Major issues of Comparative North American Studies

One of the major issues of a newly conceptualized approach has to be some involvement with itself, that is, questions about its legitimacy, such as its heuristic value and functions, expected research gains, and its methodology. How then does Comparative North American Studies and, more particularly, Comparative North American Literature fit into the scholarly context I have sketched here? What is the role it can play, also in view of the traditional framework of American Studies and Canadian Studies? Partly as a conclusion to my introductory and contextualizing statements above, I first would like to suggest some brief though programmatic answers to such questions.

Comparative North American Studies represents one of several promising transnational approaches to the study of Canada and the United States, next to, for example, hemispheric studies and border studies. In looking beyond the borders of these two states, Comparative North American Studies breaks up the traditional, largely self-referential view of national cultures in a sociohistorical context of accelerated transnational political and economic cooperation, responsibilities, and interdependencies. In focusing on the United States and Canada, more than half of the area of the western hemisphere is at stake.32 This approach is a welcome antidote to the fact that Canada has often been omitted in so-called hemispheric studies so far.

A greater awareness and knowledge of its neighboring country to the north— and something similar applies to certain self-protecting tendencies within Canadian Studies (see also ch. 17)—would further relativize US America's traditional self-conception of "American exceptionalism" (see Madsen 1998; Pease 2009). Comparative North American Studies thus decenters the view of individual countries and cultures and does not privilege one over the other. The approach identifies, legitimizes, and tackles issues of research dealing with two countries that particularly merit a comparative perspective and are also subject to intriguing convergences as much as to divergences. Among important general parallels between the United States and Canada are their colonial past; their history of violent displacement of Indigenous peoples; their status as classic immigration countries; their cultural and regional diversity; the largeness of their land mass; English as the (or one of the) de facto official language(s); and the significance of frontiers and borders. Among important general divergences are these countries' different ways of shedding—politically and cultur- ally—their colonial past; their different ways of gaining statehood; the fact that Canada officially had two European founding nations, is officially a bilingual country, and includes the province of Quebec as "a nation within a united Canada"; these countries' starkly different national self-conceptions; their role as a "world police" (cf. military intervention) vs. "peacekeeper"33 (cf. "nation building"); their different ways of dealing—politically and culturally—with immigration as well as with the Indigenous populations; their different approaches to their multiculturality; and their different population size—all of which have had an impact on the literatures of these countries.

The comparative method enriches not only our understanding of the divergences, convergences, and the interconnectedness of both cultures, but also our awareness of the characteristics of both cultures as such. Comparative North American Studies could be one step in furthering awareness of the hemispheric (and, finally, global) connectedness of cultures. Although demanding knowledge and expertise in both American Studies and Canadian Studies, this approach is, relatively speaking, of more straightforward and individually more manageable circumference (more so when focused mainly on literature) than "(western) hemispheric studies" (if these are taken seriously according to their encompassing designation; see Fitz 2004). In this manner the approach proposed here works to alleviate what Paul Giles, in the context of the transnational turn, has described as "a sense of powerlessness, of the ultimate impossibility of the project: too little time, an inexhaustible range of material" (Giles 2006, 653-54).

Comparative North American Literature is not meant to displace national, identity-based approaches to the literatures of North America. Although the time for mainly nationalist paradigms seems to be over, I agree with Cynthia Sugars (and others) who points out that the "vector of the nation continues to have profound psychic resonance" and that "to discard the concept of national identity as an oppressive construct seems counter-productive, as is true of notions of the 'subject' generally" (Sugars 2001, 117). Winfried Siemerling argues along similar lines: "It seems crucial to both maintain and reinforce nationally designated fields of cultural and literary inquiry . . . and to engage in relational and comparative perspectives that also highlight local specificity" (Siemerling 2007, 140). It is this location in-between nationally circumscribed fields of study on the one hand and hemispheric or global studies on the other hand that makes transnational Comparative North American Studies, including its more focused variation of Comparative North American Literature, a timely, illuminating, practicable, and future-oriented approach to the literatures and cultures of Canada and the United States.

