Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ray Smith's Cape Breton is the Thought Control Centre of Canada

Over at That Shakespearean Rag, Steven W. Beattie continues his 31 Days of Short Stories with a thoughtful and spirited exploration of the title story of Ray Smith's first book -- and our first Renditions title (& the reason why I thought of starting the Renditions series in the first place) -- Cape Breton is the Thought Control Centre of Canada.

The title story of Ray Smith’s 1969 collection is a postmodern collage that neatly puts the boots to the kind of earnest Canadian nationalism running rampant in this country at the time. Subtitled “A Centennial Project,” the story traverses the nation from Cape Breton to British Columbia, with detours to Poland along the way, in the process touching on subjects as diverse as American hegemony, Expo ‘67, and the literary technique of The Bible. Clearly, Smith’s story is not a typical piece of Canadian naturalism.

Commenting on the story in his introduction to the Biblioasis Renditions edition of the book, Smith says, “Large political enthusiasms (and there were lots about in the late sixties) seem to me to suffer loss of clarity, complexity, subtlety. ‘Cape Breton …’ was my attempt to retrieve and fix some nuances in a valid balance.” Readers unsympathetic to what Smith calls “soi-disant originality” may find little apparent balance in his story, which appears on its surface to be a series of unconnected, technically discrete scenes. But “Cape Breton …” evinces a deep structure, not on the level of plot (there is no plot to speak of) but on a thematic level. The balance in Smith’s story results from the involutions of his sustained examination of power dynamics on several fronts: personal, national, and international.

For the rest of Beattie's post please go here.

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