Unsettle Cyprus

UNSETTLE: an SNS Roundtable
IABA Cyprus, May 26-29 2016 

The culmination of our Unsettle series will take place on May 29, 2017 at "Excavating Lives" (University of Cyprus, Nicosia)

Panel members: Candida Rifkind, Cynthia Franklin, Sophia Brown, Helga Lénárt-Cheng, Katrin Den Elzen and Ümit Kennedy 

Panel moderators: Maria Faini, Orly Lael Netzer, and Emma Maguire

Candida Rifkind “Digital Empathy Comics and Indigenous Lives”
I am interested in the aesthetic practices and ethical consequences of two recent Canadian digital comics about violence against Indigenous people: Dan Archer’s graphic journalism for the CBC that accompanied their coverage of Marlene Bird’s story (Jan. 2015) and Frankie Noone’s online graphic essay for GUTS magazine about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Nov. 2015). Archer’s digital comic goes behind the news story of a violent attack on Bird, a homeless Cree woman and Residential School survivor, who was beaten, sexually assaulted, and set on fire. Noone’s much more contemplative digital comic depicts two young non-Indigenous women discussing the Report of the TRC and reflecting on their own experiences with Indigenous people. These two texts elicit empathy through quite different visual styles and formal compositions, but they share a central desire to mobilize the affective power of graphic life writing and the interactivity of digital comics to implicate the non-Indigenous viewer as witness to settler colonialism and its legacies of violence.

Cynthia Franklin "What Might the Nakba Mean for Life Writing Studies?"
Life writing, for all its attention to historical trauma, human rights, testimonial, oral history, and colonialism, has yet to engage fully with Palestine and what Palestinians and others call the Nakba—the catastrophe that occurred when over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homeland due to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. As Patrick Wolfe notes, settler colonialism is a process, not an event, and many Palestinians have documented and analyzed ways that, for them, the Nakba continues. Those who experienced the 1948 Nakba, and life in Palestine pre- and post-1948, are now at least 69 years old and yet they and their stories have been largely ignored in the field of life writing. My presentation seeks to analyze and unsettle this silence, and consider ways attention to the Nakba as a historical event and an ongoing process might productively unsettle life-writing studies.

Sophia Brown“Jerusalem from a Palestinian Perspective: Reflections on a Divided City”
Israel’s proclamation that Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state relies on a singular narrative of a diverse and divided city, which simultaneously elides the city’s Arab heritage and deprives its Palestinian inhabitants. Edward Said – who was born in Jerusalem – once described Israel’s plans for the city as ‘an assault not only on geography, but also on culture, history, and religion’, thus indicating the far-reaching consequences of the principles of exclusion and expansion. This presentation will focus on the fierce counter-narrative to Israel’s claims to the whole city that is prevalent in Palestinian life-writing that deals with Jerusalem, whether by current residents or those exiled from the city. This presentation will argue for the importance of paying attention to these texts, not just in terms of the contribution they make to the field of Palestinian life-writing, but also in terms of the relevant – and urgent – questions they raise about citizenship, colonialism, resistance and divided cities.

Helga Lénárt-Cheng “Unsettling Our Experience of Space: What Storytellers for Social Justice Can Learn from Storytellers for Marketing”
In the most recent, February 2016 catalogue of REI I found a whole new marketing campaign focused on story-telling: on the pages of the catalogue people are telling their powerful first-person stories of how climbing the Appalachian Trail has transformed their lives (while of course advertising the company's products). Or, the other day as I was withdrawing cash, my bankautomat at Wells Fargo invited me to read life stories on the page of the "Untold Stories Project", financed by my bank, of course. In my 5-minute intervention I would like to raise questions regarding this commercial facet of the recent trend of “story-telling for social justice."

Katrin Den Elzen “The Young Widow Memoir: Unsettling the Prevailing Discourse on Grief”
Grief remains a taboo subject in the Western cultural paradigm. The young widow memoir can contribute to unsettling the prevailing discourse surrounding grief. I will draw on two memoirs to examine how the texts challenge the ‘Five stages of grief’ by Kübler-Ross: life after you by Lucie Brownlee (2014) and Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman (2013). The memoirs highlight the inadequacy of this model and professional grief literature in general to account for the individual experience of grief. Instead, they show that the sharing of experience with other young widows has been central to their grief process. Aikman’s text narrates how she started her own widow club after being disillusioned with an existing group based on the old five-stage model. Brownlee was drawn to online forums. She started her own blog, which later became the inspiration for her memoir. These texts offer readers new insights that help to deepen our understanding of grief.

