The irrevocable contradiction of Enlightenment values with the invader/settler history of Canada is interrogated in Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel through ideas of class, gender, race, and imperialism. Hagar Shipley's respected social position is contingent upon her colonialist ancestry, even as her rebellion (through marriage to the socially inferior "other" Brampton Shipley) deprives her of paternal approbation and inheritance. Thus her physical incontinence is inscribed socially, both as symbol of the impropriety of the lower orders in the community hierarchy, and as the self-denied but felt inferiority of the transplanted Anglo class itself, "people…so desperately uncertain of their own worth and their ability to cope within their own societies" that they seek to impose a Eurocentric hierarchy on the New World. The incontinent body can be read for its condensations and displacements of technologies of identity.
"The book" — meaning the written word, from the Bible to European literature to the colonisers' documented histories of the Native other — has been one of the principal sites of colonial aggression. The oral tradition of the North American Native has been a crucial signpost of their perceived inferiority; but in Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water, it is also a method of resistance to the epistemic — as well as the material — violence of the colonial encounter. Yet this is not a simple binary opposition, as King strives to complement what he has termed a Native "interfusional literature," a hybrid of heretofore oppositional traditions. The effects of other forms of Western technology and media are similarly examined both in terms of their intrinsic "imperialist biases" and their innate propensities for resistance and hybridity.
Lacan states that although naming is ultimately an arbitrary marker of identity, it nevertheless functions as a stabilizing "guarantee" that we can agree upon identity in some way. In The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje's deferral of names in the first section, and the English patient's withholding of his identity — whether through genuine trauma or through imposture — forces readers into a partnership with the characters to adopt an alternative narrative practice in which we might forego the desire for stable identities. The related sub-theme of erasure, of nations, of history, of individual identity, is attempted through a progression of confession through to testimony, where transformative renewal might be forged. The desire, both of the characters and of the reader, for a "fully named world," needs a re-evaluation.
Guy Vanderhaegh's The Englishman's Boy undermines the myths of Canadian innocence, and of the American frontier as an allegory of Romance and robust strength; it is ultimately self-referential, even self-critical, as the book-ended, stylistically distinct Assiniboine narratives point to the racist and one-sided perspective inherent to the Western genre itself. The rather hypocritical Canadian stance, that of embracing and rejecting America — dependent here, it is suggested, largely on financial matters — is paralleled by Hollywood's negatively revisionist sense of history, of its avowal and denial of its own aggressive violence. Harry Vincent's manipulation of his Canadian identity echoes the self-serving manipulation of Canadian and American history, both of which lay the blame for historical violence upon a dangerous "other."
Both bp Nichol and Daphne Marlatt have recently been reproached for "an imperialist narrative of nation" and for "feminist essentialism" respectively. The critiques have been aimed at the "subject who knows," when in fact both writers "assume the position of the subject who undergoes," rendering much of the negative criticism irrelevant, because misdirected. Theorists such as Foucault, Derrida, and Kristeva have argued that consciousness is a derivative sociolinguistic product and that the critic should search out blind spots where ideology is received as common sense. Given the notion of the subject-in-process, or the subject undergoing, these theoretical proscriptions are problematic. The work of Nichol and Marlatt contains a double tension between cultural givens and productive becoming. The polemical and politicized disparagement ignores the aesthetic play and intensely subjective aspects of both poets' work.
Since there have been no thorough and sustained readings of Margaret Atwood's popular short story "Rape Fantasies," its serious comments on sexual assault have been ignored in favour of concentrations upon its humour and its irony. Two important aspects are the bridge game, which serves to express notions of manipulation and control, mastery and vulnerability, and Sondra's telling silence in the face of the narrator's evident failure to fully understand what the effects of rape are. In turn, Estelle unknowingly implies her own vulnerability to possible sexual assault, because of her credulity to popular myths surrounding the problem of rape.
The university, once a site of anti-authoritarianism and resistance to power, has become apathetic, perhaps even reactionary, as a result of the consolidation of capitalist powers under free trade and globalization. The study of Canadian literature, once an oppositional practice to American cultural and economic hegemony, has of late been co-opted by the de facto Americanization that is free trade and university/business incorporation. As Canadian governments, and by extension Canadian universities, redefine themselves in neoliberal terms, CanLit should reassert its oppositional ethos and be taught in ways that question and test the limits of the institution and of educational practices.