From the archives: July 2005

Or, if you'd prefer, return to the most recent posts.

I don’t know anything about Horcruxes

Monday, 25 July 2005 — 7:09pm | Harry Potter, Literature

And I wouldn’t tell you if I did.

One of the ancillary benefits of writing about the new Harry Potter book when all the major fan websites and discussion forums are closed for spoiler protection, as was the case last weekend, is that you appear very high in the Google charts for a day or two, and blog traffic jumps twentyfold as if it just had a run-in with a Great American Jackalope. It seems that being on topic, even be it in a disorganized splitter-splatter that you forgot to sweep under the rug before eight hundred uninvited guests crash your dinner party (and your little server, too!), gives SEO scammers the old one-two any day of the week.

I do have some sober second thoughts to offer about Regulus Black, soul-eating lockets, double-crossing Potions profs and the proper care and feeding of a Blast-Ended Skrewt in light of the myriad observations brought to my attention by respondents in the comment box and via e-mail, but not now. But lest thee think the rest of this post is a mistake, it will commence with my talking Potter once more.

Colby Cosh, I’m told, is a somewhat prominent journalist from this neck of the woods whose blog sports a clean wordmark banner in oblique serifs and middleweight traffic to match. Last week he wrote an article for the National Post which basically amounts to “nobody’s going to remember J.K. Rowling decades from now” and 877 words of eloquent padding.

I wish Mr. Cosh the best of luck in beating back the torrential downpour of hate mail, predominantly written by impulsive illiterates that drown out the level-headed critics, that descends from the heavens whenever a writer with a megaphone attacks something popular that may or may not be spectacularly good (and in this case, I think it is). Words of advice that I feel are appropriate here: draco dormiens nunquam titillandus, kiddo.

As for my part in all this – well, given how resident Anglophile Sarah and something-else-ophile Roman have both given the piece a mention, both very much in their own fashions, I couldn’t possibly remain left out.

There’s honestly not much to respond to, though, so this will be short and won’t even require me to speak of the Potter series’ lasting virtues and pervasive universals, of which I think there are many. Cosh’s syllogism, once you uproot the Opinion-page flower garden, amounts to: a) Some incredibly popular authors from the early twentieth century have since been forgotten; b) J.K. Rowling is an incredibly popular author; 3) therefore, J.K. Rowling will be forgotten within the century.

Allow me to introduce you to ∈. My little buddy ∈ is, in set theory, the “is a member of the set” symbol. Yes, sales figures show that Ms. Rowling ∈ the set of incredibly popular authors. Where, though, is it demonstrated that Rowling ∈ the set of forgettable popular authors who don’t outlive their press and contemporaneous relevance?

Okay, I’m not playing fair. You can’t demonstrate such a thing because it hasn’t happened yet, and any claims either way are predictive. But then let’s work by comparison, as Cosh does, and answer his rhetorical question: “What blind god bestows immortality on some authors and consigns others to oblivion?” And just to show that I mean business, a few paragraphs down I’m going to pull out my 3/3, Flying, Trample Raymond Chandler.

The problem with the comparisons drawn in the article is that there are better ones from the same time period, the early twentieth century – not marginally, but significantly better.

Take Agatha Christie, for instance – nobody special, just the bestselling prose author of all time. Like Rowling, her writing has a characteristic, well-mannered British flavour that appeals to the good Anglophile, not just on the level of form, but also on the level of content for the millions who consume it in translation. Like Rowling, her world is a complex construction populated by an assortment of eccentrics that challenge the starring sleuths at every turn; but it is a cozy world where ultimately, the clues and answers draw more attention than the inciting murders do. And like Rowling, she’s a woman, but we’ll not get into that.

The criticisms of either author’s modus operandi run along similar lines: that their stories lounge on chesterfields too comfy to be threatening and thus too unreal to be believable, that instead of doing something wholly original they solo off the leadsheets of others who quaff the same formulae and choose to impress with meticulousness.

Raymond Chandler, noted inventor of the simile-spouting private eye narrator archetype, wrote a seminal critique of the twentieth-century detective story, published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1944 and entitled “The Simple Art of Murder”. (You can see a slightly off-angle PDF scan here, but it is often reproduced in print with a collection of short stories.) Read the essay, as it is one of the most important things ever written about mystery. In it, he writes that the detective story is some of the most difficult fiction to concoct, yet it is at the same time very easily publishable:

The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn’t get published. The average – or only slightly above average – detective story does… And the strange thing is that this average, more than middling dull, pooped-out piece of utterly unreal and mechanical fiction is really not very different from what are called the masterpieces of the art. It drags on a little more slowly, the dialogue is a shade grayer, the cardboard out of which the characters are cut is a shade thinner, and the cheating is a little more obvious. But it is the same kind of book. Whereas the good novel is not at all the same kind of book as the bad novel.

