Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for January, 2011

January 30, 2011

Detective Work

Working at EMiC compiling bibliographies and biographies is overall a process of discovery. I was assigned to work on Arthur Stringer, who most famously (and most pertinently to this project) wrote Open Water, where he experimented with free verse. My first thoughts? Somewhat foolishly: “this shouldn’t be that hard. I mean, I do bibliographies all the time for essays”. Needless to say, I was wrong, or at least just not right.

Writing up a bibliography and a biography for a somewhat well-known poet wasn’t hard like a trigonometry function or rocket science is hard (at least for most fellow English majors like me). Instead, it’s just hard work — and a lot of hours of detective work. Tracking down books to track down the books they mention, sifting through articles and words to try to find what is most pertinent or accurate. In fact, in my experiences of EMiC, and what I know of the experiences of others, I would say that EMiC loves detective work. Not merely “where do I start looking for Stringer sources?” but anything from “Which database work with our aims, and how do we find out what is best?” to “how am I going to get this scanner to do what I want?”.

That’s not to say EMiC is directionless and lost, far from it. This project has a solid foundation of answers and aspirations, and it knows what it wants – the important part is that its open about how to get there. A single way to do things is not good enough for Dr. Irvine and the rest of the group here. All options are explored in order to discover the best one, and so EMiC is always changing, adapting and making a better version of itself and its project. This is why questions like “Omeka or Islandora?” are not just problems for EMiC, but opportunities to get better. Likewise, I am always discovering more and am happy to do so. I may be moving on soon from writing  bibliographies and biographies to scanning, and recently sat in on a meeting where the technical side of EMiC I had never seen was brought out. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to more detective work and problems in the future.

January 25, 2011

Eight Men Silenced

In his preface to the original publication of  Eight Men Speak, Ed Cecil-Smith asked “why are the Canadian authorities afraid of this play?” The answer then was obvious: it was a visible incarnation of an invisible and banned party, played at a public rally where the hero, Tim Buck, could only be present in the body of an actor-avatar. (It was, if I may digress, a bit of an embarrassment for the party officials that the actor chosen to incarnate  Buck spoke with a pronounced Yiddish accent). The Communist Party had recently been hijacked by the Stalinist faction led by Buck (and prominent in his cadre of young radical supporters was his publicist and biographer Oscar Ryan, initiator and co-author of Eight Men Speak.) In 1934, only 17 years after the revolution in the USSR, communism promised hope in the misery of the Great Depression. R.B. Bennett was so paranoid about Tim Buck’s affable cult of personality that he would personally phone the managers of venues where Buck was scheduled to speak to express his prime ministerial displeasure.

But that was in another century. Why, we might ask, are Canadian authorities still afraid of this play? While researching  its archival traces this summer I felt, for the first time in my scholarly life, the chill of government suppression. It really is a chill. It’s that wash of adrenalin in the back of the neck that you get when you narrowly avoid a car accident.

There are very  few documentary records of Eight Men Speak other than memories, the text itself and newspaper coverage, most of which was generated by the controversy over the banning of performances in Toronto and Winnipeg. We know from press sources that the Toronto Police Board of Commissioners asked the province to ban the play in January 1934, and sent a detective to take notes at the performance. These notes formed the basis of a report sent to Ottawa. No trace of that report can be found in government records. Nor can we find the detective’s notes. We could however examine the Police Commission minutes. After all, these are public documents. Aren’t they? Most of those minutes are available in the Toronto Archives — except, mysteriously, those that cover 1933-34. Those are still held by the Toronto Police. It took four months and threats of Freedom of Information filing for the police to grant access to the minutes, which prove that the police had decided to have the play banned well in advance of its production. (Why then did they not prevent that production? The logical answer is that they needed to see it once to know how subversive it might be. And maybe to see who turns out to watch it…)

The archival document that concerns me most however is one held by Library and Archives Canada. It is a fond of correspondence between the Post Office and the Soliciter General, determining whether the play could be banned from the post (as it was).  The fond had been restricted in 1934, and as no-one had asked to see it since, I had to request an access review. As they are required to do, LAC sent it to the Ministry of Justice for review. Some months later I received a document of 12 pages. Every word, except for letterhead, dates and signatures, had been redacted. As in, erased. We’re now waiting to hear the results of an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I’ve been told not to hold my breath.

