July 1, 2009

Canada vs. Canada

I feel totally disconnected from the Canadian mainstream.

I walked past the CBC building in Montreal with Leah last month. "I'll bet that would be an unbearable place to work," one of us said.

"Yeah," replied the other.

To me that's Canada. David Suzuki talking about electric trains.

No thanks.

I want Leonard Cohen writing songs about prostitutes in Edmonton hotel rooms.
And Alice Munro introducing The New Yorker to the word "fuck."

I could do without all the passive, open-minded mediocrity. Obasan!

John Steinbeck once attended the convention of his country's Democratic party. After all their mass self-congratulation and parading of heroes was over he wrote, "Maybe it's perverse in me, but I find in myself a kind of hunger for a dishonest, cowardly, inhumane, and nongreat American."

This is me waving at Steinbeck from North of the border.

Steinbeck non-fiction compilation America and Americans and Selected Non-Fiction.


Anonymous said...

Mainstream = paperback novels are 90% of what Canadian adults read.

Mainstream = Two of the most popular authors are J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts

Mainstream = J.D. and Nora are the same person.


D. Suzuki isn't so bad - read Wisdom of the Elders; forget about the Trudeau's. There is bigger trouble brewing.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

Oh, I don't mind people enjoying those novels.

Funny it's the same person.

THAT mainstream is the same all over the West. The Canadian mainstream is something different: Politeness, peace, passivity, sensitivity, unity, understanding. I put up a poem here a while ago called 'Things To Hate A Man For Being' that about sums it up for me.


'Wisdom of the Elders' sounds like exactly the kind of thing that frustrates me about Canada. The snippet on Amazon.com says, "[The authors] compare primitive, aboriginal modes of perceiving the natural world with 'Western culture's ecologically destructive worldview.'" Ugh.

I don't think Suzuki's critiques (the ones I've encountered) are invalid. Not at all. I'm with him for the most part in terms of the ACTION that needs to be taken. But his tone and canoe-paddling perspective are something I feel a complete disconnection from. All that mother earth stuff is very Non-Western, and I don't think the way to fix the West is by asking it to step outside of its heritage.

I feel a great deal of affection for our "ecologically destructive worldview." Not the destruction it wreaks, but the worldview. I think there is more to it than it is often (ever?) given credit for. I don't want to give anything away, but that's a big part of what I'm hoping to explore in The Crooked Trees.

Having said all that, the fact is I haven't read the book. I'm just going on that snippet and what I know of Suzuki from interviews and his show.

God knows I despise the reactionary conservatism that the US and Western Christianity struggle with so much, but I don't find the politically correct leftist college professor lifestyle any less ridiculous. There's no room there for beer-swigging, chain-smoking, dirty joke-telling, or murder ballads -unless done with a wink of self-consciousness. But perhaps I'm creating a false dichotomy.

If you like the book then there's got to be something to it. What was it that you liked about it?

joel said...

Wow Matt, you re-created the same conservative Christian bullshit which you left only now it's self-righteous criticism is based in atheism and drugs instead of a ancient book and a long religious history.... a nice achievement.

When are you going to send the collection pot around for half smoked joints while playing Waits 'The House where Nobody Lives'?

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


A direct attack. Okay.

I hope my problem is just that I need to explain myself better. I've been really vague in expressing these ideas -mostly because this stuff is still only half-formed in my mind, and because I'm trying my damnedest to avoid dogmatism. But if the guy who knows me better than almost anyone thinks I've gone off the deep end, that's something I'm gonna pay close attention to.

I don't think I am buying into conservatism in my newly evolving worldview. I hope not. Though, admittedly, it is where I came from and so I will probably tend to drift that way.

But I don't know how to address your criticism unless you offer an actual rebuttal to my vague, under-developed theories. You've got to offer more than a personal attack.

Don't mock me. Offer me substance. Or ask me to clarify something I've said which you find offensive.

Also, I don't think drugs have anything to do with this. Where are you getting that?

Also, what's your problem? You mock me?! What the hell?

Though I welcome your passion and dissent.

Look at me being all polite and understanding and Canadian.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


I re-read my response to you.

I hope it's not too overwhelming. I'm not trying to be confrontational. At all.

Joel's little explosion up there has got me questioning whether I am being a jerk. I really hope I'm not.

I want to talk about this stuff, and I really respect what you have to say. I'm just trying to offer my perspective, hoping to hear yours, and then further hoping that our dialogue can lead to me getting some stuff straight in my head.

For me the fact that you enjoyed 'Wisdom of the Elders' makes me want to take a look at it. If it impressed you at all, then I'm sure there's something there. But my starting point is skepticism.

Oh man, this has turned into something I sure never intended it to.

Anonymous said...

