- Danielle Schaub (Author)
Mapping Canadian Cultural Space: Essays on Canadian Literature. Hebrew U Magnes P (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Stacy Alaimo (Author)
Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space. Cornell University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Meredith Criglington
"Space" and "place" are especially prominent in recent debates surrounding cultural and feminist identity, as evidenced by the collection of essays in Mapping Canadian Cultural Space. This collection suggests that one of the appeals of "spatial theory" is its adaptability to a vast range of readings, depending on how one chooses to define and apply that very malleable term "space." The contributors figure "space" variously as the linguistic landscape, the space of memory, migratory space, the internalized landscape of female subjectivity, the space of the maternal, the space of the mother-daughter relationship, and narrative space. Given the fluidity of the key terminology in Mapping Canadian Cultural Space, it is not surprising that the most effective analyses interrogate their own terms of reference by considering how concepts of space have been culturally constructed within specific socio-historical contexts. In this respect, the opening essay by Branko Gorjup provides a useful historical overview of the relationship between the Canadian imagination and its representation of spatial modes. Gorjup notes that until the latter part of the twentieth century, Canadians conceived of space according to the orderly, unified Aristotelian paradigm, which privileges "presence over absence, substance over accident and duration over instanta-neity." This particular phase of fictional spatialization is linked to the colonial fate of "real" North American space, that is, the land and its indigenous inhabitants. The second half of the essay focuses on the poetry of Christopher Dewdney and Anne Michaels as emblematic of a radical recon-ceptualization of space as "a palimpsest of multiple traces," a model that is influenced by the notions of relativity and uncertainty in modern physics. According to Gorjup, such disruptions in the representation of space reflect the increasingly pluralistic character of Canadian culture.
Other essays that engage the question of how space is constituted include Bina Toledo Freiwald’s "Cartographies of Be/longing: Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here" and Biljana Romic’s "M. G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets or the Art of Intricate Spatial Interplay. " Freiwald applies Kathleen Kirby’s taxonomy of "the space of the subject" to Brand’s novel in order to map the movement of the two island-born protagonists within the oppo-sitional topographies of Toronto and an unnamed Caribbean island. This sensitive reading of the novel balances Verlia’s self-negating search for "the liberating anonymity of revolutionary space/time/self" in Toronto against Elizete’s effort to bring "herself into existence in Toronto by nam ing and unmasking the social relations that constitute the city."
Similarly, Biljana Romic develops a post-colonial conception of space and place in order to examine the themes of homeless-ness, diaspora, and the loss of spatial memory in Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets. Romic explores the novel’s structure through a complex set of opposing and intersecting spaces and their corresponding temporalities, including the "mythic space" of Indian memory and the "calendrical space" of the immigrant’s experiences of the new land. Distinguishing between different kinds of space in this way not only enables Romic and Freiwald to explore the paradoxes and complexities of immigrant experiences in these particular novels, it also provides the reader with critical frameworks that can be tested against other texts.
A striking feature of Mapping Canadian Cultural Space is that so many of the contributors, all except one of whom are women, link spatial representations with female subjectivity. This association, which sometimes appears to be unquestioned, is problematic when one considers the misogynist, heterosexist history of defining women in relation to space, in particular, domestic space and the space of nature. Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space, confronts just this issue in a timely, provocative, and thoughtful manner. Alaimo considers the ongoing feminist struggle with the historical legacy of "Mother Earth" and other female-gendered representations of nature. Feminist theory’s "flight from nature," which aims to liberate woman from essentialism, generates the opposite effect, since severing nature from culture only further solidifies nature as the unyielding ground of essentialism. Undomesticated Ground explores a dazzling array of feminist texts that endeavour to inhabit and transform nature as a place of feminist possibility. Throughout, Alaimo remains sensitive to the pitfalls of any alliance between women and nature. The texts are grouped chronologically and thematically, and each is carefully considered in relation to its social and historical moment.
In Part II, Alaimo considers how feminists have allied themselves with nature as a political space. Emma Goldman and several leftist writers of the 1930s, for example, summoned the bountiful and beneficent figure of "Mother Earth" to condemn economic inequalities. Part III, "Feminism, Postmodernism, Environmentalism," is, "naturally," the most playful and diverse section of the book, touching on everything from the queering of nature in Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart to the 1990 Earth Day TV special and the portraits of whale-tails used in the Whale Adoption Program. This section foregrounds Alaimo’s indebtedness to those postmodern theorists who strategically blur the boundaries between nature and culture, in particular, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Judith Butler, and Donna Haraway. While the focus is on American texts and pop culture, a few Canadian works are also considered. Alaimo’s lively, compelling reading of Marian Engel’s Bear as an epistemological drama is a highlight, while her assessment of the problematic affirmation of the "natural woman" in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing offers an important complement to Danielle Schaub’s reading of that same novel in Mapping Canadian Cultural Space.
Let me conclude, therefore, by calling attention to Margery Fee’s comment, tucked away in a footnote to Undomesticated Ground, that many of Bears critics have assumed that "nature and women, like nature and Canadians, have some special affinity." If one considers this statement in light of the promise and perils of this affinity outlined by Alaimo, it would seem that both women and Canadians have a particular interest in reconceptualizing the relationship between humans and nature in mutually beneficial, non-essentializing ways.
- No Respect by George Elliott Clarke
Books reviewed: Rude: Contemporary Black Canadian Cultural Criticism by Rinaldo Walcott
- Power Works by Maria Noëlle Ng
Books reviewed: Cultural Politics: Class, Gender, Race and the Postmodern World by Glenn Jordan and Chris Weedon and Engendering China: Women, Culture and the State by Christina K. Gilmartin, Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White
- Men's Business by Terry Goldie
Books reviewed: American Bodies: Cultural Histories of the Physique by Tim Armstrong, Masculine Migrations: Reading the Postcolonial Male in New Canadian Narratives by Daniel Coleman, and The Trials of Masculinity: Policing Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930 by Angus McLaren
- L'épaisseur d'un lieu by Emmanuel Bouchard
Books reviewed: Reculez falaise by Louis-Jean Thibault
- Critical Ecology and Critical Theory by Lisa Szabo-Jones
Books reviewed: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises by Andrew Biro
MLA: Criglington, Meredith. Preoccupied Spaces. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #180 (Spring 2004), (Montgomery, Carson, Bissoondath, Goodridge). (pg. 179 - 181)
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