The opening of the Robin Mathews Fonds at Library and Archives Canada in 2014 provides an opportunity to revisit Mathews’s role in the struggle to make Canadian literature a legitimate area of study in English departments. Mathews was instrumental in the founding of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures; he advocated for more courses and graduate programs, as well as expanded scholarship in the field -- goals which he argued could not be reached unless more Canadians were hired in university English departments. Inspired by the anti-colonial nationalisms of the sixties and seventies, Mathews saw Canadian nationalism as anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, and he argued that Canadian literature, rightly read, offered the materials for a collectivist counter-narrative to neoliberal capitalism. His work argued for the centrality of authors like Irene Baird, Earle Birney, Milton Acorn, and Dorothy Livesay to what he called “the tradition” of Canadian writing. While he was often accused of anti-Americanism, a more salient critique of his ideas targets his failure to grow beyond an “old left” view of race as a way to divide the working class. Mathews’s struggle to “Canadianize” English departments was a failure; Canadian literature consistently makes up just 8-10% of the course offerings in Canadian English departments, and in Canada the “English degree” is still a degree in English literature, instead of a degree in literatures in English.
This essay examines the 1978 Calgary Conference on the Canadian Novel, and the publication that emerged from it entitled Taking Stock, as a moment that distills the ongoing tabulation of Canadian literature in various lists and inventories that seek to identify and anoint significant works. It focuses on two speakers at that conference, Robert Kroetsch and Marian Engel, as examples of major writers who are still read but who are gradually disappearing from contemporary cultural awareness, despite their important contributions to the development of the Canadian canon. Engel and Kroetsch participated in an important moment in Canadian literary history; Engel’s Bear and Kroetsch’s The Studhorse Man embody a sense of what Canadian literature aspired to, but those works also foreshadow the evolution of Canadian fiction. Their authors straddle the penumbra of the last forty years, and how Canadian literature bloomed, matured, and now seems to withdraw not from its continuing bravura performance in the global literary world, but from its own memory and recognition of those early pathfinders. Their works speak to the paradox of Canadian writing as ironically unaware of its own invention.
Critic, translator, and editor Barbara Godard has been a central figure in the landscape of Canadian literature over the past four decades as one of the leaders in theories of feminist translation. Her devotion to feminism, and her presence on the literary and theoretical scenes in Canada and abroad, helped bring translation to the forefront of theoretical discourse, and contributed to what Kathy Mezei described as “the recognition of translation as a vital literary activity and theoretical site.” Refusing to practice self-effacement in her translation work, Godard flaunted her signature, leaving creative “tracks” for the attentive reader to follow in the text. In doing so, she deliberately and complicitly worked with the source, actively participating in the creation of meaning. An examination of her “position traductive” offers helpful insight into her politics of feminist translation. This essay explores Godard’s translation criticism and practice, and etches out her ideological and critical articulations of her process.
This essay considers how celebrity reluctance operates in the Canadian literary field, using Alice Munro’s career, reception, consecration, and fiction as an example of how reluctance as a public feeling negotiates the literary marketplace, how it works in the national imaginary to legitimize model Canadian subjects, and how it operates globally, as an implicit critique of a neoliberal economic order that places a premium on moving forward. In examining the celebrity of Alice Munro, the essay remains attentive to the way in which her reluctant consecration on the global stage, most clearly figured in her humble reception of the Nobel Prize for Literature, operates on both national and international registers, as an example of what Laura Moss has called “transnational-nationalism”: the production of Canadian culture for a global audience and, concomitantly, a reflection of that global stardom back onto specifically Canadian debates about national culture, character, and prestige. In keeping with Richard Dyer’s definition of the “star image” as an “extensive, multimedia, intertextual layered accretion” that “consists of everything that is publicly available” about the star, this analysis places media representations of Alice Munro and her career alongside Munro’s own fictional representations of reluctance.
This essay considers the spatial politics of the transnational turn in recent Canadian literary criticism, historicizing the growth of explicitly spatial critical frames—diaspora studies, globalization, critical regionalism, new border studies—within the longer “topocentricism” of the field. Taking the rise of hemispheric criticism as a particularly charged case study, I suggest that the most common function of such work has been a transnational return, less a decisive move beyond the limits of the national frame than a complex extension of English-Canadian literary studies’ longstanding engagement with literary nationalism.
This essay draws attention to variations in the use of formal textual strategies that sometimes have been overlooked in the productive but potentially homogenizing shift from Canadian literature to Canadian literatures. A mere insistence on pluralization can run the risk of masking differences that include specific forms of “nonsimultaneity” or ungleichzeitigkeit (Ernst Bloch). Such differing relations to time—or heterochronicities— imply related, varying views of space, point to different functionalities of formal modes and genres, and influence how texts relate to audiences and intervene in the public sphere. I argue that the deployment of formal elements is often contingent on social dimensions and cultural specificity, and thus on contextual factors whose consideration was seen as detrimental to the discussion of Canadian literature in Frank Davey’s “Surviving the Paraphrase.” Focusing on examples drawn from black Canadian cultural expression, I examine contextually motivated temporalities in works by George Elliott Clarke, Marie-Célie Agnant, Sylvia Hamilton, Camille Turner, and Wayde Compton. By using distinct strategies of re-temporalization and re-spatialization, these writers and artists work towards the “not-yet” of a differently conceived future and exert civic agency with the help of formal choices in their art.
