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A politics of memory : cognitive strategies of five women writing in Canada Thompson, Dawn


This dissertation attempts to develop a counter—memory, a cognitive strategy that provides an alternative to the most prevalent mode of political action by members of minority or subaltern groups: identity politics. It begins with Teresa de Lauretis’ semiotics of subjectivity, which posits the human subject as a shifting series of positions or habits formed through semiotic and cognitive “mapping” of, and being “mapped” by, its environment. De Lauretis maintains that the subject can transform social reality through an “inventive” mode of mapping. The first chapter of this study is a semiotic analysis of the memory system at work in Nicole Brossard’s Picture Theory. It argues that Brossard’s use of holographic technology is an invention that attempts to alter women’s maps of social reality. Quantum physicist David Bohm has also employed the hologram as a theoretical model. By merging Brossard’s holographic memory with Bohm’s theory of a “holomovement,” this study develops an epistemological strategy that alters not only the map of reality, but also the dominant representational mode of cognitive mapping. This enquiry then moves on to other novels written in Canada which have a strong political impetus based on gender, nationality, ethnicity, race and/or class: Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, Marlene Nourbese Philip’s Looking for Livingstone, Beatrice Culleton’s In Search of April Raintree and Régine Robin’s La Ouébécoite. Through textual analysis, it attempts to establish that although these novels make no mention of holography, each of them employs a memory system that inscribes itself holographically. That holographic memory provides an alternative political strategy to the “identity politics” at work in each of these texts. Each text, in turn, like a fragment of a hologram, adds another structural and political dimension to the hologram. The processual structure of the holographic theory provides a ground for alliances between different political agendas while resisting closure. As an epistemological strategy, it promises to alter both the method and the ground of knowledge.

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