Theorizing Toronto

Ioan Davies

Toronto: the dead ones.

		The spectres drift across the square in rows.
		How empire permeates! And we sit down
		in Nathan Phillips square, among the sun,
		as if our lives were real.
		Lacunae. Parking lots. Regenerations.
		Newsstand euphorics and Revell's [1] sign, that not
		one countryman has learned, that
		men and women live that
		they make that life worth dying. Living. Hey,
		the dead ones! Gentlemen, generations of
		acquiescent spectres gawk at the chrome
		on American cars on Queen St, gawk and slump and retreat.
		And over the square where I sit, congregating above the Archer
		they crowd in a dense baffled throng and the sun does not shine through.[2] 

The Way we Think Now

The theoretical discussions generated in Toronto are part of those common to all societies which confront the issues of survival, freedom and spiritual awareness: the philosopher George Grant, the literary critics Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan, the political theorist C.B. MacPherson, various creative writers and artists, musicians, architects (including the feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith, the urban utopian Jane Jacobs, the agronomist Alex Wilson, the poet bp nicol and the critic/instrumentalist Glenn Gould) have all provided important accounts of reading the contemporary human condition. And yet their work was written in the context of this city, in part framed by its institutions and activities, and in no small measure fed back into the living culture. But, to ‘reclaim' them for Toronto (their reputations having spread across the globe) would be a mere act of hagiography, hardly an act of critical thinking. Rather, in the style of Benjamin's writings on Proust and Baudelaire, it is important to situate them in a dialectical relationship to the city within which they made their reputations. This paper therefore employs some of the strategies of Benjamin's "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century" in order to provide contrasting images of the city in the period from 1945 to the present, and yet, in another sense it can never quite do that because we, like Benjamin, know how difficult it is to juxtapose theory and practice. No book which has set about theorizing the city quite pulls it off. With Marshall Berman [3] a Marxian aphorism becomes a wrap-around for a series of discrete narratives and, on the other hand, with Mike Davis [4], economy and power provide the mechanisms for understanding the architecture and texture of Los Angeles. This paper attempts, rather, to consider Toronto as a place where theory is produced and to suggest ways that That theorizing provides a means for coming to terms with the city.

The paper is in two parts. The first, "The Dead Ones", tries to situate the works of those writers who came to prominence in the period from 1945 to 1980. The theorists are clustered for their thematic suggestiveness, and their apparent relevance for considering the various aspects that constitute the meaning of the city, the living sensibilities of the place, its geographic location, the interconnectedness of its people, its memory, its multiple personalities, its languages, its Otherness. It does not, as some of the best journalism [5] tries to do, describe the city, though some of these descriptions, however judgmental, are germane to any attempt to think through the character of the city. Rather it searches in the rubble of theory for foundations in order to understand what the ‘civic' entails.

The second part of the paper, "The Way we Think Now," consists of a series of architectural reconstructions, whether they are based on these foundations or whether they seem to come from elsewhere. It is also concerned with selective memory of these earlier theorists and how such selectivity is fed into the ongoing life of the city. Although it covers a relatively short span in the history of the city, it is a time which has seen in its eighteen years as many changes as were marked in the previous thirty-five.(1) And yet I am not concerned with episodic ruptures (though these are certainly there), but with the great chain of being that interconnects a culture in spite of the ruptures. Consequently the Second part appears throughout this text as an elaborate ongoing commentary on the first, written from below, as it were.

(1) My purpose should be stated succinctly. I am not concerned with exploring those authors who have provided theoretical accounts of Toronto (they barely exist), nor to indulge in my own theorizing around the various factoids that have been assembled about the city, but to explore theory as a double helix in which those theories which emerged out of a set of common cultural preoccupations are in turn brought to bear in viewing the common situation. Another way of putting this is that most of the theoretical discussions were conducted in universalistic terms: here I turn them back on the city which gave them origin, much as anthropology, generated to study ‘foreign' lands, is now trained on the country from which the theories originated. It thus differs sharply from conventional urban cultural studies where ‘external' theories are applied to local issues. As Toronto, since the end of World War II, has become the fastest-growing multicultural city in the world, the implosion of self-generated universalistic theory is surely an important route to take if theory is to have more than passing validity.

i. Grant/Frye and the Lament for a dying or unrealized culture (2)

It seems to me that Canadian sensibility has been profoundly disturbed, not so much by our famous problem of identity, important as that is, as by a series of paradoxes in what confronts that identity. It is less perplexed by the question "Who am I?" than by some such riddle as "Where is here?" [6]

In Lament for a Nation George Grant wept for a Canada which had surrendered itself to the technological imperative of American hegemony, while Northrop Frye in The Modern Century argued that "The real Canada is an ideal with nobody in it. The Canada to which we really do owe loyalty is the Canada that we have failed to create." [7] Some years ago the Toronto playwright and newspaper columnist Rick Salutin, talking about the Toronto Hockey team, the Maple Leafs, argued that Socialism in Canada was a bit like support for the Leafs: we knew that this was the people's team, but the wrong guys were now in control; our hope would be for the ultimate utopian victory. In exploring the sense of Canada (and in particular Toronto, as all these authors wrote in and from the perspective of Toronto) as a failed utopia, one which is fractured by the conflicts between nature, technology and empire, it is surely important to ask what has been created. Various critics - Ian Balfour,(3) David Cook, John Fekete, Arthur Kroker [8] - have emphasized the "garrison mentality" implied in both authors, but they have also found much more. Both Frye and Grant share that terrain which views the ravine which divides technology from nature, but the interpretations of that ravine are profoundly different. For Grant ‘nature' in North America is an alien space populated by alien gods:

