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Loss: A Symposium
Call for Papers
9-10 May 2019
McGill University, Montreal
The university is situated on land that has long served as a site of meeting and exchange among Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations.
standing up straight against this rock, i catch your fugitive eyes.
before i turn & lay my head down, i’m thinking of Her escaping
through these spruce, walking across these rocks, walking over this
moss. i’m thinking of Her escaping past stolen, walking across lost,
walking over shame, holding fire in Her heart, like all her descend-
Ants so effortlessly do, under your always light.
- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, under your always light
The sense of loss, though often unspoken, is at the core of the human experience. One might argue that this has been particularly true in the case of Indigenous peoples around the world who have suffered the loss of land, culture and community in the face of settler colonialism and genocidal policies. One might also posit that the sense of loss has been similarly pronounced for descendants of African slaves in Canada and the United States, and migrants, refugees and citizens who have been dispossessed of land and property, have been forcibly relocated or who have chosen to flee dangerous, vulnerable situations.
Loss implies an absence of something, material or otherwise. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s poetry suggests, loss is also intimately bound up with place, with the condition of being lost, and with the feeling of being dispossessed or displaced. Historian Steven High describes this condition as a kind of bodily knowledge where the experience of loss is felt physically, beyond memory. At the same time, cultural studies scholars David Eng and David Kazanjian argue for the productive capacity of loss, suggesting that “instead of imputing to loss a purely negative quality” there exists the possibility of imputing to loss a creative quality by asking the question “What remains?”. Their question also hints at a boundary, where by asking about what is lost, we can also ask about what endures, survives and emerges.
Loss: A Symposium takes up the issue of loss by bringing together scholars working in Indigenous Studies, Critical Refugee Studies, Citizenship Studies and related fields to consider this subject through the dual framework of loss and remaining. In doing so, the symposium asks the fundamental question of “What is loss?” and the related questions of “What causes loss?”, “What remains?” and, “What is beyond loss?”. These four questions point to the temporal nature of loss, and some of the ways that scholars are working through the meaning, significance and implications of loss. The symposium is intended to underscore the limits or risks of focusing on loss and telling loss narratives while also thinking about how the subject of loss interacts with hope and resurgence.
In bringing together scholars and graduate students working in distinct yet inter-connected fields, the symposium seeks to bridge epistemological and disciplinary boundaries to create a space for the sharing and transmission of knowledge that has the potential to fundamentally transform the way loss is understood, the questions we ask of this experience and the parallel work currently taking place on these issues. Connecting the experience of Indigenous peoples and refugees, for instance, complicates the practice of refuge among settler colonial societies such as Canada and the United States. In these countries, the recuperative role that territory has played for refugees seeking safety cannot be divorced from the original and ongoing displacement and dispossession of Indigenous peoples and histories of slavery and exploitation. The poet Masa Torbica, a refugee from the former Yugoslavia, writes in “Revision”:
No longer absolved by hunger, tarmac and tile,
I open old history books to the long lists of harms
brought here by greed, ocean and sand
and search for some record
of my first step:
small, stateless feet touching down on stolen land
As contemporary societies move towards an era of reconciliation in terms of settler – Indigenous relations and an era of reckoning in terms of African American and African Canadian experiences, acknowledging and negotiating loss and its ongoing manifestations – what some might call an archives of loss – are central to the very possibilities posited in the language of reconciliation, redress and reparations. Loss: A Symposium is a timely reflection on loss as a concept and experience, how we think about responsibility and accountability and the relationship between the personal and the structural.
Scholars, including graduate students, interested in presenting work in response to the one of symposium’s four question (What is loss? What causes loss? What remains? What is beyond loss?) are asked to submit a 150-word abstract (with title), and 100-word bio to Dr. Laura Madokoro (email@example.com) by 31 August 2018. Please indicate clearly which question your paper seeks to address.
Requests for additional information may also be sent to the email address listed above.
 Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2017), 3.
 David Eng and David Kazanjian, Loss: The Politics of Mourning (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), ix, 2.
 Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada ([Ottawa]: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015), 200, 205.
Laura Madokoro, Assistant Professor
Department of History and Classical Studies, McGill University