25/03/2021 : Claire Omhovère, «Why Searching Canadian Literature(s) Calls for an Ethic of Discomfort : A Few Preliminary (and Cautious) Steps»

Claire Omhovère s’intèresse aux espaces, à la geographie, aux paysages, à la poétique du paysage et de l’espace. Dans ses recherches elle met en exergue les enjeux politiques et poétiques.

She teaches literatures of the English speaking world, especially Canadian literature. She also studies indigenous writing which arouses a sincere interest among the students. She acknowledges that she feels uncomfortable with the distance between her identity and her field of study.

She referred to Michel Foucault, “Pour une morale de l’inconfort” (Le Nouvel Observateur, 1979), and explained that identities are defined by trajectories and not by attitudes. She also mentioned the thinker Merleau-Ponty who thought that we should always question what we take for granted, and that one should never agree to be completely comfortable to what seems obvious to oneself.

Claire Omhovère told us that when Canadian people speak in public, they explain where they come from because of Land Acknowledgement which aim is to highlight the cultural significance of the area you come from, insofar as you acknowledge the original presence of ingenious people. There are variations to land acknowledgement, as you can see in the Calgary Fondation website. (https://calgaryfoundation.org/about-us/reconciliation/land-acknowledgement/) The point is also encouraging healing in the sense that it gives a verbal recognition. It has a deep significance as well as a political impact.

The speaker wondered what the external observer may value as authentic regarding the speeches of the aboriginal people, and noted the conflation between the “white man Indian” which has disappeared from our representations and the aforesaid representations.

Claire Omovhère shared a video entitled “Whose Land”, in which one can see a woman. She describes the land that she calls “home”, and even depicts a soundscapes. The speaker reacted saying that it could be a good idea to listen to what first nation people have to say.

Then, she tackled three main critical works in the study of Canadian literature.

The first group exorcise the ghosts that hunt the Canadian literature. Claire Omhovère mentioned Cynthia Conchita Sugars, who is the contemporary representative of Canadian Gothic. The speaker quoted: “If you are Canadian, home is a place that is not come to you”.

The second group is “The Killjoys” (she borrows the term form Laura Moss, “Notes from CanLit Killjoy,” Canadian Literature 228/229). She argues that: “Canadian criticism is filled with those who has resisted the joys of cohesion […] As critics, we are trained to be sceptical of history, of texts, of our own institutions.”

The third group is “The Inconvenient Indian” (cf. Thomas King). There are regarded as inconvenient because many of them are being violated. Those scandals occurred at the same time of Refuse: CanLit in Ruins (2018) edited by Hannah McGregor, Julie Rak and Erin Wunker, and the same year, Gregory Younging published: Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (2018). It is a manual as a manifesto which teaches researchers to tackle indigenous stories: you cannot use these stores only to fit your own personal interests/agendas.

For many Indigenous scholars, stories express a vital connection between history and myth. “Postcolonial studies took a decisive turn”, Claire Omhovère explained. In Canada, Australia and New Zealand, scholars wondered whether the indigenous peoples can be studied and the answer is that it depends on the person who wants to study them.

Example 1: Two years ago, a young associate professor went and saw the speaker in her office, but she refused to supervise him because she did not feel legitimate to advise such thesis insofar as she is not indigenous.

Example 2: Claire Omovhère asked herself if the study of place and land can be done using European tools, and if one can study about indigenous matter or concerned. The answer is yes but it requires a great deal of self critical assessment.

During the Q&A session, an attendee said the critics are never going to have the last words, “the critics are just part of the archives,” she said. She believed that when indigenous people write, there are something that the critics cannot understand. Claire Omovhère answered that she agreed with everything. But she tried to ponder on the critical works, and always wonder what those writings do to the reader inside her. She even said that nowadays, there is a “war of position” in Canada.

Another attendee talked about collaboration writing, and explained that in the 90’s there was a conference in Vancouver which was despised for there were seats for non indigenous people, before adding: “Certain things happen at a certain time, and even though they are not glorious, they might be necessary. The discomfort can be felt when the circumstances change.”

The speaker said that there is no easy answer, especially at a time when scholars are asked to take a position. To her, the answer is always the “trajectory”.