(2)Toronto, as with most North American cities is intersected by expressways which take travelers to suburbs, other cities in Canada or the United States, or to the country, which is either called "cottage country" or, farther away, the "bush." Alex Wilson, market gardener, author and magazine editor, published a book, before he died of AIDS in the early 1990s, called The Culture of Nature in which the hinterland was examined in terms of its colonization and how significant was the automobile in defining the city's appropriation of nature. In thinking about the city, it is important to think about how the natural is appropriated in it and by it. When the highways run, the issue is not only where they run to but where they run through. Thus Wilson's study brings us back to some of the issues raised by Grant and Frye, but by a very different route. It is the city which tries to recreate nature in parks and home gardens but which also tries to get away to the ‘real thing', but its escape-route is bounded by technology and the media. O those Muskokas of the mind! The country is reinvented as an extended part of the city and as a conception of history that fits urban concerns. Two contrary images: in honour of Alex, a parking-lot has been reclaimed in the centre of the city to create a site for displaying the ecological flow of Ontario, from the Lake in the South, through the agricultural belts in the middle, to the Shield and beyond. It brings to the centre of the city a living presence of its natural location. On the other hand, reclaiming a disused military airport-base at Downsview in the north of the city, a parable of globalization is now being constructed, on much more land, with simulated sea, tropical rain-forests, encounters with all that is virtual, and much money to be made from American, German and Japanese tourists. The Alex Wilson site is a do-it-yourself project, with local inhabitants helping to construct it and plant their own plots. The Downsview site is a mega-project, directed from above, impervious to issues that relate the culture it displays to the creativity and self-awareness of the people who are invited to view it.

Like Athens, Toronto is an active port. It is a city of derelict warehouses and docks, of waterfront silos and freight yards, coal yards and a sugar refinery; of distilleries, the cloying smell of malt rising from the lake on humid summer nights. It is a city where almost everyone has come from elsewhere - a market a caravansary - bringing with them their different ways of dying and marrying, their kitchens and songs. A city of forsaken worlds; language a kind of farewell. It is a city of ravines. Remnants of wilderness have been left behind. Through these great sunken gardens you can traverse the city beneath the streets, look up to the floating neighbourhoods, houses built in the treetops. It's a city of valleys spanned by bridges.....Forgotten rivers, abandoned quarries, the remnants of an Iroquois fortress. Public parks hazy with subtropical memory, a city built in the bowl of a prehistoric lake. (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1996: 89)

When we go to the Rockies we may have a sense that gods are there. But if so, they cannot manifest themselves to us as ours. They are the gods of another race, and we cannot know them because of what we are and what we did. There can be nothing immemorial for us except the environment as object. Even our cities have been encampments on the road to economic mastery.[9]

Grant's pessimism about technology is that therefore nature can never be ours because it was forever plundered. Technology, "the closing down of all thinking which transcends calculation,[10]"might only be mitigated by a small measure of sovereignty and a large amount of faith. For Frye, however, a "terror of nature" runs through Canadian literature, but this terror, not a physical but a psychological one, is one which is at the heart of the Canadian creative impulse. In 1965 he wrote:

From the deer and fish in Isabella Crawford's "The Canoe" to the frogs and toads in Layton, from the white narcissus of Knister to the night-blooming cereus of Reaney, everything that is central in Canadian writing seems to be marked by the immanence of the natural world.[11]

But this is a relationship to nature which is part of the movement from "the fortress to the metropolis" [12], and its writers

have begun to write in a world which is post-Canadian, as it is post-American, post-British, and post everything except the world itself. There are no provinces in the empire of aeroplane and television, and no physical separation from the centres of culture, such as they are.[13]

Frye's world thrives on dualisms, on types and anti-types, but, unlike Grant, where these produce a deep melancholy about the state of the world ("It would be the height of pessimism to believe that our society could go on in its present direction without bringing down upon itself catastrophes" [14]), Frye's Double Vision is a creative one and "criticism in the human world inseparably bound up with creation." [15]The dichotomy of a Grantian pessimism and a Frygian tragic optimism is perhaps at the core of the religious impulse in Toronto. Understanding its prominence is an act of coming to terms with the Presbyterian,(4) Catholic and Anglican roots of

(4)Just off the 427, near the Pearson International Airport is a church called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. It has a congregation of thousands and an international influence exceeding any of the scholars and intellectuals discussed in this paper. Physically, the church is typical of hundreds across North America: a sturdy (but flexible) concrete structure with a huge parking lot and easy access to an expressway, a shopping-mall for God. Its uniqueness is that as a Penticostalist church with wide ecumenical appeal it has drawn down on itself the ire of the Church of England for its sense of spontaneity and joie-de-vivre, including its encouragement of dancing and singing and being inebriated with the Spirit of the Lord, its biblical fundamentalism, but also its naked capitalistic appeal by insisting that all its members tythe their earnings in order to further God's mission. Needless to say, it has little to say about Canada, except the "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" bit, and claims that its immediate roots are in Argentina, New Zealand and Britain. None of this would matter much, except that it provides a Toronto-based current alternative to the intellectualizing of Grant and Frye, where the body is absent from all theorizing. At the Airport Vineyard the body is central: "We try to be careful about the physical phenomena. The roots can be the Holy Spirit, the flesh or the Devil. They are always mixed, you know. ..This was much more intense. There were far more people getting drunk in the spirit, far more people overcome with laughter, which we haven't seen much of." [Patrick Dixon, Signs of Revival. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1994: 16] George Grant drunk would be one thing, but "drunk with the spirit? Dancing?"
the city. Grant's despair at Canada is in fact a despair at conservatism: "The impossibility of conservatism in our era is the impossibility of Canada."[16] The control by technology is but one last step in the impossibility of having any traditions to conserve. It is also perhaps, given that much American religion is technologically-driven, the impossibility of having any vital Canadian religion.

