Christopher Bracken, PhD

Professor, Faculty of Arts - English & Film Studies Dept


Professor, Faculty of Arts - English & Film Studies Dept
3-39 Humanities Centre
11121 Saskatchewan Drive NW
Edmonton AB
T6G 2H5



When I idiotically decided to go to graduate school in 1990, I intended to study the “avant garde” poetics and philosophy of the later twentieth century. Two things happened in the summer before I enrolled: The First Gulf War and the armed stand-off between the Mohawk Warrior Society and the Canadian Armed Forces at Oka, Québec. My “research interests” rapidly changed in response to these events, though I never lost my interest in the interconnection between poetics and philosophy. In the fall of 1990, we talked a lot about Edward Said’s, Orientalism, his magisterial study of the systematic discipline by which the Western European powers studied, represented, and fantasized about the Islamic Orient in order to control it. We used the word “orientalism” to refer to all colonial projects. It stuck me that nobody had attempted to study the system of disciplines by which a settler colonial state like Canada studies, represents and fantasizes about First Nations in order to control them. In her 1893 story, “A Red Girl’s Reasoning” Pauline Johnson proposed a term for this system: “Indianology.” Said argued that orientalism is “effective knowledge.” He borrowed the notion of effectivity from Foucault, who took it from Nietzsche. It allowed Said to make some astonishing claims about the force of discourse. “Knowledge of the Orient,” he said, “in a sense creates the Orient.” Creates? In what “sense”? I decided to study the effectivity of settler colonial discourse, though we did not use the term “settler colonialism” at the time. Today I continue to think about the effectivity of discourses such as law, literature, philosophy and anthropology. My “research,” as the social scientists and university administrators like to call it, is a search not for truth, but the emergence of truth from error. This, for the earlier Nietzsche, was the guiding question of “historical philosophy,” a form of interpretation that he later reworked and renamed “genealogy.” The “result” of this “research” is a history that historians do not recognize and a philosophy that philosophers do not recognize. Some of my readers think I’m an anthropologist. I do all of this in an old-fashioned English Department.


In his 1969 book, The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault questioned the classical distinctions between the major types of academic discourse: science, literature, religion, history, etc. He proposed to get rid of certain tired notions (such as tradition, influence, development and 'spirit') and certain tired unities (such as the author, the book and the oeuvre) that continue to organize the institutionalized study of literature today. Once these unities are suspended, though, a new field of study opens up beyond the horizon of continuity. He conceived of it as a field of dispersion. This is not a bad way of explaining what I do in the classroom. I assemble fields of dispersion.  These fields lie outside the conventional organization of literary studies. Shockingly, I do not heed the worn-out distinctions between literature and science or history or religion or anthropology or economics, and so on. I have taught courses on commodity language, on ethnocentrism and law, on the rhetoric of history, on the non-economic use of economic concepts, on national projects in the settler colonial state, and on Canadian literature from Marx to Lévi-Strauss. Some undergraduates warn that these courses include “serious intellectual content.” Take them only if you intend to learn.*

*Please note that I no longer accept email correspondence from undergraduates. (This policy is based on the email correspondence that I have previously received from undergraduates.) If you wish to confer with me, you have only one choice: you have to attend class.


ENGL 102 - Introduction to Critical Analysis

Introduces methods of critical analysis through a range of literature written in English, broadly conceived, from different historical periods and cultural locations. Note: Not to be taken by students with 6 units in approved junior English.

ENGL 206 - How Poems Work: Introduction to Poetry

An introduction to a range of poetic forms, techniques and theories. Prerequisite: 6 units of junior ENGL, or 3 units of junior ENGL and 3 units of junior WRS.

ENGL 301 - Topics in Genre

Prerequisite: 6 units of junior ENGL, or 3 units of junior ENGL and 3 units of junior WRS. Note: variable content course which may be repeated if topics vary.

ENGL 308 - Topics in Indigenous Literature

Prerequisite: 6 units of junior ENGL, or 3 units of junior ENGL and 3 units of junior WRS. Note: variable content course which may be repeated if topics vary.

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