Reading against Consumption: Metafiction in Lionel Kearns' Convergences
by Grant Williams
When confronted with the contemporary postmodern canon that celebrates theoretical and philosophical inquiries into the nature of texts, a reader of literature should not overlook the formidable contribution academic writers have made to the inundation of metafictional rhetoric in the twentieth century literary market. Although such writers as Vladimir Nabokov, John Barth, Umberto Eco, and Robert Kroetsch come from diverse cultural backgrounds, their exposure to philological pedagogy enables them to buy into and sustain a multi-national discourse. Often characterized as "metafictional" or "auto referential," many postmodern texts provide, along with their narratives, reflections on the reading process and thus implicitly and sometimes explicitly readings of themselves, whilst their advocates herald these texts as surpassing literary forebears in critical self-awareness. As a lecture desig nates a speaking teacher and a listening student body and so dictates a proper interpretive context within which the student may explore as a lecture may too easily reinforce the student's dependence on the professor and so suggest that continuous learning requires a continuous enrolment in higher education the postmodern text, proposing its own interpretation, encourages the reader to take specific theoretical directions in seeking meaning before he has had a chance to determine a point of departure for his own interpretation. Metafictional discourse strives to make the reader into a docile student dependent on a literary pedagogy. A fairly recent addition to the Canadian literary market, Lionel Kearns' Convergences invests in the lucrative conven tions and associations that have established postmodern metafiction as a reliable industry. (Born in Nelson, British Columbia, Kearns has taught creative writing and poetry at Simon Fraser University since 1966.) Even though Convergences has met with no scholarly attention apart from book reviews, it clearly represents the extent to which metafictional rhetoric has infiltrated more regional Canadian poems, Canadian poems competing less for an international market than for a local one, concerned less with global controversies than with the interrelationship between two cultures in a defined geographical space. Despite Convergences' indifference to attracting a large readership, the apparently radical format of this picture book raises various dilemmas in reading the eighteenth-century sailor's journal, while fascinatingly enough concealing under these dilemmas authoritarian struc tures, which metafiction as an entire discursive industry reproduces.
Calling itself poetry, but written in prose, Kearns' text provides a running colour commentary on how to read the text proper properly, so to speak. Throughout this metafictional lesson, the narrator philosophizes at length on the poetic narrative pieced together with excerpts from the journals of the sailors and officers on Captain Cook's last voyage, and acquaints us with some of the postmodern problems which, no doubt, should afflict the reader as he wends his way through Convergences's map of historical fiction, or fic tionalized history. Addressing us in second person and at times in first person plural, the colour commentary frequently has recourse to detailed inscriptions of the reader. On the opening page, these inscriptions immediately insert him in a sticky web of philosophical confusion, a slippery can of slimy worms:
Although insisting that the reader must untangle these self-replicating knots by himself, the busy narrator of the commentary still spends the time to inform him about the existence of such knots and, more significantly, about their status: legions, nay myriads, of knots with the exception of one or two will remain tied, inextricably gordian. Not content to channel his energies and expenditure into the third person narrative involving Cook and the Indians, the narrator feels compelled to place and replace the reader within the context of the very familiar postmodern problem:
But really what can we and not some metafictional cliché make of all this problematizing, this incessant questioning that certainly riddles Con vergences in more ways than one? To say something is uncertain is to pose a certainty; in fact, to say something is uncertain in a manner which borrows from a long line of metafictional texts is to buy into an entire discourse of certainty. To pronounce problems over and over again in postmodern liturgi cal chants is to deproblematize those problems, to make them ring with an air of nostalgic familiarity, to find a vacuous hope in the eye of a whirlwind. To state and restate a problem is precisely a matter of "instating" a problem a motion towards an epistemology.
