Transcript: Pico Iyer on Globalization | Apr 21, 2001

Inside a wood-panelled room, dozens of wooden chairs are set in rows in a semi-circle pattern. A zoom reveals a small sign on each chair, which reads "2001. The inaugural Hart House Lecture."
A fast-motion clip shows the room filling with people for the lecture.

[audience chatter]

Then, a slate with two Doric columns reads "Pico Iyer. 'An outsider's hope for a global future.'"

[applause]

Pico Iyer stands behind a wooden lectern in the room and addresses the audience. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with receding brown hair. He's wearing a black suit, white shirt, and red tie.

He says IT'LL COME AS NO
SURPRISE TO YOU
THAT I'M REALLY HAPPY
AND HONOURED TO BE HERE,
PARTLY BECAUSE I LONG AGO
DECIDED AT LEAST FOR MYSELF
THAT CANADA WAS THE
CIVILIZED CENTRE
OF THE WORLD, PARTLY
BECAUSE TORONTO IS ONE
OF THE PLACES WHERE I
MOST FEEL AT HOME,
AND ALSO TO BE HONEST
BECAUSE I'VE NEVER ACTUALLY
GIVEN A LECTURE WITH A NAME
ATTACHED TO IT BEFORE,
SO THIS IS AN EXCITING
NOVELTY FOR ME.
AND I'D LIKE TO BEGIN
REALLY BY EXTENDING
A SINCEREST AND WARMEST
THANKS TO MARGARET HANCOCK,
THE WARDEN OF HART HOUSE,
PARTIALLY FOR INVITING ME
AND GIVING ME A CHANCE TO
SPEND SOME TIME IN TORONTO
AGAIN, BUT I THINK
MORE THAN THAT,
FOR INVITING ME TO BE PART
OF A TRADITION THAT TO ME
IS ALWAYS ONE OF THE GREAT
CANADIAN TRADITIONS
WHICH IS THAT OF
THINKING OF THE FUTURE,
FASHIONING NEW
WAYS OF LIVING,
AND BEGINNING TO IMAGINE
HOW WE CAN LIVE IN A BETTER
WAY AND A MORE HARMONIOUS
AND SYMPATHETIC WAY WITH
ONE ANOTHER; AND I SUSPECT
THAT THIS LECTURE IN FUTURE
YEARS WILL BECOME CENTRAL
TO THE WHOLE CANADIAN
PROJECT OF VISUALIZING
A FUTURE AND ESPECIALLY
BECAUSE IT'S AIMED AT THE
STUDENTS ATTACHED TO
HART HOUSE WHO ARE THE
ONES WHO'LL BE MAKING
OUR FUTURES 20 OR 30
YEARS FROM NOW.
I'D ALSO LIKE TO EXPRESS
GREAT THANKS TO VINCENT TOVELL
AND TO JOHN FRASER AT
MASSEY HOUSE WHO PUT ME UP
AND PUT UP WITH ME THE LAST
COUPLE OF DAYS AND EXTENDED
SUCH LAVISH HOSPITALITY TO
ME THAT I'M AFRAID THEY
DANGEROUSLY CONFIRMED ME
IN ALL MY ROSY SENSES
ABOUT CANADA AS THE MOST
ACCOMMODATING AND
HOSPITABLE PLACE ON EARTH.
AND FINALLY I'D LIKE
TO THANK MIKE MORGAN,
PETER MCLEOD,
CHRISTINE CAMPBELL,
AND PATRICIA GRANT AT HART
HOUSE WHO'VE ATTENDED TO
MY EVERY LAST WHIM AND NEED
ALMOST EVERY DAY FOR SIX MONTHS
AND OFTEN AT GREAT
DISTANCE BECAUSE I DO
LIVE IN JAPAN, AND IN PETER
MCLEOD I FOUND AN EDITOR,
I'D SAY, AS DISCERNING AND
AS BRILLIANT AS MY EDITOR
AT THE NEW YORK
REVIEW OF BOOKS,
SOMEBODY WHO IN THE PROCESS
OF FASHIONING THIS LECTURE
CAME UP WITH SO MANY
IRRESISTIBLE NUGGETS
THAT I'M AFRAID I WAS
OBLIGED TO STEAL THEM ALL,
PUT THEM IN MY LECTURE, AND
THEN CLAIM THEM FOR MYSELF.
AND SOMEBODY WHO HANDLED
EVERYTHING FROM MEAL
ARRANGEMENTS TO SEMICOLONS
WITH SUCH CONSUMMATE TACT,
CHEERFULNESS, AND
EFFICIENCY THAT ESSENTIALLY
I WANT TO WORK WITH HIM
AND WITH THIS WHOLE TEAM
FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
NOW I'M HERE, IT'LL BE
HARD TO UPROOT ME FROM
HART HOUSE AND MASSEY
HOUSE, I THINK.
AT THE SAME TIME I SHOULD
TELL YOU THAT TORONTO AND
THE UNIVERSITY OF
TORONTO IN PARTICULAR
HAS A LOT TO ANSWER
FOR IN MY LIFE.
MANY, MANY LIVES AGO WHEN
I WAS STUDYING ENGLISH
LITERATURE IN ENGLAND,
I AND ALL MY FRIENDS
ESSENTIALLY WANTED
NOTHING MORE THAN TO
COME TO TORONTO.
PARTLY THAT'S BECAUSE
MARSHALL MCLUHAN
WAS AT HIS PRIME THEN.
PARTLY BECAUSE WHENEVER I
RETURNED TO MY PARENTS'
HOMETOWN OF SANTA
BARBARA, CALIFORNIA,
THE PRESIDING LITERARY GURU
THERE WAS HUGH KENNA
WITH HIS GREAT ATTACHMENTS
TO TORONTO AND TO CANADA,
BUT MOSTLY I THINK
BECAUSE OF NORTHROP FRYE,
WHO SEEMED TO TAKE WHAT CAN
BE A DRY AND EVEN, DARE I
SAY IT, POINTLESS EXERCISE,
THE STUDY OF ENGLISH,
AND TURNS IT -

[laughter]

Pico continues IT COULD SEEM THAT WHEN
YOU WERE SITTING IN DRAFTY
CLASSROOMS IN ENGLAND
AND TURNED IT INTO
A SCRIPTURAL AND ALMOST KIND
OF TRANSCENDENTAL MAPPING
ME AS A HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS
WHERE YOU FELT AS IF
YOU WERE PLUNGING DEEP INTO
SOMETHING ARCHETYPAL
THAT RESONATED
INSIDE ALL OF US.
AND SO WHEN I FINISHED
MY STUDIES IN ENGLAND,
I APPLIED FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
RATHER LIKE THE RHODES
SCHOLARSHIP IN REVERSE THAT
BRINGS VARIOUS STUDENTS
FROM ENGLAND OVER TO
NORTH AMERICA TO STUDY.
AND THEY GIVE QUITE A LOT
OF THESE OUT AND I THOUGHT
I HAD A PRETTY GOOD
CHANCE OF WINNING ONE.
BUT ONE WEEK BEFORE
THE FINAL INTERVIEW,
I MADE A FATAL, ABSOLUTELY
UNFORGIVABLE MISTAKE,
WHICH WAS TO PICK UP A
BOOK OF NORTHROP FRYE'S
THAT I NEVER READ BEFORE.
AND IT WAS A BOOK ABOUT THE
SHAKESPEAREAN ROMANCES
AND IN JUST DESCRIBING THE
FOUR PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE,
HE UNFOLDED THE PATTERNS
OF SHAKESPEARE'S LIFE,
THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN, THE
WAY IT CORRESPONDED TO
THE CYCLES OF THE DAY, THE
WAY THAT THAT IN TURN
CORRESPONDED TO THE CYCLES
OF THE YEAR AND HOW
AUTUMN AND SPRING SPEAK TO
OUR GRIEVING AND
OUR CELEBRATION, AND HOW IN
SOME WAYS EACH ONE OF
US WAS UNDERTAKING A KIND
OF ALLEGORY OF THE SOUL.
AND JUST IN THE LAST FOUR
PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE'S LIFE,
HE MANAGED TO EXPLICATE
WHAT SEEMED TO ME
A DIAGRAM OF EVERYTHING
ABOUT HUMAN NATURE.
AND WHEN I PUT
THE BOOK DOWN,
I REALLY FELT
TRANSFORMED.
SO I WENT UP TO LONDON FOR
THE INTERVIEW AND SIX HEADS
OF UXBRIDGE COLLEGES
PEERED AT ME FORMIDABLY
OVER THIS RATHER
LARGE TABLE.
AND ONE OF THE FIRST
QUESTIONS THEY ASKED WAS,
WELL, IF YOU GET
THIS SCHOLARSHIP,
YOU SPEND THREE MONTHS
TRAVELING AROUND
NORTH AMERICA, PUTTING
IT TO GOOD USE.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO
PUT IT TO GOOD USE?
AND I GLOWING LIKE A
CONVERT SAID, BRIGHTLY,
OH, WELL, I'M JUST GOING TO
TRAVEL AROUND AMERICA
AND SEE HOW IT CORRESPONDS TO
THE MYTHS OF NORTHROP FRYE.
DECIDEDLY ALARMED GLANCES
PASSED BACK AND FORTH
BETWEEN THESE LUMINARIES.
A FEW MINUTES LATER
THEY SAID, WELL,
MORE OR LESS THEY SAID,
WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO BE
WHEN YOU GROW UP...

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Pico Iyer. 'An outsider's hope for a global future.'"

Pico continues AND I
SAID MORE OR LESS, WELL,
I PLAN TO BE AN ACOLYTE
OF NORTHROP FRYE,
A STUDENT OF
NORTHROP FRYE'S.
ANYONE'S WHO'S IN THE
VICINITY OF NORTHROP FRYE'S.
SO THAT WAS THE END OF
MY CHANCES OF COMING
TO TORONTO OR GETTING
THAT SCHOLARSHIP.
AND IT REALLY HAS BEEN THE
CASE THAT EVER SINCE THEN,
WHENEVER I'VE
BEEN IN THIS CITY,
I'VE PEERED A LITTLE
WISTFULLY THROUGH THE GATES
OF THE UNIVERSITY, WONDERED
HOW MY LIFE MIGHT HAVE
BEEN DIFFERENT IF I HADN'T
ACTUALLY READ THAT BOOK OF
NORTHROP FRYE'S AND THUS
HAD GOT TO STUDY
WITH HIM FOR
SEVERAL YEARS.
AND THOUGHT, YOU KNOW, HOW
I MIGHT HAVE BECOME NOT JUST
AN HONOURARY CANADIAN
OR A BOOSTER'S ASSISTANT,
BUT ACTUALLY AN
ACTUAL CANADIAN.
SO I HAVE MORE REASONS
THAN YOU MIGHT SUSPECT
FOR BEING HAPPY TO BE HERE
AND ACTUALLY TO BE STAYING
IN THIS MUCH DREAMED
OF UNIVERSITY.
AND I THINK ALL
OF YOU KNOW,
BECAUSE YOU'RE LIVING IT,
HOW MUCH CANADA IS FORGING
TOWARDS A FUTURE AND
THINKING ABOUT ISSUES THAT
THE REST OF THE WORLD IS ONLY
BEGINNING TO CATCH UP WITH.
BUT YOU MAY NOT KNOW, AGAIN
BECAUSE YOU'RE LIVING IT,
HOW MUCH CANADA IS
ADMIRED AND RESPECTED,
SOMETIMES EVEN ENVIED,
BY THE OLDEST CULTURES
OF THE WORLD.
JUST TO TAKE A
TRIFLING EXAMPLE,
I WAS RECENTLY TAKING AN
AIR FRANCE FLIGHT TO PARIS
AND AS YOU'D EXPECT AIR
FRANCE PRIDES ITSELF
ON ITS CUISINE, EVEN
IN ECONOMY CLASS.
AND I NOTICED AS I WAS
SITTING ON THIS FLIGHT
THAT EVERY PASSENGER WAS
HANDED A LITTLE RECTANGLE
AND I STARED AT MY RECTANGLE
AND THERE I SAW EXTRA
OLD CANADIAN CHEDDAR CHEESE.
AND I THOUGHT IT'S
SOMEWHAT SURPRISING
THAT AIR FRANCE,
PRESUMABLY THE FLAGSHIP
OF THE GLORIES OF FRENCH
CUISINE, WOULD BE TRAFFICKING
IN EXTRA OLD
CANADIAN CHEDDAR CHEESE.

[laughter]

Pico continues
MAYBE THEY JUST DIDN'T
WANT TO GIVE OUT
ENGLISH CHEDDAR CHEESE.

[laughter]

Pico continues
AND THE ONE OTHER TRIFLING
EXAMPLE I'LL GIVE IS
IN FACT, WHEN I FLEW IN TWO
DAYS AGO AND I WAS IN
THE IMMIGRATION AREA AT
LESTER PEARSON AIRPORT,
THE IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL
BECKONED ME AND TOOK ME OFF
INTO A CORNER AND ME ASKED
ME WHAT I WAS PLANNING
TO DO HERE.
LUCKILY, THIS TIME, I DIDN'T
SAY I WAS GOING TO BE
AN ACOLYTE OR STUDENT
OF NORTHROP FRYE.

