Ian Angus – A Border Within

Citation:  Angus, Ian H. A Border Within: National Identity, Cultural Plurality, and Wilderness. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997.
_________________________________________________________________Argument  English Canada embodies a localized and particular perspective, which makes it well-attuned for developing an “ecological relation to the world” (171).

Scope/Organization/Main Points:

He offers this great point about the risk involved in respecting the unknown, which is relevant for a discussion of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into criticism: there is a “risk” taken “to speak of an ecological relation of self and world when one does not know, and perhaps can never entirely know, what such a relation means, in the same way that one cannot know in advance that another culture in the multicultural society is really worthy of respect. The risk is an entry into a site of discovery, an anticipatory thinking, that seeks to embrace the world more firmly by entering a moment in which it is lost” (170).

His conception of “ecological relation” is a response to globalization and its supposed dissolution of the nation-state: “Ecological problems raise questions of the whole” in that “interconnections now span the globe” but “we can take the notion of ‘world’ in another sense as well – the world as a network of involvements, such that we may speak of my personal world, the business world, or the world of the Aztecs. […] In this sense, the ecological question is not only in English Canada, but of English Canada.” Or, English Canada is “a history, a characteristic cultural style, and a certain, or perhaps still uncertain, set of aspirations” (171).

It’s unclear whether Angus includes non-human entities in his conception of ecology, although his concept can easily be adapted to the other-than-human.  Angus proposes that ecological thought is useful for intercepting various uncertainties about the current state of being: it marks an “attempt to render clear and rigorous the suspicion that underlying these connections is a shifting of the dominant industrial relation of self and world” (176). Put in the context of my work, recognition politics can be thought of as both characteristic of shifting relations – new practices necessitated by changing times – but such politics is also a technique of stabilization.

Angus notes a challenge posed by the new relationship between particular interests and the whole: “How can particular interests give rise to a universalizing, or general, critique of the system?” (180). He addresses the fact that “every system is haunted by an excess which is its origination and which it attempts to turn inside and treat as an element within the system” by claiming, “Social movements twist away from the system to the extent that they recover this excess, even though their definition of it can be only partial.” It is in the failure of the system to recuperate its excesses that its limits “become visible” (193).

Still, how can he be interested in challenging the distinction between the natural and urban environments – which is apparently his interest with ecology, but which is perhaps a doomed project given the cultures in which colonial societies have been steeped – without referring to Indigenous thinking? What is the point – recuperating European thought? What is European thought is hopelessly broken, can never be reconciled with the spirit of the land?

Points of Importance/Interest:

  • “Ecological thought” signals an unstable relationship between the particular and the whole that is very interesting (175)
  • I like his discussion of “anticipatory thinking, that seeks to embrace the world more firmly by entering a moment in which it is lost” (170).



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