Saturday, 28 March 2015

More Topics for Discussion

Please share anything here that is related to our course topic Mirrors, Masks, and Myths - and/or Canadian Literature and/or Culture!

Feel also free to share information about your favourite Canadian movie about identity :)

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  1. There was a film festival held at my high school and I had the chance to see a lot of great Canadian films but "Double Happiness" was my favourite. It's directed by a Canadian (Mina Shum) and it also stars another Canadian Sandra Oh who's well known from the TV show Grey's Anatomy. The main character deals with Chinese-Canadian identity issues and life as an immigrant so it's really relevant to our class topics and the books we've read, especially The Jade Peony. It's a really funny and entertaining film that I could relate to a lot. I would definitely recommend it.

  2. Some wise words from Margaret Atwood's "Survival" (House of Anansi Press: 1972):

    "What a lost person needs is a map of the territory... [l]iterature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind. Our literature is one such map, if we can learn to read it as our literature, as the product of who and where we have been. We need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live. For the members of a country or a culture, shared knowledge of their place, their here, is not a luxury but a necessity. Without that knowledge we will not survive." (12-13)

    "Part of where you are is where you've been. If you aren't too sure where you are, or if you're sure but don't like it, here's a tendency... to retrace your history to see how you got there." (120)

    1. Such truthful words....they certainly capture the spirit of the course from Gudrun's map images to the powerful need to share our experiences. Thanks, Amanda. Inspirational.

  3. The first quotation is possibly one of my favourite excerpts from "Survival." I remember finding the book in the school store one day while browsing the literary theory section. My initial interest was in Margaret Atwood herself, but I was equally intrigued by the subtitle "A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature." Of course, even as we take this course, we're preoccupied with questions like "What is Canadian literature?" and "What is a Canadian?" If we're still pondering those questions now, imagine how confused I was before I began to really, deliberately think about Canadian identity in terms of literature.

    I highly recommend this book for anyone who's interested in the question of identity in relation to Canadian literature. While it does not touch upon stories of immigration or multiculturalism as much as the books we have read in this course do, Margaret Atwood acknowledges that - as a book written over forty years ago - it has its limitations. As such, it is still a valuable meditation on common themes in early literature of non-Aboriginal authors as well as the dreary lack of representation of Native Canadian stories and authors in relation to Canadian history and identity.

    It's interesting that she says that "[t]here is a distinct archeological motif in Canadian literature - to dig up totems, or at least the dead wood from which totems may be carved." (120). It's interesting because this is from a chapter that comes right after a chapter on the mis-/under-representation of First Nations peoples of Canada in the accepted literary canon. If the Canadian narrative is characterized by a search for the past, and if you can't know yourself without knowing your past, then trying to ignore Canada's history of genocide and colonialism is further detrimental to even the concept of "Canadian-ness" no matter how much it might hurt to acknowledge it.

  4. Words from Japanese-Canadian writer Hiromi Goto's "A Bending Light: Thoughts on Story, Diversity, and Social Responsibility" (I read it in ricepaper magazine Winter 2014 Issue 19.4, but the full text can also be found on her website, here

    - "We are alike and very unalike in many, many ways. Our bodies, our genders, our sexuality, our culture and historical backgrounds, class, faith, atheism, migration, immigration, colonization, have had us experiencing our lives and our sense of place (if not home) in distinct and particular ways. These differences at times can divide us. These differences can be used against us to keep us divided. But here we find ourselves. Look around you... [w]e came here because of story. There is much power in story."

    - "The moment you silence yourself a gap opens up, and someone else who may have no qualms in occupying that space, will leap in to speak out on their own terms. If you're a writer (a dreamer) from a people, a community, a history that has been long-marginalized, silenced, or misrepresented, we so desperately need to hear your story in your voice, in your own grammar of perception and articulation..."

  5. `”We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar was written at a time of great racial conflict in America. Though slavery was abolished in the late 1800s, African-Americans were not granted the same rights that were given freely to others. Though it seems that Dunbar wrote specifically about the pains that accompany the plight of African-Americans, his wording allows this work to be applicable to each and every one of us. Being considered one of the first major African-American poets, he calls upon those who feign happiness and contentment when seemingly, they are not.