One of the most immediate problems the reader encounters upon opening the book concerns the interpretive order of the columns. On the pages facing each other, the outer columns which constitute the metafictional commentary frame and contain the inner columns which constitute the narrative. Although different cross-readings are possible, the text does not alter its distinctive spatial arrangement at all. Why are the columns never interwoven together or, at least, never arranged in an alternative order from page to page? Far from fully unveiling the complexities of interpreting history as a text, the metafictional commentary encloses the narrative of Cook's interaction with the Nootka Indians within the narrow confines of a hermeneutical prison: divided not only by a vertical fissure but by contrasting typescript and print size, the two columns imply that the texts of the sailors' journals and the narrator's commentary inhabit two distinctly different temporal planes which never converge, enabling the metafictional narrator to ask, "Does language overcome this discontinuity of space and time? Can it fill the gaps of reference and consciousness?" Of course, in one respect, Kearns himself has engineered this gap in the format of the book, preventing the journals from spilling into and contaminating the regulatory voice of the commentary, employing the concept of consciousness to delineate clear borders around the textual frag ments. In the inner columns, when Kearns quotes an excerpt from a journal, he precedes the passage with the contributor's name as if the text belonged exclusively to that particular author. The incongruity of this textual discon tinuity of space and time and of this textual authority of a lucidly defined phenomenological consciousness exposes itself in Convergences when we stop to consider who or what governs the basic narrative of the inner columns. If we assign semantic authority to the author, Kearns from the very beginning has constructed the historical scenario around the Nootka Indians, selecting the quotations and pictures from the sailors' journals. Kearns from the very beginning has been interacting with, mixing up, sorting out, editing, embel lishing, and fabricating documentation. Maybe he wishes to validate his historical enterprise by seeming to extricate himself from the inner columns through the rigid division between the commentary's first person narrative and the text proper's third person narrative. Anyway, without losing our selves in the issue of subjectivity, and without attributing a single intention to Kearns, we detect in the text a dominant order and seek to unravel the implications this hierarchy might have for generating meaning. Furnishing us with an intertext which highlights the hidden divergences and disjunctions of Convergences, Derrida's Glas maintains a dual columned page as well, but displays no respect for the textual authority of consciousness. A bizarre, anti- theological oommentary on the texts of Hegel and Genet, Glas conflates and compounds, on one hand, the famous philosopher and dialectician of the family and state, defender of reason, religion, and history, and, on the other hand, a homosexual-thief-turned-writer-transvestite, Hegel's dark dop pleganger. And along with these texts, interwoven and intertwined runs Derrida's parodic, diabolical annotations on the dissemination of the dialectic a gloss the reader cannot separate from the glossed, a gloss reflecting upon and deflecting the play and place of proper names in writing.
In contrast to Glas whose radical format resists the privileging of a certain column or a certain discourse, Convergences relies upon the empty space in the middle of its page to protect the narrator's reading from his writing and never the twain shall meet. Like a map which guides the traveller along a preordained course, like a book of etiquette which instructs the debutante in the graces of social conduct, the outer columns tell us how to read the inner columns, charting out for us the interpretive boundaries in apparently artless questions and problems. But the problem underlying all these problems, the question hidden beneath all these questions, is that the questions and the problems are less artless than artful. For revolutionaries easily seduced by iconoclastic credos, inquiring, inquisitive language seems to penetrate and subvert the subtlest of didactic proclamations, and, therefore, some readers may feel disposed to valorize the interrogative discourse of the commentary over the more declarative discourse of the inner columns. Within literature and philosophy, the articulated question is commonly confused with critical inquiry and the articulated answer with dogma or didacticism. Yet why should we grant interrogative discourse the upper hand? Truly, the discourse of interrogation in the metafictional text is a fascist frame, which masquerades as a socialist revolutionary, while drawing us into its concentra tion camp, its Gulag.
If forced to describe criticism in all its many forms as a single activity with a common teleology, I would say that the reader approaches literature in order to engage his critical faculty, endeavouring to interrogate, to analyze, to dissect to become the totalitarian torturer who extorts meaning from a text, who gives the text the third degree, who has total control over the text and its reading. The reader brings to the text the appropriate theoretical apparatuses, that is, his instruments of torture, and encourages the text whether in screams or whispers to talk. Nevertheless, the process of interrogation belongs to the reader and he alone always questioning, actively questioning, always writing, actively writing. However, when the enlightened metafictional text immediately talks under no provocation in fact gives us the questions to ask the totalitarian torturer smiles and relaxes, believing that his work is officially over. As a consequence, his torture instruments remain stainless, and, in many ways, he becomes a prisoner to his own victim.
