Thursday, July 11, 2024

Criticism and Principle

 Good piece by Daniel Green on essay collections by Lauren Oyler and Becca Rothfeld, which have been published in the larger context of a (general) tendency in contemporary criticism toward blandness. 

Green’s essay highlights the ways in which Oyler and Rothfeld intermingle critical assessment with personal confession. This is a trend that really started to gain traction in the 1990s, and it shows no signs of going away.


But it would not really be accurate to call either No Judgment or All Things are Too Small examples of personal writing above all. Both books belong to what is now called cultural criticism, by self-identification and by a fair accounting of the subjects they address. This classification seems to fit because of the wide range of cultural objects covered (most of the essays could not properly be called "literary criticism" since works of literature are only occasionally their focus) and because ultimately each of these critics is most concerned with understanding the cultural significance of the subjects they examine, not their value as aesthetic expressions. This at first seems paradoxical given both writers' penchant for making and valorizing judgments, but the essays included in Rothfeld's book are pretty consistent with her approach elsewhere, and even Oyler's most infamous negative reviews often wander away from pure aesthetic analysis, while in other essays she is as likely to consider trends and tendencies as closely assess individual works. 

Another trend that’s emerged (and that Oyler and Rothfeld resist) is an emphasis on moral judgments — moral judgments grounded in the philosophy we should be nice to (authorial) others. This has led to a movement in review discourse away from harsh criticism. Parallel with this has been moral judgment based on the perceived personality of the author/ artist.

This context now exists everywhere. But it’s particularly acute in some national literatures. The one I’m most familiar with is Anglo Canadian literature (I read French and am not excluding it; but lettres québécoises are very much ignored by the vast majority in Cdn publishing). This trend toward studious blandness has many causes; the cutbacks in book sections sure don’t help. But in recent decades there’ve also been movements (feminism, diversity, queerness, etc.) that have shifted the centre of crit discourse (which is fine) but also shut down critiques that offend people’s feelings (more problematic). 

A very, very good example of this is the extraordinary controversy surrounding the actions of Alice Munro. What we’re witnessing (in real time, as they say on news channels) is the immolation of a writer’s body of work because she, Munro, was complicit in hiding the molestation of her youngest daughter. The issue that I think needs discussing is the book review/ academic crit industry in Canada was also frequently complicit in this coverup. 

Munro’s place in the canon has shifted dramatically in one week. But the journalists who were also complicit in this whole sad story are furiously , passively aggressive silent, hoping the career damage doesn’t spread too far; the reputation of Munro’s second husband (who committed the crimes) was protected by some of the same journos who are now wrapping themselves in flags of morality. 

critical culture based on feelings rather than articulated aesthetic standards and principles can behave in highly unpredictable fashions. 

Friday, July 05, 2024

Away From Violent Culture



This project merges with several other anti war projects I’ve been working on, but places more emphasis on the importance— that is, the benefit — of gaining pleasure from quotation life.

Full video at YouTube: The Drama of Peace (statement):

Thursday, July 04, 2024

AI and weapons


YouTube link: Rise of the AI killbots

Friday, June 28, 2024

The debate


Well, America, choose wisely

YouTube link:

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Saturday, June 15, 2024

My father Stig


Stig Harvor, February 1, 1929 - June 13, 2024. Missed very much.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Heavy traffic


How can big cities better handle heavy traffic?

Traffic jams, bus lanes & what average people endure #trafficjams #commuting #publictransport #buses

Full video at YouTube:

Friday, June 07, 2024

Thursday, June 06, 2024



 Semi feral cats in South Korea.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024



Cranes in the developed areas of South Korea.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Trump 2

Donald Trump’s pattern of denying that he ever loses anything…

#trump #trumpcourt #stormydaniels #trumpcase #hushmoney #trumpfelony

Full video at YouTube: « Everything’s Rigged! »

Thursday, May 30, 2024


Donald Trump’s pattern of denying that he ever loses anything…

#trump #trumpcourt #stormydaniels #trumpcase #hushmoney #trumpfelony

Full video at YouTube: « Everything’s Rigged! »

Monday, May 27, 2024

Writers as Filmmakers as Artists as Musicians 1

 Increasingly one finds the phenomenon of writers who are also filmmakers. Multimedia art-making is nothing new, but it’s taken a long time to begin to gain acceptance in the stuffy, hidebound world of literary production. The trend, though, will almost certainly continue. 

