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392 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 smothered beneath the weight of our accumulated cultural abstractions. Bitter medicine that's good for us? Or just plain poison? (JOHN WALKER) Jo-Anne Elder and Colin O'Connell, editors. Voices alld Echoes: O:madian Women's Spirituality Studies in Women and Religion 4- Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xxviii, 244. $24.95 In her foreword to this odd assortment of stories, journal entries, and poetry, Jo-Anne Elder quotes Terry Eagleton to dispense with the Enlightenment , Saussure to cut words free from the old tie to what is 'out there,' and Derrida in support of the 'protean text' that 'escapes our understanding.' Paradoxically, these authorities are invoked by the editors in order to justify their own abdication. '[W]e saw ourselves as facilitators rather than arbiters,' writes Elder. Selection, she notes, was 'the most problematic of tasks, because we didn't want to adhere to overly rigid editorial guidelines.' It's hard to discern any editorial guidelines at all, other than the innovative division into 'voices' and 'echoes.' Some entries are reprints; others were solicited for this volume. Aside from the umbrella term 'spirituality' - which is never defined - the reader is not told what principles lie behind the choices that were made. The result is predictably uneven. There are some old gems that seem to glow more brightly in this murky setting. Gloria Sawai's 'The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sun Deck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts' is one. Di Brandt's 'already there is no going back' is another. Of those stories written for this volume, the finest is Ingrid MacDonald's 'The Stations of the Cross.' Elder claims that this collection has 'no overriding schema' because·women's stories of spirituality, unlike 'classical tradition,' are not 'characterized by metanarrativity- a story that is rationally ascertainable, that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.' In his introduction to the 'echoes' section-cleverly entitled 'Further Foreword'- Colin O'Connell seeks ways of 'limiting the scope of ... editorial control.' Although he starts out by seeing no pattern at all in the submissions, he ends up blithely disregarding his own anti-rmiversalist warnings (not to mention feminist theory on constructions of motherhood) and concluding that 'generations of women, immersed in the "birth force," tap a power that is prepatriarchal and universally binding.' If so, they must be doing it in some other book. The most insistent (albeit veiled) theme in this one is sexual abuse. Elder notes, with disarming candour, that abuse was not even on her list of 'suggested themes' in the call for submissions. (She doesn't say what was on her list.) It is to her credit that she does not turn a deaf ear but struggles, instead, to take them in. In HUMANITIES 393 the 'archetypal heroic quest/ she writes, the male hero is 'frequently given the role of restoring order to the kingdom ... What if the hero is a young woman? What can she save? Herself.' In the absence of any clear definition of 'women's spirituality/ we are left with this: blessed are the self-absorbed. On the back cover this book advertises itself as an 'unending story of rebirth and reaffirmation,' but it left me feeling saddened. I am saddened by the wrenching stories of abuse, by the fact that the editors did not expect them, and by the muddy writing that will ensure that many remain unread. Most of all, I am saddened by the relentless individualism which comes cloaked in the trappings of postmodemist dialogue. Itmay be true, as Elder insists, that these 'conversations' contain no hierarchies , but there is also no sense of conununity. The faint 'echoes' drummed up by weak editing are inadequate as a substitute for this loss. What is missing, also, is a sense of awe. Gone with the community, apparently . Regardless of what any individual has suffered, is it not when two or three are gathered together in the name of something that is greater than all of them put together - is it not then that we may feel the fleeting presence of that something that we sometimes call...


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