The thick clusters of roses are pale pink on the outer edges and darker as they get closer to the center, which is a bright deep red. Maybe ten feet high, the almond-shaped arch beckons deliciously, obscenely. It could be a surreal set in a Pedro Almodóvar film, or some tamed version of Allyson Mitchell’s 2004 installation, “Hungry Purse: The Vagina Dentata in Late Capitalism.”1 Then Gwyneth Paltrow steps in front of it. You wish she would get out of the way so you could continue to gaze at the beckoning carmine center, though her ivory-colored midriff-exposing outfit sets her off to good advantage against the floral backdrop. Her grin is exuberant.

Our task in this volume is to speculate on what solarity looks like “in terms of social systems, asking questions not about technology but about relationality and modes of being” (Szeman and Barney, this issue). I take this to be an invitation to imagine the different intimacies that solar could afford, intimacies that have the potential to be radically different from the relational structures afforded by petro modernity. If we let ourselves fantasize about it, we may hope for solar intimacy to be non-possessive, non-hierarchical, and non-individualized. Without the scarcity model of fossil fuel, maybe we could enter into some realm of being in which we can loosen our grip on things, on people, on the world that surrounds us. In that potential future, our subjectivities may be less bound by the systems
of oppression, categorization, and anxious identification that we now experience and inhabit.

This future has the potential to be very bright. In solarpunk imaginaries and plans for off-grid communes, it has been already been imagined and partially enacted, as Rhys Williams (2019) and Elvia Wilk (2018) so cogently describe. When I first began to think about writing this essay, I planned to examine these countercultural instances of the potential rejection of the fossil-fuel regime. I read solarpunk stories and pored over intentional community websites, looking for the ways in which they subverted our current paradigms of inequality and power, not only in their energy sources but also in their relational structures. These seemingly utopian visions couldn’t, however, keep my attention, in their liberal humanist assumptions that equality and non-hierarchical relationality could be obtained through earnestly willing it.

Instead, I was drawn to images that were not, at first glance, subversive or radical. Inscribed as they were in a popular culture version of self-care, they did not fit my idea of what a scholarly essay, no matter how informed by cultural studies it is, should examine. These came from what I quaintly imagine to be the other to my current academic life—Netflix watching, yoga practice, and French feminist texts that I haven’t read since my zealous days as a deconstructionist undergraduate. Anglo (white, cis-woman) liberal popular culture would not seem, at first glance, like the best place to find new paradigms for a solar future. Nor, perhaps, would the French theory that was so prevalent in English departments in the 1980s. Why then is this jumble of images, ideas, and concepts connected in my mind to solidarity and to possible visions of solarity?

Best to start from the premise that I’m going to get any answer to that question wrong. And to carry on anyway. Because I do think there’s something right in drawing upon what surrounds me, right now, right here, in the mainstream currents of my everyday life. In imagining the social and political possibilities that solar might offer, how else can I envision the future than to peer through the myopic lens of the present? The systems, structures, and objects that we have at our disposal now contain and conscript and expand our horizons. It’s the conundrum of all utopian thinking, as Fredric Jameson (2004: 46) reminds us: “Its function lies not in helping us to imagine a better future but rather in demonstrating our utter incapacity to imagine such a future—our imprisonment in a non-utopian present without historicity or futurity—so as to reveal the ideological closure of the system in which we are somehow trapped and confined.” Knowing this, I fear that every time I describe a possible opening of radical potential, my next sentence will reinscribe it within possessive individualism, body essentialism, or just plain sexism. I feel a little woozy already, just thinking about the sharp veering in and out of focus that I’m going to be enacting in this essay. Woozy from the woo-woo that we’ll wander through together.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

https://doi-org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.1215/00382876-8795694 or on my Academia page

