Constructing a Canadian narrative: conditions for critique in the multicultural nation




Bashovski, Marta

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In Canada, ‘official multiculturalism’ is often viewed as working against historical exclusions by actively promoting a national culture of openness and diversity, and fostering a community of communities, united by mutual recognition and the celebration of differences. Through this characterization, the Canadian nation narrative has shifted to accommodate formerly excluded stories so that it is now the space of all stories. I argue that it is in these unity-seeking discourses that so inflect discussions of diversity and multiculturalism in Canada that critique is co-opted and, in the guise of inclusion, it exists in a weakened and static iteration. I outline a theoretical framework by working through texts that broadly link the study of nation-building with the construction of nation narratives or national histories and contextualize this through an examination of critical theories about nation-building in Canada. I apply this theoretical framework to two sites: statistics and literature. More specifically, I look at how census ‘identity’ (‘ethnic origins’ and ‘visible minority’) categories are constructed as more or less neutral statistical measurement tools used to further and legitimate multicultural narratives of the nation. For example, I examine Michael Adams’ Unlikely Utopia in order to show how the findings of censuses and public opinion polls are integrated into a multicultural nation narrative. The fiction I discuss – Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms and David Chariandy’s Soucouyant – illuminates how narrative practices can work to reinforce nation-building practices or critique them, and, at times, serve to illustrate how critique itself can work to reinforce the relationships it analyses. I suggest that reading Canadian immigrant narratives as political texts can work to reinforce and/or disrupt the imagined coherence of the multicultural nation narrative by resisting closures and domains of acceptable speech, as well as disrupting the imposed linearity of nation narratives. By reading performances of nationhood as processes of narrativization, it is possible to critically examine the exclusions, implicit and explicit, of the construction of an intelligible nation.



narrative, politics, multiculturalism, Canada, critique, nationalism, co-optation, statistics, literature, identity, diversity, inclusion, exclusion, disruption, coherence, intelligibility