Ripostes: Reflections on Canadian Literatureby Philip Marchand
Ripostes is a collection of essays on some salient features of the Canadian literary landscape, a number of which were first published in the Toronto Star, many of which appear in these pages for the first time. Included are essays on Atwood, Findley, Ondaatje and Margaret Laurence, as well as thematic explorations of Canadian literature such as an/i>/i>
Ripostes is a collection of essays on some salient features of the Canadian literary landscape, a number of which were first published in the Toronto Star, many of which appear in these pages for the first time. Included are essays on Atwood, Findley, Ondaatje and Margaret Laurence, as well as thematic explorations of Canadian literature such as an account of the demise of the Survival school of Canadian writing, a look at the recent history of the Writers' Union of Canada, an examination of the role of fathers in Canadian fiction, a study of the strange attraction of many of our writers to the occult, and so on.
The tone is considered, and critical rather than celebratory, although the essays are respectful of the genuine achievements of Canadian literature in the past few decades. They try to clear the air, as it were, of boosterism, political correctness, and other attitudes which hinder the appreciation and reception of good writing.
This is an honest re-appraisal of Canadian literature, undertaken at a time when we need no longer be overcome with relief and euphoria over the fact that some of our authors are now world famous, or at least world famous in Hoboken, New Jersey.
'His pages are full of these epigrammatic flippancies, and he pulls no punches in targeting those he holds responsible for encouraging and tolerating mediocrity, literary theorists who can't write English, culture bureaucrats who dispense grants, and organizations who dish out too many literary prizes. Even The Writers' Union is reprimanded for creating dissension among its members over issues of political correctness, race, and appropriation of voice. Occasionally he is disheartened by the feeling that ''Canadian literature is beginning to flower in an age overwhelmingly unfavourable to great art.''
'Marchand quotes with approval Whitman's statement that a great literature needs a great audience. He would include in that equation critics like Northrop Frye and George Woodcock, and in ''Confessions of a Book Columnist'' he lays out the principles that underlie his strategies. He steers a course between the Canadian tendencies either to denigrate success or boost anything labelled ''Canadian literature.'' He brings international literary standards to bear on Canadian books through a familiarity with European and British literature. Thus ''no one who has read these classics at all widely can read, say, Margaret Laurence or Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies, and not recognize that they are, when all is said, minor writers. By ''minor' I do not mean bad, or mediocre, or negligible.'' He must not be afraid to make value judgements if his reflections are to delight and stimulate his readers.
'The majority of commentators on Canadian literature are academics, who for the most part prescribe what's hot, what's not, to a very limited audience. Sadly, we have too few men or persons of letters who discuss our literature with the common reader from another vantage point. Happily, Marchand brings enthusiasm and commitment to his role as such a critic.'
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Meet the Author
Philip Marchand was the book columnist for the Toronto Star for eighteen years, before retiring to write books in 2008. He is the author of Just Looking, Thank You, a collection of magazine journalism (Macmillan, 1976); Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (Random House of Canada, 1989); Deadly Spirits, a crime novel (Stoddart, 1994); Ripostes, a collection of literary criticism (Porcupine's Quill, 1998); and most recently Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America (McClelland & Stewart, 2005). His revised edition of Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger has been reissued by Random House of Canada and MIT Press in the United States.
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