Laura Moss

Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Red tiles, white mosaic : Indigeneity and the institutionalization of multiculturalism in Canada and Canadian literature—towards a literary and political history (2020)

“Red Tiles, White Mosaic” offers a literary and political history analyzing the settler-colonial processes by which the state-driven project of multiculturalism became Canada’s distinctive, even “indigenous” national feature by settling itself on Indigenous lands. I examine multiculturalism as a politics of colonial misrecognition whose strategies of managing diversity have excluded or reframed Indigenous political difference as “cultural” difference, obfuscating Indigenous nationhood and the colonial dispossession at the formation of the multicultural nation-state. In Part 1, “Politics and Public Policy,” I historicize the “mosaic” and the development of Canadian multicultural nationalism in literary and political discourse since the nineteenth century, showing how official multiculturalism materialized as an extension of the colonial project of nation-building. Chapter 1 offers a novel and sustained historical critique of multiculturalism’s federal institutionalization since 1971 through the spheres of public policy, law, and political philosophy, mapping the strategies of Indigenous appropriation, exclusion, and containment in the architecture of liberal multiculturalism. Chapter 2 explores the ambivalent material effects of early ethnicity-oriented multicultural policy on publishing in Indigenous newsletters in the 1970s, examining the poetry in publications of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs as a case study. In Part 2, “Political Economy, Pedagogy, and Representation,” I study how the policy and ideology of multiculturalism and the state’s multicultural patronage of arts has transmuted within the Canadian literary field and inflected the reception and construction of Indigenous writing as “multicultural” literature, focusing primarily on the institution of the literary anthology. In Chapter 3, I historicize and theorize the anthology’s significance to multiculturalism’s growing visibility and institutionalization in Canadian literary studies in the 1970s and 1980s. In Chapters 4 and 5, I offer sustained close readings of the discrepant approaches to representing Indigenous literatures in two formative “multicultural” anthologies of the 1990s—Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions (1990) and Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature (1996)—examining how multicultural recognition obscures the expressive literary politics of Indigenous nationhood. My conclusion brings this literary and political history into the ostensibly “post-multicultural” present, arguing for the ongoing need to decolonize multicultural Canada and Canadian literary multiculturalism.

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Women writers and the study of natural history in nineteeth-century Canada (2013)

During the nineteenth century, women in Britain and Canada read about natural history, wrote about it, drew it, and collected it alongside their male counterparts. Produced during a time when it was widely accepted that, as Charles Darwin succinctly stated in The Descent of Man (1871), “Man is more powerful in mind and body than woman” (597), women’s contributions to the natural sciences were often overshadowed or ignored. However, women in the nineteenth century in Canada contributed greatly to the development of knowledge of meteorology, botany, zoology, and ornithology. Indeed, their work sometimes anticipated the modern ecological critique of a preoccupation with cultivating and controlling nature in the names of science and capitalism.This dissertation examines the intellectual, literary, and scientific experiences of nature for women in nineteenth-century Canada, namely the geographical region known as Upper Canada (1791-1841), Canada West (1841-1867), or Ontario (1867-present), and investigates the language and scientific systems that were available to women to describe those experiences. Instead of struggling amateurs restricted to domestic pursuits, nineteenth-century women writers were sometimes pioneering naturalists, popularizers of science, and innovators of a hybrid approach to the language of natural history. Naturalist observations and the negotiation of how to understand nature, seeing nature as hostile, neutral, or divine, were central elements in the creation of the nineteenth-century woman’s identity. The writers examined in this study— Anna Jameson, Anne Langton, Susanna Moodie, Mary Ann Shadd, Harriet Sheppard, Frances Stewart, and Catharine Parr Traill— read scientific and literary texts and used the information to shape their understandings of the natural world, the weather, flora, and fauna. As educated, reflective thinkers, they use their letters, journals, emigration pamphlets, and autobiographical narratives to respond to systems of Linnaean classification as well as to participate in discussions which anticipated the shift later in the century to ecological perspectives inspired by Darwinism. This study examines the ways in which women writers were actively exploring shifting conceptions of the natural world as it developed alongside settlement and seeks to offer new ways of approaching the work of Jameson, Langton, Moodie, Shadd, Sheppard, Stewart, and Traill. In chapters devoted to meteorology, botany, zoology, and ornithology, this thesis rethinks both nature writing and women’s writing in Canada.