As a North Americanist (or, both Canadianist and Americanist), I thus disagree with Americanist Winfried Fluck when he, on the contrary, urges Americanists that "far from going outside the U.S., we have to go back inside" (Fluck 2007b, 73). Fluck describes "the original goal of the American Studies movement" as "the analysis of the cultural sources of American power" (ibid.) and warns against "toying with the idea of dissolving 'America' as an object of study . . . and replacing it with a new object defined hemispherically or globally" (Fluck 2007a, 30). I do not argue, of course, that a Comparative North American Studies approach is to "replace," but rather to complement, adapt, and extend the focus on the United States and Canada in traditional American Studies and Canadian Studies, not least to relativize the imperial gesture implied in the conception of the United States of and as "America" as well as the protective self-reflectivity of some Canadian literature studies. To Fluck's 2007 statement, "Understanding the United States has become perhaps more important than ever" (Fluck 2007a, 31), I counter (similar to scholars such as Fishkin 2005 in her presidential address to the American Studies Association in 2004, a few years earlier than the just quoted statements) that understanding the United States in its transnational and global contexts has become even more important—not only to the United States but to the world at large. At the same time, in the Canadian context, there seems to be a heavy irony involved in the fact that the highly successful, internationally oriented "Understanding Canada" cultural support program was canceled by the Harper government in Canada in 2012, in the face of shocked, international and national protests and resolutions.34 In this very volume, Canadian/ist Marie Vautier, who contributes the chapter on the Comparative Canadian/Quebecois Literature approach, professes herself to be wary of opening Canadian literature studies to a comparative (transnational) viewing alongside American literature/studies. This standpoint—which is not an exception among Canadian/ist scholars—is indirectly a stance against the United States as a neoimperialistic country, with regard to both Canadian and global culture. Vautier prefers Canadians, much like Fluck proposes for American Studies, to go further "inside," that is, to focus more on an inner-Canadian comparative literature and culture approach. Consequently, she proposes the setting up of departments of Comparative Canadian/Quebecois Literatures and Cultures in Canada.

While I fully agree with the latter proposal and think that the time is more than ripe for this kind of disentangling from a postcolonial mentality and institutional setup of English departments (in Canada and elsewhere), I nevertheless believe (as is also implied by the other chapters in this volume) that we can do the one without neglecting the other. It is also my hope that this book demonstrates, particularly to Canadian readers, that a comparative approach to Canadian and US American culture will not make Canadian and Quebecois Literatures disappear in the gorge of imperialistic "American" Studies, but that it will rather show—in keeping with my statement above that this approach does not and should not privilege one country over the other—that Canadian literature and culture very well hold their own in this comparison. From my (European) point of view, this kind of scholarly comparative approach results in a balanced view of the literatures and cultures involved and works against stereotypes, preconceived ideas, and traditionally hierarchical views.

The fact that this volume was conceived and edited by a European/German, and that about half of its contributors are Canadian (4) and US American (3),35 about half are German or Germany-based (9), is not coincidental, but partly also geared to the state of research in the area and to Germany having a particularly strong tradition in comparative literature approaches (going back to Goethe, Herder, and Hegel). The relatively strong German investment in this approach may also be explained in institutional terms. Although the study of both US American and Canadian literature and culture has thrived over the last decades at many German (and European) universities, there is not a single professorship in Germany denominated for Canadian Studies, with British and/or American Studies programs (and occasionally New English Literatures positions that include Canadian culture) being the norm. Due to their training within British and American (or French) Studies departments, professors who have come to include or even specialize in Canadian (or Quebec) Studies in Germany thus always come with a comparative background and interest to the study of Canadian literature and culture. A further possible explanation is that from a distance one generally tends to see matters in a different, perhaps broader and less personally invested perspective (see also Banting 2009). It can certainly be argued that non-Canadian, in this case German and European, scholars turn to Comparative North American approaches with less hesitancy because of their more detached exo-perspective on the minefield of Canadian-US cultural relations.

