On Joseph Boyden and “Ethnic Fraud”


Cheval_de_Troie_d'après_le_Virgile_du_Vatican
Trojan Horse after Virgilius Vaticanus
(Note a working paper in progress – expanding & editing apr 18, 2017…pardon errors) 

At what point should Boyden’s identity quest have been identified as no more than a desiring machine?

I pose this question to myself as someone who has been teaching and writing about Canadian literature and culture over more than thirty years. Joseph Boyden perpetually posed as part Indigenous, an improvised status that afforded him access to advice, teachings, prestige and awards reserved for Indigenous persons. This is misguided and wrong.

I take little pleasure in part of this public debate. The talented and accomplished writer Joseph Boyden is suffering a serious and damaging and humiliating public critique. But I remain unflaggingly sympathetic to those who write about the losses within the Indigenous community when someone inauthentically takes up their space in the public sphere. To those writers and thinkers who already suffer the perils of a colonizing and racist nation state, the marginalization and the damage endures. And I understand the intensity of these critiques especially by those whose community identities or personal influence were particularly exploited. (The list of those active in this debate include Marilyn Dumont, Daniel Justice Heath,

Continue reading “On Joseph Boyden and “Ethnic Fraud””

The ‘Post-Truth Elevation of Celebrity Over Fact’: Deborah Palmer on the CAN LIT Letter & UBC’s Firing of Steven Galloway 

I am heartbroken that these writers, so many of whom teach, have chosen this self-serving, old boys’ club denial. Signed by writers who posted “I believe Lucy,” this letter represents the wrong side of history. It values keeping a powerful man safe when others are not. It re-shames and re-silences his accusers. It’s anti-feminist and anti-union. It would hand employers the right to publicly shame and silence employees. It makes it harder for all Canadians to come forward. In short, these writers have misused their voice and platform. A mistake of misguided friendship is still a mistake.     – Deborah Palmer

In November 2015, on the basis of a series of complaints, Steven Galloway was suspended with pay from his position as professor and director of UBC’s Creative Writing Program. And after an internal UBC investigation led by Mary Ellen Boyd, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge, Galloway was dismissed in June 2016.  The November 2016 open letter in defence of Steven Galloway was signed by some of Canada’s most famous writers is here. Zoe Todd protests the “CanLit heavyweight” lack of insight into the UBC process and the victim’s perspective  here : “Well, I hope that Canadian Literati remember the incredible burden of proof that is put upon survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and harassment or bullying in the workplace. There is a reason that up to 2 out of 3 rapes goes unreported:  https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system ” 

Margaret Atwood’s defence of the letter is here and  here.  The fact that Atwood repeats Galloway’s own self representation as a victim of a Salem witch hunt is so problematic. Additionally she dismisses women in groups who lie. This gender reversal is so offensive.

I am quite confused about why this case is so scandalous. My sense is that there was a process to determine complaints etc. and an internal process with a distinguished former judge to determine whether it was just. And now there is a grievance as per the union contract. That sounds like due process to me. There is labour law that determines you cannot harass in workplaces. Why wouldn’t a university be subject to this.

A criminal case is quite separate. In a criminal court you must determine the judgment according to the beyond a reasonable doubt criteria. In a university it can be balance of probabilities (like in civil cases – remember OJ Simpson won his criminal case and then lost the civil case.) In cases like sexual assault etc where the offence often happens in isolated circumstances without witnesses, the balance of probabilities can make use of comparative evidence between victims etc. So can the criminal courts but with the whacking of witnesses that happens there, multiple victims can be disqualified for talking with each other, for instance – in Margaret Atwood’s words, you can’t trust women in groups who lie.

Karen Connelly writes in response to Deborah Palmer’s letter below: “She asked him to retract his statement. ” nue to speak the truth and I refuse to be intimidated into silence.””

What follows is Deborah Palmer’s excellent facebook post on November 17, 2016. I reproduce it with her position. Palmer sets out the potential harm and the limits of the letter from some Canadian writers:

As a writer, a 23-year high school teacher, OSSTF Branch President and union activist, this is my reply to the Steven Galloway #ubcaccountable letter. It dismisses labour and privacy law. It insults the democratic due process of unions. It sets up a court of celebrity and demands a dangerous precedent: the release of private information that would erode Canadian rights and freedoms.

