Domine Cancellari; praesento vobis Victorem Chu ut admittatur ad gradum doctoris in jure civili (honoris causa).
We honour the intellectual capacity that distinguishes human animals from all others with the familiar taxonomic label, homo sapiens. Yet while intelligence is our excellence and the most excellent among us are often the most intelligent, thinkers from remotest antiquity have sought more precise formulations to capture our essence. Foundation Year students learn from Aristotle that to be human is to be the zoon politikon, the political animal. As their studies advance in various fields, they encounter other Latin labels of ingenuity: Nicholas of Cusa’s homo creator and the homo faber of Hannah Arendt point to the maker of liberating tools; Goethe’s homo economicus, the self-interested agent. Homo pictor and poeticusemphasise aesthetic and artistic prowess; ludens and ridens the freedom to play and to laugh. Humanity’s transcendental aspirations are conjured by homo necans, viator, and religiosus. Any number of these epithets are exemplified in Victor Chu’s remarkable career, but his champions most often point to the fabulous dynamic of connection that pulses through it.
Born in Canton, China, Mr. Chu moved to Hong Kong at the age of four, where he received his early education and apprenticed with his father, a stock broker. After taking his law degree at University College, London, he was admitted to the bar in England, Hong Kong, and Singapore, thus staking three primary points of a nexus linking commercial and trade interests in Asia and Europe. Subsequently, he also established offices in New York. He is solicitor and senior partner at Victor Chu &Co., a law firm he established in 1985, and founder, Chairman and CEO of First Eastern Investment Group, a firm which has channelled more than seven billion dollars of direct investments in China and the Asia Pacific region. He has served as deputy secretary-general of the International Bar Association and director of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Mr. Chu’s quest for connection goes well beyond the affiliations of law and business, however. He has participated enthusiastically on numerous boards and advisory councils for arts, culture, education and development, including the non-profit Asia Foundation, the international affairs think-tank Chatham House, and the East Asia Institute at the University of Cambridge.
Introduced to Nova Scotia several years ago through the 4Front Atlantic conferences, Mr. Chu has established a $50 million venture capital company to help our region’s expansion-phase entrepreneurs make their own global connections. During his visits, Mr. Chu was first drawn into the King’s network: a conjunction of minds and hearts endlessly probing the liaisons of thought, times, places, individuals, and endeavours. Like the scholars of King’s, Mr. Chu knows that as the world changes, these links must continually be renegotiated, refreshed and indeed extended in order to answer the ceaseless cry of homo conectans. In recognition of the achievements and insights of this vir conexissimus, I ask you, Mr. Chancellor, to connect Victor Chu to our collegiate community, bestowing upon him, in the name of King’s College, the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, honoris causa.
Domine Cancellari; praesento vobis Michaelem Deguy ut admittatur ad gradum doctoris in jure civili (honoris causa).
The poet and philosopher Michel Deguy has occupied a unique place on the French intellectual scene since the late 1950s. His work as a professor, writer, editor, translator, public intellectual and director of journals and cultural institutions has been recognized in France, Europe, and throughout the world. The ambitious poet who coined the term “geopoetics” in the 1960s remains to this day a poet/globe-trotter in an energetic, life-long quest for what he calls the “extreme referent.”
M. Deguy has affirmed that “a poet must always be doing two things at once. At least.” Jacques Derrida remarked of his friend that, “there is always more than one, more than one or two Deguys.” Jean-Luc Nancy enthuses, “With Deguy, it’s always New Year’s Day!” His range and originality are as impressive as his activity is inventive and prolific: from the Prix Mallarmé for his poetic oeuvre to the Prix Diderot-Universalis for his journal Po&Sie; from the 1968 Johns Hopkins colloquium that launched “French Theory” in America to an ongoing participation in the European Graduate School; from his direction of the Collège international de Philosophie to his monthly philosophical chronicles on the radio network France-Culture; from the erotic poet to the mourning philosopher; from the lyrical traveler to the outraged citizen, few bodies of work today equal the passionate, lucid and selfless engagement of Michel Deguy’s evolving corpus. He has been called one of the three principal thinker-practitioners of discourse in his generation, along with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.
