Writing Left: The Emergence of Modernism in English Canadian Literature
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This dissertation complicates conventional understandings of the emergence of modernism in Canadian cultural production, proposing instead a multiplicity of modernist practices that emerge through direct engagement with leftist politics. By examining various genres—poetry, fiction, theatre, and reportage—“Writing Left” uncovers a set of organizational principles that frame several modes of modernist production within the interwar period. Steeped in the work of recovery, this project examines critical narratives of modernism and analyzes theoretical approaches that inform a revitalized understanding of modernism in Canada. Furthermore, this dissertation offers a series of strategies for reading the ways in which Canadian modernism and political modernity are deeply intertwined. Following an introduction that situates the uneven development of Canadian modernism’s emergence in the larger field of transnational modernism, six theoretically linked case studies show the multiplicity of Canadian modernism’s emergence in relation to leftist political organization. While the first case study discusses the modernist experimentations that came out of the largely antimodernist coterie who produced The Song Fishermen’s Song Sheets (1928–1930), the second case study explores the particularly modernist tensions between representations of art and collective action in the strike novels of Douglas Durkin and Irene Baird. A re-reading of F.R. Scott’s early poetry in the third case study shows the coextensive emergence of a modernist poetics of institutional critique and the development of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, while the fourth case study examines the modernist theatricality of leftist responses to Section 98 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The fifth case study looks to the ways in which the Spanish Civil War prompted modernist developments in the journalism and reportage of Norman Bethune, Hazen Sise, Jean Watts, and Ted Allan. Finally, the sixth case study reads across Charles Yale Harrison’s alternative strategies of anti-war modernism, ending with his characterization of the North American leftist imaginary in his fourth novel, Meet Me on the Barricades (1938). Together, the six case studies question teleological accounts of the development of modernism in English Canadian Literature.