To recap: Last November, in accordance with labour law and his collective agreement, Mr. Galloway was suspended from his position as acting chair of UBC Creative Writing. In such a high-profile case, I expected a media Ghomeshi, expected Mr. Galloway, his Faculty Association, and hot-shot lawyers, to swarm the media. They did not. Instead, silence fell.
For seven months, Mr. Galloway’s case was reviewed by a retired judge, the Arts dean, and UBC president. Reviewers met with Mr. Galloway and his accusers. Some accusations were dropped. One was not. With the on-going consult of his Faculty Association, he did not dispute the report.

In June, he was fired for “Breach of Trust” as clearly defined by contract and legislation. The lack of criminal charges is irrelevant. Educators all know they are held to a higher standard. All reviewers of the evidence agreed: the breach warranted termination. The CBC confirmed it termination with cause. Without severance. Without a departure package. Neither Mr. Galloway nor his Faculty Association protested or grieved these decisions. He remained silent.

This week, UBC confirms Mr. Galloway has changed his mind and filed a grievance. Having seen many through the grievance process, I question his lengthy silence and delay, but I respect his union-won right to file at any time, just as I respect the union process that produced his dismissal. In March, his grievance will be heard by an independent arbitrator mutually chosen by UBC and Faculty Association counsel acting on Mr. Galloway’s direction and behalf. As a life-long unionist, I do not always agree with an arbitration, but I deeply respect the contractual process and the generations of unionists who fought for it for all of us.
Who doesn’t? Mr. Galloway’s friends. By no coincidence, their letter, exactly coincident with the new grievance, is signed by many of the same friends who rose up to declare his innocence before due process even began, many in the first 24 hours when the story broke last year.
Let’s be clear. No one uses the word “rigged,” but when high-profile wordsmiths call a process “unsubstantiated” and “flawed” we all know it means they disagree with the result. In hypocritical irony, they demand a new “due process,” one that would over-ride a judge and an historical and respected contractual dispute process bound by law and the Charter of Rights. They imply that Mr. Galloway is innocent. That we should value him over over his accusers. That he’s “the real victim.” That he should be exonerated, if not compensated and/or rehired. In the smug middle-class bias of the self-employed, the letter sounds authored by those who have never read, attended, fought for, or gone on strike for, a union vote, but still have the disrespectful gall to call the union process “flawed.” Aka, wrong. Inferior. Invalid.
I’m deeply disappointed by writers who take it upon themselves to decide for, and speak for, the literary community. Without permission. Without evidence. With no credentials but a personal friendship with the accused. Writers who claim to value due process did not use it. They did not draft a public petition for all writers to consider. They signed a clandestine group-mind dispatch. They substituted their literary celebrity for our democratic literary community.
Since they’re claiming insufficient evidence for a fair decision, how do they make their judgement? Based on their own celebrity. If “the stars of Can Lit” know Mr. Galloway for “a good writer and a good guy,” of course that should carry more weight than the testimony of his accusers and a seven-month union process. They don’t need a Faculty Association. Or a contract. Or decades of labour and privacy law. They call for their own new process precisely because they don’t like the outcome of union due process. Either they don’t understand it, consider themselves above it, or both.
They prove it by demanding a dangerous precedent: the release of private information. What an ill-conceived request. We weren’t there. We don’t know what transpired with students or co-workers. Nor should we. It’s not our business. It would violate the rights of accusers and accused, Such details cannot be made public unless Mr. Galloway waives his right to privacy which he has not done. With advice of union counsel, he has signed a non-disclosure agreement.
In the bigger picture, the details of any dismissal in any union in Canada, are never made public. For good reason. This privacy is a hard won right of decades of unionists. Can you imagine a country where employers could release any and all details of a grievance or dismissal? That’s Trump heaven. No one would ever file a grievance again. This is exactly the over-turning of privacy and labour law that the short-sighted signatories of this letter demand.
It must be asked: does this letter question “flawed process,” or is it designed to affect the next process? This letter comes a year after suspension and five months after firing, but coincident with the new grievance. Is it a well-timed attempt to sway its outcome? To try it in the court of public opinion first? Is it anti-democratic meddling and muscle flexing?
I hope not. I respect these writers and consider some my friends. I want to believe they are simply misguided. At best they remind me of the heartbroken Whoopi Goldberg defending Bill Cosby because she simply couldn’t believe another artist, a friend and mentor, one of her own, could be an abuser. At worst, they evoke Shaw: that patriotism is the belief that one country is the best simply because you were born in it. Canadians revile Trump, but a post-truth elevation of celebrity over fact is a step in his direction. Just ask Newt Gingrich and Mayor Giuliani. Trump can’t possibly be an abuser because “he’s a good colleague and a good guy,” and hey, they know him personally.
I am heartbroken that these writers, so many of whom teach, have chosen this self-serving, old boys’ club denial. Signed by writers who posted “I believe Lucy,” this letter represents the wrong side of history. It values keeping a powerful man safe when others are not. It re-shames and re-silences his accusers. It’s anti-feminist and anti-union. It would hand employers the right to publicly shame and silence employees. It makes it harder for all Canadians to come forward. In short, these writers have misused their voice and platform. A mistake of misguided friendship is still a mistake.
I respectfully ask all signatories to retract their endorsement of this letter. I call on all members of the literary community and all concerned Canadians to denounce it. Friends don’t let friends discredit democratic due process. Friends don’t let friends drive rape culture.

