One way of contributing to the growing body of cultural criticism that considers the cultural politics of emerging "ethnic canons" in Canada is through an examination of the large body of critical attention paid to Joy Kogawa's Obasan. Obasan can be understood as a symptom of how Canadian literary studies has attempted to reinvent itself by trying to address a "racial past" in a "multicultural present." Kogawa criticism should be at the centre of a contemporary rethinking of Canadian literary studies informing how critics have read and continue to read racialized texts and representations of histories of racism in Canada. It is also important to consider Asian American discussions of Obasan that are often informed by a tension between the cultural nationalist commitments of the Asian American movement and a concomitant desire to construct a coherent literary history with canonical texts.
Through a consideration of representations of Africa in recent European-Canadian fiction, specifically Jennifer Mitton's Fadimatu, Audrey Thomas's Coming Down from Wa, and Barbara Gowdy's The White Bone, as well as public commentary in English, one can begin to answer the question, "what does Africa mean in contemporary Canadian culture?" Doing so allows for an examination of the relationship between the images of Africa in contemporary Canadian culture and European colonial representations of Africa. Studies by Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow, Christopher L. Miller, and V.Y. Mudimbe are particularly useful in providing a framework for a study of what has come to be called Africanist discourse, and its operation as an instrument of power.
Michael Ondaatje's Toronto and Yvonne Vera's Bulawayo are imperial spaces which both writers deconstruct through a manipulation of genre. For Ondaatje as for Vera, the novel does not so much express the structure of the city as posit an alternative art form. In order to deconstruct the city space both writers portray the city in miscellaneous snatches through the use of a non-consecutive plot, and through their discussion of the working-class citize and violence. These techniques create a sense of disorder allowing the writers to replace the symmetry of municipal organization into a shape of their own, one that is more alive to the nuances of behaviour. Through this deconstruction of the city the novel genre is transformed into a vehicle for a revolutionary, anarchic urban consciousness. Toronto and Bulawayo represent postcolonial cities.
Considered within the context of his earlier works, Michael Ondaatje's collection of poetry Handwriting is at first surprising and unpredictable. While his work has followed an arc of accumulating self-exposure, Handwriting, rather than acting as a culmination of this process, is a work in which the self is again defaced. In Handwriting, Ondaatje considers the notion of selfhood by sublimating the authorial voice -- a technique that allows an inclusive pluralism to arise. In Handwriting, Ondaatje explores ideas of place and the imaginative interpretation of it, different patterns of sound and form, and the ways personal history fuels the artistic process. In its minimalist aesthetic and fragmented poetics, Handwriting casts a singular light on the individual manifestation of selfhood while setting in motion a rhythm that incorporates the voice of collective memory.
Although Rudy Wiebe inserts himself directly into the narrative in his story "Where is the Voice Coming From?," he employs a different strategy in "Games for Queen Victoria." By "borrowing" the words of William F. Butler's The Great Lone Land, Wiebe employs an alternative, yet highly problematic narrative strategy. The way Wiebe quotes Butler is troubling both because Butler is unacknowledged -- a point raising issues about the ethics of literary quotation -- and also because these quotations are so extensive that Butlers stands as virtually a coauthor. Wiebe's almost exclusive focus on Butler contributes to the very Eurocentric discourse it so vociferously decries. Wiebe's story underlines the ambiguous relationship between a writer and his characters, and the way this relationship is mediated through the narrator.
Examining the two endings of Ernest Buckler's The Mountain and the Valley separately may shed new light on the present conviction that David's failure to become an artist is the result of a moral flaw or the inevitable outcome of an internal deficiency. While the novel seems to have two conclusions -- the false but tragic conclusion of the young man left out of the war, and the true but ironic ending of his death in the mountain -- considering the double ending suggests a change in the concepts governing Buckler's characterization of David. The themes and images in the first ending are Romantic and state a Wordsworthian belief in both the imaginative and affective stores of happy childhood and the reciprocity of man and nature. The experiences expressed in the Epilogue, or second ending, deconstruct this earlier process.
The interview focuses on poetry and jazz, and Lee's use of rhythm and meter. There is a discussion of many other poets including, Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery, Al Moritz, Marlene Cookshaw, Don McKay, Fred Wah, Paul Celan and Philip Lamantia. Lee discusses the books he is reading, as well as his current projects.