Thomas King, Howard F. Mosher and Jim Lynch
2 Theoretical Frame: At the Interface of Literatures, Cultures, and Borders
A new understanding of the reasons for and nature of borders, borderlands, and bordering as represented in fiction benefits from the confluence of theories from the realms of literary, cultural, and border studies. The gap in approach between the study of literatures and cultures on the one hand and the study of borders on the other is narrowing for good reason. The spatial turn in American and Canadian studies in conjunction with the cultural turn in border studies helps to transcend the disciplinary divide. Thus, this study is a contribution to both the spatially inflected humanities and the culturally turned social sciences. A critical analysis of the representation of the Canada-U.S. border, borderlands, and bordering in contemporary North American fiction contributes to an understanding of the underlying border concepts. Border studies can draw conclusions for innovative conceptualizations regarding the ontology and epistemology of borders, while literary studies can include fresh spatial insights in the discussion of contemporary North American novels.
This interdisciplinary study primarily draws on the relevant theories and literatures from the fields of transnational American, Canadian, Native/Indigenous, and border studies. In this regard, “interdisciplinary” must be distinguished from “multi-,” “trans-,” and “post-disciplinary” approaches. To be truly interdisciplinary also new methods need to be used in order to avoid mere “fashionable branding” (Wilson and Donnan 16). The prefix “inter” suggests an inclusive discussion of pertinent theories from different fields, already multiple and diverse in and of themselves, and highlights emerging joint perspectives beyond disciplinary boundaries. Joel Pfister states pertaining to American literary studies: “American literature was complexly ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘postdisciplinary’ generations before the academy had to invent such terms and approaches to counter its own disciplinary fragmentations of knowledge production. Literature is about life, and life, unlike the academy, is not divided into disciplines” (31). He also underscores the synergy effects: “If theory, historical studies, and interdisciplinary and postdisciplinary approaches can change literature – the way we read and value it – perhaps literature can return the favor” (Pfister 33). Different viewpoints inform and support one another. ← 27 | 28 →
For the purpose of this study I will focus on central concepts related to borders and influential paradigm shifts in order to conceptualize specifically the Canada-U.S. border fiction. With globalization and the spatial and cultural turns, notions of transnationalism have become increasingly important and redefine American as well as Canadian Studies. Native studies are a crucial perspective for comprehending indigenous viewpoints regarding the border and border literatures. Postcolonial concepts such as Homi K. Bhabha’s “Third Space” and the theories and ideas of Salman Rushdie, Edward Said, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak permeate these fields and have entered my analysis. Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic” represents a key concept in American studies. Shelley Fisher Fishkin postulates that “the transnational becomes more central to American studies” (“Crossroads” 22) and calls this shift “the transnational turn” (“Crossroads” 17) in her presidential address to the American Studies Association on Nov. 12, 200414. The spatial turn, whether conceived as transnational, hemispheric, or inter-American, has paved the way to a complete reconceptualization of the originally more U.S.-centered field of American studies. In the wake of these recent developments, American studies have become “New” or “Transnational” American studies. Theoretical concepts pertaining to globalization, cosmopolitanism, or cultural studies are additional important factors. For the theoretical underpinnings for a special genre of “border literature” or “border fictions15” Claudia Sadowski-Smith’s work is informative.
Similarly, Canadian studies are reconceptualized as “Trans.Can.Lit” (Kamboureli and Miki). The research conducted by Cynthia Sugars and Linda Hutcheon in the realms of postmodernism and postcolonialism has helped to shape the discipline. Canadian studies are increasingly more polyphone and include voices by formerly marginalized groups, whether gender- or ethnicity-related. At the outset, Canadian literature was a national project limited to reflecting Canada’s double position as a postcolonial country, yet also implicated in a colonial relationship with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. In the second decade of the 21st century Canadian literature is plural. Influential concepts in Native studies include Thomas King’s and other Native scholars’ discussions of postcolonialism ← 28 | 29 → against the backdrop of non-Native definitions and Gerald Vizenor’s “survivance” focusing on questions of agency, representation, and sovereignty.
In the globalized world of the 21st century, a McLuhanesque “global village,” border studies can serve as an important prism to analyze transnational developments. Research in border studies is significant as clear-cut distinctions between nation-states become blurred and new as well as several forms of identification multiply:
As spatially bounded cultures erode and conditions of ‘in-betweenness’ and ‘homelessness’ increase while diversity and code-switching become routine […] [there is a] new relevance in exploring ‘literal’ borderlands and their crossings, in order to understand the new ‘metaphoric’ borderlands of the postmodern age. (Wendl and Rösler 1)
The decline of the construct of nation-state is at the center regarding the concept of borderlands: “The precise and once presumed fit between nation, state and territory is being challenged in political science as in other disciplines, through concepts such as border regions, borderlands and border landscapes” (Donnan and Wilson 58). New scales emerge offering conceptual possibilities formerly not present in notions of the national.
A bilateral Canada-U.S. focus is the underlying principle for this study due to “the importance of viewing any boundary from both sides” (Donnan and Wilson 22). Furthermore, the cultural dimension is at the core of my analysis as “culture is the least studied and least understood aspect of the structures and functions of international borders” (Donnan and Wilson 11). In order to remedy this lack culture is more and more taken into account in border studies: “In fact, culture has become a pre-eminent aspect of border studies in most disciplines, and has certainly begun to play a more prominent role in all fields” (Donnan and Wilson 62). Cultures are no longer regarded “as if they were pure, territorially bounded and ordered in systematic categories […] [but are rather viewed as] more conflicting interstitial domains of paradox, fuzziness and ambiguity […]” (Wendl and Rösler 11). This leads to the development of new models such as “creolization,” based on sociolinguistics, or one that draws on the arts and uses, for instance, the terms “collage” and “mélange.” There is yet another notion, this time related to biology, called the “hybridity” concept. Wendl and Rösler state that “hybridity serves mostly as metaphor for new postcolonial forms of fluid identities […]” (11). Homi K. Bhabha reveals his understanding of the theory of ← 29 | 30 → cultural hybridity in his seminal work The Location of Culture: “This interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (4). The emerging field of border studies has undergone a profound transformation towards a greater emphasis on the cultural dimensions. Originating in taxonomy-oriented boundary studies, current border studies focuses on a variety of borders, approaches, locales, and phenomena. Within this expanding field the aesthetic elements including border poetics are gaining ground.
Geography, history, and political science were the key disciplinary influences for the field of border studies that should have been more aptly called boundary studies during the initial phase of boundary research. However, new conceptualizations have emerged. Boundary studies have given way to genuine border studies. Not only geographical or geopolitical boundaries matter, but also cultural, linguistic, or mental borders, borderlands and borderscapes, and bordering processes and practices. The field of border studies is reconceptualized as “bordering studies” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 412). The field has a critical edge, encompassing new questions of bordering and reassessing the place of the humanities within the traditional social sciences domain of border studies. The notion of the beyond and multiplicity is of paramount importance, because “geopolitical borders cannot be understood as discrete, fixed and dichotomous” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 406). Henk van Houtum defines a border as “a necessary and unfixable continuum between openness and closure rather than a line” and cautions against the increasingly more widespread viewpoint, due to 9/11, of a border “as a line of security and protection, often coinciding with an inward-looking reproduction and canonization of the history and culture it is believed to contain” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 405).
Thomas Wilson and Hastings Donnan postulate a scholarly, cultural and comparative turn in border studies and thus distinguish roughly two phases, i.e. earlier border studies and present-day border studies. The authors contend that the first phase of border studies lasting until the 1990s was characterized by four key components, namely the U.S.-Mexico border as point of reference or “hyperborder” (Romero), linkages between nation and state, borders as margins and disciplinary concerns (Wilson and Donnan 13). The current period of border studies features six characteristics: a cultural focus, the strengthening of ethnographic methods, an epistemological shift towards processes and products, a fragmentation of states, internal and external bordering and a reassessment of ← 30 | 31 → the peripheries as central factors (Wilson and Donnan 13). In the Companion to Border Studies the future of border studies is described as comparative and multiple. Referring to just one geographical setting is only seen as possible if at least incorporating methods and approaches from several disciplines (Wilson and Donnan 20).
With the cultural turn and new developments the field is now more diverse than ever, international, multi- and interdisciplinary (Wastl-Walter 1–8). The contributions of non-traditional fields are valued and encouraged. Critical border studies deal with the ethical implications, the ontology and epistemology of borders, and border(ing) studies focus on the processes of “bordering, ordering and othering” (van Houtum and van Naerssen). The substantial shift from classifications of boundaries to questions of bordering in the age of transnationalism, globalization and simultaneous growth of new nationalisms is a shaping force in the field. The “banal nationalism” (Billig) surfaces not only in mega sports events such as soccer tournaments or the Olympics, but also in the rise of new nationstates. On the one hand, “the end of the nation state” (Ohmae) was proclaimed, but on the other hand there are more nation-states in the world today than ever before. From a government, state and national identity point of view borders matter despite the transnationalism.
Numerous border-related terms and concepts exist in the scholarly discourse of border studies. The very name of the field projects the underlying conceptual assumptions. Key terms for any border analysis are: boundary versus border, borderlands, and bordering. The terminology needs to be clarified in order to avoid confusion: “Social scientists occasionally claim precision, though even they employ a range of terms – border, borderland, border zone, boundary, frontier – which sometimes pass as synonyms and at other times identify quite different phenomena” (Donnan and Wilson 15). Consequently, essential terms and concepts must be defined. In current border studies a decisive distinction is made between boundaries and borders. The term border is a multifaceted expression that can encompass geographical boundaries as well as symbolic borders, whereas boundary, strictly speaking, refers to geophysical demarcations. This is in line with the shift from boundary to critically oriented, diverse and multidisciplinary border studies.
