Kroetsch, Robert (Vol. 132)
Robert Kroetsch 1927-
Canadian novelist, poet, critic, editor, and travel writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Kroetsch's career through 1998. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 23, and 57.
Kroetsch is considered one of Canada's foremost practitioners and theoreticians of postmodern literature. Like many experimental writers, Kroetsch subverts such literary conventions as plot and character development and writes in a playful, ironic, and self-reflexive style. Central to Kroetsch's fiction is the importance of place and its impact on the psyche. He is particularly admired for his depictions of the Canadian prairie landscape.
Kroetsch was born in Heisler, Alberta, Canada, and raised on his family's farm. His childhood in rural Alberta, where most of his fiction is set, informs both his fiction and his poetry. His family's penchant for storytelling imbued Kroetsch with a deep appreciation for oral narrative, which often emerges in his writing in the form of tall tales and ribald humor. After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1948, Kroetsch worked for six years in the Canadian North. His initial jobs on riverboats on the Mackenzie River led to the conception of his first and most conventional novel, But We Are Exiles (1966). In 1961 Kroetsch received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, and he worked as a professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton from 1961 to 1978. In 1978 Kroetsch accepted a professorship at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. He has won several awards for his fiction and was co-founder and editor of the postmodern literary journal Boundary 2.
Kroetsch's novels The Words of My Roaring (1966), The Studhorse Man (1970), and Gone Indian (1973) comprise what he calls the “Out West” triptych. In these works, Kroetsch explores the myths surrounding the Canadian prairie while also incorporating Greek and Roman mythic structures and recording momentous social changes from the 1930s to the 1970s. The Words of My Roaring also chronicles political upheavals in Depression-era Alberta. Kroetsch's next novel, Badlands (1975), revolves around a 1916 paleontological expedition in Alberta led by William Dawes, who is obsessed with finding large dinosaur fossils in hopes of achieving renown in the science world. In What the Crow Said (1978) Kroetsch uses magical realism to explore gender differences in Big Indian, Alberta. Alibi (1983) reiterates his interest in the quest myth and the rejuvenating power of water. William Dorfendorf, who procures objects for a mysterious oilman and collector, is sent on a worldwide search for the “perfect spa.” Through his quest, Dorfendorf comes to understand the fundamental dichotomies of body and soul, sex and death, and art and life. The Puppeteer (1995) is a postmodern detective story in which Kroetsch almost entirely abandons conventional storytelling techniques, settling instead on an experimental form in which he lifts and rearranges scenes and characters from previous works. In 1998 Kroetsch published The Man from the Creeks, a novel about the gold rush in the American and Canadian West in the 1890s. Several themes in Kroetsch's fiction recur throughout his poetry. In his early verse, collected in The Stone Hammer Poems (1975), Kroetsch depicts prairie life in an imagistic, unaffected manner. Much of his subsequent poetry displays an irreverence toward language in order to expand its limits. Since 1975, Kroetsch has been composing an extended long poem-in-progress entitled “Field Notes.” A collage of memories, anecdotes, documents, and tall tales reflecting his preoccupation with the difficulties of literary expression, persona, and the burden of traditional poetic forms, “Field Notes” has been published in partial form in the volumes Seed Catalogue: Poems (1978), The Ledger (1979), The Sad Phoenician (1979), and Advice to My Friends (1985). In 1989 the volume was published as The Complete Field Notes. Kroetsch is also highly regarded as a literary theorist, and his criticism is considered a major informative factor in all of his writings. The Lovely Treachery of Words (1989) exemplifies his thoughts on literature, writing, and language. In 1995 Kroetsch added to his writings about language by publishing A Likely Story, a memoir and explanation of his life as a writer.
Kroetsch is considered one of the most imaginative and important writers of the postmodern movement. Highly influenced by theorists such as Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Derrida, his fiction and poetry as well as his criticism are deeply entrenched in deconstructionism's focus on relativity and absence of definite meaning. While this quality has drawn much praise from some commentators, others have found his works oblique and at times overbearing with literary jargon and trends. Nonetheless, Kroetsch is admired for experimenting with literary forms and for his role in bringing contemporary Canadian writing to the forefront of the world literary scene.
But We Are Exiles (novel) 1966
The Words of My Roaring (novel) 1966
The Studhorse Man (novel) 1970
Gone Indian (novel) 1973
Badlands (novel) 1975
The Stone Hammer Poems: 1960-1975 (poetry) 1975
Seed Catalogue: Poems (poetry) 1978
What the Crow Said (novel) 1978
The Ledger (poetry) 1979
The Sad Phoenician (poetry) 1979
The Crow Journals (nonfiction) 1980
Field Notes (poetry) 1981
Alibi (novel) 1983
Advice to My Friends: A Continuing Poem (poetry) 1985
Gaining Ground: European Critics on Canadian Literature [editor; with Reingard M. Nischik] (essays) 1985
The Complete Field Notes: The Long Poems of Robert Kroetsch (poetry) 1989
The Lovely Treachery of Words: Essays Selected and New (essays) 1989
A Likely Story: The Writing Life (nonfiction) 1995
The Puppeteