Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Wisdom Of Alissa York

For a vanity CanLit blog this thing has some devoted followers. I don't know why. I'm actually starting to question my literacy; I write a post and wonder if blogging's inimical to the horrors of academic writing. Must be.

But I was thinking, maybe the reason that people read this thing is that Canadian writers are so...private, and Canadian literature fans are so devoted. But they never meet. Maybe a few signings and readings help to provide a personal fix. If you like Michael Redhill, it's not like you can meet him at the Sunset Grill. You wait years for a novel to come out, you read it, then you wait for the next one. But all the while Redhill's writing, reading, cooking dinner, grocery shopping, and you'd never know.

So here's something that Alissa York said. You Alissa York fans'll enjoy this. And I guess I'll get to Redhill and Pyper and the rest of them. They're all articulate people, and sometimes they say interesting things.

Like York (to a guy in a red sweater): "Do you ever watch a porno right to the end? Sometimes I do. I want to see what happens. Usually, you can guess."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Well, Paul Quarrington's Dead

Paul Quarrington died last week. I'll tell a short story, and then you can surf to Amazon or Chapters and decide if you want to buy a Quarrington novel. Better yet, why not go to the library and steal one.

I met Quarrington at Harvey's--the burger joint. If I buy a hamburger, it's usually at People's Foods on Dupont. Otherwise I buy ground beef, add some basil, pepper, and garlic salt and fry up four 1/4 pounders. But every few years I hear someone say something about Harvey's, or use the word "charbroiled," and I have to go back to remind myself that Ray Kroc was an evil man.

I'd seen Quarrington's picture in a dozen places, and I'd actually watched him on TV during his King Leary escapades, so I knew that it was Paul. He was arguing with the counter help over onion rings. Apparently he'd bought a medium serving of onion rings (who the hell knows why he didn't go for the large), and he was complaining about the thickness of the onions. The counter help explained that the onion rings were shipped frozen; Paul didn't care. He wanted new thinner onions, or he wanted his money back.

Then he started eating the onion rings. After every ring, he'd say, "Too thick." Eventually he finished the cup. He said, "You made me eat every one. They were all too thick."

The manager said, "I'm sorry, sir."

Quarrington said, "Well, what are you going to do about it?"

And he got his money back. The only thing that he said to me was, "They're good with salt."

So, no, I didn't know Quarrington, but, living in the city, you were bound to see him. From what I've heard he was a decent enough guy, and a good friend of Paul Gross. I don't know if David Marciano liked him.

Another Canadian author goes the way of Hugh Hood. The real question is, Who's next? Considering that Atwood and Munro--like fine plastic--can never die, it's gotta be between Alistair MacLeod and Wayson Choy. I'll give the edge to Wayson.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jerking Off to Canadian Fiction: Part I

Christ, it's been a long time since my last post. I don't think that I trust electronic media. I find that, aside from my whining re: the university, blog posts tend to show weird typos that just mar the whole purpose of the text. Maybe it's karma. Who the hell knows.

Oh yeah, I was going to talk about jerking off to Canadian fiction. It's an interesting idea, and I don't think that many people have really dug into the subject. I know that I once took a Canadian literature course with a professor who admitted to having jerked off to a picture of George Ryga, but jerking off to the text is a different kind of perversion. Anyone can jerk off to Ryga. Before he turned into a perpetually-old Anthony Quinn, Ryga was a handsome guy. I know that Rohinton Mistry's compared Ryga to a young Tom Hanks. Fine. Alice Munro used to look a bit like a white Aunt Jemima, or maybe Myrna Loy discovering a large spider.

I said that I'd start with Soucouyant or Canada Made Me, but I think I'll go with Clark Blaise's A North American Education. The whole collection's good, but the story works on its own. It's something that can really excite you, really get you ready for a good, long close reading.

Since, according to John Metcalf's statistics, about three new people discover Blaise each year, it's probably a good idea to start with an introduction: not just a note about the story, but about the guy. As far as I can tell, Clark and Marie-Claire are not related; they spell their names differently, and only one of them loves Jesus and foreign object penetration. Try to guess which one. Because I respect his work, I'll be clear: not Clark.

