Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on Tesseracts Twelve

From Claude Lalumiere's page on Facebook, a most interesting essay by Matthew David Surridge on Tesseracts Twelve, and how it avoids or sidesteps the traditional themes of Can Lit.

I read Margaret Atwood's Survival more than three decades ago for an English class. I was sufficiently impressed with it to go out and buy my own copy. But you'll note (he said, with wry understatement) that English Lit didn't end up being my field of study or the focus of my work life. However, this essay has inspired me to go find and re-read Survival.

Surridge has a much wider knowledge of Canadian literary criticism than I do, and observes that the stories in Tesseracts Twelve largely avoid the recurrent Man-Versus-Nature theme of traditional Can Lit, as extensively documented by Atwood and others, although

... nature is strongly present in the anthology in the form of animals; but these are animals which in one way or another blend into the human. “Intersections” is probably the only story without an animal presence. Humans and mammoths share mentalities in Derryl Murphy’s “Ancients of the Earth”, Michael Skeet and Jill Snyder Lum give us fox spirits and a surprisingly talkative tanuki in “Beneath the Skin”, Chen has men and women changing into dogs and goldfish, Randy McCharles’ story “Ringing the Changes in Okotoks, Alberta” has witchcraft linking a man and a goat, Gord Sellar’s super-hero tale “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang” includes a Japanese cat-woman, and “Wylde’s Kingdom” is the story of a man hunting and being hunted by a giant squid — with, inevitably, a hint of empathy between hunter and hunted towards the end. So perhaps this anthology represents a new Canadian mentality; no more of the garrison, no more of the conflict between man and wilderness, now our stories are those of man and nature merging.

Surridge goes on to this conclusion:

...Tesseracts Twelve may signal, ultimately, a change in Canadian literature to mirror the changes in the country itself. Where the country has seen its demography shift, has managed with surprisingly little strain to incorporate a wealth of voices and cultures within itself, has changed its traditional narrative of its own founding and development, the book suggests new themes for Canadian writing, new models for its story. Hints of the old are still there, certainly, as they should be, but not given the stress they might have carried in the past...

I like this idea -- that the collective narrative changes as culture and demographics change, each driving the other but also rooted in the past.

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