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When the past becomes present : storytelling, postcolonial autoethnography, and Asian Canadian studies Diehl, Lindsay Ann


This creative-critical dissertation brings the family stories of the researcher’s Chinese Canadian grandmother into dialogue with a canon of Chinese Canadian narratives. Whereas the familial stories trace a matrilineal history that begins with immigration from China to Canada in 1874, the analysis of Chinese Canadian narratives investigates how this canon has been imagined and produced. In juxtaposing these creative and critical interests, this dissertation explores the tension between the creative impulse to (re)articulate experiences and the critical awareness that conventional narrative forms can be restrictive. The aim of the dissertation is to highlight the importance of sharing the stories of previous generations, while also uncovering some of the potential difficulties and pitfalls of such an endeavour. In paying heed to the dialectic relationship between past and present Chinese Canadian writing, the dissertation engages with an emergent critique of the formation of Asian Canadian literature. Whereas some critics have discussed Asian Canadian literature as a “coming to voice” of previously silenced groups in Canada, others have warned of the dangers of producing Asian Canadian subjects as mimetic of mainstream subjects. In light of these debates, this research project asks: What are the limitations of historical fiction and life-writing genres? How do narratives of progress or national belonging continue to shape racial injustice in Canada? And how can anti-racist efforts allow for new possible coalitions and better account for differences in situation, experience, and privilege? Drawing on postcolonial studies and transnational feminist theory, and rooted in the concept of postcolonial autoethnography, the project foregrounds the researcher’s contradictory subject positioning, produced through the privilege and alterity of being a third-generation Canadian-born woman of mixed Chinese and European descent. As a creative-critical project, it moves away from disinterested objectivity, reflecting upon and participating in the production of literary accounts while committing to anti-colonial, anti-racist scholarship and praxis, as well as to innovative ideas of responsibility, engagement, and solidarity.

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