Theory and creativity in English Canada: Magazines, the state and cultural movement

Davies, Ioan

The issue of how theory, cultural movements and periodical publishing are related to the policies developed in English-speaking Canada since the Massey/Levesque Royal Commission reported in 1951 is traced by discussing the situation before the report was written and contrasting it with funding policy since. The article stresses the importance of theory as a situated encounter with culture, and explores general cultural publishing against the more specialized work that emanates from relatively small groups concerned with cultural practice and theory. It argues that without state intervention (for all the problems involved) these areas of cultural energy would have been much less visible.

Nous analyserons dans cet article la relation entre, d’un co@te, les principes theoriques, les mouvements culturels et les publications de periodiques et, de l’autre co@te, les reglements developpes au Canada anglais depuis le rapport de la Commission Royale Massey/Levesque de 1951. Nous etudierons le contraste entre la situation avant la redaction du rapport et la politique de financement qui lui a donne suite. Nous insisterons aussi sur l’importance des principes theoriques comme points d’une rencontre contextualisee avec la culture et nous examinerons ensuite les publications de culture generale en les comparant avec les travaux plus specialises emanant de petits groupes de recherche s’interessant a la pratique et a la theorie culturelles. Nous montrerons que sans l’intervention de l’Etat (et malgre les problemes que cela implique), ces differents domaines d’energie culturelle auraient ete moins visibles.

I probably read more non-fiction, more critical theory, contemporary theory of all sorts, than I read poetry, say, or possibly even fiction. It’s my great love; I tend to be a bit of a pedant…. I often wonder what the whole point of theory and criticism is. There seems to be more of it than there is fiction and poetry, at least in Canada. It’s become a huge industry.”

To Begin, More or Less, at the Beginning

Daniel Jones’s cri-de-coeur on the dilemmas of theory versus creation is not new, but the dynamics in Canada are far more interesting than Jones gave credit, though his own ambiguity raises the obvious problems. A distinction must be made between the theory that informs the writing, the painting, and the film and the theory that tries to account for it. And there isa point to theory, surely, when that theory is itself a creative act or comes from being creative. Is Margaret Atwood’s Survival something that emerged out of her own poetry and fiction or something that emerged from formal studies in the classes of Northrop Frye? Both her own and Frye’s critical writing have helped to frame not only the ways that we first came to think about reading Canadian literature, but sometimes also how we come to begin writing it.

In post-war Canada, culture has been negotiated cheek by jowl with theory. In fact, contrary to journalists such as Michael Coren, Robert Fulford, John Bentley Mays and Bronwen Drainie, who see “theory” as somehow arcane (academic?) and a superimposition on creative practice, theory has been central to all major works of art in Canada since at least the publication of the Massey/Levesque commission’s report in 1951. These theoretical excursions have operated in conjuction with the emergence of cultural social movements which have seen the nuances of theory as being central to their own practices. In tracing this process, this article more or less ignores Quebec and French-speaking Canada (partly out of respect, but partly also because many of the articles in this issue are concerned with Quebec) and First Nations (Peter Kulchyski’s article deals directly with that constituency). Deliberately conservative in scope (only English-speaking Canada) and in its intent (an account of what is, or seems to have been, going on), the article seeks to explore the written spaces (magazines, journals) within which we try to make connections between the culture that is produced–both by those who helped to generate it and those who inhabit the spaces opened up by that cultural energy.

Taking the Massey/Levesque commission’s report as the break-off point does, necessarily, raise the question (raised before) of why this moment is more important than others, given that most of its recommendations were not adopted, and those that were adopted came by happenstance. One answer is likely that this was the first time that a public document was issued inviting the Canadian public and its legislators not only to theorize about the culture, but to involve theory in practice. As Maria Tippett has argued in her superb study of pre-Massey/Levesque Canada, cultural practice prior to 1951 was piecemeal and ad hoc, and yet it was a lively culture, one with both urban and rural bases, and based on a combination of voluntary activity, corporate sponsorship, gobbets of patronage from the state, and foreign influences:

… what happened in English Canada from the turn of the century to the founding of the Massey Commission in 1949 has qualities that did set it apart, for in this case British, American and indigenous influences interacted in ways not present elsewhere. What was created as a result of this interplay sometimes lacked focus, being concerned with the amateur rather than the professional, and, above all, manifested itself as derivative and provincial. It none the less bespoke the existence of a serious and deeply founded interest in cultural pursuits, one which not only gave life to the “old” institutions but, in so doing, shaped and moulded the ones that came after the war.(f.2)

