Category

Essays

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After the Prophet: Leigh Fondakowski’s Stories from Jonestown

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The paradox of utopias is that while their failure is assured, their appeal is eternal. 800 years ago, tens of thousands of ordinary people left their homes, their families, and the innumerable small ties which made up their lives to march on Jerusalem and retake it in the name of God, in the deadly mass migration known as the Children’s Crusade. Today, would-be jihadists make the dangerous...

What is What is Man? On Mark Greif’s The Age of the Crisis of Man

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Few recent works of academic cultural criticism have received such rapturous, widespread, and indeed almost universal acclaim as Mark Greif’s The Age of the Crisis of Man has over the last several months. Lorin Stein in The Paris Review calls it “exhilarating.” Adam Kirsch, in The Tablet, says that it’s “a brilliant contribution to the history of ideas, one of the rare books that reshapes the...

The Razor’s Edge: The Erratic Brilliance of Martin Scorsese

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It all begins in a bloody bathroom. A young man shaves at a mirror, his body arched over a porcelain sink. With each new stroke, a torrent of blood gushes down his cheeks, streaking across the tiles in a crimson cascade. A romantic ballad floats over the soundtrack and the young man’s gaze is as placid as the singer’s voice. He slits his throat without a sound. The Big Shave is the 1968 student...

Canada’s Messy History of Big Ticket Airport Projects, from Mirabel to Porter and Pickering

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Porter Airlines made news last year by announcing its purchase of a dozen Bombardier CS-100 jets that it intends to fly from its hub, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (BBTCA). Next month City Council will vote on the plan. Last June, the federal government decided to revive the Pickering airport project, first announced in 1972 but shelved three years later and unsuccessfully revisited several...

Nowhere Land: Writing Eastern Europe in Canada

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When I was a child reading Batman comics and Hardy Boy books in the fifties and early sixties, it seemed as if Canada was a nowhere land compared to the United States. Nothing happened here, and never would. If a man had put on a Batman cape in Canada, he would have been arrested. If the Hardy Boys had come to Canada, they would have found no adventures to be had. If Canada was no place, then a...

Agreeing on Fables at 1812.gc.ca

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A slick commercial appeared on Canadian television last year, featuring redcoats and period warships, with narrator intoning: “Two hundred years ago, the United States invaded our territory.” It’s 2013 and the invaders are long gone, but our leaders have set to work driving any ambiguity out of our collective memory. As we enter year two of an epic, multimillion-dollar celebration of the...

Translating Challawa: Pakistani Writing Between Urdu, English, and Lesbian Erotica

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A small but vibrant literary scene has emerged in Pakistan over the last decade. After the events of 9/11 pushed their country into the media’s spotlight, many authors wanted to write their own narratives rather than have them transposed from elsewhere. Big names soon garnered global fame. Among multiple other awards and nominations, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for...

The History Wars in Canada

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Jack Granatstein’s 1998 jeremiad Who Killed Canadian History? was the opening shot of the History Wars, a fierce conflict about the meaning and purpose of our nation’s past. Academic historians, he satirically concluded, had abandoned traditional military and political history in order to specialize in topics like “the history of housemaid’s knee in Belleville in the 1890s.” The general public...

A Long Strange Trip: Travels Through The North Coast with Denis Johnson

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“This is not a dream, illusion, or metaphor. This is California.” -Denis Johnson, Already Dead: A California Gothic On a bright, sultry afternoon at the tail end of last August, my wife Jill and I sat at a picnic table in the spacious courtyard of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California. The town was quaint and pretty. Before strolling along its main strip where a ragtime...

Getting Into It Through The Guns: The Thomson Collection of Ship Models at the AGO

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French prisoners of war held in Britain built some of the ship models in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Cream-white as if carved in ivory but made from bones in the prisoners’ rations and other humble materials like straw and human hair, the “Prisoner of War Models” are masterfully crafted and exquisitely beautiful, despite their genesis in misery and their deathly...

If Netizens United: Rebecca MacKinnon’s Consent of the Networked

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 A review of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom (Basic Books, 2012), by Rebecca MacKinnon Chinese journalist Shi Tao was jailed in 2005 after Yahoo provided Chinese state security agents with emails he had sent on a Yahoo China account. The emails had alerted a New York web editor of a recent Chinese government document instructing national media in what not to...

Instruments for the Elevation of the Soul: The Plight of the Book in Twenty-First Century Paris

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Paris conjures up many images. Some visualize the Seine and arching footbridges; others see patisseries shaded by plane trees or a five a.m. street crêpe; others still, think of books. Writers and writing infuse the city’s marrow, from contemporary stars like Muriel Barbery to the 1920s icons Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Beach, and James Joyce, and back even earlier to Victor Hugo and Voltaire. Today...