Both authors want to place Canada within the wider sweep of religion. For Grant "there is need of a public religion, yet it is quite unclear what that public religion should be." [17] For Frye "if the sprit of man and the spirit of God inhabit the same world, that fact is more important than the theological relation between them." [18] And for Frye it is the form of words that transmits the "language of human nature" that "gives a social vision."[19] Thus Frye does not fear techne, because, like the Tower of Babel it is a

crazy ramshackle building, and at any time may crash around our ears. What the myth tells us is that the Tower of Babel is a work of human imagination, that its main elements are words, and that what will make it collapse is a confusion of tongues. [20]

As David Cook has noted, this image conjours up the CN Tower as "both an upward metamorphosis and a vehicle for communication" and that it allows us to look South to the "Great Lakes and the American Empire" and North to backyards and the TV rooms of the city's inhabitants, the "folly of the city talking to itself."[21] But, of course, Frye's work encourages (5) that folly, as the corresponding utterances of a city communicating with both the Paradise of a Garden of Eden and the Gilded wonders of a New Jerusalem.


Curious progeny. It is difficult to think of any creative sense from Grant. The melancholic Tories that invent journals like The Idler, take over Books in Canada, try to put together another self-serving Canadian Literary Review, attempt to commandeer CBC Ideas and TV Ontario's Imprint without generating a single original thinker, is a curious legacy of the Grant confessional angst. As much as he hated the new media, Grant generated a whole group of acolytes who could only see the media as the base for expressing their loathing for the culture they inherited. Michael Coren (imported) sits as the Chestertonian fall-guy for the sins of the sons. Either, as with Arthur Kroker one blows one's self up in Dolby (though not in Toronto, of course), or else, as with David Warner, one pretends to be Dr Sam Johnson so that other people may wipe their feet on one's words. The intellectual legacy in Toronto has been pretentious, partly-mischievous and banal.

Frye, of course, has a significantly different inheritance, which need not be repeated here. For all his rigid senses of form and content (and probably because of it) Frye taught people to think, feel, look, hear, touch, read. Above all Frye encouraged mythic thinking and creation. Not surprisingly, his legacy is Attwood, Ondaatje, Lee (he of Fraggle Rock) and many more. But what do we do next? The alternatives are surely those who understand the task that has been set and try to de-mythologize the myths.

ii. C.B. MacPherson/ Jane Jacobs and the idea of a bourgeois Civic Culture (6)

The justification of liberal democracy still rests, and must rest, on the ultimate value of the free self-developing individual. But in so far as freedom is still seen as possession, as freedom from any but market relations with others, it can scarcely serve as the ultimate value of modern democracy. [22]

The political theorist C.B. Macpherson spent most of his life writing and thinking about the bourgeois and the relationship of democratic theory and practice to the power of capitalism. His collections, The Real world of Democracy and Democratic Theory, explore in sophisticated detail the relationships between the market, property and democracy, while through his teaching he educated a generation of political theorists and activists.

(6) So what are we going to do with this? Cities are run by the middle-class - no? Well, perhaps. There is a relationship between being a property-owner and a citizen, and the history of independent city republics from Athens onwards gives us much room for thought. Apart from civic leaders clapping themselves on the back and congratulating themselves on being the continuity of tradition, there is, of course, the issue of what tradition. In addition, as Gramsci tried to warn us, which part of what tradition. In this we can be purely materialistic: people do as suits their pockets. Or else we can be more Aristotelian: we act because of a structure which makes the virtues comfortable to us and everyone else. The issue about Toronto in the early 1970s was that virtue was still contestable and therefore plausible as a project. But, as Sismondi says of the Italian Republics, "These virtues, the most precious of all treasures, diminished with the progress of time, and in exact proportion to the diminution of free states."[J.C.L de Sismondi, A History of the Italian Republics, being a view of the Origin, Progress & Fall of Italian Freedom. London: Dent & Co, 1907: 181]. Under what conditions are the virtues possible as dynamic realities?

John Porter, whose Vertical Mosaic became something of a paradigm in understanding Canadian elites through the Weberian matrix of class, status, power, concluded at the end of his survey that the people who ruled Ontario were important property-owners in Toronto and its environs and who also had the opportunity to send their children to the elite private schools and universities. At the time that Porter wrote his book, the economic elite in Canada included an unrepresentative proportion who came from Upper Canada College in Toronto or from the classical colleges in Montreal. It is useful to contrast these works with that of Jane Jacobs whose Death and Life of Great American Cities provided a critique of certain kinds of urban development, and who established a manifesto for an urban culture which was not purely beholden to market forces, but rather to the self-preservation of the bourgeoisie. This analysis called into being a bourgeois class that was profoundly conscious of civil culture, the preservation of aspects of tradition and the market advantages of being seen to be global in its cultural ambitions. It was an urban culture that saw Culture as being the work of cultured people.
But it was the culture of a propertied class (7)which tried to preserve its own enclaves and de-center government to the community level. It was a bourgeois culture which resisted government teaming up with the construction industry to create expressways by tearing through middle-class areas like Forest Hill. Battles lost in New York might be won in Toronto. But it is important to contrast this with MacPherson's view. For Jacobs the campaign to renew the city was The View from Greenwich Village, not the Bronx (the area most affected by the modernization of Robert Moses). It was a property-owners' democracy. If MacPherson agreed about property being the basis for democracy, the definition of property was different. (7) The 1990s have seen the ultimate stand-off between the various levels of the bourgeoisie. The proposal to amalgamate the five Toronto 'cities' into one 'mega' city tested the various definitions of civility. The Provincial government of ‘Mike' Harris clearly saw that its support came from the petty-bourgeoisie of the Toronto hinterlands, the nascent bourgeoisie of the new immigrant communities who live in the various suburban regions around Toronto and the hidden agents of a global financial agenda. If this was a relationship created on the golf-courses, it was one that bore little relationship to democracy, civility or a common culture (and the Asian economic crisis of late 1997 was, as The Economist put it, summed up in one four-letter word g-o-l-f: "the limitations of the golfing approach to politics and diplomacy are becoming evident. Thailand has seen how cabinets and economic policies made on the golf course (often as part of the same business deal) produce incompetent, corrupt governments and unwise investments" The Economist, 20 Dec., 1997:86). The provincial election had elected a group of those who saw the idea of the civic as being bound up with private territoriality, a suburban garrison state mentality, a rejection of the idea of a common good, and the belief in the market as necessarily being right. Thus anything sponsored by the ‘state' was necessarily evil, any organization - schools, universities, publishing houses, films, TV organizations, even welfare systems and, presumably the all levels of government - which had not been proven to be effective in terms of the market, were shown to be defective in practice and intent. Any discussions about rights, constitutions, civilities, even culture (whether regional, national or creative) were ultimately inconsequential. In opposition, the 'old' bourgeoisie of Toronto, with the cultured lumpenproletariat, the intelligentsia, the media, the creative body of the downtown rallied themselves to redefine civility as something that was coherently sociable. In spite of a marvelous e-mail campaign, a coherently catholic web-site, the downtown lost (only 5% of Toronto's population in 1997 had access to the Web). The 'mega' city came into existence and its first mayor was Mel Lastman, formerly mayor of Glenn Gould's anonymous suburban city. (The appearance of Barbara Hall, former mayor of Toronto, and the main contender against Lastman, on the front page of the Toronto Star, accompanied up by the CBC's Adrienne Clarkson and her ‘partner' John Ralston Saul, cannot have helped things much. The CBC - as opposed to TSN - nor the Governor-General's award do little for mayoral candidates when the electorate is composed largely of the anti-intellectual nouveaux riches).