[laughter]

Pico continues
BUT I TOLD HIM WHAT MY
PURPOSE SEEMED TO BE, AND HE
INSTANTLY ENGAGED ME IN A
FAIRLY LONG DISCUSSION ABOUT
SALMAN RUSHDIE AND LEFT ME
WITH A QUOTE BY C.S. LEWIS.
AND I THOUGHT WELL,
AT LEAST A LITTLE
OF MY OPTIMISTIC VIEW OF
TORONTO AND CANADA'S
BEEN CONFIRMED ALREADY.
I HAVEN'T EVEN
LEFT THE AIRPORT.
I FLY INTO LOS ANGELES
AIRPORT FOUR OR FIVE TIMES
A YEAR AND I CAN
ASSURE YOU IN 35 YEARS -

[laughter]

Pico continues
I'VE NEVER HAD AN
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL
BESTOW ON ME A QUOTE
BY C.S. LEWIS.

[laughter]

Pico continues
SO I APOLOGIZE AT THE
OUTSET FOR TELLING YOU ALL,
MOST OF WHOM ARE CANADIANS,
WHAT CANADA IS REALLY
ABOUT AS SEEN BY SOMEBODY
WHO'S ALMOST NEVER BEEN HERE.
AND I REALLY THANK YOU ALL
VERY MUCH FOR COMING
AND FOR INVITING
ME TO BE HERE.
I THINK LEFT TO
MY OWN DEVICES,
I WOULD PROBABLY JUST
IMPROVISE A TALK ON HOW
CANADIAN LITERATURE HAS
MOVED AND UPLIFTED AND
INSPIRED ME OVER THE YEARS,
BUT I DO HAVE THIS LONG,
NAY INTERMINABLE TEXT HERE,
AND SO HAVING GONE TO THE
TROUBLE OF WRITING IT, I'LL
READ SOME PARTS OF IT,
I THINK, FOR
ABOUT 55 MINUTES,
AND THEN KEN AS MENTIONED
IS GOING TO COME AND
MODERATE QUESTIONS AND
ANSWERS AND I HOPE,
IF NOTHING ELSE, IT'LL
PROVOKE LOTS OF QUESTIONS.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, A BOOK
ARRIVED ON MY DOORSTEP,
AND IT WAS LIKE NO
OTHER NOVEL I COULD
REMEMBER READING.
ITS CHARACTERS WERE
ALL SPIRITS OF A KIND,
ROOTLESS, AND DRIFTING
FAR FROM HOME.
AND ALL OF THEM
HAD GATHERED,
LIKE PARTIAL GHOSTS,
IN A SHELLED NUNNERY
AT THE END OF
WORLD WAR II.
AT THEIR CENTER WAS A YOUNG
WOMAN FROM UPPER AMERICA,
AS SHE CALLED IT, WITH A
NAME THAT COULD HAVE BEEN
CZECH OR JAPANESE OR EVEN -
WHO KNOWS - CANADIAN.
BY HER SIDE WAS AN INDIAN
NAMED FOR KIPPERS
WHO HUNGERED FOR
STORIES OF TORONTO,
QUOTE: AS IF IT WERE A
PLACE OF PECULIAR WONDERS.
STEALING IN AND OUT OF
THEIR PRESENCE
WAS A WANDERER WITH THE HIGHLY
BAROQUE NAME OF CARAVAGGIO,
THOUGH HE, TOO, WAS A
FOREIGNER IN THE ITALY
WHERE THEY FOUND
THEMSELVES, AND CAME,
AS IT HAPPENED,
FROM TORONTO.
AND LYING IN BANDAGES IN
THEIR MIDST WAS A DESERT
ENGLISHMAN, WITHOUT A NAME
AND ALMOST WITHOUT A FACE,
WHOSE ORIGINS AND IDENTITY
WERE ALWAYS MOSTLY IN SHADOW.
THE BOOK POSSESSED ME IN
WAYS BOTH MYSTERIOUS
AND EASY TO EXPLAIN.
ITS SCENES, PRECISE,
ORNAMENTAL,
FULL OF EXOTIC INFORMATION,
MADE ME FEEL AS IF
I WERE WALKING THROUGH A
SERIES OF BEJEWELED
CHAMBERS, SENSUAL AND
DELIBERATE AND ARCHED,
A KIND OF LITERARY
ALHAMBRA.
THE ACTION WAS PRESIDED
OVER BY RENAISSANCE MURALS
AND SUFFUSED WITH THE
SPIRITS OF TACITUS
AND HERODOTUS AND KIPLING,
YET IT FELT AS FRESH
AS TOMORROW, WITH THE
CHARACTERS EXCHANGING
STORIES OF DESERT WINDS
AND STREETS OF PARROTS,
GOLDEN TEMPLES AND
TROPICAL SPICES.
THE LOVE SCENES, CHARGED
WITH THE LAPIS ELEGANCE
OF HIGH ARABIC POETRY,
THREW OPEN THE WINDOWS
OF THE STUFFY HOUSE OF ENGLISH
LETTERS TO LET IN A NEW
AND INTOXICATING LIGHT.
YET THE TRUEST
ATTRACTION OF THE NOVEL
FOR ME LAY IN
SOMETHING DEEPER.
FOR EVEN AS IT
SCRUTINIZED THE PAST
AND POSITIONED ITS
CHARACTERS IN SCENES
NOW FIFTY OR SIXTY
YEARS BEHIND US,
IT SEEMED TO ME NOT SO MUCH
A HISTORICAL NOVEL
AS A REVOLUTIONARY ONE,
CHARTING THE OUTLINES
OF A NEW WORLD, IN WHICH
STRANGERS COULD INTERACT
AND LOVE AND TALK IN
A NEW KIND OF WAY,
UNCONSCIOUS OF ANCESTRY.
AND IF IT DIDN'T READ LIKE
THE TRADITIONAL ENGLISH
NOVELS I'D GROWN
UP WITH AT SCHOOL,
IT ALSO DIDN'T READ
LIKE A TYPICAL NOVEL
FROM NORTH AFRICA
OR SRI LANKA.
IT WAS SOMETHING ELSE
OUTSIDE FAMILIAR CATEGORIES.
THE COLD WAR HAD ENDED
THREE YEARS BEFORE AND
GEOPOLITICIANS WERE TELLING
US THAT ALL THE OLD
DIVISIONS WERE NOW EXTINCT.
BUT IN
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
THIS NEW WORLD ORDER
WAS A FACT OF LIFE, AND ANY
ASSUMPTIONS YOU MIGHT MAKE
ABOUT THE NATIONALITIES
OF ITS CHARACTERS -
THAT THE ENGLISH PATIENT
WAS ENGLISH, SAY,
OR THAT THE ONE ENLISTED
IN THE BRITISH ARMY
WAS BRITISH -
WOULD BE WRONG.
AT THE VERY MOMENT WHEN THE
WORLD WAS BEING CONVULSED
BY NATIONALISTIC DIVISIONS,
AND PEOPLE WERE BEING
KILLED ON THE BASIS OF THE
PASSPORTS OR THEIR RACE,
THESE FOUR SEMI-POSTHUMOUS
BEINGS TOLD US WE COULD
DEFINE OURSELVES IN NEW
WAYS AND STEP
INTO A DIFFERENT KIND
OF COMMUNITY.
WE WERE GERMAN, ENGLISH,
HUNGARIAN, AFRICAN,
REMINISCED THE TITLE
CHARACTER AS HE THOUGHT
BACK TO A DESERT SOCIETY
BEFORE THE WAR IN WHICH
ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE FLOWED
TOGETHER IN A COMMON CAUSE,
NO BORDERS OR DISTINCTIONS
VISIBLE IN THE SAND.
QUOTE: GRADUALLY WE
BECAME NATIONLESS.
I CAME TO HATE NATIONS.
HIS CLOSEST ASSOCIATE AMONG
THE EXPLORERS HAD DIED,
HE RECALLED,
BECAUSE OF NATIONS.
CATEGORIES COULD QUITE
LITERALLY BE FATAL.
AND AS THE FOUR FIGURES
CIRCLED AROUND ONE ANOTHER
IN THE CANDLELIGHT, ALL
INTERNATIONAL BASTARDS
IN
THE ENGLISH PATIENT'S
PUNGENT PHRASE, THEY MOVED,
AS THE NARRATIVE
KEPT PUTTING IT,
LIKE SEPARATE PLANETS,
LIKE PLANETARY STRANGERS.
THIS VISION OF PEOPLE
TURNING LIKE STARS,
INDEPENDENT
UNIVERSES ALMOST,
TOO LARGE AND MYSTERIOUS TO
BE PUSHED INTO THE BOXES
OF APPLICATION FORMS, SO
EXCITED ME THAT
I WENT BACK TO MICHAEL
ONDAATJE'S PREVIOUS NOVEL,
IN THE SKIN OF A LION, AND
FOUND THAT IT CONCERNED
THE PEOPLE, MOSTLY IMMIGRANTS,
WHO HELPED BUILD TORONTO
IN THE 19TH CENTURY.
THEY WERE NOT MAP
MAKERS AND EXPLORERS,
IN THIS CASE, BUT
BRIDGE BUILDERS,
THOUGH REALLY IT CAME
TO THE SAME THING.
THEIR LIVES HAD BEEN
DEVOTED TO MAKING
A CONNECTION BETWEEN
TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS,
OLD AND NEW, OR
EAST AND WEST.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
WAS A SEQUEL,
I CAME TO UNDERSTAND,
WHICH WAS DESCRIBING
THE NEXT FOUNDATION IN
TORONTO'S HISTORY,
IMAGINING A NEUTRAL ZONE
IN THE MIDDLE OF WAR -
A SPACE BETWEEN
YOU COULD SAY,
IN WHICH STRANGERS FROM
DIFFERENT WORLDS
COULD COME AND
HEAL THEIR WOUNDS,
IN PART BY SHARING
STORIES, KISSES, BLOOD.
I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH
OF THIS IS WHAT
MICHAEL ONDAATJE
CONSCIOUSLY INTENDED,
BUT I DO KNOW THAT HE COULD
NOT FAIL BUT BE INFLUENCED
BY HIS OWN MULTICULTURED
BACKGROUND:
GROWING UP IN SRI LANKA,
GOING TO SCHOOL IN ENGLAND
AND THEN COMING TO A
TORONTO WHERE IT MIGHT
HAVE SEEMED THAT MANY
OF HIS DIFFERENT PASTS
WERE COMING TOGETHER.
THE WRITER'S MIXED-RACE
SIBLINGS OR MONGRELS,
AS HE MIGHT PROVOCATIVELY
HAVE CALLED THEM, LIVED,
I LEARNED, ON FOUR
DIFFERENT CONTINENTS EVEN NOW.
AND HIS QUIETLY
VISIONARY BOOK,
MAKING THE OLD WORLD NEW
BY FILLING IT WITH OTHER
WORLDS AND PASTS, SPOKE
WITH PARTICULAR BEAUTY
TO A TYPICALLY MONGREL
MODERN READER LIKE MYSELF
WHO WAS BORN IN ENGLAND,
TO AN INDIAN HOUSEHOLD,
WAS OFFICIALLY LIVING IN
CALIFORNIA AND SPENT
MOST OF MY TIME IN JAPAN.
WELL THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE
OF THE BOOK ON MY DOORSTEP
HAD ANOTHER, AND A MORE
PRACTICAL APTNESS BECAUSE,
JUST THREE MONTHS BEFORE
I ENTERED ITS UNIVERSE,
I HAD TAKEN MY FIRST
TRIP TO TORONTO,
THE IDEAL WAY STATION FOR A
TRAVELLER IN CALIFORNIA
WHO WANTED TO GO TO CUBA,
AND A REMINDER, TOO,
THAT CANADA WAS EXEMPT FROM
MANY OF THE ENMITIES
OF ITS NEIGHBOR TO THE SOUTH,
AND STILL ENJOYED CORDIAL
RELATIONS WITH THOSE
PLACES DEEMED UN-AMERICAN.
AS I WALKED
AROUND THE CITY,
STEPPING ACROSS CENTURIES
AND CONTINENTS EACH TIME
I CROSSED A SIDE STREET,
I FOUND MYSELF,
AS MANY PEOPLE HAD
TOLD ME I WOULD,
IN THE EASTERN
CITY OF MY DREAMS,
THE KIND YOU SEE ONLY IN
MOVIES, IN PART, OF COURSE,
BECAUSE IDEALIZED
VERSIONS OF BOSTON,
WASHINGTON OR NEW YORK ARE
GENERALLY SET IN TORONTO,
JUST AS THE SAN FRANCISCO
OR SEATTLE OF THE WORLD'S
IMAGINATION IS USUALLY
SHOT IN VANCOUVER.
I WENT TO A BALL GAME
AT THE SKYDOME,
I LOOKED AT
INDIAN-PAKISTANI-STYLE
CHINESE RESTAURANTS, I
WALKED AND WALKED AMONG
THE SHIFTING COLOURS AND
SOVEREIGNTIES OF BLOOR STREET,
AND EVERYWHERE I SAW A
CONFLUENCE OF TRIBES
NOT SO VERY DIFFERENT FROM
WHAT I WOULD ENCOUNTER
A LITTLE LATER IN
THE
ENGLISH PATIENT.
IN SOME WAYS NOT
SO SURPRISINGLY,
WHAT I WAS SEEING WAS A
PLACE WITH BOTH A SENSE
OF HISTORY AND THEREFORE
A SENSE OF IRONY
WITH THE ENGLAND WHERE I'D
GROWN UP, AND THE SENSE
OF THE FUTURE, AND SO THE
SENSE OF EXPANSIVENESS,
OF THE AMERICA WHERE I'D
COME TO MAKE A NEW LIFE.
THE FIRST TIME I'D EVER
SET FOOT IN CANADA,
I SUDDENLY REMEMBERED, WAS
IN 1967, WHEN, AS A CHILD,
I WAS BROUGHT BY MY PARENTS
TO SEE THE WORLD EXPO
IN MONTREAL AND,
MINI-PASSPORT IN HAND,
LEARNED HOW TO BECOME A
CITIZEN OF THE NEW WORLD
ORDER BY STEPPING FROM
NATIONAL PAVILION
TO NATIONAL PAVILION.
NOT LONG BEFORE, LIKE
MANY OF OUR BACKGROUND,
MY PARENTS AND I HAD SAT
IN OXFORD AND WONDERED
WHETHER TO MIGRATE TO
CANADA OR CALIFORNIA.
WE ULTIMATELY DECIDED ON
THE PLACE THAT PRESENTED
ITSELF TO US AS THE
ATHENS OF THE WEST,
AND LATER WONDERED WHETHER
WE MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN
BETTER OFF IN SPARTA.