Along the Canada-U.S. border different borderlands can be classified according to level of integration, disciplinary perspective or what kind of litmus test can clarify whether or not a borderland exists at all. Oscar Martínez has developed a typology of borderlands, comprised of alienated, coexisting and interdependent, integrated and figurative multi-sited borderlands (qtd. in Wendl and ← 31 | 32 → Rösler 10). In contrast to that taxonomy, Wilson and Donnan summarize different definitions regarding border areas in a disciplinary manner as “geography’s border landscapes,” “history’s borderlands,” and “the notion of ‘border regions’” in political science (10).
Other scholars also stress the identity component in all its multiplicity: “borderlands: the culturally indeterminate areas where identities and political affiliations are constantly negated and negotiated. Central to its overall theme is the negotiation of identity, whether it be individual or group identity, and the problems of contested or fractured identities” (Éigeartaigh and Getty 1). Yet other definitions focus on power instead of identity: “Borderlands are sites and symbols of power” (Donnan and Wilson 1). Mary Louise Pratt offers a related concept to the one of borderlands, the “contact zone,” defined as “an attempt to invoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect” (7). Ken S. Coates and John M. Findlay argue to replace borders with borderlands as an analytical tool: “One way to open up understandings of boundaries is to look for borderlands instead of borders, to consider the boundary not solely as a dividing line but rather as the backbone of a region in which people on either side of the line have key things in common” (ix). Borderlands are crucial for research, for instance one leading journal in the field of border studies is aptly called Journal of Borderlands Studies.
Bordering can transcend locality and include the formation of liminal spaces, the construction of clear divisions and distinctions between “us” and “them,” or create a sense of order. Bordering processes and practices entail othering, ordering, constructing, maintaining, crossing, transgressing, blurring, and deconstructing boundaries and borders. Going beyond border binaries and establishing an in-between space, a Bhabhian “third space,” could be a result of bordering processes and practices. Bordering occurs in social relations between people, but it unfolds as well on urban, regional, or national levels. This phenomenon has echoes in the simultaneous globalization and deterritorialization forces.
Borders can be conceived as tools of colonialism and lingering nationalism. This also holds true for the Canada-U.S. border. This border locale used to be neglected in border studies due to the default point of comparison, the U.S.-Mexico border. In the 1980s and 1990s research on the Canada-U.S. border was a new focus within border studies. After 9/11 not only scholarly but also media attention shifted to include the Canada-U.S. border. The higher profile of the Canada-U.S. border in addition to the diversifying field of border studies have strongly influenced or even made possible my approach to contemporary Canada-U.S. border ← 32 | 33 → fiction. Only now a contextualization and critical interdisciplinary analysis can be pursued.
Non-tangible issues such as culture feature prominently in current border studies. This holds true as well for what Johan Schimanski and Stephen Wolfe coined “border poetics” within a border aesthetics frame (40). Border poetics uses literary approaches as a valid method to gain a new understanding of the nature of contemporary borders, borderlands and border cultures. Issues of power, citizenship, and identity come to the fore without foregoing poststructural, postcolonial, and postmodernist influences on border theory. Border research has become more holistic, multi- and interdisciplinary or even postdisciplinary (Wilson and Donnan 3) and includes such concepts as “geo-philosophical” (van Houtum, “Mask” 60) and critical readings of borders, borderlands, and bordering processes.
The diversity of the field of border studies becomes obvious when comparing different scholarly approaches to conceptualize theoretical border constructs, for instance in visualized models. In this regard, Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly’s model (qtd. in Konrad and Nicol 51; Brunet-Jailly 6) as well as Victor Konrad’s and Heather Nicol’s revised model (Konrad and Nicol 55) need to be taken into account. Some scholars focus on border management, others on border culture, and yet another group of scholars deals with ethical questions. These different, equally elucidating, studies complement one another. Critical border studies dealing with ethical and philosophical questions and the shift towards bordering are of particular interest regarding the border poetics lens of the present study. The focus therefore is on these critical and newly emerging issues.
In their Companion, Wilson and Donnan distinguish between “border theory” and “border studies” (2) and relate border theory to “this intersection of the metaphorical negotiations of borderlands of personal and group identity” (2). “Border studies” on the other hand are defined as “the geopolitical realization of international, state and other borders of polity, power, territory and sovereignty” (Wilson and Donnan 2). An interdisciplinary approach is essential for a topic within the realm of border studies focusing on border culture. Border studies simply transcend academic disciplines as the very nature of borders themselves illustrates: “International borders provide physical manifestations of the need to cross boundaries in order to appreciate the complexity of the whole border social system. They are the embodiment of what is demanded of border scholars, who must often transcend the limits of their academic discipline in order to contribute to it” (Donnan and Wilson 59). Hence, the topic of borders and border crossings is important in more than just one discipline: “The ← 33 | 34 → current fascination with borders and border crossings thus extends far beyond anthropology into literary theory, cultural studies, media studies and beyond” (Donnan and Wilson 35). Donnan and Wilson describe comparative research in the field of border studies as necessarily interdisciplinary: “The convergence in method and theory which the comparative study of international borders demands, along with the interdisciplinarity necessitated by such an effort, will create a corpus of scholarly work difficult to pin down to any individual academic field” (61).
The turns to bordering and critical border studies are essential. Border security, border management, cross-border trade, transportation issues, tourism, and environmental questions are addressed, but questions regarding identities, cultures, the ontology and epistemology of borders are now at the fore. The imagination, the elusive, the abstraction, the metaphorical, all ideally grounded in the Canada-U.S. border form the foundation of this study. These understandings and conceptualizations of the Canada-U.S. border, borderlands, and bordering inform my contribution to the fields of transnational American, transnational Canadian, and Native studies.
Border poetics and a bordering instead of a spatial turn in transnational American studies can be promising for future research as “[w]hat the map cuts up, the story cuts across” (Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life 129; qtd. in Perera 201). A poetic and aesthetic emphasis towards an “ethics of aesthetics” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 416) is called for. The Border Aesthetics Project at the University of Tromsø headed by Johan Schimanski and Stephen Wolfe specializes in the analysis of the aesthetic dimensions in border studies. The tangible and practical aspects need to be complemented by the elusive and impractical to create pragmatic border studies. This pragmatic move can lead programmatic border studies in the best sense of the term, being multiple, diverse, egalitarian, and not privileging the material over the imaginary and immaterial worlds. The imaginative dimension is a key component because “a border may be read as, among other things, a semiotic system, a system of images and imaginations” (Sidaway 163).
The often ambivalent Canadian response to the United States, particularly in terms of national and cultural identity construction, comes to the fore at the international boundary between the two countries. The Canada-U.S. border dates back to the colonial imposition of an international boundary between what should later become Canada and the United States. Three main parts of the ← 34 | 35 → physical boundary between Canada and the United States exist, namely between the contiguous United States and Canada, Alaska and the Yukon, and in the polar North between Canada and its Arctic neighbors, including the United States. Along the Canada-U.S. border, also known as the Line or Forty-Ninth parallel, are a number of borderlands with a varying degree of integration, such as Cascadia, the Prairies and Plains, and the New England-Quebec region. Cascadia is an ecological and utopian, an “ecotopian” (Ernest Callenbach), conception. Indigenous concepts feature prominently. The Salish Sea was renamed Salish by the indigenous peoples. This anti-colonial rewriting, renaming by reclaiming, has echoes in the notion of Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic” and its unifying potential. The Prairies and Plains region used to be the West, a differing cultural concept in the United States and in Canada. Notably, there is a mental border in terms of conceptualization. The myth of the West is glorified in the U.S. and exhibits so-called American values of freedom, self-reliance, and justice. It is part of the American dream that no longer has a hold on the present-day imagination. The West in Canada is marked by order due to what would later become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the now iconic Mounties. So order was closely linked to the border. The border separated two worldviews and also two judicial systems. Despite being trapped between the colonial powers, the indigenous peoples used the colonial imposition to their advantage.
By drawing boundaries the indigenous peoples were almost erased. This colonial legacy still lingers and is evident in land claims, lawsuits, discussions regarding identity, sovereignty, cultural autonomy, and economic disparities. The settler society and colonizer of Native peoples was a colony itself in its national origins. This can be said, at least partially, for both the U.S. and Canada. The parallels go beyond this rather negative aspect also to include some positive aspects. It is precisely this similarity which often leads to Canada’s fear of assimilation and cultural domination by the United States. The Canadian national unity is threatened by diverging forces such as Quebec’s separatist attempts, multi-culturalism, strong regionalism, a sense of Western alienation, and indigenous claims. For this reason Canada needs and welcomes the border, particularly the Anglophone Canadians, to distinguish between Canadians and Americans. The Anglophone Canadian stance towards the U.S. mirrors the Quebec stance and ambiguity towards the rest of Canada, i.e. Anglophone Canada. The border between Canada and the United States is thus essential for the attempt to construct a unified national identity. However, the challenging forces towards such unity, are also characteristic for the constitution of something resembling in a diverse and elusive way Canadian national identity. These diverging yet paradoxically ← 35 | 36 → also unifying influences are the very plurality, the diversity, and the indigenous, Northern, and Quebec facts in Canada. Cynthia Sugars states that the absence of Canadian culture is its presence, defined by bordering: “The more that Canada is identified as lacking in culture, the more that absence is identified as characteristically Canadian; the more amorphous the culture, the more it must be fixed within national boundaries” (“Marketing” 149).
While surveying and establishing the boundary, the already long-established indigenous nations have been ignored. The white colonizers drew the line along the forty-ninth parallel in the West and through the Great Lakes, along the 45th parallel and in the middle of the St.Lawrence River in the Eastern part of the continent. In so doing lands of indigenous nations were bisected. One telling example are the Blackfoot, vividly described in Thomas King’s short story “Borders.” The linear rigidity of the arbitrary border is apparent in its very designation as “the Line”. The Line bisects aboriginal lands. The mapping does not take aboriginal rights into account which leads to such cases as the Akwesasne reserve which straddles the boundary and has a five-part interlocutor: two Canadian provinces, one American state, and two nation-states plus the aboriginal autonomy on the reserve/reservation. This proves a complicated situation when dealing with cigarette or other contraband smuggling, not to mention human trafficking as portrayed in the movie Frozen River.
