Unsettled Remains: Canadian Literature and the Postcolonial Gothic

By Northrup, Tina | Gothic Studies, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Unsettled Remains: Canadian Literature and the Postcolonial Gothic


Northrup, Tina, Gothic Studies


Unsettled Remains: Canadian Literature and the Postcolonial Gothic. Edited by Cynthia Sugars and Gerry Turcotte. (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009. 312 pages, $38.95). ISBN 978-1-55458-0545

Unsettled Remains is not the first book in Canada to pair the discourses of postcolonial and gothic literary criticisms, but it is the first to do so since the publication of the University of Toronto Quarterly's Spring 2006 volume on haunting. In the final essay of that collection, Jodey Castricano questions the ethics at stake in reading First Nations literatures in Canada through the Gothic, and the ramifications of her conclusions resound within this book. Prior to Unsettled Remains, the most sustained attempt to take up the postcolonial issues at work in Canadian Gothic was Justin Edwards's Gothic Canada: Reading the Spectre of a National Literature (2005), and Edwards's readings tend to emphasize the nation's idealization of cohesion and the gothic anxieties bound to its corresponding inability to achieve it. The result is that the book oft en lets characters who are othered through race, religion, gender, sexuality, and/or class serve as signifying loci that remind an implicit norm of his fragile selfh ood and cultural guilt, and at its most basic, that theoretical tactic does little more than give a new twist to conventional tropes of threatening difference. While some of the essays gathered in Unsettled Remains perform similar readings, many attempt to move beyond the limitations of interpretive strategies that settle for listing each instance of an other made monstrous. Readers may be surprised by some of the literature chosen by the scholars included in the book, but, as Cynthia Sugars and Gerry Turcotte insist in their introduction to the collection, the "subject of the postcolonial Gothic, far from being assumed in the essays gathered in this volume, is rehearsed, contested, and interrogated" throughout (x).

Andrea Cabajsky's examination of Charles De Guise's generic contributions to early Canadian writing argues that the stylistic and conventional disruptions of Le Cap au diable (1863) enable an oppositional historiography that subverts the anti-Catholicism of the popular British Gothic and transforms the Acadian Expulsion into "a recuperative national French-Canadian narrative" (2). Similarly, Gerry Turcotte maps the resistance potentials of the generic disruptions and gothic tropes in Joy Kogawa's Obasan (1981), and suggests that the novel's uncanny tensions do more than signal defamiliarization on the part of Canadians forced to confront their nation's "suppressed and unacknowledged violent history" (78). The novel's most striking gothic tensions, he argues, suggest that the internment of Japanese Canadians during and aft er the Second World War not only made the nation an uncanny space for those citizens, but also made them unfamiliar to themselves.

In an engaging analysis of Tomson Highway's Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998), Jennifer Henderson responds to Castricano's article and suggests that the novel's taboo associations seem designed "to render it unsuitable as a text that merely re-opens the traumas of national identity" (188) and to resist its inclusion within a new-and-improved Canadian postcolonial canon that "still retains a fundamentally nationalist purpose" (189). Similarly, Jennifer Andrews takes up Castricano's reading of Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach (2000) and argues that the novel transports the Gothic genre into a Native context in order to re-read "the negative perceptions of Natives as monstrously 'othered' in a positive light" (219-20), and to relocate gothic anxieties away from Native bodies and into the "oft en jarring juxtapositions between Native and non-Native viewpoints" (213).

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