Johanna E Skibsrud
- Assistant Professor, English
Johanna Skibsrud is an Assistant Professor with a special interest in poetry and poetics, theater and performance, and philosophy. She completed her PhD from the University of Montreal in 2012 with a dissertation on the poetry of Wallace Stevens and was awarded a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship from 2012-2014 in order to complete a book project titled, The Poetic Imperative (McGill Queens UP 2020).Her scholarly articles and reviews have appeared in Excursions, Dandelion, Mosaic, The Brock Review, antiTHESIS, The Luminary, The Volta, and Reviews in Cultural Theory. She is also the author of three novels, Island (Hamish Hamilton 2019) Quartet for the End of Time (Norton 2014) and the Scotiabank Giller Prize winning, The Sentimentalists (Norton 2011), two collections of short fiction, Tiger, Tiger (Hamish Hamilton 2018), This Will Be Difficult to Explain, and Other Stories (Norton 2012), three collections of poetry, I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being (Gaspereau 2010), Late Nights For Wild Cowboys (Gaspereau 2008), and The Description of the World (Wolsak and Wynn 2016), and a collection of critical essays, "The nothing that is": Essays on Art, Literature, and Being (Book*hug 2019).
- Ph.D. English Literature
- Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- "The nothing that is": An Ethics of Absence Within the Poetry of Wallace Stevens
- M.A. English Literature and Creative Writing
- Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- "The Sentimentalists"
- B.A. English Literature
- University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2014 - Ongoing)
- English Graduate Student Society, Université de Montréal (2009 - 2010)
- Université de Montréal (2009)
- Université de Montréal (2008 - 2011)
- Université de Montréal (2008 - 2009)
- Canadian Scholars Press (2007 - 2008)
- Service Canada program for Aboriginal youth-at-risk (2007)
- Chungbuk Foreign Language Institute (2005 - 2006)
- Concordia University (2004)
- Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (2002 - 2005)
- Alistair Macleod Prize for Short Fiction
- Atlantic Book Awards, Spring 2019 (Award Finalist)
- Fulbright Research Grant
- Franco-American Fulbright Association, Fall 2018
- Fred Cogswell Award for Poetry
- Royal City Literary Arts Society, Fall 2017
- Canadian Author's Association Award for Poetry
- Canadian Author's Association, Summer 2017
- Pat Lowther Memorial Award
- The League of Canadian Poets, Spring 2017 (Award Finalist)
- Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award
- Cork International Short Story Festival, Fall 2012 (Award Nominee)
- SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Fall 2012 (Award Finalist)
- Danuta Gleed Award
- The Writers Union of Canada, Spring 2012 (Award Finalist)
- Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Spring 2012
- Scotiabank Giller Prize
- Giller Prize Committee, Fall 2010
- Doctoral Fellowship
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Summer 2010
- Gerald Lampert Memorial Award
- League of Canadian Poets, Spring 2009 (Award Finalist)
modern and contemporary poetry; American poetry; modern and contemporary fiction; philosophy and literature; theatre and performance; critical theory
modern and contemporary poetry; American poetry; modern and contemporary fiction; philosophy and literature; theatre and performance; critical theory
Crossing the BorderENGL 228 (Fall 2020)
Honors ThesisENGL 498H (Fall 2020)
ThesisENGL 910 (Fall 2020)
Writing Project FictionENGL 604 (Fall 2020)
Honors ThesisENGL 498H (Spring 2020)
Inter Fiction WritingENGL 304 (Spring 2020)
Literary AnalysisENGL 380 (Spring 2020)
Independent StudyENGL 599 (Spring 2019)
Studies in GenresENGL 310 (Spring 2019)
Comparative LiteratureENGL 596G (Fall 2017)
Junior ProseminarENGL 396A (Fall 2017)
Auth,Period,Genres+ThemeENGL 496A (Spring 2017)
Independent StudyENGL 599 (Spring 2017)
Intro To LiteratureENGL 280 (Spring 2017)
Independent StudyENGL 499 (Fall 2016)
Independent StudyENGL 599 (Fall 2016)
Intro To LiteratureENGL 280 (Fall 2016)
Theories of CriticismENGL 596L (Fall 2016)
Studies in GenresENGL 310 (Spring 2016)
Theories of CriticismENGL 596L (Spring 2016)
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2019). "The nothing that is": Essays on Art, Literature, and Being. Toronto, ON: Book*hug Press, Essais series.More infoRather than making “something” out of “nothing,” what follows is an endeavour to express the potential of language and thought to encounter what is infinitely beyond both yet to be imagined.In The Nothing That Is, Johanna Skibsrud gathers essays about the very concept of “nothing.” Addressing a broad range of topics—including false atrocity tales, so-called fake news, high-wire acts, and telepathy, as well as responses to works by John Ashbery, Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, and more—these essays seek to decentre our relationship to both the “givenness” of history and to a predictive or probable model of the future.The Nothing That Is explores ways in which poetic language can activate the possibilities replete within our every moment. Skibsrud reveals that within every encounter between a speaking “I” and what exceeds subjectivity, there is a listening “Other,” be it community or the objective world.Praise for The Nothing that Is:“Skibsrud adds brilliantly to what we can know of poetry. By entering into the words of Woolf, Oppen, Stephens, Rukeyser, Carson and others, and thinking in our presence, she gives us the experience of touch and beauty and the poem. A friend to Burke’s sublime and to Pato’s at the limit, this book urges us to receive poetry’s “nothing,” for here an abundance lives. Put The Nothing That Is into the hands of whoever is puzzled by or afraid of poetry, into the hands of whoever teaches it!” —Erín Moure“Why do I find Skibsrud’s consideration of Nothing essentially hopeful? Because her approach to the possibilities of thinking Nothing arise out of, and include, the despair of Celan’s babble – which is to say the incomprehensible, a place where all known structures, including language, have fallen away. Skibsrud invites us to participate in the very human process of re-seeing and remaking the world; she challenges us to venture with her into the unknown, where experience and language empty themselves, then create themselves anew.” —Sam Ace, author of Our Weather Our Sea“At some point in my relationship with The Nothing That Is I began to forget that I was reading a collection of essays on art, language, and being, and began, instead, to believe that I was reading a guidebook on how to approach and appreciate outer space. Because, in her recuperative and intimate readings of the often despairing, always life-affirming schisms between what is expressed and what remains inexpressible, Johanna Skibsrud has written a manifesto of liminal, reverberative space, as essential to our understanding of poetry and art, as to that of black holes and the Milky Way.” —Brandon Shimoda, author of The Grave on the WallPraise for Johanna Skibsrud:“It is exhilarating to join a writer working at these bracing heights.”