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Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing

Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing

Edited by Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek
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  • Book Info
    Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing
    Book Description:

    The papers in this volume represent recent scholarship about Booker Prize Winner Michael Ondaatje's oeuvre by scholars working on eng-Canadian literature and culture in Canada, England, Japan, New Zealand, and the USA.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-021-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje’s Writing
    (pp. 1-5)
    Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek

    Michael Ondaatje’s work represents in many ways the best of contemporary Canadian literature in English not only in the context of Canada itself but also on the international scene. In this, it is not without significance that Ondaatje is an immigrant to Canada and that much of his writing is about identity, history, and about people of “in-between.” Identity, whether that of an individual or that of a people, history, and hybridity are of great relevance in the age of globalization, disappearing borders, and the migration of people whether for economic, political, or other reasons. Perhaps this is one of...

  2. Exploring Transnational Identities in Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
    (pp. 6-15)
    Victoria Cook

    Michael Ondaatje could be said to exemplify the type of transnational identity that provides the focus for this paper. Born to Dutch parents, in what was then Ceylon and is now Sri Lanka, his family ancestry has been described as a polyglot mixture of Dutch, English, Sinhalese, and Tamil; his paternal grandfather was a wealthy tea planter in Kegalle. At the age of ten, Ondaatje was sent to a public school, Dulwich College in London and at nineteen followed his older brother, Christopher, to Canada, where he took citizenship, went to university, married, and began his writing career. As a...

  3. Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Altered States of Narrative
    (pp. 16-26)
    Beverley Curran

    In his discussion of translation, George Steiner recalls Saint Jerome’s representation of that process as “meaning brought home captive by the translator” (Steiner 298). From both within and without, former European colonies have been seen as “translations” of a distant and idealized original whose standards have been transplanted and reduced to “imperfect copies, characterized by absence or imitation” (Brydon and Tiffin 57). In a search for origins, we will find not a source but absence, dispersal, and loss. In Australia, alongside the more potent legend of Ned Kelly is the story of Eliza Fraser, a “captivity narrative” of “first contact”...

  4. Representations of Buddhism in Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
    (pp. 27-37)
    Marlene Goldman

    Critical response to Michael Ondaatje’s depictions of war-torn Sri Lanka have been polarized and politically charged. Early on, Arun Mukherjee condemned Ondaatje in the strongest terms for his supposed preoccupation with aesthetics at the expense of more pressing issues such as history and politics. Ondaatje, she contends, “does not get drawn into the act of living, which involves the need to deal with the burning issues of his time, such as poverty, injustice, exploitation, racism, sexism, etc., and he does not write about other human beings unless they happen to be artists—or members of his own family” (34). Similarly,...

  5. Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Rewriting History
    (pp. 38-48)
    Stephanie M. Hilger

    Ondaatje’s “English” patient starts his frequently interrupted and mediated I-narration with an acknowledgment of the influence and the power of the writing of history. He tells Hana, his devoted Canadian nurse, that “I am a person who if left alone in someone’s home walks to the bookcase, pulls down a volume and inhales it. So history enters us” (18). That he inhaled the dusty smell of Herodotus’s writings becomes clear when Hana looks at the book which came with him through the plane crash and the fire. It is “a copy ofThe Historiesby Herodotus that he has added...

  6. Post-Nationalism and the Cinematic Apparatus in Minghella’s Adaptation of Ondaatje’s The English Patient
    (pp. 49-61)
    Hsuan Hsu

    Theories of the cinematic gaze, strongly influenced by the work of Lacan and Althusser, often denigrate visual pleasure as a politically compromised response. Christian Metz, for example, links film spectatorship to the pathological practices like fetishism, disavowal, and voyeurism; Laura Mulvey, agreeing that films are fundamentally voyeuristic, calls for the “destruction of pleasure as a radical weapon.” Jean-Louis Baudry suggests that ideological manipulations are inherent in the cinematographic apparatus itself: it feeds empty simulacra to mute, immobilized spectators, just as the apparatus composed of flames and silhouettes in Plato’s allegorical cave supplies illusory images that dissuade prisoners from pursuing Truth....

