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Cmadun Review of Americ,m Studies/ Revue ca1111die1me d'etudes anuhicames Volume 27, Number 3, 1997, pp. US-144 From Nation to Generation: The Economics of North American Culture, 1930s-1990s Caren Irr LE Canada at present was called a nation only because a few laws had been passed and a railw,ly line sent from one coast to the other. In returning home [Neil Macrae, the hero] knew that he was doing more than coming back to familiar surroundings. For better or worse he was entering the future, he was identifying himself with the still-hidden forces which were doomed to shape humanity as certainly as the tiny states of Europe had shaped the past. Canada was still hesitant, was still ham-strung .... But 1f there were enough Canadians like himself, half-American and halfEnglish , then the day was inevitable when the h,1lveswould join and his country would become the central arch which united the new order. (Hugh MacLennan, [1941] 1991, 218) Fifteen years ago, on what remains as possibly the most unhip day of my life, my entire family, all nine of us, went to have our group portrait taken at a local photo salon. As a result of that hot and endless sitting, the nine of us spent the next fifteen years trying bravely to live up to the L'Orn-fed optimism, the cheerful waves of shampoo, and the ciir-brushed U6 Canad1.m Review of American Studies Revue rnnadieune detudes amer1cai11es teeth-beams that the resultant photo is still capable of emitting to this day. We may look dated in this photo, but we look perfect, too. In it, we're beaming earnestly to the right, off toward what seems to be the future but which was actually Mr. Leonard, the photographer and a lonely old widower with hair implants, holding something mysterious in his left hand and yelling, "Fromage!" (Douglas Coupland 1991, 133) The first of these epigraphs comes from the conclusion to Hugh MacLennan 's 1941 novel Barometer Rising. From the early days of WWII, this novel looks back at the Halifax explosion of 1917 as a catastrophe that made room for the emergence of Canadian nationalism. The hero affirming this view is frequently elevated above the city, taking panoramic looks at its workings; as in the passage I have quoted, he identifies himself with "stillhidden forces" latent in the scene, anticipating that his work will result Ill a transformation of his environment. He finds that his heritage coheres when he asserts himself actively on an object called the nation and, in turn, he expects a Canadian nation will be formed from its "half-English, halfAmerican " roots. A "new order" will emerge from the rubble of explosion and war. Here, Maclennan 'sis an aggressively utopian conception of the nation; he imagines nationhood as the unifying totality of the future. This view posits the Canadian nation as resistant to imperialism, asserting itself on the international scene as the "tiny European states" did in the nineteenth century. Nationalist ideology then fulfils the promise of North American geography and furthers promises a romantic internationalism arching forward from sturdy national bases. The effects and resonance of this utopianism are well-known; Maclennan 1s widely credited with being the first internationally renowned literary spokesperson for Canadian cultun1l nationalism (Goetsch 1973 ). Further, it ts not difficult to read his kind of national romance as a synthesizing improvement on the insufficiently specific class-based narratives of the 1930s. Up to the 1960s, that is, national 1stmternationalism of MacLennan's vanety registered as a particularism. Canadian cultural nationalism made specific CarenIrrI 137 what were perceived at the time as the hasty universals of European and American ideologies. In the 1990s, however, this particularism often sounds like its opposite: a homogenizing universalism. In Douglas Coupland's eminently saleable Genemtion X (published in 1991), MacLennan's kind of nationalism is posited as obsolete. While the novel pointedly refers to Canadian locations, such as Toronto, Manitoba, and Vancouver in its opening pages, on the whole it provides little justification for differentiating Canada and the United States. Characters identified as Canadian suffer from the same crises as the Americans; they are absorbed by the...


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