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Cover of issue #218

Current Issue: #218 Of Borders and Bioregions (Autumn 2013)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 218 (Autumn 2013), Of Borders and Bioregions is now available. Guest edited by Anne Kaufman and Robert Thacker, the issue features articles by Tamas Dobozy, Laurie Ricou, Lisa Szabo-Jones, Magali Sperling Beck, and more.

Book Review

Crossing Borderlines

  • Wolfgang Kloos (Editor)
    Across the Lines: Intertextuality and Transcultural Communication in the New Literatures in English. Rodopi (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Monika Fludernik (Editor)
    Hybridity and Postcolonialism: Twentieth-Century Indian Literature. Stauffenburg Verlag (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Reviewed by Dieter Riemenschneider

These two substantial collections of critical essays edited by German scholars and based on papers read at conferences on the New Literatures in English held in Trier (1995) and Konstanz (1996) illustrate the importance of postcolonial studies at German universities and the theoretical orientation that German scholars now share with their colleagues elsewhere in the world. Indeed, for as much as the critical discourse has moved away from Commonwealth literature studies so has German scholarship moved beyond its (successful) introduction of English-language literary texts to German students. These first attempts (dating back to the early 1970s) subsequently led to the formation of a group of academics who from 1997 met annually before founding the Association for the Study of the New Literatures in English (ASNEL) in 1989. Across the Lines is the third volume of the series of ASNEL Papers (with vols. 7 and 8 now in print), while Hybridity and Postcolonialism compiles papers read at one of the Konstanz conference panels and additional contributions invited by its editor. It is the first publication on "Postcolonial Literatures," one of the research projects on "Identities and Alterities" pursued at the University of Freiburg. The net cast in Across the Lines is wider than in Fludernik’s book as it virtually pulls in the whole catch of the New Literatures in English while Hybridity and Postcolonialism is confined to texts by Indian authors. Essays on Africa and Australia/New Zealand and the Pacific Region dominate the former with a special focus on diaspora writing, although the total absence of studies on the substantial body of Indian diasporic literature is astounding considering that "transcultural communication" is one of the two topics of the book. This may be because German university courses privilege either the study of African writing or of the former settler-colonies—including Canada (which is dealt with in a separate volume of the Trier conference papers).

Other topics include women’s writing, the relationship of literary texts and the media and dominant and minority culture. Of central importance are two theoretical essays. Frank Schulze-Engler’s highly critical reflections on the bearing of intertextuality on cross-cultural criticism, with special reference to the binary fallacy of two "intertextuality models" (Priefinitz, 1990; Brydon/Tiffin, 1993), emphasize the necessary historicization of text, language and time/space. His critique of the ways in which "textuality" is foregrounded in studies of "intertextuality" is noted by several contributors, but it would perhaps be unfair to expect immediate and sustained responses. Mark Stein’s excellent discussion of the dual-coding parody in Dambudzo Marechera’s work ends on the note that "his texts [my emphasis] concurrently claim and reject both, their European and their African heritage." Janet Wilson’s comparison of the reinvention of myth of Aotearoa in Keri Hulme’s The Bone People and Janet Frame’s The Carpathians offers an incisive analysis of the two writers’ break with the New Zealand narrative tradition, yet her concluding sentence that such a reading "open[s] up territory for a broad historico-critical interpretation of the decolonizing fictions of the Eighties and Nineties [my emphasis]" also stops short of Schulze-Engler’s reservation as outlined above. Altogether, the crossing of borderlines is scrutinized more often in its textual strategic version than as an encompassing tran-scultural manoeuvre: Gundula Wilke looks at Thomas King "writing back" to the Bible; Detlev Gohrbandt relates Doris Lessing’s and Bessie Head’s stories to fable traditions; and Borislava Sasic discovers elements of Somali and Greek theatre in Nuruddin Farah’s Sardines. Yet it should be admitted that none of these (and other) papers totally neglects aspects of the historical and cultural dimension of their intertextual approach.

By comparison, the process of transcul-tural communication in its wider sense moves to the centre when "cross-cultural criticism is anchored in a sustained interest in the various modernities that have evolved in various parts of the world," as Schulze-Engler puts it. To mention a few examples: Cécile Sandten points out inter-historical dimensions in Sujata Bhatt’s poetry while Josef Pesch argues that the depiction of unresolved cultural clashes in Michael Oondatje’s novels links them to many co-existing cultures. Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn asks why Jean Rhys does not allow Antoinette to escape death in her "writing-back" novel Wide Sargasso Sea and finds an answer in the author’s "collusion with the Creole self-image as presented to her by colonial ideology."

Berndt Schulte adds a second strand to Across the Lines, arguing that intertextual-ity and transcultural communication should be brought together by anchoring postcolonial studies in an historically grounded media theory, thus replacing intertextuality with intermediality. Mediaspace would supersede the prioritizing of the written text, thereby foreclosing the danger of re-marginalizing postcolo-nial studies. Interestingly, a few papers in the present volume follow Schulte’s cue. Augustine Okereke suggests bringing together videotaped performances and written texts to better understand "oral literary performances," while Pamela Z. Dube looks at the cultural, social and political impact on thematic and poetic characteristics of present-day South African performance poetry. In the same vein Susan Arndt explores the presence of oral elements, especially "mothers’ stories" in Igbo women writing, and Gerhard Fischer’s presentation of Mudrooroo’s "aboriginalization" of a play by the German playwright Heiner Miiller foregrounds the performance aspect of theatre.

Hybridity and Postcolonialism may be read as partly a version of "writing back" to Homi Bhabha since Fludernik’s own extended essay not only explicates Bhabha’s concept of hybridity but also contributes to the shape of the collection. One of her main reservations relates to the intimate connection which Bhabha proposes for hybridity and diasporic writing which she counters with the argument that "hybridity [... is] a much more variegated concept than it is usually given credence for." With few exceptions, other contributors who generally combine theoretical reflection and textual criticism also echo the Indian critic in their wrestling with hybridity, postcolonialism and/or gender/feminism. While some of them use a comparative approach, others analyze a single work, and on the whole Indian writers living abroad are paid more attention than those who live at home. Walter Gôbel’s use of "chaos" as a metaphor and a structuring principle brings together colonial and postcolonial writing in his attempt to map the representation of India as an imaginary community, while Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn focuses on Indian women’s "transitional identity" from a gender perspective and includes Indo-English émigré and "home" writers as well as women writing in Indian languages. These interventions are augmented by Gerhard Stilz who argues that G.V. Desani’s All About H. Hatterr is a diasporic text whose hybridity has less to do with the heterogeneity of its cultural dilemma than "with its vital and healing notion of an integral whole," while Samir Goyal looks at Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land as a self-reflexive hybrid artefact.


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MLA: Riemenschneider, Dieter. Crossing Borderlines. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #174 (Autumn 2002), Travel. (pg. 160 - 162)

***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.

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