Go west: urbanism, mobility, and ingenuity in western Canadian writing and everyday practice

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Romanik, Barbara
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In early criticism of Western Canadian literature, prairie spaces were constructed as predominantly rural in order to set the region and prairie writing apart from the rest of Canada and other Canadian literature. In time, prairie criticism’s focus on rural realist texts led to the marginalization of urban prairie writing and the construction of urban spaces as corrupt and artificial in comparison to the natural and virtuous rural environment. I work to remedy the absence of urban texts in the criticism of prairie literature, and I argue that prairie cities are dynamic and mobile worlds where prairie inhabitants exercise their agency through everyday practices. Utilizing the work of Raymond Williams, I show how urban and rural spaces are constructed in the canonical prairie texts of Grove, Ostenso, and Stead to serve various capitalist interests and colonial ideologies. I explore the depiction of Winnipeg in Durkin’s The Magpie as a dynamic, complex, and politically engaged space. Moreover, I use Michel de Certeau’s work to assert that the underprivileged and colonized individuals in the city subvert and utilize the systems and organizations of those in power. They develop an increased deviousness and take advantage of incidental and multifarious opportunities that come their way as they work, dwell, and move about in everyday life. Subsequently, I look at urban writing by women, Eastern-European immigrants, and Aboriginal writers and show that they use urban spaces, everyday practices, and writing to exercise their agency. To destabilize unitary forces in language, to depict their own experiences, and to convey their own meanings of home, labour, and community, marginalized writers employ wordplay, humour, historical and cultural references, and intertextuality. I also use Jane M. Jacobs’ work on postcolonial cities and Tim Cresswell’s theories of mobility. I read prairie cities as places of competing mobilities and networks of dominances and resistances, where colonized individuals negotiate complex, hybrid, and authentic identities. The urban prairie texts I explore demonstrate the possibility of political, social, and economic changes, and a beneficial relationship with the prairie environment.
Canadian literature, prairie writing, mobility, urban, immigrant, Indigenous, everyday practice, ingenuity, Aboriginal, agency, hybrid, postcolonial, city, resistance