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Rewriting Apocalypse in Canadian Fiction

Rewriting Apocalypse in Canadian Fiction

Marlene Goldman
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Rewriting Apocalypse in Canadian Fiction
    Book Description:

    Rewriting Apocalypse in Contemporary Canadian Fiction is the first book to explore the literary, psychological, political, and cultural repercussions of the apocalypse in the fiction of Timothy Finley, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Thomas King, and Joy Kogawa. While writers from diverse nations have adopted and adapted the biblical narrative, these Canadian authors introduce particular twists to the familiar myth of the end. Goldman demonstrates that they share a marked concern with purgation of the non-elect, the loss experienced by the non-elect, and the traumatic impact of apocalyptic violence. She also analyzes Canadian apocalyptic accounts as crisis literature written in the context of the Cold War - written against the fear of total destruction.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7294-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Apocalyptic Paradigm (pp. 3-28)

    The apocalyptic paradigm pervaded Canadian literature from its beginnings. In documenting their experience, the explorers and settlers who left the Old World and arrived in the territory north of the forty-ninth parallel drew on the narrative of apocalypse - a story whose key vision portrays the “old world” being replaced by the new. This conceptual substitution, however, was never entirely successful, creating an ironic tension. For even though the explorers and settlers invoked apocalypse, the myth of a decadent earthly world abruptly and violently transformed into a perfect heavenly world never accurately defined the Canadian experience - an experience perhaps...

  5. 1 The End(s) of Myth: Apocalyptic and Prophetic Visions in Headhunter (pp. 29-52)

    In Timothy Findley’s first novel,The Last of the Crazy People(1967), an eleven-year-old boy becomes convinced that the end of the world is fast approaching. His belief in the world’s imminent destruction is instilled by the prophetic visions of a drunken servant. In her booming voice, she warns him: ‘“No one knows, ‘cept they knows it’s coming. Arm’geddon ... Like for a moment it’s gonna be real, real, terrible, hon ... But for those of us in this perditionnow,it will surely be bless’d relief”’ (98-9). The power of the apocalyptic narrative works on the child’s imagination, and at...

  6. 2 Allegories of Ruin and Redemption: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (pp. 53-82)

    Timothy Findley’sHeadhunterinvokes virtually all of the topoi of apocalypse, including the narrative’s recursive and panoramic structure, its preoccupation with representing the signs of terror and decadence, and its Manichean division between the elect and the nonelect. Of course, Findley’s text gives the biblical story a contemporary twist by mapping the corrupt, ancient empire of Babylon onto a wellknown Canadian city, Toronto the Good, and by emphasizing the permeable boundary between the elect and the non-elect. As the novel demonstrates, Toronto has been tainted by the legacy of imperialism - a legacy vividly depicted by the novel’s central intertext,...

  7. 3 Margaret Atwood’s “Hair-ball”: Apocalyptic Cannibal Fiction (pp. 83-100)

    The previous chapters explored the ways in whichHeadhunterandThe English Patientinvoke a host of characteristic apocalyptic features. Rather than mobilize these features to recreate a full-blown apocalypse, however, both fictions rely on familiar apocalyptic topoi to launch a critique of apocalyptic eschatology.Headhunterchallenges the apocalyptic narrative by blurring the boundary between the elect and the non-elect, thereby calling into question apocalyptic notions of perfection as well as the category of the Saints of God. WhileThe English Patientmaintains the latter category, it subverts the logic of apocalypse by adopting and adapting allegory, another of its key tropes....

  8. 4 Mapping and Dreaming: Resisting Apocalypse in Green Grass, Running Water (pp. 101-127)

    Contemporary Canadian writers take great pains to emphasize the trauma and devastation instigated by apocalyptic thinking and to demonstrate the necessity of challenging the apocalyptic paradigm, the visionary tool Western culture overtly and covertly uses to establish meaning. Whereas Findley’sHeadhunterand Ondaatje’sThe English Patientchampion prophetic eschatology as an alternative to apocalypse, Atwood’s “Hairball” offers no such alternative and, as a result, highlights the disaster that ensues when apocalyptic violence goes unchallenged. Owing to the emphasis on the figure of the Wendigo, Atwood’s story alludes to the fact that apocalyptic violence was used to pave the way for Canada’s...

  9. 5 Broken Letters: Obasan as Traumatic Apocalyptic Testimony (pp. 128-160)

    All of the works in this study interrogate the secular view of apocalypse as a fanciful biblical story that addresses the problem of evil by fabricating images of the violent destruction of the earthly world and the creation of a new and perfect heavenly world. As these fictions illustrate, apocalypse - far from being a quaint literary artifact that merely describes the categories of good and evil - functions as a vital, discursive mechanism for theinscriptionof these categories. More important, rather than contain violence in the realm of art or imagination, these texts, owing to their emphasis on...

  10. CONCLUSION: Adrift after the Apocalypse (pp. 161-168)

    Fashioning an ending for a book about fictions that advocate skepticism about endings is, admittedly, a tricky business. However, in light of this study’s findings that it is dangerous to ignore the myth of the end, it seems prudent to offer some concluding remarks. This study began with the desire to explore the treatment of the apocalyptic paradigm from the ex-centric perspective of contemporary Canadian writers. In effect, their works confirm Ronald Granofsky’s observation that 1945 was “the year a certain innocence ended for the human race, a Second Fall” (2). Using the grammar of apocalypse outlined in the introduction,...

  11. Notes (pp. 169-190)
  12. Bibliography (pp. 191-202)
  13. Index (pp. 203-214)