Necessary Storytelling: Canadian Identity Fictions, Neoliberalism, and Alternative Topographies of Being

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Mündel, Ingrid
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University of Guelph

This dissertation uses the notion of “storytelling for social change” as a starting point to explore the complicated links between movements for social justice in Canada and the current neoliberal capitalist framework. The project offers contrasting scales, genres, and temporalities for necessary storytelling, moving between national-scale fictionalized re-tellings of specific moments in Canada’s past (in Section One), North American / global-scale imaginings of a capitalist-infused and ostensibly borderless “end time” in a futuristic West Coast and a post-NAFTA Canada (in Section Two), and city-scale performances of “real” people’s experiences in the “now” (in Section Three). The discussion begins with an examination of the production of “strangers” within Canada, showing why and how the mechanism of stranger-making has been integral to legitimizing and reinforcing the physical and conceptual boundaries of a whitened (male and heteronormative) “majority” version of Canada. Three Day Road, The Jade Peony, and The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God emerge as three texts in an extremely rich and varied terrain of imaginative interrogations of the project of nationhood in Canada. The examination of these fictive reconstructions of Canada gives way to an exploration of the shifting topography of resistance within globalization, a force often read as “threatening” to the nation but which, as Salt Fish Girl and Fronteras Americanas show, is in fact intertwined with its project in deeply contradictory and ambivalent ways. The analysis in the final section moves to examine “socially turned” performance practices to probe the double-edge of necessity; here I, on the one hand, examine the “story” of neoliberalism and its allegiance to “use” and “necessity” in ways that have rhetorical and material implications for broader projects of arts-based activism, community building, and social justice, and, on the other, investigate efforts that swim both in and against this utility tide to open up space for sustained and critical conversations about reclaiming subjectivity and the time of change from neoliberalism’s tyranny.

Neoliberalism, storytelling and social change, socially engaged art, community-based performances, Canadian literature