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Before the Country

Before the Country: Native Renaissance, Canadian Mythology

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Before the Country
    Book Description:

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Canada witnessed an explosion in the production of literary works by Aboriginal writers, a development that some critics have called the Native Renaissance. InBefore the Country, Stephanie McKenzie explores the extent to which this growing body of literature influenced non-Native Canadian writers and has been fundamental in shaping our search for a national mythology.

    In the context of Northrop Frye's theories of myth, and in light of the attempts of social critics and early anthologists to define Canada and Canadian literature, McKenzie discusses the ways in which our decidedly fractured sense of literary nationalism has set indigenous culture apart from the mainstream. She examines anew the aesthetics of Native Literature and, in a style that is creative as much as it is scholarly, McKenzie incorporates the principles of storytelling into the unfolding of her argument. This strategy not only enlivens her narrative, but also underscores the need for new theoretical strategies in the criticism of Aboriginal literatures.Before the Countryinvites us to engage in one such endeavour.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8404-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    In 1965 ordained United Church minister Northrop Frye, one of Canada’s most recognized literary scholars, and, internationally, one of the foremost mythic commentators of the twentieth century, wrote the conclusion to the first edition ofLiterary History of Canada:Canadian Literature in English. As general editor Carl F. Klinck outlined in his introduction, this anthology was ‘a co-operative project which began in 1957,’ and the book was ‘written’ by himself, five other editors,¹ including Frye, and ‘twenty-nine scholars’ (ix). Not surprisingly, Frye’s conclusion drew attention to the process of anthologizing, an act inextricably bound up with presenting convictions and arguments...

  6. 1 The Headwaters of Design
    (pp. 12-32)

    In 1962 James Reaney, in an article entitled ‘The Canadian Poet’s Predicament,’ commented on Canadian literature and its sources of inspiration. He noted a large difference between Canadian mythology and those mythologies present in the Americas before European settlement. ‘We have Indians,’ Reaney wrote. ‘I’ve already glanced at their poetry, but the other things they’ve accomplished – the rituals, the sculpture, the design, just themselves – have always looked suggestive of development to me. The totem poles and the mounds seem so effortlessly to come out of the country; but our culture, as yet, doesn’t’ (120–1). Reaney suggested that ‘the idea...

  7. 2 The Seventh Generation
    (pp. 33-53)

    During the late 1960s and 1970s in Canada there was an outburst of writing by Aboriginal peoples. Themannerin which First Nations and Métis writing came to the forefront of national attention has no counterpart elsewhere in Canada’s literary history. Although there had been previous moments when groups had marked points of departure from literary traditions, nobodyof literature defined by a shared cultural identity and sense of political urgency suddenly ‘appeared’ to the public. While critics had recognized, at a very early date, that French-Canadian literature was distinct from English-Canadian writing, this ‘awareness’ had never really produced...

  8. 3 Native Literature of the 1960s and 1970s in Canada
    (pp. 54-113)

    It is the strict posing of continuity between the past and present and an allied dependence upon the ‘heroic’ or ‘neo-heroic’ which defines a significant amount of Aboriginal literature of the 1960s and 1970s. Most notably there were a number of works during these decades which collected together stories of tricksters, culture heroes, and gods,¹ heroic forms of epic literature which connect living cultures to ancestral and pre-human pasts. (207). However, these literatures do more than simply underscore longevity. Foregrounding ‘epic poetry or memory’ (for lack of more specific words), they actively employ mythology either consciously, or unwittingly, as counters...

  9. 4 Day of Atonement
    (pp. 114-135)

    When it came time to produce a ‘national song’ (Lampman) in Canada, Canadian writers could not avoid engaging with Aboriginal history and traditions. Canada’s centenary coincided with a revolution that demanded citizens remember an effaced part of this nation’s past. Aboriginal authorities challenged the authority of the Canadian government and the history upon which this nation had been built. What seemed to be an unprecedented body of Native literature suddenly appeared to the public and introduced new stories into the realm of Canadian publishing. Perhaps it is no wonder that new myths would be created during this moment in Canadian...

  10. 5 Searching for Sun-Gods: ROBERT KROESTCH’S Badlands AND SKY LEE’S Disappearing Moon Cafe
    (pp. 136-160)

    Published in 1975 in the midst of the Native Cultural Renaissance and the Native Literary Renaissance, Robert Kroetsch’sBadlandsrecords the tensions that grew out of this period in Canadian history and registers the reality of a changing mythological climate in Canada.Badlandsis a road map in a discussion of Aboriginal influence in post-centenary Canadian mythology. In addition to the significance of the novel’s historical position, Kroetsch’s literary career and public comments underscore the recognition that Aboriginal influences have incessantly played a key role in his creative works. The fifth of Kroetsch’s novels,Badlandsfollows on the heels of...

  11. 6 Admitting the Possibility of Transitional Texts in Canadian Literature
    (pp. 161-179)

    When Leonard Cohen endedBeautiful Losersby turning all of his characters into a projection beam and mythological symbol, he removed any kind of potential hero from the community he created. He kept alive a belief in the process of transmitting knowledge or telling stories, but he sacrificed any kind of potential hero to dust and light. Dealing with the same kind of history found inBeautiful Losers, Robert Kroetsch made sure there were no heroes left at the end ofBadlands, although he, too, kept alive a belief in storytelling. There is something heroic about that last image of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 180-190)

    More than prompting people to remember a past that had been ‘forgotten’ for the sake of imperialism and nationalism, the Native Renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s in Canada boasted what Renan claims is the second necessary ingredient for the successful cohesion of nations:

    The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavors, sacrifice, and devotion. Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate, for the ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 191-198)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-214)
  15. Permissions
    (pp. 215-216)
  16. Index
    (pp. 217-233)