James Hahn is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Toronto who specializes in the Canadian documentary long poem. His research focuses on the ethical dimensions of the genre’s engagement with historical figures and events.
This essay explores the ethical dimensions of documentary appropriation by staging a “resistant reading” of Stephen Scobie’s McAlmon’s Chinese Opera (1980). By dwelling on Robert McAlmon’s documented aversion to seeing his controversial marriage transformed into literature, Scobie’s long poem effectively commits the very transgression it thematizes while also encouraging the reader to further scrutinize McAlmon’s private life. Yet Opera’s proliferation of transgressions is inextricably linked to its efforts to rescue McAlmon from historical obscurity, and to pay homage to the values inherent in his own writings. With this in mind, Opera serves as a compelling example of the ethical ambivalence often at play in the documentary long poem’s engagement with historical figures and events.
Canadian Literature issue 237, House, Home, Hospitality, is available to order through our online store.