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Common ground and the city : assumed community in Vancouver fiction and theatre Banting, Sarah Lynn


This dissertation offers a new approach to an enduring question in literary studies: how do certain genres mediate an experience of “imagined community”? In studies of Canadian literature, texts are frequently analyzed for how they represent place—and how they evoke national, regional, local, or transnational communities by depicting characters’ lives in place. This project shares that interest in place, but rather than asking how place is represented, it asks what audiences are addressed when fiction and theatre performances refer to specific places. Shifting focus onto these works’ address to particular imagined audiences allows me to consider how they mediate their actual audiences’ relationships to specific places and to other local and non-local populations. Taking novels, short stories, and plays set in metropolitan Vancouver as a case study, I analyze narrative address using the tools of linguistic pragmatics, in particular theories of audience design, relevance, and common ground. I then adapt these ideas to the analysis of live performance in conventional theatres. I find a variety of different modes of address implicit in how these works style their references to the city and its landmarks. All of the plays and some of the narratives address audiences who share their knowledge of certain parts of the city. They offer insight into what parts of a city residents imagine sharing with their anonymous fellow city-dwellers, on what social basis they share these extended neighbourhoods, and what are the limits of this “common ground.” Other narrators address audiences for whom the city is unfamiliar territory. Their narratives illuminate the social contexts that connect people across spatial divides and the various interests that, in the narrators’ opinion, distant audiences might have in being introduced to Vancouver. While the written narratives address audiences who have a specific amount of knowledge of Vancouver but might themselves be anywhere, the plays potentially produce a “strong” form of common ground by bringing their audience together at a particular site. I argue that this experience constructs what Arjun Appadurai calls “locality,” thus offering insight into what locality might feel like in a modern Canadian city.

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