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International Conference

"Imagined Communities, Recuperated Homelands.

Rethinking American and Canadian Minority and Exilic Writing"

Organized by Monica MANOLESCU and Charlotte STURGESS



March 11-12, 2011
      The English Department of the University of Strasbourg



Split Personality by Linda Gass

Linda Gass - Split Personality (quilt)


This conference will be centred on the way North American minority and exilic literatures problematize such generally received notions as home and belonging. Often localised on an anxious border between an originary, imaginary "homeland" — only recuperated through myth and storytelling — and the lived present, caught between here and there, departure and arrival, such literatures readily generate themes and tropes of nostalgia and the in-between: an "insider-outsider" status caught between community affiliations of origin and the social and cultural space of the adopted nation.

Yet at the same time "minoritized literatures remind us that nations are made, not born, and are thus open to refashioning" (Cho, 2007) suggesting that the "insider-outsider" both confirms and calls into question the norms and values that construct national unities. Do minority and exilic literatures therefore contribute to a dynamic political imaginary, envisaging alternative modes and discourses of citizenship? Can they contribute to reconceptualising the notions of home and nationhood and to challenging fixed assumptions of authentic origins?

In this case what strategies - patterns, themes, metaphors, images - serve to reflect on and reshape the network of relations tying the individual to the community? How does textual, representative space deflect or reflect the political and ideological?

Possible (non-exhaustive) avenues of inquiry:



Alternative, subjective cartographies

Embodied identities

Globalisation, transcultural, transnational discourses

Places and heterotopias

Racialised poetics

The body as politics

Mythmaking and revisions



Presentation Programme                   



Friday, March 11 2011


Maison Interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme - Alsace (MISHA), salle de conférences, 5 allée du Général Rouvillois, 67083 Strasbourg - PLAN


8h45 Welcoming address Jean-Jacques Chardin, director of EA 2325


9h-10h Keynote speaker – Larissa Lai (University of British Columbia) – How to Do “You”: Methods of Asian/Indigenous Relation


Session 1. Chair: Deborah Madsen


Communities and margins


10-10h30 David Stirrup (University of Kent, Canterbury) – Art, Borders, Citizenship: Containment and Flux in Selected Works by Eric Gansworth and Thomas King


10h30-10h50 Coffee break


10h50-11h20 Françoise Kral (Université Paris Ouest) – Virtual Communities and the “Non-places” of Hypermodernity


11h20-11h50 Hans Bak (Radboud University, Nijmegen) – Flights to Canada: Jacob Lawrence, Ishmael Reed and Lawrence Hill


11h50-12h20 Martin Kuester (University of Marburg) – A Minority Within a Minority: Literary Views of “Marginal” Members of the Canadian Mennonite Community?


12h30-14h30 Lunch break (Villa Bianca, 6 Bd Leblois, 67000 Strasbourg)


Département d’anglais, salle 4202, bâtiment Patio, 22 Rue Descartes, 67084 Strasbourg - PLAN


Session 2. Chair: Yves-Charles Grandjeat


Unsettling Cartographies


14h30-15h Ada Savin (Université de Versailles) – Geographies of the Carribean in Cristina Garcia’s The Agüero Sisters (1997)


15h-15h30 Pilar Cuder-Dominguez (University of Huelva) – The Psychology of Immigration: Map-making and Map-breaking in Nalini Warriar’s The Enemy Within (2005)


15h30-16h Virginia Ricard (Université Bordeaux 3) – Ludwig Lewisohn’s Imagined Community


16h-16h15 Coffee break


16h15-16h45 Paule Lévy (Université de Versailles) – A Reading of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée


16h45-17h15 Lianne Moyes (Université de Montréal) – Out of My Skin: Contesting Home and Native Land


19h30 Conference dinner (Zuem Ysehuet, 21 quai Mullenheim, 67000 Strasbourg)



Saturday, March 12 2011


Maison Interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme - Alsace (MISHA), salle de conférences, 5 allée du Général Rouvillois, 67083 Strasbourg - PLAN


9h-10h Keynote speaker – Deborah Madsen (University of Geneva) – The Rhetoric of Double Allegiance: Imagined Communities in North American Diasporic Chinese Literatures


Session 3. Chair : Hans Bak


Borders, borderlands, homelands


10h-10h30 Yves-Charles Grandjeat (Université Bordeaux 3) – Deterritorializing and Reterritorializing the Barrio in H. M. Viramontes’s Their Dogs Came with Them: Fictional Ventures into the Borderlands


10h30-10h50 Coffee break




10h50-11h20 Cristina Ghiban Mocanu (University of Iasi) – Living in Nepantla. Visions of Female Experience in the Borderlands (Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros and Norma Elia Cantu)


11h20-11h50 Michel Feith (Université de Nantes) – Intertextual Homelands in Two Southwestern Novels by Louis Owens


11h50-12h20 Marie-Agnès Gay (Université Lyon 3) – “Across America picking up ghosts”: home and unheimliche in Shawn Wong’s novel Homebase


12h30-14h30 Lunch break (Villa Bianca, 6 Bd Leblois, 67000 Strasbourg)


Maison Interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme - Alsace (MISHA), salle de conférences, 5 allée du Général Rouvillois, 67083 Strasbourg - PLAN


Session 4. Chair: Martin Kuester


Immigration, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism


14h30-15h Belén Martin-Lucas (University of Vigo) – (Un)becoming Laura Ingalls: Narratives of Asian Settlement in North America


15h-15h30 Claire Omhovère (Université de Montpellier) – Pop Culture and the Construction of Ethnicity in Miriam Toews’s and Richard Van Camp’s Writing


15h30-15h45 Coffee break


15h45-16h15 Marie-Claude Perrin-Chenour (Université Paris Ouest) – Jamaica Kincaid’s Regressive Writing


16h15-16h45 Anca-Raluca Radu (University of Göttingen) – Surpassing Multiculturalism: New Cosmopolitanism in Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For



Abstracts Programme


Keynote speaker - Larissa Lai, University of British Columbia

How to Do “You”: Methods of Asian/Indigenous Relation


The Bering Straight theory has been long discounted as a way of imagining the presence of Indigenous peoples on North American soil precisely because it denies Indigenous primacy and locates the First Peoples as, instead, a kind of Asian. A few novels from the latter half of the 20th century, however, have offered possibilities for kinship that can be constructed through the modes of perception  by which some Asians and some Indigenous peoples seem to look alike.  Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, posits a kind of “nature” in this similarity of appearance, which causes the main character, Tayo, to perceive a fallen Japanese soldier on the WWII battlefield in Malaysia as his uncle. For Marie Clements in Burning Vision “the look of like” emerges as a kind of kinship that is natural only after the fact of the (technologized and enculturated) atomic blast which rearranges both space and time, and places Asian and Indigenous characters in close proximity to one another through shared grief. For Ruth Ozeki in All Over Creation, there is kind of racial elision that occurs in the potato farming town of Idaho Falls, such that the mixed-race Japanese American character Yumi Fuller is chosen to play the “Indian Princess” figure in the grade school’s yearly Thanksgiving pageant, favoured over any one of a number of Shoshone girls who attend the school. Embroiled in all three of these scenarios is the fact that Asian North American struggles for rights within the bounds of the settler state necessarily re-inforce the power of that state, and run counter to Indigenous interests that challenge the ethics and legality of the settler state to begin with. On the other hand, what Indigenous Peoples and Asian North Americans (at their most progressive) share is an anti-colonial struggle. This paper examines the possibilities for an ethics or poetics of relation between First Nations Peoples and Asian North Americans in the contemporary moment given the fraughtness of partially shared interests on the one hand, and “the look of like” on the other. I argue that the idea of nature is both necessary to the construction of this ethics, but that in its articulation the idea of nature becomes deeply cultural.



Keynote speaker - Deborah Madsen, University of Geneva

The Rhetoric of Double Allegiance: Imagined Communities in North American Diasporic Chinese Literatures



The most popular works of Chinese North American literature can be read as structurally centered upon a logic of the 'neither/nor': texts exemplified by the work of Amy Tan that display allegiance to neither America (the 'hostland') nor to China (the 'homeland'). Rather than a doubling of allegiance, through a positive rhetoric of 'both/and' national belonging, texts within this canon display a double negative, described by Sheng-Mei Ma as 'the deathly embrace' of Orientalism. This logic betrays the residual power of racialized nationalism, in the contexts of hyphenated identities and diasporic community formation. In Canada, Wayson Choy’s novel The Jade Peony and his memoire Paper Shadows, SKY Lee's Disappearing Moon Café, and Denise Chong’s family history The Concubine’s Children, for example, highlight the capacity of canonical literary forms to crystallize certain images of 'overseas Chinese communities,' their relations with the 'homeland' and allegiances to the 'hostland' or the resident nation-state. Even the terminology used to describe the transnational formation of these communities is ambivalent, articulating in such terms as 'home' and 'host' a rhetoric of sojourn that denies the immigrant a sense of belonging at the same time as it instantiates a power relationship between the established culture and that of newcomers. Immigrants are placed in a position of 'belonging' not to the new culture of arrival but to the already non-existent culture of departure. In contrast to the pernicious influence of this nationalistic 'neither here nor there' rhetoric, Fred Wah's poetry and Larissa Lai's fiction engage a local-global dynamism through a 'both/and' paradigm for diasporic identity. Like Shirley Lim in the US, these writers explore, complicate, and critique in productive ways the rhetorical dynamics of Orientalism/Occidentalism that are shaped in the transnational context of shifting Sino-American relations.


Hans Bak, Radboud University Nijmegen

Flights to Canada: Jacob Lawrence, Ishmael Reed and Lawrence Hill


“Canada, like freedom, is a state of mind” (Ishmael Reed)


In my paper I will compare and contrast the visual and literary representations of Canada as the imagined utopia at the end of the exilic, diasporic experience of the flight from slavery in the works of three contemporary North-American artists: (a) Harriet and the Promised Land (1967), a narrative series of paintings by African-American artist Jacob Lawrence, intended as a tribute, conceived in the spirit of the Civil Rights movement, to the life and work of Harriet Tubman and her efforts to help runway slaves escape to “the promised land” of Canada; (b) Flight to Canada (1976), a quirky and ironic postmodern exploration of Canada as a space of otherness (heterotopia) through a revisiting of the historical genre of the slave narrative by African-American novelist Ishmael Reed; and (c) The Book of Negroes (2007) by Canadian author Lawrence Hill, the much laurelled  account of the exilic passage from Africa to North Carolina to Nova Scotia (and back to Africa) of the female slave Aminata Diallo. Focusing on the representation of the “flight to Canada” motif I will explore the tensions between (nostalgia for) an originary homeland (Africa, the American South) and an “imagined community” in exile (Canada).  In the light of the conference theme, I propose to read the three texts – one visual, two literary; two American, one Canadian – as an intertextual triptych of different but interrelated modes of revisiting the history of slavery and revising the motifs of exile and return, diaspora and homecoming.



Pilar Cuder-Domínguez, University of Huelva

The Psychology of Immigration: Map-making and Map-breaking in Nalini Warriar’s The Enemy Within (2005)


For Malashri Lal (“Politics of Self-Definition: Mapping Asian-Indians in Canada” 2000: 55), immigrants may be seen as undertaking a process of psychological mapbreaking (i.e.,  a positive act by the immigrant as s/he leaves the homeland and chooses to journey towards claiming a new space of the map of another country) as well as being engaged in a process of mapmaking (i.e., a drawing of personal, social, political parameters within which to function within an unfamiliar and often hostile environment). This paper attempts to read Nalini Warriar’s first novel, The Enemy Within (2005) under the light of Lal’s definition of these internal processes.

Warriar, born in India, published her first collection of short stories, Blues from the Malabar Coast, in 2002, thus joining a new generation of South Asian Canadian women writers after the major success in fiction of the 1990s generation, made up of writers such as Shani Mootoo, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Anita Rau Badami, and Shree Ghatage. Warriar’s The Enemy Within  is set in Quebec City between 1971 and 1997 and it tells the story of Sita as her marriage is arranged to Anup when she is seventeen. She then leaves Kerala for Canada and, like Rama’s wife, she tries to be the perfect wife while experiencing the bitterness of exile. Lal’s approach to the psychology of immigration proves very helpful to understand the construction of a character for whom mapmaking involves facing a double oppression, as a woman and as an immigrant, within her marriage and in an alien nation. Particularly interesting is Warriar’s skilful deployment of Quebec nationalist politics as a sounding board for Sita’s plight, since her story spans from the 1970s to the late 1990s. Allusions to Quebec politics and to the racist underside to nationalism pepper the novel and frame the exploration of the gender and nation dichotomy.



Michel Feith, Université de Nantes

Intertextual Homelands in Two Southwestern Novels by Louis Owens



Nightland (1996) and Dark River (1999) by Louis Owens share so many common features that they read like variations on the same pattern or, more precisely, a set of themes and its ironic augmentation. Both are simultaneously Native and exilic American writing, mix the thriller with magic realism, and ultimately seem to have no qualms about inscribing predominantly oral cultures on the printed page.

At first reading, both novels seem to belong to the genre of the Southwestern Indian thriller, inspired by Tony Hillerman. This could be an ideal situation for an “anthropological” novel, in which the mystery can serve as a ploy to impart knowledge about the tribal culture at hand. The problem is that Jacob Nashoba, the protagonist of Dark River, is a displaced Choctaw Vietnam veteran who, although married into the reservation, never gets to fully understand or be integrated into its culture. Similarly, the main characters of Nightland are independent Cherokee ranchers, out of touch with Pueblo culture. Both native and non-native, insiders and outsiders, these atypical Indians are marginal within communities which are themselves marginal(ized) in the United States. This liminal position can be said to serve several aims: it allows to explore the potentialities and limitations of pan-tribal visions, while drawing attention to the multiple ways of being “Native American”; it also gives the author more freedom in dealing with native identities and imagination.

This, together with the mixed-blood identities of these three characters, remind us of Gerald Vizenor’s distinction between the “invented” Indians in the white mind and the “imagined” nature of Native identities. One of the key components in this creative fashioning of self and community is an intimate relation with tribal land and the myths and stories embodied in it. Surrounded by autochtonous Pueblo Indians, the “diasporic” protagonists have a different, elective relation with the land, both similar and dissimilar to that of the Whites. Mythic patterns and entities – like Spider Woman or Corn Woman – still influence the character’s destinies, and the invisible world shuttles in and out of this one: in both novels, the ghosts of the recently dead appear and, contrary to traditional views, become helpers rather than hostile forces. As a matter of fact, traditions are flexible: in Dark River, dead Jessie’s facetious ghost appears to Indians and whites alike. Even the shamanic figures, “Grampa Siquani” in Nightland and old Mrs Edwards in Dark River, the living memory of the tribe, have to improvise in unexpected situations. After all, renewal and adaptation is part of tradition too.


Part of this process of adaptation is the conversion of a predominantly oral culture into a written one. Native American novelists often see themselves as mediators between tribal orality and Western literacy, yet tend to privilege orality “ontologically” and formally in their works, as a landmark of authenticity. But there is at present a long tradition of Native American literature in writing and, in the wake of authors and critics like Gerald Vizenor, an obvious influence on Owens, textuality has also been given pride of place. Between Nightland and Dark River, the importance of, and reflection on, the medium of writing has increased dramatically. The choice of the thriller as the frame of both novels may have aimed at readability for a general audience; it is also part of the myths of contemporary popular culture, both in writing and in motion pictures, and therefore particularly well-adapted to a “comparative” inclusion of tribal myths. Its main focus being violence and evil, it could remind us both of the violent history of the Southwest – in Dark River, a bunch of Right-Wing militiamen play cowboys and Indians on the reservation – and of the different attitudes to evil in Native and Euro-American cultures. But the thriller and detective novel are realistic genres, normally impervious to the supernatural: the magic realist elements of the plots therefore amount to a violation of their codes, an infusion of generic hybridity reminiscent of Postmodernism. 

These antagonistic representations of Native cultures foreground the question of authenticity. In Dark River, university-educated tribal officials sell kitschy images of Indians to whites, while the resident anthropologist, Golberg / Gold Bird, becomes more native than the natives. Parodying Vizenor’s own parodies of anthropologists, Owens shows in the comic mode the complexity of these issues: while making fun of the museographic vision of Indians held by many whites, including scientists, who equate authenticity with stagnation, he recognizes that by setting down in writing traditional myths and practices, anthropologists have also prolonged the oral memory of the tribes and preserved knowledge that would have otherwise been lost.

  But the most self-conscious gesture is his revisiting of the “canon” of Native American literature, his acknowledgment of the existence of a literary tradition removed from the sources of oral “authenticity”. Nightland is an all-Indian thriller, in which both good guys and bad guys (and dolls) are Indian. The baddies are a pueblo tribal gang who see drug trafficking as a retribution visited on the whites for their killing and dispossession of the Natives. This is what villains in American popular culture would do, but it seems contrary to Indian spirituality, as expressed in such novels as N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1968), and especially Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977), both situated in the Southwest. In the latter, Tayo, a World War veteran, resists his desire for revenge in order not to engulf the world in evil and witchcraft, and performs a healing ceremony instead. In Owens’s novel, it is Siquani who performs a ceremony to lay the ghost of a murdered man to rest, thereby revitalizing a land afflicted by drought.

Notwithstanding the presence of this pastiche, Nightland runs dangerously close to some of the clichés attached to the Indian novel. It is perhaps the reason why Dark River is so self-reflexive and unambiguously Signifies on Momaday, Silko, Vizenor, etc. – Signifyin(g) is black critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s name for the trickster’s rhetoric of creative parody and critical insertion within the tradition. The text debates some of its own options about the images of Indians, replacing them in the critical dialogue through the antagonistic voices of its characters; it breaks the frame of representation by commenting on itself, and even changes part of the ending, resurrecting a character who did not “deserve” to die. Literary erasure or cinematic retake?


Louis Owens’s hybrid narratives about the Southwest seem to address some of the complex issues about Native American authenticity, communal and literary. Indian identities are “imagined”, in process, like all identities. Does it mean that “anything goes”? Actually, between the extremes of commercial Kitsch and museographic primitivism, the novels may be pointing to a middle ground, based on reverence for myths and stories (even they are not your tribe’s), intimate relation with the land (even if the model to describe it is Hemingway’s prose), and a reasoned negociation of (post)modernity. Given the fact that characters, community and landscape are mere marks on paper, and because of the intertextual tribute paid both Western literature and a whole tradition of Indian writers, it seems that, contrary to common representations, Native Americans have also become a “people of the book” in their own words, and that, through the creation of “textual homelands”, the written word can be a help, no longer a hindrance, to the imagination of self and community.




LALONDE, Christopher. Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns: The Novels of Louis Owens. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

OWENS, Louis. Nightland. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

OWENS, Louis. Dark River. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.



Marie-Agnès Gay, Université Jean Moulin - Lyon 3

‘[A]cross America picking up ghosts’: home and the unheimliche in Shawn Wong’s novel Homebase



Written by Chinese American Shawn Wong, one of the four co-editors of the famous Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers (1974), a landmark book which contributed to the emergence of Asian American consciousness in the wider context of budding minority activism, Homebase (1979), as its title makes clear, addresses head-on the issue of home and belonging for minorities. Homebase is the story of the coming of age of Rainsford Chan, a fourth-generation Chinese American, in 1950s and 1960s California. The novel takes the form of a retrospective homodiegetic narrative as Rainsford, now 25, recalls his orphaned childhood and teenage years, his intensely personal memories mingling with evocations of his ancestors’ painful experience on the American soil. The narrator, while recalling his attempts at becoming an all-American boy, often fuses himself with his imagined Chinese forebears who immigrated to the United States to build the transcontinental railroad and were never allowed social and cultural participation in America. Rainsford’s struggle against still latent ostracism unfolds against the larger backdrop of decades of institutionalized racism against the Chinese American community; the narrator tries to come to terms with both his story and History. And Shawn Wong, in his 2008 introduction to the University of Washington Press edition of the novel, indeed announces “a work of historical fiction” meant to “educate an audience about something called […] Chinese American history.” (xi) The novel is thus in a similar vein as the Preface to Aiiieeeee! where the editors clearly affirm their political stance; the novel unambiguously claims America as Rainsford’s – and his community’s – homebase and thus attempts to lay the secure foundations of Chinese American identity.

However, this assertive standpoint seems inexorably called into question by the secret voice of the text. In a previous article, I have studied the way the dominant isotopies of movement and dispersal seem to run counter to the militant act of reterritorialization. I intend in this paper to tackle another overriding feature of the novel: its play on the uncanny, which cannot but sap any pretensions to solid anchorage. The unheimliche, in a paradox that the German term’s etymology makes clear, indeed seeps through the pages of Homebase, and inscribes radical strangeness within this novel which purportedly asserts belonging. This first occurs on the diegetic level: not only do houses have a spectral quality in the novel, but a key scene ­– which stages Rainsford learning to speak his mother’s native language via a ventriloquist American puppet (a well-known trope of the unheimliche) speaking Chinese – suggests the uncaniness of being a Chinese American, and several passages depict hallucinatory scenes where fantasy contaminates reality, the overwhelming sense of the unfamiliar forever threatening any striving after a secure homebase. Yet, beyond, it is the text itself which proves uncanny, an unsettling “house of fiction” which thus appears a strange locus for asserting a sense of belonging: the very narrative configuration is incessantly torn by temporal disruptions and shifts in perspective which often turn the narrative voice into an uncertain, floating entity, and the complex style of Shawn Wong sometimes produces opaque sentences or passages whose indeterminacy leaves the reader in an in-between state which is radically defamiliarizing.

Although the narrator aims at “picking up” the ghosts of his ancestors (29), he cannot lay the ghost of problematic, tortured minority identity to rest. The essentialist quest for identity and the discourse of cultural nationalism seem paralleled by an intuition of irreducible in-betweenness. The unheimliche in Homebase does hint at the experience of “unhomeliness” (Homi K. Bhabha) which appears as the inescapable condition of the postcolonial – and more widely the “minority” – subject.



Cristina Ghiban-Mocanu, University of Iasi

Living in Nepantla: Visions of Female Experience in the Borderlands (Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros and Norma Elia Cantu)



Chicana literature deals with the complexities of living in the borderlands and in-between cultures, rendered by women writers of mixed origins (Mexican, Indian and Western), inhabiting places they can never truly call their own. It is in this context that Gloria Anzaldua defines nepantla (in (Un)natural bridges, 2002) as “tierra desconocida […] a liminal zone” which makes one feel in a constant state of displacement.

However, it is in this spiritual realm that character formation takes place, and the intricate mestiza consciousness forms as a consequence of “living in the middle”, in-between both physical and emotional borderlands.

The aim of the proposed paper is that of analyzing the multiple ways in which nepantla functions within the literary imagery of some Chicana writers, not only as an actual space, but also as “a metaphor of female experience in a fragmented world” (Kilgore, 4), often triggering a process of reshaping feminine stereotypes, inside and outside the Chicano community. The analysis shall focus on the particular uses of nepantla as a literary topos in works by Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros and Norma Elia Cantú, intended to justify, to a certain extent, the multitude of creative spaces it encompasses, as various Chicana writers use different modes to convey its relevance.




Yves-Charles Grandjeat (Université Bordeaux 3)

Deterritorializing and Reterritorializing the Barrio in H. M. Viramontes’s Their Dogs Came with Them: Fictional Ventures into the Borderlands


Helena Maria Viramontes’s 2007 novel Their Dogs Came with Them is a barrio novel, one in which writing is geared to convincingly conjuring up, in the imagination of the reader, the life of a few blocks in the Chicano barrio of East L.A. (the author’s place of birth), where the narrative closely follows the “diverging and converging” trajectories of a variety of Chicano and Chicana characters. Precise and frequent topographical markers endow the narrative with a powerful, realistic, sense of place. As ecocritics would put it, the narrative is definitely “emplaced” and as such it belongs to a now well established tradition of Chicano and Chicana narratives testifying to the power of fiction and, more specifically, story-telling in contributing to maintain a sense of community and a sense of territory, the two being closely intertwined. Because the action takes place four decades ago, at a time when the barrio is being gutted for construction of a major, new four-freeway intersection, the narrative may also qualify as “toxic fiction” and be seen as a symbolic means to resist modern forces of dislocation. The work of symbolic retrieval of a beleaguered community may be helped by the embodied quality of the narrative as well as by its pronounced thematic interest in rituals of social bonding, as some of the major characters are caught up in the world of gangs. Yet, the story also makes it clear that there is no going back, that the time of origin is a time of loss, and that bonding rituals are rituals of death. In addition to which, the persistent marks of a lost native tongue endow the narrative with a ghostly quality suggesting that much of it has been lost in translation, and that the only community it may produce is a ghostly one, in a ghost town whose phantom citizens are united by a common experience of loss. Exile in this case proves a condition favorable to fiction, not because it calls for fiction that can restore what was lost; rather, because loss becomes the creative energy at the heart of fiction.



Françoise Kral, Université Paris Ouest

Virtual Communities and the ‘Non-places’ of Hypermodernity

          Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities continues to be an inspiration to critics and theorists interested in the nation andon the consequences of transnationalism. Arjun Appadruai in particular has focused on how international ‘scapes’ transgress and transcend national borders and serve as the cornerstone of new networks and communities (Appadurai, 1996). In the current context of heightened transnationalism, the notion of community itself poses certain questions linked to the role, status, and impact of such communities. It may well be the case that by coexisting with real communities, such recently constructed networks threaten the existence, the role and the longevity of existing communities. Have their newly formed links and their new social patterns woven in a hurry replaced actual communities, or are they of a completely different nature? My paper takes its cue from Marc Augé’s reflexions on the non-places of hypermodernity and seeks to address some of ethical and political implications of such communities, through a focus on contemporary diasporic literature from the South Asian diaspora, in particular Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss), Hari Kunzru (Transmission) and Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth).

Martin Kuester, Philipps-Universität Marburg
A Minority Within a Minority: Literary Views of ‘Marginal’ Members of the Canadian Mennonite Community


In my paper I will focus on Canadian Mennonite writing, which represents a religious (and linguistic) minority to start with. Within this group, I will focus on the writing of individuals which are doubly marginalized within this already marginalized group, whether it be for questions of gender or ethnicity: My special emphasis is going to be on Jan Guenther Braun’s recent lesbian Mennonite novel Somewhere Else, which was published in 2008. In this novel, Braun describes the tensions that arise in her character Jess who leaves her family as she fears she cannot survive in the stifling atmosphere of her Mennonite community but later learns that coming out does not preclude coming home in the end.


Belén Martín-Lucas, University of Vigo

(Un)becoming Laura Ingalls: Narratives of Asian Settlement in North America


The Kappa Child (2002) has been widely acclaimed as a remarkable piece of speculative fiction by Japanese Canadian author Hiromi Goto. In the USA, Vietnamese American Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir, Stealing Buddah’s Dinner (2007), has similarly received much praise and awards. Both texts portray narratives of childhood of Asian girls growing up in North America in the pre-multiculturalism decades of the 70s and 80s, when “ethnic” was not a fashionable term and assimilation into mainstream white culture was any girl’s most wanted desire. In both literary texts, the girl narrators are fascinated by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s narrative of continuous displacement and re-settlement, Little House on the Prairie (1935), and they both become equally disillusioned by the racial and ethnic gaps that make it impossible for them to become true Laura Ingalls in their respective environments. In this paper I will attempt to assess the influence of this classic narrative of (internal) migration on the perception of racialization of these two Asian migrants to North America, their own critical evaluation of the racism in Ingalls Wilder’s text and the consequent process of construction of racialized subjectivities in Goto’s and Nguyen’s book.



Lianne Moyes, Université de Montréal

Out of My Skin: Contesting Home and Native Land


This paper focuses on Tessa McWatt’s Out of My Skin (1998), a novel which engages the Oka Crisis from the perspective of a young woman of Guyanese heritage. In 1990, the community of Kanehsatake north-west of Montreal resisted the attempt on the part of the municipality of Oka to develop their land into luxury condominiums and a golf course. Their resistance, which became the summer-long stand-off known as the Oka Crisis, brought to the fore anxious borders within the Canadian nation and raised important questions about who has the right (and the responsibility) to take a stand. Bringing into conversation immigrant and First peoples’ narratives, Out of My Skin affords alternative perspectives on this crisis as well as on larger questions of citizenship, home, nationhood and the role of texts in reimagining politics.

