Barbara Godard | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Barbara Godard

Barbara Godard, critic, translator, editor, educator (born at Toronto, 1942; died there 16 May 2010). Barbara Godard is one of Canada's leading authorities on literary theory, including her specialities in poststructuralism, feminism, avant-gardism, and translation studies.

Barbara Godard

Barbara Godard, critic, translator, editor, educator (born at Toronto, 1942; died there 16 May 2010). Barbara Godard is one of Canada's leading authorities on literary theory, including her specialities in poststructuralism, feminism, avant-gardism, and translation studies. Her publications, including 2 books, 6 edited books, 6 translated books, 9 catalogues, and over 200 articles in journals and books, have played an important role in introducing and creating new critical theories in the context of Canadian letters. Her work has consistently explored the significance of gaps in Canadian literary scholarship, particularly in relation to women's writing, Québecois writing, and avant-gardism. In many cases, she has found or created bridges between formerly unallied literary communities. Barbara Godard's theoretical writings on translation, developing from her border-crossing approach to Canadian literary criticism, proved to be instrumental in the creation of Translation Studies as an internationally significant field of study.

Born and raised in Toronto, Barbara Godard completed her BA (Honours) at the University of Toronto (1964). Her interest in Canadian literature led her to the Université de Montréal for her MA degree (1967), where she worked with Philip Stratford on English and French Canadian novels. Two years later, she completed her Maîtrise at the Université de Paris VIII - Vincennes (1969), working with Pierre Dommergues on the American novel. She completed her PhD, Doctorat 3e Cycle, at the Université de Bordeaux (1971), working with Robert Escarpit on the Canadian novel in both French and English. While completing her Doctorat, from 1968 to 1970 she also taught at Université de Paris VIII - Vincennes. Since 1971, Godard has taught at York University in the Departments of English, French, Social and Political Thought and Women's Studies. She held the Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian Literature.

Barbara Godard's contributions to the study of Canadian literature are many and varied. After arriving back in Canada, she and colleagues at York, particularly Frank Davey, promptly became pioneers in teaching literary theory in Canada. Her interest in literary theory began even earlier when as an undergraduate she first sought to apply the theories of Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan and feminist ideas by Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir to her study of literature. At the Université de Montreal, she discovered phenomenology, Marxist sociology, and the theories of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard and French novelist and critic Robert Escarpit. This interest in applied philosophy and theory expanded during her time in France, where she attended seminars with theorists Roland Barthes and Lucien Goldmann, and later worked at Paris - Vincennes in the same department as Hélène Cixous. Escarpit supervised her dissertation at Bordeaux.

Back in Canada, Godard worked with Davey (including via his ground-breaking magazine Open Letter, where she continues to serve as contributing editor) to create a model for using literary theory to analyze Canadian literary texts. She became a champion of experimental writing by Canadian women, whose disempowerment in relation to men she likened to Canada's historical disempowerment in relation to France, Britain, and America. While she was critical of Canada's rôle as colonial power over Québec and Indigenous peoples, she recognized that Canadian and women's literatures were both politically charged sites for avant-garde textual production and political liberation struggles. While Godard's work moved freely across the two solitudes of French and English writing in Canada, she quickly realized that one of the major barriers to cross-linguistic discussions of Canadian writing was the limited access to translations of important texts from Québec in English Canada and vice versa. To overcome this barrier, Godard began translating key French Canadian authors such as Nicole Brossard (four novels), Antonine Maillet, Louky Bersianik, Yolande Villemaire, and France Théoret. She had to develop new approaches to translation that were sensitive to the formalist and postmodern innovations of such experimental authors. Her contributions to translation in Canada and the international field of Translation Studies have been widely recognized: she was awarded the Vinay-Darbelnet Prize for best essay on translation by the Canadian Association of Translation Studies (1999), and nominated twice for the Félix-Antoine Savard Translation Prize (1991, 1992).

Godard was a major advocate for opening up new channels of discourse in the study of Canadian literature, and has been involved in the creating, expanding, or editing of numerous magazines, journals, and conferences in Canada. Beyond her involvement with Open Letter, her contributions to feminist publications and discourse have been significant. She was a member of the first Fireweed editorial collective in 1978, where she described her role as making links between unallied groups particularly through translation. In 1981, she organized the ground-breaking Dialogue Conference/Colloque Dialogue at York University in Toronto, the proceedings of which were published as Gynocritics/La Gynocritique (1987). In 1984, following the Dialogue Conference and the more immediate success of the Women and Words/les femmes et les mots conference in Vancouver, Godard, Daphne Marlatt, Kathy Mezei, and Gail Scott founded Tessera, one of the country's most important feminist journals. It remains particularly focussed on fostering new modes of critical and creative writing in Canada. In 1994 Godard edited Collaboration in the Feminine: Writing on Women and Culture from Tessera, a selection of works previously published in the journal.

Her books and over 200 articles, some of which were recently selected and reprinted in Canadian Literature at the Crossroads of Language and Culture (2008), demonstrate her commitment to expanding the critical dialogue surrounding the literary productions of authors and communities in Canada. Her 1985 work Talking About Ourselves: The Literary Productions of Native Women of Canada compared and contrasted the study of women's and Native literatures and literary forms, using both to argue for the expansion of critically accepted domains of literature. She published her single-author study on the experimental feminist writer Audrey Thomas in 1989. Godard was the recipient of the Gabrielle Roy Prize from the Association of Canadian and Québec Literatures in 1988 and the Award of Merit from the Association of Canadian Studies in 1995. She was involved in a group project focussed on the feminist culture of Toronto during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as coordinating the digitalization of Tessera.

Further Reading