Comprehensive Exam 1.2

This is second of two sample responses that I wrote in preparation for my first comprehensive exam. Hopefully it will give you an idea of one way you can organize your thoughts for your own 4-hour, no notes, terrorizing experience of the sit-down exam. As for me, I’ll be writing the 7-day version next time!

Another Practice Question:

In her contribution to “Is Canada Postcolonial?”, Diana Brydon asks whether the eponymous question of the anthology, “whether or not Canada is postcolonial … has become not only irrelevant but also actually counter-productive?” (Brydon, “Canada and Postcolonialism,” p.64). This rhetorical query goes beyond the superficial notion of Canada’s postcolonialism to suggest two more significant problems: 1) first, that scholars debating the issue of Canadian postcolonialism might be indulging in irrelevant considerations that have no genuine bearing on Canadian society; and 2) second that such a question is in fact hurting the epistemological project of Canadian Studies by re-colonizing Canada through a discourse (post-colonialism) that has reached Canada through the usual channels of colonization (on the one hand, the Anglo-American cultural studies tradition and,  on the other hand, Continental Philosophy). Discuss these issues in terms of whether Canadian intellectuals are indeed only capable of re-hashing concepts that are of little relevance to Canadians and that have been borrowed from the usual providers of cultural capital.

Another Attempt At An Answer (This Time With Subheadings!):

As Canadian as possible under the circumstances?

To address the potential irrelevance of post-colonialism to the Canadian context and the re- (or continuing) colonization of Canadian scholarship vis-à-vis rhetoric of post-colonialism derived from Europe and America-land, it is necessary to elucidate three issues: (1) What is Canada? (2) What is scholarship? (3) What is the goal of fostering a Canadian intellectual tradition? By considering these questions, it will become clear that Canadian intellectuals are indeed capable of applying concepts that are, in fact, of relevance to Canadians, regardless of if the terminology for such concepts has been borrowed from the usual providers of cultural capital, because the Canadian context affords much overlap with other scholarly traditions (due in part to commonalities of a settler-invader context, language[s], and a shared tradition of university education).

(1) What is Canada? (or, as the oft-cited Northrop Frye would ask, “where is here?”)

In “Canada and Postcolonialism,” Brydon problematizes the term “Canada” and notes that, if asked, most Canadians would probably reply to the question “Is Canada postcolonial?” with typically Canadian trepidation: “It depends.” Canada’s post-coloniality depends on how you define “Canada.” Since approximately World War I, Canada has become a more independent political character on the world stage, moving into what could be considered a post-colonial relationship with Great Britain. However, from the point of view of a First Nations reserve in Canada, Canada is continuing the European tradition of colonialism and imperialism to the present day.

The range of perspectives in Canada illustrate the problem of using a homogenized referent such as “the Canadian context,” as there are many overlapping, conflicting, and changing contexts within the framework of the nation-state tentatively subsumed under the maple leaf flag. This diversity is reflected in the pluralization in many titles, including Self Portraits: The Cinemas of Canada since Telefilm (Loiselle & McSorley), If this is your land, where are your stories? (Chamberlin), “Territorial Imperatives” (Manning), Canada’s maps and the stories they tell (Morantz), Myths of Canadian Culture (Hulan), and so forth (underlined for emphasis).

In Self Portraits, the title (derived from the earlier, tellingly singular, Self Portrait) is reflected in the geographically-based chapters (with one on Quebec, one on Vancouver, etc.). While one could argue for the necessity of an over-arching theoretical framework developed and based exclusively in Canada, the collaborative efforts of the film industry (thanks in part to policy initiatives, immigration, travel, and economic factors) and international scope of film studies scholarship stand as testaments to the reality that ideas, inspiration, funding, and stars (academic or filmic) can and do transcend (or at least traverse) borders.

Like the ‘Canadian’ titles listed above, other works recognize the plurality inherent in and necessary to contemporary scholarship, such as Imagined Communities (Anderson), Writing Worlds (Barnes & Duncan), and Visual Methodologies (Rose). Because there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for researching visual materials (Rose), no single explanation for membership in every group over time (Anderson), and no one cohesive story that suits all scenarios, the geographically divided chapters in Self Portraits serve to show how Canadian scholarship is a microcosm of research in a broader context. Multiplicity, fracture, hybridity, and the other tropes of postmodernism are not unique to Canada, but Canadian scholarship benefits from the multi-faceted approaches found in international scholarship.

 (2) What is scholarship?

Is it possible for a specifically Canadian understanding to inform international theories? I think so, but I am not exactly sure how. What is interesting to me is how THB Symons’s call “to know ourselves” seems to have been answered rather nicely by interdisciplinary work in art history, cultural studies, literature, and other fields. Even if cultural studies is arguably derived directly from a British / Continental tradition (Burke), the application of critical analysis to every day, common-sensical features of lived experience contributes to a greater understanding of the world (Billig). In the Canadian context, close readings of literature (Atwood, Frye, Hutcheon), paintings (McGregor, Osborne, Bordo), films, cartoons, and other cultural objects have the potential to reflect, inform, and transform Canadian policy initiatives.

However, my concern would be not if Canadian scholarship is derivative of Anglo-American or Continental work, but rather if any Canadians (or any non-Canadian scholars) are reading it. Some interesting comparative studies (Morris) and case studies (Shields) have been developed, some warnings have been issued (Rasmussen), some changes in judicial policy have taken place (Sparke), and many overseas Canadian Studies programs have been established, but it seems like Canadians, non-Canadians, academics, non-academics, and disciplinarians of all stripes could afford to embrace a bit more of the fluidity so touted in scholarship when it comes to collaborative projects and literature reviews.

Working toward a specifically Canadian understanding within an international framework of scholarship is certainly possible, and the varied plurality of such goals is reflected in the names (and, hopefully, mandates) of many university departments (ie Communications, Canadian [and a varied assortment of other] Studies, etc.).

(3) What is the goal of fostering a Canadian intellectual tradition?

In pragmatic terms, Cameron points to how international regulations through World Heritage and UNESCO have impacted local features such as the Burritt’s Rapids canal locks. On the other hand, The Hecklers explains that Canadian newspapers typically only hire Canadian political cartoonists because they will have a better understanding of concerns specific to Canada. While this seems like it could counter globalizing (aka Americanizing) forces in this particular context, I would argue that the use of common tropes in illustrative communication (such as caricature, parody, etc.) reflect just how much Canada is part of the world, and the world is part of Canada – the same applies to Canadian scholarship and art in the Canadian context (Ryan).

Canadian universities have a policy of hiring eligible Canadians first, Canadian media has Canadian content quotas, and the development of my reading list for this exam included a tally of Canadian works, but what would a home-grown theoretical framework mean for Canadian Studies? It would mean reading useful theoretical work that transcends political boundaries, engaging in critical comparative analysis, and participating in international scholarship, which is what many Canadian scholars seem to be doing. This is reflected (again, in film!) in the goals of the production company Isuma. The company wants to tell Inuit stories to Inuit communities, but wider popularity and critical acclaim merely further their goals. In the same way, there can be a benefit if Canadian scholars explain Canadian stories to Canadians while engaging with wider audiences and theories.

In conclusion, Canadian intellectuals are indeed capable of applying concepts of relevance to Canadians, and the circumstances (such as improved transportation and communication infrastructure) could not be better for the work ahead.

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2 Responses to Comprehensive Exam 1.2

  1. Judith Hazlett says:

    Your examiners are so lucky, Amanda, that they get to read your great stuff instead of the usual drivel.

  2. amurphyao says:

    Thanks, Judith! :-D Glad you find it amusing.

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