The Line considers neither the first peoples nor the eco-systems nor the natural environment. To counter these problems, the International Joint Commission (IJC) was founded dealing with water and clean air issues. This should not be confused with the International Boundary Commission (IBC) which works on the physical demarcation and maintenance of boundary markers. In the history of the Canada-U.S. border there were some skirmishes such as with the Fenians in the East or the so-called Pig War on the San Juan Islands due to sometimes contested surveying and land allocation. More errors have led to strange locations such as Point Roberts in the Pacific Northwest. However, positive examples comprise festivals and cross-border partnerships such as “Hands Across the Border” at Peace Arch Park in Blaine, WA and White Rock, BC, unfortunately discontinued, international peace parks, or the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Vermont and Quebec straddling the boundary between the United States and Canada.
The Canada-U.S. border was conceived as a binary. However, all along the border are cross-border regions, borderlands, or “borderscapes” (Perera). These borderlands display a border(lands) culture and the border is not a dividing, but rather a uniting line. The residents in these cross-border regions have more ← 36 | 37 → in common with their neighbors on the other side of the line than with their compatriots in other parts of their nation-states. An in-between space or a Bhabhian “third space” emerges. Borderlands go beyond border binaries.
In foreign affairs the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon marked an important shift in interaction at the border: “After September 11, 2001, the boundary between Canada and the United States became more apparent. The boundary line itself did not change, but crossing the border became more protracted, less civil and generally more complex” (Konrad and Nicol 1). People became much more aware that there indeed is a border between the two countries and this new perception was translated into finding novel ways to connect with one another on both sides of the border enabling exchange and trade. The United States-Canada border has a dual though somewhat paradoxical nature:
In the post 9/11 period two apparently opposing yet fundamentally integrated forces are emphasized. One is the entrenchment of the boundary. In a sense, the wall between the United States and Canada became higher and less permeable when homeland security became a major issue in the United States. Yet, as the border was reinforced, corridors of commodity flow and interaction were expedited.
(Konrad and Nicol 3)
The thickening of the Canada-U.S. border in the wake of 9/11 and the full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative thus threatens locally grown border culture. The borderlands residents have less opportunity to interact because of perceived hassle at the border. Negative changes at the border include long lines to cross the border due to more thorough checks and longer questioning by the border guards, alleged racial profiling or to have sufficient and more proof of citizenship and identity then before. The effect consists in less frequent and less spontaneous cross-border visits, travel, and shopping. Problems in the borderlands indicate problems on a national scale.
In a North American context the beginning of border studies lies with the U.S. – Mexico border. Gloria Anzaldúa was a pioneer in that regard with her seminal work Borderlands/La Frontera. Having been for a long time in the shadow of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Canada-U.S. border is now holding its own due to increased interest related to security issues. The Borderlands Project by the Canadian-American Center at the University of Maine was a research project whose purpose was twofold, namely to increase awareness of Canada and the United States as border neighbors while at the same time publishing a monograph series and essay collection in the years from 1989 through 1991. The publications lent themselves to further investigations on various aspects concerning ← 37 | 38 → American-Canadian relations, the Canada-U.S. borderlands, and the international border (McKinsey and Konrad iii–iv). This research conducted by scholars such as Victor Konrad, Clark Blaise, Roger Gibbins, and Russell Brown laid the foundation for border research specific to the Canada-U.S. border. The world has changed rapidly since 1989 to date. A reassessment in light of the globalization, the war on terror, and the ambivalent phenomenon of a simultaneous resurgence of nationalisms and supra-national endeavors is needed.
Human border actions aside from crossing the border are conceived as blurring, transgressing, subverting, erasing the border on the one hand (i.e. making the border disappear, in short unmapping), or maintaining, demarcating, drawing, thickening the border on the other (making the border reappear or stay, in short mapping) and also fall into these dichotomies. Within the concept of the border as a bridge inclusion is important, whereas functions and metaphors such as sieve, filter, shield, dividing line, and “sandbags resisting America” (Fraser) are associated with the border as a barrier. These border binaries need to be transcended as the globalized world in the age of transnationalism is much more complex and interconnected.
Metaphors for geopolitical boundaries are manifold. Certain characteristics are stressed in the designations for the Canada-U.S. border, such as the outdated cliché of “the longest undefended border.” Peace, friendship, being cousins, and sharing connected roots and a continent hold true for the case of Canada and the United States. The border does not exist in and of itself, but is socially constructed and inscribed with significance: “The reality of the border is created by the meaning that is attached to it. A line is geometry, a border is interpretation” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 412). The understanding of borders varies depending on viewpoints. The reasons for bordering can be related to desire and fear:
These sensitivities, nevertheless – desire and fear – constitute some of the most basic motivations for the drawing of borderlines and for their persistence. […] And their apparent contrariety – desire versus fear – helps explain why borderlines signify so differently, why they encode such differing presumptions, depending on the direction from which people look at them. (New 76)
The parallaxic function of borders and border crossings to provoke new paradigms needs to be stressed as Pedro Carmona Rodríguez posits: “[…] going across any border, be it geopolitical or metaphorical, signifies a negotiation of the poles between coloniser and colonised, the civilised and the uncivilised, the global and the local, engendering a powerful relativism that questions the very ← 38 | 39 → border” (Rodríguez 27). He foregrounds the linkage betweeen border crossings and paradigm shifts: “Crossing is, therefore, a strategic parallax for the articulation of a multi-layered revision […]” (Rodríguez 27). However, the border is also paradoxical as the border is made and unmade at its emplacement: “The border is not empty or readily pliable; it is a paradoxical zone of resistance, agency, and rogue embodiment” (Rajaram and Grundy-Warr ix). Borders fulfill several functions concurrently. These functions fall into the categories of the border as a bridge, a barrier, a parallax, and a mirror-like or self-referential stance. The barrier function whether conceived as a wall, an abyss or a dividing line, is pervasive. The bridging function is harder to conceive, though it is constitutive of borderlands, understood as a border area or border region coming together at and because of and beyond the physical boundary. The constructed nature of geopolitical and physical boundaries is overcome by building bridges in case of rivers or by opening ports of entry at land borders so that the boundary becomes a door and quite literally a window of opportunity for exchange and mutual understanding. The multifaceted and elusive character of symbolic borders and of the lines between the imagination and reality underscore multiplicity, ambiguity, and fluidity. The border is also a meeting place. It is at the border that differences are negotiated and residents on both sides of the border become aware of their similarities despite the line that tells them how different they supposedly are and should be. This local cross-border culture rethinks the border as marker of national sovereignty, identity, and citizenship.
Borders and visual, written or oral representations are inextricably linked and play a crucial role in shaping and reflecting human perspectives. It is a circle, between vicious and virtuous, of merely representing preconceived notions and concepts and transcending such representations by adding a new twist, by writing back, and by subverting through surprise. Border binaries and the Cartesian linear scheme are thus overcome. Instead of lines, circles and zones are more representative of the complexity and, in fact, impossibility of representing actual bordering processes and practices. The indigenous worldview is marked by circular conceptualizations. The border resembles a “Janus face” (van Houtum, “Mask” 59) and functions both as a mask and a mirror.
In “The Mask of the Border,” Henk van Houtum conceptualizes the border as a “verb” (50), a “fabricated truth” (51), and as “the mask of the nation” (55). The masking dimension entailed in bordering practices and symbolized by the boundaries of the nation-state is vital despite a globalized and seemingly shrinking world. The border is multiple: “A border is […] much more than a protection wall behind which one hides or takes refuge. It is also a threshold […]” ← 39 | 40 → (van Houtum, “Mask” 59). Therefore, the border must be understood as a “Janus face” (van Houtum, “Mask” 59) signifying beginning and end symbolized by the Roman god Janus. The “sphere of trust” within the border is simultaneously constitutive of the ostensible “fear for what is out there, beyond the self-defined border” (59). The dualism represented by the Janus face envisioned as “[…] the centripetal, inward oriented and the centrifugal, the outward oriented face” (59) is further complicated by the notion of the “beyond”. Going beyond border binaries highlights the complexity and dynamic nature of borders and borderscapes along a “Janus-continuum” (59). Borders are marked by an “ontological multidimensionality” and represent “a necessary and unfixable continuum between openness and closure rather than a line” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 405). In sum, “a territorial border is the continuous production of a mask” and resembles a “masking of reality” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 412). This is linked to the construction of national identity as “nations nowadays mask and brand themselves” and a metaphorical “national masked ball” is staged, where citizens “perfom the nation” (van Houtum, “Mask” 55). Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Eric Hobsbawm’s and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition come immediately to mind. The nation-state itself resembles more and more “a dated one-dimensional mask of a multi-layered multiplicity of identities […]” (van Houtum, “Mask” 55).
Reconceptualizing border metaphors is promising and therefore the two-fold, Janus-face devices of the border as a mirror and at the same time mask is explored. Masks are also part of the “carnivalesque” (van Houtum, “Mask” 55) and masking can be a charade. The term charade displays the deceptive nature, yet in a somewhat playful manner. McLuhan invokes the metaphor of the “rear-view mirror” (73). He suggests that Americans looking in such a mirror perceive “how the Canadians sidestep the impact of these new media, keeping a sort of stasis in place so characteristic of the northern ability to juggle fierce separatism and regionalisms without cataclysmic finality” (73). The mirror reveals the nature of Canada to Americans. The Canada-U.S. border resembles a “one-way-mirror-wall” (Berland 476). Thanks to Canada, the United States is “more acceptable” to other countries according to McLuhan: “Since the United States has become a world environment, Canada has become the anti-environment that renders the United States more acceptable and intelligible to many small countries of the world […]” (73–74). In short, mirrors reveal and masks conceal. The different labels for the border highlight certain characteristics such as self-referential ones with regard to the mirror or comparative components as is the case of the masking metaphor. ← 40 | 41 →
The geopolitical boundary is generally envisioned as a line distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens, people belonging to a nation-state and people foreign to that geopolitical entity. The notion of “borderscape,” originally a term coined in 2007 by Suvendrini Perera in her article “A Pacific Zone? (In)Security, Sovereignty, and Stories of the Pacific Borderscape” published in Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territory’s Edge and expanded upon by Prem Kumar Rajaram and Carl Grundy-Warr, blurs that binary. The scholars contend: “We use the concept ‘borderscapes’ to emphasize the inherent contestability of the meaning of the border between belonging and non-belonging” (Rajaram and Grundy-Warr xxviii). Identity aspects are essential for the definition of borderscapes. The masking function of the border is echoed again in this innovative concept: “The term borderscape reminds one of the specter of other senses of the border, of experiences, economies, and politics that are concealed” (Rajaram and Grundy-Warr xxix). Movement and action are parameters of this new spatial construct: “The borderscape is thus not a static space” (Rajaram and Grundy-Warr xxx). Bordering, belonging, and becoming are related to this conceptualization.