M. Deguy’s contribution to interdisciplinarity, to the association of poetry with its sister modalities like philosophy, music, and the visual arts, has a particular resonance at King’s, where scholars gather to consider the contemporary in its diversity and in its strong continuity with history and tradition. Deguy the translator of Sappho’s ancient Greek and of Heidegger’s 20th century German, the interpreter of Pseudo-Longinus and of René Girard, the Emeritus professor at Paris Huit, Saint-Denis and recent Honorary Doctor of the University of Athens, is a defender of the university and of its highest theoretical and philological standards. Deguy, the chronicler of our “age of cultural culture”, is ever seriously tongue in cheek, whether writing on cyclists’ rights, attacking Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of distinction or engaging in online debate with a recent minister of culture on France’s culture in the world. He practices a “transatlantic poethics” of great pertinence for Atlantic Canadians.
In 2002, M. Deguy spoke at King’s in a coda to the Contemporary Studies lecture series, Poiesis: Making and Unmaking the World. The lecture has been adapted, translated and published as Poetry and Value by King’s professor Christopher Elson, and has been cited by some of the major Deguy commentators. Earlier this week, M. Deguy returned to the College to preside at a colloquium devoted to his work, which continues to challenge and fascinate its scholars. What more fitting testimonial to this teacher’s powerful inspiration than to count him a Doctor of this University? In the name of King’s College, Mr. Chancellor, I ask you to bestow upon Michel Deguy the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, honoris causa.
Domine Cancellari; praesento vobis Julianam McCain ut admittatur ad gradum doctoris in jure civili (honoris causa).
The poet Elizabeth Bishop famously proposed that “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” The corollary of this achingly ironic aphorism would appear to be that the art of finding is at once difficult to master and crucial for the psychic integrity of the loser—which is to say, the seeker. In her career of writing and serving those who write, Gillian McCain has specialized in the art of finding, as well as in finding the art.
A native of Bath, New Brunswick, Ms. McCain found a path to King’s in the 1980s. Following her BA, she earned an MA in literature from NYU in 1990, and has made her home in New York ever since. In her early days there she served as program coordinator and editor for the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, an important venue for new and experimental writing. In 1995, she began to write full-time. Her first success, with co-author Legs McNeil, was 1996’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, now a cult classic in two editions and 12 languages. In addition to arguing that the musical genre began in NYC, the book disclosed a new genre of narrative non-fiction, composed as it is of ingeniously juxtaposed interviews. In allied experiments, she has curated collections of “found” photographs of strangers, the viewing of which prompts its own discoveries. They remind us, she writes, “that history is never simply the background against which things occur; history provides the tableaux within which people live and act as products, as well as producers, of history.” Ms. McCain has also published two volumes of poetry, and in 2014 collaborated again with Legs McNeil on Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose, a compilation of journal entries written by a 17-year-old girl who suffered from substance addiction and cystic fibrosis. Ms. McCain has been a board director of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and is currently on the board of the Harrison McCain Foundation.
If we can fairly say that human history is composed of compound losses, we can also say that our most edifying educational programs aim to discover, retrieve, and recover those losses, however imperfectly. Certainly this is the essence of our curricula at King’s, beginning with the Foundation Year, where scholars witness Eve and Adam’s loss of Paradise, Gilgamesh’s loss of friendship, and Odysseus’ loss of his way. As well they accompany Aeneas in his quest to find an unseen home, Augustine in his glimpse at an unknown fatherland, and Dante in his tortuous exit from the dark wood. They also see, with the passage of time, how some finds are squandered, or new losses revealed, in dehumanizing inequalities like those of race, sex or gender. Yet those who have found themselves at King’s also find that their communal search of centuries helps them to “live and act” not just “as products,” but also “producers of history,” wherever they may go in the world. In this sense, all roads lead from King’s, and all lead back. Mr. Chancellor, in her work as poet and finder, Gillian McCain has offered us fresh ways to retrieve what is lost, and today, she has found the road back to King’s. I therefore ask you, in the name of King’s College, to bestow upon her the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, honoris causa.