Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Rattling In My Brain Pan

The weekend edition is usually the only paper I bother with, and of my immediate choices I usually go with Toronto's national newspaper The Globe & Mail. This weekend their headlines were no different from any other paper, but there were a few oddities tucked into the margins that are still rattling in my brain pan. To wit:

An epistolary exchange between Ian Brown (journalist) and Jean Vanier (founder of L'Arche community). Vanier is one of those rarities: when he speaks of matters of faith, people don't usually try to drown him out with objections and ridicule. This doesn't prevent Brown from frank disclosure of his doubts and frustrations, however. With the whole world just itching to descend on Wall Street with torches and pitchforks, this is a very welcome conversation to attend.

Just over a year ago I tried to read and wrap my head around This Is My Country, What's Yours? A Literary Atlas Of Canada by Noah Richler (A). I couldn't do it. This was due in no small part to my impatience with any and all literary theory, particularly "big" theory. If I understand the early argument of Richler's book, it's that the novel is a technology that has transformed Western society and much of the world for better and for worse. Richler and his interviewees explore the different avenues through which this has occurred, and some of these proposals struck me as more likely than others. This is a moral argument, of course, and within the storm of this book is the quiet subtext of Richler himself, hoping for better literature and a society of attentive readers.

Perhaps I need to begin a dialog with Richler, because my faith in such matters is extremely weak. So many of the world's most accomplished novelists are insufferable assholes at best, cruel tormentors at worst. Their art is incapable of transforming the artist: what hope does it have of transforming the culture? In order for me to get any writing done I have to work very hard at setting aside such concerns and focusing instead on the art of transmission: this is how it feels for the character -- do you feel it too? It could be there is something mystical and even holy involved in the act of such focus, but I balk mightily at such claims. Chalk that down to a paucity of my own imagination, even a damnable lack of nerve. So it goes.

Anyhow, these thoughts return to me as Richler reviews John Ralston Saul's A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada (A) which he asks the country's electorate to read before voting. Saul's method of getting to the heart of the matter is similar to Richler's (Richler, however, does considerably more physical footwork), making Richler the ideal reviewer for his material. The curious should read this interview with Saul to get some idea of what his concerns are, then move on to Richler's review.

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