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To the Editor

It may seem churlish for the publisher to respond to any review as glowing as Michael Peterman's review of Broadview's edition of Set in Authority. But I would like to assure potential readers that "the one egregious error-mis-spelling Duncan's middle name on the book's cover" that Peterman refers to was corrected almost immediately upon the book's release by our having new covers printed and the entire first printing rebound. While all reviewers' copies contained the error, almost all copies that have been sold have been of the corrected version.

It's certainly a cautionary tale, though, of the sort that must remind publishers of the necessity to double and triple check. In this case the cover designer had checked against The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (revised paperback edition, 1992), where he had found confirmation of the mis-spelling of Duncan's middle name!

Don LePan



John Ayre begins his review of Philip Marchand's Ripostes (Summer 1998) by calling attention to the aggression in its fencing-theme title. I would like to suggest that he mistakes the metaphor. Fencing, like most sport, is about controlling aggression by binding it within a set of rules. The point is to demonstrate one's skill without inflicting injury.

The literary equivalent has generally been to evaluate the work and refrain from attacking the character of its author. For the most part, Marchand admirably succeeds.

Ayre's major criticism of the book-that "[w]hat is missing in Ripostes is a complementary section of essays that would identify the kind of fiction...Marchand does like"-again mistakes the metaphor. In his opening "confession", Marchand is very clear about the kind of fiction he likes: "my personal taste still leans towards literature that displays, in the phrase of Mary McCarthy, `the passion for fact in a raw state'." But a riposte is, by definition, a retaliatory thrust. The kind of essay Ayre asks for is clearly outside the intent of Marchand's book, and in attacking Ripostes for not being what it never purports to be, Ayre falls upon the sword he has just used to skewer Marchand, his complaint that Marchand uses an aesthetic drawn from a realist tradition to evaluate works in a gothic tradition.

In the end, of course, Ayre concedes that Marchand's "aggression" is both "nervy" and "refreshing"-as I found it myself. But let critics parry Marchand's attack on received reputations as the metaphor demands, by responding not to the armour he's clad in but to what he has to say. When he points to the repetitive characterizations in Atwood's or Findley's fiction, let's respond by elucidating the large or subtle variations he has missed or by challenging the notion that such recurrent elements are necessarily a flaw in a writer's oeuvre. No less a writer than Alice Munro has described herself as compelled to "go back over and over again and mine the same material and look at it in different ways" and some might see that compulsion as a virtue, a mark of her seriousness as a writer rather than a symptom of neurosis.

But whatever our view, let's play by the rules of the game. It's only sporting.

Kim Jernigan

Wellesley, Ontario

Cross-border pricing

Twice in the past six months I have made purchases of books reviewed in BiC only to find that the book store price was about 50% higher than you state. Apparently you are giving the U.S. price, but the reader does not know that. In the future, please state if your prices are in U.S. dollars. After all, your publication is Books In Canada and presumably the great bulk of the readers and potential buyers are Canadians.

(Duly noted.)

On another point, I started to read J. Fitzgerald's article "critical conditions" (Summer 1998) despite my premonition that it would be abstruse, dull and full of literary theory newspeak. But, having been pleasantly surprised in the past, I made a start.

However, in only the third paragraph I had to give up. There I was informed that some people think that "literature and art fell between the cracks" some time ago. What on Earth does "falling between cracks" mean? If I could not understand that expression was I likely to understand that which followed?

I do enjoy most of the reviews and have bought books by previously unknown (to me) authors based on your word. As a matter of fact I have to pick up Ormsby's book of poetry from my bookseller; it was not in his stock so he ordered it for me.

At times perplexed, but mostly enlightened,

Robert W. Hounsell

Waterloo, Ontario


I am much obliged to Ted Whittaker for his strong endorsement of my anthology, Eyeing the North Star: Directions in African-Canadian Literature, and his confident approval of my poetry. Nevertheless, I must respond to several points he raised in his September 1998 review article.

First, I do not use "African-Canadian" as a "general" label for the anthology's contributors. I use it because I believe that, despite the fissures of ethnicity, language, region, and gender, black people in Canada are a people. I also use it because I hate having to refer to African diasporic people with a lower-case, initial-letter term. We merit the majesty of a majuscule-headed term.

Secondly, my so-called "archaeological fastidiousness" has been responsible for unearthing the first African-Canadian writers, novelists, playwrights, and poets. Moreover, I believe that a canon of African-Canadian literature exists. As such, it deserves the dignity of scholarly inquiry.

Thirdly, Rinaldo Walcott's emphasis on Toronto creators replicates-oh so regressively-Torontonian critical ignorance of and dismissiveness towards all "regional" creators. There's nothing new-or courageous or scholarly-in his stance.

Lastly, I may be "a cagey player" in a "political game." But the purpose of my anthology was and is to assert the existence of a transformative, African-Canadian presence in Canadian literature, one that employs the powerful linguistic difference and verbal experimentation that Whittaker seems to find so troubling (especially in his discussion of M. Nourbese Philip).

Again, I thank Whittaker for his review. However, African-Canadian literature demands serious research, not mere opinion-mongering, neither by the the injudicious Walcott nor by well-intentioned critics.

Dr. George Elliott Clarke

Visiting Seagrams Chair in Canadian Studies

McGill University

Montreal, Quebec


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