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HUMANITIES 405 Irving Layton, a writer Solway describes as a 'friend, mentor, benefactor, example, and ... monumental Bloomian impediment.' Wondering what accounts for Layton's wildly unpredictable ceuvre, Solway begins by describing his early encounters with Layton in Greece: I noticed a taxi pull up across the street and disgorge three uncomfortable passengers, one ofwhom I seemed to recognize: a short, bullish man addressing everyone in his immediate vicinity in a huge, oratorical voice, pounding away like a Mobilfacta compressor on an Ikea display platform, commenting on the heat, the dust, the glazed enamel of the sky, the remoteness of the village ... It is this overblown persona that has interfered with our ability to read Layton's work, but Solway, rather ingeniously, suggests that this persona is. part of the work. The gap between Layton's great poems, Solway argues, and his habitual descent into less than poetic rhetoric is a conscious act 'attempted in some sense deliberately or with informed awareness ... The poet is shrewdly conscious of what he is about.' It is this kind of bold and original argument- applied with wit and verve to writers as different as Kafka, Swift Sontag, and Joyce- that makes Random Walks a provocative collection. (NORMAN RAVVIN) Steven Heighton. The Admen Move on Lhasa Anansi. x, 168. $18.95 There can be no doubt about it: the plight of civilized man is a foul plight. He is singing his swan song without the joy of having been a swan. He has been sold outby his intellect, manacled, strangled and mangled byhis own symbology. He is mired in his art, suffocated by his religions, paralyzed by his knowledge. That which he glorifies is not life, since he has lost the rhythm of life, but death. (Henry Miller, 'The Golden Age') Cool or coyly intellectual work can only contribute to the near-terminal process accelerating around us. A poem packed full of theory, but dead to the world of the senses, is a kind of capitulation, a collaboration with the enemies of the heart. (Steven Heighton, 'Apollo vr and the Flight from Emotion') Although he isn't specifically cited anywhere in its pages, the philosophy of Henry Miller exerts a powerful influence on Steven Heighton's The Admen Move on Lhasa, whose alternate title might well be The Wisdom ofthe Heart II. Throughout his book, a collection of casual essays which function as a critique of Western society in the stages of late capitalism, Heighton retreads the ground that Miller once covered so thoroughly, but which few writers, unfortunately, have seen fit to investigate since: the triumph of The 406 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 Air-Conditioned Nightmare in the age of the technocrat, and the role - if any -of the artist in a world in which Bill Gates is now a role model, the embodiment of worldy 'success.' Throughout the book, Heighton impresses with his ability to cut through the layers of rhetoric with which our current writers protect themselves. Laying both them and himself bare, Heighton faces up to the fact- selfevident for those who can bear to look- that as we approach the end of the century, the role of artist, and more specifically the writer, is being diminished perhaps to the point of total irrelevance. Heighton's perspicacity is at its peak, for instance, when he critiques the phenomenon of postmodernism, which, supposedly revolutionary, has turned out instead to be a kind of cultural Trojan Horse which elevates the cool, ironic detachrnentof the computer geek to a hegemonical position both inside and outside of academe (witness the many semi-intellectual think pieces published in the mass media when 'Seinfeld' went off the air). Revising Spengler, Heighton recasts the postmodem age the'Age of Clowns,' a time when 'pain without purpose has made the world retreat behind a leering mask and set the word ulove" in quotation marks ... When "virtual" realities crowd out visceral and the passionate context of nature and the body. When it becomes impossible to stay earnest and reverent about anything without looking like a dupe or dangerous fanatic.' Such positively Mille(r)narian flourishes are all too rare in today's too often polite, acquiescent, middle-class Canadian writing...


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pp. 405-407
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