—Washington PostPress Coverage:Fall 2019 Announcements: Essays & Literary Criticism —Publishers WeeklyFall Books Preview 2019: Poetry, Literature, and Cultural Studies —Quill and QuireMost Anticipated: 2019 Fall Nonfiction Preview —49th ShelfWhat We’re Reading: Editors’ Picks Part One, Fall 2019 —Hamilton Review of BooksFall Books Preview: 52 Reads to Watch For This Season —Becky Toyne, The Globe and MailWhat’s On Our Pop Culture Radar This October —Elle CanadaCan Language Be Understood as a Spiritual Medium?: Read an Excerpt from The Nothing That Is —Lit Hub“Skibsrud’s work considers ideas as large as time and death, and lingers gracefully on how literature knits with human life. Plenty of writers swimming among such big concepts have been lost at sea, but Skibsrud sails through with confidence.” —Katharine Coldiron, BOMB Magazine“The Nothing That Is succeeds, primarily, as an argument for the potential of art and literature — and an invitation for readers to realize that potential for themselves.” —John Nyman, Broken PencilNew England Literary News —Nina MacLaughlin, Boston Globe“The Nothing That Is signals Skibsrud’s versatility as a poet and writer who is able to winnow and subvert theoretical concepts for ambitious reinvention.” —Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Quill and QuireMorning Bites: Translating “From the Shadows,” Lynda Barry, Rion Amilcar Scott Fiction, Johanna Skibsrud, and More —Vol.1 Brooklyn“There’s nothing like The Nothing That Is. In these Essays on Art, Literature and Being, Johanna Skibsrud set herself a daunting task: To search for what hasn’t yet been imagined. And in doing so, she found nothing less than imaginative new ways of being.” —Lanie Tankard, Woven Tale PressVisual Histories: Metzger, Paterson, and the Cartography of Lyric Time: An Excerpt from The Nothing That Is —Full Stop
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2019). Island. Toronto, ON: Hamish Hamilton Canada (imprint of Penguin RandomHouse Canada).More infoFrom the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of The Sentimentalists comes the story of a revolution on an imaginary island. "Reading Island is a searing, vertiginous experience. Hailing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to interrogate our current moment in history, Skibsrud has created an uncanny and uncomfortable representation of power deeply corrupted. The text feels both historic and futuristic; it is discomfiting and necessary. Don’t look away." - Erin Wunker, Notes From a Feminist KilljoyOn an imaginary island, one whose socio-economic divide runs deep, an insurrection is brewing. Over the course of a day, the lives of two women--one a rebel, one a diplomat--will be forever changed. Lota is a restless islander who works at a fish factory but is looking for a larger life. When she meets charismatic leader Kurtz, her life comes into sharp focus. Together, Kurtz's group of misfits plot to overthrow the island's occupying power. They plan to charge the embassy. They plan to capture Ø Com's outer station--the gateway to the entire empire's wireless operations. History does not--Kurtz urges her soldiers--have to repeat itself. As the past and future converge on this one day, a new world order is within reach. They cannot fail. Rachel is an anxious diplomat who is counting down the final hours of her service on the island. Her family has fled to the capital after escalating racial tensions have put her daughter's safety in jeopardy. She is eager to follow despite the fissures that are starting to show in her marriage. But when she arrives at the embassy and hears gunshots ringing through the corridors, she knows this is no ordinary day. As the hours lengthen and Rachel is held captive, she begins to wonder if she'll ever see her loved ones again and what her complicity has meant as the sinister operations of her government start to surface. Part fantasy, part parable, Island deftly explores essential questions of history and responsibility. It asks us to consider our legacies of cultural imperialism and the hidden costs of our wireless world. Urgent, illuminating, and thought-provoking, it asks us how we can imagine a future that does not run along the exact same lines as the past.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2018). Tiger, Tiger. Toronto: Penguin Canada.More info"A collection of intrepid and incisive stories from the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of The SentimentalistsTiger, Tiger takes readers from the Paradise Valley Senior Centre parking lot all the way to Mars and examines the contradictions of life along the way. An astounding array of characters come up against the challenges of existence--both mundane and extraordinary--and their experiences never fail to surprise and delight. A scientist finds the truth about love in a lab where he is learning to grow extinct tigers. A fake wedding at a nursing home brings a divorcée to the brink of despair while her grandmother marvels at the beauty around her. A small-town taxidermist realizes his fiancée is never returning--that he has lost her to an inscrutable ball of light. A soldier survives the bloody Battle of the Argonne Forest but loses the faith of his child. An uncanny teenager holds two hundred thousand years of the world's history in her mind but feels desperately alone. Profound and paradoxical, these fourteen stories bring us closer to the truth, even if we discover that it is ultimately unknowable. Masterfully crafted and astonishingly wise, Tiger, Tiger explores the limits of understanding, the future of humanity, and establishes Skibsrud as a rare and exceptional talent."
