Deena Rymhs

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
This page intentionally left blank : silence and sexual violence in contemporary Canadian literature and drama (2016)

Spanning a variety of genres, including autobiography, fiction, and drama, “This Page Intentionally Left Blank: Silence and Sexual Violence in Canadian Literature and Drama” investigates the use of silence as an aesthetic and political strategy of resistance in depictions of sexualized and gendered violence. I argue that by using silence, selected authors and playwrights challenge expectations of how violence is to be articulated, particularly because speech about violence frequently risks being fetishized, appropriated, or even risks enacting representative violence itself. The introduction establishes a methodological framework for my analysis, tracing a history of silence and its relationship to sexual assault narratives. In Chapter 1, I discuss histories of censorship in order to set up a historical and political context for silence as a tool of oppression. In doing so, I also situate censorship and silencing as a nuanced phenomenon, discussing in particular the ways in which reluctant speech may be imagined as a politics of care for the reader. Chapter 2 investigates the genre of life writing in relation to the narrative expectations of legal testimony. I demonstrate how judicial expectations of speech affect autobiographical works, and how Maggie de Vries’ memoir of her sister’s life (and death) consciously operates outside of these discursive boundaries. In Chapter 3, I move towards a discussion of drama, with a particular focus on how playwrights Marie Clements and Colleen Wagner navigate embodied representations of sexual assault and their legacies within theatrical history. My final chapter examines works of fiction by Emma Donoghue and Anne Stone, articulating their relationship to and contravention of generic expectations of popular fiction. This chapter explores the fraught relationship between sexual assault and discourses of fiction and fact. This dissertation offers several important contributions to the fields of both trauma theory and Canadian literature: it dismantles the binary between speech and silence in order to form a more nuanced understanding of experience and representation; it theorizes how recuperative silences function across a number of genres; finally, it offers a unifying study of sexualized violence across the diverse field of Canadian literature.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
The politics of immobility in Leonard Peltier’s Prison Writings and Tomson Highway’s Rose (2017)

My thesis examines themes of immobility in Anishinabe-Lakota activist Leonard Peltier’s Prison Writings and Woods Cree author-playwright Tomson Highway’s musical-drama Rose. I perform a cross-cultural, as well as cross-disciplinary, analysis of how these two texts critique the racial, spatial, and sexual politics that inhere in mobility and, in the case of automobiles, its frequent dependencies on petro-resource extraction. Rarely addressed as a project of ecological intervention, the numerous accounts of broken-down automobiles throughout Prison Writings present an indictment of both the immobilizing socio-economic dispossession of Indigenouscommunities and petro-dependency’s particularly destructive impact on their traditional lands. By depicting the traumatic effects of intra-tribal gender violence on the women of Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve, Rose both highlights and critiques the various regimes of mobility continuing to inhere within both the Canadian reserve system as a settler-colonial project and Canada’s broader adherence to international neoliberal policies, such as the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Instead of appealing to dominant neoliberal narratives of unfettered mobility’s emancipatory potential, I argue Prison Writings and Rose collectively address scenes of apparent immobility and restraint that undermine such fetishizations of the mobile.

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Poor feelings : class, desire, and affect in the writing of Michelle Tea (2012)

This project seeks to centre class as a framework for analysis of queer and feminist literary texts. It examines select works of contemporary author Michelle Tea in relation to working-class literary criticism, feminist life-writing criticism, affect theory, and queer theory. Insisting on queerness as a set of behaviors and orientations to objects of desire, I ask how a lack of class privilege may influence the desires, affects, and politics of the literary subject. I examine how a poor or a working-class identity emerges in connection to other forms of power and privilege in the writing of memoir. I question the connection of the affect shame to identity through a tracking of the moments of identification and disidentifcation that circulate around desire. I insist that the author sustains an ambivalent and ultimately productive relation to shame in her writing. This project seeks to challenge notions of upward mobility, class transcendence, and the fantasy of “the good life” that are ascribed to poor and working-class subjects by developing a queer and feminist politics that thrives on and makes a home in the present. Drawing on anti-utopian feminist theory, queer negativity, and the prose of Michelle Tea, this politics of possibility asserts that through action and inaction, being and unbecoming, movement and stasis, a radical subjectivity can emerge from and live on in the current moment despite, through, and against oppressive conditions.

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