Tippett further records how much of the funding of the arts in English Canada prior to 1951 concentrated on Toronto and southern Ontario. The major corporations–Eaton’s, Simpson’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Canadian Pacific–as well as the office of the Governor-General, subsidized orchestras, opera companies, galleries and theatres in the greater Toronto region, largely to the exclusion of the other English-speaking provinces. The major federal cultural institutions–such as the National Gallery, the Public Archives, National Parks, Historic Sites and Monuments, the War Museum, the CBC and, later, the National Film Board–were themselves heavily dependent on talent from Ontario or imported from Britain. The small groups that operated on the west and east coasts and the prairies mainly survived entirely through their own initiatives or by droppings from the rich man’s table.

Within this structure, there were discussions about what constituted a culture, but they were rarely conducted in such a way that they could move far from the public/private dichotomy or debates about what did or did not constitute “patriotic” culture. Some of the royal commissions of the 1920s and 1930s (notably the Aird Commission on Broadcasting) broached questions of culture, but largely in jurisdictional terms. As George Woodcock has commented,

In none of the early documents relating to establishing a national broadcasting system was there much reference to radio as an instrument for cultural development or … as an agency that in some way might foster the arts. The first aims under consideration seemed to be patriotism–how to build up and sustain the image of a nation–and power–how to apportion control over a medium of unparalleled efficiency in the dissemination of information or–if the needs of propaganda required it–misinformation.(f.3)

Outside the work of the commissions, discussions around culture took place largely in relation to education or to social movements. The growth of Yiddish, Ukrainian, Finnish, and Chinese theatre formed the basis for rethinking culture as an English middle-class preserve. The development of Mechanics’ Institutes, the Workers Educational Association and the Canadian Association for Adult Education all provided the occasion for talking about and making culture. In the 1930s a series of left-wing arts groups emerged, notably the Toronto Progressive Arts Club, the Workers’ Theatre, the journal Masses, and the Allied Arts Council. In all of these the idea that culture had an ethnic as well as a class component was prominent, and thus the concept of what constituted culture was pulled out of its immediately colonial origins. The imprisonment and attempted murder of the Communist Party general secretary Tim Buck in 1932 led not only to riots at Kingston Penitentiary but, in the following year, to a play in Toronto based on the events, which attracted large audiences. Militant cultural activity continued until 1938 in “English” Canada, peaking with the victory of the loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and ultimately sputtering out with the signing of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact and the outbreak of the Second World War.

Just before the war the National Film Board of Canada was founded, with John Grierson as its first director. As documented by Joyce Nelson, this was the first full-scale organization of the media in Canada directly in the interests of national propaganda, and it occurred with the cooperation of multinational corporations. Nelson concludes that Grierson’s logic

involved the full maturation of multinational capitalism into its most “progressive” stage. Through the release of corporate mass energies, combined with full mechanization and technocratic planning, order would prevail across the planet. It was, he said, “what people in their hearts have been harking for” as the fulfillment of an era. Those who felt differently were obviously the dupe of their own amateur judgements and clearly “rotted in the old, untotal ways.”(f.4)

Canada had set itself on a route, in its relation to the media, towards building what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were to call the culture industries.(f.5) But curiously, until Nelson published her book in 1988, no one in Canada (not even Woodcock, who had a sharp eye for such things) thought of Grierson except as a “good thing.”

Massey/Levesque and its Aftermath

The Massey Commission was to examine and make recommendations on the principles that should govern national policy in respect to radio, then in its heyday, and television, which was not yet launched in Canada; inquire into the scattered federal cultural agencies already in existence and comment on their scope, activities and future development; suggest ways for Canada to relate to international bodies such as UNESCO; and study the processes responsible for starting the few cultural agencies and their relationships. “Our concern throughout,” they were to report in 1951, “was with the needs and desires of the citizens in relation to science, literature, art, music, the drama, broadcasting…. We found it necessary to attempt a general survey of the arts, letters and sciences in Canada.” In this survey, 462 briefs were submitted to the Commission by 13 federal agencies, 7 provincial governments (Quebec was not one of them), 87 national organizations, 262 local bodies (including many from Quebec), 32 commercial radio stations, and scores of private individuals. In addition, special studies were commissioned on 40 specific topics and more than 1,200 witnesses were heard in the course of 224 meetings and 10,000 miles of travel across Canada.(f.6)

In its proposals, the commission recommended, among other things, that the Canada Council be established to foster the arts, literature and research in the social sciences and humanities, and that the entire control of broadcasting be the responsibility of the CBC as a non-commercial provider of programs in radio and television but also as the adjudicator of all other broadcasting. The first proposal came into effect five years later when John Deutsch (later president of Queen’s University) persuaded J.W. Pickersgill (Secretary to the Cabinet) who in turn persuaded Prime Minister St. Laurent that the $100 million just released as death duties from the estates of two millionaires (Isaak Walton Killam and James Hamet Dunn) should be split between providing capital grants to universities and establishing the Canada Council.

