A Bad Review


On Thursday Margeaux and I saw All Our Happy Days Are Stupid at the Harbourfront Centre. Sheila Heti’s play was supposed to be “famously unstageable,” but there was nothing that seemed particularly tricky to me. Nothing beyond the talents of even a semi-competent director. Maybe that is the worth of a talented director—in this case, Jordan Tannahill—to make the difficult seem obvious or even mundane. If there was a problem with the play it was the second act, which seemed unclear or unrealized in tone. Then again, it is often what vexes us at first about a work of art, what appears to be incongruous and wrong, which provides the key to its understanding and appreciation. I don’t mean that in a strictly academic, or cold sense—while it is true that often the bits that seem clumsy unlock a work’s meaning, they also act upon our hearts. What is objectively a defect is often what we like.

What is a play? In this case, a mess of people and title cards, a blinding whiteness that comprised the set and the stage. When they turned the house lights on full I was immediately dazzled, or dazed, because of this brightness, and it took me a good few seconds to find the performer who was singing the first of Destroyer’s songs. A play is what happens on stage but it is also its effect on the audience and the audience itself. Which is not to say that my being dazed or present is as worthy of comment as the play’s action. But it was hard not to be aware of the audience of this play, fans of Sheila Heti and Jordan Tannahill, two artists at the vanguard of their respective fields. Everyone at the Harbourfront Centre was sharing in a cultural moment, perhaps something like that experienced by the first audiences of Brecht. Perhaps, in time, our confusion or disappointment will come to be seen as quaint, like those who booed The Threepenny Opera.

Or perhaps not.

That was Thursday. Today Marcus and I talked about academic writing and how what interests us is not clarifying but elliding. Latching onto an image and making sense of it in—now I might be speaking for him—an oblique way as opposed to a definite. Or building a larger conversation out of lots of little definite objects. I had this conversation with Noor on Friday. Academia pretends that statements made in the past function as evidence for work in the future—that’s the chain of reference that we’re supposed to follow. (I got this idea from an interview Ted Nolan conducts in the upcoming issue of The Puritan). The field of English will change if the followers of Franco Moretti have their way (I’ll admit here I only know him from hearsay). But that will never happen, because literature cannot provide the kind of objective “value” that scientists and materialists alike crave. At most, digital tools are another way of shuffling the deck, of turning the work (as if it was written laid out on a grid) to find new knots or defects to untangle.

A Discounted Catalogue


As we descended into St. George Station, Shannon told Ali and I a story about doing a move entirely via transit and becoming stuck in the enclosed turnstiles with one of her bags. Now I wonder how she became unstuck. Instead of asking that I said that I had heard that people get stuck in those turnstiles with their bicycles, that the turnstiles have to be taken apart, that this is a major expense for the Toronto Transit Commission. I hope they know I talk a lot of shit.

I went East and they went West. I got off at the next stop and turned in a direction I’d never gone before. Bay Station is confusing. I found myself outside, on a level below ground, between two sets of glass doors that whistled gently as they closed. There was a patch of snow on the tile beside a somnolent pillar. Is this real life, I wondered. Should I take a photo for my Instagram? Instead I went upstairs. I stood in a hallway and texted Margeaux while a man stared at me from the wall across from a Brooks Brothers. I tried not to look back at him as I walked slowly to the exit, but when I did it seemed like he was looking through me. Like he was tracking my movement but I didn’t exist.

I was only half as far as I wanted to go, but I walked the rest of the way on foot. I felt ugly and sad. I wanted to purchase a gigantic, discounted catalogue of contemporary art, but I thought it seemed too extravagent an object to bring into the tension at home. Maybe, I told myself, I’ll buy it tomorrow and store it in my locker at school. I received a package in the mail yesterday—from Amazon, a birthday present for Cody—and I was so anxious about Peter seeing it that I briefly wondered if I should cut up the box and squirrel it away after it had been opened. Insanity.

Of course I found out later that Peter was the one who had brought it inside and left it on the table for me. Is my life no longer a thing to be lived? Should I dart from corner to corner until I pack my things in boxes and go? Is every happiness to be denied henceforth? Standing on the corner of St. George and Bloor, I thought of my grandfather, once a farmer, now wracked by dementia and stroke. He is dying. When he was more lively my grandfather was consumed not by illness, but by resentment and anger. He beat his children and his partner and hated himself for it. He lived in the same small Quebec town his entire adult life, and he hated his generous friends who would call on him despite his smallness and occasional cruelties.

Peter, I hear how you talk about your friends when they aren’t around and if you are not careful you will become this man. Peter, if you treat others how you have treated me you will be more alone than my grandfather who at least has his uneasy family around him. Peter, I wanted this poem to strike you with a clear and cold vengeance, I wanted to stick you in a turnstile from which you could never escape. God knows that I deserve to. But instead I am sad for you, Peter, sad for your small meanness, sad that time will grind you into pieces, sad to go home and see my grandfather on your face.