Engaging with a Remediated Archive

  • Katherine McLeod and Jason Camlot
    CanLit Across Media: Unarchiving the Literary Event. McGill-Queen's University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Patricia Demers

This collection of provocative essays illuminates the ways different modes of archival practice document, catalogue, and remobilize CanLit from the 1950s to the present. Instead of envisioning the archive as a repository of colonial containment or CanLit as a cohesive fixity, editors Jason Camlot and Katherine McLeod organize the sixteen contributions to highlight institutional procedures, presence and absence at literary events and archives today. Concentrating on “social and ideological contexts” in the diverse systems of value of the archive and thereby “unarchiving” through engaging with a remediated archive, the contributors draw as much attention to archive’s loss and erasure as to its circulation and potential transfiguration.

Available search engines are not always helpful, but their gaps are revealing. Linda Morra’s examination of the CBC’s “dispersed and uneven” archive for radio producer Ira Dilworth attends to the privileging of broadcasts as cultural agents. Morra argues that this archive creates “a narrative of Canadian history” rather than an analysis of the decisions underpinning corporate infrastructure. Katherine McLeod treats the thirteen episodes of Phyllis Webb’s TV program Extension as a mediated literary event, while noting what is left out in archival descriptions. A combination of circumstances guides several arguments. Deanna Fong considers Ray Kiyooka’s omnipresent tape recorder and the consequent “messy structure of eventness.” Marcelle Kosman historicizes the controlled circulation of pulp magazines as “a strategy to forestall a socialist revolution.” Catherine Hobbs advocates “ecologies of meaning” by combining sound, video, and literary fonds.

The linkages connecting significant literary events and locations, a remarkable feature of this collection, strip away nostalgia in favour of archival evidence or its lack. Jason Camlot addresses the fall 1963 Foster Poetry Conference, an Anglophone gathering in Quebec, where no women were invited and for which Ralph Gustafson’s tape recording remains a mysterious absence. Karis Shearer looks at the summer 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference where the contributions of invited poet Margaret Avison were neglected and the extensive work of an organizer’s wife is not mentioned. Andrea Beverley reconsiders the Women and Words Conference in the summer of 1983 at UBC, noting the scorn of excluded male poets, the limited orders for audiotapes, and the unused videotape recordings. Resourcefulness is also on display, as in Felicity Tayler’s assessment of the “linguistic space” of Montreal’s Véhicule Art, Dean Irvine’s use of new-media technologies to collaborate on digital repatriation of “the [I]ndigenized commons,” and Joel Deshaye’s speculation about the “instructive performative moments” during the almost-empty space of a commercial break in a televised interview with Irving Layton.

The remediated present archive extends an understanding of diverse practices with forceful élan. Clint Burham views the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada testimony as orature. Jessi MacEachern attends to unarchiving as the creative interventions of poet Lisa Robertson’s palinodes. Karl Jirgens theorizes the role of “experiential sensations … oscillating between past and present” in the walking tours of Janet Cardiff and George Miller. Darren Wershler cautions about the “inherent instability” of space-biased media, observing that research about digital archives pays “almost no attention … to questions of sustainability.” Jordan Abel’s moving transcribed archive relates his positionhood as “an intergenerational survivor of residential schools and an urban Indigenous person” through dismantling Marius Barbeau’s “distorted colonial representation of Nisga’a knowledge” and simultaneously articulating an Indigenous voice.

Not short of speculation about possible remedies and alternative arrangements, this valuable collection is full of newly opened-up archival pathways to reimagine CanLit.



This review “Engaging with a Remediated Archive” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 30 Nov. 2020. Web.

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