Barsky, Robert F. 1961-
BARSKY, Robert F. 1961-
PERSONAL: Born May 18, 1961, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; son of Sydney (a merchant) and Patricia (a merchant) Barsky; married Yzabelle Martineau, 1990 (marriage ended); married Patricia Fozen, 2002; children: (first marriage) Tristan Victor, Benjamin Auguste. Education: Attended Vanier College, 1978-80; Brandeis University, B.A., 1984; McGill University, M.A., 1987, Ph.D., 1992; postdoctoral study at European Center for the Study of Argumentation, Free University (Brussels, Belgium). Politics: "Anarchist." Religion: "Atheist." Hobbies and other interests: Working with refugees, skiing.
CAREER: Trans-Canada Social Policy Research Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, content analysis researcher, 1985-91; Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture, Montreal, ethnic studies and refugee studies researcher, 1991-93; Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Montreal, refugee studies researcher, 1993-95; University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor, 1995-98, associate professor of English, beginning 1998; Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting fellow, 2000, Canadian Bicentennial Visiting Professor, beginning 2002. Inter-University Centre for Discourse Analysis and Text Sociocriticism, member; Immigration and Refugee Board, expert witness.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa, Scarlet Key.
Constructing a Productive Other: Discourse Theory and the Convention Refugee Hearing, John Benjamins (Philadelphia, PA), 1994.
(Editor, with Michael Holquist) Bakhtin and Otherness, Discours Social Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1991.
Introduction a la theorie litteraire, Presses de l'Université du Québec (Quebec City, Quebec, Canada), 1997.
Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Arguing and Justifying: Assessing the ConventionRefugees' Choice of Moment, Motive and Host Country, Ashgate Publishing (Burlington, VT), 2000.
(Translator and author of introduction) Michel Meyer, Philosophy and the Passions, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, PA), 2000.
Zellig Harris: Linguistics, Zionism, Radical Politics, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals. Founder and past coeditor, Discours social/Social Discourse: Discourse Analysis and Text Sociocriticism; founder and past editor, 415 South Street; associate editor, SubStance.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Noam Chomsky Approach, for MIT Press (Cambridge, MA).
SIDELIGHTS: Robert F. Barsky once told CA: "My earliest published writings were poems that were accepted for publication in 415 South Street, the literary journal of the Brandeis Literary Club, which I founded in 1981 as an alternative to the stodgy and apparently impenetrable literary organization that was active on campus at that time. This early experience in publishing was a positive and enlightening experience, probably one of the reasons why I pursued graduate studies in the field. When McGill University solicited candidates for a position as founding editor of a working paper series in 1987, I responded enthusiastically. Montreal was home to a community of gifted scholars working from various standpoints of discourse theory, so the working papers series quickly took on a life of its own. After a few issues it became a full-fledged journal called Discours social/Social Discourse: Research Papers in Comparative Literature. When McGill decided to close its comparative literature program, we decided to move the journal to the Inter-University Centre for the Study of Discourse Analysis and Text Sociocriticism, to be under the editorship of Marc Angenot, whose theory of social discourse had been the basis for the name of the journal and became the raison d'être for its continued existence.
"Working as an editor for a journal helped demystify the process of writing and publishing. Even though we were a small enterprise, we were solicited, sometimes very strongly, to publish works for no other reason than to further someone's career. Small journals also can easily become the tools for justifying research grants, the fruits of which were on occasion offered to us to offset publishing costs. The flip side of this coin was the realization of the power of the written word and the extreme seriousness with which some people approached the process of writing scholarly articles. I think we were lucky to have so many incredible people associated with the journal, because, at its best, it became an outlet for discussing issues which, strangely enough, were unknown to the vast majority of those working in the field of language studies at that time.
"My own writing and research was focused upon language studies as they pertain to legal hearings. My original intention was to pursue a purely academic career in literary studies, but I heard about a job opening in a new company that was bidding to transcribe the huge backlog of Convention refugee hearings that had piled up in Canada in the late 1980s. This company was, I discovered, treating these hearings like any other commodity in need of transformation from a primary (oral) state to a secondary (written) state. There were no precautions taken to protect this very sensitive material, which included details of torture, insurrection, resistance, and suffering, told by people from countries all around the world—even the United States. In the summer of 1987 I learned of imminent changes to the refugee determination system in Canada (which included a bill for boarding ships in international waters to turn back 'human cargo') and, using the materials that I was transcribing as evidence, I wrote a long exposé describing the lies upon which those laws and others like them were based. I wanted this to be a document that could be used to fight these laws and to attack the shoddy transcription system, so I offered it anonymously to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. They subsequently did a series of reports about it, keeping my name out of it, but one day the minister of immigration declared that the perpetrator of this 'crime' (telling the truth about the system) would be arrested and charged. I was subsequently questioned; I refused to hand over all of my documents and was threatened with a long jail term. In the end, I was never formally charged. In the course of the investigation, it was apparently learned that the private transcription was selling transcriptions to banks and embassies, and that the whole idea of privatizing the process was a political plum.
"I was later hired to pursue my refugee work and other immigration and ethnic studies research at the Institut quebecois de recherche sur la culture. While I was in Brussels, Belgium, doing postdoctoral research at the European Center for the Study of Argumentation, at the Free University of Brussels, I wrote what would become my biography of Noam Chomsky.
"Noam Chomsky had been an important influence upon my work since my first years in graduate school. I was fascinated by Chomsky and the whole milieu that surrounds him, including left-Zionism, anti-Bolshevik Communism, anarchism, and Jewish intellectual life. My first direct contact with him led to a wide-ranging field of discussions on a variety of subjects. The field of refugee studies is quite rigid, dominated by concerns relating to the movement of peoples, and Chomsky's work became important to me in rethinking the whole problem of refugee studies from a more radical perspective—the reason why borders and those trying to penetrate them exist in the first place.
"When I was asked to write a brief biography of his life, I was doubtful that Chomsky would participate but excited about the idea of writing about him. In the end, the book opened a whole new level of correspondence between us and broadened my understanding of the range of his work. It also reinforced my belief that much remained to be done about researching the early milieus, notably the work of Zellig Harris, Chomsky's teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. When I returned to Montreal in 1995, I had the opportunity to take up another challenge posed by Chomsky: to write a coherent and rigorous history of literary theory for a lay audience. There is nothing of this sort in French. Chomsky was the one who suggested I write a biography of Zellig Harris.
"I rely, for my understanding of critical issues, upon a constant dialogic exchange with figures of great inspiration. Marc Angenot, Noam Chomsky, Denise Helly, Patricia Foxen, Michael Holquist, and others have played this role for me. What I find exciting in this kind of exchange is to develop ideas and then measure them up to the response of people for whom I have great respect. With the passage of time, there are inevitable disagreements, which I now invent in my own mind based upon my knowledge of their views, between different figures who serve as influences. It is in this space that an 'authentic' voice of my own can at times surface, although (and this is probably especially the case with Chomsky) it is sometimes hard to distinguish one's own voice when in the company of such influences. Whatever the implications, this type of process is an inspiring and motivating one that keeps my research alive."