Green Island Backgrounders - outside-the-box thinking

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The alleged demise of Canadian Literature - natural death or attempted homicide?

by Dave Patterson, August 2013


Aug 14 2013: Dear Tyee, I wonder if you might consider a bit of a longer essay in response to the recent (lengthy) article you reprinted from Michael LaPointe on 'What's Happened to CanLit'? I have some serious concerns about what he has done here, and would like to say a lot more about it than can be managed through the comments section - actually, it would take a small book to properly deconstruct this article, which I know you wouldn't be interested in and I don't have time for anyway, so I will try to hold it down to a few major points. What I have attached is kind of a 4th draft after I calmed down from my initial anger and organised it a bit, I will work more on it as there are still a couple of things I want to work in, but what I do will depend to some extent on whether you will publish it or not - if so, I have no doubt you will have some suggestions, if not, I won't worry about length and just go ahead and prepare it for my own website.

- no response

Aug 18 2013: Dear LRC Editor - I just read, a few days ago, the recent article by Michael LaPointe, What's Happened to CanLit?: In classrooms today, cultural nationalism seems to be a non-starter. I have written a response, if you care to share it with your readers. You can read it at (here).

- no response



What happened to 'CanLit'? A response to Michael LaPointe ....

Let me note at the beginning I do not really care what Mr LaPointe thinks of Canadian literature, or anything else, we all have a right to our own opinions. But when you progress from 'my opinion' clearly stated as such to an attempt to actually portray yourself as a dispassionate 'literary critic' and 'prove' Canadian Literature is basically too bereft of anything of value to even talk about, in what is essentially a very dishonest rhetorical hatchet job much more suitable for publication in some anti-Canadian rag like the NP or Fraser Institute propaganda periodical, I must protest, and beg leave of the LRC to make a response. (it's a bit late, I do not follow the LRC all that regularly, and only learned of this article when it was reprinted in the Tyee Aug 7 2013)

As Mr LaPointe begins, he leaves the reader guessing in terms of clearly stating either his thesis or conclusion here - that is, does he himself support either the fact of, or the desirability of teaching and nurturing, a strong Canadian Literature, or not?, possibly wishing to leave the impression he is, indeed, simply a concerned Canadian addressing a topic of interest to some at least from a neutral, scholarly perspective. But - but as we read through the article, his belief and argument become ever clearer, that (he believes, or at least wants to convince others) this idea of 'CanLit' is essentially a non-starter, there's just nothing there to bother with, so let's just move on into the post-modern world and its greater post-nationalist glories, one of which will not, unfortunately or otherwise, be this old nationalistic idea of anything we could call 'CanLit'.

I would imagine a lot of other people are as unhappy with this idea as am I, but even were I to be the only one, I would like to respond to Mr LaPointe's article, and explain why I think he is very, very mistaken, and offer some thoughts on what might really be going on here.

First let me offer some reasons for my statement that Mr LaPointe writes indeed something of a 'we come to bury Caesar not to praise him' assessment of what he calls 'CanLit', which I am sure would be the initial defence to my 'accusation', that he was not 'attacking' 'CanLit' at all.

Well, it's failed, hasn't it?
In the opening paragraph, Mr LaPointe says "..If one aim of mandatory schooling is to guarantee basic knowledge of one's country, the Canadian literary education cannot claim success..' - which would seem to imply he believes there is a literary history worth learning about, that there is 'basic knowledge of the country' worth knowing, but the education system fails to provide such education. (if there was no literary history worth teaching, then 'success' would not be an option - that it is an option, but somebody failed, indicates 'success' might have been possible by some other persons)

But then in the next paragraph he quickly shifts to the other foot, as he says "..we find our curricula strangely untouched by the 1960s and '70s, decades that saw the sustained efforts of writers, critics, publishers and legislators to reverse-engineer a canon, aggrandize our literature and instil it in our schools .... The abiding paucity of Canadian authors in the classroom belies a nation-building project that failed to endure..." - well, like so much in this essay, the deconstruction of underlying but unstated assumptions takes many more words than the initial exposition; but we must first, of course, note the incorrect and contradictory usage of 'belies' here - the 'paucity' of Cdn authors in the classroom does not 'belie' 'a nation-building project that failed', it's really a bit of a non sequitur - something like 'indicates' or, if you want to be stronger in your condemnation, 'proves', would be much more appropriate, and correct, words .. you might correctly (in terms of English, that is, not facts) say something like 'the paucity belies the assertion of some that there actually are Canadian writers worth teaching', but the idea this 'paucity' 'belies' a 'failed idea' is simply faulty logic, leaving the reader to infer the meaning. If you 'belied' a 'failed attempt', you would actually be looking at a 'successful attempt' - for example, a more honest statement would be something like 'the actual greatness of Canadian Literature belies Mr LaPointe's attempt to prove we have no such literature..'}

But onward, returning to the examination of the above quote itself, which would seem to imply that actually there is nothing much worth teaching today, as in the 60s and 70s, some people tried to 'reverse-engineer', or 'create' a 'canon', advertise it as something bigger than it was, and get people to teach it, but failed, as today 30-40 years later, the teaching of Canadian Literature in our schools is generally more noteworthy by its absence of both texts and interested teachers rather than its success. This has, of course, the rather obvious inference that if someone had to try to create something ('reverse engineer'), and paint it pretty colors ('aggrandize') and try to sell it, and failed, then there was nothing there before of substance that would be apparent and not need help - altogether saying in a roundabout way that insofar as 'CanLit' goes in the last couple of decades, it has been something not real, just artificial.

In the next paragraph he goes on to make his opinion somewhat less murky, having led the innocent curious reader into some murky places, he readies the serious offensive (pun perhaps intended) weapons: "In Robert Kroetsch's celebrated phrasing, 'we haven't got an identity until someone tells our story. The fiction makes us real.' If this is so, then today's high schoolers are something other than real Canadians. This is not to sound the alarm, however, for it is unlikely that it would rouse attention. With tidal regularity, someone steps forward to decry the absence of our literature in schools. Instead, we seek to trace the perishing of Canada's nationalist literary pedagogy. Its goal - what one grade 12 teacher terms 'a civic and national pride, one that allows [students] a certain confidence in their pride as a people' - slides further and further out of reach, as nationalism becomes ever more retrograde in a 21st-century context."

