“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”—Mark 9:24 (King James Version)
Reading Joseph Heath’s review of John Ralston Saul’s new book, The Comeback (2014), was sort of like listening to someone (who knows what they’re talking about) tell you—precisely, and in excruciating detail—why the music you loved at sixteen sucks. You kinda know they’re right, but it’s still sorta painful to hear. Truth be told, I’ve always had a soft spot for Saul. I read him when I was young and impressionable, and, as such, my love for his books is not unlike the stubborn attachment so many of us have to the music that happened to be playing on the radio when we were kissed for the first time. But it’s getting harder and harder to love Saul’s books, in part because he seems to have forgotten where the line between poetry and philosophy is. To my mind, his best writing playfully dances around the mythological boundaries between poetry and philosophy, without ever forgetting that they’re necessarily distinct enterprises. For example, if we’re talking about Aboriginal birth rates in Labrador OR the Toronto sewage system OR the pros and cons of progressive taxation, please don’t give me poetry, Dr. Saul! But if we’re talking about the way it feels to live in a cold climate such as ours, where Mother Nature tries to kill you half the year, please, feel free, bring on the poetry!
Saul would of course say, I imagine, in his defense, that his critics, people who demand clear arguments and hard data, are really just high-functioning autistic males, overly-serious stuffed shirts, reason-obsessed robots with MBAs in Being Boring. But seriously, haven’t we had enough of this tired Sixties cliché? At this point, in 2015, it sounds downright funny–like calling your critics “squares” or enthusiastically saying “far out” at the next dinner party you go to (without the slightest bit of irony). Be that as it may, Canadian intellectual life just isn’t as polarized as John Ralston Saul seems to think it is: between those who love the Enlightenment and those who hate it. And I’m starting to wonder if it ever was, even in the Age of Aquarius.
—John Faithful Hamer