Yet waving the tricolour of liberty, Linda Hutcheon in Narcissistic Narrative finishes her study of the metafictional paradox with a firm belief in self-reflexive fiction: "There is much freedom-inducing potential in metafic tion generally, not when seen as a degenerate version of a moribund genre, but when recognized as a significant "vital" form of literature" (161). Demarcating a distinction between living and dead literature, Hutcheon's optimistic conclu sion seems to regard the postmodern metafictional text as a vehicle for the reader's freedom, as though such a text were a live revolutionary fighting alongside the oppressed reader. She clearly diverts the capacity for critical judgement away from the reader's activity how should the reader engage metafiction? onto textual production, where the writer supposedly pos sesses the power to animate a text and liberate his readership from the chains of mimetic mystification. And yet I propose that, as in any other discourse, the reader is never free in metafiction, until he fights for that freedom. A text cannot teach him to read; only an intense, interrogating involvement in the process of reading can. In the first column of the metafictional commentary, the narrator proclaims, "You are free to shuffle these pages and browse," wooing us to follow his voice and his cause, wooing us to fight in his revolution, not our own.
Against this hollow gesture of freedom-giving and problem-loving magnanimity, the text's simple, straightforward language sets itself. For a book dealing with the clash of two cultures, two vernaculars which converge and diverge in a dizzy complexity, why is the metafictional commentary couched in the same conversational, colloquial tone as the historical narra tive? If the separation of the two columns is so crucial, should the two milieux not be represented in dramatically distinctive styles that pay more attention to cultural historicity? The narrator pronounces his problems in a language which is clearly unproblematic, for on a stylistical-grammatical level few literary works could be easier to read than Convergences. His simple language persuades readers to believe that his own question-making process does not require interrogation. Unlike Derridean discourse, Convergences abstracts the problem from the articulation of the problem by serving us up pre formulated, easy to digest, problems. Such familiar, everyday language elides the difference, lulls us to sleep, retards our interrogation with its own painless and bloodless inquisition. Not only does the narrator articulate the questions for us, but he also renders them in a language childishly accessible to an English Canadian audience.
A common strategy of postmodernism is to infuse its texts with a liberat ing interrogative discourse in order to inculcate the reader with its own ideological learnings. In Convergences, the interrogative discourse set apart from the more declarative discourse of the inner columns results in the standardization of a particular reading: enlisting the services of two rhetorical figures, the commentary's narrator effectively obscures the didactic, value- laden agenda which, nevertheless, orders the text. The critical question, the first rhetorical figure, signifies in our postmodern society the openness to change, the intellectual maturity to participate in a dialogue and to learn from others: television talk shows such as "Donahue," "Oprah Winfrey," "Geraldo," and "Salley Jesse Raphael" enjoy immense popularity and involve a panel of guests whom the host and the audience beset with a rapid fire of questions. Strangely enough though, the programs of a particular talk show exhibit no thematic continuity apart from the same master of ceremonies who appears show after show, supported by a similar studio audience. This inquisitive host does not accumulate an archive of knowledge from his encounter with many so-called experts, but, instead, conducts each show as if starting from a blank slate. Whether having probed into the abuses of organized crime or having discussed the abortion controversy, the talk show host returns unchanged, vainly spewing out more questions and revealing no propensity to adapt what he has learned or how he has learned during previous programs to the new matter at hand. So, the questions, rather than moving toward a solution with the potential for cultural transformation, merely transmit a liberal humanist ideology which falsely enshrines tolerance and relativism as virtues of social and individual improvement.
