.Contemporary Candian Film and Literature: Real-Time Discussion Area 
Survival  in 
Postmodern Cities
Kate Liu, Fall, 1999

Course Description

Relevant LInks  Final Exam
Studies in Canadian Literature and Film (under construction)

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 -- non-identifiable? 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" (¦³¶¥¼hªº)? 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? Or nationalism? Where are the gender, racial and national boundaries?
  • Why postmodern cities in film and literature?
We need a focus. 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 urban contexts. The urban contexts, as a matter of fact, do not just serve as passive "settings."  Rather, explicitly or implicitly, they--i.e. the areas such as the ghetto, the subway, the street, the elevator and the telecommunication media such as the radio, TV and the computer -- interact with the characters, and the two together offer multiple "embodiments" of the urban issues of race, gender and nation.
  • And the texts?  (Please go to the syllabus for the authors and texts which are 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
Montreal -- Robert Lepage (his films and play), Denys Arcand, Claude Lauzon, Montreal vu par (a film by six directors) and Cosmos (if available).

[The above shortened list is still too long for a two-hour course. Selections will have to be made.]

  • 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 evitable--grading policy
    • Bi-weekly journal -- 20 %
    • Group report & 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.