Glocalizing CanLit in an Era of Austerity

  • Ana María Fraile-Marcos (Editor)
    Literature and the Glocal City: Reshaping the English Canadian Imaginary. Routledge (purchase at
Reviewed by Daniel Coleman

The coinage “glocal” in the title of this book echoes and repositions A. J. M. Smith’s mid-twentieth-century complaint that CanLit had sequestered itself in a nativist search for “Canadianness” and thereby failed to participate in a “cosmopolitan” literary world. This volume of essays demonstrates, both in its production and in the arguments of its contributors, how thoroughly immersed Canadian literary production is today, for better or for worse, in an international cultural economy. The book is the result of a conference organized at the University of Salamanca, by its Spanish editor, Ana María Fraile-Marcos. It is published by the transnational publisher Routledge. Its contributors hail from Britain, Spain, and Canada, and its subject matter addresses cultural currents that connect Indigenous, Asian, European, Latin American, and Caribbean histories, feminist cityscapes and queer dystopias, urban hipster conservatism and refugee activism, neoliberal traffic between metro Toronto and the Maritimes, shopping mall economics, and Canada’s international multicultural image.

Literature and the Glocal City constitutes a significant contribution to CanLitCrit’s attention to the challenges posed by urbanization to its traditional focus, since Thomas D’arcy McGee, on how literature narrates the nation. If the Massey Commission advocated government investment in the arts to buttress national self-definition, Literature and the Glocal City joins works such as Justin Edwards’ and Douglas Ivison’s Downtown Canada, Kit Dobson’s Transnational Canadas, Smaro Kamboureli’s and Roy Miki’s Trans.Can.Lit., and Herb Wyile’s Anne of Tim Horton’s in turning attention to the transnational cultural economies of which Canadian cities are major hubs. As Fraile-Marcos writes in her introduction, the collection “adopts an interdisciplinary glocal critical perspective from which to interrogate a national culture that can no longer be bounded by the limits of the nation state, but which does not give up on the nation.” Deena Rymhs’s chapter reads Marie Clement’s plays about the (neo)colonial violence generated by the nuclear and lumber industries’ transnational economies that link northern First Peoples, Hiroshima, and the downtown Eastside, while Michèle Lacombe reads contending concepts of home in Tessa McWatt’s Montreal novel about a female Mohawk Oka activist and a displaced Guyanese narrator. Other chapters study urban time signatures: Coral Ann Howells reads Phyllis Brett Young’s 1960 vision of Toronto against Maggie Helwig’s 2002 version of the city to demonstrate how feminist perspectives on xenophobia, security, and alienation have shifted, while Belén Martín-Lucas reads Larissa Lai’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s futuristic, queer-cyborg-dystopic novels to trace the alternatives they pose to airless neoliberalism in the present. Several chapters focus on cultural formations—Eva Darias-Beautell on the semiotics of glass in Vancouver’s literature and architecture, Kit Dobson on Heather Spear’s poetic questioning of West Edmonton Mall’s uncertain future, and Brandon McFarlane on gentrification in Toronto hipster writers’ anti-nationalism—to demonstrate how dense urban economies generate contradiction, collusion, and contention. All the chapters, but especially Fraile-Marcos’s on Michael Helm’s Cities of Refuge, Herb Wyile’s on Michael Winter’s The Architects Are Here, and George Elliott Clarke’s on the representation of Canadian cities in Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, consciously trace the flows of people, goods, and ideologies that link cities to their hinterlands, local municipalities to global movements, and multicultural urban imagery to submerged imperial histories glossed by their branding as “global cities.” Together, these essays demonstrate, in the editor’s words, that increasing analysis of the ways in which “the glocal city acts concurrently as a rooted local/national place and a global unmoored space . . . affects the national imaginary.”

The production of Literature and the Glocal City itself shows how any national imaginary must negotiate the vagaries of globalization. The conference that launched this book was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Council of Culture and Education of Castilla y León, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in 2011—just in time, because all three austerity governments subsequently reduced (or cut entirely, in Canada’s case) cultural funding for these institutions. At the same time, austerity regimes have intensified their micromanagement of scholars’ affairs so that EU academics such as Fraile-Marcos are encountering increasing scrutiny whereby their publications are compared to pre-set lists that rank some presses as significant and others as not. Routledge ranks high as an internationally recognized publisher, but because it cannot rely on the large market of British and American libraries to buy a book about Canada, and it doesn’t qualify for Canadian subsidies to support Canadian-based publication, it priced this book at $140.00 USD, out of the reach of everyday readers. This too is the glocalization of Canadian literature.


This review “Glocalizing CanLit in an Era of Austerity” originally appeared in Radio, Film, and Fiction. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 225 (Summer 2015): 136-137.

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