[laughter]

Pico continues
NOW, AS I WANDERED AROUND
WHAT SEEMED TO BE A CONCRETE,
PHYSICAL VERSION
OF WHAT
WIRED
MAGAZINE,
IN HONOUR OF MARSHALL
MCLUHAN HAD CALLED MOSAIC
THINKING, I FELT I WAS
SEEING, IN SOME RESPECTS,
A LIBERATED ENGLAND, AN
ELEVATED AMERICA THAT SEEMED
IDEAL TO AN INDIAN
WHO CAME AT ONCE
FROM EVERYWHERE
AND NOWHERE.
I RECOGNIZED THE SKEPTICISM
I HEARD IN MANY VOICES,
BUT IT SEEMED FREE OF THE
BITTERNESS IT MIGHT
HAVE CARRIED IN ENGLAND.
I RESPONDED TO THE EARNEST
OPTIMISM AND HOPEFULNESS
OF THE PLACE, BUT IT
DIDN'T FEEL AS HEEDLESS
OF THE PAST OR OF
GROUNDING REALITIES,
AS CALIFORNIA OFTEN DID.
HISTORY WAS A GIVEN
HERE, I SUSPECTED,
AS IT WAS IN
THE
ENGLISH PATIENT,
BUT IT DIDN'T HAVE
TO BE A CONFINEMENT.
I FOUND MYSELF
EXHILARATED, TOO,
BY THE QUICK-WITTEDNESS
AND INTELLIGENCE
OF A CULTURE THAT SEEMED FREE
OF THE COMPETITIVE BUSTLE
AND NOISE I MIGHT EXPECT
TO FIND IN NEW YORK.
HERE, I TOLD MYSELF, WAS
ALL MANHATTAN'S SOFTWARE
WITHOUT, SO TO SPEAK,
ITS HARD DRIVE.
THIS WAS A LOT, PERHAPS,
TO SEE IN JUST TWO DAYS,
EN ROUTE TO THE VIBRANT
MAYHEM OF HAVANA.
AND THE TORONTONIANS I
MET EXPRESSED SURPRISE
AND EVEN ALARM AT
MY ENTHUSIASM -

[laughter]