Thus Sabine Sielke states in the context of American Studies that in the "current insistence on European or international perspectives within American Studies . . . the field has lost part of its exceptionality and can no longer claim a monopoly, neither on a more comprehensive conception of culture(s) nor on a particular up-to-dateness with regard to methodological debates" (Sielke 2006, 4, 10). If making American Studies (and, one might add, Canadian Studies) partly into a comparative undertaking as well is also and particularly a European contribution, as Sielke claims for American Studies (ibid., 21), and if Comparative North American Studies may be called "an up-to-date tendency" of American Studies and Canadian Studies at the present juncture (Freitag 2009, 68), this indeed stresses that the so-called "New American Studies" and the "New Americanists" particularly have partly given up their long-time self-centered posture of American exceptionalism and—through a paradigm change toward transnational approaches—now look beyond their traditional disciplinary borders—indeed also right in front of and, for a change, north of their very doorstep.36 And—although it may seem to some readers like a daring thought—if we consider Max Weber's fundamental statement, "It is not the 'actual' interconnection of 'things' . . . but the conceptual interconnection of problems which define the scope of the various sciences. A new 'science' emerges where a new problem is pursued by a new method" (qtd. in Arac 2002, 36), then we might indeed consider Comparative North American Studies and Comparative North American Literature, as delineated in this volume, to be a new discipline or, at least, a "discipline to come" (Spivak 2003, 15).37

Chapter 2 complements this introductory and contextualizing first chapter in generally charting38 the territory. It starts by discussing the history of (global) mapping, showing that the concepts of America and of North America are European inventions of the exploration- and mapping-prone Renaissance. Maps and borders "guide us in making distinctions between self and other, insiders and outsiders, the foreign and the domestic. When they are redrawn, we see the world anew" (ch. 2, 33). Consequently, the chapter sketches out maps of several imaginable North Americas and proposes—in accordance with this book as a whole—a view of the North American continent "that is informed by, but cannot be reduced to, economic and political relations" (ch. 2, 42). This view is supported by a comparison between NAFTA and the European Union (EU), which diagnoses a much looser connection between the three signatory nations of NAFTA than the one between the member states of the EU, which is still developing in the direction of an even closer political, economic, and imaginary integration. Potential reasons are given for the contrast between the opinio communis that "North America is a place that few would call home" (ch. 2, 42) and the fact that culture in particular tends to go beyond national borders, "which are only as powerful and enduring as the cultures that create them" (ch. 2, 44). The chapter features an extended discussion of how the concept of the continent has developed and changed throughout its history and it establishes the historical-political context for a better understanding of the North American continent in flux. While also explaining and acknowledging counterarguments and fears of neoimperialistic dominance by the United States, a strong argument is made for following the lead of many writers and significant cultural developments to see North America in its entirety as a productive frame for the transnational study of US, Canadian, and—in this case— Mexican culture: "The humanities are a particularly promising location for

such an approach____Partitioning the cultures of North America . . . has limited

our reading of individual works and genres and obscured opportunities for innovative comparative analysis" (ch. 2, 42, 35).

The following chapters 3-17 then in fact uncover and tackle such "opportunities for innovative comparative analysis." The chapters are grouped into four different thematic sections39 and demonstrate how a comparative view of the selected major issues is just as innovative40 as it is promising, and that there remains a lot to (dis)cover in a comparative North American approach.