Similarly in Convergences, the barrages of critical questions burden the reader with a sense of overwhelming plurality, while surreptitiously leading him down a defined path. The commentary's narrator concedes, "I cannot say everything. Consider, the question of dreams." Then follows a long list of speculative queries on the dreams of the sailors and the Indians. So what does "everything" have to do with the unconscious? How are dreams a question in relation to the two cultures meeting? Why try to recover the sleeping lives of these historical figures? unless the importation of a pseudo-Freudian dis course into the commentary prods us to psychoanalyse the European journal entries and thus waylays us into a further activity which preserves the concept of an autonomous phenomological subject. Moreover, later on, when Bayly's entry records Captain Cook flring musket full of shot into the canoe of a pilfering Indian, the metafictional column demands, "What does it mean? Anger and resentment? Future respect? Fear? Regret? Revenge biding its time?" In this case, why should meaning be confined to emotional inten tionality? Appearing to multiply interpretations, both lists of critical ques tions limit our possibilities with an interrogative discourse which may as well be declarative. The question I pose to you is what distinguishes a question from an assertion when each is used as the premise or postulate for any sort of investigation or argument? Does a question not contain its own assertion insofar as it guides the student to search for specific identities? Does an assertion not contain its own question mark insofar as it urges the student to challenge its bold authority? We should expect just as rigorous a reading from a question as from an assertion, simply because both restrict and release a field of semantic possibilities; both, for example, may operate ironically. In addition, just as the talk show host is never required to answer any questions directed at himself, the interrogator in a metafictional text stands in a position of unquestioned power, not needing to account for the motivations and vested interests behind his questions. Diverting us away from our own interrogation, he persuades us to accompany him on an innocent, spontaneous exploration which in truth is just as much a preplanned journey ending in a fixed destination as any didactic sounding, unyielding declarative discourse.
The second rhetorical figure, the enigmatic paradox, operates in much the same manner. Take for example the last sentence of Convergences: "Such loops are the links in a chain that binds the universe, even as it flies apart." Dazzled by the stark conflict of "binding" and "flying apart," the reader should be careful not to overlook those links which touch each other, fall through each other, are stacked on top of each other, are welded together, are broken into smaller chains, etc. Then again why posit a chain? Why should we see the umverse as either chaotic or ordered or both? And yet again, why posit the concept of the universe, when everything according to the narrator seems to manifest a problematic nature anyway? Does this paradox elide other para doxes? other subtleties? The enigmatic paradox collapses a potential spectrum of differences into a rigid binary opposition, hiding its own limits under the mysterious openness of an ontological conundrum. It arrests the search for a solution, in leaving the reader in a cul-de-sac which at times is more illusory than the possibility of continuing on. Both rhetorical figures pull us into their discourse, their philosophical terms, their units of analysis, their identities, their assumptions.
But, for a moment, just say the metafictional commentary pinpoints legitimate problems within the practice of historicism, since, for the most part, the reviews of Convergences were enthusiastic about the book's collage structure and philosophical meditations. Reading the columns presents the reader with a type of exegetical anxiety in that he faces on each new page the dilemma of choosing between two columns for a point of departure. Because we are unable to digest both columns at once, the interpretive paranoia of missing out on potential meanings plagues us throughout the book, for it seems as though someone is speaking to you while you are listening to someone else. You feel as though you should be formulating connections with the opposing column, when you know such a task during the first reading is impossible. Along the same lines, calling for a new hermeneutics of painting as well as writing, the illustrations and sketches of the Nootka Indians engage in a fascinating interplay with the text: the first painting to appear in the inner column occurs on page thirty-four and initiates a kind of dialogue between the paintings of the inner and outer columns, a dialogue climaxing in Webber's famous harbourscape of "Cook's Ships in Nootka Sound," which takes up two entire pages at the expense of written text. Problematizing the act of interpretation with the anomalous and the unexpected, Kearns' postmodern format disrupts standard notions of what a text should be like. As if to frustrate academic readings, the book does not even display page numbers with which students can conveniently locate interconnected references.
And yet for all its self-avowed awareness to problems of determining meaning, for all its radical resistance to conservative literary techniques, the postmodern format silently conserves a few conventions that the most avant-garde, most subversive texts also doff their caps to in a flourish of unspoken respect. Metafictional omniscience does not penetrate Con vergences's cover, copyright page, bibliography, or back cover blurb. These publishing apparatuses oddly enough meet with no ontological or her meneutic scrutiny and participate in no artistic free-play. The path by which the narrator overlooks and circumvents the privileged, usually unchallenged signification of these apparatuses constitutes the aporia in Convergences's metafictional discourse. The cover, to start with, attaches the proper name to the title by inscribing both in red ink, and, thus, before the narrative officially begins, consolidates the prevailing capitalist value of private property, communicating that the author owns this product of literary meaning. Like a deed to a parcel of land or a sales receipt for a purchase, the proper name, along with the other legal apparatuses, certifies and authorizes the text as a book, the writer's possession. So powerful is the sway of political-economic ideology that the curious distinction between person and possession, between being and having, disappears on the title page. The proper name, which usually differentiates a person from other persons, is transferred to the work, where language and textuality public, social, cultural property hidden and suppressed operate under the Bourgeois ideals of the personal, the separate, the individual, as if the unit did not need the system, the parole the langue. The book's first communica tion, its first movement toward the reader, identifies the person to whom the entire communication belongs, prescriptively centering the work on the image of the author on his consciousness. In a similar manner, the bibliography inside the back cover recenters the excerpts from the journals on their respective owners' publications, in effect undoing the text proper's efforts to throw into question the boundaries between literary production and literary plagiarism, and, by implication, the boundaries between the public and private appropriation of meaning.
