Stephen Osborne

In What Was Canadian Literature?, a whiny post at, the novelist and critic Stephen Marche says, “anyone who whines about being a writer in Canada today needs a history lesson and a long vacation.” What the whiners should do on their long vacation is not specified. “There is no question that we are living in a great time to be a Canadian writer, perhaps the best ever,” Marche says. “But at the same time the sense of writing as a national project is stuttering to its final end.” Such a “national project,” he claims, was in hand during the late sixties and early seventies, a period that he says “produced questions that are highly suitable to literary investigation. Are we a country? Who are we as a people? What does Canada mean?” But he fails to adduce a literature engaged with these “highly suitable” questions with all of their jejune High Seriousness—because no literature of a national project ever arose. Survivors of that supposedly “golden age” will recall the whiny questions of national identity repeated endlessly during that time by men in suits and red ties, usually at televised gatherings of the Liberal Party or on the quiz show that featured Pierre Berton in one of his nationalist bow ties. In my memory, no serious writer paid any attention to such nonsense, save for Margaret Atwood, whose wretched novel Surfacing is proof of the emptiness of Big Questions, even or especially when written to illustrate an English graduate student’s thesis paper like Survival. The sixties and seventies were made vital not by the Liberal Party and their maple leaf flag, but by opposition to the Vietnam War, the influx of tens of thousands of war resisters, the rise of feminism and the emergence of the Aboriginal struggle. Those were the days, my friend. They are still here.

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at


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