Chandler goes on in this manner and responds to what today, in hindsight, we refer to as the Christie Cozy – the clue-scrubbing deductive puzzles that invariably miss some critical insurer of plausibility beneath all their intricate workmanship. Some of the authors he glosses over in this deliberation – E.C. Bentley, Freeman Wills Crofts, A.A. Milne – we don’t hear much of anymore, at least not in conjunction with mystery. I suppose we still know who Milne is, but that’s because of his kids’ stuff like Winnie the Pooh and not The Red House Mystery. (This will become important.)

So if the detective stories of the day were all chips off the same block, why is Christie synonymous with everything that followed Arthur Conan Doyle? Chandler answers this, but not directly. In rebuking Dorothy L. Sayers for her statement that mysteries, of which she was herself a prolific writer, were intrinsically second-class escapist literature, Chandler goes on to praise Dashiell Hammett and his first-class The Maltese Falcon for introducing gritty gangland realism as the remedy. But observe:

How original a writer Hammett really was it isn’t easy to decide now, even if it mattered. He was one of a group – the only one who achieved critical recognition – who wrote or tried to write realistic mystery fiction. All literary movements are like this; some one individual is picked out to represent the whole movement; he is usually the culmination of the movement. Hammett was the ace performer, but there is nothing in his work that is not implicit in the early novels and short stories of Hemingway.

His argument is, in effect, that authors are not remembered for originating as much as they are remembered for exemplifying. Once the sort of detective fiction that Philip Marlowe’s creator wrote of passed into history, Agatha Christie became the era’s flagbearer by way of such exemplification.

I do not know if, at the time, Chandler realized that his own work would be regarded one day as the culmination of something that Hammett began – the mythos of the quintessential American gumshoe. His work is representative. So, as we shall see, is Rowling’s.

Where Rowling and Christie diverge is that only the former traverses two other spheres that often intersect. The first is children’s fiction, and the second is fantasy.

Good children’s fiction – the kind that adults go back and read – is notoriously unclassifiable. Often, the subject matter resonates far beyond the the confines of the single-digit Flesch reading level, and one is reluctant to call them children’s stories at all for fear that the term is disparaging and exclusionary. Let’s dispense with this in a hurry. Yes, adults read Harry Potter. I read Harry Potter. University professors, God bless them, teach and study Harry Potter. They’re still children’s novels, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Unlike mysteries, here we deal with authors who write for an audience that doesn’t concern itself with realism simply because it doesn’t have a lot of real-world fact-checking to fall back on. Also unlike mysteries, “children’s lit” is not a genre, since its distinguishing mark is an attribute of form, not content. In contrast, Chandler’s statement that good and bad mysteries fundamentally tell the same stories is an extension of genre defined as fluid form that bubbles around a solid content core, including (but not limited to) a murder and a bowl of petunias.

What we do have, though, is an existing system for passing fiction down from one generation to the next.

How is it that people discover what books to read, anyway? Word-of-mouth recommendations, certainly; bookshop browsing, bestseller lists, movie deals, and allusions from without; in fact, it’s all kind of erratic in a spotty kind of way, which is why it is only in very special cases that everybody reads the same book.

Children’s fiction is the huge exception. Standard curricula, Scholastic book orders, well-read teachers (if you’re lucky) and the active encouragement of doing any reading at all unite with the result of having people read the same books in droves, or at least become aware of them likewise. A lot of books are lost in history because nobody told their kids to read them, and those kids went off and either developed their own tastes, or tragically stopped reading them outright. But the ilk of Roald Dahl, L. Frank Baum and yes, A.A. Milne receive a proper introduction. These books are inherited, as they are easy to leave as cultural inheritance. Without a doubt, Harry Potter ∈ this corpus.

Finally, we turn to the realm of fantasy, which returns us to the generic distinctions assessed of mystery. Just as J.K. Rowling’s brand of sleuthing hearkens back to the Christie Cozy that has long gone out of fashion in mainstream detective writing, Harry Potter marks another sort of representative culmination. It drew adult readers back to the kind of serial fairytale where Magic is fun and (relatively) innocent. Whereas the post-Tolkien “adult fantasy” experiments have drifted off in the opposite direction, churning out paperbacks thicker than they are wide burdened with unpronounceably apostrophic nomenclature, the ever-English Potter breathes some life back into the spellwork of forces good and evil.

