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Truth and reconciliation and narrative ethics, form, and politics

Faculty Advisor




political ethics, literature/writing, narrative ethics, reconciliation, Joseph Boyden -- political activity, Gord Downie -- political activity, narrative theory

Abstract (summary)

I am the Canadian daughter of British immigrants and a settler who now gratefully teaches and learns on land known as Treaty 6 territory, an area encompassing central parts of the present-day provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where a treaty between "Her Majesty the Queen" and "the Plain and Wood Cree Indians and other tribes of Indians" was signed in 1876 (Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba). (1) I have benefitted tangibly and intangibly in my life from colonial structures of power that privilege white, native English-speaking settlers and in my work from a colonial academia that privileges Western theories and methodologies for literary criticism and education in general. I begin with this self-positioning because this essay is about the narrative ethics, form, and politics in and of artistic works purporting to contribute to reconciliation for groups that face historical and present-day injustice. Acknowledging my situatedness is a critical first step in formally framing literary criticism about such artistic works in a way that reinforces--rather than undermines--that criticism's politics and ethics. As I address questions that are as pressing for theorizations of narrative ethics and politics generally as they are for specific cases hitting the media, including the peoples and communities affected by these cases, I participate in a conversation led by Indigenous scholars, writers, and activists. In this conversation, which focuses on the politics and ethics of representation, I draw on my expertise in narrative theory and narrative ethics to add a complementary engagement with the politics and ethics of form. In doing so, I address two hitherto unaddressed questions. First, what bearing do the ethics of an author's conduct in writing, publishing, and promoting a work as an act of reconciliation have on the ethics of the work itself, that is, the ethics of the dramatized and narrated events and relationships in the text's action, and the narration itself? Second, how does the interaction between what we might call text-external ethics and text-internal ethics affect the political work a text is ostensibly undertaking to support and contribute to reconciliation for groups facing ongoing inequities? (2) By bringing this conversation to an international context, I also model for scholars working with artistic responses to other Truth Commissions, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, or their equivalents, one version of what form-specific ethical political criticism might look like. (3)

Publication Information

Copland, S. (2021). Truth and Reconciliation and Narrative Ethics, Form, and Politics. Journal of Narrative Theory, 51(2), 229.



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