Writing Upside Down Worlds

Issue Two

2020-2021

A person in a purple forest using a touchscreen. The trees have computer circuits inside them.
By
The Editorial Committee for The Arts & Science Review 2020-2021

The second issue of The Arts and Science Review, Writing Upside Down Worlds comes together after a year of critical study at OCAD University during a global pandemic where reflection, writing, and making urged critical and creative responses to familiar, as well as unpredictable formations of power.  In a year of study dominated by these concerns, and, out of necessity, by experiments in online education in the Faculty of Arts and Science, student work foregrounded a poetics of storytelling, speculation, and critical analysis. Student writing in this issue also prioritized the building of communities for witnessing and unsettling the present moment.

The fourteen works in issue two were selected from 38 faculty nominations of best student writing from fall and winter courses in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Funding from the Faculty for writing awards also enabled the committee to award a cash prize of 100 dollars to Greta Hamilton for her essay, "Black Hauntology in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric". Hounorable mention for outstanding writing also goes to Meegan Lim’s essay, "Leftovers: The Return of Xenophobia in Chinese Cuisine". Thank you to Faculty Dean Sarita Srivastava and the Faculty office for funding the second issue. Also, thank you to Elizabeth Clydesdale, Craig Porter and Kirstyn Moore for their ongoing administrative support. Many thanks to Digital Futures student Nicole Vella, for website design. Thank you to the students, who were paired with faculty committee members to publish the excellent writing included in this collection. These essays were written in courses ranging in topics and ideas like: Graphic Novels, Uncanny Animals, The Classical Tradition, Material Culture and Consumer Society, Feminist Theories, Intro to the Study and Practice of Creative Writing, Philosophy of Love and Sex, Ethnography in a Global World, Contemporary Studies in Architecture and Design, American Literature, Bodies Mattering, and Cultural Anthropology.

As faculty committee members Ross Bullen, Ian Keteku, Kathy Kiloh, Michelle Miller, Maria Belén Ordóñez, and Suzanne Stein reviewed submitted work, a clear theme emerged. The writing included in this volume looks at the world as it exists from a unique vantage point, turning the common place on its head and imagining things otherwise. Whether contributions take the form of creative works positing alternate speculative futures, personal expressions of longing and desire, or discursive essays about a single but complex issue, they all use the medium of the written word to advance critical understandings of our shared reality. In many cases, they also attempt to address wrongs and injustices. In other words, students are writing the upside-down world to right the world.

Greta Hamilton’s prize-winning essay explores the connections between Black identity, historical trauma, and contemporary cultural and artistic texts through a reading of Claudia Rankine’s genre-defying long poem, Citizen: An American Lyric. Reading Rankine’s text through the critical lens of “Black hauntology,” Hamilton offers a nuanced and incisive close reading of Rankine’s catalogue of microaggressions, historical crimes, cultural controversies, and artistic interventions, in order to delineate the ways in which the unresolved past continues to haunt the fractured and unsettled present.

Drucilla Gary balances jagged imagery with soft dismounts in her vivid and figurative poem "Love’s Lethargy". Allusions to the mystical and unknown draw the reader into a trance-like meditation. It is in this ‘other world’ where we find the author in a familiar moment, speaking to someone loved. She explores cherished objects as metaphysical beings dance their way down the page. The poem encapsulates a universal juxtaposition: our beauty and our daemons, always fighting from within.

What if the Internet was embodied, sentient and agential? This premise underlies both Aguiar’s "www.com" and Pipher’s "They Speak of Change” speculative works.  In these stories, intelligent, transcorporeal networks reveal a key human limitation: an inability to connect. In "www.com", human-made fishing nets merge with our old and new digital technologies and networks. Thriving in a capitalistic society, the nets consume ephemeral content from our media and entertainment industries and our manufactured goods, products and waste. This is a vivid fever dream, inspired by a range of interdisciplinary texts which aid us in the dream analysis. “They Speak of Change” presents us with a convergence of human and tree networks. Although intended as a shared communication system of resiliency, the forest becomes leveraged, assimilated and overtaken. This may be a wickedly savvy retelling of the classic children’s story by Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree; but here, Pipher makes clear the lack of reciprocity in what could have been understood as a mutually loving relationship. 

Aggie Frasunkiewicz’s “Unsettling Western Veganism” chronicles the racist history of conservationism and veganism and considers how transforming the way we think about the relationship between humans and animals might work to challenge the way that white supremacy dominates these practices. With reference to Billy Ray Belcourt’s critique of Critical Animal Studies, Frasunkiewicz argues that this transformation must take place as a form of decolonization. Decolonized or unsettled veganism would abandon the anthropocentric model that centres the human and would instead emphasize relations of kinship between humans and animals.

