Transnational Memory in Nancy Huston’s Plainsong, Fault Lines and The Mark of the Angel

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As a Canadian born author who has lived in Paris for the majority of her life, and who writes in English and French, Nancy Huston and her literature are defined by multiple national and linguistic spaces. These characteristics mark Huston out as a transnational subject and writer, herself and her literature existing between and across different national spaces. Huston’s approach to literature, moreover, adds an alternative dimension to transnational theory; one which suggests a more nuanced way of making sense of transnational identity. For Huston, it is not enough to speak of transcending one’s national roots, since national origins are key components of the transnational condition. While transnational subjects may feel an affinity with multiple local and national spaces, each of these spaces will be valuable in its own right, and the transnational subject will recognise each of those spaces as having contributed to their overall, transnational identity. Indeed, national memories set in one place and time can have a profound influence on later memories forged in a new space. This paper will explore Huston’s transnational take on memory specifically, looking at how national memory is both respected in its own right, and reconsidered in conjunction with memories set in other places and times. It will be suggested that, in Plainsong, Fault Lines, and The Mark of the Angel, the significance of national memory is shown to transcend the locality and time of the initial event.1 Yet, as I will make clear, Huston does not negate the importance of preserving national difference. Indeed, Huston explores how national binaries can be brought forward and read anew, through this international comparison. I will further examine how Huston rethinks national memory from the perspective of individuals within the nation, refuting a monolithic account of collective national History. In this way, we will seek to establish how far Huston’s position is equally preoccupied with intranational as well as international dialogue. This paper will therefore attest to the idea that Huston’s transnational approach to memory simultaneously transcends the national and preserves national difference, both inter- and intranationally. To support these arguments, I will turn to the concept of multi-directional memory as put forward by Michael Rothberg, and that of palimpsestic memory, a theory elaborated by Max Silverman. I will also discuss the concept of time, looking to Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Angel of History’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-22
Number of pages21
JournalRetrospectives: A History Postgraduate Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Jan 2016

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