Well, what is that if not a left cross - right uppercut combination? Our students are not actually 'real' Canadians (POW!! Take that!) because they have no 'real' Canadian literature to make them Canadians (BANG!!) - but don't worry! - nobody cares!! (Oww!!!) - and let's just forget this 'nationalist' idea that students, or the citizens they shall become some day, should have any 'civic national pride' based on pride in their literature - just so retrograde.. (BAMM AND DOWN YOU GO HAHA!!)

Well, the first thought of course is that Mr LaPointe is getting quite delusional, as none of those statements are remotely true. But at least he has finally revealed his true objective here - to '..trace the perishing of Canada's nationalist literary pedagogy..', and make his case that the idea of '..a civic and national pride, one that allows [students] a certain confidence in their pride as a people... slides further and further out of reach, as nationalism becomes ever more retrograde in a 21st-century context..'

One wonders why the Fraser Institute did not leap at the chance to publish this blatantly anti-Canadian nonsense, as it would surely seem more suitable to their purposes than the LRC, but the world works, as they say, in mysterious ways.

Back to realityland
Before dissecting Mr LaPointe's rationale for stating we have no national literature in Canada, and never have, let's first just get a bit anchored in 'factland'. It is simply a fact that in the 400-plus years of Canadian history we have indeed, or our ancestors at any rate, including a large number still among us, done the work and thinking and writing that has, very surely, resulted in a great and laudable body of work we can honestly and with some pride refer to as Canadian Literature. No argument, it exists, and is worthy. I am no expert, but even your average literate Canadian should know most of what follows here:

Our written history goes back at least to the very first days of European discovery and early exploration of this continent in the 1600s, with such things as the diaries of Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain laying down the earliest roots, in the following decades the records of the Jesuits and other missionaries in New France and then onwards in Upper Canada, from the beginning throughout the first couple of hundred years of exploration of the country we now call Canada, some of us proudly, some evidently less so. Journals of people such as Alexander MacKenzie, Simon Fraser, Samuel Hearne, and many others lead us through the next period, joined by the voices of many Loyalist writers following the period of the American War of Independence, and their next attempt to overrun Canada in the War of 1812. The leadup to Confederation in 1867 produced more tall historical figures and writers in the growing nation, and throughout the colonial period we have much more, including the voices of many women settler-pioneers such as Catherine Parr Traill and Susannah Moodie, and a quick survey of some of the more famous names from the last 100+ years Mr LaPointe seems unaware of, or feels not worth talking about, would include names like Lucy Maude Montgomery, CGD Roberts, ER Seton, FR Scott, Irving Layton, Earle Birney, Gabrielle Roy, PK Page, WO Mitchell, George Woodcock, Irving Layton, Hugh McLennan, Sinclair Ross, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Alistair MacLeod, Tomson Highway, Jack Hodgins, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Pierre Berton, Margaret Atwood, Farley Mowat, Timothy Findlay, Naomi Klein, Guy Gavriel Kay, William Gibson, John Ralston Saul, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence - well, that is just a very short, and very incomplete, list of notable, often *great*, Canadian writers which will no doubt offend many people only because of the many worthies whom I have overlooked in this quick summary, primarily from the last 20-30 years who have not yet become widely known, from coast to coast to coast, and of every race and both sexes in this great country stretching back centuries, a great body of work over time and space creating what can only be called a national literature, an interesting and worthy national literature very closely tied to the history of our country - and there are of course many others who are or will be recognized as 'great' in years to come, and hundreds of lesser names, and new ones coming along every year, at least some of who have the skills to become great, if given a chance - in other words, a very large and very high quality national literature that nobody need be embarrassed about - indeed, we should stand tall and proud and defer to none when talking about national literatures - we may not have the most famous writers in the world, or the greatest, but that is not the argument, it would be ludicrous to say that 'literature' is confined to the Americans or British, just whether we have something we can proudly claim as our own literature, which we do, beyond any kind of doubt, including many writers of great international fame and recognition for the top-drawer quality of their work. And it quite beggars belief that anyone who claims the expertise to write on Canadian literature, as does Mr LaPointe, would be ignorant of these people, so one would think it is indeed quite legitimate to question his motives in pretending all of these people do not exist, and/or they have nothing of quality to offer Canada and Canadian students, and the wider literary world.

(any detailed discussion would take pages, I am just trying to show that the implication we have nothing now, and no history, of 'literature', as Mr LaPointe seems desirous to have his readers believe, is to completely deny or be out of touch with reality - for those interested in a more detailed, and positive, discussion of such things, which Mr LaPointe apparently has no idea of, check the Canadian Encyclopedia of Mel Hurtig, a true Canadian and great writer himself, proud of who we have been and are).

I've been around for quite awhile now, a reader at least if not student of Canadian fiction and history for most of the last 60-odd years, from my first awakenings as a teen in the 60s through the present, and I'm willing to concede from personal observation and an ongoing stream of anecdotes decrying what is happening in schools these days that a whole lot of current young Canadians, and a whole lot of adults of varying ages who graduated from their high schools during the last 20+ years, don't have a lot of knowledge of Canadian literature, or a whole lot else for that matter that people with a decent 'liberal education' might be expected to know. However, a lack of knowledge in some people should not be equated with no knowledge available for or worth learning, although this seems to be the second central thrust of Mr LaPointe's case here, and thus the question becomes, not 'is there anything called 'Canadian Literature' worth talking about', which is a nonsensical question given our history and writers as noted above, but 'Why don't our students, and those who have graduated from our schools in the last 30 years, have any idea about our great past, and our great writers?' - and since I don't think anyone really wants to try to make the case that our young people are too stupid to learn, the question becomes - 'What has gone wrong with our education system, and why in the hell are some people, evidently including a large number of people who have graduated from Canadian teaching colleges and are teaching these young people that Mr LaPointe points to as exemplars of the case we eventually understand he is trying to make, trying to pretend we have no 'Canadian Literature', that none of these writers I've mentioned above, and many others, exist or are worth studying, and knowing, and being proud of?'