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Paying attention to public readers of Canadian literature: popular genre systems, publics, and canons (2010)

Paying Attention to Public Readers of Canadian Literature examines contemporary moments when Canadian literature has been canonized in the context of popular readingprograms. I investigate the canonical agency of public readers who participate in these programs: readers acting in a non-professional capacity who speak and write publiclyabout their reading experiences. I argue that contemporary popular canons are discursive spaces whose constitution depends upon public readers. My work resists the commoncritique that these reading programs and their canons produce a mass of readers who read the same work at the same time in the same way.To demonstrate that public readers are canon-makers, I offer a genre approach to contemporary canons that draws upon literary and new rhetorical genre theory. I contendin Chapter One that canons are discursive spaces comprised of public literary texts and public texts about literature, including those produced by readers. I study the intertextual dynamics of canons through Michael Warner’s theory of publics and Anne Freadman’sconcept of “uptake.” Canons arise from genre systems that are constituted to respond to exigencies readily recognized by many readers, motivating some to participate. I argue that public readers’ agency lies in the contingent ways they select and interpret a literarywork while taking up and instantiating a canonizing genre.Subsequent chapters examine the genre systems of three reading programs: One Book, One Vancouver, a public book club; Canada Reads, a celebrity “book brawl”; and The Complete Booker, an online reading challenge. Chapter Two explores how a reading public and canon are called forth by organizers and participants of the One Book, One Vancouver genre system. Chapter Three analyzes public readers’ collective literary selection within the canonizing genre of the Canada Reads brawl. Chapter Fourinvestigates how participants in The Complete Booker genre system instantiate the canon of the Man Booker Prize in ways that construct distinct subject positions of public readers who can evaluate the Canadian Booker winners in meaningful ways for their imagined public. My conclusion proposes that paying attention to public readers offers us new insights into reading as shared practice and Canadian literature.

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The Newfoundland Diaspora (2008)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Metaphor and memory: cognitive poetics and the legacy of Al Purdy (2020)

The work of Canadian poet Al Purdy has often been dismissed because of its informal nature, while others see Purdy’s down-to-earth poetics as part of what draws readers to his writing. I use a cognitive poetic analysis of one of Purdy’s most anthologized poems, “Transient,” to contend that the late poet’s body of work merits and can withstand close investigation despite its colloquiality. I then extend cognitive poetic analysis of “Transient” onto poems and songs written in tribute to Purdy that adapt his original poem and conceptual metaphors in order to discuss his life in terms of a journey. In this section I look at works by Bruce Cockburn, Doug Paisley, Grace Vermeer, and Julie McNeill that portray Purdy as a positive influence on Canadian literature. I then examine criticism against Purdy written by River Halen Guri, Michael Lista, Shane Neilson, and Sadiqa de Meijer alongside a review of an anthology of Purdy tribute texts by Lori Fox. I argue in this section that texts written in tribute to Purdy ignore his negative influences on the Canadian literary community, such as the misogyny and racism that appears in much of his work. Finally, I discuss the ongoing work of the Al Purdy A-Frame Association, who have been connected in some way to the publication of all of the collections of Purdy tribute texts published in the past five years. I contend that while Purdy’s writing has been discounted far too often, accounts of his life and legacy that capture both his positive and negative effects on the Canadian literary community are lacking and necessary.

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J.M. Coetzee's occluded intertextuality : reading text, intertext and the archive in Life & Times of Michael K and Foe (2013)

This thesis is a study of occluded intertextuality in two novels by South African author J.M. Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and Foe (1986). It examines Coetzee’s novels in concert with intertexts and archival materials to determine how Coetzee employed intertextuality as a means of negotiating his positionality as a white liberal author in late-apartheid South Africa. In Chapter 1 I examine Coetzee’s initial intention, exhibited in a working notebook and early drafts, to rewrite Heinrich Von Kleist’s 1811 novella Michael Kohlhaas, demonstrating how, although Coetzee ultimately moved away from this intertext, its traces remain in Michael K through an inescapable lacuna which creates an experience of hesitation for character, author, and reader. In Chapter 2, I trace Coetzee’s attempts to rewrite Daniel Defoe’s 1724 courtesan narrative, Roxana, although Foe’s typically identified intertext is Robinson Crusoe. A contrapuntal reading of Roxana reveals that imperialism, motherhood, prostitution, and authorship form a knot in that text, which is transferred to Coetzee’s novel via the return of Susan Barton’s lost daughter in the novel’s final section. Chapter 2 thus seeks to supplement readings of Foe that posit Friday as the novel’s ultimate representation of ethical engagement with alterity. This thesis establishes a relationship of comparative exchange between several kinds of intertext and in doing so aims to construct a personal ethics of reading. Derek Attridge describes the ethics of reading as an encounter, through literature, with the other, or an other. For Attridge, “Coetzee’s works both stage, and are, irruptions of otherness into our familiar worlds” (xii) precisely because reading his work is an event. This thesis seeks to expand Attridge’s conceptualization of reading Coetzee’s work as an event beyond the borders of individual texts to consider the ethical force that results from reading text, intertext and foretext concurrently and interactively.