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016). The Description of the World. Hamilton, ON: Wolsak and Wynn.More infoThe Description of the World was the original title for Marco Polo’s writings about his travels, but in describing the world, Polo also helped to create it. In this collection, Skibsrud asks: is our world really what it appears to be? How do we shape it through language? And if language can create our world, can it also transform or destroy it? A sense of vastness permeates the poems. Vistas and open fields are created rather than described. In these spaces, Skibsrud confronts us with the question of our own annihilation: atomic warfare, nuclear fallout and apocalyptic imagery inspired by French artist Jean Tinguely’s Study for an End of the World. In turn, Skibsrud also addresses the subject of birth and renewal. In a final sequence of poems inspired by the birth of her daughter, we arrive at an understanding of ourselves in relation not only to the world we are born to, but to our role in a world we are still, and always, in the process of creating.
- Skibsrud, J. E., & Blacker, S. E. (2015). Sometimes We Think You are a Monkey. Toronto, ON: Puffin books (Penguin-Random House Canada).More info"It is, perhaps, the contemporary Canadian version of Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle's iconic Brown Bear, Brown Bear" -- National Post (Toronto, ON), 7 March 2015
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014). Quartet for the End of Time. W.W.Norton.More infoGiller Prize–winning author Johanna Skibsrud spins a masterful tale about memory and war.Inspired by and structured around the chamber piece of the same title by the French composer Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time is a mesmerizing story of four lives irrevocably linked in a single act of betrayal. The novel takes us on an unforgettable journey beginning during the 1930s Bonus Army riots, when World War I veteran Arthur Sinclair is falsely accused of conspiracy and then disappears. His absence will haunt his son, Douglas, as well as Alden and Sutton Kelly, the children of a powerful U.S. congressman, as they experience—each in different ways—the dynamic political social changes that took place leading up to and during World War II.From the New Deal projects through which Douglas, newly fatherless, makes his living to Sutton’s work as a journalist, to Alden’s life as a code breaker and a spy, each character is haunted by the past and is searching for love, hope, and redemption in a world torn apart by chaos and war. Through the lives of these characters, as well as those of their lovers, friends, and enemies, the novel transports us from the Siberian Expedition of World War I to the underground world of a Soviet spy in the 1920s and 1930s, to the occultist circle of P. D. Ouspensky and London during the Blitz, to the German prison camp where Messiaen originally composed and performed his famous Quartet for the End of Time.At every turn, this rich and ambitious novel tells some of the less well-known stories of twentieth-century history with epic scope and astonishing power, revealing at every turn the ways in which history and memory tend to follow us, and in which absence has a palpable presence.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2012). This Will Be Difficult to Explain, and Other Stories. W.W.Norton.More infoIn the Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author Johanna Skibsrud’s new book, nine loosely connected and hypnotic stories introduce an unforgettable cast of characters. A young maid at a hotel in France encounters a man who asks to paint her portrait, only later discovering that the man is someone other than who she thinks. A divorced father, fearing estrangement from his thirteen-year-old daughter, allows her to take the wheel of his car, realizing too late that he’s made a grave mistake. A Canadian girl and her French host stumble on the one story that transcends their language barrier. Youth confronted with the mutterings of old age, restlessness bounded by the muddy confines of a backyard garden, callow hope coming up against the exigencies of everyday life—these are life-defining moments that weave throughout the everyday lives of the remarkable characters in this book. Time and again they find themselves confronted with what they didn’t know they didn’t know, at the exact point of intersection between impossibility and desire. In This Will Be Difficult to Explain Skibsrud has created a series of masterful, perceptive tales.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2011). The Sentimentalists. W.W. Norton.More info"A hypnotic meditation on memory . . . reaffirms the potential for storytelling to offer clarity and redemption." —New York Times Book ReviewIn this riveting debut, a daughter attempts to discover the truth about the life of her father, a dying Vietnam veteran haunted by his wartime experiences. Powerful and assured, The Sentimentalists is a story of what lies beneath the surface of everyday life.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010). I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being. Gaspereau Press.More infoPoets have always wrestled with the mutability of things (particularly or life and love) and with the problem of conveying the true shape of human emotion and experience through the often inadequate tool of language. The poems in Johanna Skibsrud’s new collection, I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being, employ the tentative and uncertain characteristics of language to their advantage, pulling the reader headlong into the fray as the poet endeavours to give shape to her experience.