In the ensuing years, academic research and funding for the arts was transformed. Initially the activities of the council were funded entirely from the estate moneys, but by 1965 the federal government increasingly provided subventions; by 1969, it had become an automatic annual vote. As Ostry commented, “The transition from patronage by elites, governors-general and private corporations to public patronage by professional culture-bureaucrats was gradual….”(f.7) In this transition, the volume of activities increased, as did the dependence of the academic and arts communities on the state.

In 1967 the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) was established to promote the making of feature films (the National Film Board made documentaries), and from the late 1950s to the late 1960s broadcasting was reorganized by separating the issues of licensing and control from the CBC (first through the board of broadcast governors, then by the Canadian Radio-Television Commission), by eliminating the CBC’s monopoly over TV and radio, but also by making the CBC reliant to a great degree on advertising for its revenue. Thus popular culture was increasingly the responsibility of corporate monopolies, even though there was some attempt through the CBC and the CFDC as well as the mandates of the CRTC to give some semblance of Canadian “content”–but it was a content that was increasingly marginalized by the presence on the air waves and in the cinemas of American products.

One other major aspect of policy in the period after the Massey/Levesque report was the creation in 1968 of a National Museums institution to incorporate and expand existing museums, including the National Gallery and the National Library. Most of the new buildings constructed to house these were not, however, completed until the early 1990s. Parks Canada consolidated and expanded its operations across the country. A National Arts Centre was opened in Ottawa in 1966. Thus were established by the end of the 1960s what Louis Althusser might have called the Ideological State Apparatuses, and most provinces followed suit with arts councils and increasing expenditure on the arts.(f.8)

Cultural Theory and the World of Massey

The period that witnessed these events also provided the moment for the emergence of some of the most significant cultural theorists to date in the histories of both English and French Canada: Northrop Frye, C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, Marshall McLuhan, Marcel Rioux, Fernand Dumont. And the death of Harold Innis just one year after the Massey/Levesque commission’s report left us with a series of manuscripts on culture and communications that were to preoccupy cultural theorists for the next 30 years. This is not to say that Massey/Levesque called cultural theory into existence, but rather that it provided the climate of opinion within which such concerns were taken seriously. The emergence of publicly funded institutions devoted to aspects of the culture thus made theorizing about culture (indeed almost any kind of theorizing) of central significance in public discourse. It is virtually impossible to think about Canadian cultural institutions in any creative way without thinking about the theorists mentioned above. For example, the nature and the quality of the work achieved in Canada after 1960 is the subject of Northrop Frye’s conclusion to the second edition of Literary History of Canada; the CRTC and CBC are a central point of his “Across the River and Out of the Trees”; the mature (and conservatively pessimistic) work of George Grant is entirely predicated on believing that in resisting the technological determinism of the USA the battle for independent institutions is too little, too late.(f.9) Even Marshall McLuhan is woven into Frye’s narrative of the idea of the Canadian nation:

Canada seems to have gone from a pre-national into a post-national phase without ever having been a nation. It very nearly became one in the Pearson period, when it took an active part in international politics, acquired a national flag, and was for a time a perceptible military and naval power…. Two books with highly significant titles appeared at the beginning and the end of this period: A.R.M. Lower’s Colony to Nation in 1946 and George Grant’s Lament for a Nation in 1965. When Trudeau became prime minister in 1968 and adopted Marshall McLuhan as one of his advisers, Canada reverted to tribalism.(f.10)

But perhaps the theorist whose work is closest to the problems raised by the relationship between culture and nation is C.B. Macpherson. In his various books on the rise of Social Credit in Alberta, on the critical importance of the bourgeoisie as possessive individualists and on the vicissitudes of the idea of democracy, he tried to prize open the connection between the notion that the idea of democracy was founded on a concept of freedom as individually owned and as collectively shared. In Democratic Theory he wrote of

two ways in which the concept of man as maximizer of utilities or infinite consumer and the concept of man as maximizer of individual human powers or as exerter, enjoyer, and developer of his human capacities can be seen to be incompatible. And I have argued that both concepts are contained in our Western democratic theory and that both have been needed by it, the first because we are still capitalist market societies, the second because our thinkers were (and are) morally revolted and our leaders were (and would be) politically endangered by the society that shaped and was shaped by the first concept alone.(f.11)

Into this dilemma of democracy enters the issue of technology, with the possibility that it will turn us all into consumers.

