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A reflection on teaching Indigenous literature in Germany

In UBC’s current Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education MOOC that I’m enrolled in, we’re prompted every week to reflect on how we as educators indigenize our pedagogy. Here’s one prompt that stood out for my thinking, and my response.

What are examples of successes or challenges you have experienced in implementing aspects of an Indigenous education framework or cultural competencies? In your classroom? Workplace (competency)? Curriculum?

I don’t know if I’d call this an unqualified success, but the question reminds me of one thing I did to implement one First Peoples Learning Principle, and meet a challenge in teaching Indigenous curriculum, when I taught Canadian Studies to German graduate students in the University of Bonn’s North American Studies program, in 2006. (I’ve posted that seminary syllabus at [this link on my blog][1].)

The challenge was, basically, the long German tradition of nativist and “noble savage” preconceptions and stereotypes about Indigenous peoples. One of my seminars I pointedly titled “Canadian and First Nations Drama” (to name both while recognizing the sovereignty of the latter). I tried to sequence the assigned play readings in order to immediately challenge the Indigenous stereotypes held in Germany. For our very first reading, I assigned a play by William S. Yellow Robe Jr called The Independence of Eddie Rose (along with most of the other plays in Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles’ excellent 2003 anthology of First Nations drama, Staging Coyote’s Dream). The play follows an Indigenous boy through harrowing encounters with domestic violence, poverty and crime, incarceration, and abuse, through to his escape from such traumas. When I asked for them to share their first reactions and impressions, I got just the response I wanted from the first comment a student made about that reading. The student said, hesitantly, “this play seems very…modern.” 

While teaching that play in Canada might require different tactics to tackle particularly Canadian stereotypes and prejudices, as well as the deficit discourse (all of which Wab Kinew critiques in [this great short video][2]), teaching it to German students provided a way to challenge particularly German preconceptions and misconceptions, like romanticized notions of the “noble savage” and related images rooted in the popular fiction of Karl May (see this [*Walrus* article on “German Indianism”][3]). In that context, the student’s surprise at encountering an indigenous play about poverty, colonial violence, and trauma under late modern capital suggested that my pedagogical hunch had been at least in the ballpark in terms of finding a way to implement the learning principle of prioritizing Indigenous knowledge and to teach Indigenous curriculum towards cultivating clearer understanding of and critical reflection on Indigenous story, performance, and theatre in contemporary North America.

I was unaware of the First Peoples Principles of Learning at that time. However, in designing and teaching that course, I did recognize not just the role but the primacy of Indigenous knowledge. I understood that teaching Indigenous drama meant first making students aware that Indigenous story and performance traditions both predate and are culturally different from capitalism’s cultural industries and institutions. I also tried, as much as possible, to let the assigned texts speak for themselves — to assign readings of Indigenous plays by Indigenous playwrights, and to moderate the students’ discussion and work on the readings with a light touch, to let them engage as directly as possible with the Indigenous texts themselves. As a colleague later explained in elaborating on that kind of “let the text speak for itself” approach — which might at first seem counter to the second First Peoples Principle (that learning is relational) — it is one possible way (though not necessarily either the only or the best way) for a non-Indigenous scholar to position their pedagogy as not appropriation but rather a kind of ally practice, a recognition and prioritization of — and a making of pedagogical space for — Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous art.

  [1]: https://academicalism.wordpress.com/syllabi/canadian-first-nations-drama/

  [2]: http://rabble.ca/rabbletv/program-guide/2013/01/best-net/wab-kinew-five-myths-about-indigenous-people-canada

  [3]: https://thewalrus.ca/2003-10-feature-2/

New MA course in literary studies: Gothic Transformations

My new Literary Studies course for Athabasca U’s MA program is now open for enrollment.

Illustration from 1897 edition of Marsh's The Beetle. (Public domain image via British Library.)

Illustration from 1897 edition of Marsh’s The Beetle. (Public domain image via British Library.)

The 19th-Century Novel: Gothic Transformations assigns readings in major English novels like Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860), and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897) and explores how British fiction in the nineteenth century both was influenced by and also adapted Gothic themes and elements, like supernatural horror and psychological suspense.

Gothic fictions and those that adapt the Gothic represent important cultural mediations of the social, political, and economic issues and transformations that characterize Britain during the rise of industrial capital and the global expansion of England’s empire: the transformation of literary production (e.g. serialization, copyright change, circulating library distribution); the advent of public education, industrialization and class conflict; imperial expansion; feminism (e.g. the “New Woman” discourse); and developments in science and technology (e.g. new recording media).