History has shown that this is the sort of life that lasts, and I am confident that Rowling’s importance will prove to be historical. A series of books that is this popular, and more importantly, this emblematic, will affect both writing patterns and reading patterns until the Next Big Thing that steps up to bat in the selfsame ballpark – which may not be anything new, but is certain to be the next ripple in a long wave of ripples, the indicator of its precedent’s subsidence.

Rowling works in genres, and a plurality of them at that. Moreover, they are genres that are aware of their own history, and the works of the present propel authors forward, authors who grab new readers by the collar and pull them right back. Cosh’s examples of writers who have faded into obscurity – Harold Bell Wright, Jeffrey Farnol and the American Winston Churchill – dabbled primarily in the historical and the modern, not genres in themselves, where the subject is in flux and there is little propagative continuity in stylistic influences.

I am not saying that novels outside of genre are far less likely to survive; that kind of claim presumes a consistent system to produce a bell of fiction that never stops ringing, and none exists, for physicists have yet to discover the resonant frequencies of written words. But one must admit that Rowling has certain advantages, since she’s more than an author: she’s a movement. Really now, it’s hard to name an author working today who is more thoroughly guaranteed to take the fast-track to English lit’s pantheon.

I suggest that Mr. Cosh take on a certain Dan Brown. There, his argument about press-driven momenta apply just fine, and Brown makes for much easier pickings.

Annotations (0)

Let’s not name any names

Thursday, 21 July 2005 — 2:00pm | Harry Potter, Literature

Volunteer advertisement, today’s Gateway, page 8:

What have you been doing this weekend?

If your answer is lining up in front of Chapters decked out in your full Hogwarts regalia for your copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and then reading the entire book in three hours, and then spoiling the ending on your blog, and then lamenting the improbability of a romantic relationship between Draco and Hermione, then you clearly need to try something else next weekend.

You know what you can do? Write for Gateway Sports!

Annotations (0)

Horcrux hocus-pocus and holy crap

Saturday, 16 July 2005 — 9:52am | Harry Potter, Literature

If you have yet to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, do not read this post.

The paradox there, as you may have noticed, is that you would have to have read this post – a part of the whole, anyway – to receive that warning.

Oh, parts and wholes. I’m finding it a lot easier to commit my thoughts to print (or the digital equivalent thereof) about Book Six compared to Revenge of the Sith, which you’ll notice I still haven’t written about two months on. To this I attribute three reasons. Paramount among these is that with The Half-Blood Prince I don’t feel the obligation to be all that deep, analytical and holistic because I am dealing with a part, and microcosmic parts within that part; gut reactions will suffice. I imagine that it’s going to be a lot more difficult to write about Book Seven once I read it, as conclusions of the significance promised are never isolable. Second is the fact that the ending promises a Book Seven so different from everything that has come before it that the room for speculation has never been wider.

Third is that J.K. Rowling has demonstrated once again what a master storyteller she is. Let me explain.

No, on second thought, I shan’t need to, because you’ve read the book.

The Big Fat Kill in Chapter Twenty-Seven was, to me, a complete shock. It was doubly shocking specifically because it had no business being a surprise at all – and here, I’m not referring to the fact that it’s been on the Internet for three whole weeks, with the fact indistinguishable from jokes and hypotheses to, well, most of us. Besides, having read the book, you know that the real surprise is how it happens, and how it is that the slimy bastard gets away with it right under everyone’s noses when Rowling hands him to us in Chapter Two and even has Wormtail serving him drinks for effect.

So, on to the observations – and there may be more coming.

For the most part, the book reads like its brother by symmetry, The Chamber of Secrets – exposition galore about the younger Riddle, almost all of the action confined to school premises for the first time in awhile, and for some time nothing close to the thrill-a-chapter sucker punches in The Order of the Phoenix. After Books Four and Five, this one feels like an old-school Potter; that is, if you ignore the sudden and tragic offstage demises of numerous previously onstage alumni. The Second War fusses about in the background, and we get chapters and chapters of relationship trouble and mucking about in the Pensieve. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining here, considering that the last few chapters deliver a Goblet-sized payoff that smacks you upside the head and runs you over with a Thestral-drawn chariot – I’m just telling it as it is.

