The reliably provocative R. M. Vaughan weighs in on Canadian literature. Some good bits:
I can remember having a conversation nine or ten years ago with my friend Andrew Pyper about how Canada has this chronic fear of so-called “genre” writing. Andrew writes these fantastic “mystery” novels—I don’t believe in these modifiers, but the industry insists on applying them. Yet if you think about it, every type of writing is “genre writing,” and what gets praised and awarded and over-rewarded in this country is in fact a genre of writing: the family domestic-trauma novel. And I would have hoped that by now, given that we have access to limitless amounts of information about writing from all over the world and in any available language, that Canadian publishing would start to reflect the fact that we have really good science fiction writers here, really good horror writers and action-adventure writers, and stop privileging the family trauma novel. But no.
The alcoholic underclass abuse novel is a genre in this country—we just happen to have naturalized it as “Canadian literature” and it just won’t go away. I look at who gets awards every fall; everyone once in a while I’m shocked—but most of the time it’s just that really boring book about a sad family in some rural part of the country again.
This notion out there that ordinary people aren’t capable of or qualified to talk about art: It’s a damn lie. It’s not real; it’s something we’re taught, it’s a learned thing. We live in a culture where we all watch pop-music videos, we all listen to contemporary music, we all watch movies and TV—we all engage in popular culture all the time and we all feel completely free to comment on it. By comparison, there is nothing special about art. It’s all on a continuum. After 40 or 50 years of conceptualism, people have been conned into thinking that only the educated elite are permitted to look at, understand and discuss art. If I can in any little way kick at that con game, I’m gonna do it.
I was on a panel in late summer, I had only been back in Canada for about a month and I was asked to be on this panel with some other cultural-commentator types, and we were talking about an exhibition that was on in the city, one that I had mixed feelings about but that I mostly liked. Toward the end of the discussion, a prominent curator in the city stood up in the Q&A portion, and said that the way that I talked critically about culture made me the equivalent of the police officer who shot the kid on the streetcar...that is the level of crazy you encounter in a daily basis in the Canadian arts scene. And I think that is tied into the fact that we have made it all so precious. When you make culture seem like it’s the equivalent of, I don’t know, curing cancer, then of course people are going to get hysterical.