(REVIEW) Eva Darias Beautell and María Jesús Hernáez Lerena. eds. 2007: Canon Disorders: Gendered Perspectives on Literature and Film in Canada and the United States. Logroño: Universidad de La Rioja; La Laguna: Universidad de La Laguna. 186

(REVIEW) Eva Darias Beautell and María Jesús Hernáez Lerena. eds. 2007: Canon Disorders: Gendered Perspectives on Literature and Film in Canada and the United States. Logroño: Universidad de La Rioja; La Laguna: Universidad de La Laguna. 186 pp

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    1 Eva Darias Beautell and María Jesús Hernáez Lerena. eds.2007: Canon Disorders: Gendered Perspectives on Literature and Film in Canada and the United States  . Logroño:Universidad de La Rioja; La Laguna: Universidad de La Laguna.186 pp. Rosario Arias DoblasUniversidad de Málagararias@uma.esThis collection offers a thorough examination of gender issues in canonformation in Canada and the United States. Feminist criticism, the editors note,“has insistently brought to the foreground the complex relationship betweencanon and power, uncovering the patriarchal ideology of our literary and culturaltraditions.…” (11). One must remember the pioneering work of feminist criticslike Elaine Showalter in her seminal A Literature of Their Own: from Charlotte Brontë to Doris Lessing  (1977), which contributed to the visibility of womenwriters who had been hitherto underrepresented or marginalised. In theintroduction to the new edition (1999), Showalter makes reference to therevisionist impulse behind her work: “I had imagined A Literature of Their Own  as a book that would challenge the traditional canon” (xxi). As in Showalter’sstudy, Canon Disorders  examines the challenges to traditional canon, andoffers   a selection of essays illustrative of gender-inflected studies on literatureand film. The book consists of an introduction, seven chapters of varying length,and notes on contributors. The editors’ introduction sets the main argument ofthe volume by paying attention to the category of gender and how it intersectswith class, ethnicity and culture. In this sense, the collection could beconsidered a timely contribution to studies of “intersectionality” defined as “thenotion that subjectivity is constituted by mutually reinforcing vectors of race,gender, class, and sexuality” (Nash 2008: 2). Although this concept is neveractually mentioned in the volume, there is little doubt that those interested inintersectionality will find Canon Disorders  of interest.   Aritha van Herk’s “Hanging Out the Laundry: Heroines in the Midst of Dirtand Cleanliness”, the first chapter in the volume, is concerned with the narrativetrope of cleanliness and laundry work both in film and literature, not only to referto gender and subject formation, but also “as a marker of moral superiority”(25). Van Herk carries out a lucid analysis of the various ways in which linenand laundry work, on the one hand, and filth and dirt, on the other, are related togender and to the upsetting of conventions and regulations in several works.Among them is Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace  (1996), in which Grace Marks’unstable and fluid identity questions   the cleanliness of the canonical order asshe sidesteps the silenced condition of the maidservant. In addition, race andethnicity multiply the effects of disturbance as shown in van Herk’s insightfulexamination of Judy Fong Bates’ 1997 collection of short stories, China Dog and Other Stories  , and Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1975 The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts  . In these narrative texts filth and dirt areinextricably linked to the voices excluded from the canon: “[t]he contaminated    2thus mirror the filth [the dominant] regulate” (40). However, the unregulatedbody of the marginalised is more often than not in charge of the cleansing of thegerms from the garments of the dominant, and this turns the laundry into aliminal place, full of possibilities and potentialities. Therefore, the laundrybecomes a potential metaphor for disruption in canon formation. This studyconcludes by referring to Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”.Although it might have been useful to bring Spivak’s notion of the subaltern intothe analysis of the works under consideration, and thus earlier in the discussion,this chapter convincingly develops how the opposition cleanliness vs. dirt is anapt metaphor for canon-making, “ultimately an act of ordering, measuring, andvaluing” (27).The second essay in the collection is Eva Darias Beautell’s “Blood RoadLeads to Promise: A Gendered Approach to Canada’s Past in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Cure for Death by Lightning  ”. In it the author takes heed of theunquestionable place Anderson-Dargatz’s novel occupies in contemporaryCanadian literature. Firmly based on the Canadian tradition, The Cure for Death by Lightning  explores and revises this tradition from within, thus offeringalternative gendered perspectives to Canada’s national myths at three differentlevels: “the writing of the pioneer narrative, the analysis of the metaphoricmeaning of the Canadian wilderness vis-à-vis the Western Canadianhomesteading, and the recuperation of the erased presence of the Absrcinalcultures in the country’s myths of srcins” (46). It is to the editors’ credit that thischapter is placed after Aritha van Herk’s since Eva Darias also mentions howdirt and evil are synonyms for a pioneer woman like Mrs Bell, who equatesregularisation and order with cleanliness. In fact, cleanliness functions asphysical and metaphorical cleansing of the body when Beth’s mother forces herdaughter to take a bath after she has been molested in the