- The Shifting Politics of Time in Canadian Literary Culture by Paul Huebener
Paul Huebener's book is a welcome addition to literary criticism in Canada. It is well researched and well written, and it addresses an oft-neglected and yet important aspect of Canadian literature–the notion of time. All writers must address time in their writing in some way, but Huebener analyses how time functions in literature in a much more thorough manner. As such, the book attempts to answer such queries as: How do Canadian authors write against linear, chronological time in order to resist the powerful or the status quo? How do gender, race, and class relate to alternate notions of time, and how might they work to resist oppression? In what ways do form and content intersect in [End Page 270] works of Canadian literature to configure different concepts of time and contest accepted and unquestioned patterns of history? Huebener answers these questions comprehensively by interpreting the writing of a number of Canadian writers: Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Timothy Findley, Alice Munro, Laurence Hill, Larissa Lai, Eden Robinson, and Thomas King, among others. He approaches the work through the lens of various literary critics such as Daniel Coleman and W.H. New, and theorists such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Robert Levine, and Paul Ricoeur. He demonstrates an expert knowledge of time studies and Canadian literary studies, and he adds his own work and voice to those disciplines.
The author begins by reframing Northrop Frye's famous question about Canada, 'where is here?' to ask 'when is now?' He discusses how time has recently been foregrounded in Canadian culture, in the Slow Food Movement, for example, and he critiques the culture of speed and acceleration epitomised by late capitalism. Drawing upon work by Coleman and 'Bakhtin's literary model of the "chronotope"' (p. 29), Huebener engages in what might be called a postcolonial analysis of normative and imperial time: he works against the idea that the West is progressive, while other peoples and cultures are backward or behind. What is unique about this analysis is its emphasis on time and the notion that assumptions regarding it must be unravelled in order to undo the imperial order. Huebener is careful not to reduce Indigenous temporalities to a circular model in opposition to a linear, settler model. Rather, he demonstrates how such temporalities are 'meaningful in their own right and not merely as "others" to the Western norms' (p. 179). At times, the analysis of literary texts could be better organised, since the author sometimes returns to works about which he has already written, causing readers to revisit earlier discussion. Additionally, because the book engages with so many literary texts, the author is unable to provide a depth of analysis with regard to some of them that would enrich the study. Overall, however, the book provides an intelligent discussion of Canadian literature from a new and important perspective, and successfully intertwines time and literary studies.