As my mind churned in tumult at the realization—oh, about three years ago now—that my days as a teaching professor had drawn to an end, I realized also that my ambition for any other sort of public position or acclaim had died with my professorship. Almost the entirety of Canadian public life—particularly in the academic and cultural sector, but not exclusive to it—is choked with such insularity and mediocrity, as well as the pathologies such characteristics inevitably produce (envy, spite, group-think), that aspiring to join, or re-join, their society is absurd. The self-serving self-deceit that is necessary to sustain the delusion that cultural and academic life in this country isn’t just infirm, it’s also degenerative and highly contagious, comes at too high a cost. It’s past the point where any one individual can do anything about it.
In their present form, the sectors are not worth saving. I doubt even if they’re salvageable over the long-term. They might have been twenty years ago, but they’re lemons now, that’s for sure. They might look good in the showroom, but under the hood nothing is good. Or, as The Barr Brothers sing, “Once you strip the paint you find it everywhere you go.”
I mention The Barr Brothers for two reasons: 1) to note, obviously, that the Canadian popular music sector is exempt from this criticism. It’s the writing and the writers I don’t like, as well as the entire academic dispositif. Canadian music is Alvvays (too much? I get it.) ok by me; 2) as a way to wind my way over to one of the last Canadians writers I admire, for their paths are similar. The Barr Brothers, are Montrealers by way of Massachusetts. The Canadian cultural sector has previously been improved by Bostonians coming up to Montreal. Among them, Carol Dunlop. Dunlop came to Montreal during the Vietnam War and became a Canadian citizen. From Montreal, Dunlop moved to Paris, where she ran into the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. The two of them became a thing. Cortázar and Dunlop co-authored Autonauts of the Cosmoroute (1983), a tale of their trip, by VW van, from Paris to Marseilles. I’d take this one book over the entirety of CanLit from 1990 on.
“Cartography of the country of a tree: why not? We’d just need a series of precise photographs and the patience to flatten the spherical, like Mercator, like the makers of portolans, here’s the north or the east, here’s the top or the bottom, the tree’s Everests and its Mediterraneans.” –(Cortázar and Dunlop, 1983, p.115)