Where angels fear to tread: the rebuttal to the rebuttal

September 24, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

Canada is not a bad environment for the author, as far as recognition goes: in fact the recognition may even hamper his development by making him prematurely self-conscious. Scholarships, prizes, university posts, await the dedicated writer: there are so many medals offered for literary achievement that a modern Canadian Dryden might well be moved to write a satire on medals, except that if he did he would promptly be awarded the medal for satire and humour. Publishers take an active responsibility for native literature, even poetry; a fair proportion of the books bought by Canadian readers are by Canadian writers; the CBC and other media help to employ some writers and publicize others. The efforts made at intervals to boost or hard-sell Canadian literature, by asserting that it is much better than it actually is, may look silly enough in retrospect, but they were also, in part, efforts to create a cultural community, and the aim deserves more sympathy than the means.

– Northrop Frye, in Literary History of Canada


4 Responses to “Where angels fear to tread: the rebuttal to the rebuttal”
  1. Andrew S says:

    The rebuttal to the rebuttal to the rebuttal might well ask you to include the year of publication of those remarks (was it 1965?), and question whether that is, in fact, the current state of Canlit.

  2. Nice addition to the conversation, Steven.

  3. Steven W. Beattie says:

    Literary History of Canada was indeed published in 1965, but I’d argue that Frye’s comments are almost equally applicable today (the exception might be the bit about the CBC, although Canada Reads has appeared in the interim, so, mezzo mezzo).

  4. Andrew S says:

    I’d disagree (as you might have surmised)….

    While I think the general conditions described in that quotation may still hold true, Canlit has changed. Canlit is no longer represented mainly by James Reaney and three of his friends. We have many more writers today, and some have achieved international recognition — we’re no longer arguing that Canlit is better than it really is. If you read representative “best” Canlit, circa 1965, and compare with today, I don’t think you can argue that this quotation still describes the state of Canlit.