Questions of place and space have long played a crucial role in shaping Canadian cultural and societal debates as well as national identity formation processes. This class will explore the significance of place and space in urban ‘CanLit’ as beyond questions of background and setting, and instead as key to the aesthetic, political, social and cultural agendas of select works of Anglophone Canadian literature of the past 35 years. As we travel through Canada’s rich literary cityscapes, we will focus on experiences of marginalisation and the ways in which authors engage with and challenge urban narratives of Canada as a multicultural society and country of immigration. In cities as microcosms of social power structures we will encounter figures such as the trans-American outcast (Chanady) and ex-centric (Hutcheon) who are made to occupy positions at the margins of urban space and history from where they reconceptualise assumptions about the ‘Canadian city’.

This class will introduce students to theories of urban space and place, which we will read in dialogue with the primary texts as we interrogate how and to what effect cities are constructed in literature by means of different literary strategies. In encountering both theoretical texts and a variety of literary forms (novel, short story, poetry), students will have the chance to practice their critical reading and writing skills, and are encouraged to develop their own research interests and questions. Students should be ready to approach the texts with curiosity and open-mindedness, to challenge and reflect on their own assumptions, and to take risks and make mistakes while doing so.

Please get a copy of Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion (1987). All other primary and secondary texts will be made accessible in due time.