John Clement Ball and Jennifer Andrews
Since its publication in 1884, Malcolm's Katie has received much and varied critical attention. Early critics read the poem as a narrative of nation building, a contribution to a patriotic program of Canadian settlement and expansion. The text received far different treatment in the hands of modernist critics, who reacted strongly against the poem's Victorian sensibility. Since the 1980s, Malcolm's Katie has been read through a variety of lenses- from the feminist to the ecological. These readings take important steps towards giving the poem the focused critical attention it deserves by acknowledging the nuances of Isabella Valancy Crawford's art. Throughout the poem different narratives compete for recognition: Katie's emphasis on truth against Alfred's duplicity; Max's naïve idealism against Alfred's nihilism; the pioneer history represented by Malcolm against the natural history suggested in Crawford's depiction of the natural world; and even the narrative itself against the interspersed lyrics that give voice to impulses and desires that do not fit in the narrative. Crawford's poem deserves and rewards continued academic study. It contributed significantly to the historical development of the Canadian long poem, and stands as a testament to Crawford's skill as a poet and the profundity of her thinking.
Nation, Indigenization, the Beothuk:: A Newfoundland Myth of Origin in Patrick Kavanagh’s Gaff Topsails
Jennifer Bowering Delisle
The narrative of a national culture often begins with a "foundational myth," a story that, as Stuart Hall writes, "locates the origin of the nation, the people, and their national character so early that they are lost in the mists of, not 'real,' but 'mythic' time." For postcolonial nation, such origin myths are useful for constructing an identity that preceded, and therefore exists in defiance of, "the ruptures of colonization," and that unifies many cultures and societies into "one people." But what about invader-settler colonies? While motivated by the same desire to create a national identity that stands against the imperial motherland, these states cannot construct their origins so easily, for the "narrative of the nation" must begin with the troublesome moment of colonial invasion. In his 1996 novel Gaff Topsails, Patrick Kavanagh creates a myth for the "primordial" national identity of Newfoundland. Kavanagh's myth reconfigures the colonial moment as a myth of indigenous birth. His work is an attempt to write a national narrative of Newfoundland that serves to distance Newfoundlanders both from colonial exploiters and from Canadian identity.
Eva C. Karpinski
Joy Kogawa's Obasan has enjoyed a status unprecedented for a book written by a non-white Canadian. The novel has been credited with changing the Canadian literary canon, facilitating a practice of multicultural pedagogy, and bridging the gap between writing and political activism. The phenomenon of Obasan has consequences far beyond literature and pedagogy, and can be seen as symptomatic of larger shifts that an integrative analysis of gender, race, class, and sexuality has brought about in Canadian constructions of national identity. Kogawa's text addresses the relationship between narrative and history by forcing Canada to undergo a radical change in its "communal knowledge" of itself as a nation. Obasan thus succeeds in mediating the relationship between narrative and history, and makes it possible to rethink and transform history by bearing literary witness to trauma.
“The animal out of the desert”:: The Nomadic Metaphysics of Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion
In In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje explores mobile figures through the trope of nomadism. Linking a series of the novel's mobile figures together and suggesting their equivalence as nomadic migrants, Ondaatje dissolves the distinction between native and foreign workers. He thus attempts to resist the essentialist links between people and place that are prevalent in the arborescent metaphors of belonging that poststructuralists like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari critique. Instead of what Liisa Malkki calls "sedentarist metaphysics," the novel subscribes to what Tim Cresswell refers to as "nomadic metaphysics" - an interest in the routes of travel and a concomitant dismissal of the fixity of rooted identity. Ondaatje's strategy of "nomadic metaphysics" obscures the material history of, and important differences among, specific migrations, routes, and/or patterns of mobility that his novel identifies. The novel seems to assert a citizenship that exceeds the nation-state and challenges the class hierarchies of liberal conceptions of citizenship; however, because of Ondaatje's use of patterns of equivalence, the cosmopolitan citizenship he gestures to is not realized.
Dionne Brand's 2005 novel What We All Long For represents a generational shift in the politics of being in Canadian space. In it, young, poor, and racialized characters navigate their lives and loves within the urban space of the Greater Toronto Area. Instead of pledging allegiance to the nation-state or longing for a lost home, drifting between or beyond such positions makes possible a new and liberating politics. Brand pursues a rhizomatic form of political resistance in her writing, in which one point can connect to any other to form communities. Old notions of grounded selfhood and belonging are necessarily disrupted in order to uncover a site for being that is open, neither nostalgic nor caught within the politics of inclusion/exclusion or an inside/outside dichotomy. Brand's deterritorializing project is importantly focused upon urban modes of being that constantly elude the dominant. The novel demonstrates this point in focusing upon protagonists who work actively to construct a new Toronto from below, but whose relatives and friends are caught within a racist system that seeks to limit how their bodies and beings might function.
Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake turns on a number of myths or archetypes. With the depiction of cloned and genetically engineered life-forms and viruses comes the Frankensteinian myth of ex-utero creation coupled with its Promethean twin of forbidden knowledge and technology out of control. As befits a post-apocalyptic novel, the Last Man is invoked as survivor of the destruction and lone surveyor of all that is left, and the apocalypse is figured as a cleansing renewal making way for a millennial reign of peace. These myths are played out upon two background frameworks: of a biotechnological revisiting of post-Cold-War eschatology; and of a linguistic and literary "magic" performed by capitalist producers upon willing consumers, and by biotechnologists upon "nature." In the novel, language, writing, and thus technics are linked to the beginning and end of "life" and the "human" as they are commonly understood. Atwood's text examines the ambiguous and eschatological role of technics and biotechnology, and explores the ways in which the tekhnai of language and writing are implicated in the definition of human life.
In a 1981 interview with J.R. (Tim) Struthers, Alice Munro says that "The stories in Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You are nearly all holding-pattern stories, except for ... 'The Ottawa Valley,' and that was a big turning-point story." Later she modifies that opinion ("scratch that holding-patterns business"), saying, "The truth is, one becomes very dissatisfied with everything." When Struthers notes the importance of such dissatisfaction, Munro agrees: "It's in 'The Ottawa Valley,' I believe. The last paragraph in this book is all about dissatisfaction with art" (28). That commentary raises several important questions. If the inadequacy of her representation of "real lives" matters, then how can she maintain (in the same interview) that those who dispute her accuracy demonstrate "a total confusion about what fiction is" (33)? And why does she say that the conclusion of "The Ottawa Valley" deals with a general "dissatisfaction with art" when it actually makes a different point? The answers to these questions involve autobiographical connections: as Munro states in her Paris Review interview, "The material about my mother is my central material in life" ("Art" 237), and therefore the ending of "The Ottawa Valley" does express a "dissatisfaction with art." For her, the writer must be free to use "bits of what is real," however "presumptuous" that sounds. Munro's commentaries tend to divert attention from the painfully vivid memories that give her work its force in favour of less volatile metafictional issues.
“The Immense Odds Against the Fossil’s Occurrence”:: The Poetry of Christopher Dewdney as Materialist Historiography
Of central importance to the poetry of Christopher Dewdney is the historicity of nature, and, chiasmatically, the nature of history. This importance is often overlooked by critics, who tend to bypass the historical dimension of Dewdney's writing in favour of an atemporal solipsism. Such an approach, which sees his poetry as documenting "the solipsism of consciousness" (Hepburn 32), lessens the historical impact of the work and instead emphasizes a "Dream of Self " as the centripetal force of Dewdney's writing. The complex interplay of nature and history in Dewdney's poetry is frequently subordinated in favour of more ahistorical or postmodern theoretical Lacanian psychoanalysis, and neurobiology. These approaches have led critics to see his poetry as a site wherein temporality is "thought to occur simultaneously," effectively neutralizing the complex historical juxtapositions that his texts create.
Émile J. Talbot
Serge Patrice Thibodeau's poetry of the mid-1990s is striking as a reflection of the Acadian poet's strong attraction to Islamic spirituality and particularly Sufism. This is especially true in Le quatuor de l'errance and La traversée du désert, published jointly in 1995, and in Dans la Cité (1997). Thibodeau signals his affinity with Sufism through the epigraphs of Le quatuor de l'errance, most of which are taken from Sufi masters. The companion collection, La traversée du désert, contains no such epigraphs, but the integration of Sufi discourse is no less evident, establishing a clear continuity between the two collections that extends beyond their co-publication. The third volume, Dans la Cité, reintroduces two Sufi epigraphs (both by Ibn Arabi), interpolates Arabic script, and refers to Rumi and Ibn Arabi (along with John of the Cross) within the text.
Writing-Translating (from) the In-Between: An Interview with Gail Scott: An Interview with Gail Scott
While Gail Scott is well known in Canadian and American avant-garde literary circles as a writer of experimental novels, short stories, and essays, she is perhaps less well known as a literary translator of Québec fiction. Since 1998, Scott has published four literary translations of works by contemporary Québec authors whose writing reflects many of her own aesthetic concerns: Laurence by France Théoret (1998), The Sailor's Disquiet by Michael Delisle (2002), Helen with a Secret, also by Michael Delisle (2002), and Mile End by Lise Tremblay (2002). Although she has often addressed, in her essays and interviews, the importance of writing "in translation" when one lives at a linguistic and cultural crossroads, Scott has been less explicit about her work as a translator. This is the first interview in which she reflects on her conception of literary translation, as well as on the function, strategies, and liberties of the English language translator, notably in the context of Québec. She also considers the ways these issues at once "intersect" with and "intervene" in her writing, her role as public intellectual, and her world view.
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