I know this isn’t about Eight Men Speak at all; according to a friend who works as a lawyer in the federal government, the  refusal and redaction of documents is the government-directed default response to any document request. If they can withhold it, they will.

Government censorhip of archival documents, battalions of armed police on the streets, arbitrary arrest of protesters: the world we live and work in today is one that the creators of Eight Men Speak fought to prevent. Why are the Canadian authorities afraid of this play? Maybe because it won’t go away.

January 25, 2011

Surrealism in Canada — CFP Open Letter Special Issue

Surrealism in Canada: Open Letter is seeking critical, literary-historical, and creative submissions (including artwork and manifestos) for a special issue dedicated to the specific manifestations, influences, and engagements with the general idea of Surrealism in Canada.

Surrealism in Canada will be guest edited by Beatriz Hausner and Gregory Betts.

Sigmund Freud never came to Canada, but André Breton, the French pioneer of the Surrealist movement, came and spent many months here during the Second World War (which led to his book Arcanum 17). By the time he arrived, Canadians had already been experimenting with and exploring Surrealist methods and considering its philosophy for over two decades. Since then, a number of internationally acknowledged Surrealist groups have emerged in this country, such as the Automatists from Quebec (including members such as Paul-Emile Borduas, Claude Gauvreau, Therese Renaud, and Jean-Paul Riopelle), the Western Hermeticists from British Columbia (including members such as Gregg Simpson, Gary Lee Nova, Al Neil, Claude Breeze, Roy Kiyooka, David W. Harris (also known as David UU), Michael Bullock, and bill bissett), and the Recordists from Ontario (including members such as William A. Davison, Sherri Lyn Higgins, Colin Hinz, James Bailey, Pete Mosher, and Linda Feesey), while a diverse array of individuals, such as Ludwig Zeller, Susana Wald, Brion Gysin, Mimi Parent, and Jean Benoit, with varying degrees of Canadian connections have made important contributions to the global Surrealist movement.

Canadian Surrealist work continues to appear – as evidenced by Stuart Ross’s anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Poets Under the Influence (2004) and Peter Dube’s Madder Love: Queer Men and the Precincts of Surrealism (2008). Canadian First Nations artists like Lawrence Paul Yuxwelupton and Dana Claxton have also appropriated Surrealist techniques for their own political struggle against the spread of European culture – using tools developed within Europe to resist Europe, as it were. Furthermore, Surrealist techniques and philosophy in general have had an enormous influence in Canada, including on artists such as Leonard Cohen, bpNichol, Claude Péloquin, Nicole Brossard, Gail Scott, Madelaine Gagnon, and Michael Ondaatje, as well as on collectivities from Vancouver’s TISH poets to Quebec’s Parti Pris.

For this special issue, Open Letter seeks submissions from a wide range of scholars and artists that engage with and explore the diverse manifestations of Surrealism in Canada. Possible topics could include (but are not limited to):

– individual study of an author/artist in relation to Surrealism

– collective study of multiple authors/artists in relation to Surrealism

– comparisons between contemporary and earlier Surrealisms

– the impact or significance of Surrealist philosophy

– Surrealism and the Canadian Left

– Surrealism and Canadian ‘pataphysics (or other avant-garde nodes)

– the relevance of Surrealism to Canadian art today

– Surrealism and First Nations art and literature

– Surrealism and Canadian postcolonial culture

– Canadian participation in and/or influence on international Surrealism

Completed papers and other contributions are due no later than 1 September 2011. Please send submissions in electronic format (e.g.: MS Word files) to both editors. For more information, please feel free to contact Gregory Betts or Beatriz Hausner:

Gregory Betts

Associate Professor

English Language & Literature

Brock University

500 Glenridge Avenue

St. Catharines ON L2S 3A1

(905) 688.5550 x 5318


Beatriz Hausner


January 24, 2011

Eight Men (Still) Speak(ing)

This is my  first foray into the EMiC blogworld.  I’m a little at sea on the social networking technology, but I’m a theatre person, and theatre was one of the first instruments of social networking. It is still the only one that is polyphonic, somatic, tactile and hormonally interactive. That means theatre operates on every level of human communication. For me, a blog is still a one-dimensional substitute for  a performance and an after-show pint at a cheery pub.