And one reason for that is the trend has always existed: from Blake to Peake to the poet/painters of Joseon, artmaking and writing have always had  the potential for a symbiotic relationship. And some writers simply enjoy art-making. This was true , for example, of PK Page. 

But the trend expanded in the 20th century, as poets became singers and vice versa. From Cohen to Dylan to Mitchell to Lennon to Springsteen, there is a large number of songwriters admired precisely for the poetic sophistication of their lyrics. In the 21st century, poets sometimes branch into music long after establishing literary reputations. 

For example, Steve Heighton became serious about performing his music shortly before his death:

And auteur filmmakers have always been, by definition, writers. But how about multimedia narratives that combine several art forms into a single artistic artefact? That form could be musical/ literary or artistic/ literary; however, I think the newest territory to be discovered is combining *all* these elements; that is, a film made by an artist/writer/musician. I call this type of filmmaking the authorial movie, and have made over 1,500 of these that are specifically literature-connected. It is a major body of work.

If curious, here are a few examples:

Three Tragedies, Four Seasons (take 7)

These authorial movies tend naturally toward poetry (because of its generally shorter length). But they can take the form of short stories and novel excerpts, too.

Last Question of the Evening 4K Mar 30 20

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Aging parents, away


 Looking after aging parents from far away.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Bamboo wind


Bamboo groves are particularly nice places to experience wind, both as a visual and aural experience.

#fieldrecording #bamboogarden #bambou ##대나무숲 #명상 #meditation #naturesounds #southkorea

YouTube link;

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Protecting nature


Cranes in South Korea are one species that’s benefited from improved environmental protection.

Protecting wild birds in S. Korea #koreannature #asianwildlife #wildlife #한국의야생동물 #경기도 #cranes #두루미

Boy Meets Girl After Battle 2


This poem, "Boy Meets Girl After Battle 2," was published in the online literary journal Word City. In it, I employed a childlike cadence to critique of war's devastating impact on human lives. The poem describes a girl grievously wounded by shrapnel, her home destroyed by artillery fire. Despite her injuries and the shock of her ordeal, she survives, only to be discovered by a platoon. The soldiers' reactions range from indifference to minimal kindness.

War, as we know, makes normal people callous. The work attempts to highlight the dehumanization and moral decay that can accompany war. The final soldier's search for loot amidst the chaos serves as a poignant commentary on the exploitation and disregard for human suffering that often occurs in war-torn areas. The simple, rhythmic language is intended to contrast with the grim reality of the situation.

This poem also a moviepoem . If curious, YouTube link: Boy Meets Girl After Battle (part two)

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Paul Auster, la littérature canadienne, et la cherche pour la signification

  L'écrivain littéraire coréen-américain R. W. Kwon a récemment écrit une intéressante compilation d'essais dans lesquels tous les directeurs agissent toujours de manière raisonnable et décente. C’est un bon point car ce n’est pas ainsi que les humains agissent toujours, même lorsqu’ils se targuent de leur maturité. Le critique canadien Steven Beattie a appuyé Kwon, ajoutant qu'il y a un certain lecteur qui veut des romans ennuyeux, c'est-à-dire des romans sans conflit.

L’ennui dans les essais (la plainte de Kwon) ou l’ennui dans les romans (celui de Steven) n’a rien de nouveau. Par coïncidence, disons par hasard, un romancier littéraire critiqué pour ce défaut est récemment décédé. Il s'appelait Paul Auster.

Je me souviens avoir eu une fois une conversation avec mon frère Richard au sujet du travail d’Auster. Richard a déclaré : « Ce n’est qu’une phrase laborieuse après l’autre. On se demande quand ça va s’arrêter. »

Auster lui-même a de nombreux défenseurs – ils ont tendance à être plutôt timides face aux critiques visant Auster ; une preuve indirecte que l'essentiel de son soutien se situe au niveau intermédiaire, c'est-à-dire les lecteurs qui veulent que leurs romans soient ennuyeux tout en étant classés comme de l'art ; un genre de production culturelle que j’appelle « midrature ». Et les lettres canadiennes, FWIW, en fournissent également de nombreux exemples.

