(with Margery Fee) SSHRC-funded 3 year research project
Project title: Diaspora, Indigeneity, Ethnicity: The Multiculturalism of Post-colonialisms in Contemporary Canada and Australia
I. Book title: Not By Bread Alone: Writers, Public Intellectuals, and the Will to Cultural Community in Contemporary Canada and Australia
2. Collection of edited interviews with public intellectuals who are also creative writers
Surprisingly little comparative research into cultural matters exists in relation to Canada and Australia. The project aims to bring together these two countries with similar histories of settlement and migration to cast light on contemporary struggles between what has been constructed as the national cultural mainstream and those who belong to groups that have traditionally between excluded from this construct because of race/ethnicity, that is, Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.
These two groups have very different histories, claims, perspectives, even though as outsiders or Others' they have often been lumped together in mainstream nationalist discourse. To examine their struggle in two countries with similar political and cultural traditions is to illuminate not only that struggle, but also the historical and cultural differences between Australia and Canada.
The project title includes the two terms multiculturalism and post-colonialism in order to register our interest in the theoretical split marked by the different fields these terms usually occupy. Multicultural is a term that has wide currency, both with the public and the state, while post-colonial is found primarily in academic discourse. Multicultural tends to apply to local and contemporary national, or even sub-national areas, such as cities, while post-colonial tends to apply to a global phenomenon, often implicitly grounded in a past era of empire-building, rather than the neo- colonial era of global capital.
Multiculturalism is often seen as involving an analysis that ignores political disparities, and has often been linked to well-meaning liberal attempts to view everyone as equal without having to grapple with historical, political or economic injustices. Post-colonialism contains an implicit anti-imperialist stance, one that is often somewhat muted by the historical perspective of most post-colonial analysis. We bring these terms together to signal our desire to try to engage the contemporary and the local in an analysis which relates the past to the present lives of contemporary writer/intellectuals and their communities in two nations at opposite ends of the globe. We see race and ethnicity as related floating terms that can only be understood in particular places and times, as terms used to demarcate some people as totally unassimilable to the mainstream culture (the racial Other), and others as partially assimilable (the ethnic Other), while the mainstream is held as the norm, having neither race nor ethnicity. Thus a Quebecker was seen by mainstream Anglo-Celtic Canadians as racially different in nineteenth century Canada; in Second Image: Comparative Studies in Quebec Canadian Literature (1971) Ronald Sutherland argued the case for federalism on the basis of similar Norman French ancestry. Lately, studies have turned to analysing neutral' terms, such as whiteness and Englishness, in ways that reveal their constructedness (Frankenberg, Gikandi etc.)
Much has been written on the various ways in which minorities have been marginalised by dominant groups within national and global formations but there has not been as much analysis on the dynamics of community within and between minority groups. Indeed it is only when these groups reveal their inevitable differences within (for example, in criticising their 'own' writers), a phenomenon often caricatured simply as internal feuding by the mainstream media, that the very notion of minority cultural networks are recognised as even existing.
The broad project title serves to indicate the frame in which our interviewing and writing will take place. In order to connect the past and published texts to the current engagements of minority communities, we plan to interview a group of creative writers who see their role as creating a community. They may be teachers, they may engage in political activism, write journalistic or non-fiction pieces aimed at this goal, or they may simply rely on their creative work to carry their message. The issue for many minority citizens in both Australia and Canada has always been how to belong to the nation without abandoning or selling out their community. Our conversations will focus on this issue. For some, belonging to the nation may be too high a price to pay--(many Indigenous writers are ambivalent or negative about being identified as Canadian) For others (e.g. Bissoondath), assertion of community identity may seem retrograde, an admission that one's culture somehow needs protection.
