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HUMANITIES 351 Daphne Marlatt. Readings from the Labyrinth NeWest Press. iv, 234. $18.95 Readings from the Labyrinth, the sixth in IThe Writer as Critic Series' from NeWest Press, extends the ongoing preoccupation with genre-bending in all of Daphne Marlatt's writing. According to its general editor, Smaro Kamboureli, the purpose of this series is to invite readers to read criticism as literature by helping them 'identify the shifting boundaries and intentions of the artist creatively writing criticism.' Marlatt's self-conscious negotiation of both creative and critical contexts encourages, if not demands, such a reading. Throughout Readings from the Labyrinth, Marlatt interrogates generic boundariesin the course ofexamining thenature ofher own feminist poetics and how it relates to broader cultural concerns. This text is a fascinating one for its attempt to chart both a personal and a collective feminist consciousness in Canada. It traces the development of Marlatt's thinking 'as it participated in ongoing collective discussion in a feminist community that has been actively writing, reading and publishing across the country for the last two decades.' To avoid 'ossifying' her thoughts and in an attempt to provide what she calls the 'ideational "background'" of each piece, Marlatt couches her essays within diary entries,letters to friends, lovers, and other writers, retrospective descriptive passages, conference proceedings, and photographs. By thus foregrounding the method involved in her critical thinking, she contextualizes her essays while breathing new life into them. The seventeen essays in Readingsfrom the Labyrinth confirm that Marlatt is one of Canada's foremost feminist literary critics. One of the founding editors of Tessera, Marlatt helped to shift feminist criticism away from the thematic-inspired 'images of women' criticism that dominated early feminist thinking in Canada. Her essays acknowledge the relationship between language and power and argue convincingly that, for women, challenging and subverting patriarchal language are revolutionary acts. In most of these essays Marlatt explores the labyrinth of language, the winding, spiralling space of interconnections, multiple meanings, and' duplicity that a woman writer must actively negotiate. Because many of these essays have been previously published elsewhere , however, what is most absorbing about Readingsfrom the Labyrinth remains the 'background' material for each piece. In these fragments, Marlatt allows us to see wonder and excitement (in response to the Dialogue Conference at York University), disappointment and hurt (in reaction to reviews of Ana Historic), frustration (at being labelled I Anglo realist' and essentialist), and even perhaps a certain amount of naIvete, as in her attempts, not quite successful, to grapple with the contradictions implicit in her own privileged position and the modalities of difference within a feminist community. 352 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 This process of positioning gives one the sense that Marlatt is still grappling with ideas, still caught up in working out where and how and why she belongs both as a critic and a creative writer. She doubles back, she retracts, she muses - a lot. In a journal entry from 1984 she asks, 'as a writer, where am i? somewhere in the gap between the social realism of most Anglo women's writing & the "fiction-theory" of Quebecoise feminists.' Here, as elsewhere in the book, she locates herself (and her writing) somewhere in the in-between: between Anglo and Quehecoise feminisms, between a masculine-oriented Tish poetics and a lesbian bodycentred writing, betweennarrative and analysis, between truth and fiction, between a feminist 'me' and 'we,' between history and utopia. This intense focus on the in-between helps to explain the preoccupation in all her writing with autobiography, a genre (or anti-genre) that, according to Marlatt, occurs in the confluence of fiction and analysis; 'a self-analysis that plays fictively with the primary images of one's life, a fiction that uncovers analytically that territory where fact and fiction coincide.' It is precisely this focus on what Marlatt calls the 'curious dance' between private and public selves that makes this collection so educative, so evocative. Her constant questioning and positioning, her emphasis on process and flux, her refusal to pick sides in order to hold tensions suspended, and her stretching and reshaping of the boundaries between criticism, literature, and autobiography continue to define Marlatt as a 'writer as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 351-352
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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