Janet Malcolm: The Paris Review interview on The Art of Nonfiction No. 4

[Janice Williamson writes….] Like many others, I’ve long been a fan of American writer Janet Malcolm’s writing: her excellent nonfiction essays were often published in The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books before shapeshifting into book form. Her elegant style, fierceness of spirit and her interest in psychoanalysis attracted me as a reader and a writer. Malcolm has much to teach us about the genre.

In The New York Review of Books, Malcolm writes about the ethics of quotation in nonfiction writing:

the invention of the tape recorder surprisingly revealed—our actual utterances are usually couched in a language that urgently requires translation into English when it is transferred from oral to written speech. As we listen to each other speak, we make the translation automatically and thus think we are hearing English, but, as tape transcripts demonstrate, we are not. As we speak, we seem to be making constant stabs at saying what we mean—thus the redundancy, hesitancy, fragmentation that surround the occasional complete grammatical sentence we form and the occasional mot we get off. To publish a person’s tape-recorded speech verbatim is a little like publishing a writer’s rough drafts.

You can find more links here, and archives of her essays at the New York Review of Books  and  The New Yorker.  Her books are wonderful. Try The Silent Woman  about Sylvia Plath. Or read her fascinating explorations in the Freud Archives….

Katie Roiphe writes this introduction to her Paris Review interview with Janet Malcolm: Continue reading “Janet Malcolm: The Paris Review interview on The Art of Nonfiction No. 4”

The 21st Century Motherhood Movement

Christin Geall  is a creative nonfiction writer who was  a newspaper columnist, magazine editor and communications director before completing the Stonecoast M.F.A in creative nonfiction. She teaches at the University of Victoria. This was first published on Christin’s blog.

Rare are the days I’d do Grace Paley proud.

Between pick-up and drop-off, whole days slip by me in sentences, only a few of which are political. So it goes, I tell myself, you’re doing the work of a mother and a professor—contributing to the greater good. Besides, you write, and isn’t writing itself is a political act?

No. Or rather, not often enough.

But today, thanks to Andrea O’Reilly, the powerhouse behind the Association for Research on Mothering, this one writermama can feel good about walking her talk.

The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Mothers Speak Out on Why We Need to Change the World and How to Do It is now out from Demeter Press in Toronto. 978 pages! Continue reading “The 21st Century Motherhood Movement”

Rita Wong on Courageously Speaking Against the Politics of Fear: Thank You to Brigette dePape

 A Fresh Page in an Old Story

Rita Wong is a poet, blogger, teacher, cultural critic, and contributor to the pomegranate

You may not agree with Brigette dePape’s protest – she displayed a “Stop Harper” sign during the throne speech in the Senate – but dePape acts from a place of genuine concern for Canadians. She feels that we are in danger, and this justifies stepping outside the mode of business-as-usual into creatively thinking about how to best warn her fellow citizens. Living through a year with the highest greenhouse gas emissions on record, I take her warning seriously.

Interviewers in the mass media seem to miss or avoid engaging with dePape’s point that our government’s parliamentary system will not protect the peace and the environment that most Canadians value. They take a superficial definition of democracy that begins and ends with an election, whereas dePape asserts that democracy is much wider and deeper than an election where three quarters of the Canadian population did not vote for Harper. The Conservatives got 40% of the votes from the 61% of Canadians who participated in the election, translating into one quarter of the population. Ms. dePape’s math turns out to be more accurate than her media interviewers’ calculations that accept the conventional definition of a majority government and disregard the many people who did not vote.

