- Clarence Karr (Author)
Authors and Audiences: Popular Canadian Fiction in the Early Twentieth Century. McGill-Queen's University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Alison Beale (Editor) and Annette Van Den Bosch (Editor)
Ghosts in the Machine: Women and Cultural Policy in Canada and Australia. Garamond (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Janice Fiamengo
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Women and people of Colour are more visible now in the Canadian and Australian arts scenes than at any time in the past, yet there are some depressing continuities: women artists still have lower status and incomes than men; government funding for the arts fails to make gender and race equity a top priority; and technology remains a predominantly male domain. The persistence of these problems is made more urgent by the shift, in the last decade, towards efficiency and downsizing in state policy, which means a reduction in arts support. What is the position of women in this fragile cultural sphere? How does cultural policy reflect and shape gendered hierarchies? And to what extent can feminist and anti-racist cultural workers influence how decisions are made and arts funding allocated? The essays in Ghosts in the Machine address these questions.
Two essays near the beginning of the collection frame the competing perspectives on cultural policy that structure the volume. Andrea Hull takes a pragmatic approach to arts funding, viewing the move to private and corporate financing of the arts in a positive light. Speaking of the "cultural industries," Hull advocates ever greater integration of culture into government economic agendas in order to produce "rewarding new partnerships." That such industry partnerships usually cast the arts as valuable only in business terms is not addressed by Hull, but it is a theme taken up by other contributors. Barbara Godard, for example, speaks directly to problems in "a rhetoric of market place success in which exchange is the only criterion of value." Far from celebrating the new partnerships fostered between artists and financiers, Godard portrays artists trapped by the need to placate funding bodies of whom they are (rightly) suspicious. Examining the increasing emphasis on the arts as a business where innovation equals new technologies, Godard calls for artists and cultural theorists to disseminate alternative notions of the public good.
Many of the contributors take up Godard’s focus on the difficult necessity of feminist intervention in government policy. Patricia Gillard relates her experiences as a policy advisor on multi-media services, noting how thoroughly the language of high-tech and consumer choice has subsumed that of creativity and citizenship in government policy; however, she stresses that involvement by artists and activists has the potential to shift the emphasis from commercial profit to equity, accessibility and community development. Monika Kin Gagnon examines three anti-racist cultural forums organized by First Nations and artists of Colour; although they met considerable resistance and ultimately foundered on internal tensions, such efforts prove that inclusivity need not mean integration "into existing dominant (white) structures." Annette Van Den Bosch traces the devaluing of women’s artistic work to the persistence of the Great Master model of artistic development to argue that feminist critique of patriarchal models can help to promote appropriate funding mechanisms for women. Andra McCartney considers how women are alienated from technology in electroacoustic institutions, providing specific recommendations to make these crucial places of apprenticeship more useful to women.
The volume is weakened by sloppy editing: comma and apostrophe errors are rife throughout. Nonetheless, Ghosts in the Machine usefully outlines the many arenas in which gender intersects with cultural policy and may aid in its transformation. Many of the contributors acknowledge what Alison Beale examines in detail, that the 1990s has seen a new gendering of the cultural sphere, in which export industries— films, cd roms, telecommunications and broadband equipment—are supported by government as remunerative products while other forms of cultural production, such as the fine and performing arts, are relegated to the soft, private sphere; thus we have a new-old division between "the feminine welfare state sector" and "the export earning, technologised world of the masculine ’bottom line."’ Although the contributors disagree about the extent to which women have the power to shape policy, all agree that without feminist and anti-racist intervention, "the conventional relations of ruling will be scripted all over again in new fields."