Borders are “alternately flexible and fixed, open and closed zones of transition as much as institutional settings” (Loucky and Alper 12). The level of permeability of the border and of the movements across it depends on the border crossers’ citizenship, ethnicity or, in short, their identity. Customs and goods are of interest, but increasingly a person’s identity is central to controlling crossborder mobility due to the perceived threat of terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants crossing the border. The power imbalance is striking at the border because of the power vested in a border guard by national sovereignty and the law. Despite all these conceptualizations of borders, borderlands, and bordering the human aspect is paramount and yet often neglected or commodified. State power, embodied by the border guard, and individual agency personified by the border crosser, clash or need to be negotiated at the border in terms of identity, citizenship, and belonging. Prospective border crossers such as “[…] migrants, refugees, tourists and shoppers” (Donnan and Wilson 107) and “line dancers” (Mayer) are required to reveal their identities. Citizenship is more crucial than the purpose of visit. Agency is linked to citizenship or immigration status and whether the border functions as bridge or barrier: “Just as borders may be both bridge and barrier between these spaces, so their crossing can be both enabling and disabling, can create opportunities or close them off” (Donnan and Wilson 107). ← 41 | 42 →
The perspectives on the Canada-U.S. border differ depending on which group one belongs to, which geographic area is involved and whether the frame of temporal reference is historical, pre-9/11 or post-9/11. As an Arab American or Arab Canadian it is harder to cross the border due to alleged subconscious or even less subtle ethnic profiling, for instance by security at airports. Security plays the most important role for Americans as opposed to Canadians. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) made this clear as crossing the border is increasingly problematic, even for mainstream Canadians and Americans. Additionally, Canadian border guards are armed, a shift from prior policy. In the asymmetric relationship between Canada and the U.S., Canada values cultural assertion against the perceived cultural domination or imperialism of the U.S. above anything else. As members of ethnic minorities, the function of the border is different. In the same vein Natives have their own sense of the bordering processes at the border. For Native Americans and First Nations the border has played, and still plays, an important role in their lives, because it is closely linked to their land and treaty rights. The Iroquois Confederacy, for instance, is entitled to enjoy special border crossing privileges, as enshrined in the Jay Treaty of 1794 and the 1814 Treaty of Ghent. However, more often than not, the United States and Canada have attempted to circumvent these entitlements (Grinde 169).
Bordering and belonging are inextricably linked. Bordering takes place constantly. A sense of belonging is linked to a sense of place, a sense of roots, of history, and genealogy. Therefore, belonging is closely related to the imagination and reminiscent of Salman Rushdie’s “Imaginary Homelands.” Some metaphors are helpful in expressing and encapsulating the essence of belonging to a nation, a culture, a group, or a place, and having a sense of self. “Belongers” (Konrad and Everitt) belong. Van Houtum underscores the need for “becoming” instead of “belonging,” of “routes” instead of “roots” (“Remapping” 415) and also invoking “human rhizomatic becomings” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 413).
Borders by their very nature lead to binaries and automatically conjure up the dichotomies of inclusion vs. exclusion, unity vs. disunity, and converging vs. diverging views and lifestyles. Nonetheless, borders and bordering are humanmade and can be changed: “We are not only victims of the border, but also the producers of it. B/ordering ourselves and Othering the Other is something we do ourselves” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 415). Borders and seeming border binaries are more complicated than evident at first glance due to the self-referential stance represented by the border and the ensuing notions of parallax and mirror.
The border between Canada and the United States works as a safeguarding line since historical times. After the American Revolution, the Loyalists sought ← 42 | 43 → refuge in Canada. During slavery via the Underground Railroad runaway slaves fled to Canada or during the Vietnam War draft resisters evaded across the border. The border was thus inscribed with various meanings for different groups of people. Indigenous people in history crossed the border depending on where they were safe from prosecution. The border works as well as a dividing line. This border conceptualization is particularly pertinent regarding culture and sovereignty. Canadians like to emphasize that they are not Americans. The border has an othering function and distinguishes between us and them. Therefore the border is closely linked to the formation of national identities. Due to globalization the function of borders and the borderlands may have changed, “[b]ut their continuing significance as a mediation space between Canada and the United States endures” (Konrad and Nicol 44).
Geopolitical boundaries and national identity construction are inextricably linked. Belonging is different from becoming, as belonging tends to fix identities, whereas becoming is more processual: “A politics of becoming, by contrast, is a politics that disavows search for essences and homes. It is a politics of movements and flows, of identity games and fragments” (Rajaram 279). This complexity drives new conceptualizations of borders, borderlands, borderscapes and bordering highlighting the importance of parallax despite seeming border paradoxes.
As a prism breaks the light into different colors, border prisms in the study of literatures and cultures highlight individual and newly emerging spatial concepts related to borders, transnationalism, and postcolonialism. This spatial turn, to employ a mobility-based metaphor, is truly a “border,” if not a full-fledged “bordering” turn. American studies have become transnational, hemispheric, or new:
The spirit of American Studies owes its life to the constant probing, by scholars of American Studies, of the boundaries of their own discipline. Whereas some scholars argued that boundaries of American Studies should continue to be defined by the borders of the U.S. nation-state, sometimes including dialogic approaches between Canada and the U.S., this nation-bound conception of American Studies was contested at the turn of the twenty-first century.
(Banerjee et al. ix)
The spatial turn transforming American studies from an overly national to a transnational practice, is genuinely a decisive force in the new conceptualization of present American studies in the United States and elsewhere in the world. ← 43 | 44 → Winfried Siemerling states that there is “an ongoing debate about the role of national boundaries in the study of literature and culture, a debate that in the case of the United States includes the question of ‘America’” (1). He foregrounds the role of borders by positing that “[…] the multiple challenge remains of actually reading across borders, charting their uneven implications, and ‘figuring’ what is articulated within, between, across, and through them” (Siemerling 1). This border-related thinking within American studies is indicative of the important conceptual role that borders play on a theoretical level aside from their geopolitical presence.
In this study North American literatures and cultures understood as comprising the literatures and cultures thriving within and beyond the United States and Canada serve as the point of departure. As all the terms employed are somewhat fuzzy and as some related theoretical constructs and concepts are contested, this framing of the spatial element in North American literatures and cultures is by design selective. Here the focus is on spatially-inflected paradigm shifts in the fields of American studies and Canadian studies. The field of Native or Indigenous studies is also addressed in the theoretical intersections. What I call “the notion of the beyond” permeates these conceptual considerations. Therefore it is counterproductive to have a linear and seemingly hierarchical listing of fields and spatial turns as the underlying structure of this chapter. However, in order not to subsume any of the three major fields discussed – American, Canadian, and Native studies – in a homogenizing and universalist category, these fields are treated each in its own right, but by highlighting parallel paradigm shifts.
‘Transnational American Studies’ appears to be a geographically expansive theme because it invites border-crossing forays. Yet although transnationalism is an approach, not a place, the word brings particular geographies to mind. Some places – such as coastal areas (as suggested by scholarship on the Atlantic World and Pacific Rim), global cities, frontiers, and borderlands – are understood to be more transnational than others. (Hoganson 123)
Spatial axioms are of paramount importance in present-day American studies. Transnational American studies include a variety of spatially-inflected approaches “beyond a literary-nationalist embrace of US exceptionalism” (Levander and Levine 3). The point of reference for conducting research within an American studies paradigm is expanded to include “border-crossing forays” (Hoganson 123). American studies encompass the transnational and spatial thanks to the “[…] extension of traditional perspectives on the United States or ← 44 | 45 → North America to comprise the larger spaces and issues of, among other, even more complex trajectories, Atlantic Studies, Hemispheric Studies, Studies of the Americas, and Pacific Studies” (Hebel 1). American studies have become a multi-faceted and spatially conceptualized field that focuses more and more on transnational, hemispheric, inter-American, or North American understandings of and labels for the field.
In this regard the spatial, cultural, and transnational turns come to the fore. Claudia Sadowski-Smith and Claire F. Fox contrast the internationalization of American studies with emerging transnational American studies concepts and underscore
unresolved tensions between attempts to be more inclusive of international perspectives on the United States on the one hand and new Americanist concerns with domestic issues of race and ethnicity and their transnational expansion through emergent geographical models, such as the Americas, the trans-Pacific, the black Atlantic, and the circum-Atlantic on the other. (6)
The “hemispheric perspective” belongs to these “emergent geographical models”. Therefore geography features prominently in the studies of literatures and cultures. The spatial turn must hence be linked to the newer “transnational” turn. Sadowski-Smith and Fox see and thus reconfigure the hemispheric approaches “draw[ing] on the wave of 1990s inter-American scholarship” (6) in the sense of “a more synthetic ‘inter-Americas studies’” (6). The hemispheric element needs to be studied separately in the fields of Latin American, Canadian, and American studies.