And once the question or questions, any questions, become properly framed, the path to some kind of answer becomes a great deal easier to sort out.

A bit more to the story .....
Certainly, as noted, throughout Mr LaPointe has various quotes from people at least mildly supportive of Canadian literature, but in every instance they can, after a fuller reading, be recognized as simply the standard rhetorical device of offering a point of view contrary to the general argument only to shoot it down, combining the techniques of 'straw dog' and 'damning by faint praise', and nowhere making any of the, really, overwhelming arguments available to someone supporting or defending our great history from attacks like this.

So if I may, I will undertake the opposite role here - let us take Mr LaPointe's 'proofs' that we have no 'CanLit' worth teaching, and show them to be the empty words they are by offering some arguments or things about our literary past he very one-sidedly fails to mention, which might cast a considerably different light on what seems to be his thesis, that there isn't really anything in our literary past worth making a fuss over, so quit wasting your time trying to build something where there is nothing to work with to build it.

Through this somewhat less opaque light, we can see that Mr LaPointe seems to be clothed in some Judas robes, writing in a way that suggests at the beginning that he sympathises with Canadians who want to feel proud of their literary tradition, but then hiding the great bulk of the long positive and strong literary history we have in a dark room while "reluctantly" building the case and offering the conclusion that gosh, it's just too bad for you nice chaps, but there's nothing to celebrate, folks, so just give it up, grow up and accept your limitations. If indeed it is a hit piece, we come not to praise Caesar but to bury him, then this approach is entirely understandable, the snakeoil salesman does not show his true mendacious colors and intent but is extremely sympathetic to your problems, as Mr LaPointe somehow pretends that the dozens of great writers this country has produced who have done an exemplary job of exploring and recording *our* story as a nation and creating our great national literature as noted above simply don't exist, let alone the hundreds more who create the greater body of less famous but nonetheless substantial work that every literature has, from which the giants emerge in time, to 'prove' his thesis that 'CanLit' has 'failed' because there is nor was nothing to nurture and sustain it. Which, I suppose, might have some success, when presented to a group of people who have come through Canada's school system, and been "informed" ("NOT', as the kids say) by the same Canadian media and others who have the same dim view of things Canadian, and have been completely uneducated in our past. But again I note - ignorance of something, whether feigned or real, is not the same as nothing being there.

But understanding his approach does not, of course, make it any more valid, as the list of great Canadian authors above clearly proves beyond any intelligent argument, so the question that must be addressed becomes - who is it that Mr LaPointe speaks for who wants Canadians to be ignorant of their great literary tradition and have obviously been in control of the education system where our great literary history is obviously not taught for some years now, even decades, and why are they doing this?

And again, for those who have been paying attention these last few decades rather than watching MuchMusic and American television and playing Angry Birds on their smart-phones (interesting name for a dumbing down device), and not getting all of their info from the Canadian media or 'education' system, the answer is relatively easy to understand, if we again take a short detour to inform and clarify the discussion with some necessary background.

The NWO-Branch Canada and 'nationalism'
Mr LaPointe himself offers the clue to the answers to these questions, with a sentence near the end of the piece - 'Either the Trudeau generation failed to pass the torch, or someone failed to grasp it.' Rarely is a thing involving human interactions as black and white as 'either A or B', and when dealing with someone obviously desperately trying to sell you something that is of very questionable authenticity (we *know* Canada has a very laudable national literature, it's far beyond argument - why is he trying to convince us it doesn't??), you really need to do some wider looking around than the choices they give you which are designed to lure you into someplace they want you to go where you probably wouldn't go if you had a more-encompassing perspective and weren't being pressured in one way or another. So why is he now trying to connect Trudeau, in the opinion of most Canadians this country's greatest prime minister, to this fantasy? Look!! - bad CanLit, let's see if we can do a bit of drive-by slander and connect Trudeau (this also has the benefit of connecting with the rightwing base, who drank deep drafts of the libertarian-Randian koolaid special Canada formulation long ago and will hate anything you tell them to if you connect Trudeau to it..)! Well. Let us be informed by another well known fact to anyone paying attention to things political in this country the last few decades - since the 'far right' political movement in Canada installed a certain Prime Minister as despised by Canadians at the end of his time in office as Trudeau was loved and honored, they have been doing their best to destroy Trudeau's history and legacy as part of a much larger plan to which knowledge of, and attachment to, his very strong and nationalistic vision and legacy would be a serious impediment.

And then let us move briefly from the specific to the general, where insights into big things going on around us make understanding smaller things within that framework much easier to understand. Let us take a deeper perspective, as things political are rarely what is seen on the shallow surface or talked about by equally shallow politicians and their propagandists - yes, this story may involve Trudeau, but not only Trudeau. Trudeau, and those many, many Canadians who supported him, had a vision of a free, prosperous, democratic, independent Canada, a Canada that would nurture all of its citizens as best as it could, give them a safe, prosperous environment in which to live happy and fulfilling lives - a Great and Just Society. On the quite contrary hand, however, those who began in Trudeau's time to have some serious concerns about 'democracy' (google Chomsky and 'crisis of democracy, or check the Powell Memorandum, for some interesting reading you haven't learned in school - oh hell I'll save you the time Lewis Powell Memorandum ), including here in Canada ( Silent Coup ) took over the country officially, if without any great fanfare of what they had done, beginning with the installation of Mulroney, and these people had and have quite a different vision for 'their' Canada - they see a Canada which is primarily an inferior vassal state of their great and perfect country, the US - a country which once also had great dreams, but is now ruled by wealth and corruption and cruelty, a country very different from the kind of country Trudeau et al dreamed of, scornful of 'democracy' as its rulers pursue their vision of a great American hegemony by supporting democracy-destroying movements all around the world, a country worshipping money and greed and 'look out for number one!' rather than human values such as sharing with and looking after one's neighbors, a country with a few big winners, a lot of losers supporting them. It is no secret that few Canadians share this vision, this dream of those who would rule over a new modern feudalism, which is a central reason those who have decided to take us over have been working away at destroying that dream for the last 25 years, doing all they can to create hatred of Trudeau and what he stood for, and turn our country back to much darker times for 'we the people'. These people have a vision for Canada very, very different than most Canadians, but as long as people have even a dead leader with a great dream they support to remember and look to, the work of creating the New Canada, a very much more dismal place for most of us, is a much more difficult job than if they could just get rid of that man and his dream.