It is now 77 years and two weeks after the last known performance moment of Eight Men Speak, the text — or the textual remains — of which I am preparing in a critical edition for EMIC. By performance moment, I mean that we only know that after the play was banned (following its single full staging on December 4, 1933), sequences of it were staged at a protest rally in Toronto in January 1934.. At that rally, Rev. A.E. Smith, the leader of the Canadian Labour Defence League (one of the legal organs through which the outlawed Communist Party acted) accused Prime Minister Bennett of ordering the ban. He then addressed the facts behind the play, which had been staged as an indictment of the federal government’s arrest of eight communists — including Tim Buck– under Section 98 of the Criminal Code, the red-busting law that gave the government wide power to arrest anyone for “unlawful association.”  (Today we’re more civilized; we call it a ‘security certificate.”) The CLDL had staged the play as part of its national campaign to have the law repealed and the men freed. While in prison, Buck had been the subject of what seemed to have been an assassination attempt when guards fired rifle bullets into his cell during a prison riot. Smith told the crowd that Bennett had ordered Tim Buck shot, and was the next morning himself arrested for sedition. That led to the one of the most important and volatile political trials in Canadian history. In March 1934 Smith was acquitted and 500,000 Canadians signed CLDL petitions to repeal the law. Tim Buck was released later that year.

It sounds like a victory for democracy and civil rights, but as I immerse myself in the world of the play I find that its histories still resonate. The play was produced by the Workers Theatre of the Progressive Arts Club, who had developed their skill in agitprop in short agitational performances in public places. One of their favoured venues was Queen’s Park, were they were frequently beaten and run out by the Toronto Police “red squad”.  (As Clifford Odets has a communist recruiter say to an unemployed actor when she hands him a copy of the Communist Manifesto in Waiting for Lefty, “Read while you run…” ) In 1933, the Toronto Police allocated a handful of men to the job of suppressing free speech at Queen’s Park. In 2011, they put more than 10,000 on the streets for the G20 for the same purpose. Amongst the many hundreds who were arrested, brutalized and encaged without food, water or toilet facilities were young activists who had gone to Queen’s park to perform street theatre.

Eight men are still speaking, but they remain silenced by federal and police authorities. In my next post, I’ll describe how, almost 80 years after the fact, the federal government is still fighting to prevent the release of archival documents about the banning of the play.

January 24, 2011

EMiC CEP Introduction

EMiC started not with one person, nor with many. It started with two. In many ways, it started at a little neighbourhood bar on the plateau in Montreal. Some of you will have been to Else’s, and if you spent any time there in the late 90s, you would have been likely to find me and Colin sitting alone in the bar, oblivious to the departure of the rest of the world, while the bartender hovered at a distance, waiting for us to finally exhaust ourselves and head home. Those conversations didn’t end as we departed ways at Saint Laurent, Colin heading south and I north; nor did they end when we graduated from McGill and took up positions at our respective universities.

No, those conversations were reprised for years, often when I was visiting Toronto, and at conferences like The Canadian Modernists Meet in Ottawa in 2003, where many of us in this room gathered for the first time in decades to ask a simple question that F.R. Scott first posed in 1927: no, not shall we have a cup of tea? but O Canada, O Canada can a day go by? That is, can another day go by before we acknowledge that the modernists in Canada no longer hold a position of canonical centrality in our national literature and that in the span of a few decades following their deaths many of them have fallen out of print, been dropped from syllabi, and disappeared from anthologies? To answer this question, EMiC has for the past two years facilitated collaboration among a transnational network of researchers and institutions to produce new print and digital editions of Canadian modernist texts from the early to mid-twentieth century.

