Author Archives: jharris124

Dr. McMurry and the Rhetoric of Climate Change Denial

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English’s Dr. Andrew McMurry’s research on climate change and denial is the subject of a Waterloo Stories profile. As Elizabeth Rogers writes:

It’s easy to spot traditional climate change denial. Just read the comments on social media or comments from public officials. Deniers say it’s a hoax, a cash grab or a natural process. They’re wrong.

Most data suggests that all but a handful of Canadians accept that human behaviour impacts the climate. But that doesn’t mean we’re past climate denial. According to University of Waterloo environmental humanities professor Andrew McMurry, we’re eager to accept that something bad is happening, but are in denial about what’s actually threatening us and that we need difficult transformative action to beat climate catastrophe.

“Our failure to act could be a rhetorical problem,” argues the author of Entertaining Futility: Despair and Hope in the Time of Climate Change. McMurry, who has a background in biology and a long-held interest in conservation, examines how language, narrative and cultural tradition shape our beliefs and understanding about the environment.

And it’s never been more crucial. Nearly everything we do — the food we eat, the goods and services we rely on — produces greenhouse gases. Trying to fix this problem requires a top-down reordering of how we live, especially how we produce and consume energy.

So why aren’t we doing it?

For more see: “Are we all a little guilty of denying climate change?”

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Creative Writing from Engl 332

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End-of-term launch party.

Creative Writing is always popular–students are excited to take it, and those who teach it enjoy talking about their students’ achievements. This year’s English 332 course was no exception. Taught by Carrie Snyder (a nominee for the Governor General’s Award for fiction), it was a resounding success, as Carrie documented on her blog. She has generously given us permission to share her post. Read on to hear about the work, and see photos of the students with their final projects, stories in comic form.

The time for this is always with us
–Carrie Snyder

I’m done teaching for another term. My course was on the creative process: how to set goals, envision a major project, and lay the groundwork necessary to complete the work. I spent a couple of days this week and last meeting with students to hand back their final projects (stories in comic form), and to chat about the term. Some themes emerged in our conversations. Here’s what we learned.

2019-04-18_01-13-012019-04-18_01-12-532019-04-18_01-12-44The importance of mistakes. So many students talked about how important their mistakes had been in shaping their project, how an apparent mistake had turned out to be important or valuable to their drawing, or how freeing it was to allow themselves to make mistakes. My theory is that through mistakes our unconscious mind gives us important information we couldn’t otherwise access; and drawing is the perfect medium for this communication with the self, because we see our “mistakes” pretty much instantly, and have to figure out what they’re trying to tell us.

2019-04-18_01-12-352019-04-18_01-12-262019-04-18_01-12-16The freedom of stepping away from perfectionism. Students also expressed how freeing it was to embrace their mistakes, or even how freeing it was just to give themselves permission to make mistakes. Creating a major project by hand is time-consuming and laborious, and if you don’t accept the mistakes you’ll inevitably make, you’ll never finish what you’ve started.

2019-04-18_01-12-082019-04-18_01-12-002019-04-18_01-11-40The calm that exists inside creation. Every student in the class put a lot of time into their projects, and some put in vast swathes of time, far more than they’d anticipated, or really, that was required to meet the project’s guidelines. (In other words, they didn’t care about the rubric, they cared about the work itself.) Students talked about losing themselves in what they were doing. It didn’t feel like work. It was fun, it was relaxing. The time flew. There is a meditative quality to making things by hand, to being focused in this way; engaged.

2019-04-18_01-11-012019-04-18_01-10-472019-04-18_01-10-40The time for this is always with us. (To paraphrase Lynda Barry.) This feeling of calm, this experience of getting lost inside a pleasurable task, is available anytime. And yet, we seem to need someone to remind us of this, we need a reason to get engaged in this way, a task, a project for a class to give us the excuse to get lost in making something that requires focus and effort, that is time-consuming, and that ultimately may have no material or monetary value. We feel like we have to prove that it’s worth it. I wonder why? When it seems so obvious, looking at these wonderful students and their amazing artwork — their unique, truthful, serious, funny, silly, brave, thoughtful beautiful art — that it is worth it.

2019-04-18_01-10-322019-04-18_01-10-242019-04-18_01-10-16This course gave the students permission to make art. To draw. To colour. To turn their lives, their observations, their ideas into cartoons. Many expressed how valuable this practice was for them, and how much they hoped others would get the chance to take the course too. “Everyone should have to take this course!” “You have to teach it again for the sake of future students!” In truth, I’m not sure what I taught was a course so much as a concept: what I tried to do was make space for the students to make space for themselves.

2019-04-18_01-10-082019-04-18_01-10-002019-04-18_01-09-49Anyone can draw. Most of the students had no idea what they were signing up for when they entered my classroom on day one. They thought they were taking a creative writing course; the course description was vague; they were surprised to learn they’d be doing so much drawing. They weren’t sure they could do it. Many hadn’t drawn since high school, or even grade school. “I never thought I could draw well enough to …” And to a person, they could — they could tell the stories they wanted to tell through cartoons. (“Well enough” went out the window; “well enough” had no place in our classroom.)

