- Stephen Henighan (Author)
A Report on the Afterlife of Culture. Biblioasis (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- William D. Coleman (Editor) and Diana Brydon (Editor)
Renegotiating Community: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Global Contexts. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Kit Dobson
When I was asked to write this review, I was surprised to see these two books paired. A tightly edited academic volume on the intersections between community, globalization, and autonomy seemed to be a far cry from the combative criticism and reviews of Stephen Henighan's new collection. As I read, however, I began to see parallels and points for comparison. Ultimately, I think that these books provide a healthy juxtaposition between scrupulously fair and deliberately provocative criticism.
Diana Brydon and William Coleman's Renegotiating Community: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Global Contexts issues from UBC Press' Globalization and Autonomy Series, which is linked to the Major Collaborative Research Initiative (through SSHRC) on the topics of globalization and autonomy, directed by Coleman. The Globalization and Autonomy MCRI is an absolutely massive undertaking, with nine currently planned volumes, as well as many other projects. It has been, since 2002, a major gathering ground for critics working on questions of globalization across the disciplines. Renegotiating Community needs to be seen within the larger arc of this project. It is a book that takes its focal topic, community, and places it into conversation with the other terms that govern the MCRI. The main interest of the book, Brydon and Coleman suggest in their introduction, is to examine "the extent to which community may be achievable or even desirable under current conditions of globalization." The contributors to the volume examine this conundrum in a variety of contexts, from Native communities to those of forestry workers, Palestinian activists, transnational women's groups, and, in an intelligent critique by Stephen Slemon, to what he terms the "mountaineering community." The volume extends temporally from Jessica Schagerl's strong critique of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, founded in the early twentieth century, up to the present, and envisions questions of community into the future. Community, Brydon argues in the conclusion, and quoting the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, "has not yet been thought"; "community," she states, "is trying our thinking at this particular time in the West." As globalization calls for a rethinking and critique of, among other things, "the ideals of cosmopolitanism," the notions of community that we have inherited, this book argues, are in need of serious scrutiny.
Brydon further notes in her conclusion that "none of our chapters present globalization as uniformly destructive of communal values, nor do their authors associate community with lost or dying traditions from the past. Our view of modernity and its globalizing pressures finds more complex processes at work." While this even-handedness is certainly fair, Renegotiating Community seems to be occasionally limited by this desire for level-headed critique. While most articles do, in one way or another, invoke the concept of the "new" as characterizing the changes wrought by globalization, thereby implicitly arguing for a disjunction with the past, the authors, on the whole, do not follow these invocations with radical claims that would allow for straightforward arguments. Authors like Scott Prudham note that globalization brings with it "a new politics of place"; Amanda White evokes "the new language of rights" under globalization; and Michael Webb and Patricia T. Young invoke concordant "new forms of deterritorialized community." That the new can continue to be evoked - I think rightly - in the context of globalization suggests that directions for the global order can be proposed and that, indeed, many of the critics in this book have a stake and a say in where we are going. Nevertheless, and perhaps owing to the wide array of authors and disciplines represented both in the book and, more generally, in the MCRI (Brydon and Coleman note the level of compromise and negotiation that this sort of organizing involves), this volume stands out from some of the studies of globalization that provide more goal-oriented arguments. This book's conclusions tend to be quite open. This is, in many respects, a good thing, although it leaves this reviewer with a feeling of some uncertainty. That said, Renegotiating Community is a meticulously researched, well-composed, and brilliantly edited volume that should join those of scholars working in globalization. It is a serious consideration of what is at stake in today's conversations about community in the context of globalization and autonomy.
There are, conversely, no lack of strong arguments in Stephen Henighan's combative new book of essays A Report on the Afterlife of Culture. Henighan has made a career out of irritating Canada's literary establishment with his blistering criticisms of its inner workings and by attacking the global order that would efface local communities. Disliked by the convenors of the Giller Prize (whom he has attacked for their insider-ish and extra-literary nature) and Toronto's publishing scene, this new book by Henighan promises to be a grounds for hot-under-the-collar debate. Reviewed early on in very harsh terms in The Globe and Mail by Nigel Beale (a review to which Henighan took pains to reply in a subsequent article, dismissing Beale's pose as that of "a crusty fellow"), this book seems to be delivering some of its potential as a follow-up to Henighan's controversial 2002 book When Words Deny the World.
The strongest writing in A Report on the Afterlife of Culture is to be found at the beginning and end of the book; nearly all of the pieces here have been published previously, so there is a sense that the middle of the book provides mostly a collected works. These pieces provide a demonstration of Henighan's vast reading of the Canada's and the world's literatures and languages. But the opening and conclusion of the book push the debates further. Under globalization, Henighan posits, "we live in a world where our experience and our cultures, down to the spiritual depths of our lives, are commodities." Literature, Henighan argues, offers a possibility for "repelling technologized modernity," but this potential is being emptied out through the commercialization of cultural forms. Henighan's focal point for resistance is the local. While When Words Deny the World (a book that Henighan often invokes) was criticized in part for its seeming desire to return to the nation in response to globalization, A Report on the Afterlife of Culture provides a new way of considering the local in its closing pages: rather than focusing on the nation. "[L]et the local resonate," Henighan argues. "Listen to the rural local and the urban local and all their points of intersection. The vast changes that will overtake us once the oil and the water run out may mire us in local life. Now is the time to forge our aesthetic of the cosmopolitanism of our doorstep." This book both reiterates and furthers many of the debates that have made Henighan a noted figure in Canadian literary circles, and is a worthwhile read in this respect. While I do not always agree with the things that he says, I am profoundly glad that he says them, as he provides a level of argumentative bravado that is otherwise largely absent from recent Canadian letters.
- Ornamentalism by Maria Noëlle Ng
Books reviewed: Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire by David Cannadine and Collecting Colonialism: Material Culture and Colonial Change by Chris Gosden and Chantal Knowles
- CanLit Inter-nationally by Debra Dudek
Books reviewed: Tropes and Territories: Short Fiction, Postcolonial Readings, Canadian Writings in Context by Marta Dvorak and W. H. New and Trans.Can.Lit: Resituating the Study of Canadian Literature by Smaro Kamboureli and Roy Miki
- Global Communities? by Diana Brydon
Books reviewed: Renegotiating Community: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Global Contexts by Diana Brydon and William D. Coleman and A Report on the Afterlife of Culture by Stephen Henighan
- Toying with Our Selves by Jill MacLachlan
Books reviewed: The Gendered Object by Pat Kirkham and Powerplay: Toys as Popular Culture by Dan Fleming
- Satisfaction Guaranteed by Marilyn Iwama
Books reviewed: Eating Their Words: Cannibalism and the Boundaries of Cultural Identity by Kristen Guest and Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression by Jana Evans Braziel and Kathleen LeBesco
MLA: Brydon, Diana, Coleman, William D, Dobson, Kit, and Henighan, Stephen. Global Communities?. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #200 (Spring 2009), Strategic Nationalisms. (pg. 131 - 133)
***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.