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ADAM PAUL WEISMAN Reading Multiculturalism in the United States and Canada: The Anthological vs the Cognitive Every society, small or large, is created and destroyed by myth, and since Canada's larger society now appears on the verge of breaking apart, we had better ask ourselves: Where, Lord, were our fictions inadequate to sustain us? Rudy Wiebe, 'In the West Sir John A. Is a Bastard and Riel a Saint/ 211 But only we know, or should know, the fragility of OUT fictions. For the sake of reconciliation rather than vengeance our fictions have to be truer than the truth. Michael Chapman, 'The Problem of Identity,' 91 This article examines the differing meanings of multiculturalism in the United States and Canada! and how this difference affects multicultural readings of literary works that have implications for national identity. Although I argue that Canada has a longer tradition of multicultural reading than the United States, and that what the United States' academy is today calling multiculturalism may not be multiculturalism at all, it is not -correct to read this paper as favouring one nation (or the reading practices of one nation) over the other. This argument is not an American or Canadian nationalist argument; rather, it is a North American comparatist one. It operates in a framework where American Studies is, as John Carlos Rowe puts it, ,a comparatist discipline that will respect the many different social systems and cultural affiliations of the /I Americas" '; in this case, especially 'how the many different Americas and Canada have hlstorically influenced and interpreted each other' (Rowe, 13-14). Plural nations constantly face the foundational problem ofwhether they should persist as unified entities, or resolve themselves into their separate - and sometimes oppositional - constituent parts. This is something that American nations have in common; indeed, it is a fact that is constitutive of the very idea of 'America.' To study it comparatively is not to advance the cause ofnational competition, but of international understanding. As Walter Benn Michaels explains in Our America, the problem for the United States is what to do when'confronted with the imminentpossibility of dissolution: What makes the nation one nation? What makes Americans Americans?' (15). The same problem exists in Canada, a nation notorious for its ongoing drama of imminent dissolution. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 2000 690 ADAM PAUL WEISMAN As the epigraphs from the Canadian novelist Rudy Wiebe and the South African literary historian and critic Michael Chapman suggest, plural nations deal with tms problem by creating national myths that account for the emergence of unity from diversity. These nations then establish by practice ways of reading their fictions that help to explain how and why they are organized as they are. As BenedictAnderson has famously written, all nations are fimagined communities/ and none imagines itself without limitations or 'coterminous with mankind' (7). What I am adding to Anderson 's thesis in this paper is the idea that radically plural immigrant nations, such as those of the North American 'New World' (but not only those of the New World), are particularly dependent upon their fictions to explain why they exist as nations and how they will persist - 9r pOSSibly cease to exist - as such in the furore. During the twentieth century, the United States advanced and refined a myth of liberal pluralism stressing the power of the individual to select and create his or her place in the larger society. This myth has its origins in the founding documents of the nation, such as the Declaration of Independence with itspronouncement that (all men are created equal.' Since at least the 1960s, many (but not all) political and literary factions in Canada have developed and institutionalized a myth of multiculturalism that is, in part, oppositional to American claims for the autonomy of the individual, but also reflective of historical, linguistic, geographic, raciat and ethnic facts that make Canada different from the United States. As the Canadian literary critic Linda Hutcheon puts it, Canada 'values difference and views ethnic diversity more with pride than with simple tolerance' ('CryptoEthnicity ,' 31). The criteria for the development and sustenance of such myths are as diverse as the nations themselves, but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 689-715
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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