Comparing US American and Canadian postmodernism: Conclusion and outlook

If the literary canons and criteria established by Kroetsch and Hutcheon have stood as foundational as well as representative examples of Canadian postmodernism in the previous section, this has been, first of all, because of the authors' prominence, in fact canonical status, as Canada's most often quoted commentators on the Canadian postmodern. Second, Kroetsch and Hutcheon and their, to a significant extent, congruent poetics of postmodernism also provide a particularly interesting foil against which to compare the US American high postmodernist canon, which took form at around the same time, yet, as argued above, from a different impetus and going into a different direction. Hutcheon is very explicit on these divergences: "What many American critics have called postmodernism—the extreme nonrepresentational textual play and self-reference of 'surfiction'—is . . . yet another form of (late) modernism, the logical extreme of its aesthetic (and aestheticist) tenets and its romantic faith in the imagination" (Hutcheon 1988a, 2). "In Canada," she goes on, "there is very little of the extreme formalism of 'surfiction'" (ibid.). Canadian postmodernist fiction, in Hutcheon's understanding, negotiates between "the real" and the sig- nifier, rather than collapsing the former into the latter23: "What is striking and particular about Canadian postmodernist fiction is that the very real challenge to the conventions of realism has always come from within those conventions themselves. Unlike the more radical American 'surfiction' or the Quebecois linguistic play, English Canadian novels have self-consciously milked realism for all its power, even while parodying and subverting its conventions" (Hutcheon 1988a, 20).24

The reason for Hutcheon's endorsement of a realist aesthetics—sluiced through postmodernism—and her rejection of surfiction—with its endless chain of signification and deferral of meaning—lies in the close alliance between postmodernism and postcolonialism in Canada: "What [has been seen] as important to postmodernism in America—its deconstructing of national myths and identity—is possible within Canada only when those myths and identity have first been defined. . . . Canadian novelists must return to their history . . . in order to discover (before they can contest) their historical myths" (Hutcheon 1988a, 6).

Using again Isernhagen's terminology, we may thus attribute the divergences between the major canons and scholarly discourses of US American and Canadian postmodernism to different "problem situations" and national concerns in both countries in the 1960s and 1970s. As Frank Davey (1994) has aptly summarized: "Canada . . . had been experiencing national affirmation rather than the national interrogation the United States had experienced through the civil rights movement and the Viet Nam war protests. Canada's nationally celebratory centennial year had coincided with a dramatic rise of civil protest in the United States" (Davey 1994, 250). With Linda Hutcheon we may conclude then that Canadian postmodernism, and its critical reception, required a narrative less predicated on deconstructivist linguistic playfulness and more concerned with the "use and abuse" of realism in order to "write" the postcolonial nation. US American postmodernism and scholarly discourse, on the other hand, needed the liberating momentum of post-structuralism's free-floating signifiers to contest its established cultural narratives and thus "rewrite" the nation.

Challenging the reception of US American and Canadian postmodernism as "two solitudes," Alexander MacLeod has suggested that "perhaps Canadian postmodernism seems diametrically opposed to American postmodernism because it was purposely designed that way" by the likes of Kroetsch and Hutcheon (MacLeod 2010, 140), thus actively preventing a "direct engagement with the most disturbing yet still fundamental insights of postmodern discourse" (ibid.,

  • 124) —by which MacLeod means "the apocalyptic, paradigm-shifting, posthumanist, metaphysical critique put forward by Derrida and the other leading contributors to international postmodernism" (ibid., 128). Whether one follows this speculation or not,25 MacLeod is right in pointing out that Canadian postmodernism "is usually studied as being apart from the broader concerns of the discourse," rather than as "a part of international postmodernism" (ibid.,
  • 125) . The lack of a substantial body of comparative approaches to US American and Canadian postmodernism speaks volumes in this context.

This chapter has mapped, in broad strokes, the canonization of literary postmodernism in the United States and in Canada in their respective political and sociocultural contexts. A comprehensive comparative study to chart not only the main routes but also the side roads of US American and Canadian postmodernisms and their canonization, as well as mutual influences in a continental, if not international context, remains yet to be written.

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