Political writers in the seventeenth century spoke of a man's property as including not only his rights in material things and revenues, but also his life, his person, his faculties, his liberty, his conjugal affection, his honour, etc; and material property might be ranked lower than some of the others, as it was specifically by Hobbes. The fact that property once had such a wider meaning opens up the possibility, which our narrower concept has not allowed, that property may once again be seen as more than rights in material things and revenues.[23]

The shape that current cultural institutions, architecture, perambulating spaces have taken owes much to these competing visions. But we should be conscious of the interests involved in such competitiveness. Jacobs herself operates as something of a weather-vane. Against this, there always was, and is now more stridently, a bourgeoisie of the nuveaux-riches whose models of the civic are precisely those attacked by Jacobs, whose figure-heads are the property-developers and whose concerns for civic culture are marked totally by market rhetoric. If we wish to think about the culture of the bourgeois in Toronto, we have, of course, to think about the bourgeois in its different guises.

Robertson Davies' bourgeois(8) are the British in disguise, those ghostly echoes on paper who pull Toronto back to the BBC, PBS and Conan Doyle (draped in the pseudo-psychology of Jung), both Atwood and Lee represent the bourgeois in retrieval, mourning and ultimate (in Atwood's case) feminist transcendence. Ondaatje represents the underbelly of the British influence, the chiarascuro of imperialism as it presents the immigrant road-builders, the medecins sans frontiers, the swashbuckling Italian truckers.

(8) Coming from a quite different set of concerns, the sociologist Dorothy Smith (who has taught for the past twenty years at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) drawing on phenomenological and Marxist points of departure, has called for the making of everyday life as a problem of knowing as it affects the ongoing relations of power. Because her books (The Conceptual Practices of Power, The Everyday World as Problematic) are primarily written from a feminist perspective, their implications affect all aspects of social control and the practice of being). The groups that she addresses may, or may not, be part of the cultured bourgeoisie and may therefore have quite different senses of the civic. But the problematic exhibited in Smith's approach confronts another tension in the city - between the sense of civic well-being displayed in the various modalities of the bourgeoisie and the tentative modalities of experiential negotiation. In this it is important to consider the housewife making her way to the rape shelter, the immigrant with the police, the bag lady with the security guards of the shopping malls, and the indigent artist with would-be sponsors. Toronto is a city, like most others, where people who inhabit its spaces have to negotiate their well-being against the perils of the state, corporate capitalism and each other.
In a city which was built by the British, and which now has over seventy percent of its inhabitants who come from non-British roots, Ondaatje's writing adds a new twist to the sense of bourgeois culture by bringing in the immigrants of the recent years who move from being construction-workers to owners of construction-sites. In this way the bourgeois, who made the culture of the city - the city of Toronto the Good (meaning Toronto the British as it would like to be seen) - are replaced by a cosmopolitan bourgeoisie, but also a bourgeoisie which sees culture as a product to be bought and sold: thus the culture of reflection and civility is replaced by the culture of commodification.

iii. Innis/McLuhan and the Wired City (9) someone who has subsequently spent much time trying to devise and shape programmes for TV I am grateful for the way in which McLuhan alerted me to the odd properties of the medium itself. And yet I can rehabilitate no actual truth from what I read. Perhaps McLuhan has accomplished the greatest paradox of all, creating the possibility of truth by shocking us all with a gigantic system of lies. [24]

Harold Innis taught Economic Geography at the University of Toronto in the period from the 1930s to the 1950s with a conception of history and communication that included trade-routes, the

(9) The city within which Innis wrote is now a monument to commerce, banking and the satellite of a much more comprehensive empire than he ever imagined. But the Business city (‘Bay Street') is not geared to creating jobs or creating a vibrant economy for this city, or even this country, but to running an international lottery. As John Ralston Saul tries to demonstrate in Voltaire's Bastards (Toronto: Vintage, 1992: 416):

Finance ministers, who are meant to devote their time and energy to creating a solid financial base for national administration and growth, are instead forced to spend a good part of their lives outthinking the currency speculators. It is difficult for them to keep a step ahead because the speculators' abstract approach has nothing to do with capitalism, growth or investment. In fact it doesn't have much to do with any economic factor. Currency speculation is the closest thing to a child's game that a grown man can do for a living.

