Editing Modernism in Canada


February 9, 2011

Condiments and Canadian Literature: Origins of an EMiC Intern

In 1928, Dorothy Livesay exclaimed, “her mind was as keen as mustard” of Margaret Ford, a young teacher at Glen Mawr school in Toronto. It feels as though she could have written the same thing about me, working here at Dalhousie in 2011. Although it was surely intended as a compliment for Ford, I can’t help but carry the metaphor too far (as I always seem to do) when applying it to my own situation. Mustard may be keen, but the idea of enthusiasm, energy and interest also has implications by omission. No mention of vision or clarity, for instance. Mustard certainly isn’t clear. Though a fine condiment, mustard doesn’t work well on its own. It has a distinct colour and flavour, true, it’s bright, but not to the taste of all. Many would claim it’s positively repulsive. Some are allergic. And at only five calories a teaspoon, it doesn’t have much substance.

After spending a little quality time with the other blog posts, I am feeling especially mustard-like today. Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that mustard is found in the form of a seed; a plant at the earliest stage of growth. It should also be noted that mustard is antibacterial, and very resilient. Not a bad place to start.

But I’m getting off track- let’s put the pungent mustard aside for a more academic flavour. The Editing Canadian Modernism seminar, where I first encountered Livesay’s name and poetry, transformed my education. Though I’d enjoyed each of my three years at Dalhousie with increasing intensity, my degree was ultimately inapplicable and unfocused. By the time I landed in Dean’s class I’d done a bit of everything: Renaissance and Medieval literature, American Gothic and African-American literature, Restoration Drama…the list went on. Until it hit Canadian literature, editing, or Modernism. That’s where it stopped. Psychologically scarred by the endless insipid required readings of Canadian authors trudged through in high school, I’d systematically avoided all courses with the name of my country attached to them. Conflating modernist writing with contemporary work (I know, forgive me), I had spurned the contemporary world as well. I inexplicably imagined it to be all glitter and fluff, something like the craft-time of literature. But Editing Canadian Modernism was the only seminar offered in the summer of 2010, and I’d heard many a friend scoff that courses were easier in the off-season. Obviously, these friends were not English majors. Even more obviously, they had never encountered the likes of an Editing Modernism seminar. The workload almost killed me, and I loved every minute of it. It was the most invigorating course I’ve taken at Dalhousie, and since then it’s been nothing but the modern and Canadian (before summer even came to a close I gobbled up a Canadian Literature course). Every essay I write tackles digitization, I fret about how faithful Kobo’s “The Sentimentalists” could be to Gaspereau’s, and even my parents know to link TEI tutorials to their emails if they actually want me to read them.

I started working with EMiC in September. At first I was content to chase down books or journals for scans and edits. But after a while, the fluctuating and occasional disputes (regarding contrast, discolouration, and the like) between the scanner and I became more than occasional. I began to spend my time hunting down publication information. Once January rolled around and my eyesight had deteriorated to around 20/40, I went back to give the scanner another chance. However, when I arrived to pick up the key, I learned that the entire room was closed off. The scanner appeared to have been slain by one of its very own. The special collections librarian informed me that the viewing window was twisted around completely while the camera lay on its side. I sent an email off to the EMiC office to notify them, and continued work on the spreadsheet. It wasn’t until our meeting two weeks later that the issue of the unworkable scanner was addressed. Any apparent horror accompanying the awareness that the downfall of a single piece of infrastructure had brought PhD, postdoctoral (and undergraduate) projects to a “grinding halt” was discussed with astonishing humour and composure. Technology fails. People fail. The important thing is that they don’t fail at the same time.  Instantly the group began to spin ways around the problem, to continue their work, even to find great opportunity in the situation. I have never seen less of a “grinding halt” in my life, and this is precisely why I am confident that the Editing Modernism in Canada project will never fail.

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