Drawing on David Harvey’s theory of the neo-liberal city, Josi Ward’s historical study of Los Angeles’ Chinatown, and Ocean Howell’s consideration of the role of the so-called creative class in urban gentrification, Schyler van den Helm presents an analysis of marketing materials for the XO condominium development in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. Van den Helm demonstrates how XO both celebrates and distinguishes itself from the already existing urban culture of Parkdale. Her astute analysis of XO’s marketing campaign reveals that a homogenization of space and culture is the goal; the ideal purchaser targeted by the developers is young, white, and a member of the creative professional class. A white-washed version of Parkdale’s urban street life is presented as an exotic selling point, while the historical and contemporary culture of the development’s location—little Tibet—is erased. By design, the XO condo dweller can, according to van den Helm, “live in the heart of the city without ever leaving the feeling and sentiments of suburbia.” She concludes that condo developments like XO create centrally located “micro-suburbias” that further marginalize vulnerable urban communities.

Authors Emilie Moffat and Meegan Lim are participant observers who implicate themselves when observing upside-down worlds that ethnographically describe two distinct modes of consumption during a global pandemic. Meegan Lim’s essay, “Leftovers: The Resurgence of Xenophobia in Chinese Cuisine” moves between a dynamic geo-political history of MSG (monosodium glutamate) originating in Japan and making its way to North America and spatial observations of a Chinese restaurant in Toronto’s Chinatown. Lim underscores that these global movements of food are not detached from their cultural contexts, nor are they innocent, natural, or inconsequential movements. Lim’s reading of MSG at this historical juncture considers how the fear of contagion during a global pandemic accentuates and makes palpable anti-Asian racism associated with MSG. Emilie Moffat’s essay, “Consuming the County: An Ethnography of the Present” delves into a different kind of consumption linked to tourist practice in Prince Edward County, eastern Ontario. Moffat’s familiarity with the county takes on new meaning under pandemic lockdown where residents contend with tourists escaping Toronto to consume the county’s packaged charm, while “signs of [the county’s] original inhabitants are found in a few place names.” Moffat’s wanderings in the county underscore settler colonial entanglements with local resident talk of tourism, land ownership, and capitalist aspirations of a “good life".

"Blue Walkthrough" written by Charlotte Healey is a fluid, colour-coated memory. Some say they never dream; the fact is everyone does. Everyone dreams but not everyone remembers their dreams. However, in this piece the speaker is a tour guide, taking readers though doors and floors of this lucid dream. She encounters strange, nameless characters and some recognizable ones—this dream has happened many times before. Themes of war, the body and gender make up the fabric of this dream. As we climb up stairs and peek through the haunted cracks Charlotte subtly references scholar Jack Halberstam. In their paper "Unbuilding Gender", Halberstam investigates the connections between architecture and the body. It is through this lens that "Blue Walkthrough" takes a new shape. The piece asks what dreams do our bodies hold and when we wake up, will we remember them?

In “Meditations on Medusa” Avneet Dahliwal turns an old tale on its head. She reimagines the mythic figure of Medusa not as a monster, but as a kind of universal feminist figure. Medusa, according to Dahliwal is a resource through which women can channel their rage against patriarchal violence. Citing Sarah Ahmed’s notion of the feminist killjoy, who cannot cease identifying and calling attention to all the ways in which women are both subtly and obviously discriminated against and oppressed, Dahliwal posits that all women share the capacity to become Medusa: a protector of women.

Ella Taylor poses the question: decades on, how has Foucault’s History of Sexuality influenced the way that we think about sexuality? Some critics have argued that his theory of sexuality as a discursive construct ignores the materiality of bodies and because of this, it becomes overly prescriptive and limiting. In light of this criticism, Taylor considers what aspects of Foucault’s theory remain valuable to us, and what new resources do we need to understand how gender and sexuality are experienced now. She determines that Foucault’s writing adheres to the restrictive logic of exclusion and inclusion because it is descriptive, but that it also opens up the possibility of conceiving of sexuality otherwise. Taylor sees this possibility advanced in the work of Gayle Salomon, who reinterprets Luce Irigaray’s feminist philosophical practice of corporeal surveying in a manner that makes space for gender and sexuality experienced beyond the binary opposition of male and female.

