Friday, January 02, 2009

On Blandness

Steven Beattie has an interesting post on blandness in Canadian Literature up on his blog, That Shakespherian Rag. Here's a taste:

I can hear the grumblings from the gatekeepers and the mandarins now: This is unconscionable! The lack of appreciation of our shared cultural heritage must not stand. We must do something to redress this situation, before we all devolve into something resembling savage beasts. Blame must be apportioned. Surely the schools are at fault for this distressing ignorance of Canadian writing; we need to advocate for measures such as the one instituted in B.C. last year, which made the study of Canadian authors mandatory in the province’s high schools. And if not the schools, then Facebook is to blame. Or iPods. Or the XBox. If you’re Yann Martel, you’ll rush to blame Stephen Harper. Atwood herself will suggest that things would be better under the Pequistes.

In fact, everybody will be so busy trying to find a culprit that the most salient question implied by the survey results will likely go unasked: Could it be that a significant percentage of Canadians can’t name a Canadian author because they don’t see any relevance in the vast majority of Canadian writing?

Now, before the Canada Council for the Arts burns me in effigy, let me admit that this is both deliberately provocative and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I am well aware that our national literature is not monolithic, and that there are writers out there who are producing work that is relevant and interesting to a Canadian reader in 2009. Of course, most of these writers are published by small houses that don’t have the financial clout to compete with the marketing and advertising budgets of multinational branch plants such as Random House and HarperCollins. Without question, readers who were hard pressed to come up with Margaret Atwood when asked to name a Canadian writer would have stared in blank confusion if presented with the names Stacey May Fowles, Daniel Allen Cox, Rebecca Rosenblum, or Pasha Malla. This despite the fact that Fowles, Cox, Rosenblum, and Malla are currently publishing fiction that would probably have an exponentially greater impact on younger readers than would the work of such lauded CanLit mainstays as Michael Ondaatje, M.G. Vassanji, Anne Michaels, or Jane Urquhart.

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