Saturday, May 8, 2010

Notes From The Canadian Literature Symposium 2010

Every time that I abuse this site by, say, not writing anything for two months, I come back and find that more and more people are being directed (by Google) to posts about Margaret Atwood's yeast infection, Alice Munro's African dildo collection, or just a nonsense time-wasting post on how Rudy Wiebe loves honey-whole wheat bread. I'm not sure what that means. Maybe I should write more? Maybe I should write less? Maybe Atwood and Canesten are teaming up for a campaign. God only knows.

As a segue, I'm at the Canadian Literature Symposium at the University of Ottawa. The CLS is an annual thing that, essentially, gets Canadian literature scholars out of the house for a few days. Universities pay the tab--as they always do--and we sit around and talk about Yvonne Johnson or Todd Babiak for a few days. We eat celery. Then we go home and read the New York Times on the 'Net. I think I've pretty much captured it exactly, but maybe a little more detail would be helpful. Especially since I know that some if not all of the participants will Google their own names in the next three weeks and somehow be drawn to this post.

Yesterday Pauline Johnsnon, who died in 1913, was compared to Lady Gaga. Obviously, the comparison was strong. Johnson was a performer; she read poetry, chanted, and gave no-hands blow jobs. Seriously, Johnson created her own identity, was a little mysterious, and danced a bit. And she gave no-hands blow jobs.

What else is happening out here? What's coming up? Today Brooke Pratt and Erica Kelly are presenting a paper on teaching Malcolm's Katie in the modern classroom. That should be interesting. I know that Isabella Valancy Crawford is a polarizing figure on university campuses. There's a lot of controversy there. I've taught two seminars on Crawford, and the consensus was that everyone hated her work--found nothing redeeming at all in it. But I guess that she's still dutifully kept alive on a syllabus somewhere. F.P. Grove's still cool though.

Joel Baetz is going to talk about Helena Coleman. I like Joel, so I'll be there.

And, of course, we're gonna hear about T.C. Haliburton and Archie Lampman. I'll have my copy of At the Mermaid Inn ready, but the cover'll be wrapped around a copy of Richard Ford's The Life of Irwin Bierbraer.

Is this conference the least useful, the most wasteful, the pinnacle of esoteric knowledge-grubbing of the past ten years? I'm obviously a bit ashamed that I can't say anything substantive about nineteenth-century Canadian literature scholarship, but I'm so exhausted by its heavy, heavy tone that for the next day I'll just float around and try not to be depressed by the frequent and dizzying use of "discourse," "aesthetic," "ideology," etc. I feel like we're all huddled in a cave obsessively protecting something that no one wants.

Anyway, I think that the verdict on early-Canadian literature scholarship's been delivered. Given that a SSHRC grant for Haliburton studies is about as likely as finding a technicolour photo of Jane Rule fisting Judy Garland, the subject's closing fast. Scary or not, no one--and I mean no one--knows who the hell William Wilfred Campbell is.

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