- Staying with the Breaks, Dispropriating the Universal:A Response to Eva-Lynn Jagoe
Eva-Lynn Jagoe's "Jumping the Break: Wildfires and the Logic of Separation," published in Discourse 40.2, offers a personal reflection on an important set of problems, namely the challenge of finding common ground and building solidarity in the face of ever-intensifying climate change. Jagoe makes her argument in large part through a critical account of her 2017 summer at the Banff Centre, where she was a co-organizer of the Banff Research in Culture (BRiC) residency. In the face of the wildfires that burned near Banff, Alberta and through much of western Canada, she finds that the discussions at the residency remained mired in what she interpreted as an individualizing and fragmenting identitarian politics symptomatic of a broader neoliberal culture. [End Page 169]
We—the eighteen artists, writers, graduate students, and junior faculty who participated in the 2017 BRiC residency—were disturbed to read Jagoe's characterizations of us as a group, our intellectual and political commitments, and the work that we undertook together at Banff. While presented as a critical self-reflection, her account of the residency attributes to us arguments that we never made and, in so doing, misrepresents our conversations at BRiC as well as our broader intellectual and political practices. Jagoe does so without accountability to scholarly and professional norms, neither citing us directly nor drawing from field notes. We have asked Discourse to publish this brief response to Jagoe's essay in which we share some of our collective experience of the residency and the political insights we gained through our work together. Jagoe's essay, we argue, presents a universalizing environmentalism that is limited by an uninterrogated whiteness and an unwillingness to relate across difference. This results in a set of racialized anxieties and investments that make impossible the kind of collective politics for which Jagoe's article calls. These anxieties come to a head in Jagoe's discussion of BRiC when she directs her animus specifically toward Black women junior scholars, whom she identifies as threats to her scholarly identity. In so doing, Jagoe contributes to the reproduction of the university as a site of anti-Black exclusion and delegitimization while also refusing to confront the proprietary interests that orient her own particular articulation of universal struggle.1 Against such a prophylactic and (self-)possessive universalism that would figure difference only as a contaminant, we ask instead how the production and preservation of an otherwise, militant universalism demands an ongoing openness to the generative contaminations of difference.
In "Jumping the Break," Jagoe calls for a universal political struggle against climate change, represented by the wildfire smoke that surrounded us during those five weeks in Banff. She worries that those around her at the Banff Centre show too little concern about this threat. For wealthy donors at a fundraising gala, she notes, the smoke is experienced as little more than a nuisance (232). According to Jagoe, this ability to compartmentalize the smoke and to continue business as usual at the Banff Centre—for donors, artists, and scholars alike—forecloses any possibility for collective political action on climate change. Jagoe's perspective, however, only makes sense when one takes the wealthy vacationing academic as the paradigmatic political subject. Considering that the struggle for climate justice in Canada is being led by Indigenous communities resisting extractive infrastructure and land dispossessions, we would have hoped that Jagoe would connect [End Page 170] our presence on this land to the fact that the Banff Centre sits on Treaty 7 and Métis Nation (Region 3) Territory; that the forest fires raging around us can only be understood within a longer history of settler colonial violence against Indigenous Nations and their land; or that as environmental justice activists argue, we must see climate change as a form of intensified and ongoing colonialism and racial violence.
Throughout her essay...