Last week, National Post columnist Barbara Kay stirred up some controversy when she trashed Lisa Moore’s novel February for being both unmanly and unreadable “ a symptom of what Kay describes as an overly feminized, government-coddled publishing industry. In today’s paper, author Steven Galloway offers a rebuttal, arguing that Kay’s literary sensibility just isn’t very, well, literary:
Ms. Kay’s complaint isn’t with Canadian literature, it’s with the lack of Canadian blockbuster commercial fiction. My suspicion is that Ms. Kay can’t tell the difference “ how is it that she thinks the literature of our country differs from the literature of any other country? Most contemporary literature is overwhelmingly reflective, personal and not ripped from the headlines. And that’s the way it should be. Novels are not twitter, they are not sitcoms and they are not action movies, and the moment they are, literature ceases to exist.
On the issue of arts grants, which according to Kay create a culture of mediocrity and smug navel-gazing, Galloway has this to say:
Yes, Canadian literature is subsidized. So are tourism, mining, forestry, automobile production, small business and oil. In 2006 the petroleum industry alone received $1.4-billion in government subsidies in the form of tax breaks. I’ll apologize for our subsidies when they apologize for theirs, because what writers do is every bit as important and vital as putting together cars, docking cruise ships or cutting down trees.
Galloway’s response is a well-needed antidote to Kay’s over-heated polemics. But the tinge of elitism that creeps into his argument “ he says the type of book Kay would like to see more of in Canada “may well be entertaining but it would be neither a novel nor literature” “ is a little off-putting. Surely, if commercial fiction can’t aspire to literature, it at least qualifies as culturally meaningful. And many novels that subsequently earned a place in the canon were first conceived of as entertainments.