For all its pluralistic problematizing, Convergences sees no problem in its status as merchandise and is unambiguously marketed as "poems" under the publication data on the copyright page. A literary commercial intending to catch the eye of a prospective purchaser, the back cover blurb also jars against the narrator's truth-telling commentary which regards reading and history as strange and inscrutable, for now, according to the publisher, "this is a strange book rwhose] ... reflexive process creates a curious illumination of what is simultaneously historical process, con sciousness, and poetry." Given the proverbial last word, the blurb tran scends the metafictional discourse in a meta-metafictional leap: ironically contradicting the metafictional narrator's assertion that the lyric is "as human as it is irrelevant to the economic life of the nation", it reduces the reflexive process" to a "curious illumination," a rare and exotic light that is, a colourful gimmick that sells books. Inevitably the contention will arise that Kearns is not strictly motivated by profit, and I for one would agree, not attacking him for any intention; the issue I am raising though calls for an understanding of the book within a political-economic context, where literature does not arrive at the reader's doorstep freshly delivered from the writer's desk. The book commercially authorized meaning is merely a stage in a whole system of ordered procedures embroiling produc tion, regulation, publication, distribution, circulation, and consumption. Convergences belongs to a vast literary market. And so after reading the copyright page, we might, for example, ask ourselves why this book which, being sensitive to regionalism, exclusively converges on British Columbia needs not only Toronto's Coach House Press but also assis tance from the Ontario Arts Council in order to be published? Why does Kearns pursue a readership so far away from his parochial interests? Was the book produced for the Ontario market? By no means the only context for the book, such political-economic factors offer insight into the relation between writer and work, a relation often ignored in contemporary crit icism because of a post-structural contempt for discussing the author.
As merchandise to be bought and sold, Convergences draws upon itself Marx's indictment of capitalism, wherein people, alienated from what they produce and from other members of society, are yoked to a market that guides the circulation and relations of goods and services. This marketing mentality in which people tend to be seen as commodities and commodities tend to be seen as animated entities bears the name 'commodity fetishism'. The concept of commodity fetishism criticizes capitalist society for attribut ing life to inanimate objects by allowing them to organize the way in which people interact with one another: the market interposes itself between persons, mediating direct awareness of social relations by the abstract laws of relationships between commodities Claiming to be self-conscious about its modes of production (writing) and consumption (reading), this metafic tional text does not challenge its publishing apparatuses and, in failing to do so, promotes commodity fetishism. Although the outer columns of com mentary meditate at length on the author and the reader, these columns avoid examining the crucial relevance of the market on the book's produc tion. I will even go so far as to say that metafiction in general contributes to the hypostatization of books in our capitalist society, spreading the fallacy that a narcissistic narrative exhibits self-reflection, self-reflexivity, auto referentiality self-consciousness. But a book cannot know itself and possesses no consciousness. Therefore, we should never reify a text's nar cissistic narrative as an interpretive level above the fiction but consider it as just another line of fiction. Let us take the privileged 'meta' out of metafiction, especially when in Kearns' case the book seems to 'know' little about its production, endeavoring to engulf us in a popular liberal human ist rhetoric.
