Sense and Singularity: Reading Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid


"Sense and Singularity: Reading Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid" offers a revisionist reading of the style and the politics of both this key long poem and Ondaatje's poetics in general. The article seeks to broaden the critical discussion about Ondaatje's early poetry by claiming that the novelty and force of Billy the Kid inheres in the poet's ability to create a form of minor literature through the event of singularity. The phrase "minor literature" is being employed here in accordance with the sense given to the term by Deleuze and Guattari for whom it no longer describes the representation of a recognized minority or social fraction but instead opens a space within representation for a "people to come. What is remarkable about the poem, the article suggests, is the way it both fashions an historical narrative of the last great phase of the American West and produces singular points of intensity or perception that prevent that narrative from achieving structural coherence. The reading of Billy the Kid that develops attempts to trace the continuing relation between historical sense and singularity by exploring the way Ondaatje's commitment to singular moments, perceptions and events simultaneously composes and discomposes the field of historical representations that his poem presents.

This article “Sense and Singularity: Reading Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid” originally appeared in Predators and Gardens. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 197 (Summer 2008): 62-78.

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