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  • Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienne ed. by Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert, and Danile Laforest
  • Linda Morra (bio)
Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert, and Danile Laforest, eds. Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienne. University of Alberta Press. 304. $49.95

Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienne, edited by Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert, and Danile Laforest, is a collection of essays that engages various perspectives related to [End Page 132] space and memory, particularly their socio-political dimensions, as they are represented in literature in Canada. Canadian history, they argue, is produced at the intersection of memory and cultural space, the latter "deeply influenced by the negotiation between physical territory and the possibility of a nation."

The editors locate their work within a trajectory of criticism that finds its origins in Northrop Frye, who (in)famously posed the question: "Where is Here?" The response emphasizes a homogeneous geopolitical understanding of the nation, and subsequent critics have endeavoured to complicate the relationship between land, citizenship, belonging, and memory. The editors of Inhabiting Memory identify Peter Dickinson, Richard Cavell, Cynthia Sugars, Anne Gilbert, Pierre Nepveu, Eleanor Ty, and Diana Brydon, among several others, as scholars who note how "here" has been overdetermined or "permeated with multiple meanings" and who have thus explored its significance concerning those who lay claim to citizenship.

Authers, Snauwaert, and Laforest have also contributed to, and complicated, these understandings of "here" by adopting one highly unusual strategy: a bilingual introduction. Of the twelve essays, moreover, seven essays are written in English, another five in French. In this capacity, the volume offers a more capacious representation of the issues and works across linguistic, national, and spatial divides, which, in part, are related to English-French politics. In other words, the bilingual dimension of the book underscores its thematic interest in probing and examining the intersections between the disjunctions in national understandings. What it does not do, however, is engage with the politics of remembering, and the land in relation to, an Indigenous presence.

Instead, the essays, which are largely organized into four discrete sections, are arranged around the types of space one inhabits. The first, "Mapping the City / Cartographier la ville," examines urban topography and the means by which aesthetic approaches to the city involves, as Sherry Simon notes, embracing "its social, cultural, and economic complexity." The second section, "Diasporic Memories / Mémoires diasporiques," investigates forms of diasporic experience, how loss sustained by diasporic subjects might impede inclusion in national narratives, or how "unforgetting" might be read as state exploitation of memory to secure control (Smaro Kamboureli). The third section, "Intercultural Spaces / Espaces interculturels," focuses on intersections of memory, history, displacement, and translation – the latter about understanding how new tropes or even orthographic shifts might engender fresh perspectives.

The final section, "Towards a New Memory / Vers une nouvelle mémoire," pursues in more specific terms the relationship between aesthetic representations and material realities of place. Ranging from the "heterodox representation of the city of Quebec," to the ethical problems of representing space, to the unsettling of "popular national narratives of abolitionist benevolence," these essays provide a strong finish to the collection. The last one, by Albert Braz, is titled "Fleeing the North Star"; it focuses on (the vastly understudied) Lorena Gale, her play Angélique, and the "politics of memorialization." He shows how mainstream narratives displace peoples – specifically, how the narrative of the [End Page 133] Underground Railroad may suggest that "people of African descent have no real roots in Canada" and are therefore often perceived as "not truly Canadian but [rather] recently transplanted Africans or Americans." In its assessment of how Canadians "pretend not to remember" the "raw kind of capitalism" that undergirds its political framework, Braz's essay considers, like that of Kamboureli, the politics of forgetting, and, in so doing, he offers a salutary warning about how cultural memory might work to repress certain narratives rather than rendering or contributing to spaces that are "habitable" for all.

Linda Morra

Linda Morra
Department of English, Bishop's University...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 132-134
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-21
Open Access
No
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