Ümit Kennedy “The Unsettling Nature of Mummy Vlogging on YouTube”
As more people adopt digital media in their every-day-lives new genres of life writing are emerging. One such genre is vlogging on YouTube. A growing number of Australian mothers are engaging in the autobiographical practice of ‘mummy vlogging’. These mothers are using vlogging to unsettle idealised and romaticised images of motherhood circulated in Western society. Mummy vloggers offer their stories contributing to the growing collection of narratives on YouTube showing the ‘realities’ of being a mother. In doing so Australian mothers are also using vlogging to unsettle the idea of motherhood as a domestic, private role, moving motherhood into the public sphere through a mode of professionalisation, often resulting in success, fame and fortune. For researchers the fluidity of YouTube is also unsettling. Unlike other forms of life writing, where a published narrative has some permanency, on YouTube primary narratives appear and disappear as the vlogger comes in and out of the YouTube community. The mother who bears all for two years can, within minutes, hide, make private or delete all their content. They can make it as if they never were on YouTube. This leaves the researcher with unsettling ethical questions about publishing material concerning a life narrative that seemingly no longer exists. Australian mummy vlogging, its unsettling affordances, and the unsettling questions that it poses for researchers, will be further explored in this short presentation.

Join Us!

Candida Rifkind is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Winnipeg. She specializes in alternative comics, life writing, and Canadian literature and culture. Her books include Comrades and Critics: Women, Literature, and the Left in 1930s Canada (UTP, 2009) and the co-edited volume Canadian Graphic: Picturing Life Narratives (WLUP, 2016). She contributed chapters to Material Cultures in Canada and Canadian Literature and Cultural Memory, and has published in Biography, English Studies in Canada, International Journal of Comic Art, Journal of Canadian Studies, and Canadian Review of American Studies. For more on her current project go to www.projectgraphicbio.com.

Cynthia Franklin is Professor of English at the University of Hawai‘i and co-edits Biography. She is the author of Academic Lives: Memoir, Cultural Theory and the University Today (2009) and Writing Women's Communities: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Multi-Genre Anthologies (1997). Essays and review articles appear or are forthcoming in journals including American Quarterly, Cultural Critique, GLQ, Life Writing, LIT, and The Contemporary Pacific. She has collaborated with Laura Lyons on articles, interviews, and a special issue of Biography, “Personal Effects: The Testimonial Uses of Life Writing.” She also co-edited the 2014 special Biography issue “Life in Occupied Palestine.”

Sophia Brown is a fourth-year PhD candidate and Assistant Lecturer in the School of English at the University of Kent, supervised by Caroline Rooney and Bashir Abu-Manneh. My thesis is an exploration of contemporary Palestinian life writing, focusing specifically on issues of exile and diaspora. As well as conventional autobiographies and memoirs, my thesis also considers the growing number of anthologies published about Palestinian experience, examining their contribution to the field of life writing, and the narration of displacement from a Palestinian perspective.

Helga Lénárt-Cheng grew up in Hungary, and studied French and German at JATE (Szeged) and ELTE (Budapest). She completed her PhD in Comparative Literature at Harvard University in 2007. Her dissertation explored various autobiographical traditions, with a special focus on the communal role of personal stories. Since 2008 she has been on the faculty of the Department of Modern Languages at Saint Mary’s College of California (in the Bay Area). Her main areas of research include all genres of life-writing (including blogs, diaries, and video narratives), theories of subjectivity and community, phenomenological hermeneutics, and Eastern European autobiographies. Lenart-Cheng has published articles in New Literary Studies, Biography, Cultural Politics, Hungarian Cultural Studies, American Studies/Amerikastudien, Auto/Biography, etc. Her co-authored monograph on the exiled writer Alexander Lenard is forthcoming in February 2016 from L’Harmattan, Budapest. Her next book project focuses on “Life Stories, Communities and the Ethos of Sharing."

Katrin Den Elzen holds an MPhil and currently undertakes a PhD in Creative Writing at Curtin University, Australia, which entails a creative component and an accompanying exegesis. She is writing a grief memoir about the loss of her husband and the rebuilding of her life and identity. Her exegesis investigates how memoirists textually negotiate the experience of young widowhood, and specifically, how they rebuild the fragmented self in the text. Katrin presented a paper at the IABA Europe and the IABA Pacific conferences in 2015. As a widow, Katrin became a spokesperson for palliative care in order to contribute to social and institutional change. 

Ümit Kennedy is a PhD candidate at the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University. Her research explores video blogging (vlogging) on YouTube as a contemporary form of Life Writing. Focusing on Australian mummy vloggers, Ümit examines how mothers construct their identity on YouTube in dialogue with their viewers. Ümit has experience teaching undergraduate courses in writing at both Western Sydney University and the University of Notre Dame.  
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