Making Canada's "Literary Land Claim": Marjorie Pickthall's "The Third Generation"

By Dean, Misao | Journal of Canadian Studies, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Making Canada's "Literary Land Claim": Marjorie Pickthall's "The Third Generation"


Dean, Misao, Journal of Canadian Studies


Theorists of the nation such as Renan, Bhabha and Grant have commented on the way that the narrative of nationality is founded upon the obligatory forgetting of an originary act of violence. Through the tropes of indigenzation and inheritance, Canadian fiction "forgets" indigenous peoples and Aboriginal title. But the Delgamuukw decision reminds us that the claim to unified nationhood in Canada is fractured at its base, in the uncertainty of the nation's legal claim to a relationship with the nation-space. This kind of fracture and uncertainty is the theme of Marjorie Pickthall's story, "The Third Generation," which appeared in her collection Angel's Shoes (1923).

Les theoriciens de la nation tels que Renan, Bhabha et Grant ont commente la maniere dans laquelle la narrative de la nationality est fondee sur l'oubli obligatoire d'un acte originaire de violence. A travers les tropes de Findigenization et de la succession, la fiction canadienne 'oublie' les peuples indigenes et le titre aborigine. Or, la decision Delgamuukw nous rappelle que la reclamation A la nationalite unifile au Canada est fracture i la base, dans Fincertitude de la reclamation legale de la nation A un entretien avec la nation-espace. Ce genre de fracture et d'incertitude est le theme de l'histoire de Marjorie Pickthall, * The Third Generation, qui a paru dans sa collection Angel's Shoes (1923).

In "What is a Nation," Ernest Renan argues that the "forgetting" of historical events is always a "crucial factor in the creation of a nation." What must be forgotten are the "deeds of violence which took place at the origin" (Renan 11), deeds of invasion, colonial subjugation, cultural or actual genocide, which represent an internal contradiction to the discourse of nationality as ahistorical, natural and essential. Such deeds must be forgotten, become lost in the mists of time, in order to stabilise the claims of the nation to the material and ideological spaces it occupies. But as George Grant has pointed out, when white North Americans look back in the service of creating a national narrative, there are no friendly mists to obscure the nature of our relationship to the nation-space. Grant argues in his essay "In Defence of North America" that the focus and purpose of North America as a society is the technological exploitation of natural resources; he states that because white Europeans came here within "conscious" memory, with no other purpose than the commodification of the landscape, we can never be indigenous to the place. "That conquering relation to place has left its mark within us," Grant writes, and we are perpetually aware of ourselves as aliens:

When we go into the Rockies we may have the sense that gods are there. But if so, they cannot manifest themselves to us as ours. They are the gods of another race, and we cannot know them because of what we are, and what we did. (17)

For Grant, the originary violence that establishes title to North America is never really forgotten; it persists as a contradiction within the idea that Canada is and can be identical to the geographical space it occupies. The process that Homi Bhabha calls "forgetting to remember" (310) constantly calls back into discursive existence that which it purports to erase: that is, Aboriginal title.

The Delgamuukw (1997) decision on Aboriginal title reveals the contradictions inherent in the identification of the nation with the physical space it occupies. In a civil action commenced in 1984, Delgamuukw v. the Queen, 51 Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs sought to secure ownership and jurisdiction over 58,000 sq km of land in northwestern BC, land which was never ceded to the crown by treaty. In its decision, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the concept of Aboriginal title and set out a test for how to prove it. Delgamuukw thus affirms that Aboriginal title exists' (has always existed) as a burden on the Crown's underlying title throughout all of the provincial lands which are not covered by treaty - that is, almost the entire province. …

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Making Canada's "Literary Land Claim": Marjorie Pickthall's "The Third Generation"
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