Living on the Edges: Constructions of Post-Colonial Subjectivity in Atwood’s Early Poetry



In an article called ‘Permanently Canadian’ Al Purdy tempers impatience with irony as he returns to the difficult assumptions involved in debates about nationalism and individuality: ‘Certainty of nationality and personality is an illusion, since there is no permanence in anything, anything at all. And yet we cling to this shifting and uncertain self, this rag of ageing bone, this handful of dust to which we’ve given a loved name.’1 Purdy’s protest at the coercive unification implicit in the notion of a self-conscious, self-identifying subject connects with one of the central themes of post-structuralism, and in such contexts Margaret Atwood’s poetry gathers to itself the defining attributes of a Canadian paradigm. Her elaborate constructions of a post-colonial subjectivity encode a running parallel between the conditioning of Canada as a nation-state and the positioning of women within it, and then by extension the positioning of women within any governing patriarchy. It has already been argued that the circumference of Atwood’s imagination is often contained by Canada’s national and literary boundaries: ‘it is almost as if she consciously sets herself down, right in the middle of the Canadian literary landscape, and tries to orient herself by filtering Canadian experience through archetypes of her poetic sensibility.’2 Geographical locations and the figuring of selfhood form a continuing motif of uncertainty and anxiety, as words come into conflict with a seemingly recalcitrant environment. But Atwood as often interrogates any notion of a subject, expressing a meaning, through which the world is presented to that subject.


Canadian Experience Page Reference Siamese Twin Constitutional Culture Violent Duality 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1994

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