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Gillian Whitlock Unpacks “The Hospitality of Cyberspace” for a Packed House

February 23, 2015

Dr. Gillian Whitlock was the Winter 2015 lecturer in the Distinguished Speakers Series hosted by Ryerson’s English MA in Literatures of Modernity. Author of numerous works including The Intimate Empire: Reading Women's Autobiography and Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit, Dr. Whitlock’s scholarship focuses on the fields of life writing and postcolonialism, with an emphasis on contemporary writing. She is a Professor at the University of Queensland and has just ended a term as an ARC Professorial Fellow in the School of Communication and Arts, working on the Fryer Library archives of asylum seeker at the University of Queensland.

Greeted by a packed room of students and faculty from the greater Toronto area, Dr. Whitlock spoke in part about her recent research arising from the archive’s objects, part of a larger project tentatively entitled The Testimony of Things. Beginning with a political analysis of the lifeboats used by Australian border security to tow asylum seekers away from the country, she offered a moving analysis of maritime voyages filmed and narrated by asylum seekers.

As Whitlock argued, asylum seekers are not citizens seeking democracy in the public spaces of their own homelands. To the contrary, they are stigmatized as the barbarians at the gates of ours, and as a threat to the security of the nation.  In their hands, however, smartphones and social media enable new forms of testimonial narrative, from within spaces of detention. As Whitlock asked, can we speak of the hospitality of cyberspace on behalf of the dispossessed? The lecture was followed by lively discussion driven by questions from students and faculty in the Literatures of Modernity program.