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No. 1 (2021)

Mash-up, Smash-up: Mixing Genres and Mediums to Rewrite History in Do Not Say We Have Nothing

February 25, 2021


In Madeleine Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a historical photograph of three protestors at Tiananmen Square is directly inserted into the fictional text. The goal of my research is to start a scholarly conversation on this work by exploring the relationship between the historical image and the fictional text to establish Thien’s novel as postmodern. Drawing on postmodernist theories, this paper applies the works of prominent thinkers in the field to ask how the collision of genres and mediums (history and fiction; image and text), in Do Not Say We Have Nothing renders the novel postmodern. The first aim of this paper is to demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between text and image. The relationship is reciprocal because while the photograph certifies and undermines the story, the story also certifies and undermines the photograph. After establishing the multiple functions of the relationship between text and image, this paper explores how the collision of genres elicits multiple interpretations of the novel and the historical events it details. To understand how multiple interpretations of history destabilize historical metanarratives, this paper will finally investigate how the novel gives a voice to those omitted from history. By acknowledging Thien’s novel as postmodern, this paper analyzes the important role of fiction in representing those whose experiences are effaced by historical metanarratives. My postmodernist interpretation of Do Not Say We Have Nothing will provide new ways of reading and interpreting the novel and situating it within the canon of Canadian Literature.


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  2. Hutcheon, L. (1988). A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge.
  3. Lee, H. (2019). “Writing, History, and Music in Do Not Say We Have Nothing: A Conversation with Madeleine Thien.” Canadian Literature, 1(238), 13–21.
  4. Sontag, S. (1973). On Photography. New York: Picador.
  5. Thien, M. (2017). Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Toronto: Vintage Canada.