Worrying the Nation

Worrying the Nation: Imagining a National Literature in English Canada

Jonathan Kertzer
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442683693
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  • Book Info
    Worrying the Nation
    Book Description:

    A sophisticated analysis of Canadian literary writing and its role in national culture that 'worries' over the possibility of a national literature when the very idea of the nation as a viable conceptual/literary category has been called into question.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8369-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. 1. National + Literary + History
    (pp. 3-36)

    The object of theoretical inquiry in Canadian literary studies – Canada – no longer functions as it once did. English-Canadian literary history has been distinguished by its modest but persistent nationalism, by its mistrust of foreign influences, and above all by its casual appeal to historical conditions (roughing it in the bush, the garrison) and cultural forces (colonialism, regionalism, puritanism) as guarantees of coherence and value. Recently these approaches have been questioned from various quarters, thereby depriving the discipline of its formative principles. The orthodox line stressing thematic continuity in response to permanent environmental and cultural factors has virtually been...

  5. 2. The National Ghost
    (pp. 37-61)

    Birneyʼs poetic barb ends with a familiar puzzle about the elusive Canadian character. Unlike the United States, Canada casts no heroic shadows because our bland, practical citizens lack the historical traumas and the responsive imagination to expose the dreams on which the nation was built. The creative introspection of a Dickinson or a Whitman would reveal our presiding ghost, which should serve – as Wordsworth advises in ʻTintern Abbeyʼ - as ʻThe anchor of [our] purest thoughts, the nurse, / The guide, the guardian of [our] heart, and soul / Of all [our] moral beingʼ (99). But our guardian spirit...

  6. 3. Nation Building
    (pp. 62-116)

    Which came first, the nation or the state?

    Common sense might suggest that people sharing a nationality would resolve in the course of their political development to create a nation-state, which would give formal standing to their community. The state would emerge of its own accord from a shared background like a flower unfurling its petals, and then be cultivated by appropriate institutions, which would direct subsequent national growth. As Cornelia Navari explains, however, this political blossoming never occurs quite so naturally, because the homogeneous nation-state approximates to a ideal found not in history, but in literary myth. True, there...

  7. 4. The Nation as Monster
    (pp. 117-159)

    Romantic historiography sets itself the contradictory task of recapturing the past while maintaining its remote uniqueness. The historian has to ʻretain distinctions [between past and present] while at the same time affirming unity and continuityʼ (Gossman 261), but to succeed at the first would mean to fail at the second, and vice versa. On the one hand, a historical text should provide direct access to the lived past; it should be ʻthe inmost form of the real, binding, and inescapableʼ (244). On the other hand, historians must respect a ʻresidual gapʼ (274) between past and present by refining ʻa process...

  8. 5. Worrying the Nation
    (pp. 160-200)

    These two descriptions of national culture mark the distance between a modern outlook, which is defensive and retrospective in its purview, and a colonial outlook, which is offensive and prospective. Writing in 1919, just after the First World War (and as he was composingThe Waste Land), T.S. Eliot invokes the majesty of tradition in order to protect England from a chaotic present. Following Ralph Cohenʼs example (41–2), we might say that Eliot invokes the ʻhistorical senseʼ only to embrace a timeless tradition that transcends history, whereas Frantz Fanon seeks to historicize tradition. Speaking in 1959 at the Second...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 201-220)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-236)
  11. Credits and Permissions
    (pp. 237-238)
  12. Index
    (pp. 239-243)