The gold, black and blue towers on Bay and Wellington house the Casinos of Das Kapital.

alphabet, language, technology, space, time, oral traditions. In this exercise he was subsequently joined by the literary critic Marshall McLuhan who produced a number of applications of Innis' work from print to television. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s McLuhan and the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter edited a journal, Explorations, devoted to all aspects of Communication, which became the inspiration for much subsequent thinking on communication. The impact of this thinking on Culture has gone in two directions. The legacy of Innis (particularly in two collections of essays, The Bias of Communication and Empire and Communication) has tended to stress the extent to which Communication is part of Imperial expansion and the consequential technological ruptures, while the legacy of McLuhan (notably Understanding Media) tends to de-politicize the issues and emphasize the radical communicative effects of television (and, subsequently, computers). Both emphasize communication as involving definitions of community. In addition, neither stress technology as being particularly a consequence of post-Enlightenment thinking and thus the epitome of reason. With Innis, technology (and hence communication) flows from a linear reading of a struggle to survive as well as imperial domination, with McLuhan it is part of a circular rotation of the audial, visual, tactile components of culture.

Innis presents us (10) with a marvelous sense of culture as grubbing around for a living in the flow of an ongoing struggle between the search for those natural commodities that would keep us going as every-day sustenance, the ever-rolling commandments of empire which direct our movements, our language and our technologies and our sense of being part of a universal command of those discourses that matter for everyday sensibility. It is a sense of culture which sees the layers of archaeological investigation as always being significant for the present. The tradition of the dead generations weighs like an incubus on the brain of the living. And just when they seemed engaged in revolutionizing themselves....


Like Jane Jacobs, Innis is ever with us, made to fit every whim of nationalist and civic rectitude. Because his politics were opaque, he can be twisted on the flagstaff to monitor whichever wind is blowing from the north or the south. (Was there a gay Innis? - but I jest, though "The Church In Canada" has some suggestive pieces of prose, eg, "the Greeks were much concerned with the training of character": 461). Innis's importance in Toronto, however, is his confirmation of the role of the intellectual as being a-political and the universities as being a site for ignoring the past as having any consequence ("universities must concern themselves with the living rather than the dead"). In his book, Technology and the Canadian Mind, Arthur Kroker makes Innis to be pre-Foucault, pre-Baudrillard, even pre-Kolakowski, just as Grant is greater than Nietszsche. Pure nonsense, of course. Innis is a University of Toronto College on St George St, and a column in This Magazine. Great College, great Column, but Harold Innis has been dead a long time.

Innis' history is a staccato, retrieval sense, pleas for time, waiting for space, hailing the new alphabet, waiting for the Pharaonic Egyptians and the new cuneform script in the middle of the tundra. The frontier economy which stimulated Innis was retro and verso, forward to the sequences of the route to the present and back to the alternating otherness of now. But it was also, in many respects, quite precise. Innis' route to understanding the present is direct: "There is little room for philosophical inquiry when the waste of resources includes extensive publication and discussion on conservation."[25] Thus the problems of learning and reading and thinking are reduced to the problem of the destruction of trees, to the accumulation of books. "On the other hand the increase in numbers of books and the growth of book civilization contributes to the difficulties of the universities. There has developed a more extensive heirarchy of those who know more about books than others, and institutions to foster book knowledge and create hierarchies."[26] Innis is the environmentalist who takes his stand against theory, philosophy and writing, whose ultimate topic is the staple against the intellect. In thinking about "The Intellectual in History," Innis worries about the problems of Canadian society which "cannot be solved by discussion."[27] Thus, although much of Innis' work is predicated on communication it is not a communication which relates to community. It is an approach to communication that relates to power: "It is perhaps a unique characteristic of civilization that each civilization believes in its uniqueness and its superiority to other civilizations. Indeed this may be the meaning of culture - i.e., something which we have that others have not."

(11) Marshall McLuhan's sense of communication is imperial in another way. This is Roman Catholic imperialism. What if during the Mass, the Wine and the Wafer really were transformed into the Blood and Body of Christ? How would we know? Would it matter to our sense of the everyday? In what way is the virtual apprehension of the sensuous important to us in all our senses? McLuhan's notion of communication is bloodless, a-contextual and putatively a-political. It is the communication of the sacred spectacle. There is no historical route to this space which has not been trodden many times before: cool, hot, hotter, coolest. The whole of communicative experience is Aristotelian and ultimately Thomist.


Of course, other religions define the city, apart from the Presbyterian, the Anglican and the Catholic. In his second volume of autobiography (More Unfinished Business. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997) Gunther Plaut, formerly senior Rabbi of the Holy Blossom Temple on Bathurst Street, discusses the problems of Jewish belief in Toronto, his own coming to terms with ageing, and the general problem of talking with anyone. Plaut talks about communication and technology in a manner which, given his origins in Germany during the Holocaust, his migrations to the USA, Israel and Canada, projects a different urgency, which McLuhan's romanticism conceals:

We shall communicate with one another more easily, but the danger we shall encounter arises from the very advance that the new sciences bring us. The medium will tend to come between us as a virtual persona and make us believe that face-to-face contacts are no longer necessary and, in fact, impinge on our shrinking personal space. For privacy will be tomorrow's most endangered species and we shall look for methods of protecting ourselves in new ways, for locks and bolts, guns and dogs cannot secure it for us (Plaut: 228).

There is memory in Plaut - long, difficult memories - and a sense of urgency which comes from those memories and experiences. It adds a quite different dimension to the technological drive of Innis or the poeticism of McLuhan's circular notion of communication.