WHAT I CALL “DEPERSONALIZED INTIMACY” posits modes of being with one another that are not predicated on a self that is in control of its own value, its own self-knowledge, or its own interpersonal interactions. The demand to be a knowable, self-aware, and authentic self thwarts many a friendship, love affair, and intimate conversation, and yet we continue to turn to the self-help aisle or Oprah to learn to be better at expressing and knowing ourselves. When that fails, we lament that we are misunderstood, unheard, and unmet by the other. This disappointment suggests that there is a transparent, authentic, and real self that needs recognition and mirroring. But this self is, I believe, a product of the neoliberal economization of the self, in which human capital becomes another site of investment and entrepreneurial ventures.1 As an antidote to this harmful and illusory expectation for the self, I suggest an ethics of depersonalized intimacy, in which we disinvest from an imagined relational self who is in charge of her actions and emotions and expected to perform herself to the other in an authentic and coherent manner.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

https://doi.org/10.1353/esc.2016.0004

The younger stands in his underwear, his tongue contorting the way it always has when he concentrates. He paints one of the keys with the blue nail polish, the other with the green. The little crease in his lower belly leaves a pink imprint of a line when he straightens up. As I lie on my bed and gaze at him, I think also of his older brother’s belly, so long and skinny that there is no wrinkle when he leans over, a permanent washboard. I used to tickle him when he walked by without a shirt on, and he would falsetto shriek. Now he towers over me when he comes home from university, but I still stroke his neck when he’s sitting next to me, or touch his fingers as they rest on the table.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

https://gutsmagazine.ca/on-becoming-an-imperfect-mother/

On Becoming an Imperfect Mother.” Guts Canadian Feminist Magazine. May 2015. Online.

Through storytelling, this essay explores hunger and desire as it weaves fairy tale with theories of orality. Jagoe links an infant’s need for nourishment with the confusion of love that can morph into a devouring possessiveness. The motifs of eating, of taking in, and of containment are discussed in relation to Little Red Riding Hood, Maurice Sendak, Slavoj Zizek, and family memoir. From the ghoulish imagination of children and fairytale, to the sexual complexity of adolescence, and on to the limits and capacities of maternal love, Jagoe interrogates an intimacy that nourishes instead of devours, that contains instead of consumes.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

I’ll Eat You Up: Fears and Fantasies of Devouring Intimacies.” Writing From Below.

Social Science Fiction as Method

Cowritten with Imre Szeman. Line 6B Citizens’ Blog: A Public Environmental Humanities Forum. Oct 19, 2017.

In Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Peter Frase distinguishes between the genre of “futurism” and what he names “social science fiction.” Futurism strives to directly predict the future, “obscuring its inherent uncertainty and contingency” (26). Social science fiction, by contrast, mixes the imaginative capacity of science fiction to speculate about a world that might be, with the insights of social science about how actual lived experience is shaped by structural forces such as the political economy and social class. “To put it another way,” Frase writes, “it is always more interesting to read an account that derives the general from the particular (social theory) or the particular from the general (science fiction), rather than attempting to go from the general to the general (futurism) or the particular to the particular (conspiracism)”.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

https://grangehallpress.com/Enbridgeblog/2017/10/19/backyards-property-new-mythologies-belonging/

Originally published in: Toronto Star, Jan 5, 2018.

Albert Schultz was sympathetic in a play about an unfaithful husband, but as sexual assault and harassment allegations have swept Hollywood and local theatre, the conversation has shifted to ask hard questions about the differential positions of authority and privilege that shape our sexual encounters.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/sexual-harassment-allegations-have-changed-how-we-interpret-theatre/article_dc820580-d27e-50a6-a7ba-93d223783ef4.html

This paper was published in Comparative Literature in Canada:  Contemporary Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Publishing in Review.  Ed. Susan Ingram and Irene Sywenky. Lexington Books, 2020, 157-72.

The editors solicited five responses to my essay, which are included in the book. They are written by  D.R. Gamble, Heather Macfarlane, Keith O’Regan, Jan Plug, and Kevin G. Wilson.

