FRANK DAVEY has long been one of Canada's most intelligent and astute literary critics. In Post-National Arguments: The Politics of the Anglophone-Canadian Novel since 1967 (University of Toronto Press, 27 7 pages, $45 cloth, $17.95 paper), he employs his critical skills in addressing the current state of the nation. Selecting 16 novels published since Confederation, Davey searches for the "unspoken assumptions" that these novels bring to contemporary debate about Canada and Canadian nationalism.
In Mordecai Richler's Joshua Then and Now, Davey finds "a kind of laissez-faire internationalism in which group affiliations are seen to interfere ... with individual liberty." If Aritha van Herk's The Tent Peg "firmly refuses nationalism" -in favour of a "transcendental feminism" -Susan Swan's The Biggest Modern Woman of the World is posited on "a new, 'modern,' and historicized world economy that is already displacing the nation state."
In most of these novels, Davey finds not only a rejection of politics and institutions, but also a "profound uneasiness about the past" and a lack of faith in social groupings. Instead, they offer "various discourses of intimacy, home, and neighbourhood, together with others of global distance and multinational community." The nation, it would seem, has disappeared from the geography of the contemporary Canadian novel.
Davey's argument is compelling, but frustrating. He refuses to make clear his own politics. He uses the rhetoric of Marxism and nationalism (the book is dedicated to Robin Mathews), but clearly embraces neither. In discussing the 1988 free-trade debate, Davey notes that "writers had only two positions to take: for or against free trade." He asks: "Why did I ... feet alien to both positions?" Davey never answers this question.