Playful citizens: utopian intersections of play, sex and citizenship in contemporary Canadian fiction

Staveley, Helene (2008) Playful citizens: utopian intersections of play, sex and citizenship in contemporary Canadian fiction. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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“Playful Citizens” explores the contemporary novel, especially as written by Canadians, in terms of how it deals with ideas about play, game, and sex, and how it relates these ideas to constructions of civic responsibility. Considered as strategies for human interaction, play, game and sex act within fiction to situate the citizen at a troubled intersection where pleasure challenges responsibility. Playful or “ludic” activities arbitrarily conflate opposites and straddle boundaries because it is diverting, interesting, and vitalizing to do so: “fun.” Ludic activities challenge “responsibilities” almost by definition, and indeed the ludic and the civic test each other’s limits in Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle (1981) and Blind Assassin (2000), Nicole Brossard’s Baroque d'Aube (1995) and Desert Mauve (1987), George Bowering’s Caprice (1987), Thomas King’'s Green Grass, Running Water (1993), Gail Scott’s Heroine (1987), Lisa Moore’s Alligator (2005), and in British writer Jeanette Winterson’s PowerBook (2000). The interaction of the ludic with the civic enacts a reconfiguration of power dynamics in these narratives, even as it permits a profusion of alternate fictional worlds to burst into existence. Taken together, the reconfiguration of power and the multiplicity of alternate worlds gesture unmistakably towards the “real” human potential for Utopia. -- The texts of interest for this project are metafictions and künstlerromans, both of which tend to construct the world of human experience as malleable. Similarly, both often model “the human” through figures of writers, readers, and other makers and users of art. The above-listed narratives configure the pressing task of transforming reality and/or the world as “belonging to” the arts as the discipline most likely to inspire change. They also configure the transformative task as volatile given the malleability of the world and the metonymic plasticity of those who shape worlds in art. Deployed exegetically or diegetically, metaphors for interacting with or intervening in world-hood become, variously, sexual in Winterson and Brossard, and playful in Atwood and Brossard; meanwhile, in Atwood, Bowering, King, Scott and Moore, the sexual and the ludic combine to produce a highly-charged trickster aesthetic that governs both artistic and civic worlds. -- When Canadian narratives intertwine ideas about citizenship with ideas about sex and play, they move beyond the agonistic values of the West's individualist cultural models and power economies. The interaction of these ideas produces texts that challenge the limits of narrative and of quotidian political engagement, that interrogate regions of acceptability and of suspicion. Canadian narratives that confront the civic with the ludic explore human experience as reciprocal and inescapably contingent with collective experience. Sketching worlds that play with competitive power dynamics, they re-imagine the dynamics of human interaction as binding critique to hope, producing a volatile, ambivalent, and indelibly ironic Utopian potential.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 9297
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 326-343)
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2008
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Canadian fiction--History and criticism--20th century; Citizenship in literature; Responsibility in literature; Social interaction in literature

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