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?

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