The Question as an Instrument of Nationalism: Interrogating the Nation in Earle Birney, Phyllis Webb, and Leonard Cohen
Through the study of selected works written by Earle Birney, Phyllis Webb, and Leonard Cohen, this thesis seeks to interrogate the wave of modern Canadian nationalism and culture construction that grew as a result of the loosening ties to British roots, the increasing infiltration of American influence, and the political climate following the Second World War. As the Cold War began to take root, Canada found itself amid not only a political conflict, but also a barrage of emerging mass media on a global scale. As a result of this crossfire of national voices, the Canadian culturati made efforts to join in the conversation—through national radio, film, literature, and the creation of a new flag and dictionary—but before the nation could speak, it had to answer the questions that dominated the era: Who is Canada? What is the voice of Canada? Whose voice speaks for the nation? This thesis aims to study the evolution of the answers that were given to these questions. Through the lens of nationalist theory, translation theory, and the postcolonial Gothic, this thesis traces a route from Birney’s attempt to create a nation within a perceived “lack of ghosts,” to Webb’s efforts to question the very question of nationalism, ultimately to Cohen’s illumination of the internal mechanics of national identity as he worked to reconstruct it in a movement toward the Clear Light.