The thematic section (Section 2) following upon the introductory section turns to one of the most fundamental characteristics of North American cultures in dealing with various "Perspectives on Multiculturalism" (chs. 3-6). Chapter 3 contrasts, in detail, the history as well as the conceptual development, political implementation, and social results of multiculturalism in the United States and Canada, distinguishing between three basic meanings of multiculturalism as a social fact, a cultural ideal, and a political program. The chapter demonstrates the major differences, as well as some convergences, between both immigration countries' cultural and political responses to their multiculturality and comes to the conclusion that multiculturalism in both national versions are "utopias, which are as productive as they are necessary, are founded on a sense of difference without hierarchy and can be traced back to crucial moments in the history of US American and Canadian self-conceptions" (ch. 3, 62). Whereas this survey chapter on multiculturalism, though critical of the way multiculturalism works in practice, claims that Canada has treated its black (and Indigenous) population much less harshly than the United States has done—thus summarizing the received opinion on this issue—chapter 4 paints a more differentiated picture, which is less favorable to Canada (see also ch. 6, particularly concerning immigration from Asian countries). Setting Canada's "benign racism" (Cecil Foster) against the more blatant form of racism in the United States and also the recent, unconvincing claim of US "post- raciality," the chapter gives complex reasons both for the legitimacy of a more favorable view of Canada's relations with its (far less numerous and ethnically less homogeneous) black population as well as for an equally valid, though not as obviously derivable, critical view of it. Analyzing Canadian writer Lawrence Hill's41 novel Any Known Blood (1997), which in itself provides a comparative view on race in the United States and Canada, the chapter concludes that Hill's novel defies "the way in which Canada tends to erase both a historical black presence and persisting race-related tensions in favor of a celebratory multicultural stance that is adopted not least to set itself off from the United States" and that it is "only from a comparative North American perspective that we can recognize the processes and dynamics by which each nation's—and each national literature's—engagement with race is not only determined from within but also by its relation to its neighbor" (ch. 4, 81). Chapter 5 on "Comparing Indigenous Literatures in Canada and the United States" stresses the paradox of, on the one hand, the conceptual irrelevance of the politically imposed US-Canada border for Indigenous North American communities and, on the other hand, the nevertheless powerful effect of the border on Native North American reality and identity, paradigmatically shown in the very act of border crossing by Natives (in literature). The concept of "Native North America" (Hulan)—to say nothing of a globalized Indigeneity—challenges national and disciplinary boundaries. Nevertheless, the chapter also demonstrates how the different national contexts impact Indigenous literary production in the United States and Canada, opening this inherently transnational subject matter, too, to a comparative approach. Chapter 6 turns to Asian North American history and culture, proposing that American Studies and Canadian Studies have so far considered issues of naturalization only in national terms. It is shown how the earlier exclusionary measures both by the United States and Canada at certain periods were intertwined to fence off Chinese immigration. While the chapter diagnoses several such essential parallels in both countries' treatment of (Asian) immigration and naturalization, it also points out important differences, mainly geared to different legal systems. Nevertheless, the chapter demonstrates that Chinese immigration to the "Gold Mountain" (the United States or Canada), naturalization, and citizenship are complex transnational rather than simply national affairs and for a long time hinged on the official proof of "whiteness," in the United States, or, in any case, on the question of cultural compatibility with the dominant (white) culture in both countries. The chapter concludes: "In looking at texts chronicling transnational, North American immigrant histories, why should our readings be national? . . . If diasporic subjects' texts . . . point us to the interwovenness of national trajectories, our methodology should follow their lead" (ch. 6, 124).

The next thematic section (Section 3), "French-Language and English- Language Cultures in North America," is, of course, a conceptual part of the previous section on multiculturalism, yet due to the prominence of French culture in North American, particularly in Canadian history, politics, and literature, these chapters (7-9) are grouped separately. Chapter 7—thereby related to chapter 12—uses an inner-Canadian perspective, elaborating on the state/ status of so-called Comparative Canadian Literature (or, rather, Comparative Canadian/Quebecois Literature Studies) in the past, present, and envisioned future. The chapter unearths, in contrast to various statements to the contrary, how much research has already been done in this area, which is perhaps the most advanced to date of all the comparative research areas tackled in this book. Chapter 8 reaches, again, beyond the borders of Canada by investigating the cross-connections between Quebecois and US American Literature. It is shown how as of the nineteenth century US literature has come to influence Quebecois writing and how Quebecois writing as of the 1970s in particular, though not without wary interventions of nationalist "border guards of the mind" (Louis Dantin in 1933, see Fonds Louis Dantin), further turned away from French influences to embrace Quebec's americanite, conceiving Quebec as a North American culture of French language. Chapter 9 on "North America's Francophone Borderlands" turns to French culture regions (apart from Quebec) located at the edges of the United States and Canada in historically contested areas, to which the author applies Anzaldua's borderlands concept: South Louisiana, "Acadia" (most of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, parts of Nova Scotia, and more areas of the continent), and northern New England and Maine, though even defining their borders has been historically difficult. The literatures of these borderlands include conflicting versions of the past, expressed in language variations such as the Creole French of Louisiana or the Chiac of Acadia. The chapter demonstrates that "because the Franco-Americans of New England and the Cadiens/Cajuns of Louisiana often see themselves as part of cultural communities and traditions that extend across the US/Canada border, no single-country approach of study will provide adequate understanding of their situations. These areas of study require a comparative North American approach" (ch. 9, 181).

