Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing as Political Act

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Paul here -

It's often difficult to remember why you're doing what you're doing. With deadlines to meet and rent to pay and the constant pressure to produce produce produce, it's sometimes hard to remember why you're writing in the first place.

Thankfully, while sitting beneath a tree in Trinity-Bellwoods park today while my landlord showed my apartment to would-be renters, I returned to Noah Richler's This is My Country, What's Yours yet again. There, I found this:

"...we do not like to think of the novel as political, especially within a country as stable as Canada. We prefer to think that the novel reaches across cultural divides in a peaceful way - as authors often do, visiting wartorn countries in times of strife. And yet it is this very tendency that renders the novel obnoxious to many societies. The novel believes in essential common causes, and in conflicts it has the incontrovertible habit - though not always the advantage - of putting an empathetic, rights-based view of our common humanity at the centre of its story. This quality puts the novel close to being an "end of narrative," if you like - a form of story that is as versatile and enduring as the belief in human rights that it reflects. But its reliance on the individual character of these human rights is the thing that puts it into conflict with other narrative cultures around the globe."

I recall reading a similar thing from the pen of Salman Rushdie while I was an undergraduate. Rushdie argued that the novel was the antidote to fundamentalism: a form that tapped into questions of spirit and existence while containing a myriad voices, rather than merely One.

A great novel (and I believe, a great film as well) can humanise the 'other', allowing the reader to understand the heart that beats within a stranger or an enemy. They can be the antidote to fear and Manichaen thinking.

As I frantically edit my short film and begin work on my next project, I sometimes forget that the work should strive towards Richler's ideal. Sometimes I get caught up in whether a project will sell, whether it will keep an audience's attention, whether it looks slick enough, whether my peers in the industry will respect it. What a pile of rubbish! If I can't ensure that the character's plight opens itself to an audience and allows them in, then it will be a failure.

Richler's statement thankfully reminded me of why I wanted to tell stories to begin with: to explore life in a skin not my own - to help unleash humanity - that of both others and myself.

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.

Related item from our archives

Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel

Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel are the authors of Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started (Dundurn Press, 2008). Kickstart profiles over 30 prominent Canadians who explain how they started their careers.

Go to Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel ’s Author Page