A SIMPLE (and therefore ruinous?) way of understanding postmodernism is that it shifts the focus of art from the centre to the margins. That is, the once intrinsic criteria of the modernists (form, theme, etc.) are less important than extrinsic ones, the most notable being gender, race, and sexual orientation. Linda Hutcheon has edited a new collection of essays, Double-Talking (ECW, 220 pages, $25 paper), that reads Canadian art and literature variously in terms of these three categories.
In her introduction Hutcheon argues (as she has in other books such as The Canadian Postmodern and Splitting Images) that the device most amenable to such a displacement from centre to margin, as well as to a connection between them, is irony. The reason is that irony is a doubling device; that is, it lets one say or write two contrary things at once. Thus, centre, or country, is affirmed, along with margin, or those voices in a country excluded by a white, heterosexual, patriarchal definition of that country.
The articles in Double-Talking engage such topics as "the powerful potential of irony as a strategy of feminist critique... in the paintings of Joanne Tod." Another, "Ironies of Colour in the Great White North," already contains, as the author Arun P. Mukherjee notes, an irony in the title (which juxtaposes "colour" and "Great White North"); she goes on to examine and "create a racial 'difference,' radicalized discourse." A third article looks at Timothy Findley and his tactics in Famous Last Words for "Becoming-Homosexual/Becoming-Canadian" (the title of the piece). It is argued there that Findley writes from "a position of difference within the dominant sexual economy."
Although geared to the academic "pomo" mill (one of the few non-recessionary industries at the moment), the volume is a readable one, as is usually the case with a work written or edited by Linda Hutcheon.