These “new” American studies are less nationalistic and favor the peripheries in a postcolonial fashion echoing Homi K. Bhabha, Edward Said, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Spatial concepts such as Paul Gilroy’s “black Atlantic” have been crucial. The transnational developments alter American studies in a lasting way, since “at the present moment, the field of American literary studies finds itself at an exciting and potentially revolutionary point of transformation” (Levander and Levine 2). This signals a sea change despite the roots in earlier paradigm shifts: “Gender, race, ethnic, and women’s studies helped to transform the canon during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and new developments in hemispheric, transatlantic, transnational, and postnational studies have raised questions about the very viability of American literary studies […]” (Levander and Levine 2). The former core of American studies, a geographical focus on the United States in a bounded conceptualization – albeit marked by internal diversity and multiculturalism – , is no longer a given. Spatial and border-related ← 45 | 46 → thinking has come of age and critically informs nation-bound concepts opening up new spaces of negotiation.
Transnational American studies, echoing postmodernism and particularly postcolonialism, emphasize the fringes and margins: “In other words the alienating process which initially served to relegate the post-colonial world to the ‘margin’ turned upon itself and acted to push that world through a kind of mental barrier into a position from which all experience could be viewed as uncentred, pluralistic, and multifarious” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 12). Not only geographical and disciplinary borders are transcended, but also theoretical obstacles to new conceptualizations are overcome in a postcolonial de- and ensuing recentering of former marginal literatures and approaches. These paradigm shifts have led to a spatial reconfiguration of the object of study in American studies, as the field is marked by a “[…] will to push beyond the nations’s boundaries or (as the rise of border and diaspora studies suggests) to think from their edges and peripheries” (Gillman and Gruesz 229). In the transnational or some might argue postnational age of the discipline the category of the nation is often replaced or complemented by other spatial perspectives: “The nation has become just one point on the spatial scale of American literary studies along with locality, region, nation, hemisphere, climatic zone, trade zone, and so on” (Gillman and Gruesz 229) . The local and the global exert an influence on the fresh conceptualization of American studies in a transnational vein.
Transnational Canadian studies have evolved in similar, yet different ways, as compared to American studies. Both fields highlight the transnational, but in Canada the postcolonial legacy and being in an asymmetric relationship with the United States changes the parameters. The new paradigm in Canadian studies is “Trans.Can.Lit” (Kamboureli and Miki). The transnational element is increasingly stressed: “[…] in contemporary Canadian literatures, the nature of that (necessarily non-local) ethnoscape has notably shifted from the cosy utopian nationscape of cultural nationalism to a restless borderless globalscape” (Darias-Beautell 346). However, Eva Darias-Beautell adds a cautionary note by describing it as an “oversimplification when applied to the ongoing and ever complex processes of space production that are happening in Canada today, which do not necessarily do away with the project of the nation, but make its borders more permeable to previously antagonistic notions such as globalization” (Darias-Beautell 346). Canada, Canadian studies, and Canadian literatures have to find their place in a newly emerging pattern of local versus global influences. The ← 46 | 47 → category of the national and cultural nationalism, particularly with regard to the feared cultural dominance on the part of the United States, remain salient, but increasingly only as one voice in the chorus of contemporary cultures.
The United States serves as an important opposing force in Canadian studies: “From its early origins in the 1940s, the Canadian studies project has been shaped by attempts to articulate the specificity of Canadian nation- and statehood in relation to the United States” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 14). The U.S. is crucial in any definition of Canadianness, whether national, literary, or political. Both American and Canadian studies have a national frame of reference, which holds true as well for literature: “Originally rooted, like American studies, in nationalist attempts to link literary production to the nation-state, Canadian studies have therefore always been a comparative, North American undertaking that focuses on both the United States and Canada” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 14–15). Misconceptions as to the role Canada could play in other spatial conceptualizations persist: “The exclusion of Canada from hemispheric frameworks is often grounded in assumptions about the country’s internal homogeneity and similarity to the United States” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 15). Canada is still marginalized in the discussion on hemispheric or inter-American studies.
The canonization within Canadian studies, similar to American studies, has undergone a significant shift towards the seeming margins: “‘Canada,’ with its primary inscriptions of ‘French’ or ‘English,’ its colonialist and essentialist identity markers, cannot escape a fragmentary framework” (Bannerji 327). Fragmentation and plurality are seen as a reflection of current lived experience in multicultural Canada. Multiculturalism as official policy is also controversial at times: “The Canadian multicultural model represents a vivid example of the contradictions raised by the official search for national unity in national disunity” (Darías Beautell 46). Canada is multiple and includes many internal divisions and specificities, whether the Anglo-Franco dualism, the Eastern versus the Western provinces, or the notions of the North and the indigenous presence. As an alternative to the Canadian “mosaic” scholars have also envisioned it as a “kaleidoscope.” Janice Kulyk Keefer for example sees “Canadian culture in terms of a kaleidoscope rather than a mosaic” (Nischik, “Introduction” 2, footnote). This revisioning opens up more flexible space concepts, as a kaleidoscope changes patterns and is less fixed in its plurality than a mosaic. Therefore, increased scholarly attention is paid to Black Canadian history, literature, and culture. In Moveable Margins: The Shifting Spaces of Canadian Literature this becomes clear: “Whatever margins that were established over a period of time have shifted in multiple ways over the last several decades as the corpus of Canadian literature insisted on ← 47 | 48 → being redefined and reformulated” (Kanaganayakam 2). Plurality, giving voice to marginalized groups, and critically reflecting on the role of Canada as a settler society and at the same time postcolonial country has become paramount in Canadian studies. Joanne P. Sharp distinguishes between the post-colonial temporal prefix “post” in the sense of “after” and the postcolonial critical “post” in the sense of “beyond” (Sharp 4). The name inherently refers to “colonialism” which is critiqued by a number of scholars such as Thomas King (“Godzilla”).
The concept of the border plays a paramount role in Canada, Canadian studies, and Canadian literature: “To write, represent or reflect in Canada is to write to, about, against and sometimes across the border” (Berland 474). The geopolitical boundary between Canada and the United States delimits Canadian national and cultural identity, particularly for the Anglophone majority of Canadians, as opposed to the overwhelming presence of its southern neighbor. The United States perceives the Canada-U.S. border quite differently, if at all. For U.S. residents and citizens this international boundary is perceived in terms of security, not culture. The conceptualization of the Other is very different in the asymmetrical relationship of the two nation-states: “This is the truism north of the 49th: Canadians live and write as though the border is everywhere, shadowing everything we contemplate and fear; Americans as though there is no border at all” (Berland 474). This perceptual difference also permeates Canadian studies and Canadian literatures.
Indigenous studies address questions of postcolonialism, legitimacy, the right to represent or talk for indigenous peoples (sell-out vs. impostor) and the nature of the attribute indigenous. Naming and labeling are contested. Moreover, the question must be asked if indigenous writers are writing back against neocolonial or imperial projects by the settler society in the case of Canada. Native or Indigenous studies or American Indian studies needs to be differentiated from ethnic studies, as the Native peoples precede any ethnic presence in North America and the very notion of ethnicity is socially constructed by the dominant group: “Most Indians see ethnicity as an invention, a cultural construction structured within an Anglocentric, monocultural matrix” (Cook-Lynn and Howe 151). A postcolonial critique becomes apparent and a call for an acceptance of the plurality of cultures can be heard. A crucial difference between ethnic and Native studies is the role of immigration: “Immigration is a fundamental organizing principle in Ethnic Studies and as such makes the integration of American Indian Studies into the episteme of Ethnic Studies problematic” (Cook-Lynn and ← 48 | 49 → Howe 152). Native peoples did not immigrate to the United States or Canada, but have been there since times immemorial. They are the First Peoples, reflecting Canadian aboriginal designations of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. The main distinction between ethnic groups and indigenous peoples is that the ruling powers superimposed the nation-states of the United States and Canada including bisecting tribal lands and co-opting Natives in Eurocentric bodies politic instead of granting self-determination and sovereignty: “The primary issue that frames US-Indian relations, then, is not racist exclusion from citizenship but forced incorporation into the state […]” (Rifkin 342). Natives do not necessarily want to be part of Western nation-states or vote for seemingly ongoing colonial nation-states and politics.
This study focuses primarily on the Canadian discourse of aboriginality, because as Sadowski-Smith and Fox postulate that “[t]o this day indigenous peoples constitute a much higher proportion of Canada’s total population than they do of the United States[…]” (28). The Native novel selected for this study is claimed as Canadian despite the dual heritage of its author, Thomas King as both Canadian and American and at the same time Western and Indigenous. Nonetheless, if pertinent, indigenous perspectives from the United States are included. Some tribes and bands first and foremost affiliate with their tribe and not the colonial nation-state and thus do not accept the superimposed geopolitical boundary between Canada and the United States (see Thomas King’s short story “Borders”), so designations such as U.S. or Canadian matter less, if at all. As much as panindigenous ideas can be helpful in terms of solidarity and politics, the diversity of tribal nations cannot be overlooked, hence “[a]ttention to tribal nation-specific rather than pan-indigenous contexts” (Cox 356) needs to be paid.
Globalization helps or hinders indigenous issues such as land claims, economic, and social empowerment. There is a debate whether or not Canadian indigenous peoples are truly in a postcolonial state. Indigenous writers actively contribute to that discussion and theorize about the current state of indigeneity, policy, representation and righting the wrongs of the past. For Canadian and Native writer Thomas King “postcolonial” is inadequate, imperial and still colonial (“Godzilla”). He is very critical and skeptical as to the content of this label and, as a Native writer, does not agree with it. King distinguishes four types of terms to better address and express what “postcolonial literature” supposedly signifies. He uses “associational” literature instead and the terms “tribal, interfusional, [and] polemical” (King, “Godzilla” 243). His fiction is “associational,” since the focus is on the Native community, is non-judgmental, and has no real conclusion. King summarizes his reimagining of the term post-colonial: “Unlike post-colonial, ← 49 | 50 → the terms tribal, interfusional, polemical, and associational do not establish a chronological order nor do they open and close literary frontiers. They avoid a nationalistic centre, and they do not depend on the arrival of Europeans for their raison d’être” (King, “Godzilla” 248). Therefore, these suggested terms are original to Native concepts and do not need a point of reference in the prior existence of colonialism.
