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162 LETTERS IN CANADA 1980 Tony Wilden. The Imaginary Canadian Pulp Press. 261. $11.95 cloth, $6.95 paper Recent reviews in these pages have called for a Canadian criticism that transcends the surface analysis ofimagery and theme. For critics seekinga cultural viewpoint Wilden's book will be vital even if it is not about Canadian writing. In fact, the book is the first study of the whole systemof myth and stereotype that makes up the Canada of popular misconception, the imaginary peaceable kingdom masking the real land of divisive exploitation and deferred nationhood. The book is more than this. It is also a nodal pointin the emerging network of communication and cultural studies, in particular what Wilden elsewhere calls 'ecosystemic theory' or 'the critical science of long-range survival.' Entry into this field is made easy by a distinction between 'imaginary' and 'real' relationships. Wilden develops it from two sources: first, from the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (see Wilden, The Languageof the Self, 1968) and second, from Gregory Bateson, to whom Wilden dedicated his System and Structure (1972, revised 1980). Real relationships are those that make up the deep, long-range, hierarchical picture of 'society-in-nature-in-history.' Imaginary relationships when imposed on the domain of the real for the sake of some short-term and typically exploitative goal tend to flatten any hierarchy of contexts into an eitherI or surface dilemma. Ecological relations become repressed in consciousness to appear as a mechanistic identity of opposites (self-other, culturenature , man-woman, Ottawa-Alberta). This view of reification recalls Sartre's concept of the ego as thing-in-itself as well as the Marxian notion of the fetish of commodity. I think it also represents what a popular book of 1980, Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach, calls a 'tangled hierarchy' or 'strange loop' in thinking, for the imaginary is pre-eminently the realm of the category mistake, the error in logic that expresses itself in paradox. Caught in paradox, the mind oscillates between false choices accepted for the real conditions they distort. Lacan saw the psychological consequence as paranoia about 'the other' and the enlargement of negation (dubito ergo sum) to the level of a nervous tic in human response. For Bateson the same double-bind was the precondition for the 'who am I?' of schizophrenia, seen as a reaction to a situation in which either way 'you can't win' (Wilden points out that this expression was first heard in Canada). The imaginary is then the prism through which Canadians define their nationhood, 'as if we dwelt in Notland: Wilden says, 'where "being Canadian" means not being someone else.' The theory therefore explains a national personality disorder that writers have variously called 'paranOid schizophrenia' (Atwood), 'elegiac manic depression' (Lee), 'a petulant and sullen martyrdom' (Symons), and 'that old identity question .' Butthe theory accounts for the disorder specificallyas acommunications breakdown resulting from the repressive colonization of conscious- HUMANITIES 163 ness, where myths disfigure while they perpetuate the problems of the real. For a theorist concerned with the living texture of communication instead of with fatalistically polarized absolutes, 'a victim complex is not a thing we have, it is a relation we are in.' Wilden analyses this state of affairs in chapters on cultural stereotypes in Canada, on law and order, civil rights, resource control, the divide-to-rule strategy of corporations and state, and the tyranny of government power. The discussion is punctuated by 71 quotations drawn from popular culture and officially sanctioned misconception. His argument singles out the source of the problem in an 'imaginary' middle class that never earned its rights through struggle as the middle classes did in Britain, France, and America. In a key chapter nostalgically titled The First Canadian Civil War' Wilden demonstrates how the Canadian bourgeoisie through its historians has negated its indigenous traditions of radical democracy in Mackenzie, Papineau, and the battalion that later bore their names. By embodying this very anti-colonial spirit the work has the qualities of a guerrilla handbook, which is to say that it is obsessive, anecdotal, documented, unbalanced, committed, and rude. This is essentially a crucial essay extended into book-length form by an articulate anger...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 162-163
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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