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2008). Late Nights With Wild Cowboys. Gaspereau Press.More infoJohanna Skibsrud’s debut poetry collection makes inquiries into that peculiar phenomenon of being alive in the world, opening wide moments of uncertainty in the search for a sense of inner resolve that resembles the outer calm of trees and neighbours. At each step testing the waters of her own words, Skibsrud turns her reality over in search of constants.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2019). Introduction. In There are Victories, a novel by Charles Harrison (originally published 1933)(p. 204). Toronto, ON: Invisible Publishing.More infoFeaturing a new introduction by Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Johanna Skibsrud.There Are Victories is a proto-feminist anti-Bildungsroman that explores the intersections of misogyny, class, religion, and prejudice within upper class Anglo-Montreal and New York City society during WWI. Originally published in 1933, There Are Victories takes up the catastrophe of the home front and the ways in which the life—and happiness—of the novel’s protagonist, Ruth Courtney, is continually undermined by the bad behaviour of men.Our Throwback books also give back: a percentage of each book’s sales will be donated to a designated Canadian cultural organization.Charles Yale Harrison (1898–1954) was born in Philadelphia and raised in a Jewish family in Montreal. Harrison moved from Montreal to New York in the 1920s, where he worked on the staff of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA)-led magazine New Masses. Drawing on his own service in the First World War, he published Generals Die in Bed (1930), a scathingly anti-war novel about the horrors of trench warfare. The novel was well-received and was followed by the novels A Child is Born (1931), There Are Victories (1933), Meet Me on the Barricades (1938), and Nobody’s Fool (1948).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2017). “‘One Kind of Knowledge’: Poetry and Immanence”. In Immanent Expressions: Literature and the Encounter with Immanence. Rodopi Press.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015). “To undo the creature”: Writing and Paradox in Anne Carson’s Decreation.. In Anne Carson: Ecstatic Lyre(pp 132-137). University of Michigan.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2017). "The Rememberer". Granta, 141, 10 (pp 44-54).More infoGRANTA 141: CANADAFrom Canada’s global cities to its Arctic Circle – from the country’s ongoing story of civil rights movements to languages under pressure – the writers in this issue upend the ways we imagine land, reconciliation, truth and belonging, revealing the histories of a nation’s future.Guest-edited by Catherine Leroux and Madeleine Thien.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2017). "The Rememberer". MacLeans Magazine.More infoStory featured in MacLeans Magazine's coverage of Granta 141: Canada issue"Granta, the British magazine of new writing, has devoted its Autumn issue to Canadian writing. The Canadian guest editors, novelists Madeleine Thien and Catherine Leroux, chose 28 pieces of fiction and nonfiction, including this short story from Johanna Skibsrud, winner of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize."
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2017). "The Sybil Speaks," “The Description of the World,” “Flying Home Aboard Enola Gay”. The Matrix, 2.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2017). “Reading Atrocity Tales in the Fake News Era.”. Brick Magazine, 99, 7. doi:July 2017More infoAn essay that looks back on the my first novel, The Sentimentalists, the relationship between fact and fiction, and the responsibilities of the artist in an era of "fake news."
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016). "Hunters in the Snow" (poem). Mother Mother (Piece commissioned as part of art installation project, Repeat Pressure Until at Ortega y Gasset Projects, Brooklyn, NY. May 21, 2016.), 1(1), 1.More infoThe 48-page paperback centers on this topic: Do Mother and Artist preclude each other? Included are artworks in varying mediums, ranging from a collage of pregnant women in labor, to pages out of a midcentury children’s storybook, to an installation of broken glassware.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016). “Incident Aboard the Lucky Dragon: March 1, 1954.” (poem). This Magazine, 1.More infoThis Magazine is one of Canada’s oldest alternative journals. Fiercely independent and proudly subversive, the modern-day This acts as a critical, gutsy voice in today’s media landscape, dedicated to exposing under-the-radar stories and to publishing smart, progressive commentary and reporting on Canadian politics, pop culture, social issues, and the arts.
- Skibsrud, J. E., & Melillo, J. J. (2016). "Two Sides for Wallace Stevens". Harvard University's Woodberry poetry room blog, 5.More infoAs described by Drs. Marit J. MacArthur and Lee M. Miller in the article "Vocal Deformance and Performative Speech, or In Different Voices!" published on the Sound Studies Blog "Sounding Out!"(https://soundstudiesblog.com/2016/10/24/in-different-voices-vocal-deformance-and-performative-speech/): "in John Melillo and Johanna Skibsrud’s “Two Sides for Wallace Stevens,” on Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room site, also offers a beguiling example of audio deformance."
