Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Place and Memory: Rethinking the Literary Map of Canada

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Place and Memory: Rethinking the Literary Map of Canada

Article excerpt

Our poetry, our fiction, our drama is itself a mapping of the world.

Malcolm Bradbury

LITERATURE AND MAPS have had a long, and sometimes fraught, relationship. Despite cosmopolitan movements that have challenged the relevance of geopolitical boundaries to literary culture, canons continue to be organized according to nation and region: writing comes to us packaged as British, Canadian, American, or Caribbean, as Prairie writing or literature of the Irish bogs. Cartographers plot the residences of authors and the settings of texts on literary maps. Writers incorporate maps into their work as illustrations or metaphors, by turns embracing and troubling the territorial imperatives that maps represent. And writing itself becomes a form of cartography when the landscapes and spatial experiences that writers describe engender mental or cognitive maps in the reader. These complementary practices of literary cartography, which David Cooper and Ian Gregory divide into two categories, "writerly mapping" and "readerly mapping" (91), run through Canada's literary history. This essay is a meditation on the relationship between the two and what they reveal about the imaginative and mnemonic production of space and place.

While the role of geography in Canadian literary studies appears to be increasing in the wake of the "spatial turn" in the humanities, as the editors of Studies in Canadian Literatures special issue Writing Canadian Space point out,

One only has to think of some of the foundational studies of Canadian literature--Northrop Frye's The Bush Garden, John Moss's Patterns of Isolation in English Canadian Fiction, Laurence Ricou's Vertical Man/Horizontal World, Dick Harrison's Unnamed Country, and Margaret Atwood's Survival--to understand that in the Canadian literary context space and place have always mattered. (Warley, Ball, Viau np)

Canadian writers have long negotiated the shared and contested spaces of the map, charting and re-charting the contours not just of identities and communities but also of geographical spaces and places. With--or perhaps because of--the varying degrees of national and regional affiliation that accompany their Indigenous, settler, immigrant, and diasporic imaginaries, they reveal the persistent relevance of Northrop Frye's famous question "Where is here?" Both individually and collectively, literary texts help to give that "here" its shape and character. Reflecting regionalist as well as nationalist strains in Canadian culture, anthologies jostle to define not only the country as a whole but also its regions, provinces, territories, and cities. As "little worlds" that frequently refer back to real geographical places and spaces, anthologies invite "a literary understanding of the country" (Lecker 93). Scholars, for their part, have deepened this understanding, exploring the many dimensions of Canada's literary geography. From the thematic studies to which Warley, Ball, and Viau refer to D. M. R. Bentley's investigations, not just of literary site poems but also of the "ecologies" and "legible spaces" of Canadian literature more broadly (see "Literary Sites," Gay]Grey Moose, and Mnemographia Canadensis in particular), to Graham Huggan and Marlene Goldman's analyses of maps and mapping metaphors in Canadian fiction, to W. H. New's wide-ranging discussion of "space, presence, and power" in Canadian writing and Laurie Ricou's literary deep maps of the Pacific Northwest, literary scholarship is increasingly attentive to questions of place as well as of culture.

Dovetailing with what scholars have recently called a "geocritical" approach to literature--an approach that is grounded in geography rather than literary movements or the oeuvres of individual authors and that emphasizes the referentiality of texts (see Westphal xiv)--both literary scholars and geographers (such as Amy Lavender Harris in Imagining Toronto) explore literature as a means of unearthing the rich imaginative textures of real, lived places. …

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