‘Speaking to Others' in Nancy Huston’s The Goldberg Variations and Slow Emergencies


  • Polly Galis French, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds
  • Polly Galis French, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds




speaking to/for, other(s), minority, subaltern, imperial, intersectional


Nancy Huston has previously claimed that her lack of any clear-cut national identity, or of any strong affiliation to her original cultural heritage, enables her to take on multiple identities within her literature. Huston’s claim, however, can be deemed problematic if it presupposes a right to speak on the behalf of minority or ‘subaltern’ figures. This is particularly problematic in view of Huston’s position as a white middle-class writer. In other words, the representation of others in literature can entail imperial repercussions. I will begin this article by postulating that literature can constitute a means of representing ourselves as other, or others tout-court (in keeping with Huston’s transnational approach to(self-)representation), before turning to the work of Gayatri Spivak to illustrate how literary representations of others can betray a neo-colonial or imperial character. I will then establish the ways in which Huston avoids an imperial representation of others in The Goldberg Variations and Slow Emergencies by speaking to rather than for others. This article will also explore how this process is underpinned by an intersectional reading of otherness, in keeping with the critical work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and Elisabeth Spelman, and reminiscent of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘becoming-minoritarian’ and Rosi Braidotti’s of ‘becoming-woman’ which, in the case of Huston’s literature, are key to distinguishing between minority and ‘subaltern’ figures. In both cases, I will demonstrate how Huston speaks to not for others in both of the studied novels, and how, in so doing, she challenges monolithic and binary categories of being.


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