Friday, Oct 2 | 11:10am - 12:15pm

KEYNOTE 2 | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

Ontological Loneliness and the Balm of Metaphor

Tim Lilburn 

Psychological counseling, psychoanalysis, is a multi-million dollar industry in North America. It takes a variety of forms – Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian and various narrative therapies like Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy or a Christian version of this, Christotherapy, among other schools. All these treatments are built on the conviction that latent keys exist, hidden in submerged data, blocked impulse or neglected or suppressed stories, by which fresh, healing versions of personal coherence can be discovered. Access to this unexamined or unconscious layer of experience lies in conversation. Thus all these schools are in some way confessional therapies. Their efficacy rests on the power of epiphany, the liberating insight into the raw phenomena of one’s malaise and the perception of a new gestalt, a luminous, unbinding account, making sense of the events of one’s life and mind. Psychoanalysis does much good; it saves lives. Yet the culture at the center of which psychology commandingly stands remains profoundly anxiety ridden. Could it be that there is a deeper stratum, an “orphic” band of discomfiture which usual psychological practice does not reach? I wish to suggest that this might be the case. Prior to and feeding many of the distresses millions of North Americans take to therapists is a sense of deprival that could be called ontological loneliness. This state is the cause of much environmental and psychic damage. My talk will begin an examination of the roots of this condition in the Western intellectual tradition and will explore possible means, in poetry and contemplative practice, of addressing it.


Tim Lilburn was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. He has published nine books of poetry, including To the River (1999), Kill-site (2003) and Orphic Politics (2008). His work has received Canada’s Governor General’s Award (for Kill-site), the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award and the Canadian Authors Association Award among other prizes. A selection of his poetry is collected in Desire Never Leaves: the Poetry of Tim Lilburn (Wilfird Laurier University Press, 2007), edited by Alison Calder. His poetry has been translated into Chinese, Spanish, Polish, French, German and Serbian. Lilburn has produced two books of essays, both concerned with poetics, eros and politics, especially environmentalism, Living in the World as if It Were Home (1999) and Going Home (2008). He also has edited and contributed to two influential essay anthologies on poetics, Poetry and Knowing and Thinking and Singing: Poetry and the Practice of Philosophy.He has written at length on Plato and thinkers in the Christian contemplative tradition, such as John Cassian, Teresa of Avila and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, in the belief that a resuscitation of this tradition may have a decolonizing effect on the environmental politics of North America. Lilburn has been a writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario, the University of Alberta and St. Mary’s University, as well as the Regina Public Library, and now teaches in the Department of Writing and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Victoria.  Previously he had taught philosophy and religious studies at the University of Saskatchewan. His work has been widely anthologized both in Canada and abroad. His most recent book is Assiniboia (2012), an opera for chant in three parts, sections of which have been choreographed and performed by contemporary dance companies in Canada. Lilburn was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014.

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