Transcultural Identities

  • Nora Tunkel (Editor)
    Transcultural Imaginaries: History and Globalization in Contemporary Canadian Literature. Universitätsverlag C. Winter (purchase at
  • Anna Pia De Luca (Author)
    Investigating Canadian Identities: 10th Anniversary Contributions. Forum Editrice (purchase at
Reviewed by Tina Northrup

The University of Udine established its Centre for Canadian Culture in 1998, and between 2008 and 2009 it celebrated that Centre’s tenth anniversary with a series of visits from scholars and artists. Their readings and lectures have been printed together in Investigating Canadian Identities: 10th Anniversary Contributions: a heterogeneous collection with contents ranging in subject matter from the perspectives of minority writers in Canada during the “race for theory,” to Canada’s interventions in Haiti since 2004, the ethics of embellishment in memoir-writing, the legacy of painter Albert Chiarandini, and the works of Margaret Atwood, George Elliott Clarke, Janice Kulyk Keefer, and Armand Garnet Ruffo.

Taken as a whole, the collection is a pleasant piece of memorabilia: one that may be of most interest to those who contributed to the Centre’s anniversary series. Taken individually, its contents will be useful variously to those who are interested in the works of those writers mentioned above. In this regard, readers of Kulyk Keefer’s works may find the collection particularly helpful, as it includes a lengthy interview between Kulyk Keefer and Deborah Saidero, as well as a selection of Kulyk Keefer’s poems translated from English to Italian by Francesca Romana Paci, and an essay by Paci on the demands of translating Kulyk Keefer’s award-winning suite “Isle of Demons.”

In her introduction to the collection, Anna Pia De Luca writes warmly of the progress made in multicultural Canada since the 1980s, and argues that “today many novelists and artists have re-appropriated an autochthonous space in Canada where they can narrate their history of initial displacement and marginalization in order to reclaim their cultural heritage and past.” Although this characterization of “autochthonous space” is troubled by some of the collection’s contents—most notably an essay by Nduka Otiono on Ruffo’s Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney, and another by Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon on Clarke’s Beatrice Chancy and Québécité—De Luca’s enthusiasm for “transcultural and postnational identity” glosses over the matter of Indigenous resistance and sovereignty too easily. This makes for a fraught entrance into a collection that aims to recognize and celebrate contributions made by diasporic peoples to Canadian society, but does not consistently consider those contributions in relation to Indigenous peoples’ prior presence and contemporary claims.

Nora Tunkel’s Transcultural Imaginaries: History and Globalization in Contemporary Canadian Literature is similarly inconsistent in this regard. The study makes a productive intervention into scholarship on historical fictions in Canada, which Tunkel argues are insufficiently understood through the lenses of postmodernism and postcolonialism, and must be considered in light of globalization and its socio-cultural effects. Tunkel finds contemporary discourses of transculturalism to be promising extensions of the discourses of both interculturalism and multiculturalism, both of which seem to envision cultural diversity as a “side-by-sideness” of “separate components.” Transculturalism, on the other hand, “acknowledges difference and at the same time lays stronger emphasis on complex cultural interactions and the resulting hybridizations.”

Tunkel’s argument that transculturalism offers a better understanding of globalized identities is largely persuasive, but her commentary also suggests that it can only thrive in situations of social equality. Her analysis of the impossibility of transcultural dialogue between racialized and disenfranchised peoples and those who benefit from the white supremacist state in Clarke’sGeorge and Rue provides a telling case study in this regard, and so it comes as something of a surprise that her positioning of Indigenous writers in relation to her vision of “transcultural imaginaries” is relatively cursory until almost the end of the book, where she at last addresses how the threats of cultural genocide or assimilation might factor into their engagement with discourses of transculturalism, and with the genre of historical fiction as well.

However unfair it may be to judge two books against one that had not yet appeared at the time of writing, Investigating Canadian Identities andTranscultural Imaginaries both left me wishing for the kinds of sustained, nuanced considerations of immigration, diaspora, transculturalism, and Indigeneity that appear in Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation Through the Lens of Cultural Diversity: the final volume of the research series produced by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both books have much to offer their readers, but their claims to transcultural identities ought to be considered in light of other claims as well.

This review “Transcultural Identities” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 145-46.

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