The interconnections of the forms of the performances and their contents have been fore-ordained: the abstract future is asserted as already present. Politics, power, gender, race, class are inconsequential elements in analyzing the world: alienation and fetishization are the normal conditions of human-kind. Technology, like the Hegelian Geist, moves independently of its military, political, economic dimensions, and incorporates all objects into its own totalizing scheme (as with any religion, facts are absorbed into the ongoing mythology).
Thus the virtual is the real and the real is based on the authentic and the oral and the fundamentally organic. Thus the global village. But this village slides (elides?) itself with the society of the spectacle, the panopticon, the cathedral, the virtual eye. McLuhan, who had not a clear political vision in himself, may have been surprised at how political his message became. (12) (12) In March 1977 the CN Tower was completed on the dis-used railway lands just south of Front Street. Snowed all day. "Pricked God's ass," said Irving Layton, " he's been shitting on us ever since." Ten years later the Sky-Dome was under construction (completed 1989). It was an architectural wonder, a giant igloo cathedral devoted to the worship of mammon. The retractable roof was based on the principles of an armadillo's back: three of them moving together to open and close. The internal structure was based on Jeremy Bentham's panopticon: everyone could be viewed at any time from certain strategic locations as well as by the installation of video monitors. The stands prevented any cross-overs. A giant "Jumbotron" not only showed the game or event that was in process, but also, from time to time, the activities of the spectators. The Sky Dome was not merely a performance space: it was a television studio, providing simultaneous play-spaces for audience, players and the world. In 1993 for a performance of Aida real elephants were dragged in; in early September 1997 thousands of mourners came to watch the funeral of Princess Diana on the Jumbotron. After the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team won the World Series for the first time, the Dome became the centre for an expression of the Carnivalesque which quickly took over the major streets of the city. The erection of the Dome redefined the meaning of theatre and sport in Toronto. [For a longer version of this story see my, "A Stately Pleasure-Dome: the Entertainment Arena as Panopticon," in Davies and Paul Anisef (eds) Contested Boundaries/Different Sociologies. Toronto: Institute for Social Research, York University, 1996: 315 - 335]

iv. Glenn Gould and the musical city without bodies

Stravinsky claimed that the business of art is technique; I do not agree. Nor do I believe that the business of technology is the rule of science - and, with all respect, I wish the good Professor McLuhan, who doesn't believe it either, would say so more often. But I do believe that once introduced into the circuitry of art, the technological presence must be encoded and decoded (no Dolby salesmen need apply) in such a way that its presence is, in every respect, at the service of the spiritual good that will ultimately serve to banish art itself.[29]

The most telling development of the Wired City is the creation of Toronto as performance space, though with the public itself not being involved (except possibly as extras) in the performance. While in his early thirties, the concert-pianist/composer Glenn Gould decided that he did not want to appear in public ever again. In several radio and television programmes, Gould provided arguments for the purity of performance through electronic media and the significance of the private experience of perfected reception. Thus an art form which has its origins in the social becomes a vehicle for the non-social. Gould's sense of the anti-social extended from music to the city itself. In a TV documentary made in the late 1970s, Gould took us on a tour of Toronto.

The point is that, by design, I have very little contact with this city. In some respects, indeed, I think that the only Toronto I really know is the one I carry around with me in memory....North my favorite area of the city by far, and although I live downtown, I keep a studio in North York. I think that what attracts me to it is the fact that it offers a certain anonymity; it has a sort of improbable, Brasilia-like quality. In fact, it has much of the tensionless atmosphere of one of those capital cities where the only business is the business of government and which are deliberately located away from the geographical mainstream - Ottawa, say, or Canberra.[30]

Apart from his own deep-rooted anti-social tendencies which have been documented at length, [31] Gould is the representative of one side of the tension between technology and the social which is a characteristic of Toronto life, and in many respects the life of any vibrant city. Gould's personalization of technology is perhaps unique, but, whatever one thinks of his actual performances, Gould is surely the most significant musical critic that Toronto (and Canada) has produced. Gould, unlike most other critics, was conscious of the sweep of music as a genre which incorporated ‘background music', Muzak, music as morality, performance, technology, jazz, the distancing factor between the actual encounter and the virtual one.

I believe in "the intrusion" of technology because, essentially, that intrusion imposes upon art a notion of morality which transcends the idea of art itself.. ... If, for instance, one stumbled into an interview with a character who said, "Well, like, man, I sorta don't want to go out on a limb to, like, answer da question, you know, because, like, well, it takes all kinds, you know, and, well, either you dig it or maybe not, am I right? But, like, man, if I were to give a real conclusive answer, I'd say that - well, could be, you know." If he said that, it might be tempting not to cut it, to keep it intact as a portrait. If, however, one happened to deduce that what he was really saying was "To be or -like, uh - not to be," and those words were bound up with that quote, then I really think that "like, uh" should go. [32]

Thus Gould (who in this case was talking about editing radio programmes), is projecting the importance of the editorial technician not only as a moral agent but as also above the artist or the subject. It is an argument much older than Dolby and digital mixes. The debates over the authentic Shakespeare through the different folios still continues, as is the authentic Homer. John Berger, in Ways of Seeing, argued that technology altered our sense of the authentic work of art. Gould seems to be arguing that that which is truly authentic as art (whatever we might think is significant for newsworthiness) is that which has been cleaned up to technical perfection. And that authenticity extends to background music in shopping malls or on film:

In my opinion, the most important of the missing links in the evolution of the listener-consumer-participant, as well as the most persuasive argument for the stylistic mix, is to be found in the most abused of electronic manifestations - background sound. This much-criticized and often-misunderstood phenomenon is the most productive method through which contemporary music can confide its objectives to a listening, consuming, Muzak-absorbing society. Cunningly disguised within the bland formulae from which background sounds are seemingly concocted is an encyclopedia of experience, an exhaustive compilation of the cliches of post-Renaissance music. Moreover, this catalogue provides a cross-referenced index which permits connections between stylistic manifestations with fine disregard for chronological distinction.[33]

So, if Glenn Gould is the post-modernist theorist par excellence, it is a post-modernism where the body is absent, where music and theatre and film are coded and decoded where sound, perfected, is cosmopolitan, trans-historical and "pure". Why would anyone want to go through the tedium of attending a "live" concert, or attend a play, or even go to a night club? This multicultural city of ours is surely available to those who might (virtually) access it in the shopping malls, the drawing rooms, the sound-tracks of movies, the Dome.

