Archive | June, 2011

Ryerson University English professor Dennis Denisoff

14 Jun

Lunch with Mary 053

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The company:
Dennis Denisoff is the Chair of the Department of English at Ryerson University. He also teaches English and is a professor in the Communication and Culture Graduate program. Dennis was my 3rd year English professor when I was at Ryerson and I really enjoyed his class. I went to every single one! He always had a great way of discussing literature that was accessible and interesting for someone like me, who loves reading and writing but is not the greatest at literature courses. I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago when I was thinking about Ryerson, remembered this class and I thought “hey, I should just ask him out for lunch”… and here we are.

The food:
Dennis and I ate at Bangkok Garden, a Thai restaurant right near Ryerson. I have been there before but only for dinner and I remembered that it was delicious – a bit higher end than the Thai I usually have. We had the buffet and I have to say that it was likely the best lunch buffet I have ever had. Totally fresh, lots of options and regularly refilled. Some of the deliciousness that I sampled included vegetarian summer roll, vegetable green curry, mango salad, chicken vegetable stir fry and more! Yum. We both drank water. Dennis told me that he insisted on picking up the tab when he agreed to lunch with me. But as my readers know, I insist on picking up the tab. So we split it. Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
After my lunch with Doug Saunders, I decided to take a bit of a hiatus from my blog. For those who don’t live in my head, it might not make sense but I thought I needed to sit back and make sure that I remembered why I started my blog in the first place. Like many bloggers know but might not admit, you sometimes get caught up in the page views. But I needed to take some time and remember that I started this blog to learn. So my first blog back, I was so glad to lunch with someone who is committed to learning. I talked to Dennis about his class and how, although I loved the books, I didn’t always see the meaning or symbolism and sometimes just enjoyed the stories. He let me know that there are techniques for reading that way and finding those meanings within the stories, and that it was something that I could learn. It made me feel better to know that I am not a total moron and that one day I can sound as smart as the other students in my university English classes.

The lunch:
Overall it was a great lunch! I always enjoyed Dennis’s class so it’s no surprise that I would enjoy our lunch conversation. Dennis let me know before our lunch that he’d love to discuss some of his new research areas. His research area that I found the most interesting is digital humanities.

A good friend of mine is doing his PhD in English and his apartment is filled with walls of books and it is amazing. The image of English research for me will always include a scene like this apartment. Well Ryerson is doing a lot of work surrounding digital humanities and using research tools much like a science department would to make connections within literature, among other things.

For instance, most people who have studied English literature know that Mary Shelley is connected to Percy Shelley. But this research can show, hypothetically, that author A encountered Mary Shelley and two years later Mary Shelley spent some time with author B. So although A and B never met, they did share a connection with Mary Shelley and A’s writing influences B’s. This is just one example of what can be found but it is so much more. Finding these connections throughout history, as well as political and historical events, and tying them to literature, art and more, is incredible. The resources that Dennis and his team are building are bringing a greater understanding of history. Pretty incredible.

Digital humanities has become such a focus for Ryerson that they have just hired a tenure-stream professor specializing in this area. I can only imagine what will be discovered in the coming years as more works go online and more people work to find the connections.

The class I took with Dennis was Popular Literature and Culture. As part of an assignment, we had to watch Terminator 2. I had never seen the movie. After I watched it and thought it was awesome, I just wanted to talk about it all the time. So I was that weirdo at parties talking about a movie that came out (and was hugely popular) ten years earlier as if it had just opened in theatres. I do have a point with this anecdote, I promise. There is something timeless about books and stories and there is a common, as well as unique, experience to be had. It is people like Dennis who ensure that stories from the past will never be lost and there is something incredibly valuable about the work he does.

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