EMiC’s mission statement, which appeared in the application that we collectively signed and sent to SSHRC in 2007, and now appears blazoned upon the first page of our website—in a design by Angelsea Saby indebted to typographic experiments initiated by the expressionists, vorticists, and surrealists—is decidedly un-modernist in its simplicity: “If we are to continue scholarship and teaching in the field of Canadian modernist studies, there is no more than ever before an urgent need to produce editions and to regenerate public interest in this formative period of Canadian literature whose visibility has been fading as fast as ink on foolscap.” That rallying call initially attracted 32 participants, with representatives from regions across Canada and from France, the UK, and US, from 20 partner institutions. We’ve grown significantly since: our transnational network now extends to New Zealand and Belgium, and has reached at last count over 90 participants—at the faculty, postdoctoral, doctoral, master’s, and undergraduate levels—from 33 partner institutions. Our original partnerships with five of Canada’s top university presses have expanded to include one of Canada’s finest small presses, the Porcupine’s Quill and two academic journals. Our affiliations with research centres and institutes have multiplied exponentially from a handful at our partner institutions in Canada to a collaborative research network whose rhizomatic growth is burrowing under our feet as I speak: its fascicles reach not just sea to sea, so to speak, but across borders and oceans. Modernism in Canada is now a global phenomenon. Or, better, it’s always been global—no, not just global, but all at once local, regional, national, and global.

Where we’ve made the most decisive changes have been in our migration toward digital technologies, repositories, and edition production. Much of our growth has involved the development of partnerships with technologists and researchers working in the digital humanities in Canada, the US, UK, and Europe. The motivation to grow in these digital directions has very much been local and particular to the desires of our participants, especially our emerging scholars. EMiC has always been concerned with the training and networking of students, postdocs, and new faculty, and with providing opportunities for these folks to learn from and collaborate with established mid-career and senior scholars. To this end, we have offered two annual summer institutes: one in textual editing at Trent, and another in digital editing at UVic. Over 60 students, postdocs, and faculty have attended these institutes in their first two years. More to the point: this is why we’re all here, today, for our first EMiC conference.

People often ask how I came up with the idea of EMiC: I didn’t; all of us here already had the idea. I came up with an acronym. To put it another way, I’d say that I came up with the idea because we know that Colin and I weren’t the only two modernists meeting at Elsa’s—or, rather, we know that there were for decades Canadian modernists meeting all over the place, but never in one place. It would be foolish to think that we’d ever occupy the same place. That’s why EMiC isn’t located in any one a place. You trip over stacks of it in an office at Dalhousie and retrieve it from a server in the basement of the Clearihue Building at UVic. You scan it at Library and Archives Canada, OCR it at Brock, and add metadata to it at McGill. You make tools for it at Maryland. You encode it at UVic, collate it at Queen’s, ILL it at Penn State, and visualize it at UBC. You devise skeleton keys for it at Otago. You annotate it at Miami, draw up placeographies for it at Birmingham, and add appendices to it in Leuven. You stare up up up to the ceiling looking for it in the reading room at the Thomas Fisher. You compile stemma for it at York, chart its word distributions at Guelph, and create a cascading style sheet for it at UNB. You draw up timelines for it at Alberta. You theorize it at Trent. Or maybe you avoid it altogether until 2012 when the next EMiC conference is held, when suddenly it’s all you can think about, not because you’ve contracted archive fever, been bitten by a TEI tick, or come down with an incurable case of variantitis. No, it’s probably because when we next meet, it won’t be in a bar on the plateau, but in Paris, at l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Bienvenue à EMiC

January 20, 2011

In Search of a Digital Humanities Repository

Before I became the newest EMiC Postdoctoral Fellow this past fall, I regularly discussed with my colleagues the lack of a simple editing and publication engine for Digital Humanities scholars and teachers. My field of research, modernist Periodical Studies, is rapidly expanding, and the digital environment promises new ways of archiving and accessing magazines that have been scattered across university libraries around the world. Organizations like the Modernist Journals Project are doing wonders in delivering complete digital editions of periodicals to scholars, but there is no place a professor can go to teach a student how to digitize, OCR (Optical Character Recognition), markup, and publish a magazine or book for a class project. This was a major problem for David Earle at the University of West Florida who was teaching an undergraduate section on modernist magazines and wanted his students to produce a digital edition at the end of the course. Earle realized that he had to negotiate a complex field of proprietary software and web expertise to make his course viable. With a bit of elbow grease, Earle started, with his students, “The Virtual Newsstand from the Summer of 1925.” His class was asked to help “recreate” a 1920s American newsstand—that is, what magazines and papers would the average New Yorker have seen in one of the little kiosks on a warm summer afternoon in 1925? As you can see, the project was a great success, and I hope it is something we can help our EMiC team do too in the classroom.