Blood quantum, quotas, and tribal policy with casinos are a major source of contestation and conflict within the Native community. However, there is also an indigenous renaissance. Politically on a global scale indigenous peoples’ rights are strengthened by the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” adopted on 13 September 2007. The UN inaugurated the “Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People” in 2005. More locally, exhibits on aboriginal art between traditional and new art forms or reappropriations of aboriginal motifs such as in graffiti or hip hop are prominent in the public sphere (Vancouver Art Gallery). The same holds true regarding the visible presence of art and cultural artifacts such as totem poles, welcome figures, or aboriginal sculptures and graffiti in the Pacific Northwest. Reminders pertaining to the Native ownership of the land, such as on the campus of the University of British Columbia, are displayed publicly.
Ralph Bauer states that “[…] it may seem surprising, even paradoxical, that the study of Native American literatures in the New World remains by and large one of the fields that is most segregated along disciplinary lines defined by Eurocentric borders dividing nation-states and languages […]” (238). “Hemispheric studies” can be seen in ambivalent terms by Natives because of the process of land claims and sovereignty at a time with increasing hemispheric influences over nation-states (Bauer 238 referring to Jennifer Andrews and Priscilla Walton). Jennifer Andrews and Priscilla L. Walton, in their article “Rethinking Canadian and American Nationality: Indigeneity and the 49th Parallel in Thomas King,” see hemispheric studies as a continuation and further development of border studies as well as of purely inter-American studies in the sense of merely remodeling American studies (600). Transnational aspects are emphasized in such a hemispheric reading not without dismissing the still needed national concepts, particularly in the case of Natives, as Andrews and Walton contend: “Indeed, King’s writings – and in particular his attentiveness to the Canadian-US border-crossing experiences of his Native characters – demonstrate that the simultaneous need for and undermining of nation-state structures go hand-in-hand for indigenous peoples” (601). Native peoples need the nation-states to assert their sovereign rights and make land claims (Andrews and Walton 601). ← 50 | 51 → King presents the tensions surrounding borders for Natives and the need to negotiate their identity and position within a bordered world mostly oblivious to Native sovereignty and sense of belonging and community. Native “survivance” (Vizenor) is needed.
As territorial boundaries continue to matter in the globalized world of the 21st century, so do disciplinary borders persist in the academy. Nonetheless, new paradigms have emerged and essentialist, homogenizing forces have been challenged. Therefore, the nation as a referent is contested giving way to alternative conceptualizations such as inter-American studies or hemispheric studies. Within the newly emerging transnational American studies and transnational Canadian studies the postnational and other spatial concepts are proposed by some and contested by others depending on the subject positions and interpretive lenses regarding these paradigms. In this interdisciplinary analysis, these conceptualizations resonate particularly well: North American studies, the “worlding” notion as discussed in American and Canadian studies, comparative border studies, and finally the notion of palimpsests.
“Not associated with any particular nation, North America sheds light on ‘America’s’ shadows by evoking the limits of ‘nation,’ and the liminal spaces of its borders”
The spatial conceptualization of North America goes beyond individual nationstates. By the geographical emplacement North American studies, particularly if based on approaches within the German academe, focus specifically on Canada and the United States. This context can be a larger framework such as hemispheric or inter-American studies, whereby continental aspects of comparison and contrast are included. Winfried Siemerling posits: “In the collocation ‘North America’ the second word refers clearly to a continent, not a country, and it includes cultures in North (of) America like those of Canada” (1). Canada is therefore not the junior partner but the equally important partner in North American studies within a larger hemispheric framework. He stresses the relational and decentered aspect of “North America,” re-placing the term “America” as a continental designation and not taking it as a synonym for a powerful nation-state: “North America is a relational designation that marks it as Northern part of a larger entity, which it does not claim to stand for or represent – yet which it could ← 51 | 52 → certainly draw on for contextual and differential self-understanding alike” (Sie-merling 1). The United States is thus not to be erased, but rather seen as one out of several analytical axioms in the study of the literatures and cultures situated in the geography of North America. Thanks to the relational positioning also other points of comparison present themselves such as oceanic perspectives: “This very emphasis on relational articulation invites as well other relational locations, for example in various Atlantic perspectives or those of the Pacific Rim” (Sie-merling 1). The benefit of a designation such as “North America” and by extension “North American studies” is the co-presence and co-significance of multiple perspectives, Canadian and U.S. viewpoints, within a larger hemispheric setting. No one country is privileged as the center from which everything else flows, but several centers complement each other.
Latin America and Canada have comparable perspectives on the United States. The nation-state is seen as a protection against U.S. domination and imperialism, “a guarantor of sovereignty from the United States” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 8). However, the hemispheric turn is not perceived as a “threat” in Canada (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 20) in contrast to Latin America, where this turn is linked to the threat of globalization and “Americanization” (Brunner qtd. in Sadowski-Smith and Fox 8). As opposed to American studies, Latin American and Canadian studies use transnational approaches by default:
Since their inception, Latin American and Canadian studies have encompassed comparative ‘inter-American’ or ‘North American’ orientations without being themselves scholarship on the United States. The two fields are thus well situated to challenge many of the exceptionalist premises that, despite New Americanist efforts, continue to inform post-national American studies work on the hemisphere. (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 7)
According to Sadowski-Smith and Fox the new paradigms within American studies are still falling short of a truly transnational and hemispheric approach, where the United States is not used as a frame against which everything is measured. This viewpoint needs to be seen in context and be considered from various angles in order to achieve a fair balance in the assessment of the development of American studies as a field. The influence of postcolonialism has paved the way for reimagining American studies, because these “postcolonial rethinkings of US ethnicity within Chicana/o-Latina/o and border studies frameworks have become central to the emergence of New Americanist positions and more recently, to the hemispheric perspective within American studies” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 20).
Canadian scholar Albert Braz posits that Canada is often overlooked in conceptualizations of hemispheric and inter-American studies. Regarding the ← 52 | 53 → concept of North America, Braz’s “North of America: Racial Hybridity and Canada’s (Non)Place in Inter-American Discourse” containing the word “(non) place” is pertinent. Braz bemoans the lack of Canadian visibility in “inter-American discourse” (“North” 79). He relates this “general elision of Canada” (Braz, “North” 80) to two causes: “First, Canada remains extremely ambivalent about its spatial location. Second, hemispheric studies have become increasingly oriented along a US/Hispanic America axis” (Braz, “North” 80). Canada matters in a North American and hemispheric context thanks to its multiracial precedent and its sheer size. He calls for “bringing the north of America into America” (Braz, “North” 80). Braz argues that in Latin America many people allegedly use the term “the United States of North America” (“North” 81, emphasis added). The adjective North equates North America with the United States at the expense of Mexico and Canada. Even though the appropriation of the term “America” as a synonym for the United States in common parlance is undone, Latin Americans thus commit the same appropriation as the U.S. does with Latin America by using the term “North America” solely for the United States. One misnomer is replaced by another. The United States remains a hegemonic state in the northern part of North America. A misguided attribution of the term North America for the United States in order to avoid the erroneous labeling of the United States as America therefore also needs to be avoided. Canada would otherwise be worse off than Mexico, as “Mexico is absorbed into the Latin American world. Canada, in contrast, is driven off the map” (Braz, “North” 81). Geopolitically, Canada would become invisible in such a scenario and cease to be taken into account in the hemisphere or North America.
Braz juxtaposes García Márquez’s comment on the common usage of the term America for the United States with Canada’s place in that equation. Braz posits “[…] by virtue of both its invisibility to the other inter-American states and its own lack of identification with the larger land mass where it happens to be situated, at the beginning of the 21st century, Canada remains largely a country without a continent” (“North” 86). Canada’s “ambiguity about its spatial location” (“North” 86) is probably due to being located at the outer edge of the continent and having only one major neighbor along its land border, the United States. The U.S. is bigger in terms of inhabitants, more powerful in terms of military force and economic production and climatically at an advantage. Canada’s asymmetric relationship with its overbearing neighbor is one contributing factor to its marginalization in the hemisphere. According to Braz, Canada is disengaged in the western hemisphere due to location-related ambivalence (“North” 86). Focusing on North American studies instead of hemispheric or inter-American studies ← 53 | 54 → could thus offer a re-evaluation of Canada’s place in the North of America transcending outdated nationalist paradigms.
“Worlding,” though a multifaceted and diverse term, is a salient notion to rethink the study of literatures and cultures in a North American context and beyond. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak credits Martin Heidegger as the source of inspiration for her concept of “worlding of a world”: “My notion of the ‘worlding of a world’ upon what must be assumed to be uninscribed earth is a vulgarization of Martin Heidegger’s idea […]” (Spivak, “Women’s Texts” 260). She elaborates on her understanding of worlding in a colonial context marked by power differentials and warns against a “worlding” process: “What is at stake is a ‘worlding,’ the reinscription of a cartography that must (re)present itself as impeccable. I have written […] of the contradiction involved in the necessary colonialist presupposition of an uninscribed earth” (Spivak, “Rani” 263–64). Spivak suggests that there is an “epistemic violence of the worlding of worlds” (Spivak, “Rani” 267). “Worlding” entails these characteristics, but can also be perceived differently.
On the one hand, particularly from a Canadian perspective, “worlding” is understood according to Spivak’s definition and usage of the concept. Yet, on the other hand, “worlding” is reinvigorated and re-read in contrast to comparative frameworks, for instance in the research conducted by Susan Gillman and Kirsten Silva Gruesz. This second notion of “worlding” encompasses understandings of global or globalized literatures, also echoed in John Muthyala’s article “Reworlding America: The Globalization of American Studies,” in which Muthyala calls for “remapping the disciplinary boundaries of American studies and the reconceptualization of American history […]” (99). Aside from “worlding” and “reworlding,” Leahy also suggests the “idea of ‘counter-worlding’” (63) in analogy to and extending the “notion of ‘counter-discourse’” (Leahy 63).