Math aside, it is very important to consider DePape’s argument—broadcast on CTV news June 4, 2011—that millions of Canadians will not see their concerns adequately addressed within the Canadian parliamentary system for the next four years. A quarter of the country helped to elect a government that will build enormous, expensive prisons, buy fighter jets, and speed up the destruction of our planet through increased global warming. The 75% of Canadians who did not vote for this violent, fearful agenda are nonetheless held hostage to it, and the sooner they realize this, the better. It is our children and grandchildren who will pay for our mistakes, as they inherit a more polluted, degraded planet with acidifying oceans, as well as a more violent society with greater extremes of inequality. The Tory agenda is a corporate agenda, specifically a tar sands agenda where the rich will increasingly rule, at least temporarily, before leaving an enormous toxic mess for everyone else to clean up. Continue reading “Rita Wong on Courageously Speaking Against the Politics of Fear: Thank You to Brigette dePape”

Christine Jackman on War of Words in the The Australian

War of Words  in The Australian

Christine Jackman writes on verbal cyber attacks …the downside of anonymous comments….
(with thanks to Penney Kome & Louise Dulude for link)

“Every now and then, I wonder whether I should be watching my back, but I just shake those thoughts off and get on with it. I’ve never discussed this issue publicly before, because I’m out there encouraging people to speak out – which is paramount to creating change. So I don’t want to put anyone off.”

And therein lies the Catch-22 for women in the cyber-firing line. On the one hand, they believe it is essential to expose the level of abuse and misogyny that has flourished on the largely unregulated new media. On the other, they fear the only effect that would have is to discourage women from participating in public debates.

Says Tankard Reist, who occasionally re-Tweets or posts particularly vile comments: “I want to expose these people so my followers [on Twitter or her website] can see the battle we have, the ingrained hatred and contempt these people have for women… But I already know of young women who say they won’t write their own pieces or contribute to comments pages anymore because of the feedback they get.”

Although she condemns the sort of abuse thrown at men like Cummins and controversial male commentators like News Limited journalist Andrew Bolt, Tankard Reist says it is hard to imagine any man being subjected to the levels of personal intimidation – particularly, threats of sexual violence – that are part of life in the new media age for outspoken women.

Of course, there are still a few things the old and new media have in common, including the truisms that sex sells and so does controversy. So if you build a site where there is heated, colourful debate, the hits will come. And in an era where the media and newsmakers are still grappling with how to build stable, profitable audiences online, few moderators or hosts are willing to shut that down.

“Sure, it drives more traffic to a site,” Tankard Reist says of the sort of no-holds-barred slanging matches that often replace serious debate online. “But editors and moderators need to be more vigilant about not allowing their forums to become platforms for haters and trolls.”

Funnell agrees: “There’s a ‘lighten up squad’ out there where everyone says ‘if it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen’. But perhaps the kitchen shouldn’t be so hot in the first place. This is not just about women. It’s about any sort of hate speech that is systematically directed against any particular group, designed to intimidate them or shut them down. It’s about freedom of speech versus speech that defames, threatens or intimidates.”

Tankard Reist, who has an ear for popular culture, chimes in: “When you ask for moderation or regulation, the people who oppose it claim it’s because they believe in free speech. But they want to shut my speech down. It reminds me of the chorus of that song Ode to Women [by Your Best Friend’s Ex]. They all demand their right to freedom of speech, and yet guys like that are using it to sing: ‘Bitch, shut your mouth’.”

Scrupling Canadian women’s nonfiction writing

to scruple

In a CBC-Radio interview on The Current, the distinguished Canadian peace activist and scientist Ursula Franklin introduced me to the Quaker tradition of “scrupling.” In response to my interest, Ursula Franklin emailed me in November 2010: “delighted that you understand my reasoning to revive the old notion of “scrupling” as an activity and the use of scrupling as a verb. Today we google. High time – I say- to scruple also.”

“To scruple” means “to hesitate as a result of conscience or principle.” This hesitation, a pause to reflect, is a move that invites a critical distance, a useful antidote to the status quo. The etymological root of “scruple” is —

from O.Fr. scrupule (14c.), from L. scrupulus “uneasiness, anxiety, pricking of conscience,” lit. “small sharp stone,” dim. of scrupus “sharp stone or pebble,” used figuratively by Cicero for a cause of uneasiness or anxiety, probably from the notion of having a pebble in one’s shoe. The verb meaning “to have or make scruples” is attested from 1620s.