In McWatt’s novel, the conversation begins with a chance meeting in a Montreal adoption agency between two young women who are looking for information about their birth parents: one is a Mohawk woman from Kahnewake, a community south-west of Montreal, who grew up in a convent; the other grew up with adoptive parents in Toronto and has just discovered that her mother was from Guyana, “a country of many cultures, Chinese, African, Indian, Portuguese, British.” This conjunction of narratives allows McWatt’s novel to explore continuities and discontinuities in the respective histories, locations and self-constructions of immigrants and First Nations. Using techniques of documentary collage, Out of My Skin presents fragments from the mainstream news, Longfellow’s Hiawatha, histories of Oka, and the diary of a man living in British Guyana. Through the interplay of documents and storylines, McWatt’s novel makes legible different forms of, and responses to, racism and colonial violence. 


Claire Omhovère, Université Monpellier 3

Pop Culture and the Construction of Ethnicity in Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed and Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness


For Larry and Nomi, the protagonists of Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed (1996) and Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness (2004), wrestling with teenage is complicated by the issue of ethnicity and the claims their respective communities put on them. If you think that becoming an adult is tough enough, try becoming an Indian or a Mennonite in contemporary Canada. That is, in substance, what the two narrators are asking us. But the way they are telling their story, the energy and the refreshing humour they put into it, are well worth our attention in a context where CanLit—the CanLit which receives national awards and international attention—is being queried by some for the plain boredom it inspires them: “One could say,” Douglas Coupland writes, “that CanLit is the literary equivalent of representational landscape painting, with small forays into waterfowl depiction and still lifes. It is not a modern art form, nor does it want to be.” (The New York Times 2006) Modernity, however, features prominently in the two novels I propose to study in parallel, insofar as the strategies they resort to point to a shared experience of ethnicity which transcends individual allegiances to a given community. My analysis will concentrate on the ubiquitous references to pop culture which index contemporaneity in the two works, interrogating the stereotypes of the quaint Mennonite and the romantic Indian, two figures safely sealed within the amber light of the past.


Marie-Claude Perrin-Chenour, Université Paris Ouest

Jamaica Kincaid’s Regressive Writing



Je souhaiterais examiner, lors de cette communication, ce que l’on pourrait appeler « l’écriture régressive » de Jamaica Kincaid dans plusieurs de ses œuvres, mais surtout dans The Autobiography of My Mother. La critique analyse généralement ce texte comme la quête de l’île perdue des origines, celle de la mère de la narratrice, Indienne Caraibe, dont la communauté a largement disparue. La recherche de cette « vanishing race », à travers l’image floue et estompée de la mère, qui n’apparaît que dans les rêves de l’héroïne, est bien la tentative de recréation d’une « imagined community ». Cependant la remontée à rebours de l’Histoire, le désir de retrouver le passé d’avant la colonisation se heurtent à la reconnaissance déchirante de l’impossibilité du projet, à la nécessité de composer avec l’Histoire, aussi douloureuse soit-elle. La paralysie qu’entraîne cette constatation enferme l’héroïne dans une « I-land » où l’absence  de communauté réelle la laisse seule avec son imaginaire, où le désir de recréer un lien fantasmé ne conduit paradoxalement qu’à l’individualisme et à la solitude. Mais surtout je voudrais explorer les différentes facettes de cette écriture de la stagnation et du repli sur soi, les stratégies narratives qui traduisent, dans une prose entêtante et incantatoire, l’oscillation permanente entre régression, retour à la source du récit et volonté de fusion et de stase d’une part et expansion de la vie intérieure, ouverture à la sensualité du corps et des mots d’autre part. Pour cette étude, je m’appuierai, entre autres, sur l’ouvrage de la philosophe Luisa Muraro, L’Ordre symbolique de la mère.


Anca-Raluca Radu, University of Göttingen

Surpassing Multiculturalism: New Cosmopolitanism in Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For


The following is a reading of Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For (2005) that investigates the mechanisms of identity formation in what I would like to characterise as the cosmopolitan context of 21st century Toronto. My approach relies on the deconstruction of the binary opposition between a white Canadian “we” and a non-white “visible” Other that is at the core of multicultural policy. On the one hand, the parents of the female protagonist, Tuyen Vu, who are first-generation immigrants, seek to maintain their Vietnamese traditions and accept their categorisation as Vietnamese-Canadians in the Canadian multicultural mosaic. Unlike them, Tuyen, an installation artist, decides for a life in downtown Toronto that redefines ethnicity. Her friends, Oku, Jackie, and Carla, also distance themselves from their parents’ hyphenised identities and struggle with the attractive variety and dismaying corruption of the city, pursuing their desires and the wish to surpass ethnic belonging.