Chapter 9 might also have been placed in the following section (Section 4) on "Regions and Symbolic Spaces," thus forming a link between these two sections. Chapter 10 on "The Literatures of the Mexico-US and Canada-US Borders" picks up the borderlands topic of the previous chapter and compares the southern and the northern border of the United States, with the latter having been rarely investigated as compared to the former in cultural and literary studies to date. Yet since 9/11, the US-Canada border has come into focus, too, first politically due to the War on Terror and later because of an increasing intertwining of cross-border drug and human trafficking, with the Canadian province British Columbia becoming the prime entry point of marijuana into the United States. The chapter diagnoses unsuspected similarities in the ways in which drug and people trafficking as well as border enforcement have shaped both borders, also in their literary reflections, since 9/11 and thereby delineates "a North American Studies framework that places into dialogue hemispheric approaches to these geographies that have predominantly been located within Chicana/o and Canadian Studies" (ch. 10, 196). Chapter 11 examines the critical categories of regionalism and regional writing in US, English Canadian, and French Canadian literature, particularly the relationship between the regional and the national. The chapter shows how regional diversity and specific regions have time and again been conceived of as characteristic of US American or Canadian literatures and thus how the regional has been employed to articulate the national. In addition, the chapter discusses transnational phenomena of literary regionalism, such as cross-border literary regions in North America, and broadly locates regionalism within contemporary literary criticism and theory. Chapter 12 uses an inner-Cana- dian comparative approach by focusing on how the idea of North/imaginaire du Nord has developed into a significant cultural discourse and source of collective self-image both of Canada and Quebec, a symbolic rather than a geographical space, with which English Canada particularly has wanted to set itself off against the United States. Although this defining myth could also have a unifying effect on all of Canada, the chapter argues that the two ideas of North in Canada are "neither unifying nor divisive, but rather parallel" (ch. 12, 232). The discursive North first developed organically with the settlement of New France, and today all of Quebec, including its southern cities (see the concept of "seasonal nordicity"), is pervasively regarded as "North" by the Quebecois. In English Canada, in contrast, the North tends to be linked to the remote Arctic, wilderness, or rural areas, excluding the urban, and the idea of North developed into a myth only since the Confederation of Canada in 1867, particularly, however, during the twentieth century. Chapter 13 then focuses on the city in English Canadian and US American literature and shows, similar to what the previous chapter does concerning the North with respect to English Canada and Quebec, how cities are not only material but symbolically invested spaces through which nations imagine themselves and define their changing cultural identity Whereas in US American literature the city has always loomed large, the Canadian imagination until recently rather drew on the small town, on regional, rural places, or on the wilderness and the far North. The chapter also elaborates on how at the turn of the millennium the Canadian imagination in a "new metropolitanism" discovered the city, particularly concerning Toronto, "with a vengeance while in the United States imaginations of the urban were on the decline" (ch. 13, 247). And although in recent North American urban fiction "national contexts are dissolving and . . . the city is becoming a temporary and shifting locale in a network of global relations" (ch. 13, 252), this still happens noticeably in the context of divergent histories of spatiality, genealogies of the city, and different national mythologies of both countries.