- Melillo, J. J., Melillo, J. J., Skibsrud, J. E., & Skibsrud, J. E. (2015). Lake Jean: A Short Tour of the End of the World. Lightning Journal.More infoCreative photo essay on the living history of Lake Jean, Nevada -- site of Belgian sculptor, Jean Tinguely's, "Study for the End of the World"
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015). "A". Brick, 95, 2.More infoA meditation on childhood books, the limits of knowledge, and the letter as such.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015). "Reflections on One Hundred Years of War". Cosmonauts Avenue, Special issue, 3.More infoExcerpt: This year, we mark the centennial of the beginning of what is commonly considered the first modern war: “The War to End all Wars.” A war that we have, perhaps, never stopped fighting. With the signing of the armistice on the eleventh of November, 1918, the world was reimagined on entirely different lines, politically, culturally, and historically. Boundaries were redrawn, new countries and identities established. We are still feeling the reverberations. In recognition of the revolution in warfare technology that set the first world war apart from any that had come before, international organizations sought to develop and enforce universal standards of what it meant to be human, and what it meant to wage war. One of the earliest uses of the phrase “crimes against humanity,” for example, was in an Allied statement made on May 24, 1915 in response to the Armenian genocide.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014). “A history of the present”: Knowledge as Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.. Dandelion Postgraduate Arts Journal and Research Network, 5(1).More infoFoucault, in Discipline and Punish, attempts what he calls a ‘history of the present’ (31): a history that would speak not just to, but of, his own time. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian similarly offers the reader not only an account of past-events but also an interpretative account of the ‘power configurations persisting in the present’ (Hoy 138) that perpetuate the commodification and destruction of the environment. The unforgiving landscape of the Southwest described throughout the novel proves analogous to the insensibility of the power structures that are also depicted, but these parallels do not serve to justify the cruelty and injustice demonstrated by the characters in the novel. Instead, the constant underscoring in Blood Meridian of a greater and ungovernable power – that of nature – points to the short-sightedness of assumed proprietorship of the land, and indicates that such an assumption must necessarily pass out of favour, just as the assumed proprietorship over human life has done. ‘In wildness is the salvation of the world,’ wrote the American ecologist Aldo Leopold, in 1948. ‘Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men’ (141). Blood Meridian, I argue, perceives and enacts this hidden meaning. It ‘thinks like a mountain’ (Leopald 140), creating a Foucauldian ‘history of the present’ in which we may examine the spectacle of both the tortured and the torturer, reflect on our notions of property and power, and explore the manner in which our understanding of these notions have influenced, and continue to influence, the world in which we live. ‘It makes no difference what men think of war,’ says the judge in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, ‘War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone’ (248). It is by thinking of stone, however, that we may come, in Blood Meridian, to know something of War, and of ourselves, and so come closest to an understanding of the wildness both without and within. It is becoming increasingly clear that such an understanding will be necessary if there is indeed to be a ‘salvation of the world’ (Leopald 140).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014). “Framed.” A review of Catherine Zuromskis’ Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images.”. Reviews in Cultural Theory, 5(2).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014). “If I Were Human”: Reflections on One Hundred Years of War. Cosmonauts Avenue, Special holiday issue.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014). “‘Everywhere Felt and Nowhere Seen’: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and the ‘Sovereign Paradox’”. Excursions, 5(1).More infoThis paper argues that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart reflects what Giorgio Agamben refers to as the “sovereign paradox” on two levels: first—as reflected by the subject of the novel—on the juridico-political level, and second, on the level of the language and structure of the novel itself. The relationship between these two levels is made clear by Agamben, who uses language as the prime example of the “sovereign paradox” implicit to the juridical order. “Language,” he writes, “is the sovereign who, in a permanent state of exception, declares that there is nothing outside language and that language is always beyond itself” (21). Obeirika’s words in Things Fall Apart: “There is no story that is not true” (Achebe 14), illustrates this “sovereign paradox” by pointing on the one hand to the omniscient authority of the narrative text, while on the other directly undermining that authority. I argue that it is by doing away with the binary system of what can and should be considered true and untrue that the reflexive narrative – of which Achebe’s novel is a prime example – positions itself in a “permanent state of exception” (Agamben 21). Things Fall Apart establishes for itself “a zone of indistinction” (Agamben 47) characterized by the very impossibility of arriving at the “truth” as such, or “of distinguishing between outside and inside, nature and exception” (37). A “zone of indistinction” is constructed on a textual as well as a political-historical level by the novel’s transgression of its own narrative borders.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014). “‘Un Coup de dés’: The Secret History of Poetry—and its Imaginary Future.”. The Luminary, 4, 141-154.More infoThe crisis of modern philosophy identified by the thinkers Alain Badiou and Quentin Meillassoux – where a supposed end of absolutes has in fact delivered us to a new form of absolutism – parallels a similar crisis in contemporary poetry. ‘The end of metaphysics,’ writes Meillassoux in After Finitude, ‘understood as the “de- absolutization of thought,”... consist(s) in the rational legitimation of any and every variety of religious (or poetico-religious) belief in the absolute, so long as the latter invokes no authority beside itself’ (45). According to Badiou and Meillassoux, contemporary philosophy finds itself, today, trapped helplessly within a ‘correlational’ loop, wherein all meaning is rendered subjective and relative, and the idea of truth is eliminated entirely. Contemporary poetry parallels this philosophical crisis. An increasingly entrenched distance divides poetry as an expression of absolute subjectivity and poetry as a ‘truth procedure’ (Badiou). Following Badiou and Meillousaux, I will argue that poetry remains a valuable truth procedure not via its commitment to absolute subjectivity but rather via its commitment to the multiple, linear, contingent, and incoherent events that constitute it.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2013). A “Most Human” Call: Responding to Muriel Rukeyser at 100 years. The Volta.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2012). Wallace Stevens and the Ecstatic Mind.”. Mosaic, a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature., 45(1).More infoThis essay explores Wallace Stevens’s collection Parts of a World alongside Roland Barthes’s discussion of the paradoxical “absence-as-presence” of the photograph. The collection marks an important transition toward the development of a new space beyond representation in Stevens’s poetry—where the “figure” is revealed to be nothing other than the process of its own figuration.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010). "If We Dare To": Border Crossings in Erin Mouré’s O Cidadán. The Brock Review, 11(1), 15-27.More infoThis essay explores the space of contact between languages–particularly that of French and English–within Erin Mouré’s recent collection of poetry, O Cidadán. The following discussion demonstrates the manner in which a tangible place for each language, without appropriating one into another, is created on the page. Drawing on the writings of Mary Louise Pratt and Jacques Derrida, I argue that instead of defining the language interaction, or translating one language into another, Mouré constructs a "contact zone" where deferring/differing spaces of language intersect and are made "visible" and are "touched."
