"A VR Empathy Machine”

Testimony, Recognition, and Affect on Canada Reads 2019


  • Orly Lael Netzer University of Alberta


Guided by the “one book to move you” theme, Canada Reads 2019 enacts a vernacular mode of shared reading that relies on affective-driven responses framed as the cure for rising socio-political maladies. Given the mix of fiction and memoirs in the final roster, I address the truth-value invoked in the debates through the prism of testimony, and readers’ ethical responsibility to its rights-claims. Building on the works of Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Pauline Wakeham, Gillian Whitlock, and Carolyn Pedwell, I demonstrate how the 2019 event, as a site of reading-based public debate, contours the limits of empathy as an ethical response to testimony. I argue that the political efficacies of empathy map the cunning discourse of political recognition onto the politics of reading in Canada Reads 2019—presumably effecting socio-political change while de-facto mobilizing literature in service of the humanitarian and multicultural myths of CanLit readership and citizenship.

Author Biography

Orly Lael Netzer, University of Alberta

PhD candidate and graduate instructor

Department of English and Film Studies

University of Alberta