Judging by “Doppel Gang: Why Canada Needs Quebec” (January/February), Mark Kingwell appreciates La Belle Province, but he certainly has not spent much time there. He writes, “When a culture must insist on its surface observances, the rituals and locutions, it has already lost the battle for survival.” Quebecers would argue the contrary: that a culture persists precisely when it resolutely maintains such “surface observances” and rituals. The opposite could be said of Canada. The European immigrants who shaped this country in the twentieth century feel little relation to the multicultural landscape of today. As for Quebec being Canada’s “familiar-strange double,” sure. But Quebec is not different from Canada in a vague, academic sense. The recent printemps érable and carré rouge movements dictated politics (forcing Premier Jean Charest out of office) and reform (freezing tuition hikes). When was the last time we saw that kind of activism and spirit (read: collective identity) effecting real change in, say, Ontario?
Northrop Frye was right that Canada is an amalgamation of distinct societies, but Quebec wants us all to know that it is the most distinct. In addition to omitting First Nations, Mark Kingwell fails to mention Newfoundland and Labrador, which is not Maritime but Atlantic and was once actually its own country.
Woody Point, NL
The “eerie” Quebec of Mark Kingwell’s imagination has no connection to the place in which I live, or to any serious writing about Quebec history. But of course that’s beside the point. The province functions in this essay as a simplistic mirror, in which “Canada” can see its distorted reflection—a demeaning and characteristically colonialist representation of a place and its people that Professor Kingwell (and the editors of The Walrus) ought to know better than to reproduce.
Dreaming a nation into being. Yes, I like it. Quebec seethes and squirms and breeds prime ministerial ambition by the bucketful. What would we WASPs do without the cauldron of Quebec?
Daniel Baird’s “Rough Justice” (January/February) is the type of reflection we need, especially in this time of cynical views about the legal system. Many people claim there is no justice when criminal “monsters” receive due process—asking instead for quick retribution, inspired of barbaric reflexes. The qualities of a sane society must be upheld over instinctual revenge.
In 1987, I was part of a team appointed by Senegalese president Abdou Diouf to teach the Transcendental Meditation program to members of the penitentiary administration in Dakar. The program, which has proven efficient in improving inmate behaviour and reducing recidivism, is taught in seven steps for an hour a day; full instruction takes a week. In less than two years, 11,000 inmates in thirty-one prisons studied TM. When it was implemented in January 1987, the recidivism rate in Senegal’s penitentiary system was around 90 percent. By January 1989, it had dropped to 8 percent. Three small prisons were closed for lack of inmates.
Over the years, Transcendental Meditation has been validated by over 600 studies in thirty countries, and introduced to high-security prisons in Oregon and California, including San Quentin. Hopefully, Canadian inmates will someday enjoy access to its rehabilitative benefits.
Saint John, NB
Although restorative justice will not always work, we need a national dialogue to explore the option. Thanks @walrusmagazine for the start.
In writing about the Grange Prize (“The People’s Art,” January/February), Sara Angel makes too much of the public vote—a critical red herring. If the public votes on a winner, from four photographers nominated by expert judges, is there a substantial difference between the Grange and the Scotiabank Photography Award, which is judged by experts only? A lucky amateur cannot emerge; the only possible winners are established artists.
The more significant issue: what is the point of choosing a single winner? Is it possible that, without specific, measurable criteria (such as the nineteenth-century rules once used to judge painting), we can say that one of the four nominees is in some sense “better” than the others? I am not against prizes. They are one of the most successful mechanisms for bringing attention and resources to artists. But we could be clearer about our critical terms, and more proactive in developing critical skills among the public. We ought to be more honest about what every prize represents. It is a choice made by people considered experts (who themselves were chosen by other people), from a short list of artists or their work. It is easier to publicize a single choice, but the short list is the more useful form of information about the state of the art in question, in whatever range of forms and styles are catching the attention of those in the know.
Synth You’ve been gone
I’m not worried. I survived the fall of electronica (“The Deadmau5 Trap,” January/February), and I will survive the fall of electronic dance music, still sitting here programming synths and layering drums.
Pop stars don’t last in any genre, nor does the hype that momentarily surrounds any given style of music. So the current crop of EDM favourites may find themselves on the oldies casino circuit ten years hence—or maybe they will just have to go back to getting people to dance in the clubs and warehouses where it all began.
This appeared in the April 2013 issue.