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010). “The Object in Question: Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. ”. Reviews in Cultural Theory, 1(2).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010). “‘Poetic Emergency’: George Oppen’s Political and Poetical Thinking.”. Hyphen, an International Journal of Literature, Arts and Culture, 1(1).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010). “‘Re-floating’ the Falling Man: The Emancipatory Imagery of Phillipe Petit’s High- Wire Act, Post-9/11”. antithesis, 20.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2018, February). Praxis, Poiesis and What it Means to Be Human. Arizona Writing and Social Justice Conference. Tucson, AZ and Phoenix, AZ: University of Arizona and Arizona State University.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2018, March-April). "As if": Poetics and Pedagogy. American Comparative Literature Association. Los Angles, CA: UCLA.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016, April). “Infinite Address: Lyric Encounters at the End of the World.”. Poetics: The Next 25 Years.. Buffalo, NY: SUNY Buffalo.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016, January). Re-Conceptualizing the Lyric. Modern Languages Association. Austin, TX.More infoAlong with John Melillo, I co-organized and co-moderated a special session titled, "Reconceptualizing the Lyric," with invited speakers Charles Bernstein, Lytle Shaw, John Melillo and myself.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016, May). “Poetic Autonomy and the ‘Something New’ of Truth.”. “Presumed Autonomy: Literature and the Arts in Theory and Practice.”. Stockholm, Sweden: Department of English, Stockholm University.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016, November). “Transcribing the waves: Language as a Spiritual Medium in Virginia Woolf and Anne Carson.”. Modernist Studies Association. Pasadena, CA: Modernist Studies Association.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2016, October). “The nothing that is”: Poetic Discourse and the Ethics of Absence.. “Poetics/Politics: Aesthetics, Ethics and Writing” conference.. Paris, France: Université Paris-Est Créteil..
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015, March). “As if” We Might Speak: The Subversive Structures of Poetry and Human Being.. American Comparative Literature Association. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015, March). “As if” We Might Speak: The Subversive Structures of Poetry and Human Being. American Comparitive Literature Association. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.More infoAlain Badiou aligns the disciplines of mathematics and poetry, noting their shared commitment to a “transcendental order” where “being qua being” might be revealed. Like mathematics, poetry does not theorize, writes Badiou, it “speaks.” In doing so, it “teaches us about what must be said concerning what is; not about what it is permissible to say concerning what we think there is” (Theoretical Writings 16). This is important, because it reminds of the fundamentally subversive nature of poetry. Understood in its Greek sense of poiesis, poetry is the discourse that makes room for the arrival or “presencing” of that which “is not yet” into what is (Heidegger “The Question Concerning Technology,” 10). It “overturns” language, revealing that which has not yet, or can never properly be spoken. Though Badiou’s comparison between poetry and mathematics may be instructive (importantly, it reminds us of the space, retained within the structure poetry, for the concept of the infinite) my paper argues that poetry encounters and expresses not the “is” of being-as-such, but the “as if” of human being. In this way, poetry points inside and outside at once: outside, toward categories of the universal, the unthinkable, and the unthought, and inside, toward those categories of experience inherently bound by human subjectivity. Poets like Muriel Rukeyser, George Oppen and Christian Bök utilize this dual orientation in very different ways, but with the shared aim of subverting dominant discourse and pointing us, instead, toward what “is not yet,” what “may be.”
