Should we begin Again?

So the end of English 222 is here. If we followed Green Grass Running Water we would just simply begin again right? I think that if given the choice, I would take this course from the beginning again. I really enjoyed the beginning of the course. The idea of beginning again is great because we get to find out the things that we missed the first time around.

Looking for allusions in Canadian literature has helped me to realize just how hidden Canadian history is. Sure we get the bits and pieces that make Canada look good, but there are always pieces missing and in order to get the full story, we must search for them. While reading Thomas Kings’ book I have learnt to not simply accept the version of a story that is given to us, but to look for other meaning behind it. For instance many times in class people assumed that First Woman was Eve, instead of letting her be her own character. Many have accepted the story of Adam and Eve as being THE creation story and instead of looking for new creations stories we accept the one that has been told to us. The same can be said for Canadian history and literature. I have learnt that many have accepted the European or Euro-Canadian version of history  and because they simply accept it they do not go searching for other versions of Canadian literature and history. I believe that after finishing this course I have become someone who is not going to simply accept the stories that have been given to me and will instead look deeper into Canada and find out what other aspects of Canada that have been hidden.

I hope everyone else enjoyed looking for Canadian allusions as much as I did!

 

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Understanding the Past

At one point, Irv, a friend of Barney’s says “remember how when we were young the pepsis marched down Main chanting ‘Death to the Jews’ and Le Devoir read like it got its ideas from Julius Streicher?” (202). This one sentence is packed with allusions, allusions that I was for the most part unfamiliar with. Let me see if I can break down all the allusions is this sentence.

The first thing I had to look up was the part about ‘pepsis’. Luckily for me there was a footnote about this. Pepsi was used to describe French-Canadians because they have a stereotype of drinking pepsi for breakfast. I am not really sure where this comes from.

In the 1930s-1940s a fascist group was created in Montreal and was led by Adrien Arcand. This group was named the Parti National Social Chrétien or in English the Christian National Socialist Party. This party brought on anti-Semitic rallying, boycotts, propaganda and literature. It also would encourage other Nazi-like organizations to form in Canada. It is likely that some, if not all of the pepsis shouting “Death to the Jews” were part of the Parti National Social Chrétien.

Le Devoir is a French newspaper in Montreal. Julius Streicher was a prominent Nazi writer who had a newspaper in Germany called Der Stürmer which he was used as propaganda for the Nazi party. He also had a publishing firm that published Anti-Semitic books for children.  To have the paper appear as though Streicher, a man who was later convicted and executed for crimes against humanity shows the amount of Antisemitism that was coming out of Montreal.

Okay so now that I fully understand the allusions in this quote I am able to better understand the Antisemitism in Montreal. Sure the having people shout ‘Death to the Jews’ should have instantly made me realize how bad Antisemitism was in Montreal, but the added image of Streicher-esque writing and Antisemitic political groups allowed me to fully understand just how bad it really was.

 

While analyzing this one sentence I have been able to see just how different my Canada and Barney/Richler’s Canada is. Today Antisemitism is absolutely wrong, but for Richler it is something seem everyday and something as that he had to deal with everyday as a Jewish Canadian. Barney talks about these things with Irv as though is remembering the good ol’ times of his childhood instead of the terrors. This is another example of how aspects of Canadian history have been hidden in the shadows.

Loving and Hating Barney

I have a love/hate feeling toward Barney. I love the way that he talks about Miram, his third wife. He is so cute when he is trying to convince her to go out with him. But when he is with the second Mrs. Panofsky he is such a mean, distant husband. To be fair his description of the second Mrs. Panofsky is not a very nice one, but then again it is his description of her.

I think this relation goes very well with my love/hate relationship with Canadian history. Throughout most of my high school education I learned about the good side of Canadian history. Canada as a peacekeeper, the polite, nice country. But then I learn about Japanese Interment camps, Residential schools and other historical events pushed into the background.

What I like about Barney, is unlike Canada, he does not hide his bad history, but shows the reader every side of him. He is not trying to hide his faults but puts it out for the world to see.

Unintentional Allusion: The Albino Canada

So allusions can be intentional and unintentional right?

While reading Barney’s Version there was one point in the book that I thought was alluding to the Canadian literature “canon”, but I knew was not really. This part was when Barney marries his first wife Clara because she is pregnant. Seven months into her pregnancy she has a stillborn child, who turn out to be not to be Barney’s child because the baby is half African American.

I thought alluded to the fact that Canadians so desperately wanted to have an identity, they accepted the white-dominated literature to be a representation for Canada, forgetting about any of the culture not represented under this supposed canon.

