- Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms, and: An Other I: The Fictions of Clark Blaise
No two critical studies of contemporary Canadian writers could be more diverse than the VanSpanckeren/Castro and Lecker books. The former, like many feminist projects, is a cooperative of voices, a comprehensible babel of approaches to Margaret Atwood's multiple genres. The latter is so exhaustive a study of the self as center in the writing and reading of Clark Blaise that criticism becomes indistinguishable from autobiography and fiction, and the critic's voice becomes indistinguishable from the author's. Both works are good reading.
The fourth of a series called Ad Feminam (general editor Sandra Gilbert), Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms gives first and last words to Atwood. The witty autobiographical foreword, "Great Unexpectations," tells what a dickens of a time Atwood had in fulfilling her ambition to become a woman writer in Canada; it anticipates the two concluding sections in which Atwood reveals other voices. One, elicited by interviewer Jan Castro, is the often perfunctory articulation that those who have attended an Atwood reading have heard: this Atwood voice announces its politics clearly and its feminism forcefully, and turns questions on their questioners. [End Page 781] The second voice, heard in a conversation with Florida university students, has a more tolerant tone: it is that of an impassioned teacher and cultural truthsayer.
The fourteen essays bracketed by Atwood's candid comments have been selected as an intriguing sampling of recent criticism on Atwood. Sherrill Grace and Elizabeth Baer's essays on Edible Woman and Lady Orcale trace Atwood's mythopoeia by focusing on the myth of Demeter and quest and fairy tale motifs, respectively, within Surfacing. David Buchbinder's intertextual reading applies a Homeric model to Selected Poems. Pamela Bromberg describes Atwood's version of "scopic" imagery as "the rhetoric and politics of women's entrapment in the mirror of gender." Other versions of sexual/textual politics dominate the essays by Gayle Greene and Lorna Irvine on Life Before Man and Bodily Harm, respectively. Sexual politics figure also in Judith McCombs' discussion of the Canadian-American sequences of Atwood's poetry and in June Schlueter's essay "Canlit/Victimlit," which discusses Atwood's critical work, Survival and Second Words. Ann McMillan concludes that the passivity of the gothic heroines in Atwood's fiction needs to be recognized as self-victimization. Arnold Davidson's reading of the double future tenses of The Handmaid's Tale, the validation of her/story (Offred's) by history (the "Historical Notes"), is among the best criticism of the anthology. So too is VanSpanckeren's own essay on shamanism. VanSpanckeren turns classical myth into Native myth of female descent, hence tying together many of the themes of the preceding papers, including the study of Atwood's real and imaginary animals in Kathleen Vogt's essay and the nature-nurture debate of Roberta Rubenstein's essay. But, it is the inclusion of the final essay by Sharon Wilson, an analysis of the sexual politics of eight of Atwood's watercolor images (the paintings are published here for the first time), that reveals VanSpanckeren and Castro's commitment to an eclectic criticism of an eclectic artist.
Robert Lecker writes about a writer who writes only about writers who create fictional versions of themselves, in An Other I: The Fictions of Clark Blaise, a critical volume that Lecker describes as "radically conservative." The criticism is conservative because it seeks a formal unity in the work of Clark Blaise; Lecker wants, like Blaise, to reconcile the paradoxes that beset the fictional characters. In his final chapters, he offers "close readings" of two of Blaise's short stories to show how "the concerns . . . [raised] throughout the study permeate the fiction and allow it to be read as closely as a finely wrought poem." But Lecker's unity, ostensibly reminiscent of that sought by the American New Critics, is...