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015, November). “Visual Histories: Metzger, Paterson and the Cartography of Lyric Time.”. Modernist Studies Association. Boston, MA.More infoIn this paper I argue that the figuration of an “I-thou relation” between a poetic subject and natural object (Culler 226) aligns both the installation work of Long Fieldworks and Katie Paterson with a long lyric tradition of apostrophic address, while simultaneously affording a way of describing the inherent and potentially generative difference—in both the artistic and political realm—between voice and substance, individual agency and historical determinism, concept and form.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015, September). “Something New”: Poetry and the Futurism of the Present.. Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present. Greenville, SC.More infoIn this paper, I will argue that through their respective conceptual projects, Katie Paterson and Christian Bok figure the temporal structure of poetry itself as a “singular operation of truth” (AP 41); that is, as the operation that, through a “complete de-objectification of presence,” reveals both the singularity of the poem and the inherent futurism of the present.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2013, September 2013). “Un coup de dés: Chance and the Event in the work of Stephane Mallarmé, Wallace Stevens and Christian Bök.. Modernist Studies Association. Sussex, UK: University of Sussex.More infoIn a panel titled Creativity and Contingency in Modern poetry, I argue that poetry and philosophy share a manner of approaching the infinite through interruption, chance, and risk. Poetry becomes an occasion for thought itself to occur as what Badiou calls an “event,” a model developed within modernist poetics through the structure of the “as if.” Via excerpts from Stevens’s “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” Badiou’s Infinite Thought, and Christian Bök’s poetic manifesto, Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science, I suggest that the “as- structure” of Stevens’s poetry is oriented toward a genuine engagement with “the throw ofthe dice” fundamental to all thought.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2012, October 2012). “History, Scale, Space: Benjamin’s ‘Philosophy of History’ and Contemporary Art”. Modernist Studies Association. Las Vegas, Nevada: University of Nevada.More infoIn his “Theses for the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin distinguishes between the presentation of an “eternal” image of the past typically provided by historicists and the “unique experience of the past” (262) provided by the historical materialist. Where the historicist “musters a mass of data to fill the homogenous, empty time” the materialist historiographer’s method “is based instead on a constructive principle. Thinking involves not only the flow of thoughts,” Benjamin reminds us, “but their arrest as well” (262). By examining three contemporary installation art pieces, on view during the summer of 2012 at three different major museum spaces: Gustav Metzger’s “Eichmann and the Angel” (at the Martin Gropius Bau Museum, Berlin), Christian Boltanski’s “The Christian Boltanski Archives, 1965-1988” (Pompidou Center, Paris) and Patrick Keiller’s “The Robinson Institute” (Tate Britain, London), we may reflect more substantially on Benjamin’s philosophy of history. Thanks to the nature of their chosen medium, all three pieces—having taken up Benjamin’s charge to explode the culturally entrenched “additive” historical method—render material the “configuration pregnant within tensions” (262) that Benjamin promises us within every “arrested” moment.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010, April). “Generative Opacity in George Oppen’s Politics and Poetics.”. NorthEast Modern Languages Association. Montreal, Quebec: McGill University.More infoGeorge Oppen rejected what he saw as a too-easy faith in the visual, seeking instead to locate the subjective within the “objectified form of the poem” (Nicholls 39). Like other Objectivists of his generation, Oppen proposed that poetry be an “act of...seeing”; that is, “of making rather than knowing” (Nicholls 49). The aim of poetry was not, for Oppen, to grasp “truth” as a concept, but instead quite the opposite: “to accept limits to our cognitive ambitions by creating a language which recognizes...the ‘impenetrability’ of the world” (Nicholls 117). This paper explores the manner in which Oppen’s poetry objectifies a space of absence, of the un-known, and so allows for a conception of the “real” that goes beyond the immediate language of the poem and the (always already) completed historical moment of the poem’s creation. The “impenetrability” of the world implies, therefore, not a blunt opacity, but a sense of immanent possibility instead. Rejecting both religious and – eventually – political affiliation, it was this “immanent possibility” of the poem upon which Oppen based his faith, and which led him to return to writing poetry after a silence of twenty-five years: in poetry lay the possibility of “indeterminacy and resistance” (Nicholls 53), which he had found so necessary – and ultimately so lacking – in politics and political thinking. My paper argues strongly, however, that Oppen’s return to poetry marks his work not with political intent (unmistakably this was what he wanted to avoid), but rather his politics with poetic intent. For the poetic as well as the political act, Oppen sought a suspension of “its own end” (Agamben 113), fearing that any “end” would necessarily result in a form of dogmatism.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010, May 2010). ‘The fatal, dominant X’: Materiality and Poetic Liberation within the Poetry of Wallace Stevens.”. Association of College and University Teachers of English. Montreal, Quebec: McGill University.More infoDrawing on photographic theory as well as the teachings of the Russian Formalists and Žižek’s interpretation of the Lacanian Real, this paper argues that Wallace Stevens’s push past representation—toward an investigation of the letter or symbol as such (the “A B C of meaning” as he writes in “Motive for Metaphor”; that which is, like the photograph “platitudinous in the true sense of the word” [Barthes 106])—demonstrates a concern for what Heidegger terms the “thingly character of the work of art” (19) . To concentrate in such a manner on the word as thing is also, however—and necessarily—to make room for a space of difference that resides between the thing and the “something else over and above the thingly element,” which comprises its artistic value and nature (19). It is this space of distance in Stevens’ work, between “something else” and “thing,” between presence and absence, with which this paper is concerned.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010, September 2010). “It Can Never Be Satisfied, the Mind, No: Neotenics and the Poetry of Wallace Stevens.”. Conference on "Cosmopoetics". Durham, UK: Durham University.More infoThis paper examines desire in Stevens’ poetry in relation to the notion of the “neotenic” human—a theory that human beings, stunted in their evolutionary process at an embryonic stage, are therefore, “forever incomplete and indeterminate” (Carlson 199). According to this theory, first advanced by Louis Bolk in the 1920s, more lately picked up by Giorgio Agamben in Idea of Prose, it is due to this inherent biological, evolutional, lack that the human “must invent language and world, must become technological” (Carlson 199). Stevens poetry, I argue, is a poetry of the neotenic, in that it speaks from and to a “the irreducible openness of human potential” (199), literalizing, as Bolk’s theory does, the ineffable—perennially “dissatisfied”—human mind. We should not, therefore, be so quick to dismiss Stevens’ ambition for his poetry—that it might help us “live our lives”—as untenable, or “unrealistic.” What, after all, is more necessary now than a space in which to sustain thought? And in which to be reminded that it is, indeed, the possibilities and limitations of our imaginations that continue to shape the Real?
