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354 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 is a sound one science is a visual phenomenon magic is a sound one.= And he adds: >in the formation of the alphabet as a visual code (remember its base is pictorial & not phonic) we see an example of the ascendancy of the eye over the ear that lays the groundwork for the eventual domination by print (the eye) in our culture.= The ensuing discussion of verbal/visual contrasts and similarities is extremely interesting. A similarly useful discussion of verbal structure is found in >Some Sentences, Paragraphs & Punctuations on Sentences, Paragraphs & Punctuation= (1982), which compares and contrasts kinds of prose from the most literal to the most abstract. In the same vein, Nichol=s analyses of Gertrude Stein=s prose, especially in The Making of Americans, remain impressive, as do his very generous essays on fellow poets like bill bissett and Earle Birney. All in all, Roy Miki, himself a poet-critic, has collected a set of writings that give us a valuable, if somewhat diffuse, account of what Canadian experimental poetry looked and sounded like from the late 1960s to the 1980s. Scholars can now begin to relate these experiments to those going on outside Canada. Carl Peters=s collection of Nichol=s comics, from 1960 to 1980, is a labour of love: here, many of them previously unpublished, are >stories= featuring such characters as Milt the Morph, Bob de Cat, Tommy Turk, and Rover Rawshanks, presented with all the ancillary apparatus Nichol made available so as to allow us to see how comics can explode conventional syntax and call into question what Charles Olson called >the lyrical interference of the ego.= Throughout, Nichol=s comics cleverly parody modernist conventions of art making. Such punning sequences as >Bullsheets = are often very entertaining. Read against The Martyrology or Meanwhile, they appear slight, but they do round out the larger picture of an oeuvre that deserves a much wider audience. (MARJORIE PERLOFF) Stephen Henighan. When Words Deny the World: The Reshaping of Canadian Writing. Porcupine=s Quill. 211. $19.95 Stephen Henighan=s When Words Deny the World is one of those often provocative and sometimes intelligent books that nevertheless somehow leave readers shaking their heads in irritation rather than in agreement. The problem begins, I suspect, with the inflated claims made by the front and back covers of this attractively designed paperback. The main title, to begin at the beginning, doesn=t accurately reflect the book=s contents: it=s simply the title of the book=s second section and points to its most tendentious and wrong-headed essay, >Free Trade Fiction: The Victory of Metaphor over History.= The subtitle, >The Reshaping of Canadian Writing,= is a bit closer to the book=s general drift. The back cover offers a view of the writerprofessor -critic as fearless gunslinger or provocateur: >When Words Deny the humanities 355 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 World is a compelling report from the front lines of Canadian writing. In a series of maverick essays ... Stephen Henighan takes on the decade of the 1990s, when Canadian writing became, before all else, a commercial enterprise= (my italics). The first sentence gives us Henighan as war reporter , the second as a David taking on the Goliath of Canlit. When the smoke clears, what you=ll really find is a very uneven, chronologically arranged collection of Henighan=s reviews, speeches, and essays of the past fifteen years, several of which don=t deserve a second life. The prize for the least notable entry goes to a brief newspaper review of two poetry books. The author=s appended commentary on the review is almost as long as the original. The overstatement in >before all else= is the first of many similar comments and generalizations that distract one from the often perceptive and valid aspects of his arguments. Take his close analyses of The English Patient and Fugitive Pieces. He insists that both give priority to the word over the world, to metaphor over history. This is a point one can discuss even as one concedes that Ondaatje and Michaels...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 354-356
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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