And very much related, as we return to the immediate question of our great literary tradition and exposing the wouldbe assassin, the voices and ideas that form a central part of who we are - a central part of any country's identity, giving substance to its self-image and dreams, is its music and art and literature and, in modern times, film, and a country with a strong identity and pride in itself, as expressed largely through its shared history as told by its artists, literary and otherwise, is not going to be turned into a vassal state easily. And thus it is not at all surprising, when understood through this filter, that one of the priorities of those wishing to get Canada off of the path of becoming a world leading, strong democracy we were just beginning to get on in the 70s would be to deprive us of our literary and other artistic leaders who give voice to our shared dreams, give our shared strength something to coalesce around, who give voice and vision in many ways to our understanding of, and pride in, what makes us different from others, and in many ways in this particular instance, greater than that very different country to the south of us, with its different history and culture. Notably, at the beginning of this 'damning by faint praise' faux-analysis, Mr LaPointe tells us 'Canada has missed its national moment...' - however, when one recognises the struggle between the 'two Canadas' as envisioned by Trudeau and most Canadians on the one hand, and on the other the Canada dreamed of by those who followed Trudeau and have been imposing their desired new feudal world on us for the past 30 years, one might again offer another interpretation - those who had another view of Canada, a Canada ruled by a small wealthy elite as more a 'Canada North' US vassal state rather than a strong, independent 'for the people' democracy such as Trudeau and those who supported him dreamed of, decided they would use their wealth and power to supersede the Trudeau-Canadian vision and substitute their much, much different vision - it's not that we 'missed' our 'national moment' so much as some very nasty people have managed to, at least temporarily, take that nationalistic spirit away from us. Or some of us.

And so goes 'nationalism'...
One might note as part of the necessary deconstruction here that a 'Canada strong and free' is a very nationalistic idea, and Mr LaPointe makes no secret of the fact that he thinks that along with any idea of a 'Canadian literature', we should forget about 'retrograde' nationalism - very much as those he evidently sees eye-to-eye with politically have been doing their best to create a 'Canada-US' single political entity over the last 30 years. He does not get into any details of what exactly he means by 'nationalism', nor why it is undesirable for us, or what he thinks should replace it - but if we actually understand what 'nationalism' means, and how it is an impediment to the dreams of the few to create their new feudal state, we can understand that of course it has to go, from their perspective. 'Nationalism', of course, simply means pride in your country, a justified pride because you believe you are a good country and people, a country and people who have done good things in the past, and continue to do good things - something, obviously, you will fight for if you see it under attack by people who wish to make is something less, destroy it even. It is not blind patriotism, my country right or wrong, but simply a pride in yourself. There is nothing at all wrong with this - consider it on an individual level, a person who works hard, lives a good life, and by middle age has a prosperous business, good family and friends, is respected in their community - it is very natural to feel some contentment, some pride, in your accomplishments, and as long as you do not cross the line into arrogance or bullying or mocking others who have not been quite as hard-working or as fortunate as yourself, that is fine - what other way should you feel? And thus with a country - we have a long history of hard work, and look at the country around us we, or our ancestors, built - prosperous, peaceful, generally a good actor in the world. Not perfect, nobody or no country is, we have our dark points, but overall a country people all around the world look to as one of the good guys. And what in the hell is wrong with a little nationalistic pride in that?

Well, let's ask ourselves that, since Mr LaPointe, and those who wish to turn Canada into some kind of vassal state to the US, seem to want us to believe that 'nationalism' is 'retrograde' in their new world. And again, simply managing to frame the right question usually makes the right answer fairly evident, or at least easier to get to than if you are undertaking an inquiry without knowing all the pertinent facts.

If we are to be turned into passive hewers of wood and drawers of water (and passive consumers of the utter garbage dominating American "cultural products" these days ...) as the US requires and our new leaders wish to provide them, then it is going to be a much more difficult job with an educated, engaged citizenry aware of their past and accomplishments, and proud to be Canadians. And many, many Canadians still are proud of who we are, although of course we have entered a bit of a dark period in our history the last couple of decades, some mid-life crisis of getting mentally lazy and believing a lot of pretty blatant nonsense, allowing some bad people to sneak into our institutions of power where they are up to some serious mischief and worse. And look how Mr LaPointe sneers at 'nationalism' - characterizing such feelings as '..cultural nationalism seems to be a non-starter..' (wishful thinking one supposes on his part..), '.. zealous .. foppish nationalism fail(ed) to sustain..', '..problems of nationalism..', 'inflexible nationalism..', and suchlike, and finishing by suggesting that since 'nationalism' is so obviously some 'retrograde' place we should not be going, '...should we embrace the post-nationalism of the 21st century..?' (Again, noting, of course, that he has made no attempt to establish that we do indeed live in a 'post-nationalist' world, or what that actually means, but of course, that is exactly what the new wouldbe feudal lords would like us to believe, that 'post-nationalism' is more of a void, a necessary pre-condition for making people believe we have nothing distinct we could call 'Canadian Literature' to use as a rallying point in a 'nationalistic' way to help us fend off the advances of a very unwanted suitor - in a post-nationalistic world, we, and everyone, are just more passive consumers of the tasteless, content-free American television, like the rest of the world they hope to create.

