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State of Canadian literary culture posted 06 Feb 2006, 02:02 by Chris, Commoner

Ran posted this on the asoiaf board (not sure if its the same Ran that posts) but I'm absconding it :wink: [url=]This article[/url:1ae98q5f] states something that I know Scott has strong beliefs about; that being fantastic literature having a hard time being taken seriously by the establishment. [quote:1ae98q5f] RM Vaughan, Weekend Post Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 A literary agent of my acquaintance (OK, OK, my literary agent) told me a revealing story about how Canadian literary culture is perceived outside of Canada. While at a European book fair, he was approached by a Finnish publisher who, like any good Finn, was already loaded by 4 p.m. "A Canadian!" the publisher bellowed. "Tell me, please, why all your books are about middle-class ladies who don't have any problems?"[/quote:1ae98q5f] Now I know in a recent Steven Erikson interview he stated quite strongly that he needed to move England just to get his stuff published. He doesn't seem too enamoured of Canadian publishers. But Scott, I was wondering if you think the situation is especially bad up here or if the view of fantasy still being a juevinile pasttime is still a world wide perception. I remember the moaning by the literary bigwigs in England when The Lord of the Rings was threatening to be named the top English novel so there's obviously some prejudice against the genre there. On a side note, I find it somewhat bothersome that someone complaining about the snobbishness of Can Lit in relation to fantasy doesn't even bother to mention some of the home grown greats. Not that I don't love The Song of Ice and Fire series and don't blame him for using it as an example, but it would have been nice if he'd of at least mentioned the trouble Prince of Nothing and Malazan Book of the Fallen had had getting published in the first place. view post

posted 07 Feb 2006, 19:02 by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

I read that article this past weekend, and I was planning on contacting him. Apparently Vaughn is himself a genre writer, so though I know he focusses on Martin (likely because its such a glaring example of the problem he's referring to), I think he knows our pain first hand. The funny thing is I was planning on approaching the Post anyway, having given up on the Globe ever giving me a chance to make my argument. If the front door is locked... view post

posted 07 Feb 2006, 22:02 by Shryke, Candidate

The truly sad thing about this is that this is the way even canadians think about there own literature. We either don't produce much else, or the else we don't SEE what we produce other then this. I remember in English class back in High School, we were doing a unit on modernish (this century) Canadian Literature. Each of us picked and read a different book from a huge list of canadian authors. Right before each presentation, me and a few friends would try and guess what the book was about. I always went with "women in a small town dealing with issues". Sadly, I rarely lost. And even worse, school is where the majority of the populace gets exposed to books. Judging from what they give us, it's no wonder so few people I know from High School read. view post

posted 07 Feb 2006, 23:02 by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Amen to that, Shryke. I think the 'great divide' between literature and genre fiction is an entirely arbitrary historical artifact, and one that has it's roots more in the education system than the 'evil corporations' (which is not to say I think corporations are good!). view post

posted 08 Feb 2006, 09:02 by Nasrudin's Shadow, Candidate

Agreed. Although I think that it is as much the fault of [i:2oa0h216]people[/i:2oa0h216] as it is the fault of the education system itself. It seems likely that genre fiction will be considered 'lesser' literature so long as people are absurdly proud of their own educations. As for corporations (although I love to blame them for stuff) involved in the world of publishing, I would say that they might even be discouraging this divide. Their bias is predictable--so long as genre fiction is profitable, they do not seem to resist. Given this, many excellent writers are predictably being drawn towards various kinds of genre fiction. As status makes people more saleable, there is no reason to think that corporations would see benefit in maintaining such an artifact. It is possible that Canada's literary stagnation is largely due to its seemingly overwhelming urge to establish, and protect, an identity for itself. Literary movements in Canada happen much more slowly because we tend towards reinforcement rather than progression. Despite the fact that it is no longer really relevant, we are still very much defined by the "garrison" mentality--we are socialists, community-builders, protectors of our neighbours. We seek to strengthen what already exists before all else. In the realm of art and literature, this is manifested in predictable ways. view post

posted 08 Feb 2006, 21:02 by Chris, Commoner

[quote="Nasrudin's Shadow":20fk7cpm] It is possible that Canada's literary stagnation is largely due to its seemingly overwhelming urge to establish, and protect, an identity for itself. Literary movements in Canada happen much more slowly because we tend towards reinforcement rather than progression. Despite the fact that it is no longer really relevant, we are still very much defined by the "garrison" mentality--we are socialists, community-builders, protectors of our neighbours. We seek to strengthen what already exists before all else. In the realm of art and literature, this is manifested in predictable ways.[/quote:20fk7cpm] I think there is much to be said for this idea. Its hard to find a national identity when our biggest claim to international fame seems to be that we're not Americans. The lackluster state of Canadian television and movies are another testament to this. Sarah Polley, who was always steadfast in her goal to stay Canadian-based, not too long ago questioned her choice to remain here given how poor the fare is. Makes me wonder how many dozens of Prince of Nothings and Fionavar Tapestrys are sitting in desks across the Prairies and Maritimes. The few Canuck writers who have made a splash seem to have some serious careers as backups if the writing thing doesn't pan out; De Lint was/is a musician. Kay a lawyer, Erikson an anthropologist, Caitin Sweet a teacher and of course Scott gave up the megacash and groupies available in being a professional philosopher to try his hand :lol: view post

posted 08 Feb 2006, 23:02 by Entropic_existence, Moderator

One one hand I think our national identity does consists of more than being different from the Americans (which is something that I agree with though :) ) but Canada has pretty much always had a struggle with identifying itself. I agree with the assesmnet that this has carried over into literature, cinema, and other avenues of art and entertainment. We are so focused on preserving Canadian culture that we are afraid to allow it to evolve. This will increasingly become a problem as time goes on. Culture is a living, breathing, and very organic thing... not something written in stone and never changing. view post

posted 17 Feb 2006, 17:02 by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