Pico continues
AS YOU MAY BE DOING NOW
INURED AS THEY DOUBTLESS
ARE - AND AS YOU DOUBTLESS
ARE - TO THE RAVINGS
OF SHORT-TIME VISITORS.
AS ANYWHERE, THEY TOLD ME,
THE CITY WAS GOVERNED
BY A HIERARCHY THAT THE INNOCENT
NEWCOMER COULD NOT SEE,
AND THAT WAS NO MORE EAGER
TO SURRENDER POWER THAN ANY
OTHER STATUS QUO, AS LOCKED
INSIDE ITS OLD RESENTMENTS
AS ANYTHING IN BRITAIN
OR SOUTH AFRICA.
THE NEWSPAPERS, BESIDES,
WERE FULL OF THE LATEST
SECESSIONIST
TALK FROM QUEBEC;
AND THE RECENT OUTBURST OF
EVEN SMALL DISTURBANCES
IN THE WAKE OF THE RODNEY
KING VERDICT HAD EVERYONE
DEBATING ONCE AGAIN
THE PROS AND CONS
OF MULTICULTURALISM.
YET FOR ALL OF THAT, I
CAME AWAY WITH A SENSE
OF POSSIBILITY I HADN'T
FELT AS I'D TRAVELLED
TO OTHER OF THE GLOBE'S
DEFINING MULTICULTURES,
WHETHER IN SINGAPORE OR
CAPE TOWN OR MELBOURNE,
ON THE ONE HAND, OR IN
PARIS AND LONDON
AND BOMBAY, ON
THE OTHER.
ON PAPER, AT LEAST THE
REASONING WAS CLEAR:
TORONTO WAS THE MOST
MULTICULTURAL CITY
IN THE WORLD, ACCORDING TO
THE UN'S OFFICIAL STATISTICS
AND IT WAS ALSO,
STATISTICALLY,
THE SAFEST BIG CITY
IN NORTH AMERICA AND,
BY GENERAL CONSENSUS,
THE BEST ORGANIZED.
PUT THOSE TWO
FACTS TOGETHER,
AND YOU COULD BELIEVE THAT
THE MULTICULTURE COULD
GO BEYOND THE NATION STATES WE
KNEW AND GIVE NEW MEANING
TO THAT OUTDATED TERM,
THE COMMONWEALTH.
ADD FURTHER MY SENSE THAT
TORONTO HAD THE MOST
EXCITING LITERARY CULTURE
IN THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING
WORLD, AND YOU COULD
BELIEVE THAT IT NOT ONLY
OFFERED AN EXAMPLE OF HOW
A COUNTRY COULD BE
EVEN GREATER THAN THE
SUM OF ITS PARTS,
BUT ACTUALLY PRESENTED
VISIONS OF WHAT
THAT POST-NATIONAL FUTURE
MIGHT LOOK LIKE.
WELL IT MAY SEEM,
AT THIS POINT,
THAT WHAT I WAS SEEING
WAS, AS MUCH AS ANYTHING,
WAS REALLY A CANADA
OF THE IMAGINATION,
A PLACE THAT EXISTS LARGELY
IN THE MINDS OF PEOPLE
OBSERVING IT FROM AFAR.
AS MCLUHAN HIMSELF SAID
YEARS AGO, CANADA IS, QUOTE:
A RECEPTIVE GROUND
FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S FANTASIES.
A CANADIAN MIGHT SAY THAT
ALL I WAS RESPONDING
TO WAS A PLACE THAT
EXISTS ON PAPER, THAT,
AS KEN WAY SAYING, CAME
OUT NUMBER ONE IN THE UN
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX FOR
FIVE CONSECUTIVE YEARS.
THIS WAS THE LAND THAT
LOOKED IDEAL IN THEORY
PARTLY BECAUSE, FOR ALL ITS
ANXIETIES ABOUT ITS FIRST
NATIONS PAST AND ITS
QUEBECOIS PRESENT,
IT WAS NOT HEMMED IN BY
THE WEIGHT OF ITS PAST,
AS THE OLD WORLD COULD BE,
NOR BURDENED BY THE PROMISE
OF AN UNLIMITED FUTURE,
AS ITS NEIGHBOUR
IN THE NEW WORLD
OFTEN IS.
IN THE MIND'S
EYE, AT LEAST,
CANADA SITS OUTSIDE MOST
FIXED DEFINITIONS
AND OFFERS OPENNESS
WITHOUT CHAOS,
THE IDEAL FOUNDATION FOR
WHAT PUNDITS AT THE LONDON
SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS CALL
THE THIRD WAY AND BUDDHISTS
MIGHT MORE SPACIOUSLY
CALL THE MIDDLE WAY.
WELL THIS IS, OF COURSE,
A NOTION THAT WORKS MOST
PERSUASIVELY ON PAPER, AND
THOSE WHO LIVE IN THE MIDST
OF ITS COMPETING
SURFACES ARE UNLIKELY TO
EMBRACE IT SO
WHOLE-HEARTEDLY.
YET IMAGES DO HAVE
A CERTAIN POWER,
AS ANYONE WHO HAS RISKED
HER LIFE AND GONE ACROSS
THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF THE
AMERICAN DREAM CAN TELL YOU.
CANADA IS NOT IMPRISONED IN
ITS IMAGE AS ITS BIGGER
OR OLDER NEIGHBOURS MAY BE,
AND THERE IS NO CANADIAN
DREAM IN POP-CULTURAL
CIRCULATION;
BUT IT DOES HAVE AN
IMAGE, AND IT IS THE ONE
CELEBRATED IN
THE
ENGLISH PATIENT.
IT IS THE PLACE SET BACK A
LITTLE FROM THE DRAMAS
AND URGENCIES OF THE
WORLD'S CONFLICTS,
AND FOR THAT VERY REASON,
BEST ABLE TO THROW
A KIND OF LIGHT
ON THEM.
IT IS AN IN-BETWEEN PLACE
IN WHICH THOSE FROM BROKEN
WORLDS CAN STEP OUTSIDE
THE RUINS FOR A WHILE
AND THINK ABOUT HOW TO
MAKE A FUTURE IN PEACE.
A SANCTUARY, IF YOU LIKE,
IN WHICH PEOPLE FROM
BRITAIN AND FRANCE,
CENTURIES-OLD NEIGHBOURS -
OR CENTURIES-OLD ENEMIES
IN EUROPE CAN LIVE SIDE
BY SIDE, AFTER A FASHION,
AND A DEMILITARIZED ZONE
IN WHICH INDIA AND PAKISTAN
CAN COME AND PLAY
THE CRICKET GAMES THAT
WOULD SET OFF RIOTS
IF ACTUALLY PLAYED IN
INDIA OR PAKISTAN.
CANADIANS THEMSELVES,
LIKE PEOPLE ANYWHERE,
ARE OFTEN EMBARRASSED
ABOUT THE COMPLIMENTS
THEY RECEIVE FROM OUTSIDERS,
ESPECIALLY BECAUSE
THEY'RE USED TO DEFINING
THEMSELVES WITH A QUALIFICATION.
PART OF THE MYSTIQUE
OF CANADA, I THINK,
IS THAT IT'S THE PLACE THAT
ASSERTS ITSELF IN ITALICS
WHILE THE UNITED STATES PRESENTS
ITSELF IN BOLD CAPITALS. AND
WHEN THEY HEAR PEOPLE
TALK AS I AM DOING NOW,
THEY WILL POINT OUT
THAT THE NEXT CENTURY
POSSIBILITIES THAT I'M
EXTOLLING DISAPPEAR AS SOON
AS YOU'RE AN HOUR OUT OF
VANCOUVER OR TORONTO,
IN RURAL COMMUNITIES THAT
REMAIN VERY MUCH MIRED
IN THE LAST CENTURY.
TENNYSON AND QUEEN
ELIZABETH ARE AT LEAST
AS SOVEREIGN HERE AS ROHINTON
MISTRY AND THE TRAGICALLY HIP.
AND YET THE IMAGINATIVE
IDENTITY THAT CANADA
PROJECTS AROUND THE WORLD
STILL REMAINS POWERFUL
AND IN ITS WAY
UNANSWERABLE.
DIXON, ONTARIO,
CATHERINE BUSH TELLS US,
IS ONE OF THE BEST KNOWN
PLACES IN EAST AFRICA
BECAUSE IT IS THE
SAFE PLACE OF WHICH
MANY SOMALIS DREAM.
IT'S THE PARTICULAR BURDEN
OF CANADA, OF COURSE,
THAT FOR DECADES AND FOR
MANY PEOPLE AROUND
THE WORLD, IT HAS BEEN
DESCRIBED AS THE
COUNTER-AMERICA, THE
ALTERNATIVE NEW WORLD
THAT REALLY IS A KINDER,
GENTLER PLACE WHERE
THE THOUSAND POINTS OF
LIGHT CAN BE JOINED UP.
EVEN THE DICTIONARY OF
CANADIAN QUOTATIONS,
AS NEIL BISSOONDATH
POINTS OUT,
DEVOTES FEWER THAN NINE
COLUMNS TO THE ENTRY
FOR CANADA AND MORE THAN
17 FOR THE ENTRY
ON CANADA AND THE
UNITED STATES.
THIS IS DOUBLY IRONIC GIVEN
THAT SO MANY AMERICANS,
WHEN ON THE ROAD, TRY TO
PASS THEMSELVES OFF
AS CANADIANS SO THEY'LL
RECEIVE A WARMER WELCOME.
AND IT'S TREBLY IRONIC -
OR SHOULD I SAY TRIPLY -
GIVEN THAT MANY MORE
CANADIANS, PROPORTIONALLY,
TRAVEL THE WORLD
THAN AMERICANS,
IN PART BECAUSE THEY WERE
NOT BROUGHT UP THINKING
THEY WERE LIVING IN THE
CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE.
BUT AT A MUCH DEEPER
LEVEL, TO SOMEONE LIKE ME,
WHO'S LIVED HAPPILY AND
GRATEFULLY IN THE U.S. FOR
35 YEARS, CANADA OFFERS
A PARTICULAR KIND OF
LIBERATION PRECISELY
BECAUSE IT UNDERSTANDS
THE NATURE OF LIMITATION.
IN THE U.S., I ALWAYS FEEL,
NEWCOMERS ARE TOLD TO SHED
THEIR PASTS ON ARRIVAL AND
COMMIT THEMSELVES TO
THE GRAND COLLECTIVE TASK
OF PERPETUAL RE-INVENTION.
IN CANADA, THERE SEEMS TO
BE A SENSE THAT A HUNDRED
PASTS CAN BE ENTERTAINED
ALL AT ONCE,
AND IN THE VERY WAY IN
WHICH THEY RUB AGAINST
ONE ANOTHER, AND BLEND
AND BLUR AND MERGE,
SOMETHING NEW
WILL ARISE.
THERE IS, TO ME, A TONIC
SENSE HERE THAT THE FUTURE
CAN ONLY BE AS STRONG AS
OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE PAST.
AND WHEN I THINK OF THIS, I
KEEP GOING BACK IN MY MIND
TO THOSE POST-NATIONAL
SOULS CONVERGING
IN THE GHOSTLY SPACE OF THE
NUNNERY TURNED HOSPITAL
IN THE NEAR RUINS OF 1945.
IT'S SURELY NO COINCIDENCE
THAT THE SUN AT THEIR CENTRE
IS A NURSE WHO
REGULARLY RISKS HER LIFE
TO TEND TO THE BROKEN
BEINGS ALL AROUND,
HOPING TO CURE HER OWN
WOUNDS BY ADMINISTERING
TO THOSE OF OTHERS.
THE ONE THAT SHE HOLDS
AT NIGHT IS A SAPPER,
WHO RISKS HIS LIFE EVERY
DAY TO DEFUSE BOMBS
ON BEHALF OF A COUNTRY
NOT HIS OWN.
THE MAN IN THE BED IS A
FAMOUS MAP MAKER KNOWN FOR
HIS DISCOVERY OF A NEW OASIS
THAT HAD LONG BEEN LOST.
AND EVEN THE
FOURTH AMONG THEM,
A THIEF WHO SERVES TO
REMIND US THAT NO COMMUNITY
IS PURELY HEROIC
OR LAW ABIDING,
DEVOTES HIS NIGHTS
TO A KIND OF AD HOC
REDISTRIBUTION OF INCOME
AND, IN HIS SARDONIC WAY,
SPEAKS AT ONE POINT
OF A BRAVE NEW WORLD.
ALL FOUR OF THEM, IT'S
HARD NOT TO NOTICE,
ARE HEALERS AND EXPLORERS,
SPIRITUAL CANADIANS.
I TOOK ALL THESE THOUGHTS
WITH ME BACK TO CALIFORNIA.
I VISITED CANADA A FEW MORE
TIMES IN THE MONTHS THAT
FOLLOWED AND I THOUGHT
ABOUT WHAT CANADA MIGHT
REPRESENT AS THE NEW
MILLENNIUM APPROACHED.
AND JUST THEN ANOTHER BOOK
ARRIVED ON MY DOORSTEP -
OR, MORE ACCURATELY, WAS
PUSHED INTO MY HANDS
BY AN EDITOR IN NEW YORK, AS
THE BOOK HE WAS PROUDEST
OF PUBLISHING AMONG
THE HUNDREDS HE WAS
BRINGING OUT THAT YEAR.
IT WAS A NOVEL AGAIN, AND
IT WAS SET IN A WORLD NOT
SO DIFFERENT FROM THAT
OF
THE ENGLISH PATIENT,
YET IT BROUGHT THAT BOOK'S
VISION CLOSER TO THE PRESENT
IN TIME AND SPACE, AS IF
TO NUDGE IT FORWARDS.
ITS ACTION BEGAN, TO BE
SURE, DURING WORLD WAR II,
IN EUROPE, BUT THEN IT
MOVED BACK TO TORONTO,
WHICH CAME TO SEEM, ONCE
MORE, A HAVEN OF SORTS,
A PLACE IN WHICH HAUNTED
SOULS COULD PUT THEIR
SHATTERED LIVES IN ORDER
AND MAKE A KIND OF SENSE,
OR EVEN ART, OUT OF ALL
THAT THEY HAD LOST.
AND THEN IT MOVED
BACK AGAIN TO EUROPE,
AND THEN AGAIN TO TORONTO,
BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN
THE PRESENT AND THE PAST;
THE WORLD THAT HAD MADE
ITS CHARACTERS AND THE WORLD
THAT THEY HOPED TO MAKE.
FUGITIVE PIECES
DEALS
INSISTENTLY AND
UNFLINCHINGLY WITH
THE HOLOCAUST,
AND YET IT DEALS WITH
IT IN A NEW WORLD WAY,
SEEING HOW PEOPLE WHO HAD
BEEN ALMOST BROKEN BY IT
COULD NONETHELESS MOVE INTO
A CLEANSED NEW WORLD
IN WHICH THEIR IDENTITIES
COULD BECOME SOMETHING
ELSE AND MORE.
THE PAST FOR THEM IS
DESPERATE ENERGY, LIVE,
AN ELECTRIC FIELD - A
NICE ANTICIPATION OF KERRI
SAKAMOTO'S EERIE NOVEL
ABOUT NEW CANADIANS.
THE PAST IS FULL OF
A WONDER AND WISDOM,
AS WELL AS A HEARTBREAK,
IT WOULD BE FOOLISH
TO SURRENDER.
AND YET, AS ONE OF
MICHAELS' IMMIGRANTS SAYS,
QUOTE: IN A
FOREIGN LANDSCAPE,
A MAN DISCOVERS
THE OLD SONGS.
TORONTO IS NOT THE CENTRE
OF MICHAELS'S NOVEL,
OR ITS INTERESTS, AND
YET IT IS - AGAIN,
NO COINCIDENCE, I
THINK - ITS SETTING,
THE PLACE WHERE ITS
PEOPLE GET BETTER,
AND MICHAELS PRESENTS AN
OFTEN INCANDESCENT VISION
OF A CITY THAT, LIKE
ATHENS, IS AN ACTIVE PORT,
AND QUOTE: A MARKET,
A CARAVANSARY,
IN WHICH PEOPLE COME
TOGETHER TO EXCHANGE THEIR
DIFFERENT SONGS AND
STORIES AND PASTS.
A MEETING PLACE IN THE
DESERT, IN ITS WAY.
A CITY, AS SHE PUTS
IT, OF FORSAKEN WORLDS.
FOR HER GRATEFUL IMMIGRANTS
FLEEING NAZI EUROPE AND
FIRST ARRIVING IN CANADA,
IT SEEMS LIKE A LUXURY HOTEL,
AN OASIS OF EASE AND
ABUNDANCE; AND A HOTEL,
I THINK, IS NOT SUCH A
TERRIBLE WAY OF THINKING
ABOUT SOCIETY, ALL ITS
INHABITANTS IN THEIR OWN
SEPARATE, COMFORTABLE,
WELL-SERVICED SPACES,
YET WITH COMMON AREAS
DOWNSTAIRS FOR DINING,
DANCING AND FOR ATTENDING
TO CIVIC RESPONSIBILITIES.
A NETWORK OF INDIVIDUAL
PRIVACIES IN A WAY,
ALL WITH THEIR OWN
DO NOT DISTURB SIGNS,
AND YET GOVERNED BY A
COMMON SET OF RULES AND
GRACED WITH A COMMON SET
OF SPACES FOR RECREATION,
CONVENIENCE AND
WHATEVER EACH GUEST
CAN CONTRIBUTE
TO THE WHOLE.
THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN
MICHAELS' NOVEL ARE ALL
SHAKY SURVIVORS SCARRED
WITH WATCHFULNESS FOR LIFE.
YET THERE'S ONE CANADIAN
AMONG THEM, NAOMI, WHO,
WITH HER BLUNT CRAYON, AS
THE NARRATIVE PUTS IT,
CAN RUB AWAY WHAT'S
WRIT IN BLOOD.
SHE BECOMES AN AUDIENCE FOR
THE SECRETS OF THOSE FROM
THE OLD WORLD, AND TO
THAT EXTENT AN AGENT
FOR THEIR HEALING.
THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO
FOR THE DEAD, SHE KNOWS,
IS TO SING TO THEM.
AS I PUT THE NOVEL DOWN,
I WAS MOVED ALMOST BEYOND
WORDS BY ITS MESSAGE OF
HOPE AND REDEMPTION,
AS I HAD BEEN A FEW YEARS
BEFORE BY
THE ENGLISH PATIENT.
BUT MORE THAN THAT, AND AS
WITH
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
AGAIN, I WAS STIRRED AND
INSPIRED BY ITS PROCEDURE,
A LANGUAGE SINGING AND
POETIC AND SPECIFIC, AND
A STRUCTURE UTTERLY DIFFERENT
FROM THE LINEAR NARRATIVES
I'D MET IN THE
FIELDING OR DICKENS BOOKS
WE STUDIED AT SCHOOL; HERE,
AS IN ONDAATJE'S NOVEL,
WAS A QUITE LITERAL,
LITERARY VERSION
OF THE COLLAGE
COUNTRY THAT CANADA
WAS SAID TO
ASPIRE TOWARDS.
IT SEEMED TO ME
THAT BOTH BOOKS,
IN THEIR FLIGHTS
OF IMAGINATION,
WERE UNDERTAKING A
REVOLUTION OF FORM AS
WELL AS OF CONTENT; AND AS
IN NONE OF THE TRADITIONAL
WORKS OF THACKERAY OR JANE
AUSTEN THAT I'D READ,
BOTH OF THEM USHERED US
INTO A WORLD WHERE THERE
WAS NO PREVAILING
SENSE OF STATUS QUO,
AND NOT EVEN REALLY
ANY CENTRAL CHARACTER.
NO PERSPECTIVE WAS MORE
DOMINANT THAN ANY OTHER
IN THESE BOOKS, AND THERE
WAS NO SENSE OF A FIXED
HIERARCHY AROUND
WHICH THE CHARACTERS
HAD TO ARRANGE
THEMSELVES.
INDEED, THEIRS WAS A WORLD
OF FRAGMENTS, PIECES,
MADE OUT OF THE
RUBBLE OF THE OLD,
AND I CAME AWAY WITH AN
EXHILARATING SENSE
OF OPEN SPACE AND NEW
HORIZONS IN WHICH ANYTHING,
SO IT SEEMED,
WAS POSSIBLE.
ALL THIS WAS ESPECIALLY
MOVING TO ME, I THINK,
BECAUSE FOR MANY YEARS -
REALLY FOR ALL MY LIFE -
I'D BEEN TRAVELLING THE
WORLD LOOKING AT HOW DIFFERENT
COUNTRIES AND PEOPLE
TRY TO MAKE SENSE
OF THE MULTICULTURES
WE'RE ALL BECOMING.
ONE OF THE UNUSUAL AND
POTENT THINGS ABOUT
THE PRESENT MOMENT, I THINK,
IS THAT THE VERY ISSUE
THAT SO MANY CULTURES AND
CITIES ARE FACING IS EXACTLY
THE SAME ONE THAT MORE AND MORE
INDIVIDUALS SUCH AS ME ARE
CONFRONTING; NAMELY, HOW TO
FASHION A SENSE
OF SELF OR HOME WHEN
ALL THE TRADITIONAL
CO-ORDINATES ARE GONE.
AND HOW TO MAKE A PEACE
AMONG THE DISPARATE,
OFTEN COMPETING
CULTURES INSIDE OF US.
HOW IN SHORT, TO BEGIN TO
CREATE A SENSE OF DIRECTION,
AND FOUNDATION, WHEN THE
WORLD IS SPINNING AROUND US
AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT.
IN RECENT YEARS
CYBERSPACE HAS MADE
OF THIS DISORIENTATION AND
VIRTUAL BORDERLESSNESS
A NEW DIMENSION, AND GIVEN IT
A CONCRETE FACE, AS IT WERE.
BUT FOR THOSE OF US WHO
LIVE WITH AND WITHIN
THE DISPLACEMENTS, THE NEW
QUESTIONS STING AND PROBE
AT A LEVEL FAR DEEPER THAN
ANY COMPUTER SCREEN
COULD RESOLVE.
AND WHEN, TO TAKE THE
EXAMPLE CLOSEST TO HAND,
I ASK MYSELF HOW I COULD
BEGIN TO TRY PUT TOGETHER
THE CALIFORNIA AND ENGLAND
AND INDIA WHERE I GREW UP,
AND THE CUBA AND JAPAN AND
THAILAND AND TIBET WHERE
I'VE SPENT MOST
OF MY ADULT LIFE,
I FEEL A KIND OF
SATISFACTION TO SEE CANADA
AND TORONTO AND, IN FACT,
THE CHARACTERS IN
THE ENGLISH PATIENT, ASKING
AND TRYING TO ANSWER
THE SAME QUESTION.
FOR ALL OF US, AT BOTH THE
INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE
LEVELS, THE CHALLENGE IS TO
CREATE OUT OF OUR DIFFERENT
PARTS AND PASTS A CHOIR
THAT WILL RISE HIGHER
THAN ANY OF THE RAGGED
AND INCOMPLETE VOICES
THAT MAKE IT UP.
CLEARLY, THIS IS A PRESSING
ISSUE FOR ALL THOSE
INTERNATIONAL BEINGS
I CALL GLOBAL SOULS,
GROWING UP IN THE SPACES
BETWEEN CULTURES
AND NOT SURE OF WHERE
THEIR AFFILIATION LIES.
BUT IT ALSO PRESSES IN
ON THOSE PEOPLE OF MORE
SETTLED BACKGROUND WHO JUST
FIND THEMSELVES LIVING
A NEW GLOBAL LIFESTYLE,
FLYING FROM THE TROPICS
TO A SNOWSTORM,
PERHAPS, JUST TO SIGN A
CONTRACT OR VISIT A PARENT.
AND IT EVEN AFFECTS THE
PERSON WHO NEVER MOVES
AT ALL, BUT WHO FINDS THE
WORLD MOVING AROUND
HER IN EVER MORE
DISCONCERTING WAYS.
THE YOUNG WOMAN IN
VANCOUVER, PERHAPS, WHO,
AS SHE GOES OUT OF HER
GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE
TO BUY A CARTON OF MILK
FROM THE CORNER STORE,
FINDS HERSELF SURROUNDED
BY LANGUAGES SHE CAN'T
FOLLOW AND CUSTOMS SHE
CAN'T UNDERSTAND,
ALL BROUGHT TO
HER BY PEOPLE WHO,
IN HER GRANDMOTHER'S DAY,
WOULD HAVE BEEN ON
THE FAR SIDES OF
THE EARTH.
NEVER BEFORE, I
DARE TO SUGGEST,
HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE BEEN
SO SURROUNDED BY SO MUCH
THAT IS DEEPLY
ALIEN TO THEM.
THE OTHER, IN SOME
RESPECTS, IS EVERYWHERE.
FOR TWENTY YEARS
OR MORE, THEREFORE,
I'VE BEEN TRAVELLING,
FOR WORK AND FUN,
BUT ALSO TO SEE WHAT KIND
OF ANSWERS WERE BEING
PROPOSED TO THESE
NEXT-CENTURY QUESTIONS.
I'VE SPENT A LOT OF TIME
IN HONG KONG, FOR EXAMPLE,
WHICH HAS THE AIR OFTEN OF
A WHOLE CITY TURNED INTO
A TRANSIT LOUNGE OR GIANT
MULTINATIONAL CONVENIENCE
STORE SET UP FOR PEOPLE
FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE.
ALMOST EVERYONE IN THAT
MAKESHIFT CITY STATE
IS AN EXILE OR AN
EXPAT OR A REFUGEE.
THE ONLY GOVERNMENT
THERE, TRADITIONALLY,
HAS BEEN THE MARKETPLACE,
AND THE ONLY LANGUAGE
THAT EVERYONE SPEAKS
IS THE DOLLAR.
HONG KONG IN CERTAIN WAYS
LOOKS LIKE A KIND OF WEBSITE
WRIT LARGE, WHICH ANSWERS
ALL THE DAILY NEEDS
OF THOSE WHO
PASS THROUGH IT,
BUT WITHOUT OFFERING THE
MORE SUSTAINING VALUES
OR CUSTOMS THAT COULD
ANCHOR THEM DEEP DOWN.
LIKEWISE, I'VE FOUND MYSELF
RETURNING FREQUENTLY
TO ATLANTA, WHICH ON
PAPER, AT LEAST, IS ONE
OF THE GREAT PLAYERS
ON THE GLOBAL STAGE;
THE HOME TO CNN AND COCA-COLA
AND HOLIDAY INN AND UPS.
YET UNDERNEATH
THE BALANCE SHEETS,
THAT VAST SUBURBAN SPRAWL
SEEMS AS LOCKED INSIDE
THE BLACK-AND-WHITE
DIVISIONS IN EVERY SENSE
OF ITS DISTANT PAST AS IF THE
CIVIL WAR HAD NEVER ENDED.
AND WHEN YOU VISIT ITS
GLEAMING TOWER BLOCKS
AND CONVENTION CENTERS REACHING
UP INTO THE 22ND CENTURY,
YOU SEE ALL AROUND THEM
HOUSES AS ORPHANED AND
IMPOVERISHED AS IN ANY OF
THE SADDEST NATIONS
OF THE WORLD, AND ALMOST
HALF ATLANTA'S CHILDREN
TO THIS DAY GROW UP IN
ABSOLUTE POVERTY.
AS I TRY TO THINK ABOUT
WHAT IT IS THAT GROUNDS
AND STEADIES US AT SOME
LEVEL DEEPER THAN OUR
CIRCUMSTANCE, I'VE ALSO
RETURNED TO A BENEDICTINE
HERMITAGE IN CALIFORNIA
SEVERAL TIMES A YEAR
FOR MORE THAN TEN YEARS, AND
I'VE ALSO THOUGHT ABOUT
LANGUAGE AS PERHAPS THE
ONLY PORTABLE HOME THAT
GLOBAL SOUL CAN HAVE,
THOUGH MY OWN LANGUAGE
IN MY LIFETIME HAS, LIKE
THE CITIES AROUND IT,
GONE FROM THE CLEAR
DISTINCTIONS OF HENRY JAMES'S
WORLD TO THE
POLYMORPHOUS MISH-MASHES
OF SALMAN RUSHDIE'S.
SIX TIMES IN THE PAST
20 YEARS I'VE GONE
TO THE OLYMPIC GAMES TO
SEE HOW THE MINGLING
OF CULTURES PLAYS OUT
ON THAT INTENSIFIED AND
MINIATURIZED STAGE, AND TO
WHAT EXTENT THE OLYMPIC
VILLAGE CAN BE A KIND
OF PLATONIC MODEL
OF THE GLOBAL VILLAGE.
YET THE OLYMPICS, FAMOUSLY,
INSISTS ON NATIONAL
DIVISIONS AT PRECISELY
THE TIME WHEN THOSE
ARE COMING TO SEEM MOST
BESIDE THE POINT,
AND ENSHRINES THE CULT OF
THE FLAG AT A TIME
WHEN THE LOGO IS COMING
TO SEEM MORE CENTRAL.
I EVEN, ON THIS
MODERN QUEST,
ONCE SPENT A WEEK LIVING
IN AND AROUND LOS ANGELES
AIRPORT, AT THE BEHEST OF A
TORONTONIAN, AS IT HAPPENS,
AND TRIED TO SEE HOW
THIS GREAT CATHEDRAL
OF TRANSIENCE, PLAYING OUT
ALL THE AGELESS HUMAN RITES
OF PARTING AND MEETING AND
INTERACTING WITH
THE FOREIGN AGAINST AN
ENTIRELY GENERIC BACKDROP
OF SHOPPING MALLS AND
FOOD COURTS AND PARKING
STRUCTURES, MIGHT
RESEMBLE A MODEL,
IF HARDLY AN INSPIRING ONE,
OF THE CITY OF THE FUTURE.
DALLAS-FORT WORTH
AIRPORT, FOR EXAMPLE,
IS LARGER THAN THE
WHOLE OF MANHATTAN.
BUT IN SOME WAYS, THE ISSUE
LIVED WITH ME MOST EVEN
WHEN I DIDN'T SEEK IT OUT,
AND JUST WENT BACK AND FORTH
BETWEEN MY MOTHER'S
HOUSE IN CALIFORNIA
AND MY GIRLFRIEND'S
APARTMENT IN JAPAN.
FOR LOS ANGELES, AS
MANY OF YOU KNOW,
IS THE KIND OF PLACE
THAT CAN MAKE ONE MOST
OPTIMISTIC ABOUT CANADA.

