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The Wacousta Syndrome

The Wacousta Syndrome: Explorations in the Canadian Langscape

GAILE McGREGOR
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 475
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttqzk
  • Book Info
    The Wacousta Syndrome
    Book Description:

    There is major critical intelligence at work here. McGregor presents a grand challenge to those who think they know about our literature, our art, and cultural identity to refine and re0think, possibly even change, their current views.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8319-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. 1 A View from the Fort
    (pp. 3-25)

    It has long been commonplace to compare Major John Richardson’sWacoustato the Leatherstocking novels of James Fenimore Cooper, and one would think that little could be gained by a revival of this somewhat shopworn critical perspective. The fact is, however, that the comparison has rarely been pursued beyond the most superficial levels.¹ In particular no one as yet has fully explored the cultural implications of the considerable differences these two writers display in the context of a single literary genre.

    Without going into lengthy details about the characteristics of the American wilderness romance – plot structure,dramatis personae,thematic orientation,...

  5. 2 Circum Locutions
    (pp. 26-46)

    Once recognized, the characteristic Canadian response seems omnipresent in all aspects of Canadian cultural history. Certainly it has provided a persistent and surprisingly homogeneous substratum through Canadian writing of many different kinds right from the beginning. Richardson was not, in fact, atypical. Far from finding that paradisial garden, the image of which dominated for so many centuries European visions of the New World,¹ Canada’s first visitors – judging by their reports – were almost universally repelled by their encounters with the land. On the west coast, as Maria Tippett and Douglas Cole describe it, ‘Vancouver found no pleasure ... Anchored along the...

  6. 3 The Frontier Antithesis
    (pp. 47-70)

    The question we must address now iswhythe characteristic Canadian patterns response should be so different from those of our neighbours. While Americans have generally viewed nature as a source of inspiration, natural wisdom, moral health, and so on, Canadian writers seemingly do not even like to look upon the face of the wilderness. How do we account for this divergence? One of the simplest explanations might be geographical. Nature seems more hostile to the Canadian because itismore hostile. In response to this possibility Marcia Kline points out, quite plausibly, that the United States contains many equally...

  7. 4 Re Definition
    (pp. 71-92)

    All of this seems on the whole to add up to a rather negative picture of Canada. Not only do we hate nature (which is a disconcerting discovery for anyone nurtured on the voyageurs, Tom Thomson, and the Boy Scouts) – not only are we evidently a bunch of sissies who much prefer sitting around the stockade playing euchre to going out and killing a few Indians – but most of our fiction and poetry and painting seems to specialize in telling us one thing while showing us another. The fact is, though, that the twentieth century has witnessed the emergence of...

  8. 5 The House of Revelations
    (pp. 93-126)

    Now that we have traced the historical development that structured the contemporary Canadian imagination, it remains to examine the way these characteristic structures enter into our present-day communal expression. Not surprisingly, the phenomenon may be observed in its purest form in art rather literature – although no critic has yet documented the trend. As with nineteenth-century landscape painting it is possible to explicate the work of Canadian artists almost solely in terms of international movements. When we examine the corpus holistically, though, it can be seen that certain features, certain peculiarities of stance and concern, unify the practice of quite radically...

  9. 6 Harlequin Romances
    (pp. 127-157)

    We have noted in connection withLa belle bêtethat self-obsession may lead to self-annihilation. Introspection is one thing; radical solipsism is something else. If inside and outside are exclusively and eternally mutually reflective, the point comes when the images cancel each other out. This is why, as a first step, knowledge of one’s limits – including death – is important: it provides at least a negative standard against which the self may be measured. It is not enough, however. One needs positive standards as well. Normally these are inferred from cues embedded in the communal myth system, but when a culture’s...

  10. 7 Farewell, Charles Atlas
    (pp. 158-191)

    In the last chapter, although we focused primarily on patterns of relation between real men and women, I also indicated that these patterns can and must be assessed in the context of some sort of idealized roles. Beyond a loose association with active and passive modes, however, we have not yet defined precisely what the idealization of male and female implies.

    On the simplest level these roles correspond to the unconscious, imprinted images that C.G. Jung calls archetypes: ‘an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of ... man.’¹ Less contentiously, they correspond to the abstract...

  11. 8 Fool-Saints and ‘Noble’ Savages
    (pp. 192-231)

    As noted, Graeme Gibson’s characters are typically wrapped up in private fantasies. Notwithstanding, there are moments when the world we glimpse through the eyes of his purported deviates seems suddenly so familiar, for all its distortion, that it’s as if he has managed to distil something from the common ‘langscape’ of which we ourselves are hardly aware. The passage quoted above embodies one of those moments. The fact is, Canadians are fascinated by animals. Like Gibson’s Felix Oswald, we are haunted by the sense that they carry a crucial message for us, that their superficial ‘ordinariness’ may at any moment...

  12. 9 Hat Tricks
    (pp. 232-279)

    The Orient, says Joseph Campbell, is obsessed with ‘the force of the cosmic order itself, the dark mystery of time ... the never-dying serpent, sloughing lives like skins, which pressing on, ever turning in its circle of eternal return, is continue in this manner forever, as it has already cycled from all eternity, getting absolutely nowhere.’ The West, on the other hand, sets against this undying power ‘the warrior principle of the great deed of the individual that matters.’ The victory of free will, ‘together with its corollary of individual responsibility,’ thus ‘establishes the first distinguishing characteristic of specifically Occidental...

  13. 10 ‘I’-Site
    (pp. 280-342)

    Every thesis and antithesis imply, perhaps entail, their own synthesis, the transcendent third. So it is with the saint and the magician. For all the obtrusiveness of these types in Canadian literature, there is still one predominant member of ourdramatis personaewho remains to be considered – and one who, in peculiar ways, subsumes key aspects ofboththe exemplary roles outlined above. Who is this motley figure? If one casts one’s mind over the ranks of Canadian literary protagonists the answer must be obvious.Asmust the reason for his importance. It all comes down to the uncertainties of...

  14. 11 The Writing on the Wall
    (pp. 343-411)

    Note has already been made of the Canadian’s family resemblance to Robinson Crusoe (see p 43; also C. Thomas B). We too build walls, not merely to keep danger out but tomediatebetween us and otherness. Walls, after all, are not only the limits of the interior but the inner edge of the exterior as well. That inner edge must be constructed with care to give a semblance of safety and familiarity to the alien element that environs us. How do we manage this job of construction? For Malcolm Lowry, says Geoffrey Durrant, ‘meaninglessness and isolation are Hell, and...

  15. 12 In Medias Res
    (pp. 412-448)

    Now we come to the hard part. In earlier chapters we focused on the recoil from nature – the ‘Wacousta Syndrome’ – that historically backdropped the Canadian sense of self, and on the iconography in terms of which that critical initial reaction came, covertly, to be expressed. This allowed us to define the conceptual underpinnings of the Canadian imagination. We then proceeded to analyse some of the particulars of the fictional worlds that have been constructed on this foundation: character types, relational models, recurrent themes and motifs. We ended by examining more general propensities: narrative reticence, a penchant for allegory, historical consciousness....

  16. Catalogue of ‘Primary’ Sources
    (pp. 449-473)
  17. Author’s Note
    (pp. 474-474)