Cultivating the Game

  • Angie Abdou (Editor) and Jamie Dopp (Editor)
    Writing the Body in Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature. Athabasca University Press (purchase at
Reviewed by Suzanne Zelazo

“Sport, like art, is about potential and possibility, dreaming and doing what it takes to shape that dream into reality.”

—Priscila Uppal, Winter Sport

In their collection of essays on Canadian sport literature, editors Angie Abdou and Jamie Dopp navigate the very potentiality and possibility the late Priscila Uppal was referring to in her own attempts to tease out the interstice of sport and literature. Beyond the important (if fairly obvious) conceptualization of sport as a metaphor for human experience, a critical engagement with the ways sport is itself a language is still very much underexplored. What Uppal was after, and Abdou and Dopp are cultivating, is a conversation between seemingly disparate disciplines of sensory experimentation.

Still an emergent area of study, sport literature has much to teach us about the somatics of our socio-cultural expressivity. Writing the Body in Motion reflects the bias in Canadian sport literature towards hockey versus other sports, and although the editors explain their attempts to diversify the collection, five of the eleven essays are hockey related. The replication of this bias is, however, important for understanding the critical genealogy, particularly for readers new to the field. Yet, the essays on hockey offer something original. Take, for example, Sam McKegney and Trevor J. Phillips’ “Decolonizing the Hockey Novel: Ambivalence and Apotheosis in Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse,” a powerful consideration of the ways hockey is bound up with a very particular kind of national identity, underscoring, as the authors write, “how the contradictions embedded within public discourse on residential schooling are mirrored by those relating to the social function of hockey in Canadian culture.”

Where they do seek to move outside the bias of dominant sports, the editors include two essays on women’s swimming, as well as Laura K. Davis’ consideration of Alexander MacLeod’s “Miracle Mile,” a short story about running, belonging, and identity-building. Elsewhere, Cory Willard’s ecocritical investigation of Thomas Wharton’s Icefields considers mountaineering as a means to transcending the self.

Whereas Abdou’s own sport-based novel The Bone Cage to some extent creatively theorizes an embodied cognition of the athlete sensitizing her way through the world, Writing the Body in Motion could benefit from a stronger contextualizing apparatus. Nonetheless, the collection is an essential contribution to the field—one that activates our own sensory explorations, whereby the boundaries between self and other begin to erode and possibilities of connection arise. In amassing these essays, the editors ask a series of crucial questions: What does it mean to write a body in motion? In what ways does such writing narrativize identity, exploration, and consciousness? The answers are, of course, up to a new generation of scholars and thinkers. In the introduction, Abdou insists: “[W]e hope our book will move our conversation forward.” It’s certain they already have.

This review “Cultivating the Game” originally appeared in 60th Anniversary Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 239 (2019): 128.

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