(and not forgetting, somewhat ironically, of course that perhaps the most nationalistic country in the world is the country they are trying to make us a vassal state of partly by abandoning our own nationalistic tendencies, the US - one might with some justification point there and tell them to tone down the nationalism, which in the US is generally magnified into blind patriotism, my country right or wrong, because in many ways these days at least they have very, very little to be proud of - the utter garbage that is 90% of the modern American artistic offerings from television and Hollywood is not going to be a part of their own 'literature' in years to come, the history books are not going to look kindly on the kind of American imperialism they have been practicing for most of their history, some of their other accomplishments aside.

(And just for comparison a related question - can you just imagine the outraged unbelieving laughter if anyone anywhere anytime dared suggest that 'AmLit' is just a fantasy in some old-fashioned, out-of-touch-with-we-modern-folk minds, and we should just forget about it???!!!! - no, of course not, no American would ever put up with that kind of talk - another difference between the countries - our manners and willingness to listen to others can be taken too far sometimes ... such as in allowing anyone to write as disparagingly of our literary history as the writer of this article writes without expressing our own outrage. The Americans celebrate their history, literary and otherwise, and take pride in what they have accomplished - as we should, as any people should.)

(and related question 2 - do you suppose for a second all American and British - and Canadian - young people, or older people, read widely and independently decide that, 'Hey! - American and British writers are great, and we can talk about their 'literature' - but sadly, after wide reading, we independently decide that, heck, Canada has nothing much to offer we sophisticated readers!' - or is there a bit of a different story going on here - young people in school, most of them not knowing much about anything, are *told* that American and British writers are *really good!!* and you should know them, and we will teach them to you and make you learn them - but Canadian writers? - ah, nothing much there, don't bother with them..' - and etc - and this is what shapes the way older people - including teachers and so-called, usually self-styled, "literary critics" obtain their basic views of these things???? Any of us even a bit familiar with Canadian writing over the last couple of hundred years can easily point to any number of writers and books that would be as good as at least many of the British and American fiction books our students are taught - just imagine if we had a program to make sure our Canadian students, from the earliest grades, were as familiar with Canadian children's books, and young adult books, and adult novels, as they are with British and American fiction, and told our country's history was as important to us as American history and writers are to Americans and British history and writers to the British - not excluding British or American fiction, certainly there are great historical writers from these countries any educated person should be familiar with, but also putting a similar emphasis on teaching Canadian fiction, and history, alongside these older classics, as an equally deserving subject for Canadian people, rather than adopting some subservient - and wholly unjustifiable - poor cousin attitude of 'oh we poor ignorant country folk have nothing to offer, tug the forelock etc' - just imagine. As they say, just asking .... )

Well - they can't say all that of course hahaha so what do they say??
- of course, it's not going to be a very good secret plan if everyone knows about it (and it better be secret, since there's a LOT of Canadians out there who would have sent these people packing if they understood what was really happening), so those desirous of destroying our national pride and resistance to unwanted advances have to make up some excuses for many things, including the widespread gross ignorance we see in our high schools concerning our writing history. In the bigger picture upon which I have tried to turn the light on above, not teaching Canadian Literature in the schools can be recognized as part of the deconstruction of Canada, the creation of a generally 'dumbed down' population with no awareness of their great history to take pride and strength from, happy to identify with anything as we all need to do, including as proud vassals of the Great Power south of us if we don't have a better thing to stand tall beside, and Mr LaPointe does his best to make utter nonsense sound serious, when utter nonsense is all they have to offer when trying to make the case we have no national literature, and thus should sit idly by whilst they bury it completely (there is not, it must be admitted, much coming along in recent years that is going to stand tall in literary terms, note above comments re poorly educated students - new literary giants invariably learn from and then stand on the shoulders of those who came before looking into new places, which is hard to do if you've never heard of them, let alone read them and had them analysed with some competent, enthusiastic teacher - but that is only the last 20-odd years of our history, we still have several hundred before that to climb on when we begin again ...). He offers a number of reasons Canadian students aren't familiar with Canadian literature, all of which, when seen with the lights on, evaporate like the empty arguments of a not-really-that-clever lawyer trying to defend some indefensible client (something these rightwingers are getting away with far, far too often the last few years, with a totally supportive press, justifying ongoing unjustifiable things with the weakest of excuses, often quite laughable, dressed up in pretty words and sold as Great Ideas by their propaganda media which does its best to give these nonsense arguments some 'gravitas' by refusing to allow anyone to point out how generally empty, even idiotic, they are - note any of the utterly idiotic economic things they have been getting away with the last few years. But that's part of a bigger story (see my earlier essay What Happened if you have any wish to get deeper into the rabbit hole..).

(a) LaPointe's first excuse for the 'failure' of modern students being familiar with 'CanLit' is that the resource materials developed in the 60s and 70s have not been updated, and '..Students of teachers still heeding advice to use "the songs of Anne Murray, Gene MacLellan, [and] John Allan Cameron" can only be considered a lost generation...'

Well. This is one of a number of statements throughout the piece that cause one to almost shudder with the strength of the 'What?!???!!' reaction. Where to begin?

