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THE PROVINCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS WALLACE STEGNER The last thing I would try to do is to instruct Canadians in their own culture, rebuke them for not having one, or tell them how to handle either their internal cultural problems or their relations with the powerful neighbour who provides them about equally with things they don't want and things they can't do without, examples they deplore and temptations they can't resist. All I will try to do is tell you how the present state of Canadian culture appears to a visitor of barely two months, and to suggest some American parallels, both historic and contemporary. They may provide either horrible examples Or the sort of comfort and encouragement harried parents feel when they read Spock or Gesell and find that almost all 15-year-olds act that way. At worst, it may infuriate some Canadians by suggesting that even in the matter of cultural inferiority-complexes the United States has to insist that it got there first, and that Canada, as usual, is compulsively repeating American experience two generations or more behind. I don't want to infuriate anyone; and though I will defend the United States on most counts, even in the deplorable year 1973, I don't come as a Yankee freebooter bent upon annexing Canada. If there was ever a Manifest Destinarian in me, he exhausted himself on the way West, and doesn't operate north-south. Moreover, my loyalties are mixed, for I spent a half dozen of my most impressionable years on a Saskatchewan homestead , and missed becoming a Canadian by only about one inch of rain. So if I say something detestable, please remember that I am trying to speak simultaneously from within and without the family. I am an American visitor but also I am a kind of knot-headed country cousin, more to be pitied than censured, and more to be loved than reviled. Let me summarize how the Canadian literary scene strikes the visitor. None of this will be new to you, but you ought to know the conceptions, from which I begin. First, there is an extraordinary stir, great activity, great interest, and a frequent and often assertive use of the word 'Canadian.' One finds all kinds of little magazines, many of them with a nationalist or ethnic cast, UTQ, Volume XLIU. Number 4, Summer 1974 300 WALLACE STEGNER and even the larger-circulation magazines like Maclecm's, even the newspapers , reRect patriotic cultural ideas. The legislature wants Ontario's colleges to get their faculties up to at least 80 per cent Canadian, there is a drive to get more Canadian books taught in the schools. The bulletin boards announce poetry readings, lectures, symposia, debates, seminars. I had hardly arrived on the University of Toronto campus and been handed my free New Testament before someOne topped it with a book entitled Read Canadian. The bookstores and libraries feature whole sections of Canadian books, the book review pages are alert to cover new ones. There seems to be an extensive series of grants, prizes, and awards to encourage Canadian writers and Canadian publishers, and one whole paperback library lines up all the Canadians together like garden gods. It is exhilarating to be in a place where literature is taken seriously by so many kinds of people. Second, one is struck by the identity crisis Canada seems to be going through - seems to have been going through ever since World War II, when the bond with Britain finally wore thin. I have talked to those who are determined to discover a Canadian identity (and assume it or invent it if necessary) and those who doubt there is any such thing. National characteristics, always elusive, have been rounded up like cattle on the range, and are kept milling in a cloud of dust, but there are skeptics who insist that they're rustled stock, that none of them wears a clear Canadian brand; they all have burns or earmarks that declare them British, or American , or ethnic. Nobody seems to think any more that a Canadian is a colonial Englishman , and almost everybody seems determined that he shall not be a provincial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 299-310
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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