Monthly Archives: July 2011

More Alice Munro

Munro’s 1979 interview with the CBC on the removal of books from school libraries, including her own Lives of Girls and Women

The New Yorker has an archived post featuring links to an interview with Munro and a number of reviews of her work, as well as a link to one of her most remarkable stories, “The Love of a Good Woman.” If this is a story you haven’t read, you’ll want to. If you haven’t read Munro at all, you couldn’t find a better place to start.

Our earlier post here.

Primary Concern as a “caring and responsible attitude to nature”

Harperworld’s heartland: Fort McMurray, Alberta

Picking up on our thread involving Stephen Harper’s intention to turn Canada into an “energy superpower” by churning out increasing amounts of the world’s dirtiest oil, here’s something from The Double Vision:

In the twentieth century, with a pollution that threatens the supply of air to breath and water to drink, it is obvious we cannot afford the supremacy of ideological concerns anymore. The need to eat, love, own property, and move about freely must come first, and such needs require peace, good will, and a caring and responsible attitude to nature. A continuing ideological conflict, a reckless exploiting of the environment, a persistence in believing, with Mao Tse-Tung, that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, would mean, quite simply, that the human race is not long for this world. (CW 4, 170)


What we accept as beautiful or attractive or in accord with the way we want things to be has some connection, however indirect, with the satisfying of these concerns, and what we call ugly or dehumanized — air choked with pollution, land turned into waste land by speculators, infernos created by technologies from Chernobyl to Exxon Valdez — with the frustration of them. For a long time the established powers that be have looked at their civilization and said, “Probably much of it is very ugly, but that doesn’t matter as long as we make profits out of it, and certainly nothing is going to be done about it.” When it becomes clear that the ugly is beginning to mean dangerous as well, however, the point of view may slowly change. (191)

(Image: Peter Essick, National Geographic)

Video of the Day: “The Undefeated”

Trailer for the documentary about a defeated beauty pageant contestant, defeated vice-presidential candidate, and half-term governor.

The best review so far comes from the conservative New York Post:

Its tone is an excruciating combination of bombast and whining, it’s so outlandishly partisan that it makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln and its febrile rush of images — not excluding earthquakes, car wrecks, volcanic eruption and attacking Rottweilers — reminded me of the brainwash movie Alex is forced to sit through in “A Clockwork Orange.” Except no one came along to refresh my pupils with eyedrops.

I’d sooner have watched a Michael Moore movie.

Any Michael Moore movie.

Even “Canadian Bacon.”

On the liberal side of the spectrum, James Wolcott also gets an elbow in:

She decided to play it safe, lending her imprimatur to a movie that appeals solely to her base, much as Elvis did when he made It Happened at the World’s Fair.

Well, let her fans attend the film next week and wank away, it can’t do any harm. Unless it lifts their naive hopes that Palin might run for the presidency, which can only lead to yet more disappointment. Her political career is over, except as a kibitzer.

I’m sorry, but that’s the harsh truth. Dry your tears, dry your lap, and get on with your desperate lives.

That’s how Ronald Reagan would have wanted it.

Frye on the News Media: “The basis of what we now call propaganda”

Murdoch’s decades-long hold on British politics, including the prime minister’s office

With the News Corp. scandal continuing to break, here’s Frye in “The Renaissance of Books” providing some perspective of what abusers of the news media like Rupert Murdoch actually represent:

The function of the news media is to present a verbal imitation of this continuum [i.e. the ongoing cycles of everyday life], and television is the most efficient of all the media at doing so. Ritual is one means of keeping the continuum punctuated: we dramatize the stages when we join it or make a major change in relation to it. News, in the stricter sense breaks into the continuum, which is why so much news consists of disaster, and why all disaster is news. But besides the images of breaking, air crashes and the like, there are images of confrontation. Intellectual news, or the the discussion of “issues,” consists very largely of a polarizing of attitudes, for and against, which is why news media are so fascinated by the conception of the “controversial.” In the “issue” the continuum appears to stop for an instant and focus on a simultaneous vertical contrasting of opposed attitudes.

Television is consequently most effective when it presents such rituals as public weddings and funerals, or the ritualized confrontation of football and hockey games, and it presents “issues” in the same polarizing way. Such direct pro-and-con opposition, with all neutral or middle ground eliminated, is also what the revolutionary aims at: the revolutionary strives for situations in which everyone opposed to the group can be equally characterized as “counter-revolutionary” . . .

This combination of ritual, game, and polarized issue brings into television a quality of literary imitation, a “story line” with a beginning, a prescribed direction, and a conclusion. The three elements are most completely merged in the great public trial or investigative scenes, where ritual, game, and the polarizing dialectic of legal prosecution and defence are most fully employed. . .

By itself, of course, this imitation of literature by the news media could become a very sinister tendency. There is no difference between Watergate and the Stalin purge trials of the 1930s so far as the genre being employed is concerned. Besides, moral issues are not related to literature in the same way that they are related to actual life. We can ask an actor to put on a good show, not to tell the truth, and when, say a senator remarks approvingly that the president was very “believable” in his last interview, he reflects such a confusion of standards. Such a confusion returns us to the Machiavellian principle of pure appearance, the basis of what we now call propaganda. It is not important that the prince should be virtuous, it is important only that he should seem so. (CW 11, 148-50)

Rupert Murdoch, more than any other figure over the last thirty years, has actively degraded what Frye calls the “story line” of the news. The Republicans, in fact, having learned the lesson from “consultants” like Frank Luntz, speak of “taking control of the narrative” when roiling up an already deeply distressed political discourse. Murdoch, in Frye’s words, has pushed the “polarizing of attitudes” to the extreme, putting controversy for its own sake before anything else. He has turned news into demoralizing rounds of some-say-this and some-say-that, as though the conflict itself, devoid of context or even facts, is what really matters. The wretched conglomeration of all of these elements can be found in Murdoch-owned entities like Fox News.

