Nevertheless, They Persisted

Reviewed by Lorraine York

As I write this review, Doug Ford, running to become the premier of Ontario, has announced that he would not stand in the way of Conservative MLAs introducing anti-choice legislation, and he has vowed to roll back the current Liberal government’s progressive revisions to the province’s sexual education curriculum. South of the border, the Trump administration has unveiled its plan to withhold federal money from any health facility (notably, Planned Parenthood) that provides abortions or refers patients to providers of the procedure. These are only a couple of fronts on which patriarchal neoliberalism attacks those who identify as women, particularly poor women, women of colour, queer, and trans women. As feminist thinkers at this moment in time, we are thirsty for writings of resistance. These two books quench that thirst in strikingly diverse ways, one through academic theory and literary analysis, the other through journalistic current affairs satire, though each ultimately upsets the theory/praxis dichotomy.

Libe García Zarranz’s TransCanadian Feminist Fictions combines theoretical acumen with lively political urgency. Speaking to twenty-first-century anxieties about displacement, perpetual war, globalization fallout, and discrimination, it thinks in complex ways about border crossing, affects, and materialism. Heavily indebted to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s theories of the multitude, García Zarranz sees the potential for change not in a forging of a homogeneous subaltern coalition but, instead, in an alliance of distinct, differently positioned communities. It’s a pleasure to read a thinker who is so thoroughly well read in contemporary cultural theory; at times, however, I wanted García Zarranz’s voice to intervene a bit more, particularly when she cites theorists whose works are not philosophically congruent. I think here, for instance, of Sianne Ngai’s contention that the “ugly feelings” of which she writes have little political efficacy, a stance García Zarranz cites approvingly in relation to Hiromi Goto’s writing, even though the balance of TransCanadian Feminist Fictions avers that affective border crossings hold potential for resistance through dissident affective corporeal performances.

The literary texts through which García Zarranz threads these meditations are twenty-first-century works by Dionne Brand, Hiromi Goto, and Emma Donoghue. García Zarranz constructs a “recursive” (to use her term) structure in this study, that is, returning to Brand, Goto, and Donoghue in each of the three main sections of the study, which are devoted to corporeality, biopolitics, and affects. Threaded through the meticulous academic analysis is a recurring concern plucked out of the daily news: at several points in the study, García Zarranz references the ongoing war in Syria and its refugee crisis. This is an erudite book of theoretically informed literary criticism whose commitments are embedded in the everyday politics of borders and bodies.

Tabatha Southey’s Collected Tarts, on the other hand, would at first glance appear to be leagues removed from academic political theory. A collection of satirical columns that Southey wrote for The Globe and Mail and other publications, it embraces everyday humour (think: the September curse of too many zucchini). But a decisive thread running through Southey’s columns is a biting, energetic, take-no-prisoners progressive political satire. She has a particular gift for exploding the ridiculousness of government measures that seek to curtail the full personhood of particular subjects. One particularly effective tactic Southey uses is the application of the language of a regressive policy to another situation, the better to highlight its ridiculousness or ethical impoverishment. One might call this the “Modest Proposal” strategy, and in Southey’s hands, it stings most satisfyingly. In relation to gender politics, Southey rebukes Canadian politicians who want to deny sex workers a safe working space, Gamergate threats against women programmers, Ontarian prudishness about sexual education, and the media’s consistent othering of transgender people. Southey has similarly called out the destructive wielding of privilege in the Canadian cultural realm; after several powerful media industry insiders took to Twitter to voice their support for Hal Niedzviecki’s call for an “Appropriation Prize” to recognize the stealing of other communities’ stories, Tabatha Southey tweeted back, “Oh. An ‘Appropriation Prize.’ You guys are so punk. Maybe spare the world white people complaining about being over-policed. Maybe listen.” Southey’s work is a popular contribution to feminist, anti-racist discourse, and it offers astute critical intervention. As feminists committed to an assemblage of social justice causes at a difficult time, we need all of these feminisms—fierce, funny, theoretical, activist, satirical, philosophical—to nourish and strengthen us.

This review “Nevertheless, They Persisted” originally appeared in Lost and Found Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 236 (2018): 145-146.

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