- Lecker's Lost Worlds
I have known Robert Lecker and his (now former) partner Jack David for thirty years. I met them while they were still in graduate school, around the time Lecker joined David as the other half of the editorial team for Essays on Canadian Writing, an academic journal that helped expand the critical dialogue in the then-emerging field of Canadian literary study. The two men later founded a coordinated venture, ECW Press, which became that very rare thing, an important critical and scholarly press not associated with a university. They not only published valuable monographs on Canadian writers and literary culture but provided the scholarly tools (bibliographies, critical guides) that, pre-Internet, helped make the Canadian critic's task possible. (They also published books by some of the major fiction writers of the period: Hugh Hood, Leon Rooke, and John Metcalf.) When it became evident that they could no longer support the press on a diet of literary and critical texts, David and Lecker turned to trade and popular publishing to keep things going. (By that time David saw himself as a businessman rather than an academic.) Eventually the partnership, and Lecker's publishing involvement, came to an end; the journal, which had long been Lecker's to oversee, passed into other hands, leaving him to look for new outlets. These milestones in Lecker's career - and, one infers from some of his remarks, his wounded feelings over the break-up of a long partnership that was also a meaningful friendship - have occasioned this memoir.
I could continue recounting Lecker's career by discussing his role as a teacher of Canadian literature at McGill and by providing details about his extensive critical writing and other editorial projects. It is clear that by any standards Lecker has achieved success, and that his contributions to Canadian culture and literary study have been significant. Yet this is not really the story he tells in Dr Delicious , which focuses instead on his disappointments and his discontent.
The title of this memoir, based on the fact that in German lecker means 'delicious,'1 refers to its author's sense of his self-divisions. In particular, where Lecker as professor 'would resist the temptation to make his life in Canadian literature personal,' he imagines that his alter ego, Dr Delicious, would be less discreet 'about his passions, his failures, how the whole business of CanLit drove him crazy, lost him sleep, drove him on.' Those who have followed Lecker's critical and academic career have already been aware of his deep and sometimes quite puzzling contradictions. He has wanted to be both a maker and a deconstructor of canons. He has given of time and effort in ways that show him capable of great generosity, even while publishing essays (his own and those of others) that expressed considerable hostility towards other critics and writers. He seems capable of inspiring as well as terrifying students. But even for those who already thought the man characterized by what Margaret Atwood (thinking of Susanna Moodie) referred to as 'violent duality,' this memoir shows how surprisingly deep his divisions run. Lecker describes himself as acting out of 'naïve idealism combined with literary nationalism,' but he also acknowledges that he and his partner were always 'at heart, relentless entrepreneurs.' He tells us, for example, of how when the two of them saw the need for an anthology of Canadian poetry they also saw how to market it by playing on the academic egos of their colleagues:
As our cynicism increased, we began to hatch plans based on the recognition that if we were to remain in academic publishing we would have to get the support of the profs, since they held the key to sales. One project that emerged from this understanding was the two-volume anthology called Canadian Poetry . . . Although we would be named as editor of the volume, the actual contents would be chosen by dozens of professors around the country, each of whom was a specialist in a particular author. Because Professor X would be responsible for choosing...