Taking a more optimistic view of the possibilities for writers to achieve popular success without selling out their values, Clarence Karr’s Authors and Audiences is a study of popular fiction in Canada from 1890-1920 that focuses on five best-selling novelists: Charles Gordon (Ralph Connor), Robert Stead, Nellie McClung, L.M. Montgomery, and Arthur Stringer. Karr analyses the material factors—including improved communications, the proliferation of inexpensive magazines, increased literacy, more leisure time, and the spread of advertising—that enabled writers from obscure parts of Canada to become internationally loved and financially successful. His chapters on their literary apprenticeships, relationships with agents and publishers, and audience response yield fascinating information and make a significant contribution to the history of the mass-marketed book in Canada. We learn, for example, that Charles Gordon was a procrastinator with little faith in his own talents; without the emotional support of his publisher and friend, who often had to cajole and berate Gordon into meeting deadlines, Gordon would never have been the publishing sensation that he became. Arthur Stringer, in contrast, was a meticulous and self-disciplined writer who profited from pre-publication magazine serialization and an astute agent to promote his lucrative professional career. Nellie McClung found a friend and supporter in her editor at the Methodist Book and Publishing House, who wept over the concluding chapters of Sowing Seeds in Danny. Not so fortunately, L.M. Montgomery was swindled out of thousands of dollars in royalties by an unscrupulous publisher who took advantage of her inexperience to lock her into a disadvantageous contract; she learned from the experience, however, suing the publisher and guarding her future interests carefully. A number of these writers experienced the exhilaration and frustration of having their fiction dramatized on the silver screen. All wrote unselfconsciously as Canadians at a time when the distinction between elite literature and popular culture had not yet solidified. Fascinating nuggets of fact and useful contextual overviews are abundantly available in this well-researched study.
Less convincing in a book focusing on cultural history are some awkward forays into literary and cultural theory, particularly Karr’s contention that the five authors in the study should not be regarded as conventional writers of sentimental and romantic fiction but should instead be understood as modern authors responding to the complex experience of modernity. That popular literature should not be dismissed or ridiculed seems inarguable, but Karr does not convince me that these five writers, beloved for their moral seriousness and tearful scenes, were "often on the cutting edge of modernity" and he too often exaggerates the bold subversiveness of their fiction. In order to claim that such fiction deserves serious consideration, it would be more useful to read sentimentality and romance conventions as themselves complex responses to modernity. Karr’s chapter on the letters fans wrote to Montgomery, Stringer and Connor amply demonstrates the impact these novels had on their readers: one Lutheran pastor broke from his church to begin a new ministry after reading Connor, while Stringer inspired outrage and thankfulness with stories of divorce and female independence. Karr’s analysis of gender’s relative unimportance in reader response (men wrote of weeping and self-transformation as frequently as women) is a valuable contribution to theories of reception.
Karr’s study of early Canadian popular fiction makes for a compelling read and will surely dispel the lingering prejudice that Canadian literature did not properly begin until the 1920s. The five writers considered here earned substantial international recognition for their work and proved that one could become famous without leaving Canada at the turn of the century. The fact that Karr is largely breaking new ground in addressing the import of their work says something about our continued forgetting of a complex cultural history.
- Une nation à enseigner by Marilyse Turgeon-Solis
Books reviewed: Leçons de littérature: Un siècle de manuels scolaires au Québec by Karine Cellard
- Chaotic Fancies by Joseph Jones
Books reviewed: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- On Gender, Genre, and Graphic Art by Fiona Tolan
Books reviewed: Engendering Genre: The Works of Margaret Atwood by Reingard M. Nischik
- Daughters, Fathers and Other Fauna by Sonnet L'Abbé
Books reviewed: Cleaving by Florence Treadwell, Paper Moon by M. E. Csamer, Bonding with Gravity by Colleen Flood, The Weight of Flames by Bernadette Rule, and The Parable Boat by Hannah Main-van der Kamp
- Nation/Transnation by Guy Beauregard
Books reviewed: The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation by Rachel C. Lee and Scandalous Bodies: Diasporic Literature in English Canada by Smaro Kamboureli
MLA: Fiamengo, Janice. Producing Culture. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #177 (Summer 2003), (Duncan, Wiebe, Jameson, Thérault, Martel). (pg. 125 - 127)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.