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Ex libris: the May 2018 issue

Ex libris: the May 2018 issue

[graphic for Ex Libris column]

In 1965, the literary critic Northrop Frye claimed that the question “Where is here?” was paradigmatic in contemporary Canadian literature, partly due to the disorienting, globalizing effects of electronic media. In the years that followed, the Vietnam War increasingly caused such disorientation, as graphic images of the conflict flooded North American homes, blurring the border between “here” and “there.” Canadians were liable to feel doubly disoriented, consuming U.S. media coverage that was neither for them nor about their country, while Canadian writers reflected the times by dramatizing situations in which everyday Canadian life was interrupted by apprehensions of violence in Vietnam.

Writers also published fictional scenarios in which Canada itself became the site of war with the United States. To make the scenarios seem more plausible, the writers pointed both to Vietnam and to past Canada – U.S. military conflicts. The implication was that Canada should always be figuratively on a war footing, resisting and defining itself in contrast to an imperialist America, and that a battle for national survival was a trans-historical condition of Canadian identity. In view of the question “Where is here?,” Canadian literature intimated a startling answer: “War is here.” The location in question was not just Canada but also Canadian writing itself.

[cover graphic of War is Here by Robert McGill]

In War Is Here: The Vietnam War and Canadian Literature, Robert McGill, Artsci’99 (MPhil, Oxford; MA, Anglia; PhD, U of T), explains how the war contributed to a golden age for writing in Canada. As authors addressed the conflict, they helped to construct an enduring myth of Canada as liberal, hospitable, and humanitarian. For many writers, the war was one that Canadians could and should fight against, if not in person, then on the page. Dr. McGill is an associate professor of English and director, MA in English in the field of creative writing at U of T.

[cover graphic of Newspaper City by Philip Gordon Mackintosh]

In Newspaper City: Toronto’s Street Surfaces and the Liberal Press, 1860–1935, Phillip Gordon Mackintosh, Artsci’93, MPL’95, PhD’01 (Geography), scrutinizes the reluctance of early Torontonians to pave their streets. He shows how Toronto’s two liberal newspapers, the Toronto Globe and the Toronto Daily Star, campaigned for surface infrastructure, despite the broad resistance of property owners to pay for infrastructure improvements. Newspaper publishers used their broadsheets to fashion two imagined cities for their readers: one overrun with filth, the other civilized and modern. However, the employment of capitalism to generate traditional public goods, such as concrete sidewalks, asphalt roads, regulated pedestrianism, and efficient automobilism, is complicated. The liberal newspapers’ promotion of a city of orderly infrastructure and contented people in actual Toronto proved strikingly illiberal. This work reveals the contradictory nature of newspapers and the historiographical complexities of newspaper research. Dr. Mackintosh is an associate professor in the Department of Geography at Brock University.

[cover graphic of Fighting Dirty by Poh-Geh Forkert]

Poh-Gek Forkert, Professor Emerita (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), is the author of Fighting Dirty: How a Small Community Took on Big Trash.She tells the story of how one small group of farmers, small-town residents, and Indigenous people fought the world’s largest waste disposal company to stop it from expanding a local dumpsite into a massive landfill. As one of the experts brought in to assess the impact the toxic waste would have on the community, Dr. Forkert was part of the adventures and misadventures of their decades-long fight.

[illustration of Queen's students in 1918 wearing army uniforms and Queen's students in 1968 at a peace rally