Just as Barney believes the child is his, Canada (or at least Canadians represented in the canon) believes that the literature is Canadian.

Of course some of the literature did represent part of Canada, but not all of it. As pointed out in class it was not until 1960’s that Aboriginal Peoples in Canada began to find their voice through literature.

Richler, of course would not have been a writer who was omitted from this canon which is why this is an unintentional allusion. It is often stated that he is part of the Canadian canon. He was a white Canadian. Sure he was Jewish, but as pointed out multiple times in the novel, being Jewish was not always a bad thing.  In the novel Barney shows this by using his the threat of another Holocaust to convince people to fund the United Jewish Appeal.

When the doctor asks Barney is the child’s baby and Barney says that he is the doctor answers by saying, “you must be an albino” (117). I think that this completely summarizes what the Canon did for Canada. It made all of Canada appear to be from European decent, forgetting about the Aboriginal Peoples and those of hyphenated identities who immigrated to Canada. The multiculturalness that Canada is so proud of today did not exist in the literature Canon.

Barney’s Version – The Life of a Trice Married Canadian

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler is an autobiography written by Barney Panofsky, a Jewish Canadian living in Montreal. He separates his story into three sections, one for each of his ex-wives. His first section on his ex-wife Clara spans from 1950-1952, from the day they meet to her suicide. He then goes moves onto his second wife, who is only known as the second Mrs. Panofsky. He is only married to his second wife for two years of his life from 1958-1960 as she is found to be cheating on him with his best friend. Barney is later accused of murdering this best friend, Boogie. His third and final wife is married to him for almost 30 years. Miriam still holds his heart despite their divorce.

When first looking at the three parts of the novel I thought that the story would be told chronologically (the dates he is married to each wife is stated at the beginning of each part, so one might assume that those would be the dates that the), but Barney tells his story in a very non-linear way weaving in and out of his stories, pausing half way through one story to tell another that he finds more interesting. When I first started reading it, I found it to be confusing and slightly annoying, but as I became accustomed to his storytelling technique I began to enjoy it. His odd sense of story telling reminded me of my first impression of GGRW, where I was constantly confused in the beginning, but as I got to the end, the change in perspectives, just was another part of the story, not a burden when reading.

As Barney goes through the novel his memory of certain events begins to diminish as he is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He is an unreliable narrator. But I feel that this unreliability makes him more human and realistic. I mean who really remembers every second of their life well enough to present it reliably enough in an autobiography without making some mistakes?

I’m excited to start looking for Canadian-ness allusions. There are a lot of obvious allusions to Canadian-ness (i.e. Barney is stereotypically obsessed with hockey even going so far as listening to the game on his wedding night), but I look forward to looking for those not-so-obvious allusions.

So Many Choices!

I am not entirely sure what book I want to read. For English Honours I will have to read Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen. I don’t have to read it until March though. The book sounds interesting, plus if I read it for this class it might be interesting to see the different points of views that I get just because I am studying it in a different class. But will that sort of count as cheating reading the same book for two different classes? Or is it like hitting two birds with one stone?

I am really interested in reading something by Mordecai Richler as I said in Where is Canada. I have looked up the The Apprenticeship of Buddy Kravitz, Barney’s Novel , Joshua Then and Now and Solomon Gursky Was Here and all four sound pretty interesting.

I tried to read Life of Pi a while ago but for some reason was unable to finish the book. I have heard many great things about it, so maybe it is about time I tried reading it again.

The one last book I can think of that might be good is Obasan by Joy Kogawa. I was told by a friend that it is about the Canadian-Japanese people who were forced to go into the internment camps during WWII.

There are so many possibilities… I just can’t choose!

Plus as I read everyone else’s blogs and what they want to read my list grows longer and longer!

* Just as an update, my group and I have decided to read …. none of these books. We are actually going to be reading the Gum Thief. I am really excited about this because usually I read books that are based in places places outside of Canada or if they are in Canada, ones not based in Vancouver. It will be interesting to see the difference in perspectives that I have with the author concerning Vancouver. And possibly to see not only Canadian-ness-ness (as Erika says), but maybe a little Vancouver-ness-ness.

** Another update… We are actually going to be reading Barney’s Version by Mordcai Richler. Here is our site: http://jjjbarneysversion.wordpress.com/. This novel is placed in Montreal, so it will be interesting to see how I consider Canadian-ness in Vancouver compares to what Canadian-ness means in Montreal.