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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Luke Shirock, Humanities

Luke Shirock – Cloud Theory, a novel

Friday, June 23, 2023
1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



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.


Dr. Eli Sabaktani, professor of Speculative History and Myth at Osiris University, finds the diary of Johnny Gray, one of his graduate students, who has recently been called a “known abuser” on social media. Seeking to understand and redress harm, Eli decides to publish the diary, not without first gracing its pages with an impassioned preface and copious annotations that flesh out the story’s historical, mythological, and philosophical underpinnings while revealing Eli’s own gender trouble. Meanwhile, Johnny’s diary tells the story of a group of friends who attempt to operate a queer-feminist community space in Montréal called Echology. Johnny questions his own position and authority within the group, elaborating a “cloud theory” that would replace the rigid impassivity of normative masculinity with a more fluid and cloud-like vulnerability. But his somewhat romantic notions clash with his day-to-day struggle to maintain healthy emotional and physical boundaries.

How might we loosen or “liquefy” the subjective, political, and economic categories that bind, limit, and oppress us, without completely undoing the psychic and social boundaries that nourish and protect us? How to create a safe space that is yet still porous? These questions are inflected by inherited notions of idealized romantic and familial love, as well as ideal norms of gender. The very names we assign to ourselves, to each other, and to experience must be interrogated for the vestiges of perfection buried at their roots. Imperfectly, Johnny attempts to put his ideas into practice, but tensions rise as the group navigates the ensuing COVID pandemic, the protests following the murder of George Floyd, and finally the callout leveled against Johnny that derails the project and sends him into a crisis. Johnny finds momentary reprieve in email exchanges with Eli where they discuss masculinity, shame, power, and perfection, until Eli’s lectures drive him to seek a more pragmatic and compassionate resolution to his story.
In the contested cracks between identity, affect, power and shame, Cloud Theory attempts to rethink what a male body is, what it can do, and what it might become.

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