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Moosehead Anthology #8: The Matrix Interviews

by Edited by R.E.N. Allen and Angela Carr
182 pages,
ISBN: 0919688861


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Insight-Full Anthology
by Alex Boyd

The Moosehead Anthology and Matrix magazine¨both the result of "one of the periodic flourishings of English language literary culture in Quebec"¨come together in Moosehead Anthology num 8: The Matrix Interviews, a collection of sixteen interviews edited by R.E.N. Allen and Angela Carr. The style of the book is unpretentious, using a patchwork of portraits as its cover. The interviews are neatly and cleanly spaced out on the page, and, admirably, are also an eclectic mix of both writer and subject matter. Additionally, many of the writers are interviewed by other writers, which allows the reader to have an interest in both sides of the conversation.

Irving Layton starts things off by speaking broadly about sex and death, with some striking remarks: "Freud was wrong when he thought that the guilty thing that people were repressing was sex. What people repress is the fear of death and the knowledge of their own insignificance. It is this that breeds sadism, cruelty and the desire to humiliate others." Erin MourT speaks about her own unconventional writing in a straightforward way, commenting that "we are in grave danger of seeing too little with our conventional structuresÓwe have to question our own structures of interpretation and structures of belief and perception. And one of the ways that I question that is to make language refract off itself in different ways, be it through words, or parts of speech, or grammar." Martin Amis moves comfortably from nuclear weapons ("We're the first people who've been asked in the history of the world to regard the world as expendable or mortal or likely to go bad") to pinball to a general decay in England.

One minor complaint is that Stephanie Bolster represents one of the few emerging voices (she was working on her second book at the time of the interview). Additionally, most interviews are lacking a date at the end. It doesn't help much, at the conclusion of the Neil Bissoondath interview, to know that it took place in Montreal for Matrix 44. A selected bibliography is provided to allow readers to make an assumption based on whatever is discussed in the interview, but I'd have preferred more accuracy. The Bissoondath interview appears to take place shortly after the release of Selling Illusions: the Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, since Bissoondath argues that our tendency to hyphenate our nationality allows "people to view Ben Johnson as the Canadian who won Olympic gold, and the Jamaican immigrant who lost it." When Bissoondath and P. Scott Lawrence discuss the "appropriation of voice" issue, it is one of the few moments in the book that feels dated (which is impressive in a book of interviews from the last twenty-five years), reproducing a discussion highly conscious of politically correct arguments. Bissoondath argues "No one is preventing these people from speaking for themselves. And preventing others from writing through the voice of a native character or a black characterÓ is simple censorship, and it is absurd to claim that demanding silence of others somehow gives you a forum." Lawrence, civilly playing the devil's advocate, creates one of the best discussions in the book, even as other interviews (notably the interviews of Anne Carson and Marie-Claire Blais) never really get off the ground, at least partly because the writers are interviewed by admirers. After Carson suggests that most writing is "tasteless" and "draws one into indecency," Mary di Michele immediately backs away from the idea.

But ultimately, there are very few faults in this book. I came away wanting to read books like The Hawryliw Process after reading the Robert Allen interview. Gail Scott, in discussing My Paris, and Robert Majzels, in talking about City of Forgetting, both include geography in their examinations of writing. I was glad to see Montreal portrayed as an affordable centre of gravity for writers instead of just a city in decline, or as Robert Majzels comments: "There is so much space to move around in and rents are cheap. Young visual artists, for example, who have no entry into galleries can just rent a space and show their workÓYou have all these cultures and each has struggled for many years to make up its own story of Montreal. If you listen, you can hear these stories clashing. That makes it easy not to believe in any of them and to think about the contrasts, the differences, without being above them all or washing your hands of them." Montreal (where Matrix magazine and the Moosehead Anthology are based) is mentioned a fair amount in some interviews, providing a refreshing reminder to those who might tend to think Toronto has nearly exclusive rights to culture in Canada. At the same time, Michael Harris reminds us that politics is not his ultimate goal in writing: "I think that politics, and how we view social interactions, are very much like the dance of light on the waves curling over the sea¨only it's really the sea that I'm interested in, and not the dazzles of light that attract one's eye. I can understand how one can get caught up on local or national or even global politics, but I don't really see them as things in and of themselves, as behaviors in and of themselves. I see them as reflections of other, more primal impulses." For providing a variety of accessible insights, The Matrix Interviews is an extremely worthwhile book.

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