Theory in Practice, or, CanLit Is So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You1


Teoria, the PhD candidate-narrator of Dionne Brand’s Theory (2018), is a distinctly paranoid reader. Their interdisciplinary thesis works to expose the false consciousness that mires others—their family, lovers, thesis committee, students—in anti-liberatory stasis. Like Teoria, many Canadian literature scholars are skillful practitioners of hermeneutic suspicion, an approach whereby critique provokes meaningful change by revealing subjects’ complicity with the same ideologies that do them harm. Paranoid reading offers the field a reproducible method for uncovering inequitable systems’ contradictions and slippages; this hermeneutics’ facility for parsing disturbing truths from comforting fictions has genuine appeal amid CanLit’s perpetual dumpster fires. But what if paranoid reading reiterates rather than repairs CanLit’s damage? For all their analytical strength, the hermeneutics of suspicion also anchor scholarly analysis to disembodied claims of empirical distance, mastery, and individual refinement, each one a vector for settler-colonial (il)logics. By reading CanLit’s smouldering present alongside Brand’s Theory, this article challenges paranoid reading’s efficacy as a theory of change: in Canadian literary studies, hermeneutic suspicion both buttresses (settler) scholars’ sense of objective, masterful knowledge and demobilizes Black, queer, and feminist ways of knowing.

This article “Theory in Practice, or, CanLit Is So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You1” originally appeared in Feminist Critique Here and Now Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 254 (2023): 121-145.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.