Tag Archives: Congress10

Congress 2010, day four

Author Lawrence Hill talks about _The Book of Negroes_. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

First thing (and I mean first thing, like before 8 am), Lawrence Hill read from and talked about his bestselling novel The Book of Negroes. (No spoilers, thankfully, as I’m not too far into it.) You can watch an archived video of the proceedings here.

I had to lurch out of there during the Q&A to get to my 9 am session with Socialist Studies on time. After our papers, AU colleague Jay Smith and I fielded great questions and comments about the copyfight from an audience modest in numbers but diverse and engaging in interest and questions: critical communication scholars, a rep from AU Press, a just-graduated English PhD…
A post-session coffee break introduced me to another AU prof, Ingo Schmidt, and then morphed into lunch as a reunion with my UNBSJ colleagues.

This is a placeholder for the better shot the waiter took with Madeley's camera.

The last Congress proceeding I took in was a two-hour panel on Open Access research and publishing, archived on video here.

The four speakers including law professor and copyright activist Michael Geist. Geist took a detour to brief the room on the new Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, being tabled this week. It was a briefing and a call to action, as Geist clearly explained the problem with DRM or “digital locks”: protecting them under copyright legislation ends up trumping other possible gains for fair dealing, education, criticism, private study, and other non-commercial personal uses of media content. As a call to action, Geist’s talk stressed that the bill might hold some good news (i.e. for fair dealing and education), so Canadians should demand the new bill be fixed, not killed. And fixing it mostly means permitting the circumvention of digital locks when that’s done for lawful reasons.

Geist explains what's wrong with protecting digital locks in copyright law. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

I managed to sneak in the session’s last question, really just to mention the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which hadn’t yet come up in the session, but which seemed well worth mentioning, given the session’s Twitter activity showing a good deal of shock over just the new national bill itself.

Q: Is there any good news in ACTA? A: No.

I described ACTA as one of several industry pressures facing the OA movement, and asked if there was any “good news” with ACTA and how to mobilize against it. He said he didn’t see any good news with ACTA, but he did brief the audience about it: “The thing about this ‘Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement’ is that it’s not about counterfeiting or trade — it’s an intellectual property agreement.” One, as he summarized it, that would be like a DMCA for the whole world.

After which I retreated, under already smoggy skies freshly smeared with the smoke of nearby forest fires: to catch up on Congress blogging, to meet my UNBSJ colleague for a splendid Caribbean dinner at Mango Bay … and to go buy two dozen St Viateur bagels to fly home with.

Congress 2010, day three

Diana Brydon delivers CACLALS keynote on cognitive justice. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

First stop: Diana Brydon’s keynote for CACLALS. A talk about “cognitive justice,” which we were encouraged to define for ourselves, before she described it as the goal of “reciprocal knowledge production based on dialogues across differences.” She discussed Europe’s Bologna process to illustrate some of the obstacles — and opportunities — for higher education generally (“global higher ed for the moment is more Americanized than it is globalized”) and for postcolonial studies in particular: “neither the political nor the epistemological challenges posed by postcolonial thinking have yet been met.”

Was nice to run into AU colleague Joe Pivato there. Despite what the next photo suggests, I am in fact neither falling asleep nor drunk.

Surprise! You need more coffee. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

Surprise! (At least one of you can see where the camera is.)

Second stop: Saskia Sassen’s keynote for the Royal Society of Canada. This dizzying keynote mapped new connections among territory, authority, and rights (as per her eponymous book) — connections not quite national nor global either, like weaponized state borders (e.g. the USA’s) and the remittances of migrants’ income to their home countries (lots of money travels this way). Her main illustration? States now buying territories in other states, expulsing the people to get at the water, agricultural, and mineral resources. Coca Cola: kicked out of India and then “gently invited to leave” New York state for using up fresh water resources. (Because it takes 15 litres of water to make 1 litre of Coke!) Or China: in talks to buy millions of hectares in the Congo and Zambia for palm-oil plantations. Land purchases that Sassen says are illegal (i.e. states cannot buy the territories of other states), but leveraged through some combination of policy grey zones and tactical blind-eye turning.

In the Q&A that followed, Sassen fielded five questions in a row before answering each in sequence — an impressive performance of recall, improv, and reflection.

But the Q&A went long enough we’d only time for a hurried patio lunch before

Third stop: Will Straw’s keynote for ACCUTE. This was a glimpse into the queer bohemia and pulp press of 1920s Greenwich Village, complete with Canadian connections and a cast of characters that seemed taken from some melodrama of moustache-twirling villains. Among the slides he showed of period gossip tabloids and “spicy” magazines, it was difficult not to get distracted by incidental details. Like the half-page ad for “Melz’s original dissolving rubber prophylactics: more protection, more pleasure!” WTF?

The face one makes on seeing a vintage magazine ad for dissolving rubber prophylactics.

Last stop: the annual ACCUTE dance party. It’s always such fun, and shows such a different and uniquely humanizing side of people, where we get to check our formal roles (student, professor, etc.) at the door … I know I’ve got a thing for dance culture, but I remain amazed that ACCUTE is the only society at Congress that regularly throws a dance party. (Haven’t all the other societies been spending most of the day sitting too?)

Congress 2010, day two

Half the fun of Congress: random reunions.

