthuman Care in Canadian and Quebecois Literatures

Dominique Hétu, postdoctoral fellow (SSHRC)
Canadian Literature Centre, University of Alberta

My project develops the idea of posthuman care through the analysis of two interconnected fields: the ethics of care and critical posthumanism. This analysis benefits from the readings of Canadian and Quebecois literary texts, such as the novels of Margaret Atwood, Kim Thúy, Larissa Lai, Hiromi Goto, Serge Lamothe, Dionne Brand, Pascale Quivigier, Julie Demers, and Emma Donoghue. These texts, among others, confront readers with and imagine alternatives to human life as we know it and they blur its most common acceptations.

During this postdoctoral fellowship, I hope to show that posthuman care makes room for identifying new textual and narrative modalities and contributes to as well as initiates new discussions about the possible forms of expressing, in ordinary and extraordinary ways, belonging and legitimacy to and in the world. I also intend to question the social and narrative impacts of care strategies and of posthuman negotiations used by authors and by characters. How does posthuman care, as expressed through different literary genres, allow a revitalization of historical struggles regarding normative and naturalized gender categories? How does a care discourse, with its feminist and posthuman characteristics, sheds light on particular answers to the many forms of precarity that the contemporary subject experiences?

It is important to specify that this project is not only interested in post-apocalyptic narratives in which a “post-human” is imagined. It is also, if not mostly, interested in thinking differently the interdependencies between human and nonhuman, which will be achieved by challenging, in literary texts, care as a strictly interhuman process and notions of relationality and responsibility in light of other living things.

Rooted in care ethics, this project must also pursue the critical investigation of posthuman care as feminist strategy through which the human—Man—is decentred. This approach participates, in unique ways, to certain attempts of literary studies and humanities to better understand the standpoints of the disadvantaged, such as female, racialized, poor, and animal subjects, since critical posthumanism, much like the ethics of care, revisits the meaning of belonging and difference, along with the parameters that constitute their experience.

Finally, while I intend to augment visibility of care ethics as a new approach to literature, I also want to show how literature reveals care as a founding principle of freedom and autonomy, how pieces of fiction imagine new relational configurations and new ways for thinking interactions between human and nonhuman, constantly challenging and reshaping social, cultural, and ethical fabric.

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Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC)

The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory / Le Collaboratoire scientifique des écrits du Canada is an innovative online project designed to enable unprecedented avenues for studying the words that most move people in and about Canada. At this critical juncture when Canada’s literary heritage is moving online, management of information about Canadian cultural history still relies on tools derived from print models, which cannot accommodate the explosion of online materials. Literary studies must shift from the conventional model of solitary scholars working on small groups of texts, towards fertile large-scale, cross-disciplinary collaborative energies. CWRC’s specialized interface will connect scattered and siloed data; investigate links between writers, texts, places, groups, policies, and events; advance understanding of past and present cultural change; and produce fascinating new knowledge accessible to Canadians and the world.

The Collaboratory will be an innovative web-based service-oriented platform combining:

  1. A database (Online Research Canada, ORCA) to house born-digital scholarly materials, digitized texts, and metadata (indices, annotations, cross-references). Content and tools will be open access wherever possible and designed for interoperability with each other and with other systems. The database will be seeded with a range of existing digital materials, as well as with information to provide the backbone of an Integrated History of Women’s Writing in Canada.
  2. A toolkit for empowering new collaborative modes of scholarly writing online; editing, annotating, and analyzing materials in and beyond ORCA; discovering and collaborating with researchers with intersecting interests; mining knowledge about relations, events and trends, through automated methods and interactive visualizations; and analyzing the system’s usage patterns to discover areas for further investigation. Forms of collaboration will range from the sharing and building of fundamental resources such as filmographies, and author and subject bibliographies, to the collaborative production of born-digital historical and literary studies.

CWRC’s key is integration: of system components; of information whose value increases exponentially when combined and subjected to new modes of inquiry; of scholarly materials with the massive archive of digital texts; of scholars themselves.

For more information, please go to www.cwrc.ca, or contact:

Dr. Susan Brown, Director, Orlando Project; Project Leader, Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory; Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph; Visiting Professor, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta.

Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1 Canada

Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E5

519-824-4120 x53266 (office), 780-862-0155, 519-766-0844 (fax)

Email: [email protected] or [email protected]