Cet article propose un survol du concept de l’américanité et une exploration de ses implications sur le rapport de la francophonie québécoise avec la France et le continent américain. À cette fin, il fait appel au récent concept d’amérilatinité (Frédéric Lesemann) qui réussit à surprendre le lien de parenté entre la culture québécoise et les cultures latino-américaines. Si l’amérilatinité ne nie pas le rapprochement du Québec à un monde américain incluant les États-Unis, elle souligne davantage le lien de parenté qui existe entre la culture québécoise, d’origine latine, et les cultures latino-américaines. Une analyse textuelle de la trilogie d’Alain Beaulieu vient exemplifier ces propos et montrer comment cet auteur, québécois d’origine, essaie de se placer en dehors d’une littérature nationale en « dépaysant » ses personnages et l’imaginaire de ses romans. L’article soutient que ce genre de stratégie littéraire relevant de l’amérilatinité représente une alternative viable aux manières de penser la francophonie en Amérique et qu’il aide à échafauder un nouveau métarécit québécois.
Visual and conceptual poetry became significant practices in Canada in the late 1950s and 1960s as part of a dissatisfaction with what Antony Easthope in 1986 would call a moribund “bourgeois poetic discourse,” “the poetry of the ‘single voice.’” The latter, however, would continue to survive in school anthologies and arts council policies as a protected form, while the new non-discursive poetries found most of their audiences in art galleries, libraries, music clubs, on the internet, and as often through international presentation as Canadian. The result has been a rich accumulation of visual and conceptual poetry, with its own major figures, that is little understood or studied nationally and often better known and appreciated outside of Canada than within.
A review of documentary performance in Canadian theatre over a forty-year span explores how it has continued as a gateway practice that simultaneously enables and refuses theatre disciplinarity, the system of value that differentiates the professional from the amateur, and which produces concepts of excellence and mastery. In the decades since a generation of actor-creators reinvented the theatre profession in Canada by creating texts out of research (following the template of Theatre Passe Muraille’s The Farm Show in 1972), documentary has become institutionalized as a theatrical strategy in which high-affect performance serves as an authenticating convention, giving shows the gloss of disciplinarity that invites credibility in the authority of the text. The sophisticated documentaries of Annabel Soutar suggest that this high-disciplinary mode authorizes work as professionalized culture and exerts influence on the wider theatre community. That documentary continues to function as a means of professional entry and cultural inclusion can be seen in Judith Thompson’s recent work with socially excluded communities, who in their work with the playwright claim theatrical presence by documenting their own experience. Against the highly disciplined work of Soutar and Thompson, the persistence of a low-disciplinary mode that refuses the aesthetic values of professionalized culture shows that reduced theatricality -- the representation of a lack of representation -- retains tactical power because it can create an image of a rigorous and de-aestheticized fidelity to evidence. Gary Kirkham and Dwight Storring’s verbatim documentary, Rage Against Violence, shows how this low-disciplinary mode is an effective and accessible cultural resource for community activists.
Cet article examine le rôle pionnier que joue Dans un gant de fer (1965-66) dans les questionnements féministes des années 1960. À quelques exceptions près, la critique a initialement limité ses commentaires à la spéculation concernant la vraisemblance de l’autobiographie de Claire Martin. Les 40 dernières années ont vu le développement d’outils d’analyse qui permettent de cerner les qualités littéraires des autobiographies et d’interroger ladite condition féminine, ce qui a enrichi l’étude du texte revendicateur qui nous intéresse. Bien que Dans un gant de fer ne soit pas souvent reconnu comme un texte esthétiquement féministe, quelques chercheurs ont récemment signalé, sur le plan global de ce récit, l’incorporation d’éléments formels traditionnellement féminins et masculins. Pour notre part, nous analysons de près des passages spécifiques afin de mieux comprendre la déstabilisation que Martin effectue relativement à la caractérisation binaire du masculin et du féminin. Nous lisons Dans un gant de fer notamment à côté de deux documents de réforme officiels qui lui sont contemporains, à savoir les Rapports Bird et Parent. Tous les textes étudiés abordent deux enjeux-clés des revendications des années 1960 : les rôles changeants des femmes et la restructuration des écoles québécoises. L’examen de leurs similarités formelles nous permettra de démontrer comment l’autobiographie de Claire Martin remet en question la séparation conventionnelle de l’objectif et du subjectif ainsi que du public et du privé.
This article considers the impact of crisis in the post-9/11 writing of Nicole Brossard and Margaret Atwood, undeniable trailblazers of literary feminism in Canada. The post-9/11 world newly situates local and global, as well as social and economic challenges that feminism has always confronted. Atwood’s and Brossard’s post-millennial work, particularly its post 9/11 backdrop, widens the scope of feminist social and ethical concerns, as well as the different, expansive outlook of feminist writing in Canada today. Atwood and Brossard have recently set themes and scenes of impending, real, and perceived terrorist and bioterrorist threat, ecological and economic doom, corporate domination, torture, heightened surveillance, and state control in the face of global menace and the framework of vulnerable times. The forty-year span of these two writers’ oeuvre is particularly remarkable. It attests to the very trajectories of Western feminism in Canadian and Québécois literatures, and its culmination in the phenomenon and ethos this article proposes to call metafeminism – that which both transgresses and harks back to familiar feminist positions that continue to impact women’s writing in Canada to this day.