Alors… que faire ? Comment pouvons-nous créer une culture littéraire qui, pour reprendre l’expression de Philip Roth, allie un grand sérieux à un grand côté ludique ?

Une partie de la réponse consiste à cesser de s’intéresser aux méthodes traditionnelles de production littéraire pour sauver la culture littéraire de ses prétentions les plus mornes. En d’autres termes, ne commettez pas l’erreur (intermédiaire) de supposer que la littérature existe uniquement ou avant tout sous la forme d’un livre imprimé offset organisé par une classe de sélection qui mystifie ses propres intérêts. Tournez-vous plutôt vers les nouveaux médias et certaines formes d’édition clandestine.

C’est exactement ce que réclamait John Metcalf. Mais il ne semblait pas tout à fait disposé à pousser l’argument jusqu’à sa conclusion logique, qui était de célébrer les écrits intéressants partout où ils étaient produits, qu’ils aient ou non le sceau de l’approbation institutionnelle.

C’est l’une des raisons pour lesquelles j’ai commencé à publier le travail de mon défunt frère sous forme de vidéopoèmes.

Exemple ici : Un poème de film sur l'hiver : le dernier univers de Richard

Ou sous forme de parole simple : les écrits de Richard - 19/20 avril - 1

Les critiques du Canada anglo-saxon sont particulièrement susceptibles de s’isoler de tout ce qui n’est pas « approprié ».

Il s’agit d’un angle mort dans la manière dont le Canada produit de la culture et, ironiquement, son industrie de l’édition en a payé un prix énorme ; sa part d'audience est décrite par un initié comme « la pire du monde lettré ».

Il s’agit d’une triste conséquence du fait qu’une puissance moyenne comme le Canada ne consacre pas suffisamment d’énergie à la création d’une scène culturelle véritablement démocratique et vitale. Au lieu de cela, nous sommes alourdis par des institutions qui sont instinctivement enclines à la « littérature » qui est en réalité du travail social ou une imitation édulcorée d’une littérature intéressante.

Je suppose qu’il y aura un débat intéressant sur la valeur des romans d’Auster ; Les lettres américaines sont suffisamment grandes pour pouvoir supporter un tel débat sans que les gens paniquent et deviennent vindicatifs.

Le contraire est malheureusement vrai au Canada. Le résultat est une littérature bloquée, une littérature mystifiée, une littérature moralisatrice, une littérature porteuse de messages, une littérature prudente et, oui, une littérature ennuyeuse.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Auster, CanLit, and the search for vitality

  Korean-American literary writer R. W. Kwon recently wrote an interesting take down of essays in which all the principals always act reasonably and decently. It’s a good point because it’s not how human always act, even when they pride themselves on their maturity. Canadian critic Steven Beattie seconded Kwon, adding that there’s a certain of reader that wants boring novels — that is, novels without conflict.

Boringness in essays (Kwon’s complaint) or boringness in novels (Steven’s) is nothing new. As coincidence — chance, let us say — a literary novelist criticized for having just this failing recently died. His name was Paul Auster. 

I recall once having a conversation with my brother Richard about Auster’s work. Richard said, « It’s just one plodding sentence after another. You wonder when it’s going to stop. » 

Auster himself has many defenders — they tend to be rather thin skinned about critiques aimed at Auster; indirect evidence that the core of his support is middle brow — that is, readers who want their novels to be boring yet at the same time classified as art; a genre of cultural production I term “midrature”. And Canadian letters, FWIW, also provides many examples of this. 

So … what is to be done? How can we create a literary culture that, to use Philip Roth’s phrase, combines high seriousness with great playfulness?

Part of the answer is to stop looking at traditional methods of literary production to save lit culture from its drearier pretensions. In order words, do not make  the (middlebrow) mistake of assuming literature exists only or above all in the form of an offset printed book that’s been curated by a Selector Class which mystifies its own self-interests. Look instead to new media and certain forms of underground publishing. 

John Metcalf called for just that. But he didn’t quite seem willing to take the argument to its logical conclusion, which was to celebrate interesting writing wherever it was produced, whether it had the stamp of institutional approval or not. 

This is one reason I started publishing my late brother’s work as videopoems. 