A few years ago, I invited Vivasvan Soni, a professor at Northwestern University, to guest teach in my graduate seminar, “Affinities: Readings in Realism and Radicalism.” The discussion on Hannah Arendt’s The Human Conditionwas very animated and engaged, and he did a wonderful job of answering the student’s many comments and questions about politics, engagement, responsibility, and praxis. After the seminar, he asked me if it was a mixed Masters/PhD class. I thought that perhaps he was asking because he thought they were immature, or unprepared. I explained that it was actually a mixed class, with four undergraduates from the Literature and Critical Theory program. These are often exceptional students who joint major with Philosophy, Diaspora Studies, or Women and Gender Studies, as well as making films or visual art on the side. He said, “I thought they couldn’t be graduate students because Hannah Arendt mattered to them, not just as a critic that they needed to know about for comps or theory smarts, but as an intellectual and philosopher who was seeking to understand the human condition. Those students, they urgently want to figure out how to live, and believe that these texts hold ideas that they can learn from.”

We talked for a long time about how graduate school professionalizes students for the job market. In the process, it seems to distance them from the ideas and debates that drew them to study in the first place, focussed as they are on reading the right texts, gaining the correct credentials, and filling their cv’s. As we talked, I remembered that some of the PhD students in that class had, in fact, been a keen and committed undergraduate when I first met them. What had happened in the ensuing two years of education that made their discussion in the classroom feel less engaged, less urgent?

It was a wake-up call. No longer was it enough for me to teach canonical texts and have them write article-length essays for me to mark at the end of the semester. I wanted the experience of learning together in the classroom to be one that not only furthered their graduate school careers, but also engaged them as a group of scholars who were working together to create, shape, disseminate, and share knowledge production. I needed to rethink my teaching methods and classroom discussion. So I began to restructure the content and form of my seminars, as well as my own research and writing practices. 

What follows is divided into two parts with two sections in each. The first half is about pedagogy and writing. I posit a different approach to the form of academic writing in Comparative Literature, sharing some of the components of my “Forms of Critical Writing” seminar in which students experiment with different genres. I then expand out from the space of the classroom to argue that it is not only students who are seeking different forms for their writing. Academics are also interested in contemporary initiatives that train them to write for different publics. This leads to the second half of the paper, which makes concrete suggestions for the future of Comparative Literature. I lay out some ways that the discipline can enhance its virtual community both in Canada and internationally. The fourth and final section imagines a graduate program in Comparative Literature that takes into account some of the ideas that have surfaced in MLA discussions and the White Paper. My intellectual and emotional investment in Comparative Literature as a space of intellectual rigour, true interdisciplinarity, and critical engagement will, I hope, be evident throughout this paper.  

In 1980, my father asked each of us kids to write what we thought we would be doing in the year 2000, and then put it in a time capsule. When we opened it, I read my 12-year-old handwriting that said I was going to be a writer living in Switzerland with five children. Well, I had two kids and I live in Toronto, but I did get one thing right: I am a writer. And I’m getting used to actually claiming that, even though I didn’t for the first 20 years of my academic career. When I was at the dentist’s office, I didn’t have quick words to explain an academic writing project, so I would just say that I was a prof and leave it at that. But nowadays I’m trying to write in a more accessible way, so I like to talk about my ideas with the hygienist or receptionist. Sometimes, I wish more of my academic colleagues felt likewise.

The rest of this text is available at the following address:

Who Are We Trying to Reach?

“Who are We Trying to Reach: The Case for Academic Writing that Everyone Can Read.” University of Toronto Magazine, June 2016. Republished in Medium, September 2016.

Food and bodies die and decompose in ways that can contribute to a cycle of regeneration through compost. Late modernity functions as a discard culture, however, and this process of life and death is often broken or interrupted. This article analyzes the reappearance of compost as a solution to waste in the language of entrepreneurs, scientists, and scholars who assert their relationship to it. In these discourses, the multiple species that perform the cycle of death and life are put to work on yet another frontier of capitalism for the purpose of profit and accumulation. Compost is fast becoming a greenwashed commodity with uses both as a new technology and as an ideology that centers the human, much as it claims to cherish the nonhuman.This analysis focuses on the technologization of compost; funeral practices and human corpse composting; and the use of composting as a metaphor in recent scholarship.

This article can be read at Comparative Literature Studies. 60.3: 2023. 485-96. https://doi.org/10.5325/complitstudies.60.3.0485

Or on my Academia page.