Canadians are clearly among the world’s most fortunate people. Compared to the majority of peoples around the globe, we enjoy a leisurely and indolent existence. True, we have our delicate sufficiency of social problems: aboriginals who insist on favored treatment and hold the government to ransom with hunger strikes, land claim protests and violent occupation of entire communities, Muslims engaged in stealth jihad and sporadic terror, high taxation levels, so-called human rights tribunals that act as kangaroo courts, and a modest degree of unemployment. But running down the alphabet from Algeria to Zanzibar, it is plausible to suggest that we live in halcyon climes, and indeed, Canada is one of only three countries — Norway and Israel are the other two — that managed to ride out the recent economic meltdown and emerge in a comparatively robust posture.
This may explain why Canadians are naturally prone to grow ludicrously exercised by relatively inconsequential issues, which can fairly be described as tempests in a peepot. The most recent such trivial controversy to raise our pro forma ire has to do with David Gilmour, the Canadian fiction writer and part-time lecturer at the University of Toronto. Now it should be noted that Gilmour boasts a pretty decent reputation among our literary elite, having won the coveted Governor General’s Award for a thoroughly undistinguished novel, one among many. (His new novel, Extraordinary, is about assisted suicide and the relation between siblings.)
Gilmour is a stock Canadian writer: overhyped, almost unfailingly dull, and eminently forgettable absent media inflation. But he has recently leaped into prominence by being guilty of an unforgivable breach of political — and literary — correctness. In an interview with Random House’s Hazlitt magazine, Gilmour said:
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. I’ve never found — Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one short story from Virginia Woolf. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would teach only the people that I truly, truly love. And, unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women…usually at the beginning of the semester someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I’m good at is guys….very serious heterosexual guys. Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy guys…Henry Miller. Uh. Philip Roth.
In uttering so insensitive and inexpiable a preference, he drew down upon his weary, tousled head the unrelenting fire of the professoriate, administrators and students, both women and men, the former the shrieking viragos of Canlit and the latter those blenny-mouthed pram-pushers terrified of violating the feminist and multicultural bromides of the day. For it is not only a frenzied band of women who are primed to join the bacchanal and tear Gilmour limb from limb, the Pentheus of Victoria College — feminists like Gillian Jerome, chair of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), for whom Gilmour is proof that “we live in a deeply sexist and racist culture”; Angela Esterhammer, president of Victoria College, who regrets Gilmour’s having “expressed his views about teaching in a careless and offensive manner”; student activist Miriam Novick, who declared “we want to make sure the rest of the university community and the public at large knows that Gilmour is not representative of our institution or of the academy, and to encourage Victoria College to seriously reconsider his continued employment”; and author Anne Thériault who, according to the report in the Toronto Star, won’t be letting pass “this kind of blatant sexism.”