Contemporary Canadian Film and Literature: Survival in Post/Modern Cities

Course Description & Requirements

This course examines the race, gender and personal relations presented in some contemporary Canadian films and literature set in Toronto and Montreal. The imaginary cities in these works will be seen as 

1.) examples of "the Canadian", and 
2) counterparts of Taiwanese postmodern cities.

  • How do we characterize "the Canadian"?
Reserved, gentle and sophisticated?
Cold, Americanized, or -- victimized, nameless and wordless? 

All of these words are possible but partial descriptions, since Canada, like all the other postcolonial nations, has a mixture of cultures, races and contradictory self-images. To us Taiwanese Canada offers syrup, maple leaf, picturesque tourist spots and ice-melt clean water. But to itself, it has a combination of non-militaristic national flag and the very violent hockey game, the Quebecois French which is "not-quite" French and the Canadian English which is hardly distinguishable from British and American English. Moreover, it is still struggling with the heart-wrenching question of "One nation, two nations, or many regions" -- the possibility of turning multicultural mosaic into a mixture of two solitudes or many solitudes.

  • Why the Canadian?
Canada, or the Canadian culture, is actually not too far away from us -- with the daily and rapid exchange of commodities, information and people (e.g. Taiwanese and Hong Kongese immigration to Canada) between the two nations. Despite and perhaps because of the complexities mentioned above, we Taiwanese can relate to the issues (such as national identity, race and gender issues) Canada struggles with. Let's have a glimpse at the possible issues:
  1. nation--How is the Canadian different from the British and the U.S.? How does Canada retain one-ness while confirming multiculturalism?  How do the film and literature of Toronto and Montreal construct national identity differently?
  2. race--Is it a "mosaic" or "vertical mosaic"? In other words, in what forms does racism appear in Canadian society, on both individual and institutional levels?
  3. gender--How is sexism related to racism and nationalism? Where are the gender, racial and national boundaries?
  • Why post/modern cities in film and literature?
1. The simplest reason: we need a focus in such a broad field. The focus on Canadian postmodern cities (i.e. Toronto and Montreal) will help us locate the issues--discuss how they are presented and treated in specific socio-historical and urban contexts. 

2. post/modern urbanism -- The urban contexts, as a matter of fact, do not just serve as passive "settings." The post/modern urban spaces--i.e. the areas such as the ghetto, the subway, the street, the elevator--interact with the city-dwellers and produce conflictual social relations, just as the rapid information and economic exchanges via telecommunication media intensify these conflictual relations. 

In other words, post/modern urbanism adds a new dimension to the issues we discussed above, as well as   intensifying them. How do we characterize post/modern city? For one thing, technologies develop and population increase rapidly through both the modern and postmodern eras. On the other hand, modern city pushes industrialism and rationalization to an extreme, while postmodern city is a lot more diversified in its population, functions, spatial arrangement and its cultures. In face of the keleidescope-like urban images and fast flows of traffic and people, capital and information, do we feel alientated or connected? 

How do the Canadian characters survive in their cities, and we, in ours? 

  • And the texts?  [The following shortened list is still too long for a two-hour course.  Selections have to be made.  Please go to 1. the tentative schedule for the authors and texts which are chosen; 2. the textbook for literary texts chosen.)
Major authors: -- 
Toronto -- Margeret Atwood (probably Robber Bride), Austin Clark and Dionne Brand (short stories), Michael Ondaatje In the Skin of a Lion
Montreal --  The Seven Streams of River Ota  Robert Lepage (trans.), Dany Laferriere (short stories) 
Collections: This Ain't No Healing Town: Toronto Stories, Montreal mon amour  and Concrete Forest: The New Fiction of Urban Canada

Major film directors: Toronto -- Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Shniva Krishna, Jeremy Podeswa, Clement Virgo
Montreal -- Robert Lepage (his films and play), Denys Arcand, Claude Lauzon, Lea Pool,  Montreal vu par (a film by six directors) and Cosmos.

  • Most importantly, the requirements?
    • Besides the usual stuffs -- journals, class participation, group report and final exam, the course requires a commitment to watching the films outside of class and before the discussion in class. Film showing time will be announced ahead of time, and I will try to make copies available for circulation. 
  • Finally, the inevitable--grading policy
    • 5 journals, each no fewer than 3 pages -- 20 %
    • Group report, Online Discussion & Class Participation -- 30%
    • Final Exam -- 50%
    • Failure to read or watch the assigned texts before class  can constitute reasons for failing the course.   Missing one text is equal to 1/2 absence; three absences means failing the course.
  A note on group report: you are allowed to use a Taiwanese text (film, play or novel) on Taipei city IF you are able to compare it with one of our texts in the conclusion of your report.