    This is very relevant to our theme of masks. People have a tendency to hide their own feelings and true emotions. While there is an appropriate time and place to be honest with one’s thoughts and disposition, to hold it off for a long period only becomes detrimental to one’s overall condition.

    He makes a crucial observation that we have the power of choice: to decide on how to present ourselves to others (“nay let them only see us”). It seems so relevant in a time when we are so focussed on the well-being of others, that we often forget to give attention to our own true state.


  6. My favourite Canadian film about identity is Guy Maddin's 2007 film, "My Winnipeg". Saying this is my "favourite Canadian film about identity" is, in reality, an understatement. This is my favourite film in the entire world, I love it so much that I have multiple copies. I love it so much that I now watch every movie of Maddin's that I can find. I figure there are three reasons for this Love: Guy Maddin is objectively one of the most talented directors of all time (recognized by Roger Ebert, The Criterion Collection et al), Maddin is obsessed with vintage film-making techniques and aesthetics which I love, and it's about Winnipeg, my birth place and a city that I will forever be fond of. I think these three points exemplify how this movie in turn applies to my identity (which is beside the point, just a little meta fun-fact).

    "My Winnipeg" has been called many varying things, including a "surrealist mockumentary", and a "docu-fantasia". But at its very core, "My Winnipeg" is a mans rendering and (disjointed) remembering of the city that made him who he is. As the title suggests, "My Winnipeg" is not an objective view of the history of Winnipeg. Rather, it is a 80 minute long dreamscape in which Maddin extends and examines the very fibres of his being. Take for example the fact that the woman who plays his mother (Ann Savage), unlike all of the other actors, is not explicitly indicated as being an actor. This suggest the subjectivity of the piece which then directly relates back into the idea of "My Winnipeg" being one mans pondering on the city that made him who he is. As by not indicating that the mother is, in fact, one of the actors, we see that Maddin has a different relationship with that character than the others.

  7. I'm going to add the link to the article in Maclean's magazine that discusses the endemic problem of racism in Winnipeg.
    John, I will take the time to watch the film you recommend - I recognize that Winnipeg is also a hotbed for the arts and rife with creative atmosphere. What I'd really like to do is find some way of reconciling two disparate images of the same city....
    I found it of particular interest that, when I mentioned the article to a friend of mine (and member of my reading club), a Jewish woman who also hails from Winnipeg, I was struck by her easy dismissal of the treatment of First Nations people - as if they deserve nothing better..... Food for thought.

  8. My favourite movie about Canadian identity is actually about a mythic Canadian identity, and one which is crucial to understanding Canada’s disjointed national identity. Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) is a beautiful Quebecois film by Claude Jutra set in an important time for Quebecois identity, and filmed in an even more important time for Quebecois identity. Both are important myths in the national fabric (and conflict) of contemporary Canadian identity.
    The film is set in a small Asbestos mine town in rural Quebec during the 1950’s at Christmastime. This was the Duplessis era Quebec – in my opinion, one of the most fascinating (if not oppressive) administrations in Canadian history. Maurice Duplessis, leader of the ultramontane, highly conservative Union Nationale believed that the English Protestants were threatening the pillars of French Canadian society – the Catholic Church, large traditional families and the French language – and that the people of Quebec should move back to rural areas and embrace farming and stay away from the dangerous influences of modern, industrial, English, and increasingly secular Canadian society. This was a farce. Quebec was more urban than rural near the turn of the 20th century. Quebecois flocked to Montreal and urban areas to find work during the Depression. The French Canadian identity was an imagined, nostalgic, backwards-looking identity. It was completely outdated.
    The film was written, produced and shot in 1971 during the Quiet Revolution. The Quiet Revolution was a period of unprecedented societal change. Quebecois people grew weary of a government that rejected modernity and one year after Duplessis’ death in 1959, Jean Lesage’s Liberal Party came to power. He secularized social services and welfare, increased the civil service and nationalized Quebec Hydro, finally boosting the economy. In 1968 the separatist/sovereignty party, the Parti Quebecois, was created and established a small presence in provincial politics. Here was the new identity of Quebecois – modern, growing wealthier, increasingly liberal society, looking at their distinct culture in a new way of legally protecting.
    The myths of backwards-looking Quebecois identity during the 40’s and 50’s, and the subsequent liberation in the 1960’s during the Quiet Revolution, are integral parts of Canadian history and identity. The movie is an excellent story of the former myth, filmed with the energy and artistic freedom of the latter myth.

