Christian Metaxas: grad school and the unexpected

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How do you peacefully engage a first-person shooter video game? That’s the question University of Waterloo graduate student Christian Metaxas addressed in his final project for the English Master of Arts in Experimental Digital Media (XDM). Titled Assembly: Peacemaker, Metaxas’s project appeared at Kitchener’s Themuseum, and was featured in the Record. Read on for an interview with Christian and more images from the project. Thank you to Christian for participating in Words in Place.–JLH

JLH: What drew you to University of Waterloo’s English MA program in XDM?
CM: I came across XDM while researching various graduate programs. I spent a lot of time on the internet growing up, so naturally the program  appealed to me that way. University of Waterloo PhD students Evelyn Deshane and Travis Morton were my  upperclassmen at Trent, so I asked them if I could visit them in  Waterloo and if they could show me around the campus. It all felt like  a near perfect fit for me academically. I didn’t apply to any other  graduate programs.

JLH: How did you find your cohort of graduate students? 
CM: I was worried that there would be a weird, hyper-competitive edge but that hasn’t really been the case at all. Pretty much everyone I have  met from my year is smart, friendly and engaging. Getting to study  with such cool people definitely added to the experience.

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JLH: Can you tell us a bit about how your final MA project came to be? 
CM: One night I accidentally got off the bus three stops too early and had  to wait another half hour or so for the next one. I was just sort of  dancing by the side of the road, listening to music, when it all  clicked in my brain. The installation evolved with each academic term,  finally getting realized as Assembly: Peacemaker. Every XDM class I  took was awesome, each gave me something new that I used to help shape  the project.

JLH: What kind of response have you had? 
CM: People didn’t have too much to say about Peacemaker, but I think that’s a good thing. For me the project is an autobiographical  expression, but it’s also about taking that aggressive violence and  transforming it–showing people a quiet sort of beauty. People that  find themselves feeling curious, or seeing things differently, is what  I aim for.

JLH: Any thoughts on what you will do next? 
CM: Not too sure, something pretty I hope.

To read more about some of our XDM students and their projects, click on the Digital Media tab, or visit the XDM website.

A Sneak Peek: the new Hagey Hall

Hagey Hall Hub outside large windows
The Hagey Hall Hub stands proud. Almost ready to welcome new and returning students.

large room with windows over atrium
Third-floor treehouse overlooking the atrium below – otherwise, to be known as the quiet study zone.

atrium area of Hagey Hub
View of atrium and food services outlet on left; the glass elevator shaft is on the right.

large room with glass walls                                               Another room with a view: the second-floor treehouse – otherwise, to be known as the group project room.

hub windows looking up at sky                                               Looking out (and upward) from the front entrance – lots of windows, glass walls, and natural light.

Thank you to Inside Arts for the photos and text.

5 Odd Questions: English 208M

Feeling adventurous? Wishing you could plan a trip but committed to school instead? Flirted with becoming an armchair traveller? If so, English 208M: Travel Literature, taught by Dr. Veronica Austen, wants you! Travel vicariously to Antigua, Grenada, South Africa… and Saskatoon. Read works by award winning authors including Will Ferguson, Dionne Brand, and John Steinbeck. Bring your girlfriend, boyfriend, both–or maybe your dog? If those aren’t good enough reasons, consider Dr. Austen’s answers to the following odd questions posed to her about the course readings.

1. Strangest destination?
Does Sudbury’s Big Nickel count as “strange”?

2. Best travelling accessory?
Charley the “mind-reading dog,” of course! . . . although mamool cookies would be a very close second (food of any description is always near the top of the list, no?!).

3. Most disastrous travel experience?

Well, it’s a toss up between being in Grenada during a coup (Map to the Door of No Return) and arriving in New Orleans in the early days of desegregation and witnessing the rampant and heartrending racism (Travels with Charley). I’m pretty sure these two disasters mean I can’t complain about a delayed flight or two.

4. Oddest mode of transportation?
The lines in a grandmother’s face. A disregarded letter in a motel room. It’s a literature course; I get to answer metaphorically, right? (-:

5. Most unusual person encountered?
Ooo, there are so many. But I’ll pick the two guys bicycling from Newfoundland to Vancouver for a case of beer.