Again, Mr LaPointe offers no proof whatsoever that teachers in the 2000s use a resource book from the 1970s, or that any such resources have not really been updated - the volume(s) he refers to may indeed never have been updated, but even if that is so, do modern teachers have nothing else to turn to for help with teaching Canadian literature, or have they been taught nothing in teacher's school about putting together a course of Canadian literature for Canadian students? One would at least wonder. And again, there is still the great body of pre-1970s literature that is not affected by the lack of updating that the resource books would be at least useful for. But even deeper, and odder really - the notion that students taught the songs of Gene MacLellan and John Allan Cameron, and, allegedly, nothing else from songwriters-poets since then *must* be a 'lost generation'. Again, the 'Huhh??!!' of surprise is involuntary (without even noting he does not mention even bigger names from the 60s-70s such as Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, or other very *nationalistic* poet-minstrels of the time, or poets such as Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, Layton, Atwood, Cohen, others of that era, some of Canada's strongest voices of the time since WWII). But why would they be a 'lost generation'? What great songwriters and/or poets has Canada produced in the 80s, 90s, or 00s that are such strong exemplars of our literary history that students unaware of them are 'lost'? Really, one is hard pressed to come up with any Canadian songwriters of the stature of Lightfoot, Cohen, Young, Joni Mitchell or others from the last 20-30 years of increasingly content-free pop 'music', and, really, one is much more inclined to feel that the generation today, insofar as they are indeed somewhat lost, are lost because they evidently know somewhere between little and nothing of our literary history, or the music of the true nationalists of the 60s and 70s.

But of course Mr LaPointe wants to pretend that this ugly thing called 'nationalism' is passe and these 60s and 70s writers expressed a strong Canadian nationalism, so we can understand that he wants us to not go there (not to mention, we also note, he also seems to think Anne Murray was a writer, so we wonder if he really is as ignorant of Canadian writing history as he pretends to be, as of course she was only an entertainer - a very good entertainer of course, but not part of the body of *writing* that forms a nation's *literary* history). But yet another point is noted - who exactly does Mr LaPointe think would be good exemplars of Canadian Literature poet-minstrels to tell our young people about? Like the best book writers, the best poets and songwriters are very nationalistic in the main, and also very supportive of democracy and human rights, and since ideas like nationalism and 'let's look after one another in a peaceful, sharing world' are being discouraged lo these last 30 years of the ascendency of dog-eat-dog survival-of-the-fittest capitalism, the young people are being encouraged to go somewhere else with their developing ideas, to bury their brains in disco-style noise and drum machine beats, with lyrics meaning nothing - we have no minstrels singing about the great history of Canada in the 2000s as Lightfoot did with the Canadian Railroad Trilogy, nor singing about the social ills that folk singer-poets have always sung about, like Dylan's Masters of War or Blowin in the Wind, and many others. Are there none out there these days - or are they being kept out of the public spotlight insofar as any group wishing to hide any such peaceful and nationalistic sentiments can manage? (one might note that his only reference to one of the great social minstrel critics of the last century, Bob Dylan, is an unsourced and then probably, given what we have read already, out-of-context quote that the only notable thing about Dylan those who were trying to create a literary tradition in Canada were interested in talking about was his 'sexist lyrics' - you kids don't need to listen to the sexist poet Dylan, now, y'all hear? Hard to take anyone seriously when they say something like that)

So to summarize - this first argument about why CanLit isn't being taught today Mr LaPointe wants us to believe is that the only resources teachers have for teaching 'CanLit' are from the 70s, and thus out of date, and not interesting to modern students. Interesting things follow if one considers what this means. For example, are modern teachers (not to mention, as always, the government departments of education which give them their general instructions) incapable of looking at a subject and putting together a teaching plan? What in the hell are they going to teacher's school for if they don't learn this (and noting that in no way do they need to do much, just update those resources to reflect writing of the last few years)?

(b) The next reason Mr LaPointe offers for the poor state of 'CanLit' arises from, he tells us (again with minimal sourcing - no section or page numbers, just read the whole damn report, if you can find it, if you want to check it..) a 2002 Writers Trust report, in which, Mr LaPointe informs us, it says that schools do not have the resources, in terms of book copies, to teach Canadian Literature, and quotes teachers saying they can't afford to buy the books, and publishers retorting they can't give books away for free. Overlooking the contradiction of this idea with the first point (well, you see, there are resources, we just can't afford them..), again this argument is simply a non-starter if examined closely, or at all, really. Any number of people could, for example, put together an anthology of some sort, covering all of the main periods of Canadian Literature with examples, which could be mass produced inexpensively, and revised as necessary and/or updated every couple of years. Big print runs, book designed for mass market accessibility, could be sold at well under $15 per student - half and half between school and student, no problem, a few hundred books per school per year, a few thousand bucks - to pretend this is an obstacle to good teaching in Canada is beyond ridiculous, as is this entire discussion, really. And even cheaper - for the last 10 or more years, it would have been, and still would be, a very easy job to design an attractive and accessible, and very thorough, set of 'the great things in Canadian Literature every Canadian should be familiar with' set of writings, and make it accessible in electronic form at a VERY low cost to every Canadian, every student, every library, every household who wanted one - if we had a government which wished to do so. Obviously, we have a government these days whose objective is the very reverse, burying any nationalistic tendencies that awareness of, and pride in, our literary history would go along with. And equally obviously they cannot, yet at least, say so openly, so the weak excuses such as this are offered. (and I have no interest in complaints about 'writers' rights' or any such thing preventing such a set - as they say, where there is a will there is a way, and if publishers, or writers, balk at such an idea, the anthology or set could be made using copyright-expired older writings, and just making some little note regarding modern writers who have contributed to the literary tradition but whose publishers (aka "investors" of course) prefer dog-in-the-manger money-grubbing over having their writers exposed. And etc)

