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Volume 19, Number 1 (1994)

Arresting Subjects: "Foreign" Significations in Canadian Fiction

  • Mary Ann Grizans
May 22, 2008


Canadian extended prose fiction, written by or about immigrants, discloses a lack of self-identity for the subject when the bearings of conventional social identity are removed within the context of a different culture. The breakdown of signification, as reflected in the immigrant experience, shows the insufficiency of language acquisition within a symbolic system that is experienced to be semiotically lacking. The literature discloses lives dependent upon an undependable language; it attempts to get to the other side of language. The subject is not conventionally identifiable; instead of being figured, it is disfigured or transfigured. The "foreign" subject, in endeavouring to voice what cannot be accommodated in society's terms, is separated out from society and voiced as the negative of its terms. The gap in modes of communication underpins the cultural gap of the "foreigner." Canada, with all of its "alien" connotations, accentuates the problematic of identity for the "foreign" subject who finds in the liminal position between cultures a repetition of the formative split engendered by the semiotic lack in the symbolic: the subject cannot speak itself on the terms of an order which makes it Other, just as its experience of the other site of knowledge cannot be spoken in the established terms.