- Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology in Canadian Literary Studies ed. by Smaro Kamboureli and Christl Verduyn
This volume arises out of the third and final TransCanada conference held in 2009 at Mount Allison University. Since its inception the TransCanada project has been concerned with questions of epistemology and methodology, at once eager to diagnose the state of Canadian literary studies from within, and to ask how those studies might be more daring in their transdisciplinary reach. Like many books that have their origins in academic meetings, this volume is somewhat ad hoc in the topics it attempts to bring together under one roof, and yet the authors included often have a surprising amount to say to one another as they attempt to create vocabularies that foster a sense of relatedness and responsibility among indigenous, diasporic, and environmental groups. As Smaro Kamboureli notes in her introduction, if Canada has no “common story,” this does not preclude the possibility of different constituencies coming together to discuss and act on their particular visions of the world. Where some might see the external and internal pressures on CanLit as unwelcome sources of stress, Kamboureli argues that such pressures can be productive, especially when and where they help to generate a “force field” in which seemingly discordant, previously marginalized elements can enter into dialogue. Thus, we variously see Larissa Lai bringing indigenous and Asian writing into conversation via an “epistemology of respect,” Julie Rak proposing the value of the “translocal” as a category for discussing writers for whom the national is too tenuous a category to be very useful, and Laurie Ricou disturbing the conventional CanLit course by asking his students to study species that lead them beyond the classroom and into the transnationally embedded worlds of oyster farmers and pet store owners.
A key thread that runs through several chapters is the idea of justice. Roy Miki, for instance, advocates a form of “creative critical reading” that deliberately tries to slow down the interpretive process so that “questions of justice and equity rise to the surface” via empathic engagement. For Miki, looking at texts such as Roy Kiyooka’s The Artist and the Moose and Transcanada Letters can be particularly useful in this regard, for such texts offer a genealogy for Canadian literary studies that shows the field to have always been provisional and contingent. Cheryl Lousley similarly argues that ecocritical readings cannot escape the dissolution of the lines between nature and culture, but that it is precisely in the “unregulated zones” where these categories mingle that a sense of the political must be developed. Meanwhile, both James Youngblood (Sa’ke’j) Henderson and Marie Battiste emphasize the value of trans-systemic approaches [End Page 386] to displace Eurocentric thinking, whether in the fields of law or education. In particular, Henderson’s articulation of Aboriginal rights as sui generis—as self-generating, unique, and distinct from Eurocentrism—could inspire further work by humanities scholars, especially given the challenges of reconciling a legal order that relies on Eurocentric logic and causality with “Aboriginal verb-centred languages and consciousness that represent a holistic approach to life.”
At the same time, both Henderson’s and Battiste’s articles also confront readers with a worrying fact when it comes to indigenous languages: even as there is a growing recognition of their importance, the number of people able to fluently communicate in them is in many cases steadily shrinking. Henderson, however, notes that Aboriginal traditions are not fixed but open and ongoing; the challenge will be to nurture traditions that are flexible enough to meet people where they are, without compromising understandings of concepts that are key to Aboriginal knowledge, visions, and ceremonies (this is an insight that also applies to François Paré’s analysis of Acadian identity near the end of the volume). Overall, CanLit as a field goes forward with a greater sense of reflexivity as a result of the TransCanada project, and many of the conversations it has helped facilitate should continue in the future.