Guerillas or Folklorists? Two Very Different Takes on Atlantic-Canadian Writers

By Henighan, Stephen | Literary Review of Canada, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Guerillas or Folklorists? Two Very Different Takes on Atlantic-Canadian Writers


Henighan, Stephen, Literary Review of Canada


Anne of Tim Hortons:

Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature

Herb Wyile

Wilfrid Laurier University Press

279 pages, softcover

ISBN 9781554583263

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

ONE of THE paradoxes OF Canadian culture since the intensification of globalization in the early 1990s is that the visibility of Atlantic-Canadian literature has increased as the region that produces it has become more marginalized. Economically peripheral, except as a reservoir of just-in-time labour for Alberta and Ontario, overlooked in national political campaigns and omitted from contemporary debates about multiculturalism because it does not attract immigrants, Atlantic Canada captures the attention of Central and Western Canadians primarily as a holding tank for a folkloric rural past. The popularity of the work of Wayne Johnston, David Adams Richards, Alistair MacLeod, George Elliott Clarke, Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore, Michael Winter and Michael Crummey is inseparable from this definition. In a book I published in 2002, entitled When Words Deny the World: The Reshaping of Canadian Writing, I attempted to summarize this apparent contradiction, arguing that by the late 1990s, in contrast to the deluge of Canadian fiction with foreign settings, "writers from Atlantic Canada--Wayne Johnston, Alistair MacLeod, David Adams Richards--still wrote Canadian novels; this may help explain the surge in these writers' popularity" As the rest of us floated off into ersatz internationalism, Atlantic-Canadian writers, the country fiddlers of our literary scene, satisfied our nostalgic longing for authenticity and tradition.

Herb Wyile, a professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, who is known in CanLit academic circles as a theorist of regionalism, also puts the word "reshaping" in the subtitle of his book, Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature. He views present-day Atlantic Canada as a desolate landscape, gutted by neoliberal policies. His mission is to assess the consequences of the noxious stereotype of what, following Ian McKay's The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia, he refers to as "the Folk": the image of Atlantic Canadians as white, Celtic-descended, rubber-booted fishermen and feisty gals with quaint accents. Wyile maintains that many writers from the region are not "catering to the desire for a homogenous, exotic Folk culture" (which is roughly what I suggested), but rather creating a literature that "actively counters and subverts Folk archetypes." If Anne of Green Gables has given way to "Anne of Tim Hortons" as neoliberal sameness engulfs Atlantic Canada (as it has everywhere else on the planet other than Burma and North Korea), Wyile sees Atlantic-Canadian writers engaged in guerilla warfare, unacknowledged by Central Canadian readers and critics, against the reductive images that are being imposed on them. One of the factors complicating this, or any other analysis of Atlantic-Canadian literature, which Wyile alludes to in passing but never completely confronts, is that, like many other Atlantic Canadians in search of brighter prospects, the majority of the writers who have been most successful no longer live in their home provinces. Of the eight writers listed in the previous paragraph, only Moore and Crummey still live in Atlantic Canada, with Winter being a part-time resident; the others reside in southern Ontario or Alberta. Atlantic Canada belongs to their past, just as rural or regional life is an experience that many of us regard as belonging to a past existence, either that of our childhoods, or those of the lives of our parents or grandparents; it is not surprising, therefore, that the writing is often elegiac, or even nostalgic.

Wyile, who wants Atlantic-Canadian writing to be the opposite of this, addresses the exodus of manual labourers from the region, but not that of intellectuals; he chooses his texts cannily to support his argument that Atlantic-Canadian literature is the antagonist of globalization. …

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