Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Douglas Coupland + the Great Canadian Genocide

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Last night I heard Douglas Coupland reading on the CBC Radio program, Ideas. Christ, was it ever pretentious. The title escapes me at the moment, something to do with Daffy Duck and looking out a hole or in a hole - very culturally referential and all that. From what I gathered, it's about a post-apocalyptic world of some sort. Coupland has this really annoying cadence to his voice that didn't vary character to character. They all came across as ciphers - making these long and quippy allegorical statements while doing things like blasting somebody with a shotgun.

And having a main female character kill some bad guy by sprinkling "peanut dust" all over his rifle because she happened to hear he's got a lethal peanut allergy? I mean come-the-f*ck-on. Like, where the hell do you get "peanut dust"? And more to the point- what exactly is "peanut dust" - the crumbs left at the bottom of bowl of peanuts - or did she just happen to have a bag of ground-up peanuts with her?

I've heard his kind of voice before - CBC Radio friendly - the self-deprecating condescension - it reeks of a certain upper middle class, well-educated Anglo-Canadian smugness - often borne of long employment in gov't, academia, NGOs and the various boards, panels, tribunals, commissions, probes, inquiries etc that exist within the vast and mysterious labyrinth of Canada's multi-layered and often inscrutable bureaucracies.

We observe and comment upon base consumerist culture. However, we do not participate in it - at least not without a whimsical dash of irony...

It's the same Canadian smugness that acts as moral arbiter in the wider world, tut-tutting about the behavior of regimes in other lands. All while Canada's founders committed one of history's greatest acts of genocide, destroying and even today continuing to debase the already-existing inhabitants of this 'vast and empty wilderness.' Okay, okay, I can hear the harrumphing already; Oh, gawd, don't bring THAT up again.

Okay, just one example: the residential schools. If a student insisted on continuing to speak their native language rather than English - or in the case of the Jesuit run institutions - French - the student would have her or his tongue nailed to their desk. This was aside from being rented out for sex, or as slave labor and domestic servants, fed garbage and housed in unheated dumps- all in the name of 'efficiencies' - IE: not putting too much of a financial strain on John A. MacDonald's politburo. Hence his minions largely passed the administration and cost of running the schools on to Protestant and Catholic proselytizers. During the school years - which ran between ages 5 to 10, there was a 50% chance a student would be alive by the end of it.

Meanwhile, one of Canada's richest poetry prizes is partly named for DC Scott, one of the country's Confederation Poets - and a career civil servant who was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, personally in charge of the residential school system. He sat in that post during the first 3 decades of the 20th century. The motto he felt best described his job was: "Kill the Indian, save the man."
Rather than being feted as one of Canada's "Confederation Poets", I think it'd make more sense to have DC Scott re-written as Canada's very own Hermann Goering, a guy who was just followin' orders...

Getting back to Coupland for a second and speaking of a truly Canadian irony - it is rather telling that what he'd read on CBC radio was a piece of fiction about a post-apocalyptic world when some Canadians have already experienced it...

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Basil Papademos

Basil Papademos is the author of MOUNT ROYAL: There's Nothing Harder Than Love, published in the spring of 2012 by Tightrope Books, also available as an ebook in all formats from all digital retailers. His earlier novel, The Hook of it is, was published by Emergency Press. His upcoming novel, How To **** Your Psychiatrist, will be published in the fall of 2013.

Go to Basil Papademos’s Author Page