Emerging Scholars, Redux: Author – Orly Lael Netzer

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.

Canadian Literature issue 242, Emerging Scholars, Redux, is available to order through our online store at https://canlit.ca/support/purchase/single-issues/.