Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Canadian Writing's Bad? Name One.

A few days ago I got into an argument with a friend's brother-in-law. The brother-in-law's a dentist with an office in the city. He says sometimes when he has a really attractive female client he rests his forearm on her chest. His wife's his secretary because he's already cheated on her once. He has one son, whom they both named Finnegan. He brags about once masturbating during an anatomy lecture.

We were at an engagement party and the guy wanted to know what I do. I told him I was working toward a PhD. He wanted to know what field. I told him English. He wanted to know what genre. I told him Canadian writing.

"Canadian!" he laughed. "Why?"

A lot of people hate Canadian writing. They hate Canadian painting and Canadian drama. They hate Canadian movies and Canadian bands. They don't know why, exactly. They just hate them.

It's all part of this we're-not-even-American that's been floating around for the past 141 years. America's usually been bigger; America's usually been flashier and more interesting. We had all these erect WASPs, and they had drunken, anti-Semitic, psychotic poets and artists. Those drunken neurotics birthed Western culture, and here we were, up here, alone, in the cold.

But here's the thing: people hate Canadian everything, but they don't know what they hate. I already said they don't know why they hate it--which is fine. But if you're going to hate something, you should at least know what that something is. "Canadian writing" is not a thing. You hate Canadian writers, Canadian books. And, if that's the case, you should probably be able to name some.

So I asked this brother-in-law what he disliked most about Canadian writing. "It's all boring, bleak, shit," he said. "It's not funny; it's not good."

Again, part of the discourse.

I said, "Well, have you ever read Mordecai Richler?"

"No, but I've heard of him."

OK. There goes our funny writer. "Have you ever read Atwood?"

"In high school."

"Ever read Timothy Findley?"

"Who?"

"Rudy Wiebe?"

"No."

"Margaret Laurence?"

"In high school."

That's how most Canadians know Canadian writing exists: they read it in high school. And whom did they read? Atwood, Laurence, and Atwood and Laurence. That's it. F.P. Grove? No. Morley Callaghan? No. Sure, these are dry, Freudian-obsessed writers. But they exist. They're seminal figures in the Canadian canon (which does actually exist.) If you're going to hate Canadian writing, at least know who they are.

No one knows who Marian Engel is. No one knows who Brian Moore is.

I don't think that's a particularly bad thing. Most people don't read. But why "hate" it? Why not just dislike it? Why not just ignore it?

And I'm just talking about mid-twentieth-century authors. I'm not even getting into the weird, mystical/magical-realist/Rapunzelist/guy-leaves-Gatineau-and-becomes-a-monkey-trainer kind of writing that's happening right now. Richler is a stick-your-cock-in-the-faucet type guy. At least take a look at him.

But, yeah, a lot of our writing is bad. Maybe most of it is bad. But at least I know that.

1 comment:

Kathleen Molloy said...

I have never met a Gatinois that has left the region to become a monkey trainer. Monkey yes. Politician yes. But never a monkey trainer. Maybe that's what is lacking in CanLit and why your buddy avoids authors that stick their dicks in faucets.

I on the othor hand swoon over faucet stuffing Canadian authors and offer you a resounding "here here".

Kathleen Molloy, author - Dining with Death
www.diningwithdeath.ca
www.kathleenmolloy.offo.ca

 
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