No need to experience life in a concert, or a pub, or to walk down the Danforth or College Street, or crawl up Bathurst through its multicultural transmigrations. The purity of the performance is all that matters. ("I confess that I have always had grave misgivings about the motives of people who go to concerts, live theatre, whatever"[34]) Nor, indeed, libraries, universities, galleries, museums, restaurants, sports events nor even jobs: everything might be perfected through simulation. Gould's issue, of course was that he was no mere couch potato (otherwise who would listen to him?) He spoke out of the sense of a performer who knew his personal limits but also longed for posterity (unlike the football player or film star who lives for the moment and the next footprint in the Hall of Fame). But Gould's sense of self-preservation was to say that, ultimately, all of us are unimportant. His posthumous (CD) reward is assured. But what about ours? (13)

(13) Paralleling this, in the 1980s Toronto (because of generous Federal and Provincial tax concessions and grants) became the site for films made for Hollywood companies where the city was used as the cloned location for American narratives. Toronto became the virtual city, existing elsewhere independent of the activities of its citizens. And yet, of course, the people who live in the city enjoy a large number of performance locales (probably more than any other North American city), where they make music, theatre, dance, sport and even film, and use the streets for their own political/cultural performances Magazines such as Now, Borderlines, Shift, Fuse, C Magazine, This Magazine are testaments to this (written) creative energy, literary evidence of the kinetic and the performative.

vi. Objects without theorists: the group-of-seven-or-twenty-five-or-so

Toronto, at that time, was not exactly a hospitable place for contemporary art of any sort, and the decision to situate a large sculpture by Henry Moore in front of the New City Hall was the straw that broke the political camel's back. In fact, it was largely responsible for the electoral defeat of the mayor who supported its purchase. His chief opponent proclaimed that "Torontonians do not want abstract art shoved down their throats," and, of course, won the subsequent election handily. Perhaps one indication of the remarkable change in Toronto's outlook during the last decade is that we now possess the largest collection of sculptures by Henry Moore in the Western Hemisphere; oddly enough, in view of the earlier fuss, the collection was initiated by a gift from the sculptor himself. [35]

One of the most curious features of English Canadian intellectual life up to the 1980s is the almost total lack of art criticism whether about Canadian or any other art. When any of the major other theorists discuss fine art it is by means of illustration. With Northrop Frye, paintings are images to illustrate some other point he is making. Thus there is no ongoing discourse into which Canadian art might be inserted. Instead such discourse as there might have been is pre-empted by images which have been promoted to iconographic status. If Glenn Gould's music is a music without bodies, the Group of Seven is art of the wilderness without people, an art fit for bed and breakfast places, the Bay catalogues, or to be collected by Kenneth Thompson so that segments might be displayed by the Globe and Mail as Christmas cards. With Joan Murray and Robert Fulford the Seven and their various hangers-on have been transformed into a heritage industry long before anyone decided whether they were any good. Only John Bentley Mays has dared to say the unsayable about the Canadian artists in his Globe and Mail columns. But he, too, is a paper tiger. No John Ruskin, Charles Baudelaire, Ernst Gombrich, John Berger, Walter Benjamin, Norman Bryson, Mieke Bal, Griselda Pollock, bell hooks nor even Peter Fuller have emerged here, nor even any critics who are knowledgeable enough to engage them in their own writing. Robert Hughes reigns supreme. (14)
The two satellite galleries of Toronto (the Robert McLaughlin gallery in Oshawa and the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg) are monuments to Canadian Kitsch, to the nostalgic longing for roughing it in the bush. That virtually the same pseudo-impressionist art might be found anywhere in the sub-Arctic (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Russia - the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow is plastered with the stuff) has hardly occurred to the promoters of Group-of-Seven folklore (and a comparative study would be helpful and instructive). Instead of art criticism and theory prior to the 1980s we have hagiography and insane public disputes about preserving the 'heritage' intact. It is still not possible to study for a PhD in art history in Toronto. (15)

(14) The reasons may be speculated, but the dramatic feature of the city from the end of the 1970s to the present has been the growth of alternative (parallel) galleries and a series of magazines which concern themselves with visual art as a dynamic part of our entire environment and culture. The inter-relationship of performing art and visual art is part of the reason (but that was true of religious art in the past and surely always of the art of the Salon. But, as such a book as Berland, Straw and Tomas' Theory Rules (Toronto: YYZ, 1996) indicates, the liveliness of art is bound up with the liveliness of theory. The banality of much Canadian Art is surely related both to the absence of theory and the absence of a creative pedagogical centre. The experience of literature is surely - after Frye - an indication of this. Unfortunately, Toronto, as far as visual art goes, is likely to see more of the same. Corporations, who are by far the largest consumers of paintings and sculptures, seem to prefer Group of Seven-ish or Norval Morriseau-ish stuff. Contemporary urban artists are hardly likely to find their way into the halls of commerce. [See also my own article, "Theory and Creativity in English Canada: Magazuines, the State and Cultural Movement" Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol 30, No 1, 1995: 5 - 10.]

