Recent Canadian literary and cultural criticism has emphasized the view that Canadians share no single, definable national identity, other than, perhaps, an awareness of multiplicity and difference and the sense of irony that comes from the recognition of the plural, differential, discursive, and therefore unstable nature of identity itself. Such assertions (proposed particularly in the Canadian context by Linda Hutcheon and Robert Kroetsch) concerning the essentially ironic quality of a particular nation's identity is in fact a longstanding, recurring feature of the discourse of nation. In fact, to assert an ironic identity or an absence of identity may be a very traditional method of aestheticizing a particular nation's character and of privileging this people as the more universal people and the nation of the future.
Images of squalor, and more particularly evacuated bodies, are pervasive in Rohinton Mistry's fiction, most notably the short story "Squatter" in Tales from Firozsha Baag. However, such images do not debase Mistry's characters in a racialized discourse but elevate them, acknowledging their basic humanity to challenge such discourses that would overdetermine and further disenfranchise them. If Mistry's fiction is full of shit, that shit is fertilizer, nurturing a fundamental respect for humanity and its persistence even in the most dire of circumstances.
Both Anil's Ghost and The Hero's Walk advance conceptual cross-fertilizations between Canadian literature and diaspora studies and intervene into current discourses of diaspora. While Michael Ondaatje's novel envisions diaspora in largely ahistorical terms as a condition of Anil's nomadic identity, cultural relativism, and political failure, Anita Rau Badami's novel fashions patterns of diasporic identification — rather than identity — around moments of stillness and disruption that generate new forms of communal and individual autonomy. From different perspectives, then, both novels illuminate the theoretical fallacies that consist in turning the concept of diaspora into another all-encompassing allegory of postcolonial subjectivity.
In The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, as in much of Michael Ondaatje's work, identity loses diachronic stability with each historical, critical, or reminiscently interpretive reading. The fragments which appear without authorial identification remind us that truth is something we have to guess at; in many cases in the volume, the missing identifiers could refer to either Billy the Kid or Pat Garrett. Ondaatje's discontinuous blend of myth, reminiscence, and occasional fact become, for the reader, a tangible demonstration that time, memory, and subjectivity are inescapable culprits in obscuring our view of the past.
Gabriel Dumont's Gabriel Dumont Speaks and Harry Robinson's "Captive in an English Circus" are two very different Native-authored texts that counter the dominant narrative of nineteenth-century Canadian nationhood by offering alternative perspectives on the Northwest Rebellions. Locating these texts within the conventions of captivity narratives raises questions about the social significance of the genre by invoking both the politics of form and the form of politics. The two works critically distance the reader from the containment strategies of the captivity genre and reveal its complicity with the imperial expansionist project.
Bakhtinian theory, with its emphasis on dialogism, has been a particularly productive tool for analyzing and understanding literatures that draw on oral traditions. Lee Maracle's Ravensong raises the question of how, in a colonial context, cultural dialogue is possible on two different levels: within the story of the novel (diegetically) as it depicts the struggles of Stacey, a young Salish woman, and outside the story of the novel (extradiegetically) in the discursive strategies used to tell the story. The idea of dialogue is therefore both effected and interrogated; the work accommodates and yet resists Bakhtin's ideas as it reveals the complex dynamics of dialogue when interlocutors are separated by a cultural, social, and economic divide.
The question of reading and writing occupies a central place in Roch Carrier's Les enfants du bonhomme dans la lune, and is also fundamental to the short essay "Comment j'ai écrit Les enfants du bonhomme dans la lune" which appears in the 1983 edition. In the text, reading and writing are understood as an interpretation of the surrounding world; the book which Sister Brigitte teaches the children to read is Life. All of the characters engage in a more or less insightful "reading" of Life, and several stories — as well as Carrier's explanation of these stories — reveal a search for that mysterious point at which the secret of the earth will be disclosed. In interpreting the world, either in his "fiction" or "non-fiction," Carrier has embarked on a difficult journey; there is no book in which the totality of Life is apparent — past, present, and future\ — and no text that is a transparent vision of the entire world.