PhD Oral Exam - Charlotte Jane Fillmore-Handlon, Humanities
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
The history of Leonard Cohen’s career over the last sixty years is also a reflection of the development of contemporary celebrity culture in Canada. One of the main conditions that allowed this culture to emerge is the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (1949-51). As a result, the Canadian government strengthened cultural policy and developed the Canada Council for the Arts to support cultural production. In 1958, Cohen was a recipient of the new Canada Council Junior Arts Fellowships. Using the celebrity phenomenon of Cohen as my object of research, this dissertation asks: How is the discourse of celebrity constructed in Canada from the mid-twentieth century to the early decades of the twenty-first century? Developing a discursive analysis, I illuminate how we talk about celebrity in Canada at certain socio-historical moments and portray Canada as a nation ambivalent about celebrity. Within the early industrial production of Cohen’s poetic celebrity, discourses of literary celebrity, Canadian celebrity, and cultural nationalism discursively manage his biographical production as a popular and accessible poet. In turn, discourses of intimacy connect Cohen with his fans, as fans seek to discover the “real” Cohen through his poetry and music. However, these feelings of intimacy are disparaged through a discourse of the obsessive and emotional fan perpetuated in the media coverage of Montreal 2000: The Leonard Cohen Event. After Cohen’s death, I discover a shift away from this discourse. The media coverage of Cohen’s death circulates an affective atmosphere of grief and mourning, presents the emotionality of fans as appropriate, and offers socially normative ways of coping with this loss. I explore my own complex emotional reaction to Cohen’s death as a fan and academic through an autoethnographic approach, seeking to depathologize the emotional experiences of academia and fandom. One of the most significant changes in discourses of Canadian celebrity that I identify is a potentially seismic shift from willful avoidance to zero tolerance regarding problematic celebrity behaviour. In conclusion, I build on this discourse by exploring the things we do not talk about when we talk about Leonard Cohen.