Canadian Cultural Policy-Making at a Time of Neoliberal Globalization

Article excerpt

The imperative for research is to identify precisely what remains national today in what has historically been constructed as national, to decode what national means today, and to ascertain the new territorial and institutional conditionalities of nation states.

Saskia Sassen

IN THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SPECIAL ISSUE "Canadian Literature and the Business of Publishing" of Studies in Canadian Literature (SCL), Jennifer Andrews and John Ball observe that "in most studies of Canadian literature, the material stuff of publication is bracketed off in favour of what can be said about a text's (immaterial) words" (2). They further note that " [w]hen the study of the published book and the publication processes has been discussed, it has been treated as a specialized area of research" (2), as in the case of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University or in special issues such as the SCL one which sets out to foreground the processes of literary production in Canada, that is, the material side of literature. Andrews and Ball introduce the special SCL issue by calling attention to the many challenges Canada's book industry has faced over the past decades as an economy of small scale characterized by "huge geographical distances and regional differences ... [and] the easy availability of British and American books published with economies of scale" (1-2). They point to the crucial role governmental policies and programs as well as the literary power struggles of the youth generation of the 1960s and 1970S--Of "the many stubborn idealists, renegades, adventurers, bookworms, scholars, and, yes, fortune-seekers" (2)--played in the development of an independent Canadian literature and book industry. These actors not only initiated and advocated the Canada-wide emergence of independent Canadian-owned presses in the 1960s but also created a climate in which these publisers could take risks with promoting unknown authors and authors writing about unconventioanl themes. Recalling the nationalist vision of Canadian Literature's centennial "Publishing in Canada" issue, Andrews and Ball insist that "publishing in Canada is unique and vital to our national identity" (3); it performs a key national function, and that seems to be what motivates Andres and Ball's call for a method of Canadian literary study that recognizes the materiality of literature.

While the argument developed in this paper is motivated by a claim or desire that also underlies Andrews and Ball's emphasis on the "national" --namely the claim or desire that the function of Canadian literary goods and services is irreducible to the logic of the market, that is, to the logic of "guaranteed commercial success" (4)--it reframes this claim or desire --expressed by Andrews and Ball as an issue of national culture and identity--as an issue of cultural decision-making and democratic public culture. Critical invocations of national cultural value such as Andrews and Ball's are complicated and troubled by the fact that, as this paper will show, contemporary cultural policies and programs are inaugurated by a federal government which subscribes to the neoliberal paradigm in its discourse of "national culture" and its protection of Canadian literature and its production from direct market dependency and commodification. In view of this nexus of the national and the neoliberal, I will argue, the contemporary study of the materiality of Canadian literature, and of its mediated-institutionalized structural modes in particular, needs to engage in processes of querying the habitual, modern notions of democracy and the public sphere and, more specifically, of how these notions currently play out in the contexts of Canada's public cultural sphere. This paper engages in such a process of querying to decode what the terms "national" and "public" mean today in the institutional contexts of Canadian literature and its production.

I will start this process of querying and decoding by examining the issue of cultural protection/ism in the historical context of the post Second World War projects of cultural nationalism and cultural industries. …