(c) they seem to have a 'new definition of text', some bafflegab going to 'now we teach 'language arts' Mr LaPointe tells us, a definition wherein we don't rely on 'long books' very much - John Taylor Gatto has a much better definition - dumbing down (something that is probably not talked about much in the education system, people in the media don't talk about their propaganda function, people in the banks don't talk about their massive banking scam, politicians don't talk about their corruption, why would schools talk about their primary role of indoctrination? - but in all cases, as noted, refusing to talk about something does not make it untrue... But I digress, it's a big and nasty world, this new and dirtier-than-ever capitalistland, with much to digress about no matter what you start with ...). But in terms of this moving away from 'long books', there is undoubtedly some truth in this, as the aim of the new feudalists in creating their new serfs is, of course, a fairly uneducated, uninquisitive population, content to amuse themselves with childish things, not seeking out the challenges and ideas a normal young person growing into adulthood should be looking for. Education, of course, can be used to nurture the growing mind, or stunt it, and as Gatto (and others) have clearly pointed out, the purpose of the modern education system is much more focused on controlling the young mind than turning on lights and saying 'Go explore!' The move away from long and challenging books, full of ideas and new things to learn, is thus understandable, as is the push to keep them reading comic books and playing games on their computers, and calling it 'English education'. I don't suppose Mr LaPointe really intended to get into that kind of discussion, though - this does not seem to be a piece attempting to expose the ways and evils of the 'new world order', so much as one justifying them at least in this one small example, and as we all know, you don't enable evil plans by shining lights on them. There are a lot of us out here who see what they are doing, however. But just to keep on topic, rebutting Mr LaPointe's effort to pretend we have nothing we could call 'Canadian Literature' that is worth teaching our young people and generally being proud of, it has no more validity than the other things he says. We do indeed have something we can call a good, and even great at times, body of writing we can legitimately call Canadian Literature, it's just that people choose not to teach it.

(d) Continuing his defence of the indefensible, quantity attempting to substitute for quality, another common technique of those selling snakeoil of various kinds such as the wellpaid lobbyists trying to convince us all the New World Order will be GOOD for you children, really!!!, Mr LaPointe goes on to - 'another intangible' is 'ghost parents' who don't want their children being exposed to 'mature' subject matter in books'. Well, see above re 'dumbing down', but this again is an excuse with no substance - 90%+ percent of Canadian Literature has no 'adult content', at least in the sexual sense these generally sexually repressed/dysfunctional people talk about, and those few books could easily be left to higher grades and less 'offensive' books from the author's body of work examined. But the idea of 'adult sexual content' is more of a smoke screen - their main concern is 'adult content' in a somewhat different sense, the sense of ideas contrary to the 'new dogma' of the 'new rulers' that wants to keep children away from ideas of Canadian accomplishments in literature we can be proud of, not to mention Canadian writers questioning the new social structures of the country and making nationalism a virtue rather than a sin - writers like Pierre Berton and Farley Mowat and John Ralston Saul aren't going to offend anyone with their sexual content, but they are certainly going to give a lot of ideas to the developing minds of young people who are being told that Canadian history is boring, or the Americans are wonderful people and we should be proud to be their vassals. And so on.

(e) and then we come to the final few paragraphs of Mr LaPointe's attempt to convince his readers that Canadian literature is something so sad and bad they should just never think about anymore; evidently at this point he feels his foe is bleeding on the ground, and it is time to finish it off - the reader has been sufficiently softened to the idea that contrary to what a lot of them thought, maybe there isn't much here after all, as he offers the quote that summarizes his entire article - '...the belief that, in the words of the 1970s Writers' Development Trust resources, "Canadian writing isn't good enough." (again vaguely sourced assertions I cannot be bothered to go around disproving, but knowing that the Writers Trust in the 70s was partly founded by writers Pierre Berton, Margaret Atwood, and Margaret Laurence, I would suggest that the quotation is considerably out of context, at best, as one simply cannot believe these strongly nationalistic writers would pen or approve such a statement without some serious caveating) And then, he also tells us '..as Baird's report found, 30 years later, "there is an attitude within the high school educational system that Canadian literature is substandard and doesn't merit being taught in schools..." - again, one would clearly like to read originals here, but no clear sources are offered, just random quotes, thus raising questions, in the context of the entire article, about the accuracy of the quote, and parsing necessary. Or deconstruction. For the 70s report, obviously quite a few people back then, as now, had quite a different idea about the quality of our writing, including most assuredly the very people he supposedly quotes, so not at the very least saying that *some* people thought Canadian writing good, and others did not, is simply dishonest, a feature of course of any propaganda. And then again for the Baird report - again, no numbers, just 'some' people think Canadian Literature is substandard and not worth teaching, which rather obviously not everyone agrees with, then or now, and you could easily find positive evaluations if your purpose was any kind of honest information. But there is another somewhat more obvious question concerning this Baird report, to whatever degree it is reported honestly in terms of its actual quotes and assessments, which I will admit myself seems to have some truth in terms of the teaching (or lack thereof) of Canadian literature - what in hell are such people from 'within the education system' doing teaching in Canadian high schools? Who is hiring teachers who do not think their country's great literary history is worth teaching about? Who is setting a 'teacher's school' curriculum in which a teacher can graduate completely ignorant of our great literary history? And then given the current rather sad situation of what our students don't know about literature or anything else - with such teachers, and higher authorities setting curricula, why would we be surprised our students don't have any knowledge of our great literature? (just imagine, if you even can, the American or British education systems hiring 'English" teachers who thought their national literatures not worthy of teaching!!! It is to laugh...)

We cannot leave without acknowledging the, I suppose in Mr LaPointe's mind, coup de grace, the Coupland quote, which is so offensive it is not worth repeating, some words of bile reminding one of nothing more than a spoiled, poorly raised child angry at his betters for not accepting his unlearned ramblings as serious, and the true purpose of the article is finally revealed in unmistakable terms - this is nothing to do with any analysis of 'what happened' to Canadian Literature, it is a blatant admission that this 'article' is really a hatchet job, from start to finish, nothing more. To dismiss the *great* writers in our past as non-existent, essentially, and all current Canadian writers as Randian mooches of some type, is an egregious slander on the great world of Canadian literature - a world in which Mr Coupland, with his artificial Gen X fame, a shallow product of the shallow, glitzy but substance-free world the new rulers are creating for the new dumbed down generations, quick sugar highs giving a false sense of sustenance to a dying body, is destined to be nothing more than a minor sort of footnote, when the barbarians are taken from the halls of power and sanity and intelligence allowed to set the direction of our country once again.