(15) Together with the experience of the visual arts is the chaotic experience of architecture. The issue of the Sky-Dome has been discussed above, but, as an extension of this, the growth of the new suburbs in Vaughan and Markham display something of the same anti-social tendency that the Dome does. The houses are built so that their bums fart on the main street, with high walls preventing anyone seeing the backyards themselves. The streets are very wide, the shops locked into shopping-malls. Going for a walk would be unthinkable - too far to walk and nothing to see. High security and the dominance of the automobile have conspired to turn this area into a hostile, predatorial land. Who chose these designs? How did the walkable downtown invent Glenn Gould's anonymous city?

vii. bp nicol and the return to playfulness

how could you? saint reat's been
	such a sad guy. maybe you'll bring joy into his life.
	maybe the maybes can come to be!
	suddenly it makes sense. is it the poem makes us dense?
	or simply writing, the act of ordering
	the other mind
		blinding us
	to the greater vision
		what's a 
	poem like you doing in a 
	poem like this? [36]
	This sad city (even the gays are sad) is a city of comedy, of
	art, of playfulness, the dance of the other in a dance for the other. 
	It needs its martyrs. It finds its martyrs, 
	dedicate this poem to a whim
	as there are words i haven't written
	things i haven't seen

 	so this poem continues
	a kind of despair takes over
	the poem is written in spite of
	all the words i once believed were saints

(16) bp nicol does not only encourage the playfulness of language, but surely also helps us to find a St. Ance , where the performance is both tragic and comedic. He might not go to Yuk-Yuks nor the Berlin nor Second City nor gawk non-stop at the Comedy channel, but his laughter, like John Candy's, is infectuous:

	i should drink less than i do eat less
	yes than i do i do do it
	living that way & feelings rise
	it is all so hard

	who takes me as i am
	not this self confronts me in the mirror

	saint rike he's found you now
	tracked you down thru all the blue nothing
	we knew didn't exist

(16) With pb nicol we walk the St. Reets looking for the gods and saints who will save us from the world that is around us. Instead we find St. Erling, St. Ranger, St. Ratified, flying the flag of St. Ars and St. Ripes, comforted by St. Ripteaser and St. Rumpet . We put on our St. Ereo and wonder whether we can St. And it much longer. [Apologies to David St. Alwart's "Afterword" to The Martyrology]

On this note we end, not because of despair at over-eating, but because the power of language overwhelms us. It is the carnivalesque in Toronto that we might think of celebrating. The linguistic explosions of bp nicol and John candy might be the points to begin. Or beg out.


1. Viljo Revell was the Finnish architect who designed New City Hall. It was built it the early 1960s. Revell died almost as soon as the building was completed. [back to text]

2. Dennis Lee, Civil Elegies. Toronto: Anansi, 1972: 36 [back to text]

3. As in All that is Solid Melts into Air, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982 [back to text]

4. City of Quartz, London & New York: Verso [back to text]

5. See, for example, Robert Fulford, Accidental City. The Transformation of Toronto. Toronto: Macfarlane Walter and Ross, 1995, or John Bentley Mays, Emerald City. Toronto Revisited. Toronto: Viking, 1994 [back to text]

6. Northrop Frye, The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination. Toronto: Anansi, 1971: 220 [back to text]

7.Northrop Frye, The Modern Century. Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1967: 122-123 [back to text]

8.See, for example, Balfour, Northrop Frye, Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988; Cook, Northrop Frye. A Vision of the New World. Montreal, New World Perspectives, 1985; Fekete, The Critical Twilight: Explorations in the ideology of Anglo-American literary theory from Eliot to McLuhan. London: Routledge, 1977; Kroker, Technology and the Canadian Mind. Innis, McLuhan, Grant. Montreal: New World Perspectives, 1983 [back to text]

9. Grant, Technology and Empire. Perspectives on North America. Toronto: Anansi, 1969: 17 [back to text]

10.Grant: 40 [back to text]

11.Frye,Bush Garden: 247 [back to text]

12.FryeBush Garden: 231 [back to text]

13.Frye,Bush Garden: 249 [back to text]

14.Lament for a Nation. The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Toronto: McCleland and Stewart, 1970: xii [back to text]

15. The Double Vision. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991: 39 [back to text]

16.Grant,Lament: 68 [back to text]

17.Grant,Technology and Empire: 59 [back to text]

18.The Double Vision: 84 [back to text]

19.The Educated Imagination. Montreal: CBC Enterprises, 1963: 68 [back to text]

20.Frye,Educated Imagination: 67 [back to text]

21.Cook: 105-6 [back to text]

22.C. B. MacPherson, Democratic Theory. Essays in Retrieval. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973: 194 [back to text]

23. MacPherson: 139 [back to text]

24.Jonathan Miller, McLuhan. London: Fontana, 1971: 132 [back to text]

25. Harold A. Innis (ed Daniel Drache), Staples, Markets and Cultural Change. Kingston & Montreal: MacGill/Queen's University Press, 1995: 207 [back to text]

26.Innis, Staples: 479 [back to text]

27. Innis, Staples: 458 [back to text]

28. Innis, Staples: 316 [back to text]

29. Glenn Gould, "The Grass is always Greener in the Outtakes," in Tim Page (ed) The Glenn Gould Reader. New York: Knopf, 1984: 358 [back to text]

30. Glenn Gould, "Toronto," in Page: 410, 415 [back to text]

31. See, in particular, Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould. A Life and Variations. New York: Random House, 1989, and Peter Oswald, Glenn Gould. Ecstacy and Tragedy of Genius. London and Toronto: Penguin Books, 1997. [back to text]

32. "Music and Technology," in Page: 355, 357. [back to text]

33. "The Prospects of Recording" in Page:350 [back to text]

34. "Glenn Gould in Conversation with Tim Page," in Page: 452 [back to text]

35. "Toronto" in Page: 410-1 [back to text]

36. bp nicol, The Martyrology. Book I. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1972: un-numbered [back to text]

37.nicol, The Martyrology. Book II, near the end. [back to text]

38. nicol, Book II, in the middle [back to text]