- The Palgrave Handbook of Comparative North American Literature ed. by Reingard M. Nischik
This collection provides those in Canada and the United States who work on Canadian and American literature and culture with the opportunity to see what their field looks like from the other side of the Atlantic. Responding to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s call in Death of a Discipline for a “discipline to come,” Reingard M. Nischik, who is chair of American [End Page 353] literature at the University of Konstanz in Germany and whose studies on Margaret Atwood have won the Margaret Atwood Society’s best-book award, has brought together seventeen essays that work together to demonstrate the viability of comparative North American literature.
Nischik solicited contributions for the volume from North American scholars whose influential publications have paved the way for a comparative approach to Canadian and American studies: Rachel Adams on questions of mapping, Claudia Sadowski-Smith on borders, Marie Vautier and Jean Morency on Québécois literature in relation to Canadian and American literature respectively, Monika Giacoppe on North American bilinguality (in this case French), and Lorraine York on literary celebrity. They are supplemented by German scholars who compare Canadian and American literature on a range of topics: multiculturalism (Sabine Sielke), perspectives on race (Eva Gruber), indigenous literatures (Katja Sarkowsky), histories of immigration and citizenship (Mita Banerjee), regionalism (Florian Freitag), the north (Christina Kannenberg), “storied” cities (Caroline Rosenthal), modernism (Jutta Ernst), and postmodernism (Julia Breitbach). A concluding essay by Georgiana Banita on transnationalism at war, which reads Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul against Jane Urquhart’s Sanctuary Line to enlist war as a paradigm for a post-national aesthetics, ends things on a deliberately sombre note in recognition of the violence and hardship that globalization has caused.
Nischik’s contextualizing introduction competently surveys relevant related fields, from American and Canadian studies, through North American studies, hemispheric studies, and border studies, to global studies and comparative literature. As someone whose university recently opened (and could soon close) a program in US studies, I found it interesting that that term was not included for discussion. It also struck me that Nischik’s point that the “relatively strong German investment” in comparative approaches to North American studies “may also be explained in institutional terms” resonates well with the positionality of European studies in North America. The fragility of those programs, at least those that have culture and history as their focus rather than political science and economics, makes me wonder about the role a handbook such as this can, and will, play in helping to realize comparative North American studies in Europe.
It also makes one wonder, given the strength of North American studies in other parts of Europe, such as Finland, Spain, and the Netherlands, what a European, and not just German, handbook would look like. Perhaps it would bear a greater resemblance to Gillian Roberts and David Stirrup’s 2013 Parallel Encounters: Culture at the Canada-US Border, one of very few books one would expect that is not in Nischik’s valuable forty-nine-page works cited section, no doubt owing to the inevitable time lags involved in print publishing. [End Page 354]
Consideration of Roberts and Stirrup’s volume draws attention to two aspects of Nischik’s volume, underscoring the productivity of the comparative approach she champions. First is the rather mandarin approach her volume takes to culture qua literature and the fact that there is nothing in it that remotely approaches Roberts and Stirrup’s opening section, “Popular Culture and/at the Border,” which features Jennifer Andrews’s excellent “Queer(y)ing Fur: Reading Fashion Television’s Border Crossings” and its discussion of Canadian designers Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2. Particularly in the case of Banita’s consideration of war, the strict focus on literature and neglect of, for example, film, was a palpable limitation.
Further is the issue of academic genre and Palgrave’s intent with this series of handbooks. The series debuted in 2012 with the Palgrave Handbook of Global Radio, which currently...