  7. The Representation of “Race” in Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion
    (pp. 62-72)
    Glen Lowry

    With a few notable exceptions, Ondaatje’s depiction of racialized subjects has received only limited attention (see, e.g., Turcotte; Mukherjee; Rundle; Lowry). While his identity as a Singhalese emigrant or Canadian immigrant is often noted (see, e.g., Kamboureli; Richler; Wachtel; Young), critics tend to ignore the political implications of Ondaatje’s work in relation to that of other writers of colour, effectively eliding “race” as an element of his writing. The elision has meant that the difficult questions of critical positioning, or what I, following Judith Butler, would term the “performative” aspect of his textsqua“racialized” writing, have fallen from view....

  8. The Motif of the Collector and Implications of Historical Appropriation in Ondaatje’s Novels
    (pp. 73-82)
    Jon Saklofske

    Unlike his more recent publications, such asIn the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient,andAnil’s Ghost,Michael Ondaatje’s early novelsComing Through SlaughterandThe Collected Works of Billy the Kidare texts that collect and interrelate fragments of prose narrative and poetic images in hybridized arrangements that resemble disorganised scrapbooks. Despite their slipshod appearance, these books challenge traditional literary forms and maintain a consistent tension between narrative fragmentation and cohesion. The content of these unconventional experiments with form is no less unorthodox. Ondaatje focuses his creative authority on actual people that have been neglected or overwhelmed...

  9. Touching the Language of Citizenship in Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
    (pp. 83-91)
    Sandeep Sanghera

    Sri Lanka is the “wife of many marriages” writes Ondaatje in hisRunning in the Family(64). An island that “seduced all of Europe,” it has been courted by many conquerors who, over time, have “stepped ashore and claimed everything with the power of their sword or bible or language” (64). With each courting and conquering, its identity has changed. And names are important as we learn with Sarath and Anil’s hunt to locate Sailor’s. The island’s name has gone from Serendip to Ratnapida, meaning the “island of gems” and then from Taprobane to Zeloan (Running in the Family64)....

  10. Oral History and the Writing of the Other in Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion
    (pp. 92-103)
    Winfried Siemerling

    In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje deciphers and invents the signs of another world coexisting silently with Toronto’s written history and the surface of its presentday reality. The novel defamiliarizes habitual perceptions of Toronto by superimposing a reconstructed and imagined new world. With the non-English-speaking immigrants of Toronto, Ondaatje follows a whole community that crosses boundaries and borders to another reality and a new language. As in so many of Ondaatje’s texts, fromThe Collected Works of Billy the KidtoAnil’s Ghost, a searching figure tries to decipher a disappearance. InIn the Skin of a Lion,...

  11. Reading Ondaatje’s Poetry
    (pp. 104-114)
    Eluned Summers-Bremner

    In an interview with Sam Solecki in 1984, Michael Ondaatje responds to the interviewer’s reference to his caginess in interviews, and to a question about whether this ever causes him regret, with the phrase: “Very few people want to talk about architecture” (Ondaatje qtd. in Solecki, “An Interview” 322). Ondaatje’s desire to speak of architecture and change in the structure of the contemporary novel is timely. In the last few decades transnational displacement has made the novel—always a kind of conversation with quotidian ways of inhabiting the world—into a text that must imagine travel, if not in content,...

  12. Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Questions of History
    (pp. 115-132)
    Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek

    In this paper, I discuss the historical background of Michael Ondaatje’sThe English Patientand Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of the novel to film. Ondaatje’s novel is fiction and the “truth” value of the historical background of this or any fictional text is of problematic and questionable relevance in the reading of literature or in the study of literature (that is, in most areas of literary study while in areas such as the sociology of literature this may not always be the case). However, research in audience studies shows that readers of fiction—or viewers of films—are voraciously interested in...

  13. A Selected Bibliography of Critical Work about Michael Ondaatje’s Texts
    (pp. 133-139)
    Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek
  14. A List of Michael Ondaatje’s Works
    (pp. 140-140)
  15. Bioprofiles of Contributors to Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje’s Writing
    (pp. 141-144)