On fate and free will: Dumbledore confirms, and Harry understands, what I always thought since my first reading of Phoenix was pretty clear: the prophecy was a catalyst for a chain of self-fulfilling events, and nothing more. On the other hand, quick as one tends to be in dismissing Divination as a bunch of jokey mumbo-jumbo, you have to wonder about Trelawney’s deck of playing cards.

Between the last book and this one, it only takes a keen eye to infer that the Hog’s Head barkeep is Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth, and I believe Rowling has confirmed as much in public. I don’t think we’ll ever see this explicitly acknowledged within the text itself.

Not that it matters, but Miss Hepzibah “Descended from Hufflepuff” Smith is almost certainly related to Zacharias Smith.

The four remaining Horcruxes: taking it for granted that Nagini’s one – though keeping in mind that after this book, you can hardly say Dumbledore is infallible – and Slytherin’s locket has not been destroyed as promised by this R.A.B. fellow, that leaves Hufflepuff’s little piece of kitchenware and one unknown artefact. That the last piece is unknown, which certifies that its identity will be one of Book Seven’s core mysteries, leads me to think that it can’t be something as (relatively) mundane as Rowena Ravenclaw’s heirloom.

Still nothing about the veil or Sirius’ mirror, and with Wormtail being reduced to serving drinks, I’m beginning to wonder if any of the three have any significant part left to play.

First-years trying out for the Quidditch house team? It’s just short of being an outright contradiction – let’s grant that rules can change from year to year, and technically the rule is that they’re not allowed their own brooms, though who’s to say they can’t use a school one – but it’s glaring.

We still don’t know jack about Lily Evans, aside from her aptitude at Potions. Or, for that matter, her sister Petunia. That smells of business for the next volume.

The Half-Blood Prince scribbles in parentheses that Sectumsempra is non-verbal, but this seems more of a recommendation than an actual restriction on how the spell is to be delivered, as Harry uses it verbally to no ill effect other than letting a certain slimy somebody get away with murder – and his inability to spellcast non-verbally under pressure does him in with all his spells, not just that one.

We’re not done with surprises when it comes to Severus Snape. For one thing, we still don’t know Dumbledore’s unimpeachable reason for trusting him. Harry may have taken it to be Severus’ remorse at letting the prophecy slip, but that struck me as an answer Dumbledore gave in specific reference to Harry’s preceding challenge. I don’t for a moment buy that it’s the whole story. Everything in this book points to a strong conclusion that Snape is evil, but that he acts on an Unbreakable Vow casts a cloud of ambiguity as to his true motives. At the end of the day I think Draco has the measure of him as an eleventh-hour usurper, a Saruman figure if you will – a mere shadow of evil to its fullest but one who joins with it in hopes of its overthrow at his own hands.

To be honest, when I read that breaking an Unbreakable Vow results in death, I was almost expecting Snape to violate it at the critical moment and drop dead on the spot. But what he does instead… beyond how he was bound by contract to comply with the order, I entertain the suspicion that he performs it with Dumbledore’s full consent. We’ve seen our fair share of minibosses all claiming to be Voldemort’s closest pet – Lucius Malfoy (whose role in the story may be over), Barty Crouch, Bellatrix Lestrange – but Snape has now made the most convincing effort yet, and maybe that’s the leg up the good guys need even if they don’t realize it.

The whole Half-Blood Prince debacle and his actions after the Big Fat Kill, though, speak very strongly against him. At the end of the day, Snape the Usurper has a lot more going for it than theories of unfettered obedience to one side or the other. He fears Voldemort, and respects his wishes enough to keep Harry alive, but beyond that, he’s a wild card.

At this point it’s incredible that anybody could still think Severus is anything but a villain who is arguably a more dangerous man than Voldemort himself, but only a book ago almost all evidence was to the contrary, aside from his using the name “the Dark Lord” during Occlumency lessons – the same slip that was a dead giveaway moments before Crouch’s revelation in Book Four.

(For more information on what moles do after they lose the only ones who know theit true allegiance, watch the excellent Hong Kong cop thriller Infernal Affairs.)

R.A.B.: It’s not exactly fair of her to sic a new character on us this late in the game when it comes to something this critical, is it? But here’s what we know: it has to be someone Voldemort would recognize by those initials. He has to refer to Voldemort as the Dark Lord, have a motive for screwing him over with the Horcrux switcheroo and possess the skills to pull it off. Regulus Black’s initials match, but then we’d have to bank on Sirius being wrong about how he was a two-bit good-for-nothing who chickened out.

