If one can ignore the first five minutes of every news broadcast, it is easy to believe we live in a civilized world. Sociologists, modern historians and reporters, desperate for controversial headlines, suggest this is so. Compared to the world of our ancestors we aim for a politically correct existence and, for the most part, this is our strength.
But is it possible that we try to be too polite, too correct in our words and actions? I once heard a presenter from the Philippines say Canadians are the most polite people he had ever encountered. Even our buses read: Sorry, not in service.
This well-intentioned sensitivity has blasted the literary arts in recent years with a frequency that drives me to distraction. You can’t write about that! You’re not (insert here a nationality, cultural identification, medical infliction, language inflection, religious belief etc.) and so for you it’s out of bounds.
Most would agree that art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works appreciated for their beauty, emotional power and ability to inform.
Nothing should get in the way of this and yet something always has. Emile Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Salman Rushdie, John Steinbeck, W.P. Kinsella and Judy Blume would agree. Many parents found Judy Blume’s books offensive, but 80 million others bought them so I guess that’s a fair trade.
What is reasonable is a fair critique of any work. All of the above writers (and thousands more) have irritated people through their art and anyone who reads a book or sees a movie or listens to a song has the right to say I hate this ! Most of the time such a reaction has a plethora of reasons, and such cultural plaintiffs can often give sound reasons for the way they think. This I can handle, but don’t tell a lyricist or painter or poet there are limits on what they wish to pursue as art. There is no patent on scrutiny or the right to interpret observations as we choose.
Bill Stenson was born in Nelson, B.C., went to a one-room schoolhouse on Thetis Island and grew up on a small farm in Duncan. He became a teacher because he loved literature and taught English and Creative Writing at various high schools, the Victoria School of Writing and the University of Victoria. He and Terence Young founded the well-known Claremont Review, an international literary magazine for young adult writers that is still going today. As well as editing the magazine for many years, he wrote a short story collection, Translating Women, and two novels, Svoboda and Hanne and Her Brother, published by Thistledown Press. He has also published stories in many magazines, including; Grain, The Malahat Review, The Antigonish Review, filling Station, Blood and Aphorisms, Wascana Review, Prairie Fire, Toronto Star, The New Quarterly, Prism International and the Nashwaak Review. Stenson was a finalist for the 2nd Great BC Novel Contest (2013) and a winner of the 4th Great BC Novel Contest (2017). He was also a finalist for the Prism International Fiction Contest and the Prairie Fire Short Fiction Contest. He lives with his wife, poet Susan Stenson, in the Cowichan Valley and writes every day.