    1. Love that film....gorgeous imagery. Lots of masks-particularly the invisible ones of the Duplessis regime. I remember well the October Crisis that preceded the Quiet Revolution. One of the most unsettling times in Canadian history. Trudeau (as in Pierre Eliot) invoked the War Measures Act against to protect against further bloodshed when some of the radicals kidnapped two diplomats stationed in Quebec: one was killed, the other survived, the police made hash of the rights of many ordinary citizens. Not a stellar moment in Canadian history, but
      certainly a defining one. Really glad you mentioned this film.....

  9. One of my favourite Canadian movies about identity is the french-Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y, directed by François Boulay and Jean-Marc Vallée. This film tells the story of Zac, a gay teenage boy who faces homophobia in his 1960's conservative Quebec home. It explores Zac's internal struggles with his identity and his relationships with his four brothers and his very un-accepting father. While I don't identify personally with many of the issues that Zac faces, the film still struck a cord with me and was very moving.

    The film isn't necessarily about Zac coming to the realization that he is gay, but rather the struggles with his identity as his family violently and discriminatorily rejects him. It focuses a lot on the relationship between Zac and his father. Their relationship was very strong when Zac was a child but as he grows up and starts to show 'non masculine tendencies' their relationship crumbles and escalates to a war like stand off. It is clear that Zac is desperate for his fathers love and even starts a relationship with a girl named Michelle seemingly just to please his father. Near the end of the movie this constant rejection takes a toll on Zac's mental health and he hits rock bottom - travelling to Jerusalem and collapsing in the dessert. Upon Zac's arrival back in Quebec he is informed of a family tragedy; this event ultimately brings his father and him closer together as his father realizes that even though he doesn't agree with Zac's sexuality he still loves him.

    I found that this is the kind of film that has minimal dialogue, but rather capitalizes of the power of silence. One can feel Zac's pain of not being accepted by his family not through his words but in everything that is unspoken. I would describe this film not as a stereotypically Canadian film, but ultimately one that gets at the core of being Canadian. Our nation is seen as a welcoming and peaceful place, but we have a mask that hides our violent and discriminatory history. This film is really about coming to terms with our masks and reconciling for the better of both parties.

  10. In one of my previous comments I mentioned the idea of archaeology present in some of Margaret Atwood's poems and comments about Canadian identity. In several Canadian poems that can be interpreted as concerning identity, there is also the image of nature and looking outwards - towards nature - in order to explore what is found when one looks inwards (e.g. Gwendolyn MacEwan's "Dark Pines Under Water," Purdy's "Remains of an Indian Village," Atwood's "Some Objects of Wood and Stone").

    As mentioned before, there seems to be the sense that hints, at least, of who/what we really "are" may be found in what is buried, forgotten, past... it seems that no matter how much freedom one may be granted in creating his/her identity, there is seems to be a search for what "has been" or "what has come before this" in order to find a starting point.

    Some other poems that could demonstrate this are Canadian poets Anne Michaels's "There is no city that does not dream" and Margaret Atwood's "The Settlers," respectively. I'll post them below.

  11. "There is no city that does not dream" by Anne Michaels (see previous comment for discussion)

    There is no city that does not dream
    from its foundations. The lost lake
    crumbling in the hands of brickmakers,
    the floor of the ravine where light lies broken
    with the memory of rivers. All the winters
    stored in that geologic
    garden. Dinosaurs sleep in the subway
    at Bloor and Shaw, a bed of bones
    under the tumbling track. The storm
    that lit the city with the voltage
    of spring, when we were eighteen
    on the clean earth. The ferry ride in the rain,
    wind wet with wedding music and everything that
    sings in the carbon of stone and bone
    like a page of love, wind-lost from a hand, unread.

