The irony of sharks

A great deal of my research is devoted to working with metaphors. I don’t necessarily mean the literary devices that haunt the minds of undergrad English majors (of which I was one), I mean how metaphors act through our language everyday.

According to Prof. David Punter in his book Metaphor (2007), words do not exist in isolation, they have histories, culturally and time specific meanings. Metaphors act to show us more depth in language, beyond the obvious meanings to signal something new.

Ironies, on the other hand, as I remember them from my undergrad, reveal a lot about a speaker’s attitude. Often used as a humorous device, irony can be divided into verbal, dramatic, and situational. Much of the time, irony is used to contrast expectations with reality.

When I originally wrote the title of this blog post, it was in the fall of 2020, just as I was starting my PhD program and I was working on my first application for a funding grant. I didn’t write the post initially because I couldn’t find a way to write what I wanted to say. Really, as I understand now, I wasn’t ready for the lesson it contained. Still, over the last couple of years, I was inwardly giggling at the parallel between the nickname for the well-known funding agency SSHRC, my history with sharks as a former navy sailor, and the general idea of what sharks signify in Western culture (all of which I’m not going to get into here).

Really, my use of “shark” was a metaphor that maybe only one other person would get. But tying this shark metaphor to an irony, to an expectation, is perhaps a deeper metaphor in itself. But did I end up out writing myself? Or am I simply “looking for deeper meaning in a doorknob”?

This week I found out that I was awarded the Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) Doctoral award and that my research is being supported by SSHRC. I was immediately grateful for my supervisor Prof. Eva Mackey for encouraging me to apply, and the support of everyone at the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies.

I was overjoyed that my research on tensions between Anishinaabe law and Canadian legal orders and Crown treaty responsibilities are being supported and encouraged. A key component in that research is examining the place of storytelling in the courtroom, a type of ambiguity that liberally-based courtrooms are unable to account for (mostly because Canadian courtrooms operate through supposed objective certainty based on undeniable evidence). Since Anishinaabe law and constitutionalism is conveyed primarily through stories, and metaphors operate through these stories, my fascination with metaphors and language has come in handy.

I’m still working through my meaning in the title for this blog, especially how its meaning has changed over the last 2 years as my expectation for funding (or hope really) has evolved into reality. One thing is for certain, like all good metaphors with lessons hidden in them, this title has a lot to teach me about the current state of my research, especially as I start to draft out my proposal this summer.

I can’t help but think about what expectations I have for my research and what meanings I’m taking for granted, especially if I am expecting deeper meanings in some words or phrases that aren’t really there. How will my understandings change over time? How will evolving realities change my expectations of meanings? How will my limited subjective Western understandings today change tomorrow as I learn more? Will they even change? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if metaphors are not universal, how can I ensure that my understandings of tensions, relationships, and laws are widely understood beyond my interpretations?

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