VolleysBook - 1990
Much of the criticism of Canadian literature, John Metcalf informs us, does not take into account the details of form, style, technique, and language that writers cherish. Instead, most critics insist on reading literature -- distorting it, undervaluing it, undermining it -- by placing it in a journalistic, sociological, historical, political, or even religious framework.
Sam Solecki (whose puckish and probing essay on John Metcalf's criticism `Some Kicks Against the Prick' elicited Metcalf's reassessment of the idea of a literary tradition in What Is A Canadian Literature? as well as Metcalf's apologia for the short story `Dear Sam') argues that Metcalf's view of a Canadian tradition is as limited as the narrowly nationalistic version he attacks and that any serious discussion of the Canadian tradition in literature will need to include both. But Metcalf's intellectual rigour and honesty draw people such as Sam Solecki into deeper discussion and greater candour. Though continuing to dispute a number of Metcalf's claims Solecki admits finally `I am willing to forgive a great deal in a writer who, for whatever reason, speaks to me.'
Substance versus style? Metcalf also brings into this debate W.J. Keith, who, in `A Dream of Laocoöaut;n', takes exception to certain statements by Solecki and Metcalf, agrees with others, and develops an independent stance. `I can't,' he states in answer to Metcalf, `accept your (to me) narrow definition of what constitutes style.' There are opposing extremities to the spectrum of style, Keith argues, and `A healthy literature -- especially a healthy Canadian literature -- needs both.' But what is most pressing for Keith, and for us, is that Metcalf and Solecki have been `courageous enough to raise highly controversial issues which most modern literary commentators prefer to sidestep. Moreover, these are the issues that matter. The real issues ... how we read and what we ought to read.'