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Reviewed by:
  • Tropes and Territories: Short Fiction, Postcolonial Readings, Canadian Writings in Context
  • Judith Leggatt (bio)
Marta Dvorák and W.H. New, editors. Tropes and Territories: Short Fiction, Postcolonial Readings, Canadian Writings in Context. McGill-Queens University Press. 2007. 384. $80.00

This collection of essays springs from a conference at the Sorbonne in April 2005, but it is more than a volume of conference proceedings. Although the title might lead one to expect a focus on Canadian short stories, the collection instead provides ways of looking at short fiction from around the postcolonial world. While about half the essays do focus on Canadian short fiction by the usual suspects - there are at least two essays on each of Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Alastair Macleod, and Rohinton Mistry - there are also essays dealing with short fiction in India, Australia, the Caribbean, and New Zealand. The last gets particular emphasis, with the second greatest number of essays. The interrelationships between form and cultural location are at the heart of the anthology and link together the different essays, showing how shape and place - the tropes and territories of the title - depend on each other. The editors' suggestion that the short story and postcolonial writing are linked since 'both are seen as peripheral' stretches the connection a little, but the focus on a single genre does allow the collection to foreground current debates about form and genre within postcolonial criticism.

The anthology opens with essays by Laura Moss and Diana Brydon that provide a larger theoretical context for the readings of specific texts that follow. Moss questions the limitations of the 'mandated political perspective' of postcolonial criticism, that of reading ethnicity and cultural heritage at the cost of other political or formal frameworks. She argues that such readings shut down interpretation and cast an author 'more as a cultural informant than an artist.' Brydon reads stories and identity with the context of globalization, examining the connections and disjunctions between ideas of home, story, and truth, and complicating and developing the reading practices that so trouble Moss. The two essays both point to a dissatisfaction with and improvement on the received reading practices of the postcolonial criticism of the twentieth century, and the essays of the collection all struggle to recast those practices in a variety of ways.

One central question is the interrelationship of European short story conventions and traditional storytelling techniques from a variety of cultures in informing the style and structure of postcolonial short stories. [End Page 334] One side of this debate is exemplified in Warren Cariou's discussion of the specifically Metis form of Maria Campbell's Stories of the Road Allowance People, in which he argues that Campbell, like the titular character of 'Jacob,' uses 'print as a medium through which oral ways of knowing can be preserved and expressed'; the other is perhaps best summed up by Gerald Lynch's surprising reading of Thomas King's Medicine River as more influenced by Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town than by First Nations oral traditions. The tension between these two readings is mitigated by Cariou's and Lynch's separate acknowledgements of the presence of both oral and written traditions in the story cycles; both also acknowledge similarities between the two seemingly oppositional traditions. In the introduction, Dvorák and New point to a reluctance throughout the collection to treat 'the methods and effects of postmodern storytelling' and 'the conventions of traditional storytelling in oral' as 'simply oppositional binaries.' For example, Isabel Carrera Suárez examines the play between oral and epistolary traditions in Caribbean women's poetry, and Mark Williams shows how Witi Ihimaera uses Maori sensibility in his rewritings of Katherine Mansfied's stories in order to demonstrate the differences between Maori and Pakeha understandings of biculturalism in New Zealand.

The essays in the collection speak to each other and open debates about the role of criticism in connecting history and place with the specific use of language and genre, about the tensions between individual authors or texts and larger cultural contexts, and about the opposing pulls of nationalist pasts and global futures. It is recommended reading for scholars of Canadian or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 334-335
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-15
Open Access
No
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