The idea that a certain, narrow kind of identity-claim has become the central criterion for what counts as 'serious literature' in Canada is as embarrassing as it is wrongheaded, I think. It seems to shout insecurity. view post

posted 18 Feb 2006, 04:02 by Entropic_existence, Moderator

Personally I hate the whole nose in the air "serious literature" of the "big wigs" and experts. To my mind literature serves several purposes, one of which is entertainment or to pass on some sort of "history." Sure there is some garbage out there, but that is due to quality rather than content. Like you Scott, it just sort of irks me when the "snobs" automatically look down on genre fiction. view post

posted 28 Feb 2006, 14:02 by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Well, the [i:1besagug]Toronto Star[/i:1besagug] finally reviewed me, and it looks like the [i:1besagug]Globe and Mail[/i:1besagug] might do so as well. But this is one crow I'll happily eat! It's one of those crazy capitalist positive feedback loops, where the better your bargaining position, the easier it is to improve your bargaining position. I tell you, if I do end up amassing some cultural capital, I plan on spending a good portion of it making the case for genre, and critiquing academically anchored literary culture. People need to start writing for [i:1besagug]other[/i:1besagug] people, not just versions of themselves. It's what writing does to real people in real time that makes it 'literary,' not it's resemblance to a certain narrow body of historical conventions - [i:1besagug]that's[/i:1besagug] supposed to be why genre is so bad. I actually tried to get in touch with RM Vaughan, but no such luck. view post

posted 01 Mar 2006, 20:03 by Chris, Commoner

This, [url=]click here[/url:1sxr8krm], was an interesting article by Robert Sawyer about the SF scene here: [i:1sxr8krm]In Canadian science fiction, there are two solitudes — two distinct camps of writers — but, unlike many things in this country, the distinction is not principally linguistic. Rather, the barrier is between those whose work appears exclusively, or almost so, in domestic Canadian markets, and those whose work appears with similar exclusivity in American markets. The membrane between the two solitudes is semi-permeable. Those who write principally for American markets have no trouble making the occasional sale in Canada, but those whose work has appeared primarily in Canadian publications rarely, if ever, cross over to international publication. That the crossover only works in one direction is attributed variously to differences in the relative standards of the two marketplaces (Canada has no domestic short-fiction markets that meet the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's minimum requirement for professional payment), or to some ineffable Canadian "voice" that is not received well internationally. This latter position is hard to justify, since the SF by Canadian authors published in American venues often bears the traditional hallmarks of Canadian literature. The principal Can-Lit theme (as outlined by Margaret Atwood in her non-fiction book Survival, 1972) is the relationship of society to its landscape: the Canadian psyche is indelibly stamped by living in a vast, sparsely populated, inhospitable land that will kill you if you simply stand still. Canadian SF novels such as Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite (1982), Teresa Plowright's Dreams of an Unseen Planet (1986), Andrew Weiner's Station Gehenna (1987), Robert J. Sawyer's Far-Seer (1992), and Scott Mackay's Outpost (1998) all embody this theme. [/i:1sxr8krm] Seems to suggest that writers who try to establish themselves in Canada first run the risk of writing stuff that will only appeal to Canadians or at least being pigeon-holed as only being able to write that way. But then he goes on to say that established mainstream writers can write in stories in the genre without losing any 'credibility'; [i:1sxr8krm]The Canadian literary establishment does not perceive genre barriers the same way Americans do, so it is not unusual for a mainstream Canadian author to try his or her hand at SF, often with great success. Bestselling writers who have done so include Margaret Atwood (whose feminist The Handmaid's Tale (1985) was a finalist for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award, and who also wrote the SF novel Oryx and Crake (2003)), Hugh MacLennan (the post-nuclear-holocaust Voices in Time, 1980), Brian Moore (Catholics, 1972), and Charles Templeton (World of One, 1988).[/i:1sxr8krm] Strange that he says there is not a large genre barrier then go on to note [i:1sxr8krm]"Only occasionally will a mainstream English-Canadian publisher take a foray into SF."[/i:1sxr8krm] view post

posted 15 Mar 2006, 17:03 by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Yeah, I'm not quite so sanguine as Rob. At that Brock conference, it was pretty clear to me that the guy was taking direct aim at him. I also think the wall doesn't seem so high to him simply because he's been able to establish himself as a pundit [i:2aj706c5]despite[/i:2aj706c5] his genre credentials, and I think that's a function of his tenacity and impressive skills as a speaker as much as anything else. Every publcist I worked with on my recent Canadian tour commented on how the people who typically line up to interview or profile authors at various media, weren't at all interested in speaking to me. Literary writers with far, far fewer readers have a far easier time than do genre writers. It really speaks to the power of words to pigeonhole. I mean if it's this difficult to crawl out from under a literary epithet, could you imagine a racial or a sexual one? view post


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