The technological revolution in Western nations, if left to develop within the present market structure and the present ideology, would have the immediate effect of strengthening the image of man as infinite consumer, by making consumption more attractive. As technology multiplies productivity, profitable production will require the creation of new desires and new amounts of desire…. Since profits will increasingly depend on creating ever more desire, the tendency will be for the directors of the productive system to confirm Western man’s image of himself as infinite desirer.(f.12)

Most of the debates around culture and communication hinged on Macpherson’s dichotomy. Even George Grant, whose diatribe against the appropriation of Canada by the American technological ideology might be read more soberly into Macpherson’s analysis of technology and democracy. Essentially all of the cultural theorists operated within metatheoretical frame-works which tended to overlap at certain key points. The crystalization of critical cultural theory in the 1960s included most if not always all of the following precepts:

global technology as the fetishization of rationality (Macpherson, Grant);

all of this as an American ideology;(f.13)

the nature of specific Canadian cultural community/communities;(f.14)

the well-springs of creativity and self/collective realization as psychology, politics or economics, or control of technology;(f.15)

the specifics of Canadian imagination as revealed in the fine arts, film, literature;(f.16)

both the government and the market as patrons;(f.17)

the limits to satisfaction.(f.18)

The advent of serious public funding for the arts has highlighted these issues in ways that would have been less likely had the state not been involved. And the issues continue to dominate as Canadian culture comes to terms with the economic policies of the 1990s and beyond.

In short, what the new initiatives did, however elitist the language of the commissioners, was to provide the occasions within which theorizing could take on a new form linked to specific social and cultural movements. The most manifest example of this activity, it could be argued, was in the production of magazines.

Before turning to these, however, let me interject a brief note about the subsequent official thinking on culture in Canada. The growth of the amount of money spent on culture meant, of course, the growth of a cultural bureaucracy, and this growth raised problems for politicians who had to answer to their constituents. The pat answer (if the politician was intelligent) was that culture was an industry like any other and therefore the expenditure on culture could be measured by the amount of money it generated and the jobs it produced. In this all governments found a willing accountant in Paul Audley, who first emerged on the scene in 1983 with a book called Canada’s Cultural Industries: Broadcasting, Publishing, Records and Film, and who subsequently provided reports commissioned by the Ontario and federal governments. To deal with culture as part of industry was, of course, to give part of the game away to all the other accountants and, incidentally, to render a disservice to the cultural “workers.” As George Woodcock wrote, commenting on Audley’s first book:

To treat the artist as a businessman simplifies matters for taxation officials who have no desire to trouble themselves with the special circumstances under which artists work. And to treat the arts as part of an industry simplifies funding and organization so far as the bureaucrats in offices like the Department of Communications and the Treasury Board are concerned. It also satisfies the business-minded average Canadian who lives by the profit motive and finds it hard to accept that artists maketo the community a contribution that cannot be valued in money. But it does endless harm to the cause of the arts.(f.19)

What the culture industry sobriquet also does is to lump together a range of activities which have only the thinnest commonality and, ultimately (because governments are interested primarily in cutting costs and making money), it puts the media of technological communications in the primary position while the arts are indifferently located.(f.20) Thus, when the Conservative government of 1979 set up a new review of culture it was not concerned, as Massey was, with “Arts, Letters and Science” but with “Cultural Policy,” and each of its recommendations was not directed (as Massey was) towards elaborating a vision, but much more directly towards making the cultural bureaucrats’ work comfortable. The tendency, revealed strongly in the federal Cultural Review Board’s recommendations, was progressively to emasculate the major cultural agencies by insisting on a profit motive and by centralizing decisions under bureaucratic control. From the fluidity of cultural movements and patronage of the pre-Massey days, the increasing funding of culture had produced two tendencies: the consideration of all culture in business terms, and the priority given to civil servants rather than creative artists in determining how decisions should be made and what they should be.(f.21)

Unprofitable Magazines and the Concept of Cultural Movement

I am not interested in Theory, I am interested in going on theorizing.(f.22)