Cynthia Sugars in “Worlding the (Postcolonial) Nation: Canada’s Americas” ponders the question of Canada and Canadian studies in hemispheric or inter-American, in short in transnational and postnational, conceptualizations. She also discusses the special situation of Canada as a settler society and, simultaneously, postcolonial nation-state which, additionally, is situated in the shadow of the superpower of the United States. Sugars postulates that her article’s title echoes Spivak’s term of “worlding,” used originally with regard to the “Third World” (Sugars 45). According to Sugars “worlding” in the sense of Spivak “describe[s] the ways colonized space is made to exist as part of an imperialist, internationalist world order” (Sugars 45). The danger becomes apparent that “[i]n similar ← 54 | 55 → ways the postcolonial might be understood to be ‘worlded,’ and hence defused, in the context of international space” (Sugars 46). So Sugars cautions that “[t]he worlding of Canada would seem to render the national location irrelevant, or at best amorphous” (47). Along the same lines, Herb Wylie suggests a compromise between multiple forces in order “[t]o steer between the Scylla of a homogenizing, parochial localism and the Charybdis of a potentially imperializing hemispheric scope” (58). Hemispheric concepts are thus no panacea and need to be evaluated from multiple perspectives.
In “Worlding America: The Hemispheric Text-Network” Gillman and Gruesz state that in American studies the labels “comparative” and “transnational” have become omnipresent and that there is indeed a “proliferation of adjectives like comparative and transnational in recent American studies” (Gillman and Gruesz 228). These two terms are similar yet different. The scholars illustrate the different connotations of each adjective by referring to a metaphorical drawing-compass. According to this analogy, comparative American studies use one fixed center from which to perceive similarities and differences with other coordinates:
Imagine a drawing-compass with the sharp, fixed arm resting upon one point while the movable arm extends outward, marking variably smaller or larger circles around that center. Figuratively speaking, the comparative Americanist positions such a compass over a map of the worlds, planting its fixed arm firmly in the United States, then adjusts the other to encircle a different geographical space […].
(Gillman and Gruesz 228)
The critique entailed in this analogy is the U.S.-centric approach which refers to the United States as the normative center of comparison. Furthermore, it implies a random or opportunistic approach reminiscent of neocolonial ways of carving up the world by means of geometry and ensuing lines on maps. With the help of a geometric tool, a ruler, the world was divided and ruled by empires. Consequently, American studies characterized by “deeply problematic nationalist assumptions underlying the discipline” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 5–6) are increasingly conceptionalized internationally. Gillman and Gruesz outline how a drawing-compass approach in and of itself must not be a means to perpetuate U.S.-centric perspectives, but can be used equally as one way to broaden the scope of analysis and decenter the disciplinary viewpoints. This different approach is the transnational one: “To extend our analogy: a transnational analysis would draw multiple circles, replanting the foot of the drawing-compass in different, central points, moving across different scales of observation” (Gillman and Gruesz 229). This multiplicity of perspectives is the cornerstone of transnational American studies. ← 55 | 56 →
Gillman and Gruesz go even beyond this concept after having shown the implications of the designations “comparative” and “transnational.” They highlight “the inadequacy of the term transnational” (Gillman and Gruesz 230). In so doing, they follow Christopher Connery and Rob Wilson’s proposition to use “worlding” (Gillman and Gruesz 230) as a prefix, “showing [the nation] to be simply one point on a scale rather than the determining unit of analysis” (Gillman and Gruesz 230). The nation, to be precise the United States as a nation-state, is no longer the sole point of reference for analysis. In “Worlding” American studies the –ing form is used to underline the contrast with the word “world” which functions as an attribute in contested notions such as world literature: “The gerundive form worlding deliberately detaches itself from the nominative world, which for many drifts dangerously toward a totalizing ethos of global homogenization and commodification” (Gillman and Gruesz 230). The new approach of “worlding” stresses the evolving nature of American studies and the continuous shifting of multiple perspectives: “Ultimately, then, we want to push American literary studies beyond anti-exceptionalism, beyond comparativism, and even beyond the transnational turn, to think in a worlded way” (Gillman and Gruesz 230) . The notion of the “beyond” is at the fore and constitutes the core of transcending preconceived and limited notions: “A worlded analysis would plant the foot of the drawing-compass somewhere and sometime else than an ‘America’ conceived of as the inevitable center and beginning” (Gillman and Gruesz 230). The United States is drawn as “en-compass-ed” in the “beyond.”
A “worlding” perspective or “Globalizing Literary Studies” (Giles 384) present themselves as new approaches. Rachel Adams, in “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism,” introduces the idea of “globalization of American literature” (249). She postulates: “Since the 1990s, many critics have proposed that nation-bound categories of literary study be replaced by alternative geographical frames such as the Caribbean, the Americas, the Black, the trans- or circum-Atlantic, the Pacific Rim, continents, hemispheres, and worlds” (Adams 268). This “creative remapping” is productive in literary analyses and leads to a shift in attention towards marginalized authors’ innovative insights regarding established works of literature (Adams 268). The danger lies in the perpetuation of binaries; hence this study’s goal is to go beyond border binaries by implementing transnational concepts: “The potential pitfalls of hemispheric American studies lurk, then, in any attempt to transpose the age-old epistemological binaries that have burdened American studies (culture/nature, ideology/experience, Europe/ America, Self/Other, otra/nuestra) to a hemispheric scale” (Bauer 242). As a consequence, these new approaches to the study of literatures and cultures in North ← 56 | 57 → America need not fall prey to the very notions they set out to prevent in the first place. Even though “nation-based approaches to literary study had simply become superannuated” (Giles 384), concepts still need to be grounded without recurring to nationalist paradigms or privileging a center of power.
The spatial or rather transnational turn in American studies is indeed a “border turn,” thanks to the proliferation of “border” paradigms. The border turn epitomizes the spatial turn. Nicole Waller cautions regarding the transnational as a panacea, while fully embracing it:
The question becomes, then, whether and how it is possible to think beyond the national without becoming blind to its persistence, its resilience, and the numerous acts of its reinscription, and how exactly to make the tensions between the national and the transnational fruitful for our study of American culture. (Waller 247)
Waller foregrounds the opportunities inherent in in-between spaces and border-passing literary characters.
Mita Banerjee describes the paradoxical situation of post-9/11 American studies. She observes the dual phenomenon of “the seeming obsolescence of borders and a resurgence of border surveillance after the events of September 11, 2001” which in turn requires conceptualizing “transnational American studies” in the light of “the renewed importance of borders after 9/11” (Banerjee 7). The seeming opposite “between a political redrawing of borders and the simultaneous borderlessness of American studies as an academic discipline” (Banerjee 7) needs to be negotiated. She concludes: “An American studies without borders may hence have to be approached not with caution, but with care” (Banerjee 20). A further reminder is not to merely use terms such as border crossings and other spatial markers as buzzwords, but to highlight the meaning of these concepts:
In this postmodern era of contested boundaries, border transgressions, building bridges, remapped geography, and unbounded nations, scholars are focusing on conjunctures, disjunctures, intersections, and interconnections. Noticeable enough, most of the academic discourse in recent decades is rarely devoid of such theoretical jargon. (Acosta-Belén 240–41)
This study’s goal is to go beyond mere jargon and use border-related concepts for a distinct purpose.
Sadowski-Smith proposes “new border studies frameworks” encompassing comparative, international, and transdisciplinary approaches (275). The humanities and social sciences complement one another in this endeavor. She ← 57 | 58 → distinguishes “border studies in the US humanities” (Sadowski-Smith 276) such as Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera from border studies in the social sciences. Sadowski-Smith foregrounds the importance of the U.S. variety of border studies in the humanities as “central to the reconfiguration of US American studies beyond their original focus on the US nation-state into hemispheric and transnational perspectives” (276). She further postulates that transnational approaches include a number of different concepts that, however, are not often linked:
Transnational scholarship often examines connections between US ethnic and racial communities and their geographies of origin – within models such as the Circum-Atlantic, the Black Atlantic, and the Trans-Pacific – and includes foreign-based scholarly perspectives on the United States (Desmond & Domínguez, 1996; Patell, 1999), though few connections between these various frameworks exist. (Sadowski-Smith 276)
Sadowski-Smith underscores the importance of “border studies paradigms as both critical methodology and geographical perspective” (278). She concludes:
Comparative border studies may constitute one such approach for situating American studies within global dialogues and transnational contexts that can bring together humanities approaches to borders as sites for the critique of US nationalism and empire with the increasingly more comparative emphasis in the social sciences on international boundaries. (Sadowski-Smith 284)
This mutually beneficial confluence between new complementary and transcending paradigms in both the humanities, social sciences, and beyond is further deepened in the discussion of remapping and rewriting strategies highlighting palimpsests.
Shelley Fisher Fishkin comments on developments after her call for the inclusion of transnational perspectives in American studies in the fall of 2004. She states that “the vast body of work in transnational American Studies that has appeared since 2004 tends to fall into three rough, interrelated categories” (Fishkin, “Mapping” 31). These categories comprise “broadening the frame,” “ cross-fertilization,” and “renewed attention to travel and to how texts travel” (Fishkin, “Mapping” 31). Fishkin links the presidency of Barack Obama with his international background to “an opportune time for scholars in American Studies to reject parochial approaches to your object of study in favor of a broader view” (“Mapping” 45). She suggests “a potentially fruitful ‘next step’ for the field of transnational American Studies – a step designed to develop new ways of collaborating across borders ← 58 | 59 → and thinking beyond borders” (Fishkin, “Mapping” 45). In conjunction with rapidly increasing digitization of documents, Fishkin proposes the development of “Digital Palimpsest Mapping Projects – DPMPs for short,” and pronounced “as ‘Deep Maps’” (“Mapping” 47). These multifaceted Deep Maps would share certain characteristics, despite their heterogeneity: links to digitized materials, a “focus on topics that cross borders, and would include links to texts and images in different locations,” and accessibility, for instance through open access (“Mapping” 47). The mapping component according to Fishkin is palimpsestical:
Deep Maps are palimpsests in that they allow multiple versions of events, of texts, of phenomena (both primary and secondary) to be written over each other, with each version still visible under the layers. They involve mapping, since the form of display […] would be a geographical map that links the text, artifact, phenomenon, or event to the location that produced it, that responded to it or that is connected with it in some way. They are projects rather than products because they are open-ended, collaborative works-in-progress. (Fishkin, “Mapping” 47–48)
She concludes: “By requiring collaboration – across borders, languages, nations, continents, and disciplines – Digital Palimpsest Mapping Projects would bring our interdependence – as scholars, as citizens, as human beings – to the foreground” (Fishkin, “Mapping” 66).