Example here: A Moviepoem about Winter: Richard’s Last Universe

Or as straightforward spoken word: Richard's writing - April 19/20 - 1

Critics in anglo Canada are particularly susceptible to walling themselves off from anything that’s not “proper”. 

It’s a blind spot in the way Canada produces culture, and its publishing industry has, ironically, paid a huge price; its audience share is described by one insider as “the worst in the literate world”. 

This is a sad consequence of a middle power such as Canada not placing enough energy into creating genuinely democratic and vital cultural scene. Instead, we’re weighed down by institutions that are instinctively inclined toward “literature” that’s actually social work or a watered down imitation of interesting literature. 

My guess is there will be an interesting debate on the worth of Auster’s novels; American letters is big enough that it can endure such a debate without people freaking out and becoming vindictive.

The opposite is sadly true in Canada. The result is a stymied literature, a mystified literature, a moralizing literature, a message-carrying literature, a cautious literature, and, yes, a boring literature.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

On screenplay fiction 4


 About the illustrated screenplay novel The Business Army 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Sur les romans scénarios 2

 Le Canada publie un nombre raisonnable de livres – même si ce nombre pourrait être augmenté ; Son plus grand défi, cependant, est de vendre davantage de livres… c'est-à-dire d'augmenter sa part du marché canadien du livre par rapport à son point bas actuel de 5 pour cent.

Quels types de stratégies pourraient être utilisées ? Les éléments suivants méritent d’être discutés :

1. Marketing et visibilité améliorés

Il faut un effort concerté pour commercialiser les livres canadiens de manière plus agressive, tant au pays qu'à l'étranger. Cela pourrait impliquer des campagnes mettant en valeur les aspects uniques de la littérature canadienne et sa pertinence par rapport aux enjeux contemporains.

2. Soutien des détaillants (libraires faisant la promotion de la littérature canadienne en la mettant plus en évidence dans les magasins et les plateformes en ligne).

3. Initiatives culturelles. Ceux-ci existent déjà, mais il y a des absences flagrantes, comme les grands salons du livre. Les festivals de nouveaux médias pour les formes hybrides telles que les vidéopoèmes, les films d'auteur et les récits cinématographiques sont indispensables.

4. Éducation et sensibilisation. Insérer davantage de littérature canadienne dans les programmes éducatifs et les programmes de lecture communautaires.

5. Diversification des modèles de publication. Adopter véritablement des modèles d'édition alternatifs, tels que l'édition indépendante et l'auto-édition (nous en parlerons plus tard, car le snobisme enraciné a créé une situation autodestructrice et intellectuellement malhonnête à cet égard).

6. Distribution internationale. Le renforcement des canaux de distribution internationaux pourrait aider les romans canadiens à gagner en popularité et en lectorat à l’étranger, ce qui pourrait accroître leur popularité au pays.

7. Inventer de nouvelles formes de fiction ; c’est-à-dire réinventer le roman lui-même afin que la publication des livres atteigne de nouveaux publics parce que les livres eux-mêmes attirent les acheteurs. Cela se produit déjà avec la fiction graphique. Mais ces formes expérimentales pourraient être poussées plus loin, beaucoup plus loin.

On screenplay fiction 2

  Canada publishes a reasonable number of books — though that number could be increased; its biggest challenge, however, is selling more books … that is, increasing its share of the Canadian book market from its current low point of 5 percent.

What kind of strategies could be used? The following are worth discussing:

1. Enhanced Marketing and Visibility

There needs to be a concerted effort to market Canadian books more aggressively, both domestically and internationally. This could involve campaigns that highlight the unique aspects of Canadian literature and its relevance to contemporary issues.

2. Support from Retailers (booksellers promoting Canadian literature by featuring it more prominently in stores and online platforms).

3. Cultural Initiatives. These exist already, but there are glaring absences, such as major book fairs. New media festivals for hybrid forms such as videopoems and authorial moviepoems and moviestories much needed.

4. Education and Outreach. Putting more Canadian literature into educational curricula and community reading programs.

5. Diversification of Publishing Models. Genuinely embracing alternative publishing models, such as independent and self-publishing (more about this later, as ingrained snobbery has created a self defeating and intellectually dishonest situation in this regard).

