Post-Nationality and the Bifurcated Nation-State in English-Canadian Fiction
This study argues that expressions of national identity in modern and contemporary English-Canadian fiction often conceive of the nation as having bifurcated into, on the one hand, ethnic, and, on the other hand, pluralist or self-consciously immigration-based models, and that the former is frequently, if seldom explicitly, valorized at the expense of the latter. It examines fiction by Laura Goodman Salverson, Frederick Philip Grove, Margaret Laurence, Rudy Wiebe, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Timothy Taylor (in comparison with novels by SKY Lee, Eden Robinson, and Dionne Brane), arguing that the separation of these two national models in such works results in a Euro-Canadian identity that endorses a pluralist existence “beyond the nation” and that disavows nationalisms based on ethnicity even as it subtly reaffirms (European) ethnicity as the central component of the ostensibly multicultural nation. It makes this argument by reading the above works through the lens of the ethno-symbolist theory of Anthony Smith, in turn positing the latter as a productive alternative to the constructivist strain of political theory (exemplified by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities) that has dominated critical engagements with Canadian literature. In providing a framework for remaining attuned to the persistence of subjective notions of ethnicity in contemporary constructions of nation, the study traces the emergence of a Canadian identity that continues to privilege whiteness but that also creates a new understanding of ethnicity in which a personalized alterity within defines post-national subjectivity. It ultimately suggests that the Euro-Canadian fixation on the inseparability of ethnicity and nation may result in a broader legacy of essentialism that is still being felt in even the most progressive Canadian writing, which sometimes manifests a related essentialism based not on renewed faith in the connection between nation and ethnicity, but rather in broader cultural or race-based essentialisms that pose such identity categories as at once constructed and natural—a contradiction that is directly descended from the Euro-Canadian understanding of ethnicity as the necessary precursor to and condition for membership in the nation.