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358 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 the postmodern obsession with the anti-referential forms, which are germane to Kanaganayakam=s argument, the strength of the book lies in its focus on a specific literary aesthetic of postcolonial Indo-Anglian fiction and in its ability to discuss, link, and contrast some influential Indo-Anglian writers without ignoring their individualized literary characters. Chelva Kanaganayakam=s work is marked by erudition, analytical sophistication, and an informed critical sensibility, together with an admirable clarity and elegance of style, which makes the book a pleasure to read. (GAUTAM KUNDU) Maggie Helwig. Real Bodies Oberon. 172. $34.95, $17.95 If literature is, as Kafka says, the axe for the frozen sea within us, then writers who hope to have any impact must keep their blades bright. Maggie Helwig=s latest collection of essays, Real Bodies, explores an impressive array of topics, including The X-Files, sex with robots, angels in movies, anorexia, Dr Seuss, violence against women, and the death of Princess Diana. These wide-ranging essays are unified by Helwig=s long-standing concerns as a human rights worker and political activist, and are suffused by a keen spiritual yearning. This is a woman who unabashedly confesses to a >lifelong and passionate desire to find a way to love God=; and, in the next breath, proclaims: >I do not and will never understand anything at all about God (this is what you get from praying in a basement for years at a time).= Helwig is obsessed with a single question: >How do we live in this world?= Unfortunately, although heartfelt, her answer, which can be summarized by the phrase >All we need is love,= surfaces like a refrain and has grown dull through overuse. By far the strongest essays focus on issues that Helwig herself has struggled with. In >Another Look at Hunger,= for instance, Helwig examines >Caraline=s Story,= a short documentary about a woman suffering from severe bulimic anorexia. This very confusing and disturbing documentary becomes an occasion for Helwig to consider the language of anorexia, a disease she herself suffered for eight years, and to link the anorexic=s refusal of food to other related political acts, including hunger strikes. Helwig=s assessment of anorexia is penetrating, primarily because it eschews the medical establishment=s desire to find the right pill that will >cure= the patient=s psychotic refusal of food. Instead, Helwig maintains that >refusal is not always a bad thing. There are things in this world that it is better to reject. ... There are things about which we should be negative. The form of the refusal is part of the problem: having something to replace what is refused is another.= Equally compelling is the essay >Pictures at a Demonstration,= which humanities 359 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 poignantly describes a film that will never be made, owing to the death of the cameraman, Helwig=s friend David Maltby. By reviewing selected clips of the unedited video footage, Helwig vividly recreates the sights, sounds, and emotions that attended a protest march against ARMX, a weapons trade fair, held in Ottawa in the spring of 1989. The essay deftly cross-cuts between scenes of the protest march and of Helwig=s final visit in the hospital with David, comatose and dying of bacterial meningitis. This juxtaposition underscores the jarring gulf between the death-brokers, who waltz past the barricades to purchase weapons of mass destruction, and individuals for whom real bodies are deserving of protection and care, and for whom each death is a tragic loss. The latter attitude is conveyed by Helwig=s insistence throughout the collection on witnessing gestures of compassion, like those of David=s sister Patty, who gently wipes the blood from her brother=s ear with a piece of cotton wool. Images such as this also demonstrate Helwig=s awareness of the craft and power of language. In her essay about the value of poetry, she states: >Poetry is the language of the centre B not necessarily the centre of a trauma, though that is sometimes the case; it may...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 358-359
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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