The Identity Project: The Atlantic Half
Last updated on 2019-08-24
About the Book
So far this serial novel is about 200 pages long, with three of eight planned chapters already published. If you buy the book, you will receive new chapters for free, until the book is complete.
1. "The Meeting", in which our heroes and their purpose are presented to the members of the Canadian Society for Heritage, Identity and Tradition.
2. "Flight", in which Clark and Duncan argue over the relative authority of the professor and the poet, and Zulecken explains their difference of opinion.
3. "The Treeplanter's Tale, Part One", in which Clark encounters his first real Canadian, and hears half of a coming of age story in a working language to which he is not accustomed.
Excerpt from Chapter One: The Meeting
'But all of our efforts at sustaining our culture in this way, as earnest as they have been, have unfortunately failed - yes, I say failed - to provide us with a single, defining source to consult when we are led, by those forces foreign and domestic that would divide us, to question what that unique cultural identity really is. The genius behind this frightening insight into such a fundamental oversight' - here Zulecken again paused for another sip of water, allowing the audience to relish his rhetorical flourish - 'is the recognition that we who have been labouring to define this unifying identity have been doing so _without any authoritative, established, definitive and explicit center of our own_. Yes, I can see from the looks on your faces that the scales have begun to fall from your eyes, as they did from mine, when I was first privileged with this clear and ingenious insight.
'How can we have been so blind, I wondered. Between all of the classes, all of the books and magazines, between all of the films and documentaries, between all of the funding and grants and conferences and studies and plays and acts and poems and novels and awards shows, and, uh, researches and journalisms and stories and textbooks and biographies and monographs and indeed commercials, that have been produced to promote this great cultural project, there is no single, definitive, authoritative source for our people to consult when the question of Canadian identity arises.' This time it was a slow shaking of heads and an exchange of worried looks that acknowledged the crowd's agreement. 'There is no _Encyclopédie_, no great novel, no single work of any kind that we can consult for an answer to this great question. And of course there is no constitution to which we can refer, at least not in the American sense - and there never will be, as long as our loyal, independent heritage is conserved in the, uh, unwritten traditions preserved, ah, unwritten in the minds of our best, that is, I mean to say, ah, minds and leaders.' Sip.
'But fortunately for us, there is a man, the very man who first brought this great Canadian mistake, I mean, uh, gap, to my attention, who is willing, both willing and able to - to fill this gap, as it were, or rather, to, ah, stopper this great cultural hole.' At this point Zulecken, somewhat flustered by the turn his speech had taken, turned to his left, to direct the attention of the audience to the evening's as yet silent speaker, who was still sitting with a dignified air at the table where Zulecken had left him. 'I am speaking, of course, of a man familiar to all of us who are involved in the great Canadian national cultural crusade: Professor Gordon Donald Clark.'
Politely enthusiastic applause broke out as the audience turned its gaze upon their hero, the esteemed scholar and cultural personality, the aforenamed Clark.
To the casual observer, he appeared, naturally enough, to be just another friendly white-collar Canadian approaching the later stages of middle age, with his medium height, his greying and gradually disappearing hair, the somehow comforting paunch protruding from beneath his my-wife-bought-it-for-me sweater, his slightly weathered khakis, and his cheap dark brown leather boating shoes.
But to the informed observer, it was his eyes that held the promise that there was, indeed, a remarkable personality beneath such evident mediocrity. For those eyes, which appeared at first glance in the guise of an inconspicuous washed-out blue, and which seemed to express, with their slightly retreated focus and dim glint, nothing more than that sense of earnest distance which betrays the universal Canadian desire to be liked - such eyes could only be taken by those who knew of the man's national achievements to be, by virtue of their evident banality, deeply deceptive.
For where, the observer had to ask, was there any indication in their humble appearance, that from behind those eyes stared the brain of a man who, in his youth, had won the silver medal upon graduating from the University of Toronto's famous Albert College, and who as a student had had the rare honour of having been tutored jointly by those great eminences of intellectual fame, Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye? Should there not be some sign of a redoubtable, dominating personality in the gaze of a man who had since the age of 28 been a tenured professor at that very same college, who had for decades been a leading figure in his chosen academic specialty, Canadian Literature, and whose renown was unmatched amongst CanLit professors across the country? Why was there no mark in his sensitive brow of his deep connection to the land, which he had expressed in his many groundbreaking articles on the subject of nature and landscape in the Canadian novel? For what reason was there no indication in his bearing or his countenance that this was a man who had won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction, not once, or twice, but _three_ times, and who had even met _the Queen_ once at Rideau Hall in Ottawa?
Surely, faced with the fact of such weak eyes on such a celebrated man, the observer had to conclude that the answer to this paradox must lie in his own internal failure of judgment, in his own personal incapacity to recognize the signs of true greatness; and it must be the limitations of his own intelligence which cause him to see only cheerful mediocrity where so many awards, and indeed induction into nothing less than the nation's pantheon, that elevated institution nominated with grand quixocitism the Order of Canada, proved without question that there must be much more dwelling somewhere within the acclaimed man than his apparent ordinariness, and his habitually sweet confusion, would indicate.
