Writing the Roaming Subject: The Biotext in Canadian Literature


175 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-9012-5
DDC C810.9'809045





Reviewed by Carol A. Stos

Carol A. Stos is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern
Languages and Literatures at Laurentian University.


Joanne Saul appropriates the term “biotext,” coined by George
Bowering to describe the text as an extension of the author she argues
that a variety of innovative textual strategies in life writing, which
destabilize the sense of self while simultaneously questioning generic
boundaries, prompt “the re-evaluation of raced, ethnic, gendered, and
national identifications, and facilitate ... an examination of the
complex relationship between language, place, and self” in Canadian
literature. The author, as subject in the biotext, does not merely
represent his or her experiences, but rather is performative and engages
with the process of articulating his or her self.

In the introduction, Saul establishes her theoretical and critical
framework, explaining that a primary question the biotext raises for her
has to do with identity. Specifically, who is “Canadian” and who is
“other”; questioning traditional limits of cultural and political
identity; and destabilizing the usual definitions of gender, race,
ethnicity, and nation. Her study focuses on Michael Ondaatje’s Running
in the Family, Daphne Marlatt’s Ghost Works, Roy Kiyooka’s
Mothertalk, and Fred Wah’s Diamond Grill, in all of which she
perceives subjectivities in flux, resisting, or incapable of inscribing
themselves into the Canadian landscape.

In “Introducing the Biotext,” Saul describes her authors’ early
engagement with disruptive textual strategies, their long-standing
collegiality, and commonalities in these four works. Ondaatje’s text
is studied in the context of his other works and as the earliest example
of the biotext as Saul defines it. In Ghost Works, Saul’s focus is on
cultural and gendered difference as communicated through language. The
chapter on Kiyooka examines the published version of Mothertalk in
comparison with the manuscript, exploring the writing of cultural memory
and self-representation. Diamond Grill is studied in the context of
Wah’s earlier works to illustrate the evolution of the disruptive
biotext. Saul concludes that the biotext plays a vital role in Canadian
cultural production and offers one strategy for exploring new points of
entry into a number of texts.

This is an interesting study of the complexities “textual,
representational and personal” of language, place, and self in
Canadian literature.


Saul, Joanne., “Writing the Roaming Subject: The Biotext in Canadian Literature,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15824.