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  • DisPossession: Haunting in Canadian Fiction by Marlene Goldman
  • Eva Darias-Beautell (bio)
Marlene Goldman. DisPossession: Haunting in Canadian Fiction. McGill-Queen’s University Press. xii, 370. $95.00

Recent discussions of memory, history, and literature in Canada have often used the trope of haunting, evincing a growing interest in the potential of ghost narratives to unearth silent histories and reframe the current parameters of nation narration. In looking at Canadian literary ghosts as traces of the cultural anxieties, diasporic dissonance, or suppressed histories of the nation, Marlene Goldman’s study is a remarkable instance of the trope’s imaginative power as well as its transformative possibilities. This book offers a close reading of a selection of English-Canadian texts with a [End Page 512] focus on the politics and poetics of cultural haunting and (dis)possession. The term DisPossession in the title gestures toward the tension, in colonial, diasporic, and patriarchal histories, between home and the unhomely. Haunting refers to the often uncanny distance between the two and, in so doing, articulates the play between possession and dispossession and marks the space between the need to remember and the desire to forget. These tropes, Goldman argues, are bound up with Canada’s colonial and transnational histories, and a critical attention to their function in texts often breaks down the logic of the nation’s hegemonic narrative.

The book is divided into three parts. In part 1, Goldman focuses on the relationship between Indigenous and settler-invader cultures to probe the possibilities for the Canadian Gothic to renarrate the nation’s past. Here the excellent close readings of Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Cure for Death by Lightning, and John Steffler’s The Afterlife of George Cartwright build on one another to effectively argue for the need to revise and politicize a certain version of the Gothic. Haunting in this post-colonial framework, Goldman shows, acts as a catalyst for the uncanny legacies of colonialism.

Shifting to the function of these same tropes in diasporic narratives, part 2 explores the implications of class, gender, and racial forms of dispossession in a different group of texts to prove how the nation is also haunted and fractured by its transnational histories. In this part, the readings of Jane Urquhart’s Away and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace lay bare the unresolved tensions that white working-class diasporas have embedded in Canada’s palimpsestic texture. A critical examination of Dionne Brand’s poetry and fiction then follows that adds a further nuance to the limits of the Canadian Gothic, for the identification of this author’s contribution of an alternative Afro-Caribbean tradition undermines the former genre’s structure and logic.

The analysis of Thomas King’s Truth and Bright Water, in part 3, weighs the notion of cultural haunting against that of liminality to subvert the dichotomous structure (Native/settler) often underlying the Canadian Gothic. Inspired by King’s example, Goldman’s conclusion articulates what she calls “an ethics of haunting,” of which the texts analyzed are evidence, consisting of looking at the tropes of haunting and (dis)possession in ways that emphasize inconclusiveness and misrecognition. Attention, in other words, must be directed to the function of haunting in particular texts, for, in their resistance to the re-enactment of hegemonic narratives, spectral fictions often shake these narratives’ epistemological foundations.

Reaching toward the implied critical challenge, Goldman’s combination of post-colonial and gender perspectives succeeds in producing a politicized approach to the Canadian Gothic. Her study pays heed to Cynthia Sugars’s and Terry Turcotte’s idea that there is an intrinsic connection between Gothic tropes and the post-colonial condition, since the latter [End Page 513] places collective imaginaries within the haunted spaces of intranational and transnational otherness. Goldman also draws on Kathleen Brogan’s notion of cultural haunting, Jonathan Kertzer’s anxiety over the impossibility of a unified national identity, and Justin Edwards’s articulation of Canada as a spectral nation, among other antecedents. To this critical field, DisPossession contributes by enriching and expanding it as well as probing its ideological and formal limits. The well-versed reader may be troubled by...


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pp. 512-514
Launched on MUSE
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