bush. Dariassignificantly stresses that one of the novel’s achievements is the rewriting of thetraditional pioneer narrative by juxtaposing beautiful descriptions of thelandscape with the violence exerted against woman, and by paying attention tothe violence employed against the Absrcinal culture in the process ofoccupying the Canadian land. Finally, not only does Darias carry out anengaging study of this novel in the terms outlined above, but she alsoincorporates further references and makes connections with other works in thefootnotes which are extremely useful for those interested in Canadian literature.María Jesús Hernáez Lerena’s “Surviving the Metaphorical Condition in Elle  : Douglas Glover’s Impersonation of the First French Female in Canada”provides a highly innovative approach to the two-way relationship betweencontemporary criticism and postmodernist and postcolonial fiction. Hernáezundertakes a thorough examination of the novel Elle  (2003), by Douglas Glover,as “part of a prominent tendency in Canadian literature of creative revisions ofautobiographical truth” (73). She convincingly argues that Elle  demonstrates anactive dialogue with the Canadian past as the novel incorporates the personalplight of the historical figure of Marguerite de Roberval alongside postmoderniststrategies (irony and parody) to debunk her clichéd inscription in history.Marguerite’s life has been recorded in history since the fifteenth century, and itstill attracts the attention of twenty-first-century readers and writers who haveproduced poems, plays and novels largely based on this historical figure.Hernaéz maintains that Elle  serves the novelist to consider the hybrid nature ofa text, placed in between fiction and criticism, which, subtly moving in and out of    3fiction, poses questions about our contemporary engagements with the past.The twofold treatment of Marguerite, as a suffering woman under constrainingcircumstances and as a critique of colonial and gender issues, allows the readerto see how postmodern critical tenets are placed alongside the representationof a historical figure, whose pain and suffering cannot be easily translated intowords. Ultimately, Elle  ’s hybrid nature stresses the complex operations at workin canon formation.   In the following chapter, “Representing Hegemonic Masculinity:Epistemology and the Performance of Male Identity in Documentary Film”,Vicente R. Rosselló Hernández concentrates on the analysis of masculinity indocumentary, an area often neglected in gender-based studies of film, as hesustains. Referring first to masculinity as a consolidated research field in genderstudies, Rosselló moves on to a close reading of three non-fiction films: RobReiner’s This Is Spinal Tap  (1984), Peter Lynch’s Project Grizzly  (1996), andHenry A. Rubin & Dana A. Shapiro’s Murderball  (2005). He focuses on thesetexts “as instances of the growing critical visibility and interrogation of[masculinity] and, most importantly, as powerful illustrations of the particularzones of anxiety, liminality and tension that contribute to its fundamentalinstability” (95). This chapter is heavily supported by theoretical issuesespecially relevant in masculinity studies, and its first section, “Gender, inTheory: An Overview”, offers an extremely useful account of feminist andgender studies and the increasingly pivotal position occupied by masculinity,despite the reticence manifested by several critics who do not seem to find anycommon ground between feminism and masculinity studies. The author of thisessay clearly proves the opposite and acknowledges the fundamental roleplayed by the second-wave feminism in shaping our contemporary attitudestowards gender. The next section addresses the significance of representationin cultural artefacts and the need for a reassessment of documentary film withingender studies to counterbalance the excessive weight of gender-inflectedreadings of literature and fiction film. Rosselló concludes this section byaffirming that “[t]raditionally, then, documentary has not differed much fromother areas of the cultural establishment in its ideological underpinnings andinstitutional practice” (102). The analysis of the three films mentioned aboveleads him to the conclusion that these documentaries bring to the fore severalprominent issues in the field of masculinity studies such as the constructednessof masculinities and the existence of challenges to normative masculineidentities. Consequently, Rosselló claims that more critical attention should begiven to this type of texts both in masculinity and documentary studies, and thatmasculinity concerns should become more evident in gender studies.“The Dismantling of the Oedipal Dyad in Two American Women Poets:The Dynamics of Maternal Desire”, by Dulce María Rodríguez González,investigates one of the most productive sites of feminist and gender analysis,that of the mother-daughter relationship, in the work of two well-known poets:Anne Sexton and Alicia Ostriker. The article is heavily informed by thetheoretical framework of psychoanalysis and this is one of its strengths.Rodríguez clearly dominates this field as   a succinct but informative summary ofits main tenets in relation to the mother-daughter bond opens the essay. Therange of the material covered is impressive, and would engage any reader whotakes an interest in psychoanalysis, and, more particularly, the relevance of thepreoedipal stage in the daughter’s psychosexual development. Sigmund Freud,    4Jacques Lacan and the object-relations feminist critic Nancy Chodorow are theleading psychoanalysts in this respect, as Rodríguez aptly notes, but JessicaBenjamin and other critics are mentioned in the course of the article. Althoughone of the chapter’s main merits is