Richard Gwyn tries to get away with two puns in the title of his book Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian (McClelland & Stewart), trading off on both André Malraux's cultural manifesto of the 1960s Museum Without Walls, and Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I can't imagine what philosophic gesture he's making here, or what the photo of clouds in a midday sky might signify on the dust jacket—the view from a 747? I know it's base to blame the author for the marketing department's flights of half-baked fantasy, so in lieu of judging this book by its cover, try the index. If there's intellectual heft to a book—something you might expect in a serious rumination on the state of the nation by a senior columnist for the country's largest circulation newspaper—you'll likely find traces of it there.
A quick eyeball survey reveals the most quoted individuals are not Mel Watkins, or David Crane (Gwyn's colleague at the Toronto Star, a longtime interpreter of economics from a nationalist perspective), or any of the Laxers, or even George Grant (who's mentioned four times), but Mike Harris, Brian Mulroney, Paul Martin, Margaret Thatcher, Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan. Paragons of nationalist insight every one of them, wouldn't you say? No mention of Linda McQuaig or Maude Barlow, but Carl Beigie's there under the B's along with Conrad Black, Bell Canada and George Bush. Quebec's political elite (Bourassa, Lévesque, Parizeau, Bouchard) appear aplenty, yet serious indépendantiste thinkers like Pierre Bourgault, Marcel Rioux, Daniel Latouche, and Gérald Godin are absent. We get Yvon Deschamps instead of Lise Bissonnette, Neil Bissoondath instead of Marlene Nourbese Philip. Meanwhile Margaret Atwood and George Grant are apparently left to carry the nationalist argument against an overexposed (twenty-nine hits) Pierre Trudeau on their own, with wee bits from the likes of Bob White, Ovide Mercredi, Rick Salutin and Clifton Joseph (two mentions each). Myrna Kostash, Georges Erasmus (incorrectly spelled), Stephen Clarkson, Mel Hurtig, Judy Rebick, Stevie Cameron and Abe Rotstein are in for one, as are Che Guevara, Camille Paglia, Huey Long, Benedict Arnold and Lord Byron. The internet gets greater play than Harold Innis; Jan Morris outweighs both George Woodcock and Northrop Frye; Christopher Lasch cops more line time than Walter Gordon, André Laurendeau, Louis Riel and Phil Resnick combined; Robert Reich gets more play than Marshall McLuhan or Derrick de Kerckhove.
I could go on—about Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem being worthy of passing reference while Canadian feminist journalists like Susan G. Cole and Michele Landsberg are ignored, about the curious abundance of quotes from Canadian novelists writing in English (Carol Shields, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro, Rohinton Mistry) to the exclusion of ... but I am warming to this exercise and in danger of taking it too seriously. Like the book itself, it's a feeble excuse.