I’m asking for it to be created

Hello friends, acquaintances, strangers. My name is Michael. I’m a PhD candidate in the English department at the University of Toronto. The topic of my dissertation, and of this blog, is contemporary Newfoundland literature and culture.

This blog’s title is a kind of joke that’s true. If you search Wikipedia for “Newfoundland Literature,” you get the following response: “The page “Newfoundland Literature” does not exist. You can ask for it to be created, but consider checking the search results below to see whether the topic is already covered. 

I love this, enough to make it the slightly cumbersome title of this blog. Newfoundland literature flies under the radar. It’s a stealth literature, an unverified species. It might not exist. But here’s the thing: “you can ask for it to be created.”

Newfoundland is an oddity, in cultural, historical, political, economic, linguistic, and ethnic terms. Because it’s an oddity in inconvenient, difficult-to-parse ways (especially so for outsiders, who might be rightly reluctant to make statements about a dense, knotty culture they are probably unfamiliar with), and because it’s so relatively small and relatively unimportant a place, the implications of Newfoundland’s oddness don’t often get attended to.

At least, that’s my experience of things. Newfoundland is absent from Linda Hutcheon’s The Canadian Postmodern, for example – it’s not mentioned, as far as I can see, suggesting it’s ‘just’ another region, equivalent to ‘the prairies’ or ‘the north.’ It has a couple of brief mentions in Margaret Atwood’s Survival, but only as a rhetorical stand-in for a remote place, a place few Canadians will have visited, but a place that is, nonetheless, subject to the totalizing theories contained within the book (even though, when it was published, Newfoundland had been Canadian territory for fewer than 25 years). Even in more recent scholarship, like Kit Dobson’s Transnational Canadas, Newfoundland is only mentioned as the place where Lisa Moore is from – but there’s no indication that it might inform Moore’s position or worldview, or that Newfoundland, because of its odd history and position within Canada, might be a space where transnationalism plays out in strange or interesting ways.

And we know what happens if we ask Wikipedia.

But I didn’t choose to use Wikipedia’s phrase in an angry way. Once, I might have. Instead, though, I’m kind of delighted by it. One of the lessons I’ve been learning as I write my dissertation is that there’s a freedom to play that comes with a degree of obscurity, if you have a geographical island, or an island of the mind, as an arena to stage that play. Not being included in systems of knowledge, not being acknowledged as a category, allows for a greater degree of imaginative freedom. “Newfoundland literature does not exist,” but “you can ask for it to be created.” You can ask Wikipedia to include it as an official node within its global web of knowledge – or, and this is the reading I chose, you can go ahead and make it up for yourself.

This is what this blog is for. Through reading texts (not just books, but, yeah, OK, primarily books) from Newfoundland, and through writing about what I’ve read, I’m asking for Newfoundland literature to be created.

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