Preface: a Clutch of Pertinent Snippets

From time to time, everyone encounters in their reading, correspondence and conversations snippets of information and insight that cry out loudly to be passed along but lack an obvious occasion or forum for repetition.  Perhaps journal editors, being the turgid whirlpools through which much passes on its way to oblivion or eternity, are especially likely to accumulate such snippets.  In any event, here are a few from the last little while: a clutch of curious and possibly useful facts and observations, some provided by colleagues and others simply encountered while minding one’s own business.   Only a couple are by Canadians but all are directly or indirectly relevant, I think, to Canadian literature and culture.


From Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans.  Dana Polan, Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 16-17.

A minor literature doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language.  But the first characteristic of minor literature in any case is that in it language is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization . . . .  The second characteristic of minor literatures is that everything in them is political.   In major literatures . . . the individual concern (familial, marital, and so on) joins with other no less individual concerns, the social milieu serving as a mere environment or a background . . . .  Minor literature is completely different; its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to politics.   The individual concern thus becomes all the more necessary, indispensable, magnified, because a whole other story is vibrating within it . . . .  The third characteristic of minor literature is that in it everything takes on a collective value.   Indeed, precisely because talent isn’t abundant in a minor literature, there are no possibilities for an individuated enunciation that would belong to this or that “master” and that could be separated from a collective enunciation.


From Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday (1932; rpt. New York: Liveright, 1972), pp. 18-19 courtesy of Brian Diemert of the University of Western Ontario.

     We would have tea [in Winchelsea in Kent, England] in a frame house.  It might have been Canaan, New Hampshire.  The house had been built in 1782 by General Prescott, the first Governor-General of Canada . . . .  In exact imitation of a Canadian frame-house, just as the “fat rascals” were exactly like the little hot biscuits you get in farmhouses, now, in Tennessee.  The general had been homesick for Canada.

     Winchelsea had that North-American feature.  It had others.  The streets were all rectangular, like those of New York, and the houses in blocks That is because it had been built all of a piece by Edward III in 1333.  He had planned it, ruling squares on a sheet of vellum, after the sea had drowned Old Winchelsea on the flats below.


In On Canadian Poetry, 2nd. ed. (1944; rpt. Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1973), pp. 13-25, E.K. Brown offers the “colonial spirit,” “the spirit of the frontier, or its afterglow,” “our strong Puritanism” and “Regionalism” as the main “psychological factors . . . against which the growth of a Canadian literature must struggle.” In his Letters on the Eastern States, 2nd. ed. (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1821), pp. 152-156 William Tudor gives as the principal “discouragements to which [American] literature is exposed” the “constant supply of very superior articles, to use the language of trade, from England,” “the want of wealth and leisure” and the “scattered position of [the] population, and the want of large towns.” Urbanity or “atticism,” Tudor argues, is the enemy of provincialism; what is needed is the “dialect of ideas.”

     In his Letter on “Scenery and Climate,” Tudor observes that in New England “The plains of Siberia and the Compagna di Roma are . . . combined;—we have the snow of the one, and the sun of the other, in the same period” (p. 309), and he remarks that North America is especially hospitable to “the lover of picturesque beauty” (p. 314).  In his Lecture on “Two Canadian Poets,” published with a Prefatory Note by E.K. Brown in the University of Toronto Quarterly, 13 (July, 1944), 408, Archibald Lampman, after noting that only the existence of a “leisured class” in Canada will lead to the production of a uniquely Canadian literature, writes:

We know that climatic and scenic conditions have much to do with the moulding of national character.  In the climate of this country we have the pitiless severity of the climate of Sweden, with the sunshine and the sky of the north of Italy, a combination not found in the same degree anywhere else in the world . . . .  At the same time we have the utmost diversity of scenery, a country exhibiting every variety of beauty and grandeur.

Where Tudor speaks of the “dazzling brilliancy” of sun on snow, Lampman refers to the “glittering splendour” of the Canadian winters.


From Herbert Spencer, First Principles, 6th. ed. (1937; rpt. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1937), pp. 488-489:

The increase of a society in numbers and consolidation has for its concomitant an increased heterogeneity both of its political and industrial organization.  And the like holds of all super-organic products—Language, Science, Art, and Literature . . . .  While the parts into which each whole is resolved become more unlike one another, they also become more sharply marked off.  The result of the secondary redistribution is therefore to change an indefinite homogeneity into a definite heterogeneity.


From T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981), p. xviii: “in a society dedicated to economic development and ‘personal growth’ at the expense of all larger loyalties, conservative values are too important to be left to pseudo-conservative apologists for capitalism.  In our time, the most profound radicalism is often the most profound conservatism.”


And, finally, from E.W. Pitcher of the University of Alberta, a “Description of an Island in Terra Cognita” which, according to its author, George Parker (Humorous Sketches [London, (1782), pp.  95-96], “was written at St. John’s in Newfoundland in the year 1777.”

Crossing the Atlantic main from Albion’s shores
An isle you’ll find, the men all knaves, the women whores,
A motley breed of Ireland, Cornwall, Scotland,
From Guinea too, or some confounded hot land,
From various climes and causes here collected,
But surely for the Devil’s use selected,
And in this damn’d infernal hole all plac’d,
That they of cold as well as heat may taste.
Here trade and whoring, cheating, buying,
Compleat the inhabitants for future dwelling,
In hellish regions, where we might suppose,
The infernal stench would take them by the nose;
But the mistake beyond a doubt is clear,
A stench far greater ever reigneth here,
And could old Satan stead of sulph’rous stink,
But stock his hell with breezes from this sink,
The very damn’d would beg their stink again
And think it mitigation of their pain.

Parker’s pungent appraisal of Newfoundland stands in marked contrast to George Cartwright’s views of Labrador as discussed by Ronald Rompkey in the present issue of Canadian Poetry.

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A special issue of Canadian Poetry is planned in memory of Charles R. Steele, a long-standing member of the journal’s Editorial Advisory Board, who died suddenly on July 25, 1987.  Potential contributors might wish to remember that Chuck, though a wide-ranging scholar and critic of Canadian literature, had a special interest in the poetry of the Colonial period.