My primary task this term has been to set up the EMiC Digital Coop and Digital Commons. The Coop will be a closed repository where you will be able to upload everything you have scanned for the EMiC community. The Commons will be the place where you can publish your own digital editions. This will be a public space, so only material that is in the public domain, or material with which you have secured rights, may be published here. I’ve had two questions in mind: what type of system can we use that will be easy to use for the ingestion of material to the EMiC repository, and what system can we use to publish that material once it is ready? We also want to make sure that our repository uses the best open archival practices available to us today. This ensures that EMiC (your work and mine) will be compatible with other university systems and repositories for many years to come; for example, Susan Brown is in the process of creating the CWRC (Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory, or “quirk”), which promises to be one of the greatest archives in Canada once it goes online. Brown will be building the CWRC on the Fedora Commons framework at the University of Alberta, and thus it is important for EMiC to be able to create a repository that will work well with this future archive. To this end, we have decided to build our repository on the Fedora Commons framework as well.

Now that we have a framework, how do we create a system that is convenient and easy-to-use? This has proven to be a very difficult question. As many of you know, the Center for New Media and History at George Mason University has released a powerful publication and exhibition tool called Omeka. Though Omeka is a powerful tool (and it only promises to become even more powerful), it does not provide all the tools we need to run an agile and powerful repository. After much research, I came across Islandora, a content management system created at the University of Prince Edward Island built upon Drupal. Islandora provides us with an easy-to-use system that allows us to upload an image file and have an automated workflow create OCR, PDF and XML files (including TEI) upon ingestion. The team at PEI, including Mark Leggott, Donald Moses, Joe Velaidum, and Kirsta Staplefeldt are committed to building open tools for the digital humanities community at large (and they have a digitization lab to die for). We are very impressed with their scholarly model, and we hope that they will use their experience with EMiC to collaboratively build a repository specifically geared towards digital humanists (Islandora is already hard at work in museums and universities around the world).

But before we commit to a system, we need to run vigourous tests to make sure the system we build for EMiC will last long into the future. In order to ensure this, Dean Irvine has allocated funds for a study into Islandora and Omeka at the University of Alberta for EMiC use (and if all goes well, perhaps for the CWRC  as well). By the end of January, EMiC should be able to announce our findings. Our goal is to provide a complete editing and publication engine not only for our community, but the world at large as well. How will this happen when we have great tools like TILE, Omeka, Islandora, which weren’t built specifically to work with one another?

As many of you know, Meagan Timney, the other Postdoctoral Fellow at EMiC, is a talented programmer and teacher committed to the Digital Humanities (and I’m told, she is also the person who championed the idea of EMiC before it was even a proposal in the Director’s eye). She has agreed to code the necessary APIs to allow our new system to work with Fedora Commons (and thus Islandora) and Omeka. Her work will provide the Digital Humanist community and important plugin so users of Omeka and Islandora will be able to edit images on the web and in the repository. For those of you attending DHSI this summer at the University of Victoria, she will be teaching a course on “Digital Editions” (http://editingmodernism.ca/training/summer-institutes/demic/) where students will get to use this new tool in creating their own digital work. I encourage you to sign up for her course if you would like to learn how to digitize, edit, and publish a text to the web.

So, where does this leave us? Well, we hope that by the end of spring someone like David Earle will never have to look for an editing and publication engine ever again. This also means that we will be ready to start ingesting the material you have all been scanning directly into the repository. We hope EMiC will provide our community with the archive and tools it needs to start producing the texts you want to create from your various archives. We are truly on the cusp of creating an entire framework that will help scholars around the world produce and edit texts that will be nurtured in an open-source and secure repository for many years to come.