2019-04-18_01-09-392019-04-18_01-09-272019-04-18_01-09-182019-04-18_01-09-07Pride in accomplishment. The final projects undertaken by the students were big!! This was no small undertaking. And everyone did it! The deadline got met, and each project proved to be as unique and individual as the person who created it.

Thank you, Artists of ENGL 332! Thank you for your trust. It was an adventure.

xo, Carrie

Alumna Cherie Chevalier on Why Arts

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Did you know Cherie Chevalier, worldwide sales leader for marketing solutions at Microsoft, is also a UWaterloo English, Rhetoric, and Professional Writing alumna? Chevalier was recently interviewed for the Macleans article “Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree” addressing the desire for Arts graduates in industry. From the article:

In her industry, says Chevalier, “things move so quickly and the pace of innovation is so high that we need people who can think critically, react, solve problems and have that high level of intelligent agility and adaptability that will enable them to be successful in any role.” She says she looks for candidates who “can work with each other across groups and divisions . . . and are able to see things from other people’s perspective and who are able to communicate clearly and build relationships.” By those criteria, “liberal arts graduates are particularly well-positioned.”

For more see: Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree.”

 

New Book from Dr. Ken Hirschkop

Cover of Linguistic Turns
Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Ken Hirschkop, whose book Linguistic Turns, 1890-1950 Writing on Language as Social Theory, has just been released by Oxford University Press. As the press writes:

Linguistic Turns rewrites the intellectual and cultural history of early twentieth-century Europe. In chapters that study the work of Saussure, Russell, Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Cassirer, Shklovskii, the Russian Futurists, Ogden and Richards, Sorel, Gramsci, and others, it shows how European intellectuals came to invest ‘language’ with extraordinary force, at a time when the social and political order of the continent was itself in question. By examining linguistic turns in concert rather than in isolation, the volume changes the way we see them—no longer simply as moves in individual disciplines, but as elements of a larger constellation, held together by common concerns and anxieties. In a series of detailed readings, the volume reveals how each linguistic turn invested ‘language as such’ with powers that could redeem not just individual disciplines but Europe itself. It shows how, in the hands of different writers, language becomes a model of social and political order, a tool guaranteeing analytical precision, a vehicle of dynamic change, a storehouse of mythical collective energy, a template for civil society, and an image of justice itself. By detailing the force linguistic turns attribute to language, and the way in which they contrast ‘language as such’ with actual language, the volume dissects the investments made in words and sentences and the visions behind them. The constellation of linguistic turns is explored as an intellectual event in its own right and as the pursuit of social theory by other means.

What do our Harry Potter students do?

spell count per book
I’m in the midst of grading our first ever online offering of English 108P: Popular Potter. As you might imagine we talk about things one normally discusses in English: narrative voice, allusions, intertextuality, cultural capital, and more. Not surprisingly, this is a popular course, which appeals to students from across campus–which is how Ian Minoso, a UWaterloo undergrad, ended up taking 108P in conjunction with Adaptive Algorithms, Distributed Computing and Field Ecology.

Ian wrote about his final project in “A textual analysis of Harry Potter by an amateur data analyst” published on Medium. He writes: “I used this assignment as an opportunity to learn and definitely picked up some interesting natural language processing and textual analysis techniques while using Harry Potter as a basis.” And the images generated are fantastic.

word dispersion in series

I will clarify: Ian wasn’t in the online course. There are reasons for generating different assignments for online courses, versus courses where students are more likely to meet with you. For other examples of student work see: What are our Harry Potter Students Doing? and Harry Potter fiction from 108P.

Virtual Reality: It’s Here

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English’s own Dr. Neil Randall is one of the scholars contributing to “A new reality: Exploring dimensions of immersive learning,” a talk scheduled April 23rd. His contribution is titled “Understanding complex issues through virtual reality narratives.” Dr. Randall is  director of the Games Institute. Since 2010, his research has focused on studying game-driven interactions and technologies. In 2012, he was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant to form a games research network, now called IMMERSe, which studies player experience and behaviour. At Research Talks, he will discuss the potential of virtual reality to help us understand the intricacies of complex situations and issues.

For more information, including the other participants, visit the event site.

When: Tuesday, April 23rd, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m
Where: William G. Davis Centre, Room 1302

Dr. Reisa Klein on Mastectomy Tattooing and Digital Feminist Body Politics

Reisa-Klein
Join us for a talk by Dr. Reisa Klein, “P.ink Ink: Mastectomy Tattooing and Self-Care as Digital Feminist Body Politics.” Dr. Klein is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. Dr. Klein’s current project examines the emergent digital cultures of breast cancer survivors who use mastectomy tattoos in response to post-operative surgery and implications for the mobilization of a transnational and intersectional feminist politics and gendered and race-based health activism. In addition, she is co-editing a special issue of Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies on “Reimaging Breasts” slated for publication in Fall 2019.

When: Friday, April 26th, 10-11:30am
Where: Hagey Hall of the Humanities Room 373