6. International Distribution. Strengthening international distribution channels could help Canadian novels gain acclaim and readership abroad, which in turn could boost their popularity at home.

7. Inventing new forms of fiction; that is, reinventing the novel itself so that publication of books reaches new audiences because the books themselves attract buyers. This already happening with graphic fiction. But these experimental forms could be taken farther — much farther.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sur les romans scénarios illustrés 1

 Récemment, le critique Steven Beattie a passé en revue un roman policier écrit sous la forme d'un scénario (un documentaire sur un meurtre) accompagné d'un e-mail/SMS. Il s’agit d’une sorte d’expérience stylistique qui pourrait être considérée comme une mise à jour du roman épistolaire ou quelque chose de nouveau et d’audacieusement moderne. Il reste à voir si ce débat aura lieu, mais je voudrais cadrer le débat en des termes rarement utilisés. Le premier est la spécificité de la production littéraire canadienne (Stephen et moi sommes tous deux canadiens), et le second est l'attitude généralisée à l'égard des œuvres littéraires. Produire un roman dans une édition internationale, c'est-à-dire un roman qui reçoit une renommée et une distribution internationales.

La production canadienne de fiction est considérée presque entièrement comme le produit de maisons d'édition de propriété canadienne et québécoise. En apparence, cette perception semble assez logique. Après tout, qui publie des livres autres que les éditeurs de livres ? Mais ce que les étrangers au domaine ont tendance à ne pas réaliser (et ce que les initiés ne veulent pas non plus admettre), c'est que les livres canadiens sont très impopulaires parmi les acheteurs de livres canadiens. L'industrie du livre et des magazines contrôlait autrefois 25 % du marché canadien, mais elle en représente aujourd'hui 5 %. Ce déclin a amené certains à prétendre que l’édition canadienne est « morte ». Une telle qualification est manifestement injuste. Les éditeurs canadiens produisent environ 20 000 nouveaux livres chaque année. Mais la part de marché reste extrêmement faible. Cela est particulièrement vrai par rapport à d’autres pays. Un initié de l’édition a décrit la performance de l’industrie canadienne comme « la pire en littérature ».

Alors, que devrions-nous faire? Comment les livres canadiens peuvent-ils conquérir une plus grande part du marché national du livre?

(À suivre)

On the highly illustrated screenplay narrative and the screenplay module novel, part one

 Recently, critic Steven Beattie reviewed a mystery novel that was written in the form of a screenplay (for a documentary being made about a murder) and accompanying emails / text messages. This is kind of stylistic experimentation that could be dismissed as nothing more than an updating of the epistolary novel, or as something new and daringly contemporary. Whether this debate happens remains to be seen, but I’d like to frame a discussion in terms that are rarely employed, the first being the specifics of literary production in Canada (Steven and I are both Canadian), and second a generalized attitude toward novel production in international publishing — that is, those novels which receive international acclaim and distribution.

Canadian novel production is considered almost exclusively the result of Canadian / québécois owned publishing houses. This perception seems logical enough on its surface, since, after all, who will publish books but book publishers? However, what outsiders to the scene tend not to recognize (and insiders are not eager to acknowledge) is Canadian books are remarkably unpopular among Canadian book buyers; the book and magazine industry used to have 25% of the Canadian market — it now has 5% … a decline that’s led some to claim Canadian publishing is « dead ». That characterization is clearly unfair ; Canadian publishing produces approximately 20,000 new titles a year. But its market share remains embarrassingly low, especially when compared to other countries. One publishing insider described the performance of the Canadian industry as being « the worst in the literate world ».

What, then, is to be done? How can Canadian books gain more of the share of the book market in their own territory?

(To be continued)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Last Question of the Evening: spoken word version


 This is a spoken word version of my authorial moviestory “Last Question of the Evening”, the text and art version of which is in the post below.

The story is set in the call center of a polling company. This is precarious work in its original form: unpredictable hours, low pay, and a work force that’s meant to dress middle class while not belonging to it.

The concept of the authorial moviestory is both a critique of the gig economy and post industrial capitalism and also a critique , so to speak, of the conventional film industry, with its high production costs. At the same, the concept of the moviestory is a critique of traditional literature, with its apparently limitless tolerance for conventional narrative tropes.

