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Decentring multiculturalism : public and counterpublic spaces in Dionne Brand's What We All Long For and Timothy Taylor's Stanley Park Sharpe, Natasha Larissa


This study explores the usage of public and counterpublic spaces in two Canadian novels, Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For (2005) and Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park (2001). These navigations and explorations reconstitute public space in order to claim that space for marginalized Canadians, challenging the discourse of multicultural tolerance and constructions of Canadian identity as white. These texts challenge current understandings of citizenship based on exclusion in order to promote a citizenship predicated on civic engagement, coalition, and affinity, rather than essentialist identity. I undertake a close reading and comparison of both novels within the context of Canadian literary history, Canada’s history of multicultural policy, and the intersections of multicultural discourse and Canadian literature, in particular the ways in which literature by Canadian authors designated as ‘multicultural’ is appropriated by national multicultural discourse to promote Canadian tolerance and preserve white hegemony and centrality in Canada. My work draws upon theories of postcolonialism, postmodernism, and hybridity to explore race, gender, and class as they constitute subjects within relations of power in these novels. While Brand’s characters at times seek refuge in subaltern counterpublics, they ultimately realize the limitations and failings of those spaces, opting instead to remake and reimagine the public in their own image as a space for civic engagement on their own terms rather than those of the white, capitalist hegemony. Taylor’s characters, however, abandon the public completely; arguing that the public is too corrupted to be recovered, they establish new counterpublic spaces that re-establish the privilege they meant to escape. In conclusion, the divergences between the two novels indicate two different ways of contesting multicultural discourse; Brand’s characters resist by remaking the public, and Taylor’s, by abandoning the public. In the context of reconstituting Canadian cultural citizenship, Brand’s strategy offers challenging but hopeful opportunities for contesting the discourses that construct Canadian identity and public space as the sole province of normalized whiteness while constructing ‘multicultural’, particularly racialized Canadians, as outside Canadian identity and yet necessary to national myths of Canadian ‘tolerance’.

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