Humanities, Faculty

Faculty Profile: Kathy Mezei, Professor Emerita

September 24, 2014
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With no longer having to juggle teaching, administrative work and grant applications, retirement may be one of the most productive times in an academic’s life. Kathy Mezei retired in 2009, after 35 years at SFU, and she has since co-published two books and is currently working on two additional publications. In retirement, Mezei has, perhaps unsurprisingly, found a more relaxed approach to intellectual work: “Well, I don’t have to do anything now, and I do some things that I was unable to do previously. I’m on several journal boards, and publishers send me manuscripts to review; now I can devote more attention to these requests.”

Her first publication in retirement, The Domestic Space Reader, edited by Mezei and Chiara Briganti, was published in 2012. Theorizing domestic space has been a long term focus of Mezei’s, developing from her interest in the domestic novel. She taught courses on this subject in the Humanities Department, and realized first hand the need for a comprehensive reader on the topic: “I was Xeroxing articles and throwing things together for my course readings and it became clear that we should put together a book that you can use in the classroom.” Before she knew she was to retire, Mezei secured a SSHRC that ended up carrying the project through to publication.

The book’s expansive scope sets it apart as a unique contribution to the field, and also make it accessible to the general reader. Mezei notes, “What is different about this book is that subjects like domestic space tend to be dominated by the social sciences, but we included quite a few articles on domestic space in literature and in art—paintings, sculptures, and installations—so the book is more unusual and it can be used across any discipline.”

Her second book, Translation Effects: The Shaping of Modern Canadian Culture, was published this year, edited with Sherry Simon and Luise von Flotow. Again, this work was the result of a long-time interest of Mezei’s, beginning with her MA thesis that translated a novel from French into English. Although she did not pursue a career as a translator, she did continue to translate poetry and developed an interest in critical thinking about translation. The co-editors of the book are translation scholars, and together they decided to compile a collection of essays on translation events and their effects in Canada.

Translation Effects makes the argument that when a translation event occurs, “even if the translation is seen as invisible, it can have a powerful effect on the shaping of Canadian culture.” These essays give examples of that shaping, looking at translation events from the 1950s to the present.”

Mezei observes that “it’s the first kind of book like this in Canada. Although we are a bilingual country I don’t think people recognize how much translation is part of Canadian life. And the focus is not just on French-English events; we have essays in the book on First Nations oral testimonies and languages; translation in other languages, like Yiddish and Icelandic, on medical interpretation and film dubbing, and theatre adaptations. We’ve moved beyond the bilingual model into all types of translation activities.”

Mezei credits the retiree research fund set up by Dean of FASS, John Craig, for providing the crucial assistance needed to publish Translation Effects: “$5000 for someone in the humanities is really very helpful because it means you can hire someone to copy edit or do an index, or you can travel somewhere to do research. We don’t need expensive labs, so it’s just perfect.” She also gives warm praise to the Humanities Department, which has been very supportive and helpful throughout her career and into retirement.

As for the future, Mezei has other projects on the go. Continuing in the realm of domestic space, Mezei and Briganti are writing an article on bedsits in Britain, small apartments similar to North American bachelor apartments. They are also researching a project called “Modern Métiers,” professions of women as represented in fiction and film in the interwar period.

As part of this project, the two have published work on the representation of women interior decorators in the 1920s and 1930s in fiction and theatre. Mezei comments, “A woman who was an interior decorator was often presented as a modern woman, but there was an ambivalent response to the modern woman: How does she perform her role as wife and mother? Is she sexually promiscuous? Is it appropriate for a woman to be a hard-nosed businesswoman?” One thing that certainly hasn’t retired is Mezei’s critical and inquisitive mind.

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