DisPossession: Haunting in Canadian Fiction

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Much of Canada's contemporary fiction displays an eerie fascination with the supernatural. In DisPossession, Marlene Goldman investigates the links between spectral motifs and the social and historical influences that have shaped Canada. Incorporating both psychoanalytic and non-traditional methods of literary analysis, Goldman explores the ways in which spectral fictions are an expression of definitive Canadian experiences such as the clashes between invading settler and indigenous populations, the losses incurred by immigration and diaspora, and the alienation of the female body. In so doing, Goldman unearths some of the "ghosts" of Canadian society itself - old tensions and injustices that continue to haunt ethnic and gender relations. An important contribution to the discussion of the challenges posed by the Gothic to dominant literary, political, and social narratives, DisPossession asserts that Canadian spectral fictions have the power to alter accepted versions of Canadian history by invoking and troubling the process of generating collective memories.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8731-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: DisPossession and Haunting in Canadian Fiction
    (pp. 3-36)

    The uncanny tropes of haunting and possession pervade contemporary Canadian fiction. As Freud and more recent critics have argued, the uncanny (unheimlich) concerns the “heim” or home, and typically surfaces in conjunction with crises concerning matters of possession and inheritance. In the works examined in this study, uncanny, spectral tropes betray disturbances on the domestic, national, and transnational levels. As Joanne Saul and I note in our introduction to theUniversity of Toronto Quarterlyspecial issue on haunting, Derrida insists inSpecters of Marxthat learning to live necessitates learning to live with ghosts – an injunction tied to a politics...

  5. 1 Coyote’s Children and the Canadian Gothic: Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook and Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Cure for Death by Lightning
    (pp. 39-62)

    This chapter analyses the treatment of the uncanny gendered and racialised nature of haunting in Sheila Watson’sThe Double Hook(1959) and Gail Anderson-Dargatz’sThe Cure for Death by Lightning(1996). Of all the works considered in this study, their novels are most complicit with the project of exorcism outlined by Brogan, which, as noted in the introduction, she associates with contemporary American tales of ethnic haunting. In Watson’s and Anderson-Dargatz’s texts, however, the success of the exorcism remains highly ambiguous. Ultimately, both novels suggest that if critics choose to speak of a “Canadian” Gothic, then they must contend with...

  6. 2 Dispossession and the Rule of Primogeniture in John Steffler’s The Afterlife of George Cartwright
    (pp. 63-100)

    Sheila Watson’sThe Double Hookand Gail Anderson Dargatz’sThe Cure for Death by Lightninginvoke virtually all of the topoi of the Gothic, a genre famous for its doubled and divided structure. As we saw, these novels promote the fantasy of the New Eden as well as the Enlightenment and Christian values of reason, order, and good government. At the same time, they are suffused with transgressive passions and betray the anxieties of a settler-society haunted by the prior claims of its indigenous inhabitants. Central to my argument is the fact that in both works this characteristic gothic tension...

  7. 3 Jane Urquhart’s Away: Magic Realism and the Ghosts of Celticism
    (pp. 103-148)

    “There is no question,” Renée Bergland explains, that Freud’s model of the uncanny “relies on racial and political hierarchies” that informed imperial and colonial endeavours (10). In Sheila Watson’sThe Double Hook, Gail Anderson-Dargatz’sThe Cure for Death by Lightning, and Steffler’sThe Afterlife of George Cartwright, the conventions of the Gothic shed light on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European colonial attitudes to the supposed uncanny, “savage races” – attitudes that were tied to religious and scientific notions of degeneracy. Similar concerns with degeneracy surface in Jane Urquhart’sAway, a novel that draws on ancient Irish Celtic tales of “otherworld” spirits to...

  8. 4 ‘Cloth Flowers That Bleed’: Haunting, Hysteria, and Diaspora in Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
    (pp. 149-185)

    In this part on transnational haunting, I examine texts that highlight the connections between diasporic experiences, haunting, and possession. Generally speaking, the works by Urquhart, Atwood, and Brand engage with a specific set of questions posed in the introduction: To what extent do ghosts signal anxieties associated with multiple and/or diasporic identities? What is the significance of haunting in women’s textual and artistic productions? Is haunting a response to classical conceptions of women’s uncanny propensity for hysteria? While all of the works in this study implicitly or explicitly probe the links between haunting and women, Atwood’s fiction is famous for...

  9. 5 ‘The spirits call she and make their display in she’: The Trope of Possessionin the Work of Dionne Brand
    (pp. 186-240)

    This chapter on Brand’s corpus concludes Part II on transnational and diasporic haunting. Whereas the first two chapters in this part, onAwayandAlias Grace, invoked the Irish diaspora, Brand’s work interrogates the haunting legacy of the Black diaspora. Although notions of haunting, trauma, and embodiment, which are fundamental to Urquhart’s and Atwood’s novels, are also central to Brand’s work, this chapter aims to sharpen the focus by concentrating on Brand’s engagement with a specific form of haunting – possession. I argue that throughout her corpus, Brand distills the process of possession into two gestures, an emptying-out followed by an...

  10. 6 Ghost Play: The Use of Transitional Phenomena in Thomas King’s Truth and Bright Water
    (pp. 243-297)

    Like Watson’sDouble Hookand Anderson-Dargatz’sThe Cure for Death by Lightning– the focus of chapter 1 – Cherokee/Greek/German Thomas King’sTruth and Bright Water(1999) invokes the spirit of Coyote and ghosts to trace the impact of the dispossession of North American Native peoples. Unlike the former novels, however,Truth and Bright Waterinfuses a tale of cultural haunting with a tragicomic trickster sensibility to examine the repeated failures of those in authority to safeguard the land, culture, and lives of Native peoples. Yet even as it documents these failures, King’s novel investigates the trickster-inspired possibility that Native peoples and...

  11. CONCLUSION: Towards an Ethics of Haunting
    (pp. 298-320)

    This study began with my desire to trace the motifs of haunting, ghosts, and possession through close readings of a range of contemporary Canadian fiction. As we have seen from the analyses in the previous chapters, these tropes shape both the form and content of much Canadian writing, ranging from the formal experimentation of Sheila Watson’s modernist classic,The Double Hook, to the hysterical narrative of Margaret Atwood’sAlias Grace, to the trickster-infused fiction of Thomas King’sTruth and Bright Water. Equally important, I argue that haunting and possession can be linked to three seminal experiences that define the Canadian...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 321-344)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 345-364)
  14. Index
    (pp. 365-370)