FathomOnline

 

 Fathom Jan. 1997

Cover

 

Inside Cover

 

Poetry

Mary-Kate Arnold
Jamie Reynolds
Natalie Meisner

Prose

Trevor Rockwell
Rachel Melis
Mark Anderson

Articles

Jamie Reynolds
Andy Murdoch
Andre Narbonne
Andy Murdoch and
Jennifer Reynolds

Artwork

James Matthews
Mitchell Weibe

Extras

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Jamie Reynolds

 

 

The “C” Word: The Unconscious Civilization John Ralston Saul (Anansi, 1996)

     Shit. A big room of it. And a guy trying to boil it down to its usable elements. John Ralston Saul’s allu­sion to this episode in a Jonathan Swift story serves as valuable metaphor for what Saul himself attempts, and succeeds at, in his new book. He doesn’t make as much of a mess, though.
     The book comes to us as five essays, but their origi­nal form was for the ear, and they were part of the CBC radio series “The Massey Lectures.” Here’s hoping peo­ple can avoid getting turned off when they pick up the little book - on it’s cover is that word “lecture,” and what some would consider the brand of the bland, the CBC logo. The talks were given at the U of T, and were supposed to be for speakers who bad done some research into areas of “contemporary interest.” What interests Saul, and what he feels should interest us, is the “hijacking” of language by a force in our society which hopes to keep us dormant and consuming. Yes, the c-word: Corporatism.
     OK, but no conspiracy theories here. Saul comes off more like a Canuck Chomsky: he’s worried about lan­guage, the way our little corner of the world is run, and the very real connection between the two; but he’s not nearly as dry, and not always quoting figures and UN resolutions. Actually, he deliberately avoids economics, giving a damn good enough reason: they really don’t know much, these economist types. After all they’re unable to make any accurate predictions or diagnosis of what really happens. He doesn’t only render economics impotent, but calls on its dead heroes, people like David Hume and Adam Smith, to show how divorced modern day capitalists are from these guys.
     The big problem is corporatism. Our language today is that of the upper management, a veritable c-­speak, divorced from reality, and we’re lulled into going along with it without questioning. One way to do this is by disregarding history. While Saul sees him­self in the corner of such humanists as Socrates, he accuses the corporatists of being in the same vein as such colorful historic touchstones as the Inquisition and the Fascists. Hmm...
     He asks us to reject “ideol­ogy” of any kind as an estab­lished, unquestionable set of truths, and instead to remem­ber our individual role as doubter. Use common sense, says Saul, but he doesn’t give us any tips on how to avoid the “Gramma’s advice” kind, from the “gee, I guess I better buy Windows ‘95, too” kind. A bit of a broad solution, yes, but that we should assert ourselves and use our democ­ratic devices, because if we don’t someone else will, or else they’ll just expire, like an old unused video rental card. A bit of an anarchist this Saul guy.
     For what initially seems a pretty heady topic, the five essays read pretty smooth. Remember when you come across sentence frags and rhetorical flourishes, that this stuff was READ OUT LOUD first; the guy is sup­posed to be talking to you (but not at you).
     Hell, it’s really a textbook, but for that one course you never seem to skip out on: philosophy without ideology, a movement towards better, by way of doubt. Stuff that can ricochet around in your head for a bit, if you let it, and even be kind of pretty some­times. Others seem to think so too: this fall Mr. Saul received a new conversation piece – the Governor General’s Award.

 

last updated August 17, 2007 | © 2007 Fathom Publishing
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