Friday, March 21, 2008

John Metcalf Is A Prick

John Metcalf is a prick. He's not kicking against the pricks, he's not pricking a balloon, he's not being pricked by a burdock, he's not eating a prickly pear. The man is a prick. Maybe I should save my venom for someone else, someone people've actually heard of. Like a TTC bus driver who misses his stops, or a hot-dog vendor who cuts his sausages lengthwise. But Metcalf...that guy is just an asshole.

An Aesthetic Underground, Metcalf's latest self-serving public masturbatory act is out there for you to read. I urge you to pick it up. (But get it from the library—don’t earn this man royalties.) Underground, published in 2003, is another Metcalfian attempt at positioning himself in the enduring focal point of Canadian letters. Ten pages into the thing you realize you’ve seen it all before, heard it all before. And that is literally true. Metcalf regurgitates musty insults and clich├ęs, summoning his tinted vitriol from the depths of other great reads like The Bumper Book and Kicking Against the Pricks. It was in those two works that we learned important critical truths, like how great Metcalf is compared to everyone else.

But why hate Metcalf? I’m sure there are people out there who like the man. And I’m just as sure all those people have a financial interest in Metcalf’s friendship/stewardship. They’re Porcupine authors or angsty, incoherent creative writing students stuck on the idea that Canada is so…sigh provincial. Canada is so…(grimace/scowl) unbearrrrrable. As is life for these happy few.

The funny thing about Metcalf is where this man’s built his house. He wouldn’t free Frank Davey from a locked bathroom stall, but he’d spend an afternoon discussing rare cheeses with Norman Levine and Clark Blaise. Everyone Metcalf likes is an asshole. Here’s a man who hates David Staines—a harmless pedagogue—yet treats Mordecai Richler like an Iwo Jima-era Bob Hope. Richler, an asshole’s asshole was maybe the worst person ever to publish a book in Canada. If you don’t believe me, ask Michael Posner. Here was a guy (Richler) who told a fan with literary aspirations that she should forget prose and stick to something she was good at…like abortions.

Metcalf eats up that kind of thing. He touts Annabel Lyon, Andrew Pyper, and Stevie Heighton like their writing is the kind of thing we really need. Here are three writers who’d drive Robert Fulford to the remote control. Never before have so many written about so little. But Metcalf loves them. Why? Because they’re young and impressionable. They write about things like wool and asphalt. What could be better than reading a novel about a tungsten miner who leaves his home in Ungava Bay for a life as a professional mime?

The experience of reading a book by a Metcalf protege book is like that of whittling through the relaxing night after orgasm-less sex.

Just going over the passages detailing Metcalf’s career as writer in residence at a handful of Canadian universities is enough to really piss you off. Not enough students came to him for help, for advice. And that’s a shame, because he had the boot all greased up and ready to go.

The Canada Council was a joke. Canadian writers didn’t deserve public money. They couldn’t write. They were ciphers. Yet here he is taking handouts to sit on his ass and take digs at Al Purdy (another prick.)

Metcalf isn’t going anywhere. In a way I respect him for his honesty, but in another way I despise his ever-growing condescension. The Lady Who Sold Furniture was a fine story—if it had been about anything, it could’ve been interesting. Hugh Hood was a great writer. The Ontario Tourist Council could’ve really used him.

Well, Metcalf, I guess this is the way it ends. I’ll let you get back to your Russell Smith thriller. You know the one where the doctor goes missing in downtown Toronto? The one where the cops have a good suspect—the guy they saw follow her out of the bar; the guy with her credit cards in his pocket; the guy with the motive and the opportunity. But, here, let me spoil it for you—the lake goddess did it. Meditate on that.


Anonymous said...

You're right, Metcalf is a jerk. I'll paraphrase Mark Twain: News of Metcalf's death is greatly anticipated.

Robin Collins said...

David who?

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