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Reading the field of Canadian poetry in the era of modernity: the Ryerson Poetry Chap-book Series, 1925-1962 (2013)

From 1925 to 1962, the Ryerson Press published 200 short, artisanally printed books of poetry by emerging and established Canadian authors. Series editor Lorne Pierce introduced the series alongside other nationalistic projects in the 1920s in order to foster the development of an avowedly Canadian literature. Pierce initially included established Confederation poets in the series, such as Charles G.D. Roberts, and popular late-romantic poets Marjorie Pickthall and Audrey Alexandra Brown. In response to shifting literary trends in the 1940s, Pierce also included the work of modernists such as Anne Marriott, Louis Dudek, and Al Purdy. Following Pierre Bourdieu, I read the Ryerson series as a sub-field of literary production that encapsulates broader trends in the Canadian literary field in the first half of the twentieth century. The struggle between late-romantic and modernist producers to determine literary legitimacy within the series constitutes the history of the field in this period. Pierce’s decision to orient the series towards modernist innovation during the Second World War was due to late romantics’ loss of their dominant cultural position as a result of shifting literary tastes. Modernist poets gained high cultural capital in both the Ryerson series and the broader field of Canadian literary production because of their appeal to an audience of male academics whose approval ensured their legitimacy. Late-romantic poets, by contrast, lost cultural capital due to their inability to captivate an audience of academic “tastemakers” and, in some instances, due to their gender, as editors frequently framed female poets as opposed to emerging modernism to dismiss their work. My examination of Pierce’s editorial policies and the poetry in the series will re-contextualize a now-canonical Canadian modernism in relation to concurrent literary trends and will assert the importance of the chap-book genre for both late-romantic and modernist poets struggling to determine the shape of Canada’s poetry in the early to mid-twentieth century.

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Consensual hallucinations: cyberspace, narrative, and poetics in Asian North American literature (2012)

This thesis examines the effects and applications of Web 2.0 in contemporary Asian diasporic literature. Since the early days of cyberpunk, cyberspace has long been considered an object of science fiction to be depicted through futuristic tropes. With the advent of Web 2.0, however, cyberspace has become integrated into our everyday lives and virtual subjectivity is now as much a part of daily experience as racial subjectivity. Previous scholarship on cyberspace in literature has focused largely on the past generation of cyberpunk, and although it acknowledges that imagined Asian subjects are intimately tied to understandings of cyberspace, it has not yet turned its attention to the growing number of texts that treat cyberspace as a quotidian reality. I argue that the recognition that cyberspace is no longer science fiction but is instead a realistic part of ordinary life allows several Asian North American writers to use cyberspace to comment on racialisation. This study is split into two main parts, which explore cyberspace's relationship with narrative and with poetics in non-canonical Asian North American literature. In the first part, a chapter on the Internet's effect on narrative, I analyse the short stories of Wena Poon's Lions in Winter and a graphic novel by Jen Wang, Koko Be Good. I read the ways in which cyberspace as a literary concept affects these authors' approaches to racial issues of class and representation. In the next chapter on poetics, I examine Rita Wong's forage and its use of what Fred Wah has defined as alienethnic poetics. I then attempt to read Sachiko Murakami's online experimental poetry site, Project Rebuild, through the non-traditional application of alienethnic poetics and propose a new methodology for reading the virtuality of the Internet. This thesis contributes to the existing body of critical work on cyber literature by suggesting new directions for the mobilization of cyberspace as a literary mode.

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Philip Roth as Moral Artist at Mid-Career (2010)

As a serious young man in the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, Philip Roth believed writing fiction was an exalted calling with a high moral purpose. He was a committed social realist with a Lionel-Trilling-like ethics of fiction and a grand, unrealized ambition to write about public life. Then, fifteen years into his career, he wrote Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), a rollicking extravaganza of scurrilous comic invention and exaggerated grievance. Revelling in wildness and transgression, he found a voice that galvanized his talent as nothing before had done. Yet he still seemed to feel bound by his old ethical commitments. This was not the artistic breakthrough he had been hoping for. My paper considers how Roth works at reconciling his deep-seated sense of moral responsibility as a writer with his inescapable talent for imaginative recklessness in three novels, each of which marks a turning point in the middle of his career, Portnoy, The Ghost Writer (1979), and The Counterlife (1986). I take this moral/aesthetic problem to be an important preoccupation of Roth’s and make that preoccupation the basis for readings of the novels. In doing so, I try to show that his ethics and aesthetics are much deeply entangled than is usually acknowledged. In Portnoy he does all he can to contain Alex Portnoy’s rampaging monologue inside a morally proper narrative frame. With The Ghost Writer, he eschews his old ethics of fiction and makes a complex declaration of aestheticism by appropriating Anne Frank’s life story and voice to his pointedly reckless fiction. The Israel chapters of The Counterlife are a watershed in his career. In them, he puts his aesthetic wildness to work for his moral probity, while opening his fiction up to the public scene. He presents a dialogical, non-normative moral fiction investigating the question of Israeli settlement on the West Bank by imaginatively projecting himself into a range of ethically engaged Israeli subject positions and having the characters he invents debate the controversy in variations on his characteristic voice. In the mid-eighties as in the early sixties, Roth’s objective as a moral writer is the "expansion of moral consciousness."

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