English 208M is offered Fall 2016, MW 2:30-3:50 (SJ2 2001, a.k.a. in the brand new building at St. Jerome’s)

Dr. Smyth answers 5 odd questions about English 322

There are all kinds of reasons to take English 322: Postcolonial Literatures of the Americas with Dr. Heather Smyth this fall. Award-winning books? Definitely, including Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Wayde Compton’s The Outer Harbour, and Dionne Brand’s What we all long for. Culturally current? Absolutely: who isn’t thinking about Black Lives Matter or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Suspenseful, dramatic page-turners? Books you can’t put down? Of course! Those are just a few of the valid reasons. But how about completely random reasons for taking the course? I sent Dr. Smyth short, odd, questions about course readings. I wasn’t disappointed with her answers.

5 (admittedly odd) questions:

1. Strangest character names? The crones of the Republic of the Graeae: cosplayers in a live-action role play game in Compton’s The Outer Harbour.

2. Most improbable plot? A very old Japanese-Canadian grandmother becomes a bull-riding star named Purple Mask.

3. Biggest cliff-hanger? Brand’s What we all long for: I can’t reveal what happens, but it involves a character’s long-lost brother Quy who was left behind when the family fled Vietnam, and in Toronto their worlds collide.

4. Best book cover? Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: the cover image is a photo of David Hammons’ art piece In the Hood–the hood of a dark sweatshirt ripped from its body and nailed to the wall. Because of its contemporary echoing of Trayvon Martin’s death (though it was created in 1993) it evokes so many visceral connections between the shootings of young black people in North America and the history of state-sanctioned lynchings in the US; the physical and emotional fragmentation of experiences of racism; and the ability of art to help us think through the complexities of things like racism and injustice.

5. Most mouth-watering description of food? “Plastic crinkles, crackers dipped in soya sauce, lightly fried, crackle crunch between teeth, and flat leather sea squid, tentacles twisted and wrinkle-dried so tough to chew until the ball, the socket of the jaw aches but the juices linger salt and sea. Tiny crocks of pickled plums, the brine so strong the mouth drenched with a passing thought.”

English 322 is scheduled Fall 2016, Wed/Fri 10-11:20 am

Image: Wayde Compton, Tumblr

Tapping our Potter experts

I had a conversation with a Fine Arts professor today; I was preparing the section of English 108P: Popular Potter I’ll be teaching this fall and asked him if his children were fans of the Harry Potter books. We talked about their reading, and then he commented on listening to his students discuss the books, marveling “The way they talk about Dumbledore dying–it’s like their generation’s JFK.” I get what he meant, what his students meant; children immersed in the book, who had come to revere Dumbledore as Harry did, felt their world was momentarily destabilized. They had been ideal readers, swept away by the vicarious emotions of immersing themselves in a text.

It’s this experience of immersion that has facilitated the ongoing popularity of the series, which has taken on a life of its own beyond the books, spawning movies, amusement parks, and–notably–volumes of fan fiction. The English Department’s own Dr. Neil Randall was interviewed by The Walrus recently about this phenomenon. Read what he has to say, or consider enrolling in our course. Unlike the one offered by another university, University of Waterloo’s is capped at forty students, substantially increasing the chance the professor will learn your name. That means no napping in the back young Weasley!



Study Indigenous Literature with Dr. Warley

What do you know about Canadian indigenous artists? Do you know about artist Brian Jungen‘s work transforming Nike sneakers into sculptures evoking Northwest Coast Native culture? What about Mark Igloliorte‘s skateboard-inspired artworks? If the answer is no, fair enough: this is the blog of the University of Waterloo’s English department, after all. Maybe a better question would be: how many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit writers can you name?

If you are drawing a blank and think maybe it’s time to find out a bit more, or are already immersed and hoping to expand your knowledge, you might consider taking Dr. Linda Warley‘s course English 211, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literatures. It’s being offered again this year, Mon/Wed, 1-2:20 in Hagey Hall 2107. Here’s your chance to find out who the literary equivalents of Jungen and Igloliorte are!

Reasons to follow UW English on Twitter

What might be reasons to follow UWaterloo English on Twitter? You can:

5) Hear about available jobs & career resources4) Discover what friends, former classmates, and faculty are up to
3) Find about upcoming local events–most of them free!
2) Keep up on news in English and literature
1) Connect! Or in the words of E. M. Forster, “Only connect!”


(Bonus points if you recognize the Forster quote: “That was her whole sermon.”)