OF THESE three writers of newspaper columns and magazine articles, Brian Fawcett is perhaps the most original. Originality in non-fiction writing does carry its dangers, of course. It can produce something like Fawcett's wholly admirable critique from a left-wing point of view of the leftism of Noam Chomsky (originally published in Books in Canada). It can also produce some outrageous arguments. The first part of Fawcett's book consists of essays on literature, described in his introduction as
a social jeremiad about how, through incompetence and lazy acceptance of professional privilege, our literary forms are ceasing to be much more than a glittery, irrelevant forest of ossified aesthetic artifacts meant to dress up the lives of a few middle-class antiquaries and fetishists.
(In its most polemical moments, his style veers dangerously close to Conrad Black's. Once, in a rage with Jorge Luis Borges, he calls him "this schmarmy little library wart," which sounds like Black on Ramsay Cook.) What he saysabout poetry is mostly incomprehensible to me, but then so is almost anything written about contemporary verse. I do understand much of what he says about fiction, and it seems to me mostly wrongheaded:
Applied Marxisrn-Leninism has ... been exposed as an inherently violent and brutalizing form of government - one that should be expunged from the human community as soon as possible. My "strange" proposition is that the puppeteer novel -AKA the 19th century novel -similarly has been a disgraceful episode in the history of Western art, a drawn-out authoritarian incident which reasonably ought to be ending.
Why authoritarian? Because
it was created for the rapidly growing European bourgeoisie of the 19th century, and was meant to be read aloud by the newly leisured heads of country mansions during the long and poorly illuminated evenings.
These remarkable notions lead Fawcett in a subsequent essay to conclude that he shouldn't like the stories of Alice Munro, "a talented but somewhat antiquarian miniaturist," as much as he does. What a burden of guilt to
For a year, beginning in May 1990, Stan Persky contributed a weekly media column to the Vancouver Sun. His book is a selection from these, together with some other articles he wrote during the year; in addition he interpolates between many of them (a good idea this) additional pieces that expand on some, report on readers' responses to others, or link one article to the next. As his interpretation of his mandate as media columnist was liberal indeed, it makes for a varied, widely ranging book, dealing always interestingly with Eastern Europe in early 1990, women's magazines, Meech Lake, the Supreme Court decision on street soliciting, the Pope, the United Church debate on homosexuality, bilingualism, and many other topics. It's a well-balanced selection on the whole; though for my taste there's perhaps too high a proportion of it devoted to the concerns of homosexuals.
Like Fawcett, Persky writes from a left-wing but very independent point of view. I'm grateful to him for drawing my attention to the PBS public-affairs program "The McLaughlin Group": as he says, it's a reactionary shouting match, yet knowledgeable, interesting, and remarkably good television.
It's no insult to the others to say that George Jonas is the best writer of these three; he is quite simply one of the very best writers of English in the country - which is all the more remarkable when you consider that he arrived here with no English at the age of 21.
As the title Politically Incorrect indicates, Jonas revels in his reputation as an extreme reactionary. In fact he correctly describes himself as a traditional liberal. That's the point of view from which he wittily criticizes what he sees around him. And most of the time he's right. There are just topics on which he's a little less than clear-eyed; for instance, while he is effective on government bureaucracy, he doesn't seem to notice the failings of corporate bureaucracy, whose consequences are so painfully evident just now. In Middle Eastern matters, I find him a little less than fair to the Palestinians. He fails to make clear his objections to universal medicate. He once cites National Socialism as an example of socialism, whereas the word Socialist in the party's title was never more than a vote-getter, and those Nazis who took it seriously were eliminated in 1934, after the voting was over. And then there's the question of feminism. In a passage selected for display on the back cover he says:
1 strongly feel that three- quarters of everything militant feminists have been saying or writing in the last fifteen years ranges from the baseless to the base. 1 find most feminist ideas, at best, inaccurate as they pertain to history and human nature, and at worst, pernicious and spiritually obscene.
Strong stuff. He loves trailing his coat like that. Yet you'll sear hook in vain for any indication that he thinks men are superior to women except in physical strength, which is doubtless true for him, though not necessarily for us all. His target here isn't feminism, but silliness. In fact, I consider him a feminist like me, which lie will probably take as retaliation for his having once in these pages accused me of being soft on Communism.
None of these writers of journalistic pieces is primarily a journalist, yet they have all, even occasionally Jonas, picked Lip some of the artificial journalistic mannerisms that I used to complain about when I wrote a column on English usage, especially the one that puts me in a realty ugly mood: "Vancouver bookseller and CanLit entrepreneur William Hoffer" (Fawcett), "frequent Canada Council recipient Heather Robertson" (Persky), "top Pro Twins competitor Terry Spiegelburg" (Jonas).