Shaping Infinity: American and Canadian Women Write a North American West

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Kaufman, Anne Lee
Lindemann, Marilee
ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: SHAPING INFINITY: AMERICAN AND CANADIAN WOMEN WRITE A NORTH AMERICAN WEST Anne Lee Kaufman, Doctor of Philosophy, 2003 Dissertation directed by: Dr. Marilee Lindemann, Department of English This study posits a border-crossing, post-national conception of the "west," enabling a trajectory of women's literary history to become visible that transcends more narrowly-imagined Canadian or American paradigms. The dissertation looks across the 49th parallel to propose a semiotics and politics of North American women's writings about the West. As a part of an ongoing critical conversation about entanglements of body, and place, this study considers the way maps and bodies and the potential of new places open up opportunities for women writers. My dissertation reimagines as a community texts that have previously been narrowly categorized as, for example, nature writing, or western, or written by a woman, or regionalist American or Canadian. The group of writers I've chosen includes Americans Willa Cather, Martha Ostenso, Terry Tempest Williams and Louise Erdrich, and Canadians Margaret Laurence, Ethel Wilson, Gabrielle Roy, and Aritha van Herk. The texts written by this group consider intersections of gender, power, and the physical specificity of the land while redefining the terms belonging and Otherness in the context of a new space. Rethinking language leads to interrogation of the ways that bodies (nations, communities, people) both join and separate themselves from other bodies, including borders, houses, and the way maps of belonging are drawn. The work of feminist cultural geographers is crucial to my interrogation of geographic and political borders and borderlands, the physical bodies inhabiting those literal and fictional liminal spaces and the effects of the language used by and about women who choose to locate their work there. The lived experience of westering women pervades the texts in this study; recognition of the great fact of the body grounds each one in a physical reality. Admitting the previously unspeakable female body precludes the preservation of those mythological structures that accompany given spaces. These writers create an imaginative space in which images of containing structures (maps and bodies, houses and even cars) escape their definitions to deliver on the promise inherent in new places for women writers and their texts.