I had allowed myself a temporary distraction from Ways With Words, and with 40% of the family currently in Canada my thoughts naturally inclined rather enviously in that direction. I've been playing the Joni Mitchell's and browsing over in Canada Corner in my library and pondering the shopping list I must send to Offspringette who is back this week and will surely go to a bookshop for her mother before she leaves?
Then I'm not sure how or why but in came this e mail,
A call for papers on the world- wide
reception of Canadian writers for the ACSUS (Association of Canadian
Studied in the US) Biennial Conference in November, 2009, in San Diego.
Canadian writers are getting world-wide recognition, but their works are read differently in the various countries as diverse cultural settings provide the context for literary interpretation and literary reception. Cultural values and national loyalties are among the factors that figure in how works are received (along with such things as experiential background, age, aesthetic tastes and education). I invite papers that explore the reception of Canadian writers around the world.
that would have sounded as dry as dust to me years ago, now I really really want to write that paper....but when?
In my sleep,with my left foot at 3am?
CanLit was a slow but steady discovery, and blame can of course be laid entirely at the door of Margaret Atwood and her excellent book Survival a Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, published by House of Anansi Press in 1972 and which illuminated my reading with some startlingly new perspectives,
'Canadians are forever taking the national pulse like doctors at a sickbed: the aim is not to see whether the patient will live well but simply whether he will live at all. Our central idea is one which generates, not the excitement and sense of adventure or danger which The Frontier holds out, not the smugness and/or sense of security of evrything in its place, which The Island can offer, but an almost intolerable anxiety.'
I'd never really taken a view on a country's literature in quite this way but Margaret Atwood was talking about what she knew and in 1972 she wasn't happy,
'Our stories are likely to be tales not of those who made it but of those who made it back from the awful experience - the North, the snowstorm, the sinking ship - that killed everyone else...Canadian authors spend a disproportionate amount of time making sure that their heroes die or fail.'
But in the light of that call for papers how interesting it would be to examine how differently we do read Canadian writing here in the UK for a start. Margaret Atwood in her new introduction contends that times have changed, many of her wishes have been granted and predictions realized, but I still think it would be fascinating to read with the post-colonial glasses on and with this in mind,
'Let us suppose in short that Canada is a colony. A partial definition of a colony is that it is a place from which a profit is made, but not by the people who live there...that's what colonies are for, to make money for the "mother country".
Oops, that's us she'll be meaning then.
Margaret Atwood elaborates on Canada as Victim and naturally reading as The Oppressor would offer fascinating insights. Personally I often wonder how many generations it takes to shake off the guilt of colonial oppression? I've certainly never felt reponsible for any Canadian oppression and we do still graciously share the Queen and our Royals with them, but though the world map doesn't seem to have been pink for much of my life I sense we'll carry the can for it all for generations to come.
The reading in that case had better be a Thriving and Vibrant Survivor in the Ascendant v Diminished and Floundering Imperial Power one...hmm even more interesting and time to really spread my wings and read some new Canadian authors beyond my stock favourites.
Survival was a memorable and exciting read for me and still is, suddenly it all slotted into place and I was dragging Canadian authors off the shelves right, left and North having not realised they were even Canadian. Then I discovered Margaret Laurence and between the two Peggy's I was well and truly Canada-fied.
Times have certainly changed since Margaret Atwood's controversial and ground-breaking book , but don't miss Survival. It is eminently readable and deliciously subversive and having raised her head above the parapet in such a provocative way the flak just flew and I suspect Margaret Atwood loved every minute.
Writing a new introduction some thirty years later,
'who could have suspected that this modest cultural artifact would have got so thoroughly up the noses of some of my elders and betters?...I began to feel like the mechanical duck at the funfair shooting gallery, though nobody has won the oversized panda yet because I still seem to be quacking.'
This post was all supposed to be leading up to my thoughts on my latest CanLit read The Outlander by Gil Adamson, but I've spent so much time dreaming of papers and getting the books off the shelf and browsing them that I've almost forgotten what I was going to say. This could well be a sign that my paper might all be bit simplistic amd garbled. We'll leave that to the phD Paper Writers and I'll have to regroup on The Outlander, but meanwhile, you needn't even ask, of course I've had Joni Mitchell's Blue playing while I've been writing.
'On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet.'