Cultural Change: View from Canada

Writing After the Gaze: The Rupture of the Historical/ Edited by Anna Chilewska and Sheena Wilson. – Edmonton: M.V. Dimic Research Institute, 2007. – 195 pp. $24.95

National literatures, politics, translation studies develop rapidly, quite often with unexpected turns and twists. Thus to trace their comparative “gaze” is rather challenging and often complicated. The editors of this volume, Anna Chilewska and Sheena Wilson, cope with this task well.

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The book begins with Acknowledgements, Contents, Biographies of the Contributors and an Introduction (6 pages), written by the editors.
The volume is divided into 3 chapters: I – Penning the Politics of Gender Identities, II – Constructed Spaces and Identities, and III – Tradition and Preservation.
The first article “Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Female Images” is written by Anne Malena. Malena argues that in presenting female images, a famous Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun’s writing “remains caught in the problematic of a masculinist gaze” (3). One of his characters, Zina, a native Moroccan, lives in an inner exile. Ben Jelloun is credited with “blending of fiction and reality” (5). At the same time Malena notices that “it is indeed far from clear that the novel’s aim is to question theocentric discourse since even the subversive link between eroticism and mysticism discussed above is not being laid out clearly and no suggestion is made that Zina’s revenge is in any way directed at the social order” (7). Malena considers in detail victimized body and soul of Zina and her erratic actions as described by Ben Jelloun. Speaking on behalf of women (considered by Jelloun as his strongest point) can at the same time lead to inability of women to speak for themselves and to present real female/feministic point of view: “The double marring of exoticism and sexism also has the unfortunate effect of greatly diminishing the aesthetic power of Ben Jelloun’s writing, making it predictable and akin to generic cliché” (16).
The second article is called “Belching Fire, Dancing Naked, Spitting Blood: Hayashi Fumiko and the Japanese Poetic Tradition” by Janice Brown. Hayashi Fumiko’s creative heritage is presented in detail and with a specific penetrative gaze. Brown opposes marginality of Fumiko’s background and her adolescence against centricity and elevation of her poetic discourse, showing a particularly painful rupture of a rigid Japanese hierarchical tradition which includes the societal, the masculinic and the poetic. Will, creativity and Fumiko’s spirit were essential parts elevating her philosophic poetry/poetic philosophy. Brown compares Fumiko’s poetry with Yamanoue Okura’s. Fumiko’s poetry is full of life, woman’s pride and dignity (opposed to unbearable conditions of existence), spirited and spiritual joy: “The belching, boozing, blood-spitting, naked-dancing, near-sighted, impoverished female speakers of Fumiko’s poems present a transgressive female body that is socially and poetically insubordinate” – states Brown (28). The exhibitionism of Fumiko’s poetry is opposed to performances of a dancer Ama no Uzume, which Browns concludes in the following way: “To write as a female against poetic tradition as does Fumiko is to court pathology, madness, or self-destruction” (28).
Comparing Fumiko’s poetry to that of Ono no Komachi’s, Brown again underlines virility and vigilance of Fumiko’s poetry: “in Fumiko’s [poem] the speaker attempts to rise above misery on the shoulders of her own self-affirming bravado’ (34). The poetry ruptures the traditional tanka and haiku. She finds her absolutely unique voice of rendering specific poetic vision. This article is written in a simple and clear language, a very rare phenomenon among contemporary literary critics and researchers.
The third article is “The Innovation of Rape? The Motif of Bodily Integrity Functioning as a Feminine Discourse System” by Valerie Henitiuk, in which the author explores corporeal and other foundations in the Genji monogatari by Murosaki Shikiba and Eliduc by Marie de France. Henitiuk demonstrates how these otherwise unrelated texts show (dis)similar strategies for registering protest about the socially constructed vulnerability of female bodies.
The fourth article is “Silent Mythologies: Oralism and Innovation in Nicole Markotic’s Yellow Pages” by Teresa Green. Told mostly through the perspective of Alexander Graham Bell’s deaf wife Mabel, Markotic presents the vivid picture of a detrimental effect of Bell’s invention on the Deaf community, where the last had to imitate the life and behavior of non-deaf people. Green is highly supportive of Markotic’s conclusions by stating that “Markotic uses his narrative to expose the devastating results of Bell’s innovative perspectives in deafness” (72). Mabel’s sexuality is considered as well. Rewriting the history of Alexander Graham Bell is presented logically and convincingly.
The next three articles constitute the second chapter “Constructed Spaces and Identities.” Clemens Ruthner is the author of “Why Modern Literature is a Monster: Canon, Innovation, and Cultural Economy”. In it he considers the relationship between (post) modern canon and Western culture, where canon is presented as an extremely dynamic entity.
Ursula Reber’s article is called “Radical Reconstruction of the European World: Narrating Interactive Cyber Cities in the German Author Alban Nicolai Herbst’s Andersweld [Other World] Series” Reber analyzes the fictional world of Herbst’s novels, in which time and space are mutable.
Using Robin Cohen’s model (“Global Diaspora. An Introduction”. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1997), Mykola Soroka compares emigrant experience of two Canadian authors, one – Icelandic Canadian and the other Ukrainian Canadian, in his article “Towards a Structure of an Emigrant novel: Laura Goodman Salverson’s The Viking Heart and Illia Kiriak’s Syny Zemli.
The third chapter contains two articles. Tomasz Kamusella is the author of “Poland in 1945 – 1999: The Transition from the Soviet-Dominated Ethnic Nation-State to Democratic Civic Nation-State.” Based on extensive research and particularly original literature on the topic, Kamusella convincingly shows Poland’s path from a totalitarian to a democratic state. The author pays special attention to the consideration of minorities and their situation.
The article, concluding the volume, is Lenore Grenoble’s “The State of the Art: Writing, Technology, and the World’s Languages.” Considering globalization and the role of IT and having based her research on concrete examples of the Maori and Evenki languages, Grenoble arrives at the conclusion that IT does not benefit the survival of minority languages.
The strongest point of this particular collection of essays is its interest in the humanity and humility of diverse identities. Marginal characters humbly take the centre stage and the notions of femininity and masculinity, sexuality and gender equality are challenged, reassessed and reevaluated. Cultural change is traced with deep knowledge of the subject. This volume can be highly recommended to the specialists of Comparative Literatures as well as to the readership involved in Arts, Humanities and Translation Studies.

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