If it is Regulus, then the Black family connection and the search for lost items of dark power may lead Harry back to Grimmauld Place. And given how his inheritance of the house isn’t an angle that plays out in this book, I fully expect to see it in the next one.

On Dumbledore: well, I suppose there’s the portrait, if Harry somehow makes it back to Hogwarts next year. There’s also the Pensieve, though in the past it’s only been used as temporary storage for temporary examination, and it can only hold so much.

The kiss. Oh, the kiss. I haven’t seen the likes of it since Elliott let the frogs out in E.T.

Speaking of film, notice how from a visual standpoint the BFK at the Astronomy Tower is very similar in staging to the BFK in Revenge of the Sith. I do wonder how it will come off when the movie translation arrives. Cedric Diggory was a swift kick in the pants, I don’t think any of us had any concrete idea what was going on with Snuffles until a chapter or two after his snuffing, but this one was the most iconic and mysterious of them all. When Malfoy appeared on the scene, I was thinking: seriously, the world’s most powerful wizard done in by some punk? No way. At the end of the chapter, I was thinking: seriously, the world’s most powerful wizard done in by some punk? No way. I was wrong the second time.

Before Slughorn starts drinking his face off at Hagrid’s, notice how he mistakenly refers to Ron as Rupert. A slight nod to cinema, mayhaps?

I only have one other thing to say about the sixth movie: I not only hope that Chapter One is included, but that they can somehow hire Tony Blair to do a walk-on cameo as himself. If they can get him on The Simpsons they can certainly get him in the mother country’s pride and joy.

Chapter Two. How very clever. She hands him to us on a platter, has him spout premeditated answers that have seen plenty of ripening, and does it so early that one naturally hears the beckon of incredulous denial. We knew he was a powerful Occlumens. We’d known for two books that Dumbledore can be fooled. And yet… and yet. I’ll admit to being needlessly coy about it all, considering how “Snape kills Dumbledore” is going to be the most popular Google search string by day’s end, but to say it so plainly lends it such finality.

I would have been a lot more prepared for the surprises that The Half-Blood Prince springs on the reader if it were the last book and not the penultimate one. Most of this comes from the expectation that some key events wouldn’t come until much closer to the end. But it’s very clear after this volume that Book Seven has a heck of a lot of ground to cover on its own terms. This one was a backgrounder, setting the stage for a whole book of trials to come.

I think that’s all for now. I don’t think I’ve come across anything too remarkable that wouldn’t be caught by one astute Potter fan or another, considering how many of them are out there, but this meander in the woods was never meant to be a testament to eloquence.

Annotations (3)

He who must not be spoilt

Tuesday, 12 July 2005 — 9:22am | Harry Potter, Literature

Now that the summer movie season has been over for almost two weeks, with Spielberg’s War of the Worlds being the last major release of any significance, and the next (Gilliam’s Brothers Grimm) not arriving until late August, it is time to turn back to literary pursuits encoded in language alone.

If you’ve been paying any attention to things that matter, you are already aware that this is the week that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is being released. I, for one, will welcome our new half-blood overlord at the stroke of midnight that bridges Friday and Saturday at the Strathcona Chapters on Whyte Avenue. All are welcome, as if it were at all my authority to decide such things.

And so here we are, at much the same position as two years and a month ago, wondering what to expect from Jo Rowling before she beaned us all with the 700-page curveball that was The Order of the Phoenix. We have before us three questions of identity that may not be answerable: the major death, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor and the titular royal (assuming Rowling hasn’t been pulling our leg and it was actually You-Know-Who all along). After a lot of thought, if I were at all a betting man, I would think it most probable the second and third are new characters, perhaps the same character. I would also conjecturally doubt that the Half-Blood Prince is a student.

As for who croaks in this one, it’s much easier to take a stand on who won’t. I don’t believe it will be Dumbledore, though I’m fully aware I could be eating my words half a week from now. While the cover art alone implies he’ll be playing a bigger role in this one, whereas one of the big mysteries posed and answered in Phoenix was why he was hardly onstage, I get the sense that he still has a lot to do in the seventh book as the conclusion approaches, not least because he is and always has been Harry’s most direct source of testimonial exposition.