A North American Education is a fine collection of stories; impressive in a lot of ways, but especially noteworthy for its author's willingness not to meditate on the complexities of runaway teenagers and widows and grocery shopping. Instead we get a boy's lost love for his father--something entirely original. The writing is heavy and opaque, but it's good stuff. And you can really crank to it. I'm talking about the scene with Princess Hi-Yalla and the vaginally-smoked cigarette. Now Atwood can do it, but does she write about it? You've got little boy Thibidault doing his best to spy on a neighbour's bath-time ritual. Very little imagination's required: a woman--in this case, Annette--who takes that many baths has (a) a very contoured shampoo bottle, or (b) memories of Atwood changing at "the lake," a shower massager, and very nimble fingers. For Blaise's boy, the eroticism's obvious. How many movies, TV shows, and gonzo porn flicks use the same tired set- up: person A discovers person B nude. Person B does not know that person A is watching. Person A has only one choice: jerk off. Whether he does it beside a bush, under a trellis, or in an English garden, that's just the way it is. And so Blaise's story has a distinctive purpose: it's a Penthouse Forum you can find at the university library.

Obviously, I had to put my theory to work. I couldn't write about masturbation and Canadian fiction without testing my hypothesis. That would be intellectually dishonest. And so, with a few Google images of Bharati Mukherjee to get me going, I set to work cranking it to The Bridge, Snow People, and Words for the Winter. I thought that I'd save Going to India for later. Now, it wasn't the most exciting ride--it wasn't like the pink bathroom stall at Studio 54--but I can tell you that a person--a determined person--willing really to get into it, and with about an hour to spare, can orgasm to Blaise's work. There are chafing implications, and your determination's going to be tested, but it's possible.

Also, it's very hard to jerk off with one hand and turn the pages of a trade paperback with another. That's something for publishers to consider. Luckily I had a library copy.

I guess a woman could get the same results. First you'd have to light a candle and maybe burn some tea leaves, but if the mood were right there'd be a chance.

This is tough stuff. So non-academic that I find it hard to go back to writing papers and journal articles. But if you can't write about jerking off to Canadian writing, what can you write about?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Best Canadian Novels To Jerk Off To (or; The Best Canadian Novels To Which To Jerk Off)

Canadian fiction's been called many things, but nothing that Ethel Wilson never heard before. I was once told by a friend that a piece of Chilean bass was "as dry as an Atwoodian blow job." Another friend then said that the only way really to prevent forest fires was to keep Atwood away from popsicle sticks, pine needles, and provincial parks. Then I said, "If you really want to make a joke about Atwood starting a fire by sucking a piece of wood, why don't you just tell the story of Jane Rule's false cock and her scorched Penman's long underwear?" That ended the conversation.

As an academic, I deal largely with esoteric issues--like Morley Callaghan's vision of the city, or Douglas Coupland's vision of the future, or Margaret Laurence's vision of the past. Simple stuff; not very interesting. This year my department's hosting a conference on the question mark: Postmodern? Modern? Pre-Modern? The idea's simple, general, and has the potential to draw in a lot of fully-funded researchers. It's amazing how easy it is to sucker people with these weighty conference topics. One year we did "Cold." That was it, Cold. Another time it was "The Imaginary Farmer's Feel-ed: the writer and the emotional urban farm." Weird shit, and none too interesting.

But no one'll play my game. I wanted to do: the best novels to jerk off to. "Too controversial," they said. "Academics don't masturbate." I was pissed off, but I'm used to the Ivory Tower's take on non-standard paths. And everyone knows that academics do masturbate. Many in their university offices; some female ones using thick university chalk and, strangely enough, those long, thin pointers. Back to SSHRC nonsense: somehow it's great to hand out a hundred grand to get a paper or--even better--a thesis on Canadian immigrant fiction and its Polish antecedents, but the second you imply that Lisa Moore's at her best when she's giving you a hard on, that's it. It's over. You're teaching a course on grammar, and Moore's writing more date-rape ballads.

As an aside, I wonder if, as a writer, you ever get to a point where it's just not that fulfilling to type about truck stop rapes and stranger rapes and assorted childhood fondlings and questionable spankings. I guess not. Not to make any substantive comparisons, but here you've got East of Eden, and there you've got sixty-five character sketches of a tortured female id. Wouldn't it be nice to break out and write something about, I don't know, finding a treasure map and some lost pirate gold? But the Giller committee would hate that.

So I'm counting down the best Canadian novels to jerk off to. If the university won't do it, I will. I'll start with David Chariandy's Soucouyant, and work my way down to Norman Levine's Canada Made Me. It'll be an interesting literary voyage.
All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
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