First of all: I don't know what I would do without you in life. No hard feelings - ever :)

Secondly: I am unsure of how to respond, I have to think on it.

Honestly too, I have only read bits of the book I mentioned - out of the actual book however. Reviews are something never to be trusted - especially since they are (overall) written by the "mainstream" minds that you are at odds with. So why would you go by that? think about it.

And so am I, at odds with those minds. The biggest problem with them is the lack of innovation.

The reason that I threw the book in there was that people who "get" what being intentional and interesting means wanted me to read it. Intelligent, outside the border of mediocrity, people- Who gained my respect after I initially refused to give them any.

Thirdly: I just thought of something, that I have been thinking of:

I think the key to transformative, rather than stagnate opinions regarding people is respect. Care. Integrity.

Mediocrity has no real advantage, or upholding quality. However, the human beings that are the face of that mediocrity do have quality, often times in things that we can never be aware of. The importance of this (admittedly vague) idea is that while it is *you* who must "hunger for the ...nongreat American", it is NOT you who has any right to wave, mock or step off the edge.

We find ourselves on "the outside" often, and we have to live there acceptably. I have no interest in wandering blindly, waving across imagined borders.

Don't read the Suzuki Book. Read "Can the Subaltern Speak" and have your frustrations involuntarily motivated elsewhere. Read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and see what someone else's wave across the border looks like.

Re-watch Pickpocket and look at your self in a possible mirror. If you can think of mine, let me know and I will face it.

p.s. I look forward to your examinations in The Crooked Trees.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


Amazing. I'm with you right down the line.

You wrote, "I think the key to transformative, rather than stagnate opinions regarding people is respect. Care. Integrity."

Absolutely. What I've been trying to figure out in my head in the last several years is how to demonstrate that respect, care, and integrity without slipping into nice, bland, weakness. I want do it with imagination and passion, and I think if I err, I would rather err on the side of boldness than meekness.

In my years as a zealous Christian I held a lot of extreme opinions. My slow rebellion against that led me to moderation. I learned how to walk the middle ground, and to me that was a radical step. My next step, I think, is to figure out how to be bold again, without being ignorant.

You wrote that "the human beings that are the face of that mediocrity do have quality, often times in things that we can never be aware of."

I agree wholeheartedly. I live for those moments in life where you get to see someone's best side. I try to approach all my human relationships with enough humility that I can learn from them.

That is kind of related to what I'm trying to say about Canada, actually. We aren't looking hard enough for the brilliance and beauty of the racists and bigots, and the go-go-go workaholics. I think we need to look into those dark corners, and I am frustrated with my country for turning away.

Anyway, again, thanks so much. Your post was beautiful.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

Oh, and you're right about reviews for books. So many times I've finished a book I've enjoyed, turned to the back to read or re-read the blurbs or summary, only to find myself thinking, "What? That's not it at all." Though they can still be useful for providing you with some idea of what you're in for before you read it. But yeah, I should take such things with a grain of salt.

Boyda said...

This conversation thread is absolutely fascinating. Matthew, I appreciate your passion and willingness to consider those whom us, er, PC leftist professor-types have somewhat rejected, although I'm not sure I would ever delve to such extremes. Forrest, I love what you said about not wanting to 'wander blindly and wave across imagined borders.' It is true, Matthew, that you're constructing lines and dichotomies which may only exist because of, well, posts like this. But I still respect you, a lot.

I also feel very detached from Canadian culture right now, so I'm hardly one to contribute.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


You wrote, "you're constructing lines and dichotomies which may only exist because of, well, posts like this."

I've been spending the last couple days thinking hard about whatever it is that is being discussed here. The fact is, I think you're right. I'm talking in generalities -"Canadian," "PC leftist professor types," "racists," etc- and that's dangerous. I have ended up oversimplifying to make a point.

I stand behind my devotion to looking into dark corners and learning what is valuable in people who I feel are too often written off. And I do feel disconnected from the Canadian mainstream. But I shouldn't be making sweeping statements about a nation-state which is far too complex to be reduced in the way I reduced it.

My original post was born, to tell the truth, out of flipping on the TV on Canada Day to see Sarah McLachlan singing some ridiculous song with all these smiling backup singers on Parliament Hill; I watched for 30 seconds and thought, "Jesus, I want as much distance between me and that as I can possibly get," and so I linked that moment with a load of other frustrations in my mind and -voila, I made an entry on my blog.

Boyda said...

Yeah, I sympathize, Matt. An emotionally-charged Sarah McLachlan on Parliament Hill can certainly do that to you. I think distaste for certain trends is very productive for articulating who you are and what you want to do with art/life - for creating these 'distances,' as you say, which birth posts and engaging (albeit touchy) discussions. But always with those type of qualifications and resistance to simplification which I know you possess.