We plan to publish edited versions of these interviews as a collection. The interviews, along with the usual research resources of academic writing, will form the basis for the book. The book will examine a smaller group of writers, looking at their institutional connections, how they legitimate themselves as members of their community (or are legitimated by others), and how their creative work relates (possibly conflictedly) to their stated positions and goals within their community. The project will look particularly at a number of 'writer-pedagogues' (writers who are also teachers) and at the cultural tactics employed by them to establish a presence within the apparatus of publishing, reviewing and the creation of inclusive curricula. In short how they are crucial in establishing a particular kind of readership which is also a spur to developing cultural community and in turn changes traditional notions of cultural heritage within contexts of national and global cultures.
Several recent controversies (the Demidenko affair in Australia , the Writing through Race conference in Vancouver, the appropriation debate in both countries) will provide foci for discussion.
Finally, the term diaspora is used as a reminder that many immigrants to both countries did not come voluntarily, but in fact arrived as prisoners, slaves, indentured labourers, or refugees, to avoid famine (e.g. the Irish) or war and its aftermath (e.g. the United Empire Loyalists, many post-WW II European immigrants, the Vietnamese boat people). Their different histories often, but not always, of persecution and suffering mean that the terms migrant (in Australia) and immigrant (in Canada) are themselves fractured.
Book: Not By Bread Alone: Writers, Public Intellectuals, and the Will to Cultural Community in Contemporary Canada and Australia
It is currently envisaged that there will be 8 chapters around the following themes, broadly speaking:
Introduction: this will set out the ways in which the key terms described above function differently in each country due to different histories and national discourses as well as the local conditions which comprise their multicultural histories. Canadians and Australians of Anglo-Celtic origins have struggled to construct an independent national identity for themselves in literature, film, autobiography, journalism and non- narrative cultural forms such as painting and music. The "success" of this project is seriously contested by Aboriginal peoples, by settlers and immigrants from other parts of the world, and by many majority social critics: struggle over who is and is not Canadian and Australian continues (and presumably will always continue). Post-colonial theory helps to account for these struggles, struggles demonstrating the sad and brutal paradox that the oppressed can quickly turn oppressor, given the chance. Now, some argue that we are in a post-national age in which national power is eroding and nations and their commoditized cultures have become mere window-dressing for the working of global capital. The term `multicultural' is a recent attempt to respond to the cracks in the fiction of a homogeneous cultural/ethnic identity that had been painfully constructed in both countries. In Canada's case, this fiction was already fragmented, if the widespread adoption of the expression `mosaic' to describe Canada is any evidence (from John Porter's book, The Vertical Mosaic 1965). Fictions of Canada have always had to accommodate the presence of `two nations' in one state, although English- speaking Canadians have always dominated economically and politically.
Chapter One: Indigeneity and Multiculturalism
In both countries there is an uneasy relationship between indigenous peoples who have learnt to situate themselves and their histories in relation to the first settler-colonisers but who are not quite so organised vis-à-vis the newer ethnic groups with their own contested relations to mainstream groups. This has particular implications for Asian immigration. In Australia writers like Mudrooroo, in the first critical survey of Aboriginal writing, speak scathingly of the multiculturalism which has served to deflect attention away from the struggles of indigenous writers and artists to claim their cultural franchise. On the other hand a renewed national emphasis by progressive groups on the need for reconciliation with the Aboriginal peoples has also included so-called ethnic or non Anglo-Celtic writers such as David Malouf and Brian Castro who attempt to deal with these issues in their recent work. There is also the troubled case of the Serbian-Australian writer Wongar who for years has written on Aboriginal themes and identified with their plight but has been vilified as inauthentic in the national media as well as by some indigenous groups.