Instead of meditating on the inner columns through the outer columns, readers can just as easily reverse the narrator's metafictional privileging and read the outer columns through the inner. Since Convergences quotes passages from the actual journals of sailors and officers who made up the crew of Captain Cook's last voyage around the world, a productive reading might learn much from reflecting upon the formalistic and formational determinants of the sailor's log or diary. The official purpose of the Cook voyage was to discover the North West Passage which would provide a quicker trade and communication route to the American Pacific coast and Asia, a large reward enticing Cook out of retirement. An auxiliary purpose was to return Omai, a South Sea native, to his home in the Society Islands, since a ship from Captain Cook's second voyage brought Omai to England in 1774 where he was received and entertained by gentry. 'Journal' shares with 'journey' the same latin root 'diurnus', meaning 'daily', reveals the interdependence of these two words. Hence, whereas a typical literary narrative more or less determines the course of the voyage or the journey, the voyage in the Captain Cook journals determines the narrative. Although Cook, dying in a skirmish with Hawaiians and so in one way terminating the voyage prematurely, did not find the North West Passage, Omai the South Sea islander, against his wishes, did return home and did supply the journey with a sense of closure in more than a manner of speaking. To situate, to place, to contextualize the native, to banish him from England, to put him back in the faraway unknown, seems to emerge from the journal entries as the unofficial purpose for the last Cook voyage. The enforced return of Omai to his island is emblematic of the journals' insistence on distancing the South Pacific natives from the English. Kearns' inner columns quote from David Samwell's account the famous encounter with the Nootka Indians, who encircling the ships in canoes sing in concert to the onlooking sailors: "Upon the whole it was as wild and uncouth a performance as any we had ever seen, and that strongly marked the barbarous and uncultivated state of the people." Of course, the Nootkas would never perceive or inscript themselves as "wild and uncouth": the journals, not the concert or similar customs, mark "the barbarous and uncultivated state of the people." By the same token, the inner columns quote an ethnocentric passage from Trevenen's account: "An old Briton of most irascible spirit, known for his care and vigilance, had been fixed upon as boatkeeper. He had been, nevertheless, so often outwitted and of course reprimanded for neglect of duty that he turned as savage as the most savage of the savages with whom he had perpetual quarrels." This journal entry depicts the land of the islanders as a dangerous, bewitching society where Europeans, susceptible to that primordial "heart of darkness," may lose control over themselves if they do not exercise caution. A savage environ ment peopled with savages can potentially transform the civilized into a savage. Blind violence by no means lurks within the breast of the cultivated Englishman.
Kearns also relies upon Zimmermann's account for a portion of his historical material, an account which sheds more light on the inscription of the savage in the other journal entries and which supplements my reading of the outer columns. From another historical angle, the journey again influenced the form the journals took: the Admiralty had instructed Cook to demand from the officers and the petty-officers all log-books and diaries kept during their time at sea, so as to prevent their publication before the government's authorized version should appear. Despite the admiralty's prohibition, Rickman, Zimmermann, and Ellis still published surreptitious journals. Rationalizing his breach of trust to his reading public, Zimmer mann professed that the journals were to be surrendered for destruction, when in reality the admiralty expressly related to the men that it was only impounding the documents until a future date when they would be faithfully restored. The three surreptitious journals represent contraband, a blackmarket enterprise to invade the whitemarket before the authorized version corners the profits. Opposed to private diaries which record events for the benefit of one, the sailor's journal writes, journeys toward the public publication.
