I received my B.A. (Hons.English) from McGill University, Montreal, and my M.A. and Ph.D. in Anglo-Irish Studies from University College, Dublin (National University of Ireland). Since completing my doctorate, I have been a member of the English Department at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, attaining the rank of Professor in 1989. I am a Faculty Associate in the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies and a member of the Law and Society Program at UBC. I am also associated with the Faculty of Education’s Centre for Cross-Faculty Inquiry (CCFI) and with the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program (ISGP), supervising students in both programs. From 1985-1990 I chaired the Program in Comparative Literature, organizing four conferences focused on theory, including Perspectives on Spoken Discourse, Culture and Imperalism, and Resistance To Theory, and bringing such distinguished scholars as Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said (click here for program), Gerald Graff, Mieke Bal, Jonathan Culler and Charles Fillmore to Vancouver for the first time.
My involvement with the International Summer Institute of Semiotic Studies (ISISSS) began during this period and I taught a course entitled “Semiotics of the Joyce System” at ISISSS 87, Victoria College, University of Toronto (June 1987). In 1988 I organized the first Canadian semiotics institute to be held outside Toronto. Among the theorists teaching at the month-long ISISSS 88 at UBC were Gayatri Spivak, James Clifford, Dennis Tedlock, and Thomas A. Sebeok. (Click here for ISISSS 88 course listings.)
At McGill, I studied with Donald F. Theall, a former student of Marshall McLuhan’s and an expert on James Joyce and Modernism. I began to study Finnegans Wake at that time and then went to Ireland, working first with Augustine Martin and, for my doctorate, with Denis Donoghue. Immersing myself in the study of theory and of Finnegans Wake, I focused on concepts of the oral/aural and the visual, and began to work with a multidisciplinary matrix of materials to understand Joyce. Still widely cited, Writing Joyce — A Semiotics of the Joyce System (Advances in Semiotics Series, Indiana University Press, 1989) was the product of this immersion process (together with a number of articles and conference papers on topics ranging from Marcel Jousse to Vico and McLuhan).
When I came to UBC, I became a Canadianist by default, studying the Settler traditions in English and French in an effort to get my bearings. I was among the small cohort of instructors of the first Canadian literature survey source to be offered in a Canadian university thanks to the efforts of my colleague, Donald G. Stephens. I began to work with hermeneutic and deconstructive modes of analysis in relation to Canadian authors and published a series of essays on Canadian poets and writers of speculative fiction (including Klein, Atwood, Brossard, Hebert and Marlatt), co-edited Margaret Atwood: Language Text and System (UBC Press, 1983) and contributed a monograph on Jay Macpherson to ECW’s Canadian Writers and Their Works series (1989).
Participating in both the Dialogue conference at York University (1981) and the Women and Words conference in Vancouver (1983), I have been involved in the development of feminist and Queer theoretical work in Canadian literature. My organizational work in the same area includes membership on the Ad Hoc Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues (UBC Faculty Association) which laid the foundation for a Minor in Gay and Lesbian Studies (1998), finally becoming operational as the Critical Studies in Sexuality program at UBC. I was also a member of the founding committee for the Positive Space initiative at UBC during this period. Subsequently, I served two terms as an elected Member at Large of our union, the UBC Faculty Association (2004-8), and have also been a member of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and currently serve on the GLBTQ Working Group (CAUT).
In 1989 I was an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law at UBC, offering two courses on deconstruction and critical theory as an introduction to Critical Legal Studies, the first such courses offered in the Law school. In 1994, I served for the first time as an expert witness, working with Joseph Arvay in Little Sister’s Bookshop & the BCCLA v. the Minister of National Revenue and the Department of Justice (BCSC, 1994) and subsequently in the Surrey School Board case (James Chamberlain et al. v. the Board of Trustees of School District #36 (BCSC 1998), R. v. Sharpe (BCSC 2002), and a number of other cases concerned with censorship, artistic merit, and expressive freedoms.”The Ethos of Censorship in English-Canadian Literature — An Ontopornosophical Approach” (1999) is the first in a series of my essays and lectures on censorship and expressive freedoms in Canada, a series which includes “‘Making Up Stories’: Law and Imagination in Contemporary Canada” (2003). More recent cases served as the focus for “What’s in a Face? Anime and the Criminal Code of Canada,” a lecture at the Belkin Gallery at UBC (2011) and another lecture at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon: “In Defence of Reading: From R. v. Sharpe to R. v. Leugner” (2010).
In 2001, I began to volunteer with UBC’s community outreach program, Humanities 101, teaching first at the Elizabeth Fry Society residence in New Westminster and later at the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver’s downtown east side and on campus. Volunteering with the Women’s Humanities Year program in 2001, I taught at the Portland Hotel Society. Through community-based teaching, I have been challenged to work differently in classrooms and to reconsider my literate preconceptions, a process which continues in terms of contextualizing pedagogy in relation to social justice. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of my students, I was awarded a UBC Killam Teaching Prize in 2006.
My experiences in the courtroom and in community-based learning have taught me to see technologies of reading and interpretation as complexly (and sometimes negatively) transformative as well as fundamental to certain kinds of social justice work of which literary production itself is often exemplary. Perhaps nowhere is this complexity more clearly the case than with Indigenous writing and cultural production. In 2000, I began to focus more specifically on Indigenous studies, offering comparative courses like “The Proper: From Derrida to Delgamuukw” (English 553, 2001) and “‘Terra nullius’ meets ‘All my relations’” (English 553, 2010) while developing a section of English 476 (First Nations Studies) and studying land title cases, particularly key cases from B.C. Thanks to Karrmen Crey and Amy Perreault, I was involved as a participant in the “What I Learned in Class Today” project initiated by the First Nations Studies Program and was interviewed in connection with the challenges of teaching and working as a white settler Canadian with Indigenous writing and Indigenous students at UBC. Some of my initial interests in the connections among language, land, and identity in decolonizing Ireland have returned in relation to new work on concepts of narrative in expressive freedoms and Indigenous land title cases in Canada. In a lecture in the Musqueam 101 series, I developed some comparisons between colonial strategies of extinguishment in the context of the Great Famine in Ireland and of the Indian Act in Canada. Since 2010 I have been studying the language of the Musqueam nation whose unceded traditional territory I have lived and worked in since I arrived at UBC.
Copyright ©2011 Lorraine Weir. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission prohibited.