In response to the applause, Clark slowly inclined his head, as though to suggest that he did not deserve such recognition, but at the same time to acknowledge that he politely accepted the fact that the audience genuinely believed he did.
Suddenly, however, he redirected his gaze, with something approaching a stern look, towards Zulecken, who had joined in the applause, but had unfortunately kept his hands too close to the microphone as he had done so. As a result, the heavy moderator's own enthusiastic clapping was reverberating painfully and awkwardly around the room. Zulecken, though, mistakenly took Clark's attention as a sign that he should continue clapping, and so only redoubled his efforts. Indeed, he began to drown out the applause of the audience, and many stopped clapping in order to put their hands to better use - that is, to protect their abused ears. Finally, Clark was driven to raise and lower his outstretched right hand, glaring angrily as he sent the unfortunate signal to a confused Zulecken, who only redoubled his adulatory efforts before he finally stopped clapping on his own account, and turned to face the audience, which stared at him in stunned silence.
'Professor Clark's many accomplishments in the field of Canadian Literature require no recounting before the members of our Society,' Zulecken continued, 'but it is of course conventional to list some of any speaker's accomplishments nonetheless, and it is my great pleasure to be in a position to carry out this traditional duty. There are, of course, too many achievements to recount in the brief time we have available tonight, and so, sadly, I will cite only those works most relevant to the matter at hand, in order to limit the length of this introduction.' Some applause.
'Professor Clark first came to prominence as a contributor to our nation's cultural self-awareness with his stunning first book, _The Median is the Message: Canada's International Literary Reputation_, which bravely investigated the cunning manner in which Canadian authors have spread their unnoticed influence all over the world, eschewing the blunt instrument of writing so-called "great" works, and thus by writing "mediocre" works carrying out a sophisticated critique of that, uh, outdated colonial fiction of hierarchical superiority in the evaluation of literature, so selfishly abused by our self-promoting southern neighbours in the establishment of their competitive form of literary fame and the correspondingly vulgar form of their unfortunately vast influence.'
Particularly pleased with that one, Zulecken rewarded himself with another sip of water, as he let the impact of his words sink in to his evidently stunned audience.
'And, as though he intended with sublimity to stun our nation out of its unreflective apathy, by confronting Canadians with too much to consider at once, this first work of the young Professor Clark, which sent shockwaves throughout the emerging institution of Canadian Studies, was followed a mere eight years later by the equally brilliant and groundbreaking _From Me to Thee to We: The Role of National Unity in Literary Representations of Canadian Identity_, a remarkable work which established in a new critical language the connection between Canada's unique brand of cultural nationalism, which combines keeping us together into both an end and a means, and the literary representation of its people.' A sip from Zulecken, and squinting contemplation from everyone else.
'But as great as these two seminal works were, it was Professor Clark's next contribution to the Canadian literary community that was destined to utterly change our understanding of the crucial role played by nature and the landscape in Canadian literature. I'm speaking, of course, of the even more seminal _Peace, Order and Good Wonderment: The Use of Awe in the Representation of Landscape in Canadian Literature_, which has been a standard reference work in Canadian Literature courses since its publication.
'And most recently, of course, there is his Governor General's Award-winning masterpiece, _Now You GG, Now You Don't: The Ups and Downs of Fame in Canadian Literary Biography_, which charts with exceptional circumspection the commanding position that is held by our national awards system as it guides the establishment of literary reputation in the self-perception of our nation.' Sip.
'Half of any one of these works,' continued Zulecken, 'would have been enough to earn tenure and establish a significant presence on the CanLit stage. But taken together, and even excluding his many articles and conference papers, they have established Professor Clark as the leading authority on our nation's literature. That great accomplishment, however, has not been enough for this industrious figure, and it leads me to the subject that has brought us together on this historic occasion.
'For Professor Clark, after many years of contemplation, has come to the radical and, if I may, revolutionary conclusion that the study of fiction cannot offer a complete account of Canadian identity.
'He has seen that what is missing in this analysis is an account, a comprehensive account, of real Canadian lives, real Canadian stories - and especially of the way everyday, ordinary Canadians conduct and, crucially, describe themselves. And it is for this reason that he has conceived his latest project, the grand cultural project for the better understanding of our national identity, and, indeed, for the betterment of our nation, which he is here tonight to announce to the public formally and for the first time.'
Here Zulecken paused, taking another sip of water and allowing the importance of the grand undertaking to sink in to the sympathetic audience, which had at once grown silent and restless - a sure sign, Zulecken was convinced, that his words had achieved their intended stunning effect.
'And so, without further ado, I would like to make way for a description of this great endeavour by the great man who will himself undertake it, and who just happens to be the Lieutenant-Governor of our distinguished Society - Professor Gordon Donald Clark!'
- The Meeting
- The Treeplanter’s Tale, Part One
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