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  • Writer's pictureAsha Saha

An Interview with Professor Joel Faflak

Updated: Feb 10

Recently, I sat down with Professor Joel Faflak to ask him about his career and his time at Western, and to get to know him beyond a lecture setting.

Professor Joel Faflak’s relationship with Western University goes way back.

In 1977, he started his Western journey as an undergrad student, completing an Honours B.A. in English and then continuing on to a Master’s degree at Western as well.

Along the way, Professor Faflak’s path took an unconventional turn. After completing his Master’s, he explains that he “got very dissatisfied with university” and left Western to start a business.

“I found that [being an entrepreneur] was creative and exciting,” he explains. “But I was in my twenties, which is sometimes a time when you think you have things figured out, but you really don't.”

After some self-reflection, Professor Faflak realized that he wanted to go back to school. Having settled in London with his partner, and wanting to do his doctoral research with two of the best scholars in his field, returning to Western to complete his Ph.D. seemed like the best choice.

From there, he went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the CUNY Grad Center in New York, after which he took a full-time job at Wilfrid Laurier University. In 2004, when a job opened up at Western, he knew he had to take it.

“It’s not usual for people to do all three of their degrees at the same university, but that's just the way my life worked. And I felt very fortunate to land this job at this place.”

Thus began Professor Faflak’s fulfilling career as an English professor at Western.

Over the years, he’s taught many different courses, and he’s loved every experience. “I love teaching anything,” he says. “I almost want to say it doesn't matter to me what I'm teaching.”

Professor Faflak’s primary field is late 18th to early 19th century Romantic literature, so the third-year “Romantic Revolutions” is one of his favourite courses to teach, but he also likes to branch out. He’s taught the first-year course “Enriched Introduction to English Literature,” a course on film musicals, courses on representations of madness in literature and film, and more. He’s also a visiting professor at Victoria College in Toronto, where he teaches two courses on leadership for the VicOne program.

In any course he teaches, Professor Faflak is a passionate educator. “I love the fact that we have the privilege of being together in a classroom and learning together.”

Professor Faflak believes that “an English degree is necessary for helping us always see the bigger picture.” He recognizes that English courses teach students to interpret the world more speculatively and never take anything for granted. “That's especially necessary in the world we're in now where we need to not take anything for granted because things have gotten fairly chaotic and fairly arbitrary.”

He also believes getting an English degree equips us with “skills, values and qualities that sustain us for the rest of our lives, like empathy and tolerance, critical thinking, and the ability to write and orally express our thoughts as clearly and persuasively as possible.”

In addition, Professor Faflak believes that “there's almost a spiritual quality to what it is that we do in English, which is to say we're always asked to look for a higher value in things.”

Both the hard and soft skills developed through an English degree are incredibly useful in life, he notes. For this reason, he gives this advice to English students: “Know that your degree is going to sustain you and give you a certain openness to the world.”

Professor Faflak recounts that when working with the advisory board for the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities, board members urged him to send Arts and Humanities graduates their way — their teams are looking for the kind of adaptability and vision that a student truly gains from these disciplines. “So never think that your degree isn't going to find help,” he tells students.

At the same time, Professor Faflak stresses that students are here at university because they love to learn and that not knowing what’s going on all the time is a good thing. For four years, students get to learn and explore, and they should cherish every minute of it.

“[In 2023], more than ever, we need you to spend three or four years just sitting back and thinking about things,” Professor Faflak says, “so that you're ready when you come out after four years to decide how it is you want to attack the outside world and find your place in it.”

In his students, he looks for this capacity to “never take their education for granted.”

“I always say to my students, I do care what you bring to the table. But that's kind of a given,” he says. “But I’m more concerned about where your ignorance is oriented, which is where my ignorance is oriented as well. That’s what we're always engaged in asking ourselves.”

Outside of being an educator, Professor Faflak has a few projects he’s currently juggling. One of these is a book on the emergence of psychiatry in the Romantic period during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He’s planning another book that follows up on his first book about the emergence of psychoanalysis in the Romantic period. Finally, he’s writing a book on American film musicals titled Get Happy!

Professor Faflak names two plays he thinks everyone should read: Shakespeare’s King Lear and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, a two-part play about life under AIDS and the American government’s disappointing response to the crisis. He calls Angels in America “one of the greatest pieces of drama.”

When asked what his students might not know about him, Professor Faflak can’t think of much: “I think I'm pretty open with my students in terms of talking about what I bring to the table,” he says.

Outside of his work, Professor Faflak says he loves his fabulous partner, his pets, his art collection, travelling, and martinis.

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