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Volume 37, Number 2 (2012)

Somatic Nationalism and Spectacle in Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising

September 4, 2013


Critics of Barometer Rising (1941) tend to treat the novel’s various personages as rigigly representing aspects of Canadian identity. Such an approach, however, reduces characters to components of an abstract national schema that sits awkwardly alongside the novel’s visceral descriptions of the Halifax Explosion. This dualist view fails to account for how feelings and sensations are also among the building blocks of national identity in the novel. Sara Ahmed insists that “affective economies” are key to aligning individuals with communities through public events that elicit shared emotional responses. Barometer Rising stages such events to bring Haligonians together emotionally and physically, representing and rehearsing a particularly somatic nationalism. In this regard the novel makes a significant contribution to accounts of national identity in its insistence that citizens are drawn into the nation through their emotional and erotic lives.