C/O Charlotte Schwartz
Questions of literary expression and political tensions at the core of this alum’s debut novel
Chinmayi Yathiraju, contributor
Amidst an enduring global pandemic and rising political tensions, one needs only scroll through social media to become uncomfortably aware of our precarious and shifting political climate. There are several difficult issues that arise in the face of this transition, including the effects of individual actions on our political atmosphere and the turning of blind eyes to social issues. These are the kinds of issues alumnus Luke Beirne explores in his debut novel, Foxhunt.
Having grown up surrounded by books and a father who is a writer, literature has always been a constant in Beirne’s life. During his undergraduate studies, his passion for writing developed further when he took creative writing courses. Since then, Beirne has written in a freelance capacity and has been published in various magazines including the Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine. Foxhunt is his debut novel.
Set in 1950s London, Foxhunt follows Canadian writer, Milne Lowell, who leaves Montreal to work for a literary magazine supporting free expression. However, with rising political tensions and the progression of the Cold War, suspicions about the magazine’s affiliations begin to rise, leading to disconcerting encounters and calling everything Lowell knows into question.
The inspiration for Foxhunt came from Beirne’s undergraduate thesis project, when he first learned about the political affiliations of a major literary magazine and its role in perpetuating propaganda.
“I thought it was an interesting thing that one of the largest literary magazines in London at that time was being used for propaganda purposes. One of the things about that magazine was that people claim they didn't know . . . if they really didn't know that they were contributing to propaganda, how could their words be used for propaganda purposes?” said Beirne.
During his years completing his master’s degree in cultural studies and critical theory at McMaster University, Beirne’s research led him to a similar story of another magazine from the United States. Fuelled by his interest in literary culture and his fascination with the history of the Cold War and political propaganda, Beirne began writing Foxhunt in the fall of 2018. The novel took shape over the next three years, with much of his initial draft having been written at his home in New Brunswick.
In researching the historical context relevant to his novel, Beirne was able to delve into the relationship between the Cold War and the professionalization of creative writing. He was intrigued to learn the University of Iowa’s writers’ workshop, which has inspired and offered the framework for creative writing programs and workshops across the world, had links to the Cold War.
“I thought that it was very interesting, that the way that creative writing has been structured — and is still structured — has certain political implications,” said Beirne.
While his previous works have centered around genre fiction, Beirne considers Foxhunt to be a distinctly character driven novel. Grappling with complex social phenomena and the development and spread of propaganda, this is a novel he hopes will stay with readers long after turning the last page.
Beyond simply enjoying the story, Beirne hopes readers walk away with questions and can return to the story to find new insights and develop new interpretations.
“People go along in their daily lives and don't think about the political implications of their actions . . . [This novel] is an exploration of themes that are relevant today in terms of passivity and ideology, political participation and how people get sucked into things,” said Beirne.
Brimming with suspense, political drama and allusions to various literary works, Foxhunt is a rich and thought-provoking novel on the pursuit of creative expression as it is entangled with the surrounding political climate.
Foxhunt will be released on April 1, 2022.
This article has been edited as of Feb. 27, 2020
A previously published version of this article stated that Giroux phoned his daughter to ask about Casablancas. This has been corrected to state that he asked his son.
This article is part one of a two part series. Read part two here.
The latter half of the 2010 decade brought with it the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. Henry Giroux, a McMaster professor in the department of English and cultural studies, felt a sense of urgency; that the public needed to be educated in order to advance our democracy and combat the right side of politics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Giroux after he published his newest book, The Terror of the Unforeseen, which includes a forward by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes.
INTRODUCTION TO CASABLANCAS:
In 2016, Giroux received a phone call from an agent asking if he knew who Julian Casablancas was, to which he responded, “No, I don’t”. He then phoned his son to ask who the mysterious rock star was.
Casablancas brought a film crew to Giroux’s Hamilton home and interviewed the professor about his work. This was the start of the duo’s friendship. Giroux then asked Casablancas if he wanted to write a forward in The Terror of the Unforeseen to open up his narrative to a much-wider audience.
After the forward was written, Casablancas interviewed Giroux in front of a live audience at a McMaster Library event at The Westdale Theatre (1014 King St. W.) on Oct. 24, 2019. The event was entitled “The Looming Threat of Fascist Politics”.
Giroux was born in Providence, Rhode Island, living in a working-class neighbourhood. He obtained a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Maine and graduated from the university to become a high school teacher. He received a scholarship to complete his schooling at Carnegie-Mellon University, graduating with a PhD in 1977.
After becoming a professor at Boston University, Giroux began researching what education looks like at universities; what does it mean to get a university education?
In 1981, Giroux’s research inspired his second book, Theory and Resistance in Education: a Pedagogy for the Opposition. In Theory and Resistance, he defends that education has become a privatized endeavour that does not prioritizes the public’s best interests, including the interests of students. This privatization has become apparent through the promotion of maths and sciences, and the undermining of social and behavioural teachings. Giroux concludes that universities are no longer producing public intellectuals, people who think and reason critically, with the absence of humanities and social sciences.
When Giroux went up for tenure at Boston University, everyone but the president of the University wanted to give him the teaching position.
“[The president] was the east coast equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and a really ruthless guy.. he was denying tenure to everybody on the left [side of the political spectrum],” said Giroux.
Giroux moved to Miami University where he started the first cultural studies centre in the United States. He was then offered an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University. When the opportunity came to apply to McMaster University, Giroux leapt at the offer and was hired in 2004.
THE TERROR OF THE UNFORESEEN:
Casablancas joined Giroux’s project because he saw the value in Giroux’s ideology.
“The idea for the book came out of a certain sense of incredible urgency . . . motivated by the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-winged movements throughout the world,” said Giroux.
