The Politics and Poetics of Public Sphere Witnessing: Dionne Brand, Samantha Nutt, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier
A paper being offered Speaking Her Mind: Canadian Women and Public Presence 20-22 October 2016
University of Calgary
Abstract: Working at the intersection of postcolonial, feminist, and globalization studies, this paper addresses the rhetorical strategies adopted by writer-activists Dionne Brand, Samantha Nutt, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier to speak their minds on issues such as global violence, environmental destruction, and global citizenship, matters of central concern to the twenty-first century and Canada’s role within it. These women are public presences who have made a difference yet who are seldom discussed as public intellectuals. What can their work tell us about public sphere politics and poetics?
Description: This paper considers the literary contributions of three Canadian women who have functioned as activists and witnesses to injustice in ways that locate the Canadian public sphere in its historical and global contexts. The paper addresses the pressure these women differentially put on conventional notions of the public intellectual through discussion primarily of their published works and the reception they have received. Working at the intersection of postcolonial, feminist, and globalization studies, I will address the rhetorical strategies these writers have adopted to speak their minds on issues of central concern to the twenty-first century and Canada’s role within it. Texts to be discussed include Brand’s Inventory, Map to the Door of No Return, and essays; Nutt’s Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid; and Sheila Watt Cloutier’s autobiography, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet. Their work addresses key contemporary concerns, yet their contributions to shaping public debates have not yet been accorded the attention they deserve. In seeking to rectify that situation, this paper will also seek to understand it.