What we need and want above all is a program designed to find and develop writers and readers, good writers and readers. Publishing is an art, not a business, and the art of publishing is to find and develop writers, Canadian writers, and then to cultivate an audience for their work…. Money isn’t just for getting; it’s also for spending.”(f.23)

In Audley’s 1983 study there is no consideration of serious magazine or journal publishing in Canada. There is a chapter devoted to magazines, but it deals exclusively with Maclean-Hunter (popular) publications and their American competitors. It therefore does not address what the Canada Council was set up to do. And, of course, it is with all these other intellectual and scholarly publications that the cultural life of the country is involved, not with Maclean’s, which at best is a journal of record. The theories involved in coming to terms with Canadian culture are not, of course, developed in the pages of the Globe and Mail or on the CBC or even on TVOntario, but in reviews such as Parallelogramme, the Canadian Forum, Open Letter, border/lines or The Canadian Journal of Social and Political Theory. It rarely occurs in the specialized academic journals directly linked to membership in a “discipline” association, whose relation to academic life is largely comparable to that of dictionaries of quotations to serious writing: for the most part no one actually reads them, but they are useful from time to time if we want to confirm that so-and-so actually said what we thought they said or expected him or her to have said (only in America do academics actually believe that academic journals contain “knowledge”).

Serious magazines and journals are necessarily involved in the social and cultural movements that they address. Sometimes they may seem perverse, wild, even silly, but they take the state of the culture seriously and their engagement is lively. Even more important, these magazines or journals are the productive sites of creativity and discourse, more than the mere academicization or journalistic simplification of such discourse and energy. The balance is a fine, but important one. For example, a magazine like Canadian Art represents a particularly conservative perspective in Canadian criticism, where movements are reacted to rather than generated, where First Nations artists are largely written about by Scottish Canadians rather than by themselves and, where professional journalists can turn themselves into instant art critics if they have a good “story” line. The popular magazine is concerned with the “bottom line.”

On the other hand, the art magazines C and Parallelogramme (the magazine of the parallel galleries) as well as Parachute (the Montreal-based magazine of contemporary art) have over the years systematically encountered the pertinent issues of art and representation, the various debates between fine art and video, virtual reality, performance art and music, without being afraid of engaging contemporary social theory. Until their premature deaths in the late 1980s, they were joined by Vanguard, then published in Vancouver by the Society for Critical Arts Productions, and Impulse, more or less the personal fiefdom of Eldon Garnet, addressing all the creative arts but with a strong emphasis in its later years on the visual. The striking feature of all these magazines is their conscious awareness of the life struggles of the contemporary artist, their search for a space in which to situate Canadian art within an international group of movements and experiments, and their discussion of shared/different languages. Whereas Canadian Art and its predecessor arts Canada are generally celebratory of achievements and individuals, places, objects (many of their pieces could have been written for Air Canada’s en route or the Hudson’s Bay Company’s The Beaver). In the critical writing about art in Canada, four features stand out in magazines funded by public bodies: they are not afraid of using theory to explore what art is about; they are self-reflexive about the relationship between art, politics, society and even the fact of writing about art; they directly serve Canada’s non-mainstream artistic communities; and, perhaps most important, they help to create a group of writers and critics who are looking for a more than a human interest story. For art to develop it must be part of a knowable community, not just by transmission in the popular media (and Canadian Art must surely see itself as addressing a “popular” or middle-class audience) but also in a forum where ideas and the creation of art are shared by those who debate and practice it. The distinction is surely between the critics who popularize and depend on the works of others (e.g. the writers for the newspapers and mass magazines) and those who are concerned with creativity itself. Much of what passes for art criticism in Canada displays a fear of ideas and a hostility to both academics and commitment to social or cultural movements. Serious art journals have confronted these issues head-on.

Similar arguments might be made about the other magazines and journals that position themselves as observers and makers of culture. Literature, for example, is served by at least eight journals that address English-Canadian writing, another six or seven magazines that in one way or another discuss the specifics of either Canadian or international literature (and this is quite apart from those magazines/journals which are dedicated to publishing poetry or fiction). The issue, of course, is not that there are eight, 10 or 15, but what formative creative presence they occupy on the Canadian and international literary scene: “creative” in this sense alsomeans what theoretical presence. In an article on “English-Canadian Literature Periodicals: Text, Personality and Dissent,” Frank Davey has argued that all of the eight journals he discusses

focus principally on the theorization of English-Canadian writing. By theorization I mean not only inquiry into the relationship between texts and cultural practice, into the process by which meanings are constructed, or into the implicit and explicit assumptions of literary interpretation, but also explication, interpretation and evaluation, the process by which the particulars of texts are assigned connections with epistemological categories, their meanings are abstracted, their cultural functions hypothesized.(f.24)