In effect, the moviestory “Last Question of the Evening” is meant to bring the positive energies of the movie industry — such as its ability to engage an audience — while at the same time being so simple and low cost to produce that a moviestory escapes the pressures of artistic compromise that conventional filmmakers often feel.

YouTube link to see the full authorial moviestory: Last Question of the Evening -- short story/ authorial movie

More to follow.

Last Question of the Evening

 Fade in. 

An office comprised of cubicles, all of them lined in rows, as if the aisles of an airplane had been converted into office space. In each cubicle, a worker with a headset.

"They're all liars," a voice through one headset says.

The man conducting the interview, Anders, doesn't reply. He waits for the respondent to answer the question in the survey.

"Eh?" the respondent says, his voice charged with a coercive energy. "Whaddayou think?"

"A lot of people feel the same way you do, sir."

"That's right!" the man from rural Saskatchewan says. "They all go to Ottawa, they promise you the world, and then they do nothing."

Pause. Anders glances at the supervisors' station, eager to see if his call is being monitored. He can't make out the supervisors' screens.

"Sir, if you could please answer the questions as they're phrased, we'd get through this much faster."

Saying this is a mistake; not because the respondent is offended by Anders's chastisement, but because it suddenly makes him aware of how long he's been on the phone. "Good lord, mister! Lookit the time! We've been yammerin' for half an hour!"

"We're almost done," Anders lies.

"I can't be talkin' about all this sort of political nonsense for half an hour!"

"Please, sir. Would you just bear with me for another ten minutes?"

"Ten minutes?! Listen, I don't have ten minutes. I think I told you enough."

"Is there some time I could call you back at?"

"No. I'm real busy. I said enough. You just fill in the rest."

"I can't do that, sir." Now a note of pleading has entered Anders's voice. "I'll get through the rest of this really fast. If we don't finish it, then I'll have to throw the whole thing out."

"Am I gettin' paid for this?"


"Are you sendin' me money? I give you a lot of my time, I expect something in return."

"Sorry, sir, the company I work for hardly pays me anything, I don't think they'd be generous enough to start mailing cheques to all the people we interview."

This attempt to establish a sense of camaraderie falls flat. "I'm serious, mister. I gotta go," the man says.

The line is cut.

Anders lets out a deep sigh and swivels around in his chair. He first looks at the supervisors' station, then the clock. It's twenty to ten. An incredible exhaustion, mitigated by the proximity of quitting time, washes through him. He rubs his eyes and stands up.

Laura, one of the supervisors, casts him a condemning glance. Feeling guilty, then, an instant later, feeling with defensive pride that he does his fair share of work and deserves the occasional break, he walks over to the station.

"Cheques in?" he says. The question is virtually rhetorical.

Laura looks at him with her glassy, neutral eyes. "No," she says.

"They were supposed to be here at five," Anders says.

"Don't blame me. There was some screw-up with the payroll system."

"Yeah, well --." Anders bites his tongue. He simply says, "I need that money."

"You're not the only one." Laura smiles tightly. "They'll be in tomorrow." 

"I'll be hungry tomorrow."

Perhaps Laura feels a touch of compassion for him. She regards him with full attentiveness. But then she says, "You should plan ahead."

Anders gives her a what's-that-supposed-to-mean? look, then turns away to make a trip to the washroom.

On the way back, he notices one the senior analysts behind the glass wall that separates the executive offices from the hall that leads to the teleresearch room where the interviewers work. The analyst is a bulky guy who's shaved his head bald and clearly works out. He has the aggressively friendly, somewhat sinister manner of a doorman at a night club. In front of him is a woman in a power suit. 

Anders only glimpses all this as he walks down the hall. 

When he gets back to his work station, it's twelve minutes to ten. Generally, this is just around the time when one of the supervisors begins walking around and telling everyone who's not on a survey to log off. Anders feels a contented relief. He figures he'll find a way to feed himself until tomorrow. He fingers the change in his pocket: his clinking life's savings.

At ten-to-ten, Jeremy, one of few consistently nice supervisors, begins walking down aisles. Anders stretches his arms. Then Jeremy's voice becomes audible. "Don't log off. We'll be working to ten. Even if you're not on a survey, keep dialling."

"But Jer-emy," a whiny voice says. "This survey is super-long. If we get someone now, we'll be here to, like, midnight."

