- Unsettled Remains: Canadian Literature and the Postcolonial Gothic
It is a truism that collections of literary criticism are a mixed bag. The editors put out a call, and then whatever comes in comes in. Thus many such collections are at best inconsistent and at worst useless.
I am very glad to say this is not the case with Unsettled Remains. Part of the reason, I think, is the editors. I have been to two conferences organized by Turcotte and one by Sugars and I presume that is true of most Canadianists. Their energy at getting us together is second to none.
This is no doubt part of the reason they have assembled such an excellent list of contributors for Unsettled Remains. There are a couple that I do not know but many are very familiar names. I would call myself now one of the old guard. Sugars and Turcotte have assembled many of the best of the next generation. In that group I would include Jennifer Andrews, Marlene Goldman, Jennifer Henderson, and Herb Wyile. Of the generation after that, I would certainly include Lindy Ledohowski as a significant new addition.
The idea of the gothic is a constant in Canadian literature. In the introduction, Turcotte and Sugars note comments by Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies about our lack of ghosts but quickly show that Atwood and Davies provide their own contradictions. The central text is of course Margot Northey's The Haunted Wilderness (1976), but the collection notes many others. (I must here thank Brian Johnson's reference to my own Fear and Temptation, which he calls 'his now classic study.' If you last long enough you get to become a classic.)
Regardless of that facetious parenthesis, Johnson's reference suggests the methodical scholarship of the collection. Whereas the primary texts are often the obvious suspects, such as Fall on Your Knees for Atef Laouyene and Kiss of the Fur Queen for Jennifer Henderson, the secondary material ranges quite widely, particularly in reference to the ghostly and its analysts, most particularly through Freud and his descendants such as Kristeva.
The cover of the book uses Rosalie Favell's photo-montage 'I awoke to find my spirit had returned.' The well-known image from The Wizard of Oz of Dorothy awakening in Kansas with her family around her is reconfigured with Favell's self-portrait as Dorothy. The original photograph includes the wizard in his guise as the travelling salesman peering through the window. Here he is replaced by Louis Riel. This wonderfully resonant figure is reflected in the book's emphasis on indigeneity. As the introduction states, 'The figure of the Indian ghost' is a particular obsession in Canada and so it is in this book. My favourite example here is [End Page 325] Johnson's reconsideration of Farley Mowat, but I readily admit it might be because his work continues the line of mine many years ago, another type of literary ghost.
But Henderson looks at Tomson Highway's indigenous ghosts, Wyile those in Michael Crummey's River Thieves, and Andrews those in Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach. The image of Coyote in Goldman's examination of Watson's Double Hook and Gail Anderson-Dargetz's The Cure for Death by Lightning is only a small remove from those spectres. Perhaps Canada's history leaves us inevitably haunted by the restless remnants of invasion. I must admit I have some problems with the various references to 'postcolonial' in the collection: whether gothic or mythic or perhaps Delphic, 'postcolonial' seems much too amenable to a multitude of applications. Still, perhaps this is all too appropriate for a country that remains for all of us at once heimlich und unhemilich. [End Page 326]
Terry Goldie, Department of English, York University