Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Fun Begins: A Report on the Afterlife of Culture

Over the last few weeks, some advance excerpts and reviews of Stephen Henighan's new collection of essays, A Report on the Afterlife of Culture, have begun to appear in various journals and blogs across the land. Due back from the printer in 2 -2 1/2 weeks, it's probably safe to say that it is one of the most anticipated new collections of literary and cultural criticism of the year. Here's a quick run-down of what has been going on, and what will be coming up.

In the April Quill and Quire, Henighan is interviewed on the subject of translation publishing in Canada in an excellent article by Shaun Smith. I don't believe this is available online, but it is certainly alone worth the cover price.

In the same issue, there is an excerpt from Report on the importance of literary translation. This has led to the following article on the UTNE Reader's website:


In the forthcoming issue of Quill & Quire (May), there is an advance review of Report by Steven Beattie. It is now online, and can be found here:


An excerpt: Fortunately, Canadian criticism can boast Stephen Henighan, a persistent thorn in the side of the Canadian literary establishment, but also a fearless and perceptive observer of our literary culture. Henighan’s criticism is not of the Dale Peck school of unthinking snark. He prefers a careful reading of texts and authors, and a deliberate analysis of how cultural forces in our society shape the kind of literature we produce. ... for his willingness to say the unsayable, and his enthusiastic piercing of the balloons of Canadian literary pretension, Henighan’s new volume is a welcome addition to the annals of CanLit criticism. ­"

(Beattie isn't completely positive about the collection, but I don't feel the need to excerpt that here. Follow the link for the full review.)

Beattie continues the discussion on his own blog, found here:


Looking forward, there is an excerpt in the upcoming translation issue of CNQ, which should hit shelves next month; there will be an interview with Stephen in Books in Canada in the April or May issue; an excerpt will also be appearing in Subterrain at the end of April. And I am certain that this is just the tip of the proverbial.

It's going to be interesting to see how this book gets read. There are those who will want it to be When Words Deny the World Part II, and though it certainly is related, and expands on many of the themes in that first collection, it was never intended as a mere follow up. I'm interested in how expectations will shape how this gets read, what gets focussed on, and what seems to get people's dander up most.

I've been using it these last few months to discover writers I may not have picked up otherwise: Roberto Bolano, Maria Vargas Llosa, Casares, Houllebecq. Henighan is a wonderful guide through world literature, and in the end, despite the attention that may get paid to his criticism of Canadian literary culture, this may be one of the most important things Report contributes: furthering our awareness of literature in other languages. Is there another Canadian critic out there who would even try to do so?

It's also interesting that those out there who would like to dismiss Henighan try to paint him as some small town and equally small-minded hick, when he is perhaps -- along with Manguel, and perhaps one or two others -- one of our most worldly, aware and cosmopolitan writers. How many other Canadian writers and critics out there can read and write in four or five languages, and are as well-versed in world literatures as Henighan? I can't think of many. We've seen otherwise intelligent writers sent into spasms of incoherent and reactionary rage over the past 12 months, with both rickets and racism invoked. I'm not quite sure how Henighan's criticism has led to an increased number of cases of rickets (!), but I can't think of anyone who is less deserving of being labeled racist. I have great respect for Michael Redhill, but he should have known better.

Anyway, the next few months should be fun. We'll be planning events in Guelph, Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, and with Geist's help, Vancouver. We'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

Brenda Schmidt said...

"It's also interesting that those out there who would like to dismiss Henighan try to paint him as some small town and equally small-minded hick..."

Do people still think like that? I am a hick because of where I live? How deflating.