Chapter Two: Cultural Appropriation: White Indigeneity and Ethnic Exoticism
Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation (ed. Ziff and Rao, Rutgers UP 1997) contains several contributions by Canadians, including Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, who was at the centre of this debate in Canada because she chaired the Racial Minority Writers' Committee of the Writers' Union of Canada which brought a motion to the Writers' Union in 1992 that caused a great deal of angry and anguished debate. I have delivered a paper on this debate (in Edmonton, 1994) and have discussed the issue at length with Susan Crean, who was President of the Writers' Union at that time. The debate in Canada has several centres, including the 1987 split of Women's Press, in Toronto, over the issue of whether stories written by white women from Black women's perspectives should be published in an anthology. In 1988 Lee Maracle, a Native writer, asked Anne Cameron, author of best-selling novel Daughters of Copper Woman (1981), to stop using traditional Native stories in her work. In 1989, controversy broke out over the representation of minority Canadian writers at the PEN conference in Toronto. In 1990 the Canada Council set up an Advisory Committee for Racial Equality in the Arts; perhaps needless to say, its report was controversial. Finally, a conference called Writing Through Race which excluded those who were not members of an ethnic minority from most of its workshops held in Vancouver in 1995. Hartmut Lutz's collection of interviews (Contemporary Challenges, 199?) has dealt with this issue at length with a large group of Indigenous writers. To do a detailed investigation into all of these local debates is impossible; Fee would like to focus on the perspective of Indigenous writers, showing where their position diverges from that of other ethnic minority writers. How do these groups hope to have their voices heard and how are their arguments received by the mainstream?
In Australia there is the Demidenko affair in which the first novel from what appeared to be a Ukrainian-Australian writer won all the major literary prizes on the grounds that it bravely dealt with some of the countrys hidden ethnic history. Claiming to be based on historical facts the novel deals with current war- crime trials involving aged Ukrainians accused of involvement in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The material offers an explanation in the Ukrainian famines created in part by Communist mismanagement and claims that the local agents were Jewish-Bolsheviks. Thus the first scandal surrounding the novel related to whether or not it was anti-Semitic whereas the second concerned the revelation that the author had no ethnic Ukrainian affiliations and was indeed the daughter of British immigrants. The case has precipitated much media and academic analysis concerning appropriation of voice as well as some examination of the assumptions concerning the inclusions and exclusion of selected ethnic writers and intellectuals.
Chapter Four: Authenticity: The Right to Write
Authenticity has always been both the strength and the weakness of the Indigenous writer in Canada. It is a strength because of the long fascination with Native culture deriving from the desire of settlers to `indigenize' by imitating First Nations peoples; it is a weakness because it freezes First Nations people in a vanished past (something Emma LaRocque's Defeathering the Indian deals with most cogently) and because it requires both racial purity and a traditional lifestyle, including fluency in the Native language. Most Native writers are of what is termed `mixed ancestry' and make no claim to a traditional lifestyle. How does someone like Thomas King, born in California, part Cherokee, but also part Greek, part German, deal with this issue? Or Beth Brant, whose mother was non-Mohawk? Will Native culture die as intermarriage proceeds apace? Beatrice Culleton's In Search of April Raintree shows the devastating force of the myth of racial difference in the lives of two Metis sisters, one who passes as white, the other who asserts proudly that she is Native. The novel, in which the `white' sister is raped by men who call her `squaw' and the `Native' sister commits suicide shows how little space there is in Western culture for the `hybrid.'
This same difficulty appears in Aboriginal writing in Australia, where the recent discovery that Mudrooroo appeared to be of Black American, rather than Aboriginal ancestry caused much discussion. The question of inauthenticity arises repeatedly in discussions of ethnic minority writings in Australia particularly when it is coupled with questions of genre. Thus any kind of experimental writing is often viewed as distracting from the assumed injunction to convey the migrant experience in a realist style. This concern was broached for Rosa Cappiellos novel O Lucky Country (1984) and continues for example with the work of Christos Tsiolkass texts on aspects of gay life or the satiric work of Melbourne poet and intellectual TT.O.