[laughter]

Pico continues
ONE VAST, UNDIFFERENTIATED
SPACE THAT LOOKS LIKE
A HORIZONTAL BABEL EVEN
TO THE SEMI-NATIVE,
A PLACE IN WHICH NO ONE'S
TAKEN THE TIME AND TROUBLE
TO THINK ABOUT HOW TO STOP
THE PARTS FROM FLYING OFF
IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
ALL THE COUNTRIES OF
THE WORLD ARE THERE,
BUT WHEN A BRILLIANT
THEATRICAL DIRECTOR
TRIES TO ORGANIZE A
FESTIVAL OF LOS ANGELES,
HE'S COMPLETELY DEFEATED.
AND WHILE AN IMMIGRANT IS
WARMLY WELCOMED TO ITS
OPEN SPACES, SHE CAN EASILY
FEEL HERSELF WELCOMED
TO A VACUUM IN WHICH NO
ONE REALLY KNOWS WHERE,
OR EVEN WHO,
HE'LL BE TOMORROW,
AND ALL THE SMILES IN
THE WORLD DON'T MAKE ONE
FEEL ANY MORE AMERICAN
DEEP DOWN.
IN JAPAN, BY EASY CONTRAST,
I'M IN THE MIDDLE
OF A CLASSICALLY EXCLUSIONARY
CULTURE WHICH TRIES TO HANG ON
TO ITS TRADITIONS, AND
PRESERVE ITS SENSE OF SELF
IN THE ACCELERATING WORLD,
BY DRAWING FIRM BOUNDARIES
AROUND ITSELF AND STRIP
SEARCHING PEOPLE
WHO LOOK LIKE ME.
EVEN THE FOREIGNER WHO
LIVES THERE FOR FIFTY YEARS
AND SPEAKS FLAWLESS
JAPANESE WILL ALWAYS
AND ONLY BE CALLED A
GAIJIN, OR OUTSIDER PERSON.
IN THAT CONTEXT, IT'S HARD
NOT TO BE STIRRED BY
THE CANADIAN OPTION, AND
ITS REFUSAL TO BELIEVE,
AS U2 SING ON
THEIR LAST ALBUM,
THAT HOPE AND
HISTORY DON'T RHYME.
AT THE OLYMPICS IN
ATLANTA, IN FACT,
I'D NOTICED HOW THE
CANADIAN 4 X 100 MALE
SPRINTING TEAM WAS
FORMIDABLE, IN PART,
OF COURSE, BECAUSE
NONE OF ITS MEMBERS
HAD BEEN BORN
IN CANADA.

[laughter]

Pico continues
THEY ALL CAME FROM
THE WEST INDIES,
AND THEY WERE UP AGAINST
THE WEST INDIANS
WHO MADE UP THE TEAMS
OF BRITAIN, FRANCE
AND, NATURALLY -

[laughter]