If you’ve read much Potter discussion online you are probably familiar with the Lexicon by now, as it remains the best repository of known knowns, known unknowns and a few unknown knowns for good measure. I’ve also found an excellent collection of essays on the Potterverse here, which delve into the kind of detail I endorse and would have engaged in myself did I have the time or the dedication. The writer is knee-deep in the convolutions of the online Potter community and its wildflowers of rampant fanfiction good and ill that flourish around Rowling’s canon and threaten its boundaries with myriad assumptions, and the Potterverse is honestly a lot more straightforward than he makes it out to be, but the site makes for an interesting read if you want to get those speculative juices flowing.

This is a very exciting time.

Annotations (0)

Impromptu for unaccompanied nation and state

Monday, 4 July 2005 — 8:57pm | Canadiana, Music

I’m aware that today is a national holiday in a little country I actually like quite a lot, replete with festivities commemorating tea parties and dangling modifiers. I still fondly recall the last time I spent the Fourth of July down south: it involved a visit to an ice cream parlour in historic Princeton with the founding fathers of my old stomping grounds at the Entmoot forums, which you’ll note was a lot more interesting than what I did last year (watching digital fireworks with virtual furry animals in Animal Crossing so Tortimer would come by and award me a piece of furniture). I don’t remember much about the ice cream parlour itself, but it’s still the best one I’ve found east of MacKay’s.

Aside from an obligatory tea party, a double waffle cone of peanut butter and chocolate and discovering that first-printing hardcovers of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are still on shelves with the Priori Incantatem continuity goof on page 579 intact, there wasn’t so much to celebrate today up here in the land of absent hockey, misty giants and wacky marriage legislation about which some people out there apparently harbour opinions.

We had our party of patriots three days ago, when I chanced upon a free public performance by a fantastic a cappella quartet on Banff Avenue right across the street from the Grizzly House, capitol of the carnivorous connoisseur. They caught my attention with “Use the Force”, a complete retelling of the original Star Wars featuring mock lightsabre duels onstage and Darth Vader breathing, and held it until after their set when I walked out with two of their albums and autographs to boot.

The ensemble was none other than the Heebee-Jeebees, a Calgarian foursome I first heard of years ago (thanks to their accomplishment of concocting the world’s most boring song, appropriately entitled “The Boring Song”) but never had the pleasure to see in person. It turns out they hit Banff every Canada Day, when admission to the National Park comes at no cost, and I highly recommend seeing them. They also perform at the Stampede in a week’s time, for those of you spending the summer in Alberta’s better city.

This was also when I discovered that their bass singer, who has a remarkable talent for reaching depths lower than das boot in Das Boot, is none other than former Rose Bowl-winning clarinetist Cedric Blary, who was first known to me (although we did not meet per se) over a decade ago as we shared a composition instructor at Mount Royal College back when I hadn’t moved beyond scribbling fat major triads in basic triple time, and I saw him perform his own piece in a student recital. This was years before I started playing the clarinet myself, but it was an important stepping stone in verifying that it was indeed what I intended to pursue as a second instrument. Last I heard, Mr. Blary had taken up the position of being the clarinet clinician at this staple of local musical education.

Somewhere in all this is a segue to a point about the value of celebrating a national holiday, but I am going to forgo a seamless transition in favour of what the calculus-literate refer to as a jump discontinuity.

I’m going to do something unorthodox here and, in an obliquely politico-avoidant manner, reply to what Steve Smith wrote in his entry dated 1 July and the comment box therein.

Mr. Smith has a proven record of thinking national pride is silly, so it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t give a Carlos’ jackass about feeling all whoop-dee-doo when it comes to observing the birthday of the political entity to which he may or may not pay his taxes. He then proceeds to draw the salient distinction between nations and states, the timeworn semantic trademark of those with at least a freshman’s understanding of political theory who respectfully don’t want anything to do with those without the same.

I would contend that Canada’s history of not being and never having been a Westphalian nation-state is precisely why among its class of holidays, Canada Day is something unique and worth applauding.

Over the past few decades, Canada has retooled itself as a most admirable experiment in permitting the divorce of cultural identity from ethnic origin, and encouraging the severance of political allegiance from both. In this sense, separatist movements in both Quebec and to a lesser extent Alberta are a reaction to this project, not a progression.

We’re too good for homogeneous cultural isolation walled behind the borders on a map. While national self-determination is a stabilizing destination in the pre-national world, Canada is a post-national country, and that’s where the state is relevant to its citizens on an individual level. The fact that it has survived this way for yet another year is worth a cheer and a beer.

Annotations (0)

A Link to the Past (older posts) »