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humanities 295 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Ironically, on an occasion that Canadians with university links were involved in leaking classified information to foreign agents, the RCMP needed Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa who defected in 1945, to tell them. Either the Security Service had been looking at the wrong people, or the information-gathering had not led anywhere. Either way, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the RCMP had been wasting time and money. (MICHIEL HORN) Douglas Reimer. Surplus at the Border: Mennonite Writing in Canada Turnstone Press. 206. $22.00 This book begins with a quotation from Deleuze and Guattari. Literature written by a minority in the language of the majority, they argue, is >affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization.= Douglas Reimer attempts to apply this theory to the writing of Mennonites in Canada. The spatial metaphor seems apt, since Mennonites have been called >the people apart= and since language has been the main method of separation. Various literary issues might conceivably be related to the particularities of the experience of immigrants relocated from the territory of the Russian steppe to the Manitoba prairie. What are the conditions that have favoured an explosion of writing among Russian Mennonites in western Canada? Reimer reflects on the work of many of these writers: Rudy Wiebe, Sandra Birdsell, Patrick Friesen, Di Brandt, Armin Wiebe, and others. A little theory, alas, is a dangerous thing and Reimer does not allow the facts of history and geography to get in the way of his theory. Territory, he notes, >is not so much an actual space as a set of codes and rules that regulate behaviour.= These codes are in some tantalizing way related to the conventions of literature. In the absence, however, of any clear definition of these conventions, the territory in question soon becomes a swamp in which the language spoken is bafflegab. Here is a sample, chosen at random: >This thinking the minor poem of death is not an emptiness in the sense of the Anothing there@ but an emptiness (if it is an emptiness) of the everything there, the surplus, the multiple, waiting for us to write Athe emptiness@ of death as we wish.= Reimer attempts to shed some light on this bleak territory with a series of dichotomies. Minor literature is to major literature as the communal is to the individual. The kernel of truth in such generalizations, however, is soon lost as the false dichotomies pile up on each other. Minor literature is open and non-lyrical and accepts the material. Major literature, by contrast, is closed, lyrical, and rejects materiality. This comes with a matching list of authors who are judged as either good guys or bad guys. The good guys are minor and earthy and defy the conventions of patriarchy. The bad guys are B well, let=s just say, the opposite. Writers of realist fiction, of course, are bad 296 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 guys B an assumption that leads to absurd generalizations such as the following: >in realist fiction women must not love but be loved.= In realist fiction, sex is not enjoyable, but in the non-realist fiction of a >minor= writer like Armin Wiebe, the characters >enjoy sex despite the strict Mennonite mores against it.= Mennonite mores against sex? One has to wonder where all those large families come from. Reimer picks up terms with a long history of standard usage and torments them like silly putty. Take, for example, the word lyric. >The lyrical might be said to be the Aofficial,@= he writes. The >lyrical tradition of the colossal restraint of allusion,= he claims, is what limits the poetry of Patrick Friesen. To restrain the material by using few words is to >wish to control the new space by being Afrigid@ and doling out the body in snippets.= There is something bizarrely perverse and self-defeating about all this. Like a spiralling circle of dominoes that fall in on themselves, Reimer=s false dichotomies collapse, taking the specious argument of the book along with them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 295-296
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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