- Introductory Notes—Memory Foretelling the Story:Essays on Fall on Your Knees
In an essay that sketches a postmodern geography of western racisms, ethnicities, and identities, Ali Rattansi sets out to challenge the constancy of representational narratives of self and identity that foreground the coherent and rationalist archetypes of modernist discourses. Disrupting the conscious logic of intention and rationality, Rattansi posits the imaginary space of the psychic as an orientation from which unconscious desires, splitting, disavowal, identifications, and ambivalence blur the boundaries between one person's end and another's beginning. Confronted with the interminable task of self-definition in uncertain times, "difference" helps to set the limits between self and another, policing the recognizable (and not-so-recognizable) periphery of that which is not 'I.' Difference lays the groundwork for subjectivity by "precariously identifying where the 'I' ends and unknowable other begins" (Pellegrini 7). In a critique of the "endlessly expanding enumeration of difference" that gestures toward an infinite, yet impossible, politics of inclusion, Ann Pellegrini asks, "Where and when does this catalogue of identificatory markers end, if it does? And what is the relation between and amongst them?" (2). The relations between and amongst differences, relations for which an additive logic provides no palliative, might be sought after by asking another kind of question: What difference does difference make? This is a central question of Ann-Marie MacDonald's novel, Fall on Your Knees. [End Page 125]
The articles in this special issue address the practice of reading literature as a dialogic encounter that elaborates the ways in which the self makes identifications in difference. This kind of reading practice asks how the unconscious is implicated in the work of reading and retains a curiosity about the kinds of insights that might unfold in reading resistance analytically: as symptomatic, for example, of the psychical conflicts that constitute the grounds of relationality. To work at the level of the psychoanalytic is to work, writes Frantz Fanon, "at the level of failures," of breakdown as well as breakthrough (23). The dynamics of disengagement as well as those of engagement may be important to a theory of what it means to learn across difference. Can the conflicts and attachments made in the practice of reading say something about how we imagine the social? What kinds of fantasies and desires do we bring to the project of reading and what kinds of relationships do we have with texts? How do ambivalence and identification figure the constellation of history, identity, and the possibility of something new? These and other questions might be posed as questions of pedagogy, as troubling the ways in which the self becomes educated in and across difference.
MacDonald's text offers the reader a chance to think otherwise, to read, as Michel Foucault writes, "above all, to change myself and not to think the same thing as before" (History 10). Arriving as much in the story of her own identifications and ambivalences as in the story of Kathleen Piper and her family, the reader is haunted by this other narrative, one that mirrors what Jacques Derrida might call the "spectres" of her own desires. Such indeterminate space unleashes a confusion of pedagogical dilemmas in identification, narrative, and relationality. But for whom are these dilemmas instructive and what do they instruct? If getting into the dilemmas posed by the text also requires getting into ourselves, then what do the moments of unreadability in the text, the times where meaning breaks down, tell us about our own differences, from ourselves and from each other? Can a dialogic practice of reading not only be tolerant of these differences but encourage them, promote them, support them, and learn from them?
Framing reading as a practice, as a dialogic encounter, asks us to consider how our own "reading" of a text and how our "readings" of other people's "readings" speak the margins of our own identity. This kind of reading practice might treat reversals, rejections, and other proliferations of psychic defences as pedagogical moments [End Page 126] from which we are able to observe the limits of identity and identification. In reading...