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Writing the Roaming Subject

Writing the Roaming Subject: The Biotext in Canadian Literature

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 200
  • Book Info
    Writing the Roaming Subject
    Book Description:

    Engaging current debates within the studies of life writing and of the nation-state,Writing the Roaming Subjectfocuses on a group of Canadian writers who pose questions about cultural difference and national identity while writing about their own lives and their own experiences of displacement. Joanne Saul uses the term 'biotext' to describe the unique form of writing that challenges critical practices regarding both life writing and immigrant and ethnic minority writing by blurring the borders of biography, autobiography, history, fiction and theory, as well as poetry, prose, and visual representation.

    In her readings of selected contemporary Canadian biotexts - including Michael Ondaatje'sRunning in the Family, Daphne Marlatt'sGhost Works, Roy Kiyooka'sMothertalk, and Fred Wah'sDiamond Grill- Saul suggests that by crossing generic boundaries, these works illuminate the complex relationships between language, place, and self as they are manifested in textual form.Writing the Roaming Subjectexplores issues of identity formation, representation, and resistance in Canada and suggests that these are particularly crucial questions during a period of Canadian literary history when so many writers are insisting on new, more diverse cultural performances that resist the pull of the national imaginary.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8373-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Writing the Roaming Subject
    (pp. 3-12)

    This study of the contemporary Canadian biotext grows out of and responds to the critical attention brought to bear on constructions of race, ethnicity, and gender in relation to a Canadian national imaginary as well as to a growing interest in the theorizing of life writing in Canada over the last four decades. It looks specifically at four examples of Canadian ‘biotexts’ as a way of exploring what Bina Toledo Freiwald has referred to as ‘the relation between self, nation, and self-narration’ (24). In her introduction to a special issue ofEssays on Canadian Writing, ‘Reading Canadian Autobiography,’ in 1996,...

  5. 1 Introducing the ‘Biotext’
    (pp. 13-32)

    Although, as has been seen, the term ‘biotext’ originates with George Bowering, Fred Wah borrows the term for his acknowledgments toDiamond Grillbecause, he suggests, it allows a way of seeing the text that avoids our being ‘hijacked’ by ‘ready-made generic expectations, the cachet exuded ... by those other two terms, autobiography and lifewriting’ (‘Interview with Ashok Mathur’ 97). In turn, I am borrowing the term ‘biotext’ from Wah, not as a hard and fast definition of the four works in this study, but rather as a way of theorizing the writing of displacement in Canada, and as a...

  6. 2 ‘The shape of an unknown thing’: Writing Displacement in Running in the Family
    (pp. 33-56)

    Of the four texts examined in this study, Michael Ondaatje’sRunning in the Familyis the earliest example of what I am calling a biotext, a text that challenges formal and generic definitions as a way of articulating the complexities of the subject in process. Just as crucially,Running in the Familyserves as an important predecessor forGhost Works,Mothertalk, andDiamond Grillbecause it is a self-conscious expression of a displaced self – a self in the process of negotiating one’s belonging in terms of nation and ethnicity. If all autobiographers need to struggle with self-representation in their texts,...

  7. 3 ‘A story of listening way back in the body’: Writing the Self in Ghost Works
    (pp. 57-80)

    Given its focus on self-representation and cultural difference,Ghost Workshas much in common with the other texts in this study. Like Ondaatje, Marlatt is an immigrant to Canada. Like Wah’s, her entire oeuvre is concerned primarily with the specificities of place and the examination of the subject in and out of place. As a result,Ghost Worksis more an evocation of certain moments in a life and the subject’s shifting relationship to place and language than it is the chronological story of a life. The exploration of belonging and not belonging takes precedence over a linear or developmental...

  8. 4 Routes and Roots: The Auto/biographical Voices of Mothertalk
    (pp. 81-102)

    Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyookachallenges conventional critical practices in regards to both autobiography and immigrant writing by blurring the boundaries between autobiography, biography, history, fiction, and theory, and mixing prose segments in with poetry, letters, essays, and photographs. The book is based on the recollections of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka, an Issei woman in her nineties. Her stories were told in Japanese to a translator (Matsuki Masutani), who later transcribed the interviews and translated them into English for Mary’s son, Roy Kiyooka. Roy Kiyooka then rewrote and reordered the transcriptions according to his own poetic project, adding and...

  9. 5 The Politics and Poetics of Identity: ‘Faking it’ in Diamond Grill
    (pp. 103-128)

    Like the other works we have looked at in this study,Diamond Grillis an almost impossible text to define generically. It has an autobiographical impulse in the sense that it is, at least in part, the story of Fred Wah as a teenager in the 1950s in Nelson, British Columbia. It is ‘relational’ because it also traces the various branches of Wah’s family tree, with a particular emphasis on his father. It is critical in the sense that the narrator, the writer-critic, the ‘I’ of the present tense, negotiates the various narrative strands as they are being told. And,...

  10. Epilogue: (Still) Roaming
    (pp. 129-134)

    This book has been intended as a contribution to the critical discussions of both subjectivity and difference in Canadian literary studies. I began the book by citing a challenge from Shirley Neuman to begin to incorporate the theories of the poetics of autobiography in the discussion of Canadian works. In the decade since her special issue, many people have taken up her challenge in fascinating ways, and ‘auto/biography’ studies are flourishing in Canada. The biotexts I have looked at in this book are especially revealing examples of the complexities of texts that interrogate the poetics of self-narration but also the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 135-144)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 145-160)
  13. Index
    (pp. 161-175)