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448 LEITERS IN CANADA 1977 polite notions of a balanced and cultivated sensibility. Does the quality not show as well in Buckler's 'words that came seeming like the furniture of a doll's house or wispy threads spun by a mixed-up spider out of its own gizzards'? Whatever the mode, the books share an unwillingness to push meaning beyond the reach of this term 'sensibility.' When, in Purdy and Davies, the concepts begin to flex upon each other and a more dynamic freedom of response is anticipated, there comes predictably in one the fanciful trip to the beginning of geological time, in the other the elegant excursus, the peripheralizing amplificatio. True, speeches like magazine articles and limericks should not be heavy occasions. Yet something is driving the moralist to the lectern, to a tail-chasing wit, to a running from sea to sea. What is it? One feels that these short writings are determined by a fear that the explicit will suffocate, and by a preference for the nostalgic gothiC closet of myth and fancy, with all its ghosts. Call it Roblin Lake, Annapolis Royal, or Massey College, it still resembles a garrison in which the elliptical method can become the evasive manner, the contradictions mere paradoxy, and the larger issue a threat to that old romatic couple, the head and the heart. The limitation of these books of short writing, and of others to come, may be their drawing of a garrison wall, a fail-safe boundary - not against nature, including human nature, which these writers know so well- but against history, the 'unlived life' of the nation that wishes to dream its soft mythologies through its best literary figures, making their collected writing not critical but secondary. (SEAN KANE) John Moss. Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel: Th e Ancestral Present McClelland and Stewart. 326. $6.95 paper 'A public that tries to do without criticism and asserts that it knows what it wants or likes, brutalizes the arts and loses its cultural memory' says Northrop Frye. Fair warning. And Canadian Literature, to do it justice, has been begging for critics. That is why a book like Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel does a disservice to the literature because, whether it seeks it or not, it becomes a canonical model for critics, teachers, and even writers. Margaret Atwood, as long as five years ago, stated that Canadians are collective victims who have a paranoia about survival. She wrote with such panache that she entertained with her risky generalizations , and her thesis sparked much exciting speculation about indigenous identity. And even when students of Canadian literature contracted myopia in their quest for victims, she could be exonerated; she had availed herself of the writer's license. But John Moss stands before us as critic (the penalty one pays for being critic first and writer second); his HUMANITIES 449 thesis must be judged on its own merits and it is flatfooted and unsubstantiated . Moss contends that the remarkably high incidence of sex and violence in the Canadian novel reflects our national preoccupation with identity. Concern with individual, private identity is explored through sex, used in the broadest sense to 'cover the gamut from gender differentiation to coital consummation.' Concern with collective identity is explored through violence. Questions of moral identity, 'the relationships between the origins and consequences of individual behavior and the conditions of the larger community: are developed through a combination of sex and violence which sets our novels apart from other traditions. No matter how much Moss warns against delimiting definitions, he has set one himself, and critics are forced to take the bait. He cannot prove his thesis about Canadian identity without providing alternate test cases, which he is unwilling to do. There is no doubt in my mind that there is as much sex and violence, and often in similar combinations, in South. American, American, Australian, Quebecois, and other literatures . One thinks of examples with which to counter his opening extracts from Canadian literature: the Winnebago Trickster Cycle, Kosiniski's Devil Tree, Marquez'sH"ndred Years of Solitude. Indeed had Moss undertaken detailed comparisons and explored the attitudes towards sex and...


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pp. 448-451
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