Challenging Canada

Challenging Canada: Dialogism and Narrative Techniques in Canadian Novels

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Challenging Canada
    Book Description:

    Challenging Canada is the first book-length study to bring a Bakhtinian approach to bear on Canadian literature. Gabriele Helms develops a cultural narratology to argue that the contemporary Canadian novels in English considered in this book challenge dominant constructions of Canada from positions of difference and resistance, inscribing previously oppressed and silenced voices through dialogic relations. She makes Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of dialogism amenable to textual analysis and problematizes its ideological forces by emphasizing elements of struggle and conflict. Challenging Canada rejects dialogism as a normative liberal pluralism and understands the inequality between voices as historically and socially constructed.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7129-7
    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. 1 Dialogism, Cultural Narratology, and Contemporary Canadian Novels: What’s the Point?
    (pp. 3-18)

    Many contemporary Canadian novels call into question ideas of Canada as a benign and tolerant country, “a peaceable kingdom,”¹ a country without a history of oppression, violence, or discrimination. They give voice to those previously silenced and resituate those cast as outsiders, thereby exposing the myth of an innocent nation and challenging its hegemonic centre.² Such novels may speak of the internment of Japanese Canadians, sexual abuse and incest, the exploitation of women, the disenfranchisement of immigrant workers, residential schools, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and violence spurred by homophobia; consequently, they make for disturbing reading. However, the demands they place...

  5. 2 Dialogism: Yesterday’s “Fave Rave” or Opportunity for Critical Intervention?
    (pp. 19-31)

    To say that Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s writings have become popular in contemporary Western academic discourse over the last two decades is both a considerable understatement and an obvious simplification.¹ When Ken Hirschkop (1989a, 195) compiled his initial bibliography of critical literature on Bakhtin in 1989, he claimed – and possibly feared – that the Bakhtin snowball was about to turn into an avalanche. During the 1980s and early 1990s the interest in Bakhtin’s work certainly took on remarkable proportions, a scenario that has variously being described as the “cult of Bakhtin,” “a Bakhtin fad,” or “the Baxtin industry” (Said in...

  6. 3 Storying Family History: Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe
    (pp. 32-65)

    By telling family histories, Joy Kogawa’sObasan(1981) and Sky Lee’sDisappearing Moon Cafe(1990) examine the relationships between their female protagonists – Naomi Nakane and Kae Ying Woo, respectively – and other family and community members as they attempt to place these characters within their historical, geographical, and social contexts. The telling of history is not a simple, transparent process in these novels, however, for it also involves creating, challenging, constructing, and reconstructing histories. The novels focus not merely on what constitutes the families’ histories but also, through dialogic relations, on how their histories are constructed, told, and written....

  7. 4 Processes of Un/reading in Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic and Aritha van Herk’s Places Far from Ellesmere
    (pp. 66-98)

    In one of her imagined conversations with her mother Ina inAna Historic, Annie tries to explain what it means to her to tell a story: “if i’m telling a story i’m untelling it. untelling the real” (Marlatt 1988, 141). Unlike Ina, who believes that “you can’t rewrite what’s been written” (142), Annie not only untells and rewrites what has been written, but she also speaks the silence of what has not been written. Similarly, the narrator ofPlaces Far from Ellesmeretakes Leo Tolstoy’sAnna Kareninto Ellesmere Island in order to set Anna free and to imagine her...

  8. 5 Critiquing the Choice That Is Not One: Jeannette Armstrong’s Slash and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water
    (pp. 99-124)

    The counter-discourses developed in Jeannette Armstrong’sSlash(1985) and Thomas King’sGreen Grass, Running Water(1993) challenge the internal colonization suffered by Aboriginal peoples in Canada and signal a contestatory politics of representation in content as well as in narrative structures.¹ BothSlashandGreen Grass, Running Waterrespond to the choice Aboriginal peoples have long faced in both their literary representations and their social contexts in Canada: assimilation or extermination. The novels reject this simplistic binary antagonism, which ultimately leaves Aboriginal peoples no choice because both options are forms of (self-) annihilation. Until not too long ago, assimilation was...

  9. 6 Is Difficulty Impolite? The Performative in Margaret Sweatman’s Fox
    (pp. 125-144)

    In his exploration of nation as narration, Homi K. Bhabha (1994, 145) questions the homogeneity and authority of a nationalist pedagogy in which people function as a priori historical objects. The performative, Bhabha suggests, is a counter-hegemonic strategy that constructs people as subjects in the present; it does not just negate the accumulative history of the pedagogical, but, through repetition, it destabilizes and subverts the claims of the pedagogical to transcendent authority. “The liminality of the people,” Bhabha explains, that is, “their double-inscription as pedagogical objects and performative subjects – demands a ‘time’ of narrative that is disavowed in the...

  10. 7 Writing into the Page Ahead
    (pp. 145-154)

    The novels I have discussed in the preceding chapters suggest that culture is not a homogeneous construction. They recognize, in Bennett’s (1993/94, 196–7) words, “that there is a collection of cultures within theideaof English Canada, not so much a mosaic as a kaleidoscope, an arrangement of fragments whose interrelationships, while ever changing, nevertheless serve – by virtue of their container, we might say – not only to influence what we see when we look through the glass, but also to affect the placement of the other elements in the array.” The dialogic relations between voices in these...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 155-178)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 179-206)
  13. Index
    (pp. 207-212)