Cultural difference & the literary text: pluralism & the by Winfried Siemerling

By Winfried Siemerling

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These are complex debates that cannot be fully rehearsed here, but some of the basic positions are perhaps worth recalling. For example, there is E. D. Blodgett's view that what he calls "ethnicity's text," which articulates and presents itself as other, challenges "canonical or central texts" (Blodgett 15; see also Conway). Other Solitudes, however, in placing well-known Canadian writers like Michael Ondaatje, Josef Skvorecky, Joy Kogawa, and Mordecai Richler in the (for some, surprising) context of multiculturalism, sought to undo the kind of thinking that separates the "central" from the implicitly "marginal'' by Page 13 showing how many of Canada's canonical texts are indeed written from the so-called margins of ethnicity.

The authors are witty, their characters are likeable, and the stories occasionally provide opportunity for a good laugh. So when Robin Mathews challenged Thomas King at a conference in Victoria some time ago asking why King did not describe the pitiful ordeal of the Indians in North America, their drug and alcohol problems, et cetera, he was simply missing the boat. What he was in fact asking was why King did not lament the situation of Native Canadians as poor sufferers in accordance with the Black Elk Speaks storyline, while King's stories and literary types in fact are of the Stay Away, Joe stock, written along an entirely different storyline that chooses not to negate or belittle existing problems but to write about "the incredible beauty / the incredible pain / the incredible humour / of the history of Indian people" (Loucks 9).

To label the process of raising issues and suggesting terms for debate as "intellectualizing" and "too academic" suggests a desire Page 16 to dismiss and implicitly denigrate any attempt to negotiate a space of discussion for contested, politically sensitive issues at a time when we are in great need of precisely such space. One of the most contested of these political issues presented in the interviews of Other Solitudes is whether ethnicity or race should even play a part in literary considerations.

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