The Canadian Extreme
Professor Naomi Mandel
this class we will read novels by contemporary authors from Canada and
Québec. These novels participate in the current global phenomenon of
the contemporary extreme. Novels of the contemporary extreme are set in
a world both similar to and different from our own – a hyperreal, often
apocalyptic world progressively invaded by popular culture, permeated
with technology, and dominated by destruction, a reality in which time
and space are zones to be inhabited, not obstacles to be overcome, and
in which the subject is composed of fragments, dissected by difference,
and evacuated by affect. In this world violence – often the most stable
element – operates as ethos.
Our approach to these novels will
be informed by juxtaposition, as we situate English and French Canadian
authors in dialogue with other contemporary extreme novelists from
France and the U.S. Thus, we will read sections of U.S. author Bret
Easton Ellis’ famously misogynistic novel American Psycho
(arguably the progenitor of the contemporary extreme novel), view the
film (adapted from the novel by Canadian director Mary Harron), and
consider these texts together with Québécoise author Nelly Arcan’s
controversial Whore. Does
Arcan’s novel offer an alternative vision to Ellis’ bleak one, or is
its narrator complicit in the culture that, in Ellis’ novel, produces
such murderous results? Turning to Hélène Rioux’s Reading Nijinsky
(in which the narrator, a translator of romance novels, embarks on a
translation of the memoir of a serial killer whose sadism is comparable
to that of American Psycho’s
protagonist), we will explore what it means to encounter violence in
and through a literary text. In the course of this discussion, we will
explore issues of authority, authorship, sexuality, violence, and the
nature of the human.
Moving to Douglas Coupland (Microserfs) and Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake), which we will read together with sections from Boys Like Her: Transfictions by the Canadian performance group Taste This and The Elementary Particles
by French novelist Michel Houellebecq, we will address how these works
engage with science, technology, sex and desire, exploring the
implications of this engagement for the posthuman landscape each work
depicts. Does Coupland’s novel, which describes the lives and loves of
computer programmers at Microsoft, and later in a start-up company in
Silicone Valley, herald Atwood’s bleak version of the end of humanity
in Oryx and Crake? And does
Atwood’s transgenic apocalypse fundamentally differ from the logical
and peaceful evolution beyond sex and desire – and hence, beyond
humanity – that The Elementary Particles describes? Do the border and gender crossings described in Boys Like Her offer
an alternative vision? What can these novelists tell us about nature,
technology, the body, its future, and the status of the real?
this course stages a dialogue between Québécois literature and
literature from the U.S., and Anglo-Canadian literature and literature
from France, it invites consideration of the two distinct literatures
of Canada and the relation of each to the global phenomenon of the
contemporary extreme. If, as Linda Hutcheon has suggested in The Canadian Postmodern
(1988), postmodernism is uniquely suited to approach Canadian
literature, is extremity particularly situated for approaching
contemporary literature from Canada and Québec?
Canadian literature and film:
American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Lion's Gate. 2000.
Arcan. Nelly. Whore. . Trans. Bruce Benderson. New York: Black Cat, 2005.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Doubleday, 2003. (translated into Hebrew as וניאלה בז)
Coupland, Douglas. Microserfs. New York: Random House, 1994.
Rioux, Hélène. Reading Nijinsky. . Trans. Jonathan Kaplansky. XYZ Publishing: Montreal, 2001.
Camilleri, Anna, Ivan E. Coyote, Zoe Eakle, Lyndell Montgomery. Boys Like Her: Transfictions. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1998.
Non-Canadian literature and film:
Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho. New York: Vintage, 1991.
Houellebecq, Michel. The Elementary Particles. . Trans. Frank Wynne. New York: Random House, 2000.
Cut. Dir. Chan-Wook Park. Three … Extremes. Lion's Gate, 2003.
Coupland, Douglas. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Durand, Alain-Philippe and Naomi Mandel, eds. Novels of the Contemporary Extreme. New York: Continuum, 2006. (selections)
Delvaux, Martine. "The Exit of a Generation: The 'Whatever' Philosophy." The Midwest Quarterly 40.2 (1999): 171-186.
Kroetsch, Robert. “Reading Across the Border.” In Arnold E. Davidson, ed. Studies on Canadian Literature: Introductory and Critical Essays. New York: The Modern Language Associate of America, 1990. 338-343.
Stratford, Phillip. All The Polarities: Comparative Studies in Contemporary Canadian Novels in French and English. Toronto: ECW, 1986. 96-109.
Abecassis, Jack I. "The Eclipse of Desire: L'Affaire Houellebecq." MLN 115.4 (2000): 801-826.
Paula Ruth and Lorna M. Irvine. "Pre- and post-mortem: regendering and
serial killing in Rioux, Dandurand, De and Atwood." American Review of Canadian Studies 29.1 (1999): 119-139.
Barbara. "(Un)tying the Knot of Patriarchy: Agency and Subjectivity in
the Autobiographical Writings of France Théoret and Nelly Arcan." In
Rak, Julie, ed. Auto/biography in Canada: Critical Directions. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier UP, 2005.
Sutherland, Sharon and Sarah Swan. "Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake: Canadian Post-9/11 Worries." From Solidarity to Schisms: 9/11 and After in Fiction and Film from Outside the US. Cara Cilano, ed. Amsterdam: Rudopi, 2009. 219-235.
Thompson, Graham. "Frank Lloyd Oop: Microserfs, Modern Migration, and the Architecture of the Nineties." Canadian Review of American Studies 31 (2001): 119-135.