Aside

I made two mistakes last night in watching Julie Taymor’s gorgeous 1999 film version of Shakespeare’s atrocious Titus Andronicus: waiting so long to watch it; & making a drinking game of having a sip every time there’s bloodshed. #BearThouMyHandSweetWenchBetweenThyTeeth #ShakespeareMakesTarantinoLookLikeDisney

Shrine Like The Sun: Summer 2016 Drum & Bass

“…dance clubs should be safe spaces. Where you can take #pride in yourself and freely express yourself. Where you can #BeYourself. This idea, this ethos has weighed heavily on my mind this week. This mix of newish tracks veers between darkness and light, dread and remedy. The track list titles sketch a kind of story, an all too familiar story. But it starts and ends with tracks that insist what a dancefloor should be: Shrine. Sacred Floor.”

Update: Dan Savage and Carl Craig have written good articles this week about the importance of dance clubs as sanctuaries. See Savage’s “What we find in gay bars and queer clubs” and Craig’s “On the importance of club culture after the Orlando shooting.”

Track list:
00:00 Artificial Intelligence “Shrine”
05:33 Whiney “Guardians”
09:12 Maduk “One way”
12:50 Boston “Conscious”
16:53 S.P.Y. “Hidden fire”
20:23 Alibi, Unreal & Dogface “Drop dead”
23:38 Dan Bowskill & Kalm “Living in the red”
28:12 Nitri “Shiver”
33:34 Bcee “The river runs dry”
38:08 Phase & Whiney “It means nothing”
41:15 Spirit “Interstate”
46:03 Bcee “Back to the street” (S.P.Y. remix)
50:28 Technimatic “Remember you”
55:05 Kid Drama “Red magic”
58:55 Maduk & Veela “Got me thinking”
1:02:22 LSB “Remedy”
1:07:33 Fred V & Grafix “Like the sun”
1:11:12 Bungle & Urbandawn “Sacred floor”

New Fronts in the Copyfight, Part 2

Now published, just in time for Fair Dealing Week 2016: Part 2 of New Fronts in the Copyfight, my guest-edited series in Digital Studies/Le champ numérique (DSCN). DSCN is an open access journal in the Digital Humanities. New Fronts in the Copyfight is a series featuring innovative, multidisciplinary directions in critical copyright studies. The new installment includes research articles by Dr Carolyn Guertin (author of Digital Prohibition) on digitally remixed creativity, and by Dr Daniel Downes (author of Interactive Realism and co-editor of Post-Colonial Distances) on a theory of “transproperty.” The installment also includes my review of Rosemary Coombe et al’s Dynamic Fair Dealing (2014), an excellent book, and a timely one, given the fast-approaching review of Canada’s amended copyright act and the copyright implications of the signed but not yet ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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AthaU’s MA in Integrated Studies: a strong program for “zombie studies”

[I haven’t been supervising #AthaU MA student Linda’s final research project, but I’ve nevertheless been following with great interest the progress updates about it that she has posted to her blog, LindaLinda123.wordpress.com. The following is an excerpt from her latest post, which, among other things, reflects critically on the continuing popularity of zombie texts, and mentions some that I didn’t know about … like one by Zora Neale Hurston? That’s going to the top of my reading list.]

Zombies are our fear of the “other” in this world…those who want to get in and take over and change us. Those who squat among us “in here” and mean us harm. Those “out there” who hate us and plot to destroy us. These enemies have no fear of death and they cannot be reasoned with.
Zombies are our fear of the pollutants that will make our earth unliveable. They are the plague of climate change caused by coldly aloof corporations. Of seeping radioactive spaces. Of super-acidic seas. Of species of plants and animals becoming extinct. Of new contagions we cannot control. Of an ozone we are destroying and a nearby star we can neither escape nor live without. And all of these seem to be beyond our control.

Read on: “The Zombie Invasion”

Relatedly: Athabasca U has boasted its own Zombie Research Group for some time now, an on-again, off-again research group started in AU’s social site, the Landing, by a MA-IS student (now graduate). Check it out.

Guest DJ mix on Bassport.FM this Saturday, April 4, at 1 pm MDT

DrTeeth_BassportFM_4-4-2015My DJ alter ego Dr Teeth returns to radio this weekend, with a guest mix on London UK’s Bassport.FM, at 1 pm MDT (8 pm UK time), on Saturday, April 4. Listen online at http://bassport.fm/listen.html

The set will feature an hour’s smooth and luxurious ride through new and recent drum & bass tracks by a variety of producers and labels, including @djhazard_playaz, @nutone, Stereotype, @dimension_uk, and @_SpectraSoul_, among others. Some of my current favourite tracks are @ReneLaVice’s “The Calling” (@RAMRecordsltd), Stereotype’s “Lost in Los Angeles” (@intriguednb), and @DJAphrodite’s dub remix of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” (yes, really).

After airtime, the mix will be archived, with its tracklist, at my Mixcloud page: mixcloud.com/sonicfiction

I have blogged previously here about how I view DJing as part of my ongoing research, an argument that perhaps warrants articulating more fully sometime soon.