"I'm just passing my orders along. I don't want to stay here any more than you do," Jeremy says. Then he adds, as if as an afterthought, "We're going to be starting another survey at ten."

"WHAT?!" a Jamaican woman named Celia says.

"I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. We've got a rush job from The Policy Group, and everyone has to work till quarter past."

The Policy Group isn't technically part of the company that Anders works for. Anders's company is called Windgate Research, and it's a pollster for the federal Liberals. The Policy Group has its office halfway down the hall between Windgate's executive suites and Anders's workplace. It in turn does polling for the provincial Conservatives. Both firms use the same interviewers.


Anders listens to Celia with a distant kind of neutrality. He doesn't share her fury. Then he starts thinking about what's going on and gets angry not only because Celia has a point but because she isn't pin-pointing the exact nature of the way the truth is being spun.

The description of this survey as a 'rush job' is a misnomer; while it's understood that some surveys are more urgent than others, all of them need at least a day or two of preparation. If nothing else, the analyst who wrote this particular survey would have begun working on it early in the afternoon. There is no way management could have 'just' discovered it needed this survey done.

Then a more calculating, more cautious part of Anders's mind kicks in. He's been having trouble getting along with the supervisors lately -- even the normally genial Jeremy has been prickly. And Anders, a university student with post-grad ambitions, is too intellectually proud to put up with the low-level condescension which is routinely directed at the interviewers. He tends to snap back when criticized. He knows that he has a reputation for being difficult. If he were to stay for an extra fifteen minutes, it'd help him go down in the supervisors' good-books.

"Everybody log off," Jeremy says to the whole room. He repeats his message a few more times, like a portly town crier walking down a street of computers.

"You know what this survey's about?" Anders says to Michelle, the woman with no front teeth, who's sitting at a station opposite his. 

She shrugs. "Maybe the teachers' strike," she says.

Anders realizes she must be right. It's early November, 1997 -- the strike has been dragging on for over a week. And the provincial government is starting to lose the battle of public opinion; simply that it has been holding off legislating the teachers back to work shows that it's scared. 

Despite himself, like a true political junkie enzymes of excitement begin coursing through Anders's blood. It's like being a sports fan at a playoff: He wants to see what the final match up is going to be.

"The survey's number is 154," Jeremy announces. "This is manual dial. Please log on."

Anders begins reading the new survey. Any anticipation he experienced a moment before is evaporated by the sheer length of it; it contains over eighty questions.


There are murmurs of agreement from her section of the room. Laura rushes over to quell the problem. She speaks to Celia, her voice inaudible.


"It's only fifteen extra minutes," Laura says. "You'll be paid for it."

Celia's tone lowers, but it's still adamant and clear with outrage. "That's not right. They're tryin' to nickel and dime us. They plan this." 

Again, Laura's voice slips under the threshold of hearing. Anders turns back to his screen. 

He's been phoning the West most of the evening. With its time differential, he hasn't had to worry about upsetting people by calling too late. With dismay he realizes he'll now be phoning metro Toronto, the most cranky and survey-harassed region of the country, at ten on a Tuesday night. He swears to himself. The questions keep appearing before him. Almost all of them are leading.... As was said earlier, the strike by the teachers' unions is illegal. Does knowing this make you more likely or less likely to support the provincial government's reforms to education?

"It's just another fifteen minutes," the interviewer sitting next to Anders says. He's a skinny skateboarder named Lance. He once told Anders that he ate one meal of eggs and bread a day for a week.

Anders looks back at Lance with an aghast expression. "Are you kidding?!"

Lance shrugs. He slouches deeply in his seat. "Just phone a coupla numbers. Look like you're workin'. Make 'em happy."

Anders's emotions shift very abruptly. Lance is right. Pretend to be a good employee. 

But at ten sharp, a mutiny breaks out. People begin rising from their seats, starting first, it seems, with Celia. "I got a connectin' bus to catch," she says by way of explanation.

Hunger gnaws at Anders's stomach. He only had a can of sardines for supper. He was counting desperately on the pay-cheque. He figured after work he'd make a beeline to a bank machine, deposit his pay, then treat himself to dinner at a souvlaki place. Physical discomfort reminds him of how much he hates his company.

