Orly Lael Netzer studies life writing and ethics, focusing on practices of reading as bearing witness to literary and art-based testimony in contemporary Canadian culture. She is the Research Facilitator for the HM Tory Chair program for Life Writing at the University of Alberta, has co-edited special issues of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly and a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, and has published work in Canadian Literature and Postcolonial Studies. Lael Netzer has also served as a member of the Canadian Literature Centre‘s executive board, and an editorial assistant for a/b: Auto/Biography Studies.
“’A VR Empathy Machine,’ or, Canada Reads 2019”
Guided by the “one book to move you” theme, Canada Reads 2019 enacts a vernacular mode of shared reading that relies on affective-driven responses framed as the cure for rising socio-political maladies. Given the mix of fiction and memoirs in the final roster, I address the truth-value invoked in the debates through the prism of testimony, and readers’ ethical responsibility to its rights-claims. Building on the works of Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Pauline Wakeham, Gillian Whitlock, and Carolyn Pedwell, I demonstrate how the 2019 event, as a site of reading-based public debate, contours the limits of empathy as an ethical response to testimony. I argue that the political efficacies of empathy map the cunning discourse of political recognition onto the politics of reading in Canada Reads 2019—presumably effecting socio-political change while de-facto mobilizing literature in service of the humanitarian and multicultural myths of CanLit readership and citizenship.