And a final quote from Mr LaPointe, like a petulant child throwing the de-legged fly into the spider's web, '...Others see it as a simple matter of quality: "In truth," said the Calgarian, "Canada has not produced a Shakespeare or an Austen or a Mark Twain...'. So, I guess, there you go - two countries in the world can claim to have 'literature', England and the US - all else, including Canada, are sadsack failures because Shakespeare or Twain were not born here. It's really beyond the point of mocking laughter at his pathetic attempts to 'prove' we have no literary history. If this was an article promoting the greatness or even adequacy of Canadian Literature, the 'but's would quickly follow such a quote - for example, but we have produced a popular historian glorifying this country in Pierre Berton who really has no match in either the UK or US, maybe not the entire world. Or perhaps, but we do have a Gordon Lightfoot and his Canadian Railroad Trilogy which is loved across the country as a glorification of our beginnings, with again no parallel songs in England or America. But of course such great and uniquely Canadian giants in our literature are going to get no mention from anyone desirous of convincing people there is nothing in the country's great writing tradition worth speaking of.

It gets tedious, as we finally realise the proof is beyond refutation that this 'What Happened to CanLit' piece is nothing more than a malevolent hatchet job, and there's hardly need to go further. But as slander turns to simple stupidity, as the two characteristics are usually found nearby, let us finish deconstructing, with a short look at the next bit. Here Mr LaPointe again sets up straw dogs to knock down, as he again cherry picks some anecdotes of weak defences to the sad state he posits our literature is in, and tells of some teachers who suggest regionalism might be more interesting to students, while others complain this would be no good, a shallow, again, discussion of, by and for people with no understanding of our tradition or how to teach it. An intelligent person, wishing to put our great literature in the perspective, and give it the recognition, it deserves, might counter that regionalism, taken to extremes, can of course divide - but it can also be seen and taken as a proof and celebration of our great diversity through both time and space, and the knowledgeable, enthusiastic teaching of it seen as one of the best ways to join us together in pride rather than set west against east or city against rural or French against English or male against female or Canada against the US or white against everyone or any other of the great divides those who are trying to rule us are so expert at, as we look with pride on the great novels and examinations of the Canadian experience, the great diversity of voices coming from the east coast through Quebec through Ontario, the Prairies, the mountains, the north and the west coast, from the deep past to the present and looking to a great future. This is simply a wonderful country to be part of - those who are trying to destroy Canada want us to hate one another, but those who believe in Canada see this great diversity as a source of strength, we can deal with all things, we have experience in all things, we have a great many people all willing to work together to forge this one great country. (and once again, let us look to the US, who have even more 'regionalism' than Canada does - and they celebrate every part of it, as should any family who has differences but understand that in the end it is the united family that counts, and as should we tell those who would divide us, to make our conquering that much easier, that we will do - stand together, strength in diversity, tall and proud.)

He suggests students don't seem interested in 'CanLit', as if that was proof of its lack of quality - again, such a shallow and stupid argument, something a semi-literate might pen in a 10th grade disliked English class. Do a survey of high school kids, and see how many actually like Shakespeare, and when you find it's not very many, suggest Shakespeare then is not really a very good writer, not relevant to our modern world, and thus not worth teaching - and hell, since he's from England, extrapolate even further and suggest all English Literature is equally lacking in value - because he's, like, really old, you know, and kids want something more modern they can identify with - a gang of dumbed down children can't understand it and aren't interested so let's just drop it, like, you know??!! - nonsense, of course, but that seems to be one of Mr LaPointe's arguments for dismissing our great Canadian literature.

Well, there is much else in this hatchet job that deserves the same derisory treatment as the writer gives to our great Canadian literary history - his laughable assertion that 'liberals' think 'cosmopolitan' means turning to the US, for example, is too perverse to believe he actually said it (very obviously, it's the rightwing airheads who believe US garbage 'entertainment for morons' is the epitome of culture, whilst educated liberals understand there is much, much else in the world worth looking at), or setting forth the example of "teachers" who can't be bothered to read books and teach them enthusiastically as some kind of proof we have no books worth reading, but the hour grows late and the discourse repetitive, as the exposure of the same-old-same-old attacks on Canada from the same people who have no arguments of value, just shallow lies and calumnies to attack our great country.

Let me close with a small appeal - come forth, you real Canadian writers, and Canadians, I know are out there - it is your job to defend our great past - and more importantly our future - from those who seek to destroy one and steal the other. It is our job, today, to lead the challenge against these new feudalist usurpers who want to take us back to days long past, a central strategy of which is creating a generation of young people with no understanding of their real past, no history to stand proudly on as they look into their future and try to make it better for their children, no idea of any future other than as workerbee-consumer vassals to the corporate state centered in America corporate HQs, and in their own branch plant called Corporate-Canada. A couple of generations have indeed failed to pick up the torch that Trudeau, and that great generation of proud Canadians just starting to come into their own who knew him and loved him and had the same dreams, tried to pass on, through perhaps some inadequacies in the teaching of their children of that generation of the dangers that always were present around and even among them, with some laziness and trusting the wrong people to lead them - but let us now recognize the great danger our country is once again in, let us once again take up the torch that our greatgrandfathers and mothers threw in 1918, and our grandfathers and mothers in the 1930s and 40s and 50s as they fought back the wouldbe robber barons and laid the foundations of the CCF and true social democracy with Tommy Douglas and Woodworth and Lewis and others, and our fathers and mothers in the 60s and 1970s as they were engaged with their country and elected good politicians who had the same dreams of a better country for their children, and stand tall once again after the faltering of the 80s and 90s and 00s, and loudly cry out once again our resistance, our anger, our refusal to bow to those who would make us slaves again and rule as the feudal lords did in the distant past, and robber barons in the more recent past, who want to destroy the dream of Democracy and Freedom that Trudeau, and the great writers and nationalists of the 60s and 70s, breathed life to in the 1970s.

Speak now, my friends or, as they say in some context, the chance will not come again - we are at a great cusp in history, and the opportunity to stand tall and proud in defence of this great dream we call Canada is fast fading.




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