Murdoch’s example also confirms that many who call themselves “conservatives” are no such thing. They are, again in Frye’s words, “revolutionaries” perpetually on the scent of “counter-revolutionaries.” Disagreement with or deviation from the party line as dictated by Murdoch, the Republicans and others like them has been formulated as various grades of “treason” for some time. The revolution they are conducting is an openly corporatist one that undermines democracy and further indulges an insular plutocratic elite already in possession of as much wealth as it can stuff into off-shore bank accounts. Murdoch is therefore a propagandist for what Frye characterizes elsewhere as the fascism inherent in the oligarchic tendencies of democracy. The father of modern fascism, Benito Mussolini, defined it as “a merger of state and corporate power.” Now that we know just how deeply Murdoch has sunk his nails into British politics and governance, including the prime minister’s office all the way back to Margaret Thatcher, this kind of assertion no longer seems over-heated.

Murdoch is not yet gone and he won’t be forgotten any time soon. The poison he’s mainlined into the body politic for a generation has left some of its limbs gangrenous and the cognitive parts of it confused. But the determination of a single independent news organization like the Guardian demonstrates how little remedy is required. At the very least, it is a reminder that Murdoch and everything he’s inflicted upon us could, like the News of the World, be swept away tomorrow if we really wanted them gone.

Alice Munro: “A Twentieth Century Jane Austen”

Alice interviewed at the Vancouver International Authors’ Festival in October 2009 on the occasion of the publication of her latest collection of stories, Too Much Happiness.

Today is Alice Munro‘s 80th birthday.

Frye in “Culture and Society in Ontario, 1784-1984”:

….[T]he [Bildungsroman] theme seems to have an unusual intensity for Ontario writers: the best and most skillful of them, including Robertson Davies and Alice Munro, continue to employ a great deal of what is essentially the Stephen Leacock Mariposa theme, however different in tone.  Most such books take us from the first to the second birth of the central character.  Childhood and adolescence are passed in a small town or village, then a final initiation, often a sexual one, marks the entry into a more complex social contract.  (CW 12, 621)

In any case, as we saw, prose in Ontario began with the documentary realism of journals and memoirs, and when fiction developed, that was the tradition it recaptured.  Documents, when not government reports, tended to have short units, and the fact may account for the curious ascendancy in Canadian fiction of the novel which consists of a sequence of interrelated short stories.  This form is the favorite of Alice Munro, and reaches a dazzling technical virtuosity in Lives of Girls and Women.  (ibid., 624)

From “‘Condominium Mentality’ in CanLit,” an interview with the University of Toronto Bulletin, February 1990:

O’Brien: Which Canadian writers are you most enthusiastic about?

Frye: The obvious people: Peggy Atwood, Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, Timothy Findlay, Mordecai Richler, . . . especially Alice Munro, who seems to be a twentieth-century Jane Austen.  (CW 24, 1037)

Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” (1999) in the New Yorker here.


Rupert Murdoch

BBC interview with Murdoch in 1968 as he took possession of the newly defunct News of the World. As you can see, he was fully formed even then. The potential for trouble was apparent from the beginning.

Andrew Rawnsley of the Guardian — the paper that almost singlehandedly brought the phone hacking scandals in Britain to light — rips into Rupert Murdoch today. Because Murdoch is a naturalized American citizen and News Corp. is a registered U.S. company, he (or at least the people around him) may be facing charges there too. It’d be too much to hope this causes Fox News to miss a step, but it is a sign that even a behemoth can be brought down by the vigilance of what used to be known as journalism. There is much much less of it in the U.S. than the U.K., but maybe there’s just enough.

Britain has paid a high price for the concentration of so much media power in the hands of one family. Elected politicians have been cowed, public debate has been skewed and policy formulation has been distorted. On Friday, David Cameron offered a confessional on behalf of the whole political class. He admitted that both his government and previous ones had turned “a blind eye” to abuses of press power because they were so scared of that power. Too right. It has been known for years that a minority of journalists have suborned public officials, especially police officers, into selling confidential information. Yet successive home secretaries have either been unable or unwilling to get the police to do anything. It has long been an outrage that it is possible to own such a large chunk of the British media without being either a UK citizen or paying full UK taxes. Yet successive chancellors of the exchequer have been unable or unwilling to do anything about that either.

Michio Kaku: The Truth About Alternative Energy

Solar, wind and geothermal are becoming more viable, and fusion is only twenty years away. Video from Big Think here.

Expect the corporatists to ramp up global warming denialism as all of this becomes more apparent. After all, what’s in it for Exxon-Mobil, the richest company in the world?

Or, closer to home, what’s in it for Alberta, which has 10% of the country’s population but now seems to represent 100% of the government’s priority?

Saturday Night Documentary: “Dirty Oil”

A 2009 documentary about the deadly toxicity of Alberta’s tar sands. This remains true despite the crooning lullaby of TV ads from a tar sands advocacy group that is beginning to slither into view.

This is how you monitor significant changes in Harperworld: by the commercials it circulates among what it hopes is a drowsy-and-ready-to-sleep population.