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152 Canadian Review ofAmerican Studies Revue canadienne d'etudes americaines public interests, is rather hard to compare to the experience of two hundred years south of the border. The irony is not so much how the Charter is making us more American, but how a constitutional device, designed to unify the country and promote an integrative citizenship that would weaken individual's identification with local and regional interests, is in fact facilitating fragmentation of a common public sphere already being eroded by globalization from above and identity politics from below. The Charter is no different from any means of resorting to legal process; it is exploited most effectively by groups who can afford to litigate or threaten to do so. Canadians wishing to reflect critically on new configurations of the relationship between the law, politics and the state in this country are better off with something like Michael Mandel's The Charter ofRights and the Legalization ofPolitics in Canada 2nd ed. (Toronto: Thompson, 1994). However, as a broad representation of current critical work on law in specifically American settings, the Kairys collection is undoubtedly one of the best. Barry White Carleton University Katherine Clay Bassard. Spiritual Interrogations: Culture, Gender, and Community in Early African American Women's Writing. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. pp. I + 183 and selected bibliography. The late 1990s is seeing the development of critical studies focused on early African American women's writing begun by landmark books like Frances Smith Foster,s Written by Herself, Hazel Carby's Reconstructing Womanhood, and Claudia Tate's Allegories of Political Desire. Katherine Clay Bassard,s Spiritual Interrogations joins this field at a particularly crucial moment, when existing theories of African American literature are proving somewhat less than adequate to understanding black women's writing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, Bassard's book, concentrating on what she calls the preEmancipation period spanning 1760 to 1865, opens with a call for several redefinitions. Bassard asks that we no longer attend to vernacular practices as exclusively rhetorical or signalled by the use of "dialect"; that we under- Book Revtews 153 stand intertextuality or "matrilineal inheritance" within black women's writing as contestatoty and revisionary dialogue; and that we reconceptualize African American community as performed rather than essentialized and homogenized through the lens of a common experience of racialization. This attention to community is developed in the form of a return, as Bassard closes her book with an analysis of "performing community", [as] engaging m and (re)producing cultural forms and practices whose central function is community building" (128). Bassard's overall project is to read early African American women's writing as inscribing a desire and search for community forged within the experience of displacement or mpture. For Bassard, these writings and pre-Emancipation African American community more largely are marked by "sign[s] of a desire to return when no return is possible" (138). Importantly, then, this work also seeks to open early African American women's writing to analyses that position it as part of the African diaspora, and in that sense answers Paul Gilroy's earlier contention that African American studies has been unwilling or slow to participate in diaspora studies (see The Black Atlantic). One of the several strengths of Bassard's work is to offer incisive readings of Phillis Wheatley, Ann Plato, ]arena Lee, and Rebecca Cox Jackson that go quite significantly beyond existing scholarship that has tended to dismiss these writers as somehow acculturated or "converted" to AngloAmerican ideology. Key to her reading of Wheatley, Lee, and Jackson is a theorization of conversion as a "dialectical movement, calling for...both continuity...and transformation...[thereby] demand[ing] a fundamental displacement " (23) more indicative of diaspora and African diasporic subjectivity , than an assimilation that denies a "black" subjectivity. Consequently, Wheatley's writings are read as inscribing her survival of the Middle Passage , and encoding "psychic fracture as a desire for communal wholeness" (48). Her funeral elegies become much more that '"occasional poetry'.. .often dismissed as 'coerced speech'" (59), and are convincingly analyzed as a dialogue with her own diasporic subjectivity and experience through elegies on the loss of an "other". This strategy of "speaking of self...


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