From Margin to the (Canadian) Frontier: "The Wombs of Language" in M. Nourbese Philip's She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks

By Deloughrey, Elizabeth | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

From Margin to the (Canadian) Frontier: "The Wombs of Language" in M. Nourbese Philip's She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks


Deloughrey, Elizabeth, Journal of Canadian Studies


In this close reading of M. Nourbese Philip's collection of poetry She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, the author examines the revised Canadian literary cartography by Philip's complex poetry series. In her effort to foreground the "histories" of Africans in the New World and their entangled relationship to the history of the West, Philip ultimately challenges the "uni-verse-all" voice, while calling attention to the politics that underlie assertions of "universalism" and "objectivity." The author pinpoints a number of Western epistemologies that are the targets of Philip's re-vision: specifically Greek myth, Christianity, the English language/grammar and its impact on the social construction of bodies. For instance, Philip re-visions Greek myth so that the Proserpine/Ceres separation of mother/daughter becomes rewritten to encompass the fragmentation of cultures that resulted from the African diaspora. The author argues that Philip traverses the Caribbean and Canadian landscape in an effort to create a "mother-tongue" that is not circumscribed by sexist or racist hegemony and that Philip's overall objective is to reposition Black Canadian poetry from the literary margins to the frontier.

A partir d'une lecture rigoureuse du recueil de poesie She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks de M. Nourbese Philip, l'auteure examine la cartographic litteraire canadienne telle que revue et inscrite par la serie complexe de poemes de Philip. Afin de mettre l'accent sur les "histoires" des Africain/nes du Nouveau Monde et leur relation emmel1e avec l'histoire de l'Occident, Philip en arrive a contester l'idee d'une voie "uni-ver-selle" en meme temps qu'elle projette un regard critique sur les politiques qui sous-tendent les affirmations de "l'universalisme" et de l'objectivite." L'auteure expose certaines epistemologies occidentales qui font l'objet du travail de revision de Philip: en particulier les mythes grecs, la chretiente, la langue ainsi que la grammaire anglaise et son impact sur la construction sociale des corps. Ainsi, par exemple, Philip retravaille la mythologie grecque afin que la separation mere/fille dans la relation Proserpine/Cdres soit reprise pour incorporer la fragmentation des cultures resultant de la diaspora africaine. L'auteure affrme aussi que Philip traverse le paysage antillais et canadien afin de crier une "langue-matemelle" qui n'est pas circonscrite par I'hdgemonie sexiste ou raciste. L'objectif general de Philip est de repositionner la poesie canadienne noire des marges a la frontiere litteraire.

To think of ourselves as marginal or marginalized is to put us forever at the edge and not centre stage. The word margin, however, has another meaning which I prefer to think of when it is used as a descriptive term for managed peoples - it also means frontier. And when we think of ourselves as being on the frontier, our perspective immediately changes. Our position is no longer one in relation to the managers, but we now face outward, away from them, to the undiscovered space and place up ahead which we are about to uncover - spaces in which we can empower ourselves.

The power and threat of the artist, poet or writer lies in this ability to create new i-mages, i-mages that speak to the essential being of the people among whom and for whom the artist creates. If allowed free expression, these i-mages succeed in altering the way a society perceives itself and, eventually, its collective consciousness. M. Nourbese Philip

She must write herself, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing which, when the moment of liberation has come, will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history.... Helene Cixous (Cixous 880).

In She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, M. Nourbese Philip has accomplished what feminist writers such as Helene Cixous have been theorizing about for many years: the forced, break-in-entrance of the Other into the white patriarchal mansion of the English language. …

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From Margin to the (Canadian) Frontier: "The Wombs of Language" in M. Nourbese Philip's She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks
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