Brooklin Holbrough shares two linked pieces of writing in this volume of The Arts and Science Review. The first is a visual response to Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons! and the second is her reflective description of Barry’s work. She presents a beautiful and intimate depiction of her own demon—generalized anxiety that comes and goes “like the seasons...or the birds flying south”. She provides the reader with a strong sense of Barry’s intentions and techniques and explains her own conceptual and creative process. There is a palpable sense, in both Holbrough’s writing and her illustrations, of how Barry’s courage becomes contagious. Holbrough describes the feeling of being inspired to confront her own demons. The result is not at all triumphant, but rather, a quiet and measured response, illustrating the time and effort needed when one sets out to exorcise personal demons: when one seeks to right the world with pen in hand.
   
Olivia McAlpine offers a spirited and satirical take down of gendered scientific language - and male scientific egos - in this creative and comical (fictional) email thread between three male researchers at Johns Hopkins University and a female anthropologist, Emily Martin. Martin in this fictional scenario critiques their use of gendered language in ostensible objective scientific research about human reproduction. McAlpine masterfully conveys the subtle condescension of the researchers toward Martin, who thoughtfully rebukes their attempts to explain away their use of gendered language.

The title and lyrics for Sophie Atkin’s "Upside Down World" inspired the theme for this issue. It captures a general consciousness during these interesting and precarious times. It also encapsulates the tone and energy of each of the pieces highlighted in this publication. Sophie Atkin sings with a rustic timbre, making every word heart-achingly palpable. The rich vocals are complemented by a simple, yet hair-raising piano riff. The combination results in a beautifully uncomfortable tension.Inspired by legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, the lyrics to "Upside Down World" serve as an ironic call to action. It asks us to search around for the answer to humanity’s woes. And much like Dylan’s classic tune, perhaps the answer is beyond us, "Blowin’ in the Wind".

The piece works as a choose your own adventure. You can read the creatively designed lyrics first or listen to the song first. Better yet, you can listen to the song as you read (or sing) along. Either way, you’ll realize why we are honoured to have "Upside Down World" as the soundtrack to this issue and why Sophie Atkin, along with all the contributors in this collection, are artists and writers to watch out for.

The Editorial Committee for The Arts & Science Review 2020-2021

 

Ross Bullen
Ross Bullen

rbullen[at]faculty[dot]ocadu[dot]ca
Ross Bullen teaches classes in American literature, children’s literature, and science fiction at OCAD University.

 

Ian Keteku
Ian Keteku

iketeku[at]faculty[dot]ocadu[dot]ca
Ian Keteku is a writer and multimedia artist. He is the 2010 World Poetry Slam Champion. He teaches creative writing and community engagement. His debut book of poetry Black Abacus was published in 2019 by Write Bloody North.

 

Kathy Kiloh
Kathy Kiloh

kkiloh[at]faculty[dot]ocadu[dot]ca
Kathy Kiloh is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Science at OCAD University. She teaches philosophy-based humanities courses. Her research is centred on Frankfurt School Critical Theory, particularly the work of Theodor Adorno. She is currently working on a manuscript about how love appears as a concept and as a feeling in Adorno’s philosophy.

 

Michelle Miller
Michelle Miller

mmiller[at]faculty[dot]ocadu[dot]ca
Michelle Miller is Assistant Professor of English Literature. She teaches courses on literature by trans and queer creators, and on comics. Her research focuses on representations of (queer) adolescence in contemporary coming of age comics, and on the pedagogy of care.

 

Maria Belen Ordonez
Maria Belén Ordóñez

mordonez[at]faculty[dot]ocadu[dot]ca
Maria Belén Ordóñez is Assistant Professor in Social Sciences at OCAD Universtiy. She teaches feminist and queer theories, anthropology, multi-sited and experimental ethnography, critical theory, and body politics. Her current research focusses on queering the maternal in legal and cinematic terrains.

 

Suzanne Stein
Suzanne Stein

sstein[at]faculty[dot]ocadu[dot]ca
Suzanne Stein is the Director of Super Ordinary Laboratory at OCAD University and teaches courses on Foresight, Research Methods, and Creative Techniques.

 

Nicole Vella
Nicole Vella

hello[at]nicolevella[dot]com
Nicole Vella is a Digital Futures undergraduate student and Teacher Assistant at OCAD University. She is a generative artist who treats code as paint and screens as a canvas. Her art explores what it means to be digital and physical and how the line between can be blurred.

 

Header Artwork by McKenna Pipher. Networking, 2021.