Davey goes on to note the overlap in “membership” and theoretical concerns among many of the journals, and even his personal involvement, directly or indirectly, in six of the eight publications he investigates. If there is something of a self-serving exercise in all this (“these journals occupy a crucial node in a network”), in identifying their persistence (“the educational formation of those who write, edit and publish texts and those who consume them”) Davey does put his finger on the importance of those journals that act as the focus for an intellectual community (“constructions that are available within the journals, and that serve as devices by which they attempt to intervene in cultural debate”). But Davey reveals something of a talent for inventing or anticipating cultural movements: “There are notably no critical journals in Canada that operate openly from ethnic, regional or economic grounds…. There is a need for more positions, and for many more primary representations.” What is made available to us here is the notion that literary criticism only flourishes if it comes from sites of representation and if it displays a discourse between different “positions.” Thus circulation and sales figures are of less significance than their variety of positions and a critical readership which engages across these positions. Arguably Canadian Literature, with one of the larger circulations, extending its readership to high schools and the “general public” and concentrating on well-known authors, is less significant in generating a creative catalyst than, say Open Letter or the feminist Tessera, with much smaller circulations.(f.25) Without going into the details of the contents of the various journals, which Davey covers with a sophisticated finesse, it is clear that this diversity is due to the existence of the Canada Council, SSHRC and other government funding bodies (notably the Ontario Arts Council). But, as Davey comments,

The granting of this funding, however, is usually biased toward eclectic coverage and size of readership–policies which encourage the general journal with its various secondary representations, and disadvantage special constituencies. Council juries complain about being asked to finance “cliques” and “coteries”…. The “general,” in Canadian terms, usually translates into canonical writers and Central Canada.(f.26)

The issue, then, is that theory-driven magazines not only have an influence significantly out of proportion to their sales, but also that they are representative of productive meeting points between creative writers and critics, something which rarely happens in more general magazines. In fact, all of the above magazines owe something to the remarkable literary movement that formed in Vancouver around the magazine Tish, which ran from 1961 to 1969 and included among its members poets and critics influential in Canadian literature for the next three decades, including George Bowering, Frank Davey, Fred Wah, David Dawson, Daphne Marlatt and Gladys Hindmarsh. As the retrospective collection Beyond Tish (Douglas Barbour, ed, Edmonton: Newest, 1991) displays, the vitality of that collective now extends to new creative and critical work across Canada. It is also important to note that Canadian Literature, operating out of different theoretical concerns, was also founded in Vancouver–by George Woodcock in 1959.(f.27)

But even if we consider “general” and interdisciplinary magazines, there are problems in the way that arts agencies conceive of their mandate. The Canada Council effectively sees its mandate as extending to arts and literary magazines and journals while SSHRC covers “academic” journals (which are normally although not necessarily expected to have a “disciplinary” base). Some of the literary journals (e.g. Essays in Canadian Writing) are funded by SSHRC while others (e.g. Open Letter) by the Canada Council. (Both also receive support from the Ontario Arts Council.) Most magazines that fall into a more interdisciplinary category are in double jeopardy: they are not “general” enough to be “popular” nor do they have a “disciplinary” base. Further, if they are seen by the Canada Council to be too general (usually meaning too political or “social” and not literary or artistic enough), they run the risk of being cut off because they do not fit obvious categories. Thus the Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory ceased publication in 1992 because of problems with its SSHRC funding, compounded by increased postal rates for a magazine that was more a book of the year than a journal.(f.28) This Magazine, which has had as its main contributors and editors Margaret Atwood, Susan Crean, Rick Salutin and Mel Watkins, has had constant problems with its arts coverage, while border/lines, with its interdisciplinary approach to cultural studies, is systematically told that it lacks focus as an arts/literature magazine. What these publications do represent, however, is the sense of various cultural movements and notions of representation that are quite distinct from those provided by the mainstream media. In spite of the tug-of-war with funding bodies, it is clear that they would never have a presence without public funds. With both the more general political and arts magazines such as The Canadian Forum (funded by the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council) and the more narrowly focused theoretical academic journals such as Studies in Political Economy (funded by SSHRC), the above serials have provided a theoretical vantage-point for viewing Canadian culture.