  12. "The Settlers" by Margaret Atwood (see previous two comments for discussion)

    A second after
    the first boat touched the shore,
    there was a quick skirmish
    brief as a twinge
    and then the land was settled

    (of course there was really
    no shore: the water turned
    to land by having
    objects in it: caught and kept
    from surge, made
    less than immense
    by networks of
    roads and grids of fences)

    and as for us, who drifted
    picked by the sharks
    during so many bluegreen
    centuries before they came:
    they found us
    inland, stranded
    on a ridge of bedrock,
    defining our own island.

    From our inarticulate
    skeleton (so
    intermixed, one
    they postulated wolves.

    They dug us down
    into the solid granite
    where our bones grew flesh again,
    came up trees and

    we are the salt
    seas the uphold these lands.

    Now horses graze
    inside this fence of ribs, and

    children run, with green
    smiles, (not knowing
    where) across
    the fields of our open hands.

    - The Circle Game (Margaret Atwood. "The Settlers." The Circle Game. Toronto: Anansi Press, 2012. 81-82. Print.)
    - Skin Divers (Michaels, Anne. "There is no city that does not dream." Skin Divers. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1999. 16. Print.)

  13. One of the best Canadian films I've seen is "Stories We Tell", written and directed by Sarah Polley. "Stories We Tell" is a documentary about Polley's family, focussing mainly on the relationship between her parents; one of which, as the film presents, may not actually be her biological parent. Through interviews with her family and recreations portraying various events from the story of her family, the film presents a unique representation of Polley's family and Polley's identity. "Stories We Tell" is like no other documentary I've ever seen. It is narrated by her father, giving it an intimate feel and it comes off as a series of the family's home movies that you have been invited into their house to watch. Anyways, heres a trailer if your interested.

  14. . I first read the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost when I was a teenager. It really resonated with me as I was struggling with finding who I am and finding the courage to be that person. It is really easy to follow the crowd and do what is expected of you. When you follow your intuition and your heart, you live with no regrets. At the time, I didn’t realize this poem related to my situation. However, looking back it is clear that I had to choose from 2 paths. I am glad I chose the road less travelled, the one my intuition told me to go for. It took reading this poem again to realize that.
    “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Chantel Wright

  15. I remember watching a lot of old, quirky, and 'other' movies growing up as a child that the vast majority of my friends usually wouldn't have even heard of. This was thanks to my dad, who, to this day, still carefully maintains an old vhs and mountains of tapes with which he records movies and peruses them; the ones he deems worthy of watching, and appropriate he would then stack in a pile and offer to me whenever I seemed to be doing nothing useful.

    One of these movies that I still hold dear to me is 'The Red Violin'. I remember watching this when I was fairly young still, but I'd had already acquired much experience watching far more shocking movies. The Red Violin is a very intriguing story, following the 'life' of an Italian woman. The movie essentially begins with her death in childbirth, leaving her husband (a violin maker) inconsolable. In order to immortalize her, he mixes the varnish of the unfinished violin meant for their dead child with her blood. The violin then passes through several hands, from a Viennese orphanage, to an English violinist, through the Cultural Revolution, and finally a Québécois auction house where people who have ties to its history all attempt to acquire the violin for themselves.

    This movie is so essentially Canadian in that it shows how a life can lead through many histories, backgrounds, cultures etc and eventually come into its own despite the different identities it has taken on throughout time. François Girard did a brilliant job directing and co-writing this film; I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

  16. The novel Kiss of the Fur Queen which was written by Tomson Highway centres around two Cree brothers, Jeremiah and Gabriel Okimasis who are taken from their family and sent to a residential school. The novel focuses on cultural displacement and the loss of identity that results due to their experiences in this school. This novel draws on some of the themes from our course such as masks.

