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Ground Works: Avant-Garde for Thee

By Clarke, Bronagh | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Ground Works: Avant-Garde for Thee


Clarke, Bronagh, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Christian Bök (ed.), Ground Works: Avant-Garde for Thee, introduced by Margaret Atwood (Toronto: Anansi, 2002), xv + 236pp. Paper: $22.95. ISBN 0-8878-4691-2.

Ground Works is a stimulating anthology of Canadian experimental prose writing from the 1960s to the 1980s. The earliest of the anthologised texts, Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers, was published in 1966. The most recent work is an excerpt from Steve McCaffery's 1984 novel Panopticon. Christian Bök's project is to revitalise study of authors whose prose breaks with the well-established tradition of Canadian realism. In recent years, the flow of Canadian experimental fiction seems to have dried up. This is an issue to which Bök draws attention in his afterword: 'While the stories here constitute some of the most adventurous fiction yet written in this country, much of it has, nevertheless, languished in obscurity, doing more perhaps to inspire the next wave of avant-garde poetlings than to inspire the next generation of avant-garde novelists' (p. 231).

It is in this context that Ground Works is a valuable enterprise. Extracts from fiction by twenty writers, also including Daphne Marlatt, bpNichol, Michael Ondaatje, Audrey Thomas and John Riddell, demonstrate the wide range of literary experiments undertaken in Canada at this crucial period from the mid- 1960s to the mid-1980s. Questions of Canadian cultural identity were brought to the fore in an era when postmodern and postcolonial deconstructions of subjectivity were wreaking havoc on the very notion of authorship.

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