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McGregor, Gaile.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, c1985. 473pp, paper, ISBN 0-8020-2554-4 (cloth) $45.00, 0-8020-6570-8 (paper) $18.95. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

This is a photograph of us. As you scan it, you will sense that we are not simply northern Americans; look more deeply into the Canadian landscape, or langscape, really, and you will see emerging the clear outlines of the Canadian psyche. It is not just that we are different from our neighbours to the south, we are profoundly different.

While Americans are confident explorers who push back frontier after frontier, Canadians are less heroic, but more realistic, more willing to accept their limitations. Americans live by the Occidental "warrior principle of the great deed of the individual," whereas Canadians have an "affinity for the Oriental mode: acquiescence to rather than battle against the inevitable." Americans identify with the romantic hero; Canadians turn for salvation to the group.

In some respects, this book is an explication of the Canadian garrison mentality. Indeed, McCregor's first chapter, "A View from the Fort," examines John Richardson's Wacousta, arguing that "the isolated fort, able only through "art and laborious exertion to push back the forest a short distance and to maintain its safety . . .only under the protecting sweep of its cannon becomes a correlative for the beleaguered human psyche attempting to preserve its integrity in the face of an alien, encompassing nature." McGregor argues that nature "like other aspects of reality is not simply perceived but socially constructed."

As we mythicize our environment we transform it into a body of symbols: whereas "the landscape is passive [and] morally neutral. . . 'langscape' suggests a kind of accommodation or complicity between self and other." The Wacousta Syndrome examines the nature of this complicity in the context of our uniquely Canadian geo-cultural conditions.

To discover what is truly Canadian about Canadians, McGregor examines two hundred years of our art and literature, moving boldly through the material, negotiating the ambiguities of our cultural experience with admirable grace. She has done us a great service in showing us our uniqueness and our strengths: "One controls what can be controlled, accepts what must be accepted, and simply doesn't concern oneself about the rest. Accommodation. Without guilt or bitterness. This, it would seem, is the Canadian way, the lesson that is embedded in much of our most powerful literature."

The Wacousta Syndrome is an important, insightful book, a worthy addition to any collection, a Canadian book about what it means to be Canadian. It is a photograph of us.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I., St. Thomas, Ont.
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