Canadian women nonfiction writers need  a “small sharp stone” to prick at the conscience of editors, publishers, literary prize jurors and reviewers. To think about the context in which Canadian women’s nonfiction is produced, is to suddenly feel a pebble in one’s shoe, an irritation that irks.

We also need to prick at the psyches of those who minimize the value of writing, education, the arts, and critical thinking. Our ability to communicate ideas and insight to others makes us natural candidates for engagement in public discussion and debate. We need spaces to share information, to publish reviews and observations about writing and life, to invite writers to investigate the politics and poetics of our cultural life and our everyday.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to locate a digital meeting place of writers and readers, an archive of work, a space for reviews and reflections. What would it look like? What would it do? How might it help us innovate in our own writing, share the insights of others, provide us with information about how to break down and through institutional barriers? How might it influence and inform? How might a collective writing space explore and undo limiting attitudes, even those that remain unspoken.  How could we make common cause to ensure that ethnocentrism and racism don’t remain the unarticulated status quo of the way things tend to work in our world? Continue reading “Scrupling Canadian women’s nonfiction writing”

the pomegranate: a story

Why the pomegranate, strange fruit?

Why the glistening luminescent pomegranate red seeds? Why the three-chambered pomegranate that morphs through time and space?

In Persia, it means fecundity.

In Greece, the fruit is smashed on special occasions.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the myth of Demeter and Persephone pivots on the seven pomegranate seeds that bind the kidnapped daughter to Hades’ underworld for six months of the year.

For poet Evan Boland, the myth of “The Pomegranate” mutates through time as the reader enters the words as daughter, then mother, or — not mother.

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere.  And have.

The poet ends the poem muses on the inevitable separation from the maturing daughter and reflects

If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it.  As I have.
She will wake up.  She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips.  I will say nothing.

***

I first encountered Persephone in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a book I read in a Greek mythology class with Jay Macpherson, Governor-General Award-winning poet and specialist in Romantic literature and classical mythology. The other half of the class featured the renowned critic Northrop Frye teaching about The Bible, a series of lectures that would become The Great Code.

In a small gallery across from the AGO in Toronto,  I found a small engraving of a girl asleep in an underground cave and she became an image I carried with me, a reminder of what it takes to come up from under in order to make your voice heard.

I write this four decades later from another place. In Ovid’s story, Demeter’s grief-stricken journey to search for her daughter Persephone is interrupted by an encounter with an older woman named Baubo. Without introduction, Baubo lifts up her skirts and laughs out loud. Demeter laughs too.

At twenty or so years of age, I didn’t get the joke. At almost sixty I clown along with Baubo’s  laughter, taking pleasure in her ribald buffoonery in the face of Demeter’s loss and despair.

Vida on women’s writing in “The Best American Count” …

Our most recent count examines the contents of the Best American anthologies in poetry, fiction, and essays. When we released our 2010 Count back in February, a common response from our readers was a request for more information about the data behind our pie charts. With that in mind, we have expanded our presentation to include the tables shown below, which are based on the spreadsheets we use to generate our Count pie charts. We think these tables better represent the data, and reveal more of the complex set of questions and issues raised by it.
In the Best American Essays Series from 1986 through 2010, the numbers look dire across the board. Works by women accounted for only 29% of those published in the anthology. There was only one year in twenty-five that the number of works by women published in the anthology outnumbered the works by men.

writing the i in oil

the pomegranate Writes the “I” in Oil

Why “oil”?

This site and blog are based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where the economy pivots on oil. I encourage contributors to reflect on the oil economy. How does it impact your everyday life? How do you think through sustainability in an oil economy?

This category “oil” slides into issues around the environment. But to write “oil” is to think about how we live and work. Who profits? How is our economy tied to it whether we live and work in Fort McMurray’s Tar Sands  or bicycle to work in Vancouver. Oil is what we take for granted. How does oil impact our lives? How we are implicated in it?  How do our workplaces benefit from it? The oil industry contributes millions to the workplace that puts a roof over my head.

How do we write ourselves in the oil economy. What is accomplished when bring this network of connections into the light?

How might things might be different? Continue reading “writing the i in oil”