- Storied Communities: Narratives of contact and arrival in constituting political community, and: Rethinking the Great White North: Race, nature, and the historical geographies of Whiteness in Canada
Reviewing these two expansive collections of new essays (together comprising nearly thirty essays from as many authors) is not an easy feat. If Lessard, Johnson and Webber, in the introduction to their collection, Storied Communities, insist that the stories that define and sustain communities are fraught with often violent processes of selection, exclusion and translation, this short book review is also culpable when omitting, unfairly perhaps, to offer adequate representation to each of these published essays. Hence, I will focus mostly on some of the broader theoretical and editorial crossroads between these two collaborative, critical projects, each interrogating some of the timely challenges facing liberal and multicultural settler democracies in the age of globalization.
On that note, the strength and originality of Hester Lessard, Rebecca Johnson and Jeremy Webber's Storied Communities: Narratives of contact and arrival in constituting political community does not lie in their general theoretical position about stories, narratives and the making of political communities, but rather in the specific sovereign narratives that they invite their contributors to interrogate. These narratives are those that sustain a settler colonial collective whose continuing process of emergence is predicated upon the complementarity (and not the opposition) between stories of arrival (immigrating, coming here from Europe or elsewhere) and narratives of contact (encountering the Indigeneity of those who were already here).
Opening with what has become an almost mandatory reference to Benedict Anderson's description of the nation as an "imagined community," the book's core theoretical framework will not surprise those who have followed debates in cultural and postcolonial studies from the past few decades. In their attempt to map "how narratives are used to legitimate peoples' belonging to place" (Ruru 212), the book's contributors indeed delve into now familiar critical territory regarding, for instance, the central role of narratives in the formation of personal identities and group belonging; the ways in which the amalgamation of individuals into coherent communities is achieved through the selection and the retelling of significant events; the recognition and commemoration of specific actors who become the measure of who belongs and who stands outside; etc. Where the book's ambition becomes more notable is in the attempt to "uncover the illogic at the heart of the founding narratives that underpin assertions of sovereignty in settler societies—namely, narratives of first contact, discovery, arrival, belonging, and expulsion" (14). Following such promise, the collection's main contribution, or so it is presented, is to illuminate how current and past debates about immigration and racialization, next to debates about White settlers/Indigenous relations, constitute complementary features of the sovereign narratives of settler collectives. In their attempt to do so, the editors and their contributors set themselves apart from recurring critical endeavours that have been implicitly or explicitly conceiving of these distinctive yet intertwined features of settler colonialism as separate "problems." As such, the book is a welcome addition to the recent work of scholars such as Andrea Smith, Patrick Wolfe, Sherene Razack and Sunera Thobani, who have drawn fundamental connections between the structural elimination of Native peoples and the racialization of (and violence against) non-Native minority groups in settler colonial states.
Despite the unbalanced footing of literary criticism next to the critical and theoretical interventions of a plethora of renowned legal scholars—who clearly share with the editors a more familiar disciplinary ground—this collection certainly constitutes a most welcome addition to Canadian cultural and postcolonial studies. The rich, wide-extending and original contributions range from more personal intellectual accounts of education and the transmission of stories across peoples and cultures (Chamberlain), to interviews with creative writers (Schorcht) and their works (Van Camp). It also features a very comprehensive feminist reading...