    Masks are an important concept in the novel. There is evidence of cultural displacement and the clash between cultures that results in the loss of identity. The two brothers are taken from their homes and forced into a residential school where they cannot speak their language and their Cree culture is demonized. For example, there is a clash between Cree and Catholic representations. Jeremiah and Gabriel frequently misunderstand Catholic symbols and doctrines. An example of this from the novel is during Jeremiah’s lesson at the residential school. When he is taught about hell as a place of punishment, Jeremiah instead views it as an intriguing place that he would like to visit. From the picture of hell, he notices that there are many tunnels, which is something that he has a great affection for. He also notices in the picture that there are dark skinned people sitting around in flame-lined caves. Thus, he concludes that hell is where the Indians are and is relieved that they are included in the image not realizing that the point is that they are being punished in hell. Furthermore, the boys are forced to put on a mask that fits western dominant culture. After arriving at the residential school, the boys are forced to cut their hair; they are given English names, and are forced to speak in English. Thus, the Catholic Church tries to put on a Western mask while stripping away the Native mask of First Nations children. As mentioned before, their experiences in residential school also resulted in cultural dislocation. In Hanson’s Residential Schools, she states that “many aboriginal children have grown up feeling that they do not belong in either world: they are neither truly Aboriginal nor part of the dominant society. They struggle to fit in but face discrimination from both societies”. This leads to the brothers having trouble reconciling their two identities, which ultimately leads them to reject Native identity and embrace the dominant western culture. For example, after they leave the residential school, both brothers move to Winnipeg and rarely visit their parents back home. Furthermore, when Gabriel arrives in Winnipeg, Jeremiah takes him to the mall where they buy Western clothes. For instance, Gabriel buys dark penny loafers with white socks because that is what the white boys wore.

  17. I feel like the theme of masks is the most prevalent in our current society nowadays. However, I believe that the theme is relevant in the sense that people wear masks in a way that we hide our true selves. At times, we are able to put on different masks for different occasions since we find it important to portray ourselves differently depending on the situation. Being able to change through masks is what makes people successful nowadays especially in the business world. To have the capability to interact with a variety of people and conduct business deals is huge. It is what makes us able to connect with people, be it fake or not since we put on a different mask depending on who we are talking to or what group we are spending time with. It prevents people from really showing their true selves anymore since they are forced to put on all these different masks depending which is the more convenient one or better suited for the situation.

  18. I'm personally a huge fan of the novel Three Day Road. Without giving too many details away the novel follows the character Xavier's reminiscing on his experiences in WWII with his adoptive brother Elijah. The novel is fantastic for a number of reasons, but I found it particularly alluring due to the author's, Joseph Boyden, amazing writing style and historical accuracy. The novel not only deals with the social and racial implications of being native and in the army during this time period, it also addresses the character's transformation through native myth. The trauma of residential schools and the war morphs the characters much in the same way that people changed within the myth. The plot and its presentation of mirrors is quite difficult to get into without disclosing spoilers, but I very highly recommend reading this novel. If not for the presentation of myth then for no other reason than the well developed and captivating plot.

  19. My favourite Canadian movie about identity is "Dr. Cabbie." The film is a romantic comedy starring the character Deepak. He graduates medical school in India and struggles to find a job when immigrating to Canada. Unemployment drives Deepak to become a taxi driver.

    While driving a pregnant woman named Natalie, he delivers her baby because there is no time to rush to the hospital.The scene is filmed and goes viral.

    After this event, Deepak practises medicine in the cab. He even goes as far as giving out medication, which he orders online.

    While driving, Deepak notices a woman about to jump off a bridge. He convinces her to get down and saves her life. However, later on, the woman swallows the whole bottle of antidepressants, given to her by Deepak.

    Dr. Cabbie is arrested. Natalie, who has fallen in love with him, becomes his attorney after taking a break from practising law. Deepak is found not guilty of impersonating a doctor but is guilty of prescribing medications illegally.

    During a court break, Deepak and Natalie get married and the judge decides not to deport him because of Deepak's new family duties. He sentences him to community service.

    This film shows how one's career can become their identity. It shows that people are happiest when doing their dream job. Although Deepak cannot practise medicine in Canada, he sticks to his identity and remains a doctor.