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2009, May). “Re-floating” the Falling Man: The Emancipatory Imagery of Phillipe Petit’s High- Wire Act, Post-9/11.. Association for Canadian Colleges and University Teachers of English. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: University of Ottawa.More infoThis paper examines the 2008 documentary, Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh, alongside Henry Singer’s 2006 film, 9/11: The Falling Man, in order to explore the manner in which both images – Phillipe Petit’s high-wire act of 1974 and the “falling man” of 2001– serve to demonstrate the tension in the American consciousness between the valorisation and fear of the radical individual in the Emersonian model. In particular I will look at the images in relation to the Emersonian sense of the word “superfluity,” which describes the human desire to push the boundaries of human experience, in “an effort to refloat the world” (Poirier, 40). I argue that Petit’s performance is “superfluous” in this sense, and that it is precisely for this reason that the image of his twin tower performance has re-emerged as a powerful antidote to the image of "the falling man."
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2009, November). "If I were Human": The War on Terror and (Im)Possible Justice.. Canadian Association for American Studies. London, Ontario, Canada: University of Western Ontario.More infoIn the closing scene of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Chris, the younger and surviving son, can no longer pretend to himself that his father is innocent of the crime of which he’s been accused and acquitted – that of supplying faulty airplane parts which were responsible for the deaths of American pilots in the Second World War. He cries out in anguish: “I could jail him! I could jail him, if I were human anymore” (Miller 154). The idea of being “human” in All My Sons is therefore linked to being able to identify and work towards serving justice, despite family or political loyalties. But Chris shifts the blame from his father to himself in the sentence quoted above by acknowledging his complicity in his father’s crime – a complicity that arises due not to any involvement in the crime itself, but to an inability to seek justice for a crime of which he is aware. My paper explores the nature of this complicity in relation to the (im)possibility of prosecuting Bush and senior officers of the administration for war crimes, particularly the torture methods used on political prisoners at Guantanamo since 2001.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015. "The Lesson". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, ON. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-lesson/article24106626/More infoToday’s short story is the fourth in a special series. The Great War inspired a flourishing of literature, so The Globe and Mail asked Hazlitt, the online magazine published by Penguin Random House Canada, to help it mark the war’s centenary in a similar spirit – by commissioning young Canadian writers to seek inspiration in the century-old conflict and to reinterpret its meanings for a contemporary audience.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2015. “Maestro Bartholomé Reconsiders his ‘Creation of Eve’” and “They Will Take My Island” (two poems).. Forget Magazine.More infotwo poems to be included in my collection, The Description of the World (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014. "The Lesson". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, ON. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-lesson/article24106626/More infoToday’s short story is the fourth in a special series. The Great War inspired a flourishing of literature, so The Globe and Mail asked Hazlitt, the online magazine published by Penguin Random House Canada, to help it mark the war’s centenary in a similar spirit – by commissioning young Canadian writers to seek inspiration in the century-old conflict and to reinterpret its meanings for a contemporary audience.
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014. "The Opening". Short Story Sunday. UK. http://shortstorysunday.com/2014/11/30/johanna-skibsrud/
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2014. “Maestro Bartholomé Reconsiders his ‘Creation of Eve’” and “They Will Take My Island” (two poems).. Forget Magazine.More infotwo poems to be included in my collection, The Description of the World (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016).
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2012. "The Electric Man". Ecotone Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3. Wilmington, NC. http://www.ecotonejournal.com/index.php/authors/details/skibsrud_johanna/
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2012. "The Homesickness of Astronauts". Maisonneuve Magazine. Montreal, Quebec. http://maisonneuve.org/article/2012/04/2/homesickness-astronauts/
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2012. "This Will Be Difficult to Explain". Storyville. http://storyvilleapp.com/authors/johanna-skibsrud/
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2011. "French Lessons". Zoetrope: All Story, Vol. 15, No. 1. San Francisco, CA. http://www.all-story.com/search.cgi?action=show_author&author_id=368
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2010. "The Christmas Solo". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Canada. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-christmas-solo-by-johanna-skibsrud/article1321149/
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2009. “This Will Be Difficult To Explain and Other Stories”. Glimmertrain Magazine, Issue 69. Portland, OR. http://www.amazon.com/Glimmer-Train-Stories-Winter-Issue/dp/1595530185
- Skibsrud, J. E. (2018, October). People and Place. Contributed image and essay to art exhibition and accompanying book. https://canadianart.ca/agenda/john-hartman-people-and-place/More infoat request of artist John Hartman, sat for my portrait and wrote a 500 word essay on a location that was important to me. The portrait and essay will be viewable at galleries across Canada as the exhibition tours, and will be included in the accompanying book, People and Place.
- Melillo, J. J., & Skibsrud, J. E. (2015, April). Lake Jean: A Short Tour of the End of the World. Lightning Journal. http://www.lightning-usa.com/magazine-2//lake-jean-a-short-tour-of-the-end-of-the-worldMore infoCreative photo essay on the living history of Lake Jean, Nevada -- site of Belgian sculptor, Jean Tinguely's, "Study for the End of the World"