Virginia Ricard, Université Bordeaux 3

Ludwig Lewisohn’s Imagined Community


The now almost forgotten Jewish American writer, Ludwig Lewisohn (1883-1955), was a novelist, translator, critic and teacher who later became a Jewish nationalist. Although he was barred from the Academe by anti-semitism, Lewisohn was an important and respected figure on the American intellectual scene long before the so-called renaissance of American Jewish literature. His work as a drama critic for The Nation, in particular, was influential. Lewisohn wrote three volumes of autobiography Up Stream (1922), Mid-Channel (1929) and Haven (1940) in which he documents his itinerary from assimilated immigrant to Freudian critic to Zionist. And, in what is perhaps his best-known novel, The Island Within (1928), Lewisohn criticizes the very idea of assimilation: although he was brought up with no particular knowledge of Judaism, the hero, Arthur Levy, faced with American anti-semitism, looks elswhere for a sense of community and belonging and discovers his Jewish heritage.  Ludwig Lewisohn was that paradoxical creature, both a cosmopolitan — he spoke French, German and Yiddish as well as English and lived for ten years in Europe — and a precursor of communitarianism. I would like to examine the trope of the island — an imaginary space in which personal identity is developed, but also a space of “imagined community.”



Ada Savin, Université de Versailles

Geographies of the Caribbean in Cristina Garcia’s The Agüero Sisters (1997) 


Marked by a two-fold estrangement – from her native Cuba and from the Cuban American community in Miami – Garcia’s first two novels, Dreaming in Cuban (1992) and The Agüero Sisters (1997) mirror the vagaries of a divided Cuba, its spatial and symbolic dissemination. The omniscient narrator delves into the intricate and erratic links between the workings of nature and the drives of human actions, between the human body and the body politics, between home and exile. Garcia’s gaze investigates “the chemical and irreversible” connections between the Caribbean island and the American South (Florida, in particular). 

I intend to show that the graft, whether literal— botanical, anatomic—or metaphorical—textual, cultural or linguistic— is a central trope in The Aguëro Sisters, functioning as a graphic metaphorical representation of the processes of discovery, dissemination, depletion, deconstruction and recovery explored in the novel.

The paper further argues that Cuba’s political turmoil and economic disorder are mirrored in the unleashing forces of the natural elements, in the ravaged landscape of the human body and of the island. Conversely, there reigns an opulent but sterile (dis)order on the other side of the Florida Straits. Through the episodic reunion of family members living on different sides of the divide, the author brings together (“patches”) the “two Cubas”, extending the cultural critique to both shores, thereby calling into question the very notion of “authenticity”.

By examining the shifting perspectives, the contrapuntal narrative structure and deterritorialized (borderless) language in Garcia’s novels, the paper will probe the thematic and textual representations of a “diaspora consciousness” (James Clifford). Ultimately, Garcia’s novel seems to question the very possibility of “at-homeness” (Adorno, Minima Moralia), conceived in strictly territorial and cultural terms.



David Stirrup, University of Kent, Canterbury

Art, Borders, Citizenship: Containment and Flux in selected works by Eric Gansworth and Thomas King



“…I leave the air-conditioned building and head out into the west Texas sun, and the fact that I can now slide my license back in my wallet, and become someone I am not—a citizen of New York State, and thus, a citizen of the United States of America, as well—is no great comfort.” (Eric Gansworth, ‘Identification Pleas’)


This paper will consider questions of cultural/historical reclamation, nationhood, and citizenship in, and in relation to, selected poetry and prose by Onondaga artist and author Eric Gansworth and Thomas King’s novel Truth & Bright Water. Focusing particularly on the role of art and the artist this paper will examine the traversal of borders and boundaries—both real and apparent, hard and ‘fluid’—between image and text, mythic and ‘real’, between individuals, and individuals and communities, and between nations. Probing the way both writers use art and the figure of the artist/art critic to examine an array of cultural assumptions, the elision of Native peoples from the national ‘landscape’, and the specific territorial, or ‘landed’ concerns of indigenous sovereignty, I will argue that both writers are engaged in the redefining of the arbitrary national border in favour of more complex, nuanced, and above all self-defining notions of citizenship. In parallel to this textual analysis, then, I will also look at King’s decision to leave the United States and take up Canadian citizenship, alongside Gansworth’s eschewal of US citizenship and his refusal to obtain a passport on the grounds that that in itself would deny him his status as citizen of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. These personal matters of belonging are intricately tied up in the broader cultural and political questions their work raises, and in their own roles as indigenous writers/artists in the USA and Canada.






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©2008 Monica Manolescu-Oancea. Dernière mise à jour : 2 mars 2011.