Pico continues
AND MORE JUSTIFIABLY
TRINIDAD.
AND THOSE WHO LIVE IN
CANADA WILL REMIND ME THAT
THE COUNTRY EMBRACED BEN
JOHNSON AS A CANADIAN
WHEN HE WON HIS GOLD
MEDAL IN SEOUL,
AND THEN WROTE HIM OFF AS A
JAMAICAN AS SOON AS
HE WAS STRIPPED OF IT.
BUT THE FACT REMAINS THAT
CANADA DOES OCCUPY A KIND
OF MIDDLE GROUND BETWEEN
THE ANTISEPTIC TYRANNY
OF SINGAPORE, SAY -
DISNEYLAND, A CITY-STATE -
AND THE UNREGULATED
SWARM OF LOS ANGELES.
AND EVERY TIME A SERBIAN
FROM EDMONTON PERHAPS
MEETS AND MARRIES AN
INDIAN FROM MONTREAL,
AND SUCH LIAISONS,
THOUGH NOT FREQUENT,
ARE GROWING MORE
COMMON BY THE DAY,
THE LITTLE GIRL WHO ARISES
OUT OF THEIR UNION WILL BE
EVEN HARDER TO CHARACTERIZE
AS ANYTHING BUT CANADIAN.
IDEALLY, SHE MAY EVEN
THINK OF CROATIANS
AND PAKISTANIS AS
HER NEIGHBOURS.
I THINK IT WAS JUST AS MY
ENTHUSIASM FOR CANADA AND
ITS EXPERTISE AND ALL THE
ISSUES OF GLOBALISM
AND MONGOLISM AND
MULTICULTURALISM THAT
THE REST OF THE WORLD'S ONLY
BEGINNING TO THINK ABOUT
WAS CRESTING THAT ANOTHER
BOOK CAME INTO MY LIFE
AND THIS ONE, PERHAPS
HAPPILY, WAS LESS FORGIVING
OF MY ASSUMPTIONS.
WHEN I MADE MY WAY THROUGH
NEIL BISSOONDATH'S SLASHING
ATTACK ON MULTICULTURALISM,
SELLING ILLUSIONS,
I WAS CONSTANTLY SOBERED,
NOT BECAUSE SO MUCH OF IT
SEEMED WRONG, BUT RATHER
JUST THE OPPOSITE.
FOR LONG STRETCHES I FELT
MYSELF AGREEING WITH HIS
EVERY WORD SO STRONGLY THAT
I FELT THAT I COULD HAVE
WRITTEN HIS BOOK OR HE
MIGHT HAVE WRITTEN
MANY OF MINE.
OFFICIAL MULTICULTURALISM,
HE ARGUED, PROPOSED
A KIND OF RACISM AS A
SUPPOSED CURE FOR RACISM:
DEFINING PEOPLE ENTIRELY IN
TERMS OF THEIR ETHNIC ORIGINS.
AND TO THAT EXTENT,
CONFINING THEM
TO DIVISIONS THAT WOULD
ALWAYS SET THEM APART
AND ALWAYS KEEP THEM
LOCKED INSIDE THEIR PASTS.
FOR BISSOONDATH, THE
MULTICULTURALISM THAT
CANADA SPONSORED TURNED
ETHNIC COMMUNITIES
INTO QUOTE: MUSEUMS
OF EXOTICISM,
GLADLY CELEBRATING THE
OTHER AT THE LEVEL OF FOODS
AND FESTIVALS BUT NOT
REALLY INVITING THOSE
WHO LIVED DIFFERENT INTO
THE CITY'S INNER WORKINGS.
AND SO, IN EFFECT,
ENCOURAGING FOREIGNERS
TO REMAIN COLOURFULLY FOREIGN
AS IF THEY WERE STILL
PAVILIONS IN THAT WORLD
EXPO I HAD VISITED AS A BOY.
TORONTO, HE WROTE OF THE
CITY THAT HAD ESPECIALLY
CAPTIVATED ME IS QUOTE:
THE INTOLERANCE
CAPITAL OF CANADA.
I HAD TO LISTEN CAREFULLY
TO THIS ARGUMENT,
NOT LEAST OF COURSE BECAUSE
BISSOONDATH WROTE WITH
THE WISDOM AND AUTHORITY OF
ONE WHO'D GROWN UP
IN THAT SWARMING DE FACTO
MULTICULTURE PORT OF SPAIN.
AND HIS CLAIM THAT OFFICIAL
QUOTAS SEEMED TO AVOID
THE ISSUE OF RACIAL INEQUALITY
RATHER THAN CONFRONT IT
BY PLACING A BAND-AID OVER
THE ATLANTIC OCEAN TO PUT IT
IN MY OWN TERMS, REFLECTED
EXACTLY WHAT I'D READ IN
EARLIER CRITICS SUCH AS
BHARATI MUKHERJEE WHO'D
ACTUALLY MOVED TO ATLANTA,
OF ALL PLACES, BECAUSE OF
HER DISGUST WITH CANADIAN
HYPOCRISY, AS SHE SAW IT.
YET I WAS MOST GRATEFUL
TO BISSOONDATH BECAUSE
HE CLARIFIED FOR ME EXACTLY
WHAT MULTICULTURALISM
SHOULD AND SHOULDN'T BE.
THE POLICIES HE WAS ATTACKING
SO PERSUASIVELY WERE
THE LITERAL-MINDED, OFTEN
HEAVY-HANDED POLICIES
OF A GOVERNMENT THAT TRIED
TO LEGISLATE DECENCY
AND TO ADMINISTRATIVE
FAIRNESS FROM ABOVE.
THE MULTICULTURALISM I
BELIEVED IN TOOK PLACE
MOSTLY ON THE LEVEL
OF THE INDIVIDUAL,
AND THE IMAGINATION THROUGH
WHICH HE TRIED TO PENETRATE
THE OTHER AND LET THE
OTHER PENETRATE HIM.
IN A WAY, IN FACT,
BISSOONDATH'S BOOK SENT ME BACK
TO
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
YET AGAIN AND REMINDED ME
PRECISELY OF WHY I HAD
FOUND THAT BOOK SO INSPIRING.
THE VISION IT ADVANCED
HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH
GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES OR
INSTITUTIONAL WHITE PAPERS;
RATHER, IT AROSE SIMPLY
FROM HUMAN BEINGS READY
TO RESPOND TO OTHERS AT A
LEVEL DEEPER THAN THEIR
CUSTOMS OR THEIR
CLOTHES OR THEIR COLOUR.
IN ITS WAY IT TRIED TO MAKE
REAL AS EASY AS AIRY HOPE
IN A PASSAGE OF INDIA
THAT QUOTE: THE SOUL
OF THE FUTURE MUST
TRANSCEND CREED.
IT WAS ONLY AT THE LEVEL OF
THE IMAGINATION AFTER ALL
THAT WE COULD BEGIN TO
THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT
ONE ANOTHER, AND TO MAKE
MEANINGFUL AND ACCEPTANCE
SO NATURAL THAT WE DIDN'T
EVEN NEED TO HAVE WORDS FOR IT.
CANADA WAS DEFINING AND
EXPLORING THESE THEMES ON
THE PAGE, BUT THE PAGES I
TRUSTED WERE NOT SO MUCH
THE ONES THAT FLUTTERED OUT
OF BUREAUCRATIC OFFICES,
HOWEVER WELL INTENTIONED,
BUT RATHER THOSE THAT ISSUED
FORTH FROM INDIVIDUAL
SOULS AT THEIR DESKS
LOOKING OUT ON
STREETS OF MONTREAL
OR VANCOUVER AND SEEING
BOMBAY, DAR ES SALAAM,
OR PORT OF SPAIN.
INDEED THE KIND OF PAGES I
TRUSTED MOST WERE THE ONES
I FOUND IN WORKS OF FICTION
LIKE
DIGGING UP THE MOUNTAINS,
WRITTEN BY THAT NEW CANADIAN
CALLED NEIL BISSOONDATH,
IN WHICH IMMIGRANTS FROM
EVERYWHERE ASSEMBLE
IN CANADA AND THINK ABOUT
ISSUES OF MIGRATION
IN A WAY THAT CAN
HAVE NO EASY SOLUTION
ON THE HUMAN PLAIN.
BISSOONDATH'S CHARACTERS IN
HIS STORIES TAKE US INTO
DISPLACEMENT AND LIBERATION
AND ITS ABSENCE MUCH MORE
PLANGENTLY OR MORE
VIVIDLY THAN ANYTHING
IN HIS NON-FICTION COULD.
AND THEY REMIND US THAT
MANY OF THOSE WHO'VE COME
TO CANADA HAVE COME FROM
SRI LANKA OR RWANDA OR
SOUTH AFRICA PRECISELY TO
BE RID OF A TRIBALISM
AT HOME THAT NEVER
SEEMS TO GO AWAY.
OF COURSE THERE WAS ANOTHER
DIMENSION TO BISSOONDATH'S
CONCERN AND THAT WAS
THE ENDURING FEAR
THAT DIVERSITY CAN
JUST LEAD TO DISORDER,
GLOBAL LOS ANGELES
IN A WAY, WHERE NO SHAPE
OR COHERENCE IS VISIBLE
AMIDST THE SWARM
OF RELATIVITIES, AND EACH
GROUP SIMPLY RETREATS INTO
ITS OWN CORNER TO
PRACTISE ITS OWN CUSTOMS
OR WORSHIP ITS OWN GODS.
THE MOSAIC BECOMES A
COLLECTION OF JANGLED
SHARDS MORE THAN
LIKELY TO DRAW BLOOD,
AND A COUNTRY THAT EXALTS
IN BEING NEITHER HERE
NOR THERE ENDS UP
NOWHERE.
TOO MANY CULTURES
SPOIL THE BROTH.
WHEN BISSOONDATH EXPLAINED
THAT QUEBEC APPEALED TO HIM
IN PART BECAUSE IT DRAWS
STRONG LINES AROUND ITSELF
AND CONSOLIDATES ITS
IDENTITY INSTEAD OF LETTING
ITSELF BLUR INTO VAGUENESS,
I SAW A VERY GOOD
DESCRIPTION OF WHY I FELT
STEADIED AND OFTEN EVEN
SOLACED BY JAPAN, WHICH
KEEPS ITSELF DISTINCTIVE
IN PART BY TRYING TO KEEP OUT
PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE ME.
DIFFERENCES CANNOT
JUST BE WISHED AWAY.
THERE'S A POLITICAL AND
PRACTICAL ANSWER TO THIS FEAR
OF CULTURAL UNRAVELLING
AND IT'S THE ONE THAT'S
BEEN PUT FORWARD ELOQUENTLY
BY THE LIKES OF
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF AND
PIERRE PETTIGREW,
STATING THAT ONE OF THE
GREAT BENEFITS OF CANADA'S
HISTORY IS THAT IT'S NEVER
BEEN IN A POSITION IN WHICH
IT COULD EASILY PRESENT
ITSELF AS A ONE-NATION STATE.
AND SO IT'S NEVER BEEN
LIKELY TO CONFUSE POLITICAL
AND ETHNIC IDENTITY.
WE CAN'T DO WITHOUT
LARGE GROUPS
OR ORGANIZATIONS
ALTOGETHER.
WHEN THEY FIND THEMSELVES
IN A DESERT INDIVIDUALS
INVARIABLY GATHER
THEMSELVES IN GROUPS,
AND HOWEVER MUCH
WE LIVE UNCONSCIOUS
OF ANCESTRY, WE
CAN'T ALL BE ONE.
AND YET CANADA FROM BIRTH
HAS HAD TO BE HELD TOGETHER
BY SHARED BELIEFS
AND NOT SHARED ROOTS,
AS IT WERE THE POLITICAL
EXTENSION OF THAT MORAL
FICTION AS IGNATIEFF CALLS
IT BY WHICH WE'RE ALL
ONE IN THE EYES
OF THE LAW.
"TO BELIEVE IN RIGHTS IS
TO BELIEVE IN DEFENDING
DIFFERENCE," IGNATIEFF SAID
IN HIS MASSEY LECTURES
HERE JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO.
PLURALISM DOES NOT
MEAN RELATIVISM,
IT MEANS HUMILITY.
YET AN EVEN STRONGER
ANSWER, I THOUGHT,
CAME IN THE VISION OF
ART AS A PRESERVER AND
GENERATOR OF IMAGES THAT
STANDS ABOVE ALL RACIAL
AND IDEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES,
JOINING US TOGETHER
BY COMMANDING OUR
COLLECTIVE GAZE.
GODS CAN BE DIVISIVE.
IMAGES OR PICTURES
OF GODS NEED NOT BE.
ANYONE, WHETHER JEWISH
OR MUSLIM OR HINDU
CAN BE MOVED AND
UPLIFTED BY A MADONNA.
AND WHERE THE ADMINISTRATOR
TRIES INEVITABLY
TO ABSTRACT HUMANITY AND
TURN A WHOLE GROUP
INTO A SINGLE CATEGORY,
THE IMAGINATIVE WRITER,
THE NOVELIST DOES
THE OPPOSITE,
SEEING HOW A SINGLE BEING
CAN CONTAIN A HUNDRED
DIFFERENT CULTURES, AND
TRYING ALWAYS NOT TO SIMPLIFY
BUT TO COMPLEXIFY, TO VOYAGE
DEEPER INTO AMBIGUITY.
THE ARTIST IS NOT CONCERNED
WITH CATEGORIES OF BLACK
AND WHITE, ONE HOPES,
UNLESS SHE'S WRITING
A NON-FICTIONAL ARGUMENT.
HER CONCERN IS WITH
SONAM OR DESIREE,
OR WITH THAT
UNCATEGORIZABLE
BEING CALLED HANNA.
INDEED, THE ONE SOVEREIGN
PRESENCE IN
THE ENGLISH
PATIENT
THAT WATCHES OVER
THE CHARACTERS IN THE RUINS
OF THEIR CRUMBLING WORLD,
AND THAT THEY SOMETIMES
WATCH IN TURN, IS THE
RENAISSANCE ART
SURROUNDING THAT
TUSCAN VILLA.
THERE'S NO ORDER,
THE NOVELIST WRITES,
BUT FOR THE GREAT
MAPS OF ART.
AS I WAS THINKING ALL
THIS, BOOKS KEPT STREAMING
INTO MY LIVING-ROOM,
AND EVEN THOUGH
I'M NO FORMAL STUDENT OF
CANADA OR ITS LITERATURE,
I KEPT ON FINDING THE MOST
RADIANT AND UNPRECEDENTED
NOVELS THAT CAME MY WAY
CAME FROM THE OFTEN
FORGOTTEN COUNTRY
UP NORTH.
MANY OF THESE BOOKS DID
NOT EXPLICITLY DISCUSS
MONGRELISM OR A NEXT
CENTURY COMMUNITY,
BUT INEVITABLY THESE
ISSUES PASSED THROUGH
THEIR BACKGROUNDS INSOFAR AS
THEIR SETTINGS WERE CANADIAN.
I GOT TO VISIT ZANZIBAR, AS
I'D NEVER DONE ON THE PAGE
OR IN PERSON, THROUGH
THE CANADIAN NOVELIST,
M.G. VASSANJI.
I GOT TO SEE HOW THE
FLOATING NEW ORDER OF
COLLEGE STREET IS
HAUNTED BY THE GHOSTS
OF AN OLDER OLD COUNTRY
IN THE BEAUTIFUL
TRILOGY IN NINO RICCI.
AND IN THE IMMORTAL WORKS
OF ROHINTON MISTRY,
I SAW MY PARENTS' OWN
HOMETOWN, BOMBAY,
SOMEHOW ELEVATED TO THE
HIGHEST REACHES OF ENGLISH
LITERATURE, AND ACCORDED A
DIGNITY WE MIGHT EXPECT
TO FIND ONLY IN
FUGO OR HARDY.
IT'S EASY TO SAY THAT
CANADIAN LITERATURE
IS ENJOYING AN ASTONISHING
RESURGENCE IN PART BECAUSE
CANADIAN LITERATURE NOW
SO OFTEN COMES FROM,
AND DEALS WITH, SRI
LANKA AND BOMBAY
AND EASTERN EUROPE.
BUT WHAT GIVES IT A
SPECIAL POTENCY, I THINK,
IS THAT THESE NEW VOICES
ARE STILL SURROUNDED
BY THE DISTINGUISHED
VOICES OF AN OLDER CANADA.
THE FIRST THING THAT STRUCK
ME ABOUT MICHAEL ONDAATJE'S
ANTHOLOGY OF CANADIAN
LITERATURE, FROM INK LAKE,
WAS THAT ITS VOICES CAME
FROM MALTA, SOUTH AFRICA,
THE WEST INDIES.
BUT THE SECOND THING THAT
STRUCK ME WAS THAT ONE
OF THE MOST MEMORABLE
STORIES, "THE MAN FROM MARS,"
CAME FROM THE CLASSICALLY
CANADIAN MARGARET ATWOOD,
AND WAS ABOUT HOW A NEW
CANADIAN MIGHT LOOK TO
A YOUNG FEMALE STUDENT WHO
COULDN'T BEGIN TO PLACE
THE IMMIGRANTS
AROUND HER.
WAS HE CHINESE OR
JAPANESE OR VIETNAMESE?
AND IF FROM THE LAST, FROM
THE NORTH OR FROM THE SOUTH?
PARIS AND LONDON AND NEW
YORK, OF COURSE, HAVE ALL
BEEN HAVENS FOR EXILE TOO,
THOUGH AMERICA, REMEMBER,
HAS NO MINISTER OF CULTURE
AND NO HARBOURFRONT
WRITERS' FESTIVAL.
AND MANY PLACES HAVE
ALLOWED MIGRANTS TO WRITE
IN WAYS THEY COULD
NEVER HAVE WRITTEN
IF THEY'D STAYED AT HOME.
SHYAM SELVADURAI PROBABLY
COULD NOT HAVE WRITTEN
OF GAY LIFE IN SRI LANKA SO
LONG AS HE STAYED IN SRI LANKA.
AND ROHINTON MISTRY
MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE
TO EVOKE SO VIVIDLY AND
POIGNANTLY THE BOMBAY
OF THE '70s HAD HE BEEN
SURROUNDED BY THE
MTV HAPPENING, FAST-CHANGING
BOMBAY OF THE '90s.
BUT BEYOND SUCH UNIVERSAL
TRUTHS OF DISPLACEMENT,
CANADA PRESENTS ITS
NEWCOMERS
WITH A PARTICULAR
OPPORTUNITY.
THEY ARRIVE HERE FROM ALL
FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD,
AND LOOKING AROUND
THEM, SEE THAT THEY ARE
SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE FROM
THE OTHER THREE CORNERS,
SOMETIMES EVEN BY THE ONES
THEY'VE COME HERE TO AVOID.
ALMOST INEVITABLY THEY FIND
THEMSELVES THINKING ABOUT
WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE IN