In terms of the overall narrative, Zimmermann's journal imputes to the journey a different destination than the one rendered by the history books. For most of the account, it seems, however, that Zimmermann offers us few fresh insights, describing each encounter with a new insular culture in such a lacklustre tone that events and peoples blur into banality. At one point overseeing a Royal couple enjoying sexual intercourse, he summarizes the entire experience in a single humdrum sentence (Zimmermann's Captain Cook 61). Now what breaks the monotonous narrative is a climax which neither exploits the dramatic death of the resolute Captain nor proposes to install another colourful event as the resounding conclusion. The journey climaxes with an extended yet lively tribute to Cook, as if his powerfully symbolic image were the destination both ships sailed for:
A master of seamanship who harnessed wind and water, Cook sought complete control over his crew members and even his own body. He was unyielding where the ships' rules were concerned, and did not permit sailors to save their brandy rations for several days so that they could get drunk: "Temperance was one of his chief virtues"(99). Accordingly, his table boasted a meagre fare in comparison with that of his officers, and, notwithstanding the dalliance of the sailors, he did not indulge in inter course with the native women. The pinnacle of Western achievement, the paragon of British self-management, this captain among men maintained the most honourable features of European society in the most savage of climes. Within Zimmermann's text, the civilized appears as suddenly as Cook's death; the civilized is the final discovery after a long voyage, an unexpected but welcome sighting of an unexplored land. But the destina tion is twofold, because, in order to circumscribe the cultured, the refined, the cultivated, there must be the untamed, the wild:
When reflecting upon where the journey has gone, Zimmermann sees the European savant loving, understanding, captivating, engaging, tolerating, and subjugating the islander as savage. According to the narrative, part of this Western engagement with the savage involved drawing the native Pacific peoples into a relationship of mercantile exchange. Upon greeting a new native people, Cook would present them with gifts, usually inexpen sive trinkets or tools. If the Europeans then received gifts as well, Cook in return would give them nails, knives, mirrors, and glass beads, and would forbid any of the crew to give more in trade than he himself had given or to carry on any further trading for curiosities until the ship had been well stocked with provisions(44). He thus would monitor future exchange rela tions, putting limits on the buying power of the savages after encouraging them to trade.
In regard to Zimmermann's text, Convergences's outer columns may be located within the genre of the sailor's journal. And surely, if we affiliate the narrator with the author as this genre usually enjoins us to do, Kearns in a mercenary fashion traces his journey through other journals, recording the choppy waters of reading not sailing, while directly plagiarizing the labours of others. I might also argue that just as the sailor's journal entwined with an expedition consisting of numerous economic levels depicted and exploited the Pacific natives in various mercenary ways for the sake of a market hungry for information about exotic lands and peoples, Kearns revives the historical encounter between the English and the Nootka to wax philosophical and liberal on cultural interpenetration and again repeats the exploitation of the Pacific natives re-appropriating their culture for a Western agenda and market under an economically innocent hope of understanding and sensitivity.
Why does Kearns choose a mainstream, subsidy-oriented art form with which to prick the conscience of non-native Canada? No matter how peni tent or indignant, can a descendant of European expansionists, still em broiled in the literary market of English speaking America, adequately represent the cause of indigenous peoples? Such liberal moral outrage usually comes packaged in conservative, capitalist wrappings.
But my argument pertains more to the 'unconscious' presuppositions of metafiction which the inner columns of Conuergenees highlights quite remarkably. Just as Zimmermann inscribes the Pacific islanders as sav ages against the person of the European savant, Kearns too represents us in a certain way throughout his journal. The journeying metafictional narra tor constantly draws attention to us in the outer columns, although he usually makes this gesture while assuming the posture of mystical puzzle ment and intellectual humility: "I wonder what is happening around you as you read these words. . . . What you bring to this occasion I cannot even dream of.. . . I want to tell you everything but how can I proceed when I know so little." Notwithstanding the narrator's Socratic appeal to igno rance, the outer columns reinscribe and reinscribe and reinscribe the narrator as the speaking, writing, acting author and us as the listening, reading, passive readers the consuming savages, the uncivilized drawn into his fixed, limited market of literary exchange entailing his values, his terms. The narrator delights in spelling out the difference between himself and the reader: "It is always the others who are the savages. Come here my little savage." Much like contemporary anthropologists whom critics accuse of fetishizing cultural otherness, metafiction endorses a radical alterity existing between producer and consumer. These metafictional inscriptions of writer and reader play out a silent masque that hierarchizes the written text over the read text: "I search out and record and fashion again this text which you have somehow stumbled upon, as you sometimes stumble upon a curious piece of wreckage washed up on the shore." Kearns produces, while the vagrant reader merely stumbles, tripping over the substantial, palpable, jagged, and, no doubt, painful words the author has crafted together. Really no different from Zimmermann, Samwell, or Trevenen, who brand the Pacific natives "savages," Kearns imprisons the reader in his text as a constant to act upon, a person to give specious freedom to, a poor helpless consumer to teach, watch, monitor, and control.