In conclusion, an important feature of English-Canadian culture since some of the Massey recommendations took effect has been the emergence of a new dynamic between those creating inside the university and those creating outside it. In an important article on Canadian cultural studies, Will Straw has pointed to the “growing weight and allure of cultural theory within artistic practices, and in the scenes which surround them.” He goes on to argue that

The influential magazines within English-Canadian cultural studies–Public, Parallelogram, cineAction, border/lines and many others-have grown within the overlapping spaces of graduate student cultures, editorial collectives and the parallel gallery system, and have not, for the most part, been attached to university or commercial publishers. While the initial concerns of most of these publications took shape around specific artistic media or relatively coherent political projects, most have moved, in the course of their histories, to participation in a broader and morediverse intellectual dialogue.(f.29)

This suggests the importance of focusing on magazines/journals as the points where thinking about and making culture interact, and seeing them as signifying vectors of a nascent culture. Journals such as Tessera and the Canadian Journal of Women’s Studies show the different spectrums of Canadian feminism, while various other cultural journals (Public, border/lines, cineAction, Parallelogramme, Alphabet City) display something of how these concerns are fed into wider discourses. The funding they receive, from whatever sources, does not make them more than what the people who work with them want them to be. But because of their fragile existence, individually and collectively networking between people of quite distinct interests, positions and backgrounds has created a set of grounds for discourse where none previously existed. If this is not as comprehensive as the national media claims that it is, nor indeed as some of us would like it to be, it nevertheless indicates the absolute centrality of magazines and journals to the growth of a culture.

A comprehensive account of the inter-dependence of publishing and cultural action has yet to be produced. Its writing would surely display the importance of “cliques” and theory (however maligned) in defining what culture is potentially and actually about. For all their disagreements, Innis, Frye, Grant and Macpherson would be enchanted in seeing how critical theory has assumed a significant, if oppositional, space in the thinking and making of Canadian culture.


(f.1) Daniel Jones, “Talking with Jones,” Open Letter 8, 9 (1994), 109.

(f.2) Maria Tippett, Making Culture: English-Canadian Institutions and the Arts Before the Massey Commission (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), xii,

(f.3) George Woodcock, Strange Bedfellows: The State and the Arts in Canada (Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas and Mclntyre, 1985), 37.

(f.4) Joyce Nelson, The Colonized Eye: Rethinking the Grierson Legend (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1988), 167.

(f.5) Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (trs John Cumming) (London: Allen Lane, 1973), 120-67.

(f.6) Bernard Ostry, The Cultural Connection (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978), 61-62.

(f.7) Ostry, ibid., 102.

(f.8) Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (trs Ben Brewster) (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 127-86.

(f.9) George Grant, Lament for a Nation (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1965).

(f.10) Northrop Frye, The Bush Garden (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1980), 6.

(f.11) C. B. Macpherson, Democratic Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 35.

(f.12) Macpherson, ibid., 38.

(f.13) The debate circulates around the work of Jacques Ellul, but also that of Horkheimer/Adorno, and more recently Jean Baudrillard. For a Canadian critique, see H. T. Wilson, The American Ideology (London: Routledge, 1977).

(f.14) The most important attempt to come to terms with this in relation to major signifying Canadian communities is Susan Crean and Marcel Rioux, Two Nations (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1983). See also the perceptive review of this project by Raymond Morrow (1982). The debate that Rioux and Crean initiated in their critical theoretical collaboration has not yet been taken further.

(f.15) There is nothing that systematically grabs these subjects at present, though Fawcett (Cambodia. A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow [Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1986] and in his subsequent work) positions us in the space where we have to take them as being serious everyday concerns. The collection edited by Valda Blundell, John Shepherd and lan Taylor represents a beginning in thinking through the issues.

(f.16) There are, of course, many versions of individual sagas of exploration, as well as a lot of meaningless hagiography written by journalists. Film offers an idea of what this might look like: consider, perhaps, Thirty-Nine Short Films About Glenn Gould?

(f.17) The books by Tippett, Woodcock, Ostry and Helwig, are certainly important introductions, but there are also many other, shorter accounts in journals and magazines where the recipients of “arms-length” largesse have even more critical things to say.

(f.18) In his book The Limits to Satisfaction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), William Leiss concluded by observing that

The abundance we have created is deceptive, in that we cannot perceive the depth of our dissatisfaction with the social forms through which we produce and consume it. We only need to change those forms in order to realise the immense potentialities for individual self-fulfilment that already exist in the world around us. The possibilities for satisfaction that might be drawn from different forms of productive activity and of our relationship to non-human nature, and that are now so deeply suppressed, can minister to our needs far more effectively than can any new assortment of goods.

