- Alison Calder (Author) and Robert Wardhaugh (Author)
History, Literature, and the Writing of the Canadian Prairies. University of Manitoba Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Janice Fiamengo
This cross-disciplinary volume of essays responds to the question “When is the prairie?” In their introductory essay, editors Calder and Wardhaugh explain their desire to counter the over-emphasis on space—and the concomitant elision of time and history—in prairie studies of the last 40 years. Geography, they emphasize, is not the sole determining reality of prairie culture; geography and culture, in fact, are mutually constitutive, for people create a place as much as the land shapes a people. Hoping to chart new directions in prairie scholarship, the editors have sought to showcase the dynamic interaction of a range of contexts, including the historical, economic, political, social, and literary, in creating the region we know as the prairies. The result is an eclectic mix of studies, a few of which deserve to be widely read.
A volume of this kind can offer a snapshot of the “new theoretical frameworks” being developed in the field . Contrary to what the editors say, the majority are not interdisciplinary—if interdisciplinarity involves a language and approach created through the cross-fertilization of two or more disciplines—but most demonstrate a debt to the postmodern, feminist, and postcolonial theories that have so influenced humanities research over the last 20 years. Privileged categories include the marginal, the fragmented, the contingent, the feminine, the non-linear, the fluid, and the racially hybrid. Nothing good can be said for orthodoxy, patriarchy, imperialism, hierarchy, elitism, authority, or liberal individualism. Resistance and transgression are applauded; truth claims, coherence, and even “clock time” are not. Margaret Laurence, who wrote from a white, middle-class, Scotch-Presbyterian background, can be recuperated for her feminist, working-class, and racialized perspectives. Thomas Wharton, Carol Shields, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz are praised for postmodern and anti-hegemonic narrative strategies (though their precise relation to the prairie region is often tenuous). We learn that settler women in Alberta and Saskatchewan negotiated the conventions of gendered behaviour, a young mountaineer who wrote of traversing the Columbia glacier exhibited a liberal ideology, and heritage tourism in two prairie towns fails to represent adequately the experience of minorities. There is nothing new in any of this, though some of it is competently presented.
A number of the essays, though, make a substantial contribution to current scholarship. Reading Sharon Butala’s The Fourth Archangel, Frances W. Kaye engagingly explores the meaning of economic, social, and environmental crisis on the prairies in the context of the region’s vast geologic and human history. A thoughtful reflection on the challenges facing prairie communities at the end of the twentieth century, Kaye’s essay suggests that historical and technological change might be harnessed to save small-town and rural life. Russell Brown’s informative and convincing analysis of Robert Kroetsch’s postmodernism argues that The Words of My Roaring needs to be read in the context of the apocalyptic Social Credit rhetoric of Bible Bill Aberhart, the evangelical politician whose “roaring” radio broadcasts during the 1930s formed the monomyth Kroetsch both exploited and subverted in the novel. Dennis Cooley, exploring the prairie long poem’s “love affair with document,” beautifully analyzes how found texts and historical documents are “activated” and brought to life in such poetry. These three essays amply fulfill the editors’ criteria, offering models for re-engaging with history in the analysis of prairie writing and making clear the rewards of such an endeavour.
- Glossed Over Glossed by Travis V. Mason
Books reviewed: Glossalalia: An Alphabet of Critical Keywords by Julian Wolfreys
- Preoccupied Spaces by Meredith Criglington
Books reviewed: Mapping Canadian Cultural Space: Essays on Canadian Literature by Danielle Schaub and Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space by Stacy Alaimo
- The Legacy of Oka by Tasha Hubbard
Books reviewed: This is an Honour Song: Twenty Years Since the Blockades by Kiera L. Ladner and Leanne Simpson
- Trois poètes et un essayiste by Vincent Charles Lambert
Books reviewed: Les Jours de l'éclipse by Paul Bélanger, Au seuil de L'inespérable by Jean Royer, L'usage des sens by Roland Bourneuf, and Un pont au-dessus du vide by Claude Paradis
- Geography Lessons by Leslie Monkman
Books reviewed: Land Sliding: Imagining Space, Presence, and Power in Canadian Writing by W. H. New
MLA: Fiamengo, Janice. New Regionalisms. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #191 (Winter 2006). (pg. 113 - 114)
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