New and Not New Worlds
- Martin Kuester (Editor), Rudolf Beck (Editor), and Gabriele Christ (Editor)
New Worlds: Discovering and Constructing the Unknown in Anglophone Literature. Verlag Ernst Voegel (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Ronald Hatch
When the editors of New Worlds: Discovering and Constructing the Unknown in Anglophone Literature began this collection, they intended it as a festschrift to honour the sixtieth birthday of Walter Pache of Augsburg University, but Pache’s sudden and unexpected death on 28 January, 2000, while the volume was still in press, meant that it has been belatedly dedicated to his memory. Walter Pache published in many fields, including Shakespeare and the Romantics, but his pioneering work in Canadian literature was especially impor tant in fostering the present-day widespread interest in Canadian studies in the German-speaking world. Pache himself was well known for his warm welcome to scholars and writers from Canada when they were visiting in Germany. He will be missed.
The volume’s subtitle suggests that the essays will deal with anglophone literature in many different countries, but in fact the main focus is Canada, with a few essays widening the field to discuss texts from the United States and India. The essays are arranged alphabetically by author, an arbitrary method, but one that in this case supplies a surprisingly happy ordering. Moreover, unlike many festschrifts which end up without any organizing theme, the contributors to New Worlds more or less stick to their stated subject matter: the new worlds emerging in anglophone literature.
In its most primitive sense, "new worlds" refers to the new/old world dichotomy, with Canada and the United States being seen, of course, as the "new world." A crucial essay dealing with the transformation of the old into the new is Gaby Divay’s account of Bruce Thomson’s sleuthing in the National Archives through the passenger lists of transatlantic liners to discover that Frederick Philip Grove, alias Felix Paul Grève, arrived in the new world at the port of Quebec on board the Megantic, a White Star liner, on Sunday, July 30,1909. It is a critical new piece of information about Grove that puts in place another piece of the puzzle of Greve’s self-transformation in the new world.
Many of the writers in the collection have interpreted the title of "New Worlds" to mean the new trends within Canadian writing, especially the new voices of multicultural Canada—the so-called ethnic and Native voices. In "Canada as an Alternative World," Ted Blodgett discusses the subject of Canadian literatures, with the emphasis on the plural. He argues that while anglophone and francophone literatures, and their histories, have come to be seen as "norms" denning the country, these "norms" have been challenged by ethnic literatures written in the original languages. For his primary example, Blodgett chooses Ukrainian ethnic literature, and he has much of interest to say about the construction of a Ukrainian diasporic literary tradition. Blodgett sees these ethnic literatures as the potential "new worlds" of the volume’s title, but, as he concedes, the translations into English destroy most of the sense of an alternative, and the original language texts are read only by a small number. Blodgett would seem to want Canada to be as multicultural in languages as it purports to be in cultures, which is probably a recipe for disaster. What he does not discuss, and what is probably more mainstream and more interesting in the long run, is the enormous amount of ethnic and Native writing being done in English, which is widening the anglophone mainstream appreciably—widening it so far that it may be becoming a new mainstream.
Helmut Bonheim tackles the theme of "new worlds" by offering an overview of the different handles that have been used over the years to describe and define Canadian literature. He looks at, among others, Atwood’s "survival" and Frye’s "garrison mentality" and notes how useful they were in their day and how they have fallen out of favour as Canadian literature has developed new directions. Yet one wonders how adequate they ever were. German students working on their Magister and Staatsexamen in the 1970s fell in love with the idea of survival as something uniquely Canadian, but most knowledgeable German and Canadian scholars looked askance at such simplicities. A more interesting approach for Bonheim might have been to examine how Canada has reinvented itself, and why earlier characterizations no longer seem to fit present-day contours, even on a superficial level.
A number of the essays apply the concept of "new worlds" to the work of particular writers. Thus, Magdalene Redekop analyzes Alice Munro’s short stories for what they convey of the "new." She toys with the idea that they contain a "magic realist" element but comes to the conclusion that they have more in common with the hyper-realist paintings of Alex Colville. Yet she is loath to discard the notion of "magic," rightly maintaining that Munro’s stories continually open to new worlds. What these worlds are, however, and how they are created remain unmapped.
Overall, New Worlds contains many insightful essays on the new terrain to be found in Canadian and other literatures, including Sherrill Grace’s on women travellers in the north, Martin Kuester’s on Guy Vanderhaeghe, Manfred Piitz’s on Ernest Callenbach’s invention of Ecotopia and Reingard Nischik on recent film adaptations of British novels. At times, perhaps, the contributors struggle a bit too hard after the new, as when Grace makes extraordinary claims for the differences between the writing of men and women explorers, or when Gabriele Christ struggles to claim greatness for the later novels of Robertson Davies, but taken altogether, New Worlds makes a sound contribution to many of the new areas of anglophone literature.
The one place where the editors seem to lose perspective is in the two frame poems chosen as examples of the "new worlds" of Canadian writing. Robert Kroetsch’s "The New World and Finding It" is perhaps humorous enough, but Dennis Cooky’s selection from his "Portuguese Journal !995"—about a journey that he made to the old world with Kroetsch—confirms that an obsessive attempt to be new may prove embarrassing.
- Those Voices Speaking Now by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: Rudy Wiebe: Collected Stories, 1955-2010 by Rudy Wiebe
- Antiphonal Milton by Elizabeth Hodgson
Books reviewed: Milton and the Climates of Reading: Essays by Balachandra Rajan by Balachandra Rajan and Elizabeth Sauer
- The Trickster Discourse of Thomas King by Marlene Goldman
Books reviewed: Border Crossings: Thomas King's Cultural Inversions by Jennifer Andrews, Arnold E. Davidson, and Priscilla L. Walton
- Curious Knowledge by Rachel Poliquin
Books reviewed: The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and their Collectors by Basil Harley, Peter Marren, and Michael A. Salmon, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry by Barbara M. Benedict, and The Oxford Companion to the Body by Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett
- Reviewing the Reviewer by George Parker
Books reviewed: Ripostes: Reflections on Canadian Literature by Philip Marchand
MLA: Hatch, Ronald. New and Not New Worlds. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #175 (Winter 2002), francophone / anglophone. (pg. 157 - 158)
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