This morning’s plenary panel for ACCUTE featured three speakers on the complex relationships of First Nations students and scholars to the university in general and English literary studies in particular. Len Findlay moderated and I’m always amazed how eloquently he mixes vernacular and learned language: he described three “frames” of discourse now “re-confining” Canada’s First Nations as “mess up, dress up, and ‘fess up” (referring to the continuing crisis of FNU and the truth & reconciliation procedures taking up the legacy of residental schools, for a couple of examples). Author Warren Cariou advocated “more comprehensive, embodied attention to orality in university literary curriculum” as a means to foster “more genuinely intercultural analysis.” Film-maker and scholar Tasha Hubbard reflected on the complex lived ironies of “indigenous grad students as pioneers” in academia, and very usefully detailed the responsibilities, priorities, and anxieties that First Nations grad students — most of whom come to grad school later in life — must work through while navigating an academic environment too often rife with misunderstanding and racism. Daniel Heath Justice made an impassioned case against chronically “low expectations” for First Nations students: “when you expect the best of people,” and establish a setting in which they can succeed, he said, “they rarely disappoint.” He also gave one of the most plain-speaking rationales of English literary studies I think I’ve ever heard:

Books saved my life. … Literature has changed my life. It initiated my cultural recovery. It didn’t start at home. It started in the academy and it brought me home.

Had lunch with Ben Lefebvre, a grad-school peer from Guelph, now a leading L. M. Montgomery scholar. Then I visited the people at AU Press to find out about open-access publishing: that is, releasing a free electronic edition alongside the for-purchase print edition. U of Ottawa P and maybe WLU P also do this, though AUP introduced OA publishing to Canada.

Paying more attention to Congress-wide events, I went to Ed Broadbent’s talk this afternoon. Watch an archived video of his talk here.

Ed Broadbent addresses Congress. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

He compared the “Golden age of the common man” — the thirty years after World War Two — with the “new barbarism” that began its ascendancy in the hard right turn of the 1980s. Broadbent stressed that social and economic rights (materialized in policies like universal health care, old-age pensions, and other “social safety-net” policies) are legally required in Canada, under section 36 of the 1982 Constitution Act and under Canada’s commitments to the UN (whose foundational 1948 declaration of human rights, he reminded us, was drafted by a Canadian, John Humphrey).

Amidst his more pragmatic, policy-oriented criticisms, Broadbent also supplied a useful interpretive tool for decoding the claims and arguments of neoconservative politicians and ideologues: “when a party advocates slashing housing, health and other benefits, they are assaulting our social and economic rights.” And he made a plug for reading too, encouraging everyone to read The Spirit Level. The authors studied dozens of countries to conclude that more equal societies (those that deliver social services to honour UN and constitutional commitments to social and economic rights) are more stable, just, healthy — better off in every way. Significantly, the USA and the UK ranked at the bottom of the authors’ scale; as Broadbent put it, “unequal societies are not only unfair, they’re dysfunctional.” And he noted that Canada’s ranking somewhere around the middle, but “is becoming more unequal more rapidly than other developed countries.” “It’s time to reverse the trend to growing inequality,” he declared, and cited a survey from the Manning Institute, of all places, showing that 82% of Canadians believe government should play a role in reducing poverty and inequality.

Makes me wish 82% of Canadians would turn out to vote.

The Q&A was feisty, as it kicked off with an NDP hater who seemed keener to rant than query; Broadbent gave just as feisty a retort about the quesitoner’s premises. Nice to see some crackin’, heckle-filled, hot-blooded debate, a welcome change from all the “I’m wondering about…” that’s more typical in my area.

Broadbent's Congress audience. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

Congress 2010, day one

Montreal from my hotel room

I’d like to thank whoever organized ACCUTE’s program for our “Runaway technologies” session this morning: three presentations about Canadian science fiction (assuming Atwood doesn’t mind her work being called that now) and its related discourses (see session title) played very well with each other. The session not only prompted keen questions for all of us presenters, but also generated more questions about connections among the papers than about the individual papers: a good sign of well-harmonized topics. The resulting discussion was really productive and engaging for audience and presenters alike. (Well, so I thought, anyway.) And in the process I made some fine new acquaintances.

I also learned at least one new word. Atwood has described Year of the Flood as a “simultanuel” — not sure about that spelling, but it’s for a “-quel” that’s set next to a prior novel’s story (Oryx and Crake), not before or after it. Too bad our time was up before I got to ask if anyone likes Peter Watts’ word better: “sidequel.”

Which reminds me, Watts has generously shared a kind word about my other Congress paper, which goes into more detail about his work, in relation to the copyfight. Meanwhile, Canada’s news media now report that the Harper regime plans to table its latest version of a Canadian DMCA in one week’s time. What Watts’ characters say of extraterrestrial life, we might also say of Big Media’s persistent campaign to digitally lock down culture:
Technology implies belligerence.

Another highlight today was Carole Boyce Davies’ keynote for CACLALS, which explored Caribbean culture’s “transnational black poetics.”

Carole Boyce Davies addresses CACLALS at Congress. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

It was one of those talks from which you can take away enough reading tips to plan a full-year grad course. Her interpretations of reggae and calypso artists and songs were powerful — as evocative as the lyrics she quoted. I’d have liked to hear more of her angle on Caribbean music forms and their meanings. (And I couldn’t help but reflect that here are music forms, like dancehall, which have flourished by flouting conventional copyright regulations. Is there any correlation between a poetics that can go transnational and an IP culture of flexible fair use?)

The ACCUTE sessions I sat in on this afternoon were, first, another very well-choreographed set of talks about US pop culture and the discourse of “healing America”; and, second, the campus reps’ meeting. Acting as proxy for AU’s designated ACCUTE rep, I got a revealing look at the society’s inner workings. (I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.)

And throughout the day there was the welcome experience (culminating this evening in a rammed roof-patio over egregiously over-priced pints) of catching up and comparing notes with colleagues I haven’t seen in too long. (But then again, I work at home, so my bar for “haven’t seen in a long time” might be set somewhat low.)