The power of geographical boundaries and symbolically inscribed borders in society derives from the mutual acceptance of the border and its ensuing qualities. If such acceptance is not given the powerful elites ensure the meaning and the related consequences of the border by marking, enforcing and maintaining it, adding “the invention of tradition” (Hobsbawm and Ranger). Seemingly the border has always been there and is a given. It is a non-issue for debate and portrayed as natural. As linguist Ferdinand de Saussure already pointed out, signifier and signified are arbitrary. Meaning is attributed. Maps depicting states and migration in a reductionist and selective process to further political goals are complicit in “geopower” and “cartopolitics, drawing-table politics” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 412). Van Houtum’s observation regarding “cartopolitics” is applicable to colonial geopolitics in North America. The Native presence in North America was colonized, subdued, re- and dislocated and ultimately erased in terms of power, sovereignty, and self-determination. This is reminiscent of the cautionary note that “where borderlines and dots become dominant, people are erased. Cartopolitics in its core, therefore, is cartographic cleansing” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 412). This “cartographic cleansing” amounts to Native cleansing and cultural, if not actual genocide in terms of the indigenous nations in North America. ← 59 | 60 →
The Western practice of mapping is either an instrument in perpetuating outdated, linear and hegemonic perceptions, or it contributes to undoing colonial legacies and righting the wrongs of the past by writing back thanks to “remapping” or “unmapping” and by using innovative ways to depict movements (van Houtum), flows, and circles. In the same vein Graham Huggan in “Decolonizing the Map: Post-Colonialism, Post-Structuralism and the Cartographic Connection” posits that in post-colonial literatures maps are deconstructed and then reconstructed differently in a post-colonial manner. He uses Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic maps as case in point of more organic maps. Niall Lucy points out the difference between an “arborescent” and a “rhizomatic” book (14). Trees are marked by roots and hierarchies, whereas a grass-like “rhizome” “is always on the move, always forming alliances with the world outside itself as it keeps on spreading across and across the surfaces of things” (Lucy 14). Rhizomes are linked to “heterogeneity” (Lucy 14).
Deleuze and Guattari enumerate a number of principles regarding the “rhizome”: connection and heterogeneity (96), multiplicity (97), asignifying rupture (99), cartography and decalcomania (101). Particularly the principle of cartography is of significance in this context. With regard to rhizomes the philosophers posit: “The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing” (Deleuze and Guattari 102). They postulate with regard to maps: “The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation” (Deleuze and Guattari 102). Moreover, according to the philosophers, “[a] map has multiple entryways” and “[t]he map has to do with performance” (Deleuze and Guattari 102). They further foreground the notion of the beyond encapsulated in the rhizome:
The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots. Unlike the graphic arts, drawing, or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari 112)
Maps and boundaries are inextricably linked. Boundaries are tangible implementation and physical representation of seemingly factual maps. However, maps are seen as exposing a significant bias and perpetuating the power and literally the perspective of the cartographer and the mapmaker’s commissioners. A map is more of a “palimpsest” (Huggan 120), being rewritten and represented time ← 60 | 61 → and again. Native mapmaking practices are diametrically opposed to the western way of cartography: “For many American Indian peoples, the land was often its own best map and demanded knowing first on its own terms, almost as if the topography itself possessed some sort of volitional authority” (Nabokov 242). The Native procedure is as follows: “Before representing it, for instance, some native traditions expected you first to listen to its stories and learn its names, to follow it with your feet or to find a way to dream at its most propitious locations” (Nabokov 242). Natives first participated in “a range of such knowledge-engendering practices with the landscape” (Nabokov 242). The opposite was practiced by non-Natives, “appropriating space by first naming and drawing it, and only then by striding over or settling what was thereby already your own(ed) conception” (Nabokov 242). The Native way is the “map-as-experience” (Nabokov 242). Cultural specificity is entailed in mapping: “What needs general recognition is that maps are purely conventional, that convention determines perception, and that this perception is culturally specific” (Belyea 140). Native maps do not fall into the trap of framing and creating grids as opposed to Eurocentric colonial mappings: “The most striking and important characteristic of native maps is that their network of lines is unframed, hence independent of a spatial grid or ground. In contrast, the frame of a traditional European map determines its form and function as a spatial construct […]” (Belyea 142).
Critical cartography exhibits “an ethos and a practice, a Kantian process of questioning” (Crampton and Krygier 24). The critical potential of this approach lies with “map artists,” “everyday mappings,” “counter-mappings,” “map hacking,” and “theoretic critique” (Crampton and Krygier 25). Van Houtum challenges the reductionist and “static” depiction of “borders as two-dimensional lines on a map” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 407). Three-dimensional maps are best perceived as globes. The line can become a circle, the two-dimensional map a multidimensional globe shaping new processes of mental mapping. Other multidimensional possibilities open up through social and other interactive networks, particular in the virtual and global world of the internet. This is in contrast to older two-dimensional grid-like conceptions of “state-border gridism” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 408). Van Houtum foregrounds the pervasiveness of the “state-grid approach to mapping borders” perpetuating people’s perceptions of borders and maps along the lines of “the nineteenth-century ideal of the nation-state” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 407). Grids in all their forms are mechanisms of control that help to create and maintain an illusion of order in a globalized, interconnected world of creative chaos and unpredictability. Questions of power and agency due to hierarchy and implicit value judgments need ← 61 | 62 → to be reconceptualized. Mapping is complicit with our mindset: “A map cannot escape being productive; it fabricates an image, a lens on the world. It frames our minds and thereby our world” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 410).
Maps and metanarratives constructing and perpetuating nation-states with clear-cut boundaries complement one another in order to cement the power of the nation-state. Both the oral enunciation, i.e. the story-telling (van Houtum, “Remapping” 412), and the visual representation convey a reductionist and simplified version of the “transnational complexity and multiplicity” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 407) that borders, bordering, and border crossers exhibit. Just as writing back in a postcolonial sense or as a counter-narrative, counter-mapping is also relevant (Wood) to shift our attention, our “mindscape” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 406) to the silences and absences not represented in the stories and maps of the nation-state. A postcolonial technique is Edward Said’s “contrapuntal” concept. Remapping could entail the conceptual movement from maps to metaphors, metaphors being more fluid and imaginative, and conceptualized as “the art of unmapping borders” in the sense of to “think, imagine, feel, and narrate” (van Houtum and Strüver 21). It is van Houtum who calls for “remapping” borders. He counters the enforced state-mapping with a call for an “ethics of aesthetics” (van Houtum, “Remapping” 416) regarding visual representations of spaces and places and “a choreography of space” “instead of only cartography” (van Houtum, “Remappping” 414). He proposes the transcending of a static map by creating “dynamic” people-focused maps. The notion of the beyond thus informs mappings, maps, border practices and border processes.
Borders and Border binaries are represented and transcended in significant ways in contemporary Canada-U.S. border fiction. Characters cross, subvert, maintain or draw borders and boundaries, live in the borderlands or negate and negotiate border binaries, not least for instance between the White and Native worlds. Postcolonial and transnational readings, critical and spatial viewpoints are necessary lenses for the analysis of border fiction. The goal is to examine why and how borders, borderlands and border binaries, in short de/bordering, are represented in contemporary border fiction. One direction is the use of liminal figures such as tricksters and ghosts in a magical realist vein. Additionally, the predominance of border themes, indicating a special bordering turn, contributes to a spatially informed reading. The borderlands or interstitial spaces transcend borders as does the border setting. The plot of border novels highlights remapping and rewriting strategies. The fictional world is remapped, reconceptualized and rewritten. Borders and boundaries are blurred and undermined. Fiction focusing on borders, borderlands, and de/bordering thus informs new ← 62 | 63 → conceptualizations of spatial processes and practices in times of globalization and concomitant regionalization. Palimpsest-like the maps of research agendas and urgent issues are written and rewritten according to the phenomena and requirements of the present period. New approaches at the interface of literatures, cultures, and borders are therefore required to respond satisfactorily to the complexity and multiplicity of the present situation as imagined and depicted in the border fictions located along the Canada-U.S. border.
Theory supports and deepens the analysis of the novels and in so doing also in turn furthers the underlying theoretical frame in an interdisciplinary way. In this study the theory in the fields of transnational American studies, Canadian studies, indigenous studies and border studies is applied conjointly to combine spatial, cultural, and literary elements in the three contemporary North American border texts. The focus on borders, borderlands, and bordering in different contexts and settings, though grounded along the Canada-U.S. border and in the borderlands, unites this study. Humanities and social sciences merge perspectives in order to better understand the nature of and reasoning behind lingering borders and bordering in the globalized twenty-first century. The analysis of fiction illuminates the mental constructs in the social construction of borders and the human need for “bordering, ordering and othering” (van Houtum and van Naerssen). ← 63 | 64 → ← 64 | 65 →
14 American Studies Association’s Annual Meeting “Crossroads of Cultures,” held in Atlanta, Georgia on November 11–14, 2004.
15 E.g. Sadowski-Smith, Claudia. “Border Fictions.” The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction. Gen. Ed. Brian W. Shaffer. Vol. II: Twentieth-Century American Fiction. Patrick O’Donnell (Vol. Ed.), David W. Madden (Vol. Ed.), Justus Nieland (Vol. Ed.). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 465–69.