The author coined the term “neoliberal fascism”: a cross between racist ideology and a ruling financial elite class that disregards lower classes. This term is the basis of Giroux’s book, which describes how neoliberal fascism affects universities and media, along with how it has contributed to the creation of alt-right culture.
“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” said Giroux.
He believes that fascism never goes away, that it will always manifest itself in some context. Giroux used the U.S. as an example. The wealth and power held by the governing financial elite has created a state that does not care about the inequalities faced by most of its citizens.
Giroux links the above issues to the war on youth that much of his work has focused on, with the belief that youth are a long-term investment that are being written out of democracy.
Giroux sees elements of youth being written out of democracy on our own campus. He also recognized that neoliberal ideology could have been a contributing cause to the province’s financial cuts to universities.
“The [ideal] model for education is now patterned after a business culture and with that, it seems to me, comes with an enormous set of dangers and anxieties,” stated Giroux.
According to Giroux, universities used to operate as public good; however, this is no longer their priority. Instead, universities are constantly worried about their bottom line, due in part to neoliberalism. This is especially evident in the elimination of or lack of funding for programs and courses that bring in less money for universities. Giroux cites the example of liberal arts education, which he believes is vital for every student to obtain. He believes this field teaches students a general understanding of our interactions with the world and how to become a socially responsible citizen; however, Giroux believes that liberal arts are being neglected in favour of teaching science and math.
While he understands that universities run deficits, this need to meet the bottom line can open the door for them to become influenced to opt-in to privatization and corporate influence. Giroux believes the only type of influence major corporations should have on campus are in the forms of sponsorships to allow the university to carry out its business as students are neither clients nor products.
“We have an obligation as educators, not to prepare students for just the work, but to prepare them for the world and what it means.”
When asked about the Ford government’s stance on OSAP cuts, Giroux believes that the government has a limited notion of investment, likely stemming from neoliberalist ideals.
“You don’t invest in students, for them to return profits . . . you invest in students and do everything you can to make sure that they can distinguish between meaningful work and meaningless work; that they can have some vision of the future that’s rooted in democratic values, that has some sense of compassion for what it means to live in a world in which we’re completely interdependent.
The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux.
“I write because I believe that writing matters, I believe that elevating ideas into the public realm may help change the way people view the world,” said Giroux.
Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring our interview with Julian Casablancas.
By Olivia Fava, Contributor
Two of McMaster’s professors, Chandrima Chakraborty and James MacKillop, have recently been named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.
Founded in 2014 and based in Ottawa, the College of New Scholars aims to gather the “emerging generation of Canadian intellectual leadership” from a broad range of disciplines. Recipients of the College’s title must have demonstrated exceptional achievement in the early stages of their career. By pooling together award recipients, irrespective of their disciplines, their goal is to encourage a dialogue between intellectuals with diverse perspectives, and hopefully inspire new insights.
The College acknowledges five aspects of the current academic landscape that inform their mandate: the increasing use of new media in research communication; the emergence of interdisciplinary research; the majority of Canadian professors being recently hired; greater female representation in academia; and greater First Nations and visible minority representation in academia.
A clinical psychologist by training, MacKillop’s award-winning research focuses on addiction — the factors causing it, how it sustains itself and how it can be treated. He is currently the director of McMaster’s Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, and co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. He studies both cannabis addiction and the potential risks of prescribing cannabis medically. He is a member of the department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour. MacKillop was not available for comment.
Chakraborty, on the other hand, is part of the department of English & cultural studies. In the past, her work has focused on the relationship between religion, masculinity and nationalism in India, with an analysis of media and literature. Currently, she is focused on the 1985 Air India bombings and the post-9/11 targeting of South Asian populations.
Chakraborty was nominated by McMaster to become a member of the College. According to her, the nomination was formally initiated by the previous president, Patrick Deane. She considers the nomination not only personally significant to her, but also significant in its recognition of the value of research that engages the community.
“Much of my work straddles a number of different fields. History, memory studies, trauma studies, nationalism, masculinity … For me, this nomination is a recognition of that kind of work that crosses those kinds of disciplinary boundaries. I also think this recognition is important because my work is very much situated in the community,” she said.
Specifically, Chakraborty referenced her current work on the Air India bombings, through which she has interviewed families of victims and collecting photographs. She has been learning from the community and recognizing them, in her own words, as “carriers of knowledge”. She works as a mediator to bring a seldom-recognized tragedy into the realm of public consciousness.
Chakraborty’s efforts have resulted in the first-ever public archive on the Air India tragedy. She emphasizes that this project is not simply about researchers writing about the tragedy but also about families sharing their stories on their own terms. The archive also engages questions of race, Canadian citizenship and public mourning.
“Why is it that if 329 people were on that plane, and about 280 of them were Canadian citizens or permanent residents, why do Canadians of [student] age, for instance, not know about this tragedy? How do certain griefs become part of the public realm and part of the national consciousness whereas certain other kinds are seen as local? … Is it ignorance, is it apathy, is it racism, what is it?” she asked.
When asked what she would attribute her personal success in terms of this recognition, Chakraborty named her childhood experiences as a child of refugees as well as her experiences as an immigrant in Canada.
“I might be an English literature prof, but I don’t speak like white Canadians — accent and gender and race and all of those things. You learn to work harder than others … you always feel like ‘I really have to prove myself, because nothing is given to me,” said Chakraborty.
She also expressed gratitude to her teachers and family, her colleagues at McMaster for their support and the students who have expressed interest in her work.
The College of New Scholars summarizes its membership criteria as “excellence.” Congratulations to these two researchers for demonstrating the excellence of the McMaster community in a range of disciplines on the federal level.