The metafictional text is a self-consuming commodity in the sense that it appears to sever itself from the world by telling us how to read it. A fitting emblem for the self-consuming commodity is the mise an abyme, a literary figure which mirrors the narration of the text. In Convergences a good example of the figure occurs when the narrator mentions that Webber in one of his engravings made a major change to the Nootka female's dress. His peculiar artistic manipulation mirrors the author's textual liberties with pictures as well as with the journals. This literary introversion seemingly consumes the text in its own flames, because, mirroring neither the outside world nor a fictionalized world, the mise an abyme transforms the text into an autonomous microcosm, wherein self-reflecting narrations, like facing mirrors, inexhaustibly recede into infinity. The self-consuming commodity fetishizes the text as a self-enclosed universe of meaning, presenting the illusion that there are as many different ideas in the world as there are books for each book has its own unique, infinite reading. The self-consuming commodity revels in a false internal plurality and obfus cates the many meaningful contexts outside of itself.
Although evidently focussed on regional history and culture, Con vergences affords readers an excellent example of the extent to which the multi-national discourse of metafiction has penetrated Canadian poems found on the fringes of the international literary market; and most signifi cantly, for our purposes, its progressive, postmodern rhetoric demonstrates how an unconventional format conceals and sustains authoritarian struc tures, which are incorporated in all metafictional discourse. Even when such a text, like Convergences, informs us about the problematic nature of reading, an effort is most surely being made to draw us into the author's ideology: drawn, that is sketched, into the metafictional text, we are created in the author's ideological image. In Kearns' case, we become an inquisitive liberal, certain of our uncertainties, uncommitted to an intellec tual stand for fear of being labelled intolerant or closeminded. Yet one thing is more than certain for the self-consuming commodity: the savage reader needs the metafictional savant, the written text. Containing, surrounding, and circumscribing us within its bounds, the self-consuming commodity organizes the way in which capitalist society perceives the reader and the writer: the writer, the actor and teacher, produces the book, and the reader, the audience member and student, consumes it. Nonetheless, what vali dates a publication as a viable source of knowledge? What makes someone's scribbling a commodity? The publisher's consent? the marketing potential? a large agreeable readership? the price tag and the copyright page?
In our postmodern era where publishing deconstructionists and semi oticians laud the written text as the paradigm of life, to unwrite the savage reader out of his metafictional Gulag requires a new perspective on read ing. No longer must we comply with the idea that the commoditized book holds a special intellectual power over other non-published activities. No longer must we examine the book's meaning outside the field of economic, social, political, and hegemonic forces. Michel de Certeau, in The Practice of Everyday Life, supplies us with a new framework for the consuming reader:
As one type of consumption, reading must constantly and carefully reassess its relationship to the established political-economic system which circum scribes reader, writer and book. Consumption need not mean a complicity with the system but rather a productive resistance to such forces as those exerting themselves on the reader in Kearns' text. Consumption as "pro duction" cannot only dissipate the illusion of fetishization which the domi nant order employs to preserve itself and its policies, but also dismantle those texts which, promoting a multi-national discourse, labour to pull all readers on the outside into a consumer dialect, for reading is more than an institutionally unrecognized, unpublished writing on the book; it is trans textual insofar as it is not bound by a cover, wielding the power to extort from the text its ideological alliances to go beyond the narrow confines of the fetishized commodity. Because "the tactics of consumption, the inge nious ways in which the weak make use of the strong,. .. lend a political dimension to everyday activities" (xvii), we must critically consume those metafictional texts which herald a freer type of reading which more often than not seek to defuse the active political potential already inherent in reading.
Works Cited and Consulted
Derrida, Jacques. Glas. Trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. and Richard Rand. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
De Certeau, Michel. The Practise of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven F. Rendall. Berkley: University of California Press, 1984.
Garebian, Keith. "Lionel Kearns, Convergences." Poetry Canada Review. Summer 1985; Vol.6 No. 4: 32.
Gutteridge, Don. "Convergences. Lionel Kearns." Queen's Quarterly. Winter 1985; Vol. 92, No. 4: 840-842.
Hutcheon, Linda. Narcissistic Narrative. London: Methuen, 1984.
Kearns, Lionel. Convergences. Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1984.
Pritchard, Allan. "Poet as Historian." Books in Review. Spring 1985; No. 104: 157-159.
Taussig, Michael T. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
Zimmermann, Henry. Zimmermann's Captain Cook. Trans. Elsa Michaelis and Cecil French. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1930.