Creative writing and ethics in contemporary Canadian novels: How should an author be?

Halford, Tom (2016) Creative writing and ethics in contemporary Canadian novels: How should an author be? Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

“How Should an Author Be?” is a study of creative writers as characters in contemporary Canadian novels. The theoretical framework, developed from both the Anglo-American and the European approaches to ethical criticism, highlights the complexity of discourses on authors, and it works in three stages. In the first stage, consideration is given to how a text and a hypothetical reader might interact. Aesthetic strategies that foster open-mindedness are then highlighted and discussed. In the final stage of this process, the first two stages are re-evaluated and critiqued in order to consider alternative points of view. The first chapter considers four contemporary Canadian authors who wrestle with the motif of the artist as hero. David Adams Richards’ Hope in the Desperate Hour, Lynn Coady’s Mean Boy, Steven Heighton’s The Shadow Boxer, and Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? all represent or critique this motif in some way. I read this powerful and intoxicating characterization of writer-characters as a distraction preventing readers from fully engaging with these texts. I propose an alternative way that authors “should be”: not as heroes but as restless questioners. The phrase “restless questioner” is from Wayne C. Booth’s discussion of “restless questioning” in The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (478). These individuals are rarely certain of their role or their function in society, and they do not need to be. Their goal is to write as well as possible without ignoring the profound importance of the Other. For restless questioners, writing well tends to mean developing complicated fictional worlds that challenge simplistic forms of thought. The second chapter explores the various ways that one author can create a sense of openness. In this thesis, openness is discussed mainly in relation to the indeterminacy of the present, and it derives from Mikhail Bakhtin’s description of the novel as “zone of crude contact” (26). A sense of openness encourages resistance to dogmatism, and it invites complex interpretations of meaning. Michael Winter’s first four novels, This All Happened, The Big Why, The Architects Are Here, and The Death of Donna Whalen, represent the writer-character as capable of challenging certitude and conviction through the complexity of their aesthetic visions. Authors are not cultural heroes, but they can demonstrate how certain forms of observing and describing are preferable to others. A sense of openness, for example, invites one to consider the complexities of other people’s lives. In chapter three, Edward Riche’s Easy to Like, Russell Smith’s Muriella Pent, Lawrence Hill’s Any Known Blood, and Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist are discussed as parodic narratives. Here, “parody” is informed by Linda Hutcheon’s development of the term “as repetition with critical distance that allows ironic signaling of difference at the very heart of similarity” (185). These novels add new layers to the argument that is developed in the first two chapters by exploring the world of authors and writing from critical perspectives that challenge my arguments from the first two chapters. Ideally, this study invites readers to develop their own idiosyncratic responses to the titular question, “How should an author be?”

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/12376
Item ID: 12376
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 249-258).
Keywords: Canadian Novels, writers, michael winter, surveillance, artist hero, sousveillance, edward riche, ed riche, lynn coady, david adams richards, steven heighton, lawrence hill, sheila heti, ethical criticism, literary artists in fiction, representations of writers in fiction, writers in canada, writing in canada, authors, authorship
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: March 2016
Date Type: Submission

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