precisely the overview of thesepsychoanalytic theories, one feels that the essay would benefit from a moreinterrogative stance at times; thus the author could have mentioned the criticaldebate over Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering  , which, firstpublished in 1978, spawned a large critical body of work on mother-daughterrelationships. It is noteworthy that Chodorow herself contributed to this debatein 1999 in the preface she wrote to the second edition, where she qualifiessome of her previous controversial assertions and, in so doing, admits that insome ways her critics are right: “the book does not pay attention to women’ssubjective experience of their reproductive and sexual bodies” (xiii). Lastly, thetheoretical ideas developed in the first part of the essay are well integrated inthe analysis of the selected poems by Anne Sexton and Alicia Ostriker, whichshows the centrality of the mother-daughter bond and, most crucially, thedynamics of maternal desire, “confirming a reality to which the male canon, andart in general, have been blind in the past” (136). In addition, this essay servesas valuable background to the next chapter in the volume.“‘Too Bad Mihijita Was Morena’: Anzaldúa’s Autobiographical Encounterswith Her Mother”, by María Henríquez Betancor, also delves into the mother-daughter relationship by focusing on the Chicana autobiographical genre.Firstly, Henríquez traces the increasing visibility Chicana autobiographies haveacquired from the 1980s onwards. Secondly, she centres on Gloria Anzaldúa’smasterpiece Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza  (1987), anunclassifiable text in terms of the Western canonical literary genres, asHenríquez posits. It is the discussion of the figure of the mother that providesthe most interesting passages in this chapter. The author firmly believes thatAnzaldúa “breaks the myth of the good-bad mother to present a woman whocreated herself through painful identity borders, a woman who teaches, with herown example, valuable skills for survival” (152). Statements like this contributeto a better understanding of the mother in Anzaldúa’s text, as well as toliberating her from the prison-house of matrophobia—a term first used by thepoet Lynn Sukenick and employed by Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution  (1976)   to refer to the fear ofbecoming one’s mother (1984: 235). In the essay under consideration theemphasis on how the voice of the mother remains “unheard” (153) is in keepingwith feminist work on the maternal and “in mother-respecting ways” (Ruddick1994: 31). Ultimately, the presence of the mother in Anzaldúa’s Borderlands   signifies “a starting point to search for other mother figures which can meet[Anzaldúa’s] personal needs for an intense connection to the female” (157).Mladen Kurajica’s “ Ganzfeld  or the Ontology of Escape in RobertKroetsch’s The Hornbooks of Rita K  ” closes the collection. This chapter isconceptually the most complex in the volume as its main theoretical frameworkis Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s philosophy which “does not align itselfwith the determinism of the metaphysics of presence; nor with the linguisticidealism/nihilism of poststructuralism” (180). Kurajica’s central argumentrevolves around the analysis of the disappearance of the character of Rita inKroetsch’s work, and the spectral presence of such a character in the poetictext.   Rita’s absence sets up an archaeological project in which Raymond, her    5lover, tries to trace the causes of her disappearance. In this sense, this lackprompts Kurajica to discuss the Western notion of identity and the strategiesunder operation in deconstruction by means of which binary oppositions arequestioned and dismantled. Even though this essay does not purport to dismissdeconstruction altogether, it sustains the idea that the Derridean notion of différance  has indeed become another metanarrative. Highly innovative andsrcinal, this chapter utilises both Deleuze and Guattari’s notion ofdeterritorialization to examine Rita’s self-effacement, and their idea of rhizometo consider more vital and open forms of existence. Placed at the end of thecollection, this essay significantly aims at alternative ways of approachingcontemporary subjectivity and gender. Canon Disorders  is, overall, a persuasive and dynamic study. It is anextremely polished collection with the exception of some small typographicalmistakes and errors: “She is lead [sic] to desperation….” (83), “[t]he mothermakes explicit her dispair [sic] and her heplessness [sic]….” (135), “her familyworked the land and barely earnt [sic] enough money….” (146), “Coatlicue’sstone sculpture represents a solid, threating [sic] figure….” (154). In addition,there is no index and the volume would have greatly benefited from one.Despite these minor formal issues, the collection makes an important andsubstantial contribution to gender studies in the field of literature and film inCanada and in the United States that nevertheless leaves readers with amplespace to pursue their own thinking. Works Cited Chodorow, Nancy 1999 (1978): The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender  . Berkeley: U of California P.Nash, Jennifer C. 2008: “Re-thinking Intersectionality”. Feminist Review  89: 1-15.Rich, Adrienne 1984 (1976): Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution  . London: Virago.Ruddick, Sara 1994: “Thinking Mothers/Conceiving Birth”. Representations of Motherhood  . Eds. Donna   Bassin, Margaret Honey and Meryle MahrerKaplan. New Haven: Yale UP. 29-45.Showalter, Elaine 1999 (1977): A Literature of Their Own: From Charlotte Brontë to Doris Lessing  . London: Virago.
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