The final section (Section 5) of the book (chapters 14-17) is titled "National, Transnational, Global Perspectives." The sequence of the chapters in this section mirrors the general progress of research in the disciplines from national to transnational toward global perspectives. The first two chapters (14 and 15) take a literary-historical approach in that they focus on the (literary) periods of modernism and postmodernism, respectively, in the United States and in Canada. Chapter 14 in its survey of modernism in the United States and Canada mainly deals with poetry as "modernism's prototypical genre" (ch. 14, 258). It is demonstrated how American modernism, from its beginnings, has been pictured as a transnational undertaking, whereas Canadian modernism has been seen in predominantly national terms until very recently. Chapter 14 comes to the conclusion that in modernist times the US-Canada border was "less a dividing line than a linking device, paving the way for trans- and postnational developments" (ch. 14, 274). Interestingly enough, the same may not be claimed for the later period of postmodernism, at least not in the same manner and degree. Chapter 15 shows how the very different political and sociohistorical contexts in the 1960s to the 1980s in the United States and Canada had a strong impact on the way postmodernist literature was conceived in both countries. Canadian critic Alexander MacLeod, adapting a quote that has been used to denote the wary relationship between Anglo- and Franco- Canada, even went so far as to call US American and Canadian postmodernisms "two solitudes" (ch. 15, 295). Whereas postmodernism's reign seems to be (literary) history today, chapter 16 on literary celebrity studies takes up a very current topic of contemporary culture, which had hitherto mainly been investigated in US and British/Irish contexts and predominantly with respect to modernism. In her comparison of US and Canadian contemporary literary celebrity (the prime Canadian example is Margaret Atwood, for the United States Jonathan Franzen and Toni Morrison are selected) the author demonstrates how the reception of celebrity authors may be different at home/ nationally and abroad/transnationally and comes to the ambivalent conclusion that there are no specifically Canadian or US American paradigms of literary celebrity, although "national myths and relations of power continue to affect who we celebrate as authors and how we celebrate—or refuse to celebrate—them" (ch. 16, 312).

Chapter 17 is placed as the final chapter in the volume for two reasons: first, it serves as a frame to chapters 1 and 2 in that it complements fundamental considerations on the general topic, in particular a comparative evaluation of the state of transnational literary studies in the United States and Canada. It does so by uncovering the staunch binarisms (of nationality and trans- or postnationality) involved in practically all of the relevant treatments to date and by pointing out that the two strands of transnational criticism from and on Canada and the United States have rarely overlapped. The chapter also traces the resistance by Canadian criticism to open itself (as literature in Canada has done) to a transnational and global reading, as well as the time lag of a few decades of first reorientations in comparison with US criticism of American literature. The second reason why this chapter concludes the book is that it opens the vista beyond the binaries of national and transnational studies toward a triadic awareness of the global connections of both US and Canadian literatures. As an antidote to the generalizing tendencies of globalization discourse, the chapter analyzes more concretely how both literatures deal with wars on proxy territories that both countries have become entangled in (particularly in Afghanistan): "In the filaments of these triangular narratives, . . . we can trace the fraught terrain of global North American Studies, not as a field that imposes a choice between the national and the transnational, or a reconciliation of both, but as an opportunity to compare two distinct visions of the global, visions that have been forged by conflicts in an international arena" (ch. 17, 314).

Among further, promising avenues of research on Canada and the United States from a comparative perspective, which are not encompassed in this volume (also because they partly reach beyond its literary focus), are colonization and decolonization processes and their respective literary results, and different entanglements with postcolonialism and postcolonial studies (see, however, ch. 15); the role of (literary) texts in the respective periods of nation formation (see, however, ch. 15); the parallel and divergent receptions of European thoughts and movements (see, however, ch. 14); the institutionalization of literature and of the arts (see, however, chs. 7, 15, and 1); the starkly different national self-conceptions (see, however, chs. 1, 3, and 13; and, more extensively, Rosenthal 2011, 11-48 ); symbolic sites and icons (see, however, chs. 12

and 16); ecocriticism and ecologically informed works; popular culture studies in these countries; and parallel and divergent developments of literary genres (see, however, chs. 14, 15, 5, and 13).

The contributors and the editor hope that the present book will promote further studies on these and other aspects of Comparative North American Literature and Comparative North American Studies, building on the increasing interest of international scholars to look beyond not only the material but also the scholarly borders of what are, after all, neighboring countries on the North American continent. One such scholar is Alyssa MacLean, who concludes her recent article on "Canadian Studies and American Studies" in the question mode:

How, in the current situation, can we develop a transnational register in American, Hemispheric, and Canadian Studies that alternates between speaking and listening, and moves toward more accurate self-knowledge and historical awareness? What academic practices and scholarly inquiries could foster an equal partnership between Canadian and American Studies? Are scholars across the world brave enough to imagine a positive, collaborative relationship between disciplines in the hemisphere, one that builds forms of knowledge that are so very needed? (MacLean 2010, 402)

The present book is an answer to these questions.

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