Poetry and the Canadian Public Sphere: The Public Intellectual Engagement of Pauline Johnson, Dorothy Livesay, and Dionne Brand
Lancit, Shauna Yael
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This dissertation examines the roles of Pauline Johnson, Dorothy Livesay, and Dionne Brand in the evolution of the public sphere in Canada, arguing that each of these writers has functioned as what we now call a public intellectual. Taking their careers as exemplary, I show that the Canadian context has been particularly conducive to the ability of women poets to fulfill this social function. In attending closely to the role of the public sphere in their poetry I offer a new lens through which to understand some of their significant poems. In situating these poets in their material and historical contexts I also offer an explanation of why Canadian women writers, and poets in particular, have been unexpectedly well situated to appear as public intellectuals. Beginning with a genealogy of the public intellectual, I show the significance of this figure in the Canadian context. I demonstrate that institutional responses to Canadas unique challenges in establishing and sustaining a public sphere have had wide-ranging effects on opportunities for artists and intellectuals to shape that sphere. These include the amplification of the voices of women poets relative to a purely market-based public sphere. I situate Johnson, Livesay, and Brand in their material and discursive contexts in order to make sense of the ways in which they figure the public sphere in their poetry, and the ways in which they use both their poetry and other forms of cultural production to encourage political and cultural change. Using an Arendtian view of the public, I argue that poetry has been an ideal site for building and maintaining a Canadian public sphere.