Despite his resolution, almost involuntarily Anders finds himself rising from his seat. He makes an extra show of lining up his keyboard neatly on his desk and putting on his coat with genteel calm. 

"What are you doing?" Michelle says.

"I'm not staying. This is ridiculous. What, we're supposed to phone people now, and ask them a bunch of propagandistic questions for half an hour?"

"It's a job." 


As Anders is walking towards the supervisors' station, the man who was in the front office -- the one with the bald head and fighter's build -- enters. He sees the mass of people huddled around the sign-out sheet.

"What's going on?" he says loudly to Laura.

"People don't want to stay. They signed up till ten o'clock, and they're leaving." 

The tough bald man looks around him. For a second his expression is so similar to that of a captain trying to give orders to soldiers who are on leave that Anders wants to laugh. Then the man composes himself, and his face becomes a managerial mask.

"Everybody, could I have your attention!" he says loudly. "Everyone! Listen, this is a rush job. It's very important. We need you people to stay."

A number of the people milling around stop. Everybody seems temporarily frozen by this man's voice. Then a few people move discreetly towards the door.

"Listen, I know it's late, and I know you people want to get home. But we have to start getting results on this particular issue. Certain people -- important people -- need feedback, and they need something that they can start working with first thing tomorrow. So everybody, would you please ... just return to your stations. If we all pitch in, we can make a dent on this baby."

Some people seem to have been convinced by this man's manner, but no one actually returns to a station. 

Seeing this, the man adds in a deal-maker's tone, "I'll give you a bonus."

The man is standing right beside Anders. Although the man isn't looking right at him, Anders can practically feel tendrils working their way out of him, as if he has thousands of microscopic hairs waving gently in the air, picking up people's opinions chemically.

"How much?" Anders says. His voice is steady, but he's surprised at how fearful he feels.

"Come on," the tough bald man is saying to everyone, clapping his hands together. Then he turns to Anders, his body language like that of an adult irritated by a child.

Anders watches as the man's eyes settle on his. They are disconcertingly focused; they are powerful and unblinking. When the man's mouth moves, there is the slightest of hesitations when he pronounces his first syllable. "Three bucks."  

The adrenalin that Anders experienced minutes before comes back to him stronger. "You've got to be kidding." 

The tough bald man holds his hands out from his pockets as if to say: hey buddy, that's all I got. 
Then the man says, "You think you're worth more?"

A voice in Anders's head tells him that he should back off. It tells him he's making a huge mistake, engaging in confrontation. Everybody else in the room knows this man's a jerk. Why say it to his face?

So Anders, thinking he's being conciliatory, says, "I'll do it. But yeah, I think I'm worth more."

"Let me tell you something about what you're worth," the man says. He holds up his hand, making a zero sign with his thumb and forefinger. "I could have you replaced like that." He snaps his fingers with startling volume. "Now you get back to your friggin' station or you take a walk out the door."

This is too much. Anders glares. "Maybe more than one person will walk out that door."

"What's that supposed to mean --?"

"People here are pretty sick of working for eight bucks an hour. We get no raises, no benefits, no consistent hours, and the company rakes in millions." Anders feels as if his nerves are exposed. He's absolutely convinced the man is going to hit him. He's startled; he thought he'd left this level of fear behind in high school.

"That's the industry standard," the man says. He narrows his eyes. "Pal."

"You got people here who don't even get enough to eat. You think that's a fair standard?"

The man looks at Anders -- he looks at the people nearby. He smirks. Most everybody is well-dressed.

A schizophrenic electricity fills the room: Anders is completely alert but also more tired than ever. He feels that everybody's attention is on him and nobody is with him. The other people all stand around, waiting. A horrible sense of defeat hovers on the fringe of his consciousness. 

"What did you say your name was?" the man says. His voice is superficially polite, but it's edged with the appetite of an axe.


Finn Harvor is an artist, writer, filmmaker, and musician. He lives with his wife in South Korea. His work -- literary and academic -- has appeared in several journals including Poetry Film Live, This Magazine, Canadian Notes and Queries, Former People, Eclectica, and others. His author-made movies have been screened in Korea, the U.S., the U.K., and Greece, with upcoming screenings at the Athens Poetry Film Festival and the Rabbitheart Poetry Film Festival.