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Writing a Politics of Perception:
Memory, Holography, and Women Writers in Canada
Theory and Cultural Studies
Dawn Thompson, Writing a Politics of Perception: Memory, Holography, and Women Writers in Canada. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2000. vii + 143 pp.
Writing a Politics of Perception contributes to an emerging body of interdisciplinary studies focusing on the relationship between the physical sciences and humanities. In particular, Thompson takes a critical look at the relationship between new technologies of simulation such as holography and contemporary theories of representation. Reading work by Nicole Brossard, Margaret Atwood, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Beatrice Culleton, and Régine Robin, Thompson explores and tests her theory of holographic memory. A holographic theory of literature, Thompson writes, "attempts to bypass mimetic conceptions of literary representation, and thus a politics of representation as well. Thus the goal of this holographic [End Page 1070] theory is to integrate text, mind, and reality: to think one's way though both the text and reality in a manner that challenges dominant representational modes of thinking in order to change reality." Her theory of holographic memory is filtered through a poststructuralist lens and includes Michel Foucault's notion of "counter-memory" and Jacques Derrida's "radical memory."
Thompson's text is situated in current feminist debates about identity politics and the essentialist/constructionist divide. Her stated goal is to move from a politics of self-representation to a politics of perception and to do so via the model of virtual reality offered by holography. While her readings of individual texts illuminate the complexity of various categories of experience such as race, nation, Native self-determination, and gender, the links between these forms of identity and the model of quantum reality represented by holography remain descriptive rather than analytical. For example, she draws a comparison between poststructuralism and quantum science on the basis of a shared interest in indeterminacybut fails to elaborate how the meaning of indeterminacy differs radically in these respective contexts. The scientific imagination has its own genealogy that must be grasped historically as well through the current popularization of science represented by texts such as Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time; as interesting as Writing a Politics of Perception appears, it is hardly accessible to the nonspecialist, and Thompson does little to clarify its importance for the humanities. The more serious problem with Thompson's text, however, lies in its claims to exceeed identity politics or the politics of representation on the basis of a shift from self-representation to perception.
The interdisciplinary interventions to be gained by placing the physical sciences and humanities together are far-reaching. Thompson's book is much more than an attempt to demonstrate the value of science for literary studies. She is truly attempting to bring these disciplinary formations into a productive relationship. However, given the extraordinary workon the gaze by feminist film critics, it is debatable whether her analysis of a politics of perception, as she defines it, offers feminist cultural studies a new take on an important theme. In other words, new technologies of simulation do not automatically translate into new politics of representation. The importance of Writing a Politics of Perception lies in what it offers literary critics and scientists on the mutually informing differences [End Page 1071] in their disciplinary formations as well as their creative linkages. Given the increasing significance of simulated technologies in our daily lives and how they inform our various scholarly and nonscholarly reading practices, Thompson's book contains valuable insights.
University of Northern British Columbia