9780889842403 / 088984240X

When Words Deny the World


Publisher:Porcupine's Quill



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About the book:

Stephen Henighan is a consistently outspoken critic and an eclectic reader, blessed with a great talent for close reading and cursed with a grandiose sense of the worthiness of his own cultural biases. In the first half of When Words Deny the World, his collection of literary journalism, there is a great deal of sharp thinking and well-directed literary assault on such topics as Josef Skvorecky's politics, the conservatism and intermittent mediocrity of the Giller Prize, and the 90s' neurotic obsession with appropriation of voice.

As When Words Deny the World progresses, however, Henighan moves into a broader cultural critique, and his cogency begins to wane. The issues he raises are important ones--the impact of free trade and globalization on Canadian writing, the tendency of Canada's most marketable "literary" fiction to curve toward a middlebrow common denominator--but his analysis of these dire problems is less than comprehensive. According to Henighan, it is Toronto that is destroying Canadian fiction. Henighan's Toronto is the insular WASP town of old, dominated by a cliquish neo-conservative media and a coterie of power-lunching literary agents, a haven for fabulously wealthy writers with great hair who have traded their literary integrity for immense stock portfolios. This anti-Toronto screed is both inaccurate--he ignores the success of non-Toronto writers from Victoria to the Maritimes--and unfortunate, for it damages Henighan's authority and makes it seem that the very real problems he discusses do not really exist. If Henighan had attempted an honest analysis of CanLit's uneasy engagement with commerce, he might have composed a far more convincing book. Unfortunately, When Words Deny the World fulfills the promise of its title all too well. --Jack Illingworth

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