Reader at Work: An Appreciation of Barbara Godard

By Fuller, Danielle | British Journal of Canadian Studies, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Reader at Work: An Appreciation of Barbara Godard


Fuller, Danielle, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Reader at Work: An Appreciation of Barbara Godard Barbara Godard, Canadian Literature at the Crossroads of Language and Culture, edited by Smaro Kamboureli (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2008), 412pp. Paper. $36.95. ISBN 978-1-897126-36-3.

What narrative to relate? This is the fundamental question to be addressed by the literary critic faced with a vast body of material, a pluralistic critical scene, a border/line position both inside and outside the critical institution in question, and the limitations of form imposed by the present venue.

Godard 2008 [1990]: 83

IN THEIR ORIGINAL CONTEXT these words stage the problematic of composing a critique that at once introduces, surveys and interrogates the discourse about Quebec literature. They also seem appropriate to the job before me here. Which narrative of Barbara Godard should I write, given the range and quantity of her scholarly work and achievements? How should I tell a story that celebrates a career as well as reviewing a new book that re-presents a selection of her essays? What narrative mode should I adopt for this tale of an intellectual whom I think of as a teacher, although I have never formally been her student? To borrow from Godard again, think of what follows as a reader at work, reading again, and reading with the critic who is also 'reading reading' (2008 [1992]: 200). Consider this as an invitation to read on, and beyond, the narratives that I have selected here.

Such is the evolving nature of my subject that, even as I speak, [she] slips away from me.

Godard 2008 [1987]: 53

Barbara Godard's contribution to Canadian literature and culture has been extensive and multi-faceted. As a prize-winning translator, theorist, editor, collaborator, award-winning teacher (at York University), researcher and recipient of the Award of Merit from the Association for Canadian Studies, Godard has taken up multiple positions within the field of scholarship that we have come to delimit as 'Can. Lit.'. She is a significant intellectual figure whose feminist politics have informed her professional advocacy work, social activism, teaching and scholarship. Creating the tools - bibliographical and theoretical - as well as many primary and secondary texts that have helped to shape the paradigms of feminist Canadian criticism has been a key achievement of Godard's long and distinguished scholarly career. Her accomplishments range from dazzling contributions to feminist translation theory to her practice of 'writing with the text', a style of criticism elaborated among the Tessera collective as 'fiction-theory' (Godard 1994). She has been one of a small handful of scholars responsible for the introduction of several substantial bodies of theory and knowledge to Canadian academic criticism, from semiotics to approaches derived from comparative literature. As well as publishing prolifically across her wide range of interests, Godard has been involved in the production of several innovative Canadian periodicals, labour that, when it is well done, is of course often almost invisible to its readers. Without such labour, however, it is very difficult to sustain intellectual conversations across time and space, and Godard's substantial volume of work on periodicals has been characterised by a strong commitment to introducing to the pages of Canadian journals not only new ideas and experimental writing, but also work by new generations of academic and creative writers. A founding member of Tessera, the feminist journal which brought together work by feminist writers and thinkers from across Canada and in both official languages, Godard has also worked for many years as a contributing editor to Open Letter, and, from 1998 to 2008, as the book reviews editor for Topia, the journal of Canadian cultural studies. Additionally, she was the French editor of Fireweed (1978-80) and has served on the editorial boards of a range of other periodicals.

Barbara Godard is a name known to many feminist scholars around the world, especially perhaps to students of translation and followers of Canadian and Quebec women's writing. …

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