To write or to belong : the dilemma of Canadian Mennonite story-tellers
Because Mennonite communities have traditionally valued religious conformity and ethnic solidarity above individual artistic expression, Mennonite writers and their readers have tended to view realistic story-telling as an act of revolt against the community. Criticism has, for the most part, also privileged writing above belonging. My argument in this dissertation is that an historically informed awareness of the dialectic between self and community that is intrinsically part of Mennonite theology makes such an either/or reading of Mennonite narratives misleading and incomplete. Accordingly, Chapter One reviews the historical roots of Russian Mennonite communities in Canada and examines their understanding of the self in light of two views of the individual, Western modernism and more recent social constructionism. Using Weintraub's distinction between personality and individual and Lanham's distinction between rhetorical man and serious man, I discuss the nature of the dilemma faced by the Mennonite writer. Chapters Two through Six examine, in roughly chronological order, the various narrative strategies that have allowed writers such as Arnold Dyck, Rudy Wiebe, Al Reimer, Anne Konrad, Armin Wiebe, Doug Reimer, Elizabeth Falk, and Magdalene Falk Redekop, to gain a voice within their own communities. Essentially all of these writers choose either to emphasize the ethnic component of Mennonite identity in order to defuse theological objections to the subversive act of writing, or to examine the theological component of Mennonite identity in order to adopt or extend the officially accepted act of prophetic utterance. Either way, Mennonite writers contribute to the continuance of Mennonite community even as they can be accused of undermining it. They do not choose to write or to belong so much as they contribute to the shaping of what they belong to, since the community that once resisted artistic expression now needs that expression in order to forge a new and viable identity in a changing urban world.