A COMMUNITY OF STRANGERS.
ONLY A FEW WEEKS
AGO, IN FACT,
I PICKED UP ALMOST ON A
WHIM CATHERINE BUSH'S
MARVELOUS AND
STRANGE NOVEL,
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT,
AND THERE IT WAS AGAIN.
HER PROTAGONIST,
RESEARCHING WAR IN LONDON
HAD TAKEN PAINS TO LEAVE
HER NATIVE TORONTO BEHIND,
AND YET TORONTO HAD LEFT
HER WITH AN INTEREST
IN EXILE, DISLOCATION,
RE-INVENTION.
AT ONE POINT,
AFTER SHE RETURNS,
REFUGEES FROM VERY
DIFFERENT WORLDS AGREE
TO MEET IN A TORONTO HAUNT
CALLED THE TRANSIT LOUNGE,
NOT UNLIKE, I THOUGHT, ANNE
MICHAELS' USE OF THE SAME
TERM OR SIMILAR TERM IN
THE CONTEXT OF TORONTO,
THE WAY STATION.
AND EARLIER IN THE ACTION,
TWO CHARACTERS STAGE
A VICTORIAN DUEL IN THE
MIDDLE OF POST-MODERN TORONTO.
THE WHOLE PLOT OF HER BOOK,
AS YOU PROBABLY KNOW,
TURNS ON THE FACT THAT ONE
OF THE MOST FORGED
AND COVETED CONTRABAND
ITEMS IN THE WORLD TODAY
IS A CANADIAN PASSPORT.
SO WHEN BUSH WRITES ABOUT
PEOPLE LIVING IN HOUSEBOATS
ON THE CANALS OF LONDON AND
FLOATING BETWEEN SETTLED PLACES,
IT'S HARD NOT TO
THINK THAT SHE'S
WRITING METAPHORICALLY.
THIS FAMILIARITY WITH THE
REALITIES OF MODERN WARFARE
AND THE LIVES OF DESPERATE
REFUGEES IS CRUCIAL
BECAUSE, WHEN ONE TALKS
OF GLOBAL SOULS LIVING
IN SEVERAL PLACES ALL AT
ONCE, ONE HAS TO RECALL
THAT THE PROCESS IS TAKING PLACE
ON TWO LEVELS SIMULTANEOUSLY,
AND THE DISTANCE BETWEEN
THEM SEEMS GREATER
THAN IT HAS EVER
BEEN BEFORE.
ON THE ONE HAND, THERE
ARE ALL THE MULTINATIONAL
BUSINESSMEN AND COMPUTER
WIZARDS AND TRIBAL BACKPACKERS,
EVEN AN INTERNATIONAL
WRITER OR TWO,
WHO MOVE BETWEEN
CONTINENTS IN AN AFTERNOON,
SIX MILES ABOVE THE EARTH,
AND MAKE THEIR HOMES
IN THE SPACES BETWEEN.
BUT AT THE SAME TIME, THERE
IS A MUCH LARGER POPULATION
ON THE GROUND FORCED OUT
OF ITS HOMES IN THE OLD,
ANCESTRAL WAYS, BECAUSE OF
FAMINE OR POVERTY OR WAR.
THE NUMBER OF REFUGEES
IN THE WORLD HAS GONE UP
TEN-FOLD SINCE I
WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL,
AND IF YOU COUNT
UNOFFICIAL REFUGEES,
THEIR NUMBER COMES TO
PERHAPS 100 MILLION,
OR TWICE AS MANY PEOPLE
AS LIVE IN AUSTRALIA
AND CANADA COMBINED.
THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH
COMMISSION FOR REFUGEES,
SET UP IN 1951 TO DEAL WITH
THE CHAOS AT THE END
OF WORLD WAR II, THE
WORLD IN EFFECT OF
THE ENGLISH PATIENT, HAS HAD
ITS MANDATE RENEWED AGAIN
AND AGAIN, TO THE POINT
WHERE THE TEMPORARY AGENCY
RECENTLY CELEBRATED
ITS 50TH BIRTHDAY.
REFUGEES, A UN OFFICIAL
TOLD
TIME MAGAZINE
A FEW
YEARS AGO, ARE, QUOTE: ONE
OF THE GROWTH INDUSTRIES
OF THE '90s.
IN SOME WAYS, THIS SEEMS TO BE
THE SINGLE MOST URGENT ISSUE
OF GLOBALISM, THE SPACES
BETWEEN US INCREASING EVEN
AS OUR ADS KEEP TELLING US
THAT THE WORLD IS GROWING
SMALLER; AND AGAIN, IT'S AN
ISSUE THAT CANADA HAS HAD
TO THINK ABOUT AT THE MOST
ACHINGLY HUMAN LEVEL.
REFUGEES, ASYLUM, IMMIGRANT
QUOTAS ARE PART OF THE TEXTURE
OF DAILY LIFE AND
DAILY CONVERSATION HERE.
AND PRECISELY BECAUSE
CANADA IS NOT DEFINING
THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL
TERMS OF THE NEW GLOBAL
ORDER, AS ITS AMERICAN
NEIGHBOUR SOMETIMES SEEMS
TO BE DOING, IT'S IN A
PERFECT POSITION TO ASK
UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS
ABOUT WHAT GLOBALISM COSTS,
AND HOW MUCH THE QUALITY
OF LIFE MAY BE BEING
SUPERCEDED BY THE
QUANTITY.
LONG BEFORE DEMONSTRATORS
WERE TAKING TO THE STREETS
OF SEATTLE, I WAS FINDING
YOUNG CANADIANS ASKING
HOW THE WORD GLOBAL COULD
BE ATTACHED TO SOMETHING
DEEPER THAN
MARKETS AND NETWORKS.
HOW, IN FACT, WE MIGHT
BEGIN TO FASHION
A GLOBAL CONSCIENCE.
ALMOST EVERYTHING
I'VE SAID SO FAR,
AS YOU'LL HAVE NOTICED,
COMES DOWN TO ONE
SINGLE POINT: THE
SPACE BETWEEN.
MOST OF THE CREATIVE
ENERGY IN OUR LIVES,
AS INDIVIDUALS AND
AS COMMUNITIES,
SEEMS TO ME TO COME FROM
THE GAP BETWEEN CATEGORIES,
THE LIFE BETWEEN
THE CRACKS.
AS RUSHDIE SUGGESTS
IN HIS LAST NOVEL,
THE GROUND
BENEATH HER FEET,
THE PERSON WHO LIVES
OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE IS
THE ONE BEST ABLE TO SEE
THE LARGER PICTURE.
IN CERTAIN WAYS THIS SENSE
OF IMAGINATIVE SPACE SEEMS
PARTICULARLY MADE FOR A
CANADA THAT HAS ALWAYS
OCCUPIED A RELATIVELY
NEUTRAL SPACE
IN REALITY AND IN
IMAGINATION.
A VERSION OF EUROPE
THAT DOESN'T THINK THAT
EVERYTHING HAS TO BE THE
WAY IT WAS YESTERDAY,
AND A PART OF NORTH AMERICA
THAT DOESN'T EXPECT
EVERYTHING TO BE
DIFFERENT BY TOMORROW.
THE REFUGEE OR IMMIGRANT,
IT ALMOST GOES WITHOUT
SAYING, LIVES IN
THAT VERY SPACE, TOO,
THE SPACE BETWEEN THE HOME
HE'S LEFT AND THE NEW HOME
HE'S TRYING TO CREATE.
IT'S CUSTOMARY, I THINK,
TO TALK OF CANADA
AS THE COUNTRY DEFINED BY
ITS LACK OF DEFINITION,
THE LAND OF
UNMANIFEST DESTINY,
AS YOU COULD CALL IT, WHOSE
ANXIOUS IDEALISTS ARE ALWAYS
WORRYING ABOUT HOW
THEY FIT INTO THE LARGER
SCHEME OF THINGS.
BUT MORE AND MORE THIS
POINT OF UNFINISHEDNESS
IS WHERE TRANSFORMATION TAKES
PLACE AS THE WORLD BEGINS
TO PRIZE SPEED MORE THAN
WEIGHT AND FLUIDITY MORE
THAN SOLIDITY
AND STABILITY.
CANADA HAS LONG BEEN A
BYWORD FOR OPEN SPACE.
AND THE MORE THE WORLD
MOVES TOWARDS A KIND
OF DERACINATION STATE,
OR STATE OF GLOBAL
FLOATINGNESS, THE MORE
CANADA'S VERY FREEDOM
FROM FIXITY, ITS OPENNESS
TO EXPERIMENTATION,
MAY MAKE IT THE ENVY OF ITS
MORE ENCUMBERED NEIGHBOURS
TO THE EAST AND
SOUTH.
THIS IS, OF COURSE, AN
IDEA FAMILIAR TO EVERYONE
SINCE MCLUHAN FIRST ASSERTED
THAT CANADA'S MULTIPLE
BORDERLINES AND LOW-PROFILE
IDENTITY WOULD MAKE IT
IDEALLY SUITED TO
THE NEW CENTRIFUGAL,
MOBILE WORLD THAT HAS
INDEED, AS HE PREDICTED,
COME TO PASS.
YET WHAT GIVES ME MOST HOPE
IN A WAY AND WHAT THESE
CANADIANS HAVE BEEN TOO
SHY TO ASSERT AT TIMES
IS THAT THE VERY FACT
THAT CANADIANS SO OFTEN
CRITICIZE CANADA FOR BEING
TOO RACIST OR TOO STUFFY
OR TOO SOMETHING IS
A SOURCE OF HOPE.
THE COUNTRY IS HOLDING
ITSELF TO HIGH STANDARDS,
AND ASKING QUESTIONS OF
ITSELF WITH A SEARCHINGNESS
I DON'T FIND IN
LIVERPOOL OR ATLANTA.
EVERYWHERE MAN
WANTS TO BE SETTLED,
AS EMERSON TELL US, BUT
ONLY INSOFAR AS HE
IS UNSETTLED IS THERE
ANY HOPE FOR HIM.
WE LIVE, I THINK, IN A
CURIOUS MOMENT IN OUR
PLANET'S HISTORY, WHEN
THE STRONGEST POWER
ON THE GLOBE IS ALSO
ONE OF THE YOUNGEST,
AND TECHNOLOGY DAILY
DELETES MEMORY AND HISTORY.
YESTERDAY, I SUSPECT, HAS
NEVER SEEMED SO DISTANT.
THE FUTURE IS AS
INTOXICATING AS IT ALWAYS IS,
FULL OF NEW TOYS THAT
PROMISE TO HELP US LIVE
IN WAYS THAT WERE
INCONCEIVABLE JUST A DECADE AGO,
AND YET OUR SENSE
OF POSSIBILITY, I THINK,
IS ONLY AS STRONG AS OUR
APPRECIATION OF WHAT
DOES NOT AND
SHOULD NOT CHANGE.
AND OUR ENJOYMENT OF
TECHNOLOGY CAN ONLY BE
AS POWERFUL AS OUR
UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT
TECHNOLOGY CANNOT
DO OR HELP.
PROGRESS IS BEST
APPRECIATED BY THOSE
WHO SEE THAT IT INVOLVES
GOING BACKWARDS,
TOWARDS THE ESSENTIAL
AND THE DEEP,
AS MUCH AS IT INVOLVES
GOING FORWARDS.
THAT'S ONE REASON,
AS YOU CAN TELL,
WHY CANADA INSPIRES ME.
I'D RATHER ENTRUST THE
FUTURE TO WRITERS
OF FICTION THAN TO
SOFTWARE WRITERS;
IN PART BECAUSE THE FORMER
HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF
WHERE WE'VE BEEN AS WELL
AS OF WHERE WE'RE GOING,
AND I'D RATHER THAT THE
OTHER BE EXPLORED AND
CELEBRATED BY NOVELISTS THAN
BY MANY-HEADED COMMITTEES,
IN PART BECAUSE
WRITERS HAVE A SENSE
OF CONTINGENCY AND
IDIOSYNCRASY.
WE ARE COMMUNAL HISTORIES,
COMMUNAL BOOKS,
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
SAYS, GOING ABOUT
HIS CAREFUL REVERSAL
OF KIPLING'S KIM.
AND THE IDEA BECOMES
LIBERATING LARGELY BECAUSE HE,
AND THE PEOPLE AROUND HIM,
ARE ALL UNASSIMILATED
MAVERICKS IN THEIR
WAY, ODD MEN OUT.
THE LUMINOUS VISION
OF
FUGITIVE PIECES
CANNOT BE TRANSLATED
INTO PUBLIC POLICY,
BUT IT GIVES
EACH OF US,
IN OUR PRIVATE MOMENTS, A
SENSE OF HOW TO THINK
OF OUR LIVES DIFFERENTLY AND
HOW TO REMAKE THEM
IN THAT LIGHT.
POLITICS IS STILL TOO
OFTEN LOCAL WHILE FICTION
TRAVELS THE WORLD.
THE CREATION OF A COMMUNITY
AND THE CREATION
OF A WORK OF ART HAVE
A LOT IN COMMON,
AS BOTH THESE
BOOKS REMIND US.
EACH BEGINS WITH A VISION,
A PRODUCT OF THOUGHTFULNESS
AND IMAGINATION, AND THEN
EACH TRIES TO FIND A
STRUCTURE SO THAT THAT
VISION CAN BE COMMUNICATED
TO THE WORLD.
THAT'S ONE WAY IN WHICH
POETS CAN BE "UNACKNOWLEDGED
LEGISLATORS OF MANKIND,"
IN SHELLEY'S WORDS.
AND IN MY TRAVELS, WHICH
OFTEN TAKE ME TO THREE
OR FOUR COUNTRIES IN A WEEK,
I HAVEN'T COME ACROSS MANY
STIRRING VISIONS OF THE
FUTURE IN LOS ANGELES
OR HONG KONG OR PARIS.
THEY MAY BE ON THEIR WAY,
BUT FOR NOW THERE'S
NO SOUTH AFRICAN
ENGLISH PATIENT,
AND NO
FUGITIVE
PIECES
IN ATLANTA.
THE PLURAL AND PROTEAN
IDENTITIES THAT CANADIANS
HAVE BEEN JUGGLING, IF
ONLY IN THEIR MINDS,
FOR DECADES OR EVEN
CENTURIES ARE ONLY NOW
BECOMING REALITIES FOR
MEMBERS OF THE
EUROPEAN UNION, SAY.
AN OUTSIDER'S
FIRST OBLIGATION,
WHEN HE VISITS A PLACE, IS
TO TAKE IN ITS MORAL AND
EMOTIONAL COMPLEXITIES, AND
SO AS TO APPRECIATE THE WAYS
IN WHICH WHAT MAY BE
SO PLEASING TO HIM CAN
BE LESS EXALTING FOR THE
PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY LIVE THERE.
FOR THAT REASON I READ NEIL
BISSOONDATH AND BHARATI
MUKHERJEE, AND LISTEN TOO,
WHEN JOHN BENTLEY MAYS,
AN AMERICAN WHO LOVES
TORONTO AND HAS CHOSEN
TO LIVE HERE, TELLS ME THAT IT
HAS A CLANNISH SENSE
AND A HABIT OF SELF-SEGREGATION
MORE DIVISIVE THAN
IN ANY OTHER CITY
THAT HE KNOWS.
I HEAR CANADIANS,
ESPECIALLY OF AFRICAN
DESCENT, TALK OF RACISM
WITH A SMILE ON ITS FACE,
AND WHEN I VISIT A
SCHOOL IN SCARBOROUGH,
AND LEARN THAT 70 PERCENT OF
THE STUDENTS THERE COME
FROM COUNTRIES WHERE ENGLISH
IS NOT THE SPOKEN LANGUAGE,
I AM REMINDED FORCIBLY THAT
CREATING A COMMON VISION
ISN'T GOING TO BE EASY.
IMMIGRANTS BRING RHYTHMS
AND COLOURS AND BOOKS
TO THEIR NEW HOMES, BUT THEY
ALSO BRING SUSPICIONS
AND RESENTMENTS
AND FEARS.
THE TAMIL TIGERS RECRUIT FOR
MEMBERS IN THAT HIGH SCHOOL.
AND ETHNIC GROUPS
REGULARLY TEAR UP
THEIR OLD ENEMIES'
FLAGS AT CITY HALL.
YET THE ONLY WAY TO HEAL
DIVISION, AS I SEE IT,
IS THROUGH VISION, AND THE
ONLY WAY TO START DOING
THINGS DIFFERENTLY IS BY
THINKING DIFFERENTLY.
"HATE," AS GRAHAM GREENE
POIGNANTLY WRITES,
"IS JUST A FAILURE
OF THE IMAGINATION."
THE INABILITY TRULY TO
IMAGINE HOW THE WORLD
LOOKS TO THAT PERSON
ACROSS THE TABLE,
AND HOW WE LOOK TO HIM.
AN INDIAN, I CAN
SAY FROM EXPERIENCE,
ONLY BEGINS TO STEP OUTSIDE
THE ENMITIES AND DIVISIONS
OF HIS GRANDPARENTS WHEN HE
STOPS IDENTIFYING HIMSELF
AS INDIAN, AND MOVES
TOWARDS A LARGER DEFINITION -
OR, PERHAPS BEST OF
ALL, SETTLES INSIDE
A SPACE OUTSIDE ALL
DEFINITIONS ENTIRELY.
HE MAY LEARN HOW TO DO THAT
CANADA HAS TAUGHT ME -
BY READING THE FICTION OF
A FELLOW IMMIGRANT FROM ITALY.
I SAY ALL THIS AS SOMEONE
WHO HAS SPENT ONLY A FEW WEEKS
IN CANADA, ADDRESSING
THOSE WHO HAVE, IN MANY
CASES, SPENT THEIR
WHOLE LIVES HERE,
BUT IN AN IMPORTANT
SENSE THAT'S THE POINT
OF THIS WHOLE LECTURE.
AN OUTSIDER IMPORTS
HOPE TO A COMMUNITY,
IN PART BY SEEING THE
BLESSINGS THAT ITS LOCALS
MAY TAKE FOR GRANTED,
AND HE BRINGS THEM
THE WONDERING AND GRATEFUL
EYES OF SOMEONE WHO KNOWS
THE LESSER ALTERNATIVES
ELSEWHERE.
A NEWCOMER ALSO IMPORTS THE
DETERMINATION OF ONE GIVEN
A SECOND CHANCE, TO
MAKE HIS LIFE
SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
CANADA'S PARTICULAR GLORY
TO ME LIES IN THE FACT THAT
IT IS A COUNTRY SO MUCH
MADE FOR AND BY OUTSIDERS,
AND THOUGH ITS DRAWBACKS
ARE VISIBLE TO US ALL,
THEY MUST BE SEEN IN THE
LIGHT OF A BRITAIN, SAY,
WHERE, AS RECENTLY AS 1990,
SOMEONE WHO LOOKED LIKE ME
WAS FIFTY TIMES MORE
LIKELY TO BE BEATEN UP
THAN SOMEONE WHO LOOKED
LIKE JOHNNY ROTTEN.