Chapter 5: Language as a focus of struggle
The shift that has taken place in the status of English- speaking Quebeckers since the first victory of the Parti Québécois in 1976 is tellingly encapsulated in the titles of some books written since: J. D. Jackson's The English of Quebec: From Majority to Minority Status (1982), Marc V. Levine's The Reconquest of Montreal (1990), and Josée Legault's L'invention d'une minoritée: Les anglo-Québécois (1992). From founding nation to just another "cultural community" (a loan translation from the French term), the Quebec English community has struggled politically (for example, through the formation of Alliance Quebec, an organization dedicated to the protection of English- language rights, and the election of four members of the Equality Party to the Quebec National Assembly). The best-known writer/activist associated with the anglophone struggle is Mordecai Richler, who has published many novels, including The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), and won two Governor General's Awards. He has also published hundreds of essays, and a best-selling book about the language controversy in Quebec, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country (1992). The publication of a portion of this book in The New Yorker produced a tremendous outcry. Many immigrants have arrived in Quebec since World War II, and the ethno-linguistic-religious combinations and permutations are complex. Haitian and Vietnamese immigrants, for example, are francophone, but racially distinct; are they regarded as more or less assimilable than European allophones, such as the Greeks and the Italians? How do writers from these communities construct themselves vis-à-vis Quebec and the rest of Canada ? Fees work on this area has so far come at the struggle through language change in the anglophone community (the adoption of French borrowings, loan translations, and senses for parallel English words) in articles on Quebec English and related topics in The Guide to Canadian English Usage (1997) and The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1994). A plenary paper delivered to the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures ("Shifting Political Categories in Quebec English," Montreal, 1995) discussed the ways in which words such as separatist, independentist, and sovereignist are deployed in English Quebec and the rest of Canada and how controversies over terms such as vieille souche and pure laine (which demarcate francophone Quebeckers with a long history in the province) reveal struggles over ethnicity. The crux of the debate is whether a Québécois is anyone, whatever their ethnicity, who speaks French fluently and has a commitment to Quebec, or whether this term is regarded as referring only to francophones with European French ancestry and a long history in the province. Although this section will draw on this work, we would like to extend the discussion to creative writers, such as Richler.
In Australia the issue of languages other than English and writings in those languages has barely received recognition. There has been a marked shift from European languages and increasing interest in some Asian languages due to changes in global capitalism. The work of someone like the poet Antigone Kefala has served to register some of the shifts in relation to European immigrants band the project will also focus on what have been called the post-Tiananmin writers, students who were granted asylum after this event and who have formed a loose network of writers and artists particularly around the work of Ouyang Yu and the Deakin University academic Wenche Ommundsen.
Chapter 6: Minority Public Intellectuals and Writers
There has clearly been a shift in the nationalizing discourse of public intellectuals such as Northrop Frye (The Bush Garden), George Grant, (Lament for a Nation), Pierre Elliott Trudeau, (The Just Society), George Woodcock (Canada and the Canadians), Margaret Atwood (Survival)
to that of minority intellectuals such as Harold Cardinal (The Unjust Society), Himani Bannerji, Neil Bissoondath, Marlene Nourbese Philip.
What are some of the tactics employed by these intellectuals to maintain a space for themselves inside Canada that nonetheless allows their differences to be maintained.
Consider the difference between public intellectuals like Frye, Grant, MacLuhan, Innis who are all university-based writers, intellectuals: how English works as a discipline to permit minority writing to be read discipline/pedagogy: teaching tools, the anthology and the survey and how they implicitly minoritize--these are tools used in junior courses; the canonical frame-up public intellectual: issue of citizenship, civic self--citizenship is obviously not seen as enough-- forms that intellectual activity takes: community educators, journalism, organizing conferences, public lectures, community tv and radio, film.
Conclusion: this will look at some of the histories of minority groups and their vexed relations to mainstream criticism in both countries and set out some of the anomalies we have uncovered as part of our research for this project. It will undoubtedly also suggest other avenues worthy of further exploration in these two complex countries.
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