(f.19) Woodcock, ibid., 124-25.

(f.20) In a different context, Jody Berland (“Free Trade and Canadian Music: Level Playing Field or Scorched Earth?” Cultural Studies V, 3 [1991], 317-25) examines the effect of free trade on Canadian music. This reminds us that Audley and Levitt were protesting against American take-overs. But the issue at least in one important respect is that of where to work:

Canadian composers and musicians’ associations and magazines show that Canadian agents, producers, musicians and owners of independent labels have been angry and disturbed at the difficulty of working within their own national market. This doesn’t mean that they don’t share the aspiration of making it in the US, but rather they want to retain their own country–still a different country with different experiences, tastes and sounds, not to mention economic institutions and ideologies–as somewhere to start and somewhere to come back to, and for some, as somewhere to stay.

(f.21) It is instructive to compare four books about cultural policy that appeared at the end of the 1970s and in the first half of the 1980s. Bernard Ostry’s The Cultural Connection (1978), while written with some style, wit and intelligence, is clearly the mandarin’s book, concerned with telling the inner story of political decision-making and emphasizing policy formation from the perspective of the system as a whole. Paul Audley’s Canada’s Cultural Industries (Ottawa: Canadian Institute for Economic Policy, 1983) is limited to dealing with those as aspects of culture where “the process of individual or collective crcation and expression leads to the manufacturing or electronic diffusion of the resulting product” (xxii). In this, Audley is able to place culture in the same category as other industries and to develop arguments which are similar to, say, Kan Levitt’s in the 1975 classic Silent Surrender (Toronto: James, Lewis and Samuel), which monitored the take-over of Canadian natural resources by the USA. The other two books have a distinctively alternative slant. In David Helwig’s 1980 collection titled Love and Money: The Politics and Culture, authors, theatre workers and publishers discussed aspects of the problem of being a cultural worker in Canada. The writing is direct, concerned, out of personal experience. Then there is Woodcock’s Strange Bedfellows, which incorporates material from all these studies to make the ultimate case for the arts: “(The arts’) real contributions are not in taxes paid or jobs created or propaganda provided, but in the irradiation of our lives by the gifts of the imagination, and it is for this reason that the community, which in present political circumstances happens to operate through the state, must support them, and that whether or not they make money in any way is quite irrelevant” (130). But the most important book on the problems is in my opinion Blundell et. al., which teases out all the issues of what constitutes Canadian culture. To my knowledge, no major Canadian newspaper has yet reviewed it.

(f.22) Stuart Hall, “On Postmodernism and Articulation,” Journal of Communication Inquiry 10, 2 (1986), 60.

(f.23) Michael Macklem, “Seed Money,” in David Helwig (ed.), Love and Money: The Politics of Culture (Toronto: Oberon Press, 1980), 43.

(f.24) Frank Davey, “English-Canadian Literature Periodicals, Text, Personality and Dissent,” Open Letter 8, 5/6 (1993), 67.

(f.25) Two other journals which play a role somewhere between the general and the theoretical in literature are Brick, based on a format of interviews, articles and creative writing, and born of the Linda Spalding/Michael Ondaatje partnership; and Books in Canada, which tries to provide reviews and articles from a wide spectrum of Canadian publishing houses and authors. Their reach, and that of the Montreal-based magazine Matrix, at once less theoretical and more creative, must be somewhat different from that of Canadian Literature

(f.26) Davey, ibid., 77.

(f.27) It is important to note, as Woodcock does (66-67) that these early journals as well as other literary ventures were started without the help of Canada Council money. However, the subsequent expansion of literary publishing, particularly of magazines and journals, is inconceivable without the funds provided by the Canada Council, SSHRC, and the Ontario Arts Council.

(f.28) The journal was relaunched in 1993 as an “electronic journal focusing on theory, technology and culture from a critical perspective.” As of November 1994, two volumes have been issued, numbers 16 and 17. This venture indicates the possibilityof a new development in magazine/cultural movements through electronic networking. An earlier transition from a print to an electronic “magazine” occurred with Swift Current. See Frank Davey, “Swift Current Returns,” border/lines 18(1990), 15-16.

(f.29) Will Straw, “Shifting Boundaries, Lines of Descent,” in Valda Blundell et. al. (eds.), Relocating Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1993), 86-102.

loan Davies, Professor at York University, is the author of African Trade Unions (1966), Social Mobility and Political Change (1970), Writers in Prison (1990) and Cultural Studies and Beyond: Fragments of Empire (1995)

Copyright Trent University Spring 1995

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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