British Journal of Canadian Studies

Beyond Survival? Wilderness and Canadian National Identity into the Twenty-First Century

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2008), 21, (1), 63–88.

Abstract

Are wilderness and industry reconcilable? This article examines recent examples of Canadian art and literature which draw upon the canonical theme of wilderness, but which encourage a re-examination of the impact of human presence on the land rather than idealising those spaces where humans are not. Recent works by Margaret Atwood, Thaddeus Holownia and Edward Burtynsky encourage a much more complex understanding of land and identity that reconfigures human–non-human relations. They not only draw upon themes of the sublime and survival, but they evoke another strain of nationalist writing on technology and communication found in the writings of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan and George Grant. As I will argue in this article, contemporary artists are rewriting narratives of wilderness and national identity in Canada.

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Gilbert, Emily