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Cover of issue #220

Current Issue: #220 Tracking CanLit (Spring 2014)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 220 (Spring 2014) is now available. The issue features a wide range of articles and book reviews as well as a selection of new Canadian poetry.

Transatlantic Multiculturalisms

  • Anne Laperrière (Author), Tamara Palmer Seiler (Author), and Varpu Lindström (Author)
    Immigration and Ethnicity in Canada--Immigration et Ethnicité au Canada. Canadian Issues (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Wolfgang Klooss (Editor) and Braun Hans (Editor)
    Multiculturalism in North America and Europe: Social Practices--Literary Visions. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Serge Jaumain (Author) and Marc Maufort (Author)
    The Guises of Canadian Diversity: : New European Perspectives--Les masques de la diversité canadienne: Nouvelles perspectives européennes. Rodopi (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Reviewed by Winfried Simerling

Multiculturalism, plurality, and ethnicity have become acute priorities in many disciplines as constructions of national cultures are pressured by globalization, migration, and previously repressed cultural connections. Discourses on multiculturalism are multiple like their subject matter. We hear qualified activist approval or less restrained administrative endorsement; multiculturalism is described as civilization’s last hope (for instance against fundamentalism or the European extreme right) or condemned as totalitarian or racist practice; it is associated with both negative "othering" and the exuberant commodification and fetishization of otherness. Articulations of these concerns in literary theory and criticism can pose complex problems, as, for example, wholesale lapses into unreflected thematicism have demonstrated. Yet while white Canada’s "second-world" status initially produced certain frictions in the postcolonial paradigm, Canadian multiculturalism has been perceived as immediately relevant in current international discussions.

Although Canada’s record in this respect is still awarded relatively little attention in the current United States debates (apart from the reception of Charles Taylor’s work or conservative reference to Canada as an example of multiculturalism’s threat to strong nationhood), European-based perspectives often identify Canada as a potential model as the problem of the twenty-first century is seen as the problem of ethnic diversity. Canada’s pioneer status is thus emphasized by Hans Braun and Wolfgang Klooss in their editorial preface to Multicultumlism in North America and Europe: Social Practices—Literary Visions. This collection offers contributions from both sides of the Atlantic on multiculturalism, representing a considerable number of disciplines, geographies, and perspectives. The topics discussed include, for instance, the acquisition of cross-cultural knowledge in the classroom, an analysis of Canadian ethnic census data, and considerations of ethnicity as economic variable. Jürgen Thömmes offers a fascinating account of the encounter between French "laicisme" and Islamic fundamentalism in the 1989 "Affaire des Foulards," in which group-based religious norms collided with modern models of subjectivity based on the purely procedural politics of universalism. Hans Braun follows with an analysis of the rise of ethnicity in Germany, where immigration has increased steadily since the eighties and unprepared policy makers are trying to come to terms with a de-facto multicultural situation. Yet while North American models might offer solutions, Braun also points to the differently developed cognitive resources that allow traditional immigration societies to adapt more easily to new global realities. Dirk Hoerder’s contribution similarly uses the Canadian situation in a comparative perspective, in order to discuss cultural retention and change in immigrant cultures.

The second half of the book features well-known scholars of Canadian literature. Frank Davey’s "The Literary Politics of Canadian Multiculturalism" distinguishes between a largely "white" multiculturalism of the seventies and an activist multiculturalism of the last decade. He portrays the former as western Canada’s response to bilingualism, a multiculturalism "in which Canadians of Ukrainian, German, Swedish, Icelandic and similar descent challenged the right of Canadians of French descent to specific claim and statutory privilege, without necessarily wishing to distinguish themselves from general Anglophone-Canadian culture." While he sees merely "an increased consciousness of ancestry" and attempts to "rehabilitate First Nations and Métis historical figures" in the works of writers like Wiebe, Suknaski, Mandel or Laurence, Davey characterizes the later, activist multiculturalism as marked by the claims of a wide variety of groups for special status. In this context, Davey offers his analyses of paraliterary "scandals," such as the controversial Canada Council statements concerning funding priorities, the debates about "appropriation of voice," the disputes about representation at the 1989 PEN International Congress, and the recent equations of multiculturalism with Orwellian coercion.

Moving from political context to literary text, Konrad Gross offers a consideration of memory and language in ethnic literature, discussing texts by the German writer Sten Nadolny and by Turkish-German writer Emine Sevgi Özdamar together with Grove’s A Search for America, Laurence’s The Diviners, Kogawa’s Obasan and Gunnars’ The Prowler. Gross insists here on ethnic literature and ethnogenesis not as categories of marginality but as prototypical of writing in North America, and thus reinforces similar claims made by Werner Sollors and Enoch Padolsky for American and Canadian literature respectively. In other contributions, Hartmut Lutz discusses Whiteshamanism and the non-Native appropriation of Native artifacts and stories, Simone Vauthier analyses Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, and Ron Hatch offers a survey of Chinese-Canadian writing; Janice Kulyk Keefer closes the col- lection with a discussion of her experience as an author who has come to see herself as Ukrainian-Canadian, and as a reader and teacher engaging with multiculturalism in the Canadian context. The volume as a whole provides valuable comparative perspectives on multiculturalism as an international problematic that appears, however, in constellations entirely specific to local situations. The important essays in the second part mark the book as a significant contribution to literary scholarship in the area of multiculturalism.

In The Guises of Canadian Diversity: New European Perspectives—Les masques da la diversité: Nouvelles perspectives européennes, Serge Jaumain and Marc Maufort present selected essays from the "Second European Seminar for Graduate Students in Canadian Studies," held 1993 at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Documenting the work of the next generation of European Canadianists, this bilingual collection and the conference at its origin also illustrate the extraordinary and exciting interest in Canadian studies in Europe. In an introductory survey of Canadian Studies abroad, Lucette Nobell traces the development from the 1976 Symons Report to the current upsurge of interest in Europe and elsewhere that has led to Canadian Studies Associations in twenty countries. The first of the following three main sections, entitled "Around Postmodernism / Autour du postmod- ernisme," testifies to the continuing strong interest in Michael Ondaatje’s work (3 essays, one of which discusses postmodern autobiography in both Daphne Marlatt and Ondaatje), but also presents contributions on Findley, English Canadian drama, and Native writing and representation in literature. Historiography is examined here in the context of Ondaatje’s work by Maria J. Llarena-Ascanio and in Gianna Stefanutto’s discussion of historiographic plays by Davies, Salutin, Coulter, and Gray, but also with reference to autobiography and its often complex mediations through alterity (for instance in Annette Lönnecke’s reading of Ondaatje’s Running in the Family). Questions of alterity are again central to Carolan-Brozy’s discussion ofthat loaded form of Native autobiography which Arnold Krupat has called "bicultural composite authorship"—the transcription and transmutation of Native oral discourse by non-Natives that has been one of the central theoretical issues in Native American studies (John G. Neihardt’s is a classical case in point). While Carolan-Brozy cites discussions of detrimental non- Native involvement in this area (for instance Helen Hoy’s thoughtful reflections on the The Book of Jessica), she reads Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole’s collaborative No Foreign Land:The Autobiography of a North American Indian as a conscious subversion of the genre’s historical implications.

The problems of authorship and editorial transmutation of autobiography resurface in the opening essay of the section on Canadian Women Writers, Michela Mengoli-Berti’s "La Relation de 1654 de Marie de l’Incarnation—une autobiographie spirituelle." The recomposition of Marie de l’Incarnation’s manuscript by her son, Mengoli-Berti argues convincingly, adapts the text to the publicly defined norm and leaves us, in fact, "privés du texte original." In the following contributions, Karyn Huenemann discusses Sara Jeannette Duncan’s fictive exploration of colonial women’s positionalities in her Anglo-Indian novels and in The Imperialist, and Kirstie McAlpine follows the female negotiations of silence in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and Marlene Nourbese Philip’s Looking for Livingstone: An Odysseyof Silence. Autobiography, the fusion of fact and fiction, and the intricacies of memory come to the fore in Eva Darías Beautell’s reading of female subjectivity in Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe, Kristjana Gunnars’ The Substance of Forgetting and again Kogawa’s Obasan, and in Kit Stead’s consideration of the work of Alice Munro. Gabrielle Heinen-Dimmer’s discussion of the indirect, associative, and cumulative narrative techniques in Sandra Birdsell’s Agassiz Stories concludes this section on "Canadian Women Writers/Ecrivaines canadiennes." Together with the preceding essays, these studies offer an indication of the often excellent work and the interests and perspectives that mark European grad- uate scholarship on Canadian literatures. In the last section, entitled "Cultural Studies / Civilisation," literary scholars find further interesting material in Sandrine Ferré’s account of publishing in Atlantic Canada and its recent multicultural developments, and perhaps also in Lee Rotherham’s discussion of André Laurendeau’s relationship with the often problematic nationalisms in the thirties and forties in Québec. More catholic tastes can profit from the whole disciplinary range offered here, which includes archaeology, social history, geography, and constitutional law.

The disciplinary diversity typical of area studies also marks the collection edited by Anne LaperrieÌ€re, Varpu Lindstróm, and Tamara Palmer Seiler, Immigration and Ethnicity in Canada—Immigration et Ethnicité au Canada. This special issue of Canadian Issues/TheÌ€mes canadiens brings together papers from the 1995 Annual Conference of the Association for Canadian Studies at the Université du Québec aÌ€ Montréal. Contributions from different disciplines offer in this volume comparative approaches to immigration, focussing thus productively on one specific aspect of ethnicity. This perspective yields comparisons between immigrant groups, and between them and the host society, in such areas as health and life expectancy, professional and economic achievement, retirement, or the "Suburbanization of Portuguese Communities in Toronto and Montreal." While census-based approaches dominate in many of these discussions, New Oral History for instance is used by Alexander Freund and Laura Quilici in a comparison between the subjective perceptions of women immigrants from Germany and Italy in post-WW II Vancouver in order to account for their changing constructions of femininity. From a literary perspective, the collection’s highlight is Marilyn J. Rose’s "Translating / Transliterating the Ethnic," a discussion of Florence Livesay’s Songs of Ukraina, with Ruthenian Poems (1916) and Keibo Oiwa’s Stone Voices: Wartime Writings of Japanese Issei (1991). Rose shows how the translation of ethnic voices highlights the locality typical of translative acts, which "arise from and respond to their own political moment and hence are intensely culturally nuanced." Translation is seen as necessarily implicated in contextual slippages induced by the target cultural register. The fact that Livesay neither read nor spoke Ukranian when she transposed rough translations by a Ukrainian immigrant minister into acceptable Canadian literary conventions hardly interfered with the positive reception of her "translations." In the contexts that governed public response to her work, it was not seen in terms of "appropriation" but greeted by both the dominant culture and the Ukrainian community as valuable contribution to interethnic understanding. Yet Rose applies critical pressure also to the concept of "authenticity" when she shows how technical choices, values, and the discursive context of multiculturalism mediate the 1991 translations of wartime Japanese- Canadian texts by a Japanese translator. In both cases, the specific, culturally determined performance of translation is studied not to deny sincerity and justified positionalities in translation, but to demonstrate that translation partakes of the contingencies that mark all discourses in general, and cross-cultural communication in particular. At the end of this volume, the reader is provided with a complete list of the numerous papers given at the conference from which the papers published here were selected, which further documents the issues at stake in this area of research. The three publications together confirm the sense that Canadian issues constitute a rich and productive site for the study of multiculturalism, cross-cultural communication, and ethnicity. These works demonstrate that the attention now paid to these areas in literary studies and other disciplines is unquestionably deserved.

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MLA: Simerling, Winfried. Transatlantic Multiculturalisms. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #157 (Summer 1998), (Thomas Raddall, Alice Munro & Aritha van Herk). (pg. 121 - 125)

***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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