[laughter]

Pico continues
I END NOW, AT LONG LAST,
WITH A CONFESSION.
THROUGHOUT THIS TALK I'VE
USED THE HIGHLY UNLOVELY
WORD "MONGREL" INSTEAD
OF THE EUPHONIOUS,
GOVERNMENT-APPROVED
WORD, "HYBRID."
I DO THIS DELIBERATELY,
IN PART TO REMIND US THAT
THE PROCESS OF MINGLING
CULTURES IS A MESSY ONE,
ROUGH AT THE EDGES AND
NOT EASILY SOOTHED
INTO EUPHEMISM.
EVERY TIME TWO
WORLDS CROSS,
THERE'S A SPARK OF
UNCERTAINTY AND FEAR
THAT RISES BETWEEN THEM,
SOMETHING VISCERAL AND
PRIMAL THAT CANNOT COME
WITHOUT A SCENT OF DANGER.
AS MICHAEL ONDAATJE
SUGGESTS WITH HIS USE
OF THE EQUALLY
UNSENTIMENTAL TERM,
INTERNATIONAL BASTARDS, THE
PROCESS OF MIXING MAY NOT
BE A PRETTY ONE, BUT IT'S
NO BAD THING IF ONE
COMES WITHOUT A
PEDIGREE.
AND IN PREPARING
FOR THIS EVENING,
I ACTUALLY HAD THE OCCASION
TO GO BACK TO
THE ENGLISH
PATIENT
FOR ONE MORE
TIME, AND WHEN I DID SO,
I NOTICED SOMETHING
I'D NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
THERE AREN'T JUST
FOUR LIVING BEINGS
IN THAT TUSCAN VILLA,
THERE'S A FIFTH.
AND AS WITH EVERYTHING
IN THE BOOK,
THE DETAILS OF THAT FIFTH
DO NOT SEEM ACCIDENTAL.
HE'S A DOG, AS IT HAPPENS,
WHO, ONDAATJE WRITES,
IS QUOTE: AN OLD MONGREL,
OLDER THAN THE WAR.
AND AS HE PEEPS IN
AND OUT OF THE ACTION,
MORE OFTEN THAN
YOU'D EXPECT,
HE BEGINS TO EXPLAIN WHY
DOGS SUDDENLY APPEAR AT
A DANCE IN CAIRO, AND WHY
THE
ENGLISH PATIENT'S
LOVER
SEES HIM AT ONE POINT,
AS A DOG IN CLOTHES.
THE MONGREL, THE BOOK
SEEMS TO SUGGEST -
AND I OBVIOUSLY AGREE -
CAN BE THE HERALD
OF A BRIGHT NEW WORLD.
THANK YOU.

[applause]

Pico leaves the stage.

Classical music plays as the end credits roll.

Comments and queries, email: bigideas@tvo.org

Telephone: (416) 484-2746.

Big Ideas, TVONTARIO, Box 200, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4T 2T1.

Producer, Wodek Szemberg.

Associate Producer, Mike Miner.

Sound, Maurice Dalzot.

Executive Producer, Doug Grant.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2001, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Pico Iyer on Globalization