Read. Watch. Listen. introduces you to the personal side of our faculty, staff and alumni. Participants are asked to answer three simple questions about their reading, viewing and listening habits – what one book or newspaper/magazine article is grabbing your attention; what one movie or television show has caught your eye; and what album/song, podcast or radio show are you lending an ear to.
Jennifer Mustapha is a Political Science professor at Huron University College.
Today, she takes a turn on Read. Watch. Listen.
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One of my absolute favourite reads is The City & The City: A Novel (2009) by China Miéville. The prose is a bit dense and Miéville can come across as pretentious for some readers but the premise is mind-bending and thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.
The book is a Strange Fiction-meets-detective procedural set in a place where two completely different cities co-exist in the same literal space. The two fictional cities – Besźel and Ul Qoma – are distinct and separate entities whose denizens cannot interact without permission of the Breach, a shadowy entity that watches for ‘breaches’ of the border and punishes transgressors. The inhabitants of the two cities have learned to distinguish themselves through manners of dress, speech, and even architectural style and they ‘unsee’ each other as they go about their day. Our detective protagonist is tasked with solving a crime that forces him to regard the border in ways that make him question everything he thought he knew. He starts to lose his ability to ‘unsee’ people and things from the Other City and the implications of this propel the story.
Without spoiling anything, I can say that the novel speaks to my academic interests around citizenship, borders, identity, visuality, overlapping jurisdictions, and place and its themes resonate with many current events. Apparently, it has been made into a BBC series, which I haven’t seen yet.
Over the holidays, my family and I binge-watched the Netflix series Russian Doll (2019), which was surprising and weird and wonderful and horrifying and earnest all at once. It is extremely well-acted and visually stunning. It is equal parts sucker-punch-to-the-gut and laugh-out-loud funny.
Fair warning that it deals with difficult themes like childhood trauma, self-harm and suicide, mental illness, grief, and mortality. I loved it though. I went in with zero expectations and am still thinking about it weeks later.
Also, it’s hard to go wrong with anything starring Natasha Lyonne.
I recently listened to CBC’s Out in the Open episode Come to Pass, all about the politics of ‘passing.’ The guests included a Muslim man of Lebanese decent who is often assumed to be white and/or Christian because of his first name and how he looks; a trans woman who presents outwardly as cis-gendered; an Indigenous woman who doesn’t ‘look’ Indigenous; a woman with cerebral palsy who doesn’t present as disabled; among others who have had to navigate complicated identities and presentations.
The episode resonated deeply with me as a person who ‘presents’ like a variety of identities that don’t necessarily ‘match’ my lived experiences – and, in fact, this is true for many people to varying degrees. The stories in the episode highlight just how often our earnest efforts to address and acknowledge diversity can be confounded by – and sometimes miss completely – the complex realities of individuals.
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