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New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism

New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism: Explorations of the Urban

Caroline Rosenthal
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism
    Book Description:

    Cities are material and symbolic spaces through which nations define their cultural identities. The great cities that have arisen on the North American continent have stimulated the imaginations of the United States and Canada in very different ways. This first comparative study of North American urban fiction starts out by delineating the sociohistorical and literary contexts in which cities grew into diverging symbolic spaces in American and Canadian culture. After an overview of recent developments in the cultural conception of urban space, the book takes New York and Toronto fiction as exemplary for exploring representations of the urban after postmodernism. It analyzes four twenty-first-century novels: two set in New York - Siri Hustvedt's ‘What I Loved’ and Paule Marshall's ‘The Fisher King’ - and two set in Toronto - Carol Shields's ‘Unless’ and Dionne Brand's ‘What We All Long For’. While these texts continue to echo the specific traditions of nation building and canon formation in the United States and Canada, they also share certain features. All of them investigate the affective crossroads of the city while returning to a more realistic mode of representation. Caroline Rosenthal is Professor of American Literature at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-756-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The city, as human geographer Rob Shields puts it, is indeed a slippery notion. Not only because cities are made of dreams, imaginations, and representations as much as they are made of concrete streets, buildings, and people, but also because aesthetic responses to the metropolis after postmodernism have become so multifarious that it is becoming difficult to speak of the genre of city fiction. In our age of media technology, mass transportation, and globalization, we are experiencing a proliferation of the urban condition, and yet defining the urban and the culture of cities is getting harder, because the urban has...

  5. 1: Imagining National Space: Symbolic Landscapes and National Canons
    (pp. 11-48)

    Spaces are not signigicant in and by themselves but are produced as intelligible entities by how we organize them, by the social practices and symbolic ways in which we set them off from other spaces. The city, for instance, only gains significance as a space with distinct characteristics when separated from rural or unsettled, “wild” space. Nations define themselves spatially against other nations not only through geographic borders, history, and politics, but also through the specific ways they have found to classify and represent spaces. Images and imaginations of places become part of distinct “national iconographies” that differ in how...

  6. 2: Articulating Urban Space: Spatial Politics and Difference
    (pp. 49-72)

    The previous chapter gave a historical overview of how the United States and Canada, respectively, have semioticized space. It looked at how representations of symbolic spaces became the dominant spatial narratives of each nation in processes of canon formation and focused especially on the function of nature-culture paradigms for the literary self-conceptualization of the United States and Canada. My concluding argument was that while in the past the city did not loom large in the Canadian imagination, due to factors of literary history — the lack of a strong pastoral tradition, for instance — and to sociocultural aspects — the...

  7. 3: “The Inadequacy of Symbolic Surfaces”: Urban Space, Art, and Corporeality in Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved
    (pp. 73-122)

    Siri Hustvedt’s 2003 novel What I Loved¹ is set in the vibrant art scene of New York City and investigates “the glory of urban freedom and indifference.”² The urban space of New York is represented as offering a myriad of possibilities for inventing and reinventing personal identity. While such an abundance of options is portrayed as liberating on the one hand, the novel also points out the potential violence such supposedly limitless opportunities harbor. What I Loved resonates with myths of New York as the Big Apple — a city of superlatives in economic and artistic ways, a city where...

  8. 4: Rewriting the Melting Pot: Paule Marshall’s Brownstone City in The Fisher King
    (pp. 123-168)

    Paule Marshall’s novel The Fisher King, published in 2000,¹ explores different articulations of black identity within the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) in Central Brooklyn.

    The text establishes an intricate connection between urban space and the formation of personal as well as collective identities. The brownstone houses, characteristic of the neighborhood, become a metaphor for the struggles of black people to carve out a distinct space for themselves in American society, but also for the different ethnicities within the black community. One of the novel’s central concerns is to explore the tensions and conflicts between the African American population, who migrated...

  9. 5: Specular Images: Sub/Urban Spaces and “Echoes of Art” in Carol Shields’s Unless
    (pp. 169-214)

    Carol Shieldsʼs fiction was for a long time labeled, and often belittled, as “domestic fiction,” a critical perception that changed only with the sweeping success of her novel The Stone Diaries (1993), which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s Award, among other prizes.¹ Critics have often underestimated Shields’s fiction and overlooked the subtle intricacies in her texts, which, in an allegedly light fashion, deal with fundamental issues of life. Most of Shields’s stories indeed pay close attention to the realities of quotidian life, but by describing the familiar from a slightly different angle they defamiliarize the known...

  10. 6: “The End of Traceable Beginnings”: Poetics of Urban Longing and Belonging in Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For
    (pp. 215-263)

    Dionne Brand’s 2005 novel What We All Long For delves into the daily multicultural realities of Toronto.¹ The novel scrutinizes the encounters and exchanges between people who have different histories of belonging as well as longings for the future. Dionne Brand has been one of Canada’s most articulate and outspoken voices on issues of racism, sexism, and the effects of capitalism within the nation state. In many different capacities — as an award-winning poet, novelist, essayist, and filmmaker as well as political activist and teacher — she has counteracted the invisibility of black people in Canadian political, social, and literary...

  11. 7: Synthesis
    (pp. 264-278)

    In a recent article Toronto-based geographer Amy Lavender Harris wrote, “Few of us can say we were born in this city, but we give birth to it every day.”¹ Her statement vividly captures how urban space is not only defined by buildings and street grids but is produced in the daily interactions of people, in how they use urban space and make it come alive, and in the symbolic practices that imagine the city anew time and again. A city, to paraphrase the Canadian cultural geographer Rob Shields once more, is a “concrete abstraction” (”A Guide,” 231), which arises on...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-306)
  13. Index
    (pp. 307-314)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-315)