"I am not I": Late Modernism and Metafiction in Canadian Fiction
This dissertation argues that a number of works of Canadian fiction usually designated as modernist fit more properly into the category of “late modernism”: a category that has only recently begun to emerge as a bridge between post-war modernism and emergent postmodernism. These works are aligned by their use of abstract, absurdist, or surrealist narrative structures and consequently by their refusal to adhere to conventional strictures of social realism. Because of this refusal, literary critics have identified the late-modernist emphasis on narrative form as necessarily ahistorical or apolitical. Conversely, I argue, these works are socially and politically engaged with the historical contexts and material conditions of their inception, composition, and consequent reception. I argue herein that the works of Sheila Watson, Elizabeth Smart, Malcolm Lowry, and John Glassco tend towards non-representational narrative forms, and in doing so, they engage in modes of cultural critique. These critiques are focused by a negotiation of what has been multiply identified as a “contradiction” in modernist art: while on the one hand the texts break with traditional forms of social-realist narrative out of a need to find new forms of expression in an effort to rebel against conservative, bourgeois sensibilities, on the other hand they are always produced from within the self-same socio-political economy that they critique. Whether this position is identified as a “modernist double bind” (following Willmott) or a “central paradox” of modernism (following Eysteinsson), I have argued that each author negotiates these internal contradictions through the integration of autobiographical material into their writing. In reading these works as part of a unified late-modernist narrative tradition, this dissertation aims to destabilize critical and popular understandings of mid-century Canadian prose and argue for an alternate reading of artistic interpretation of the twentieth-century Canadian condition. Such a reading challenges current canon formation because it destabilizes traditional critical accounts of these texts as instances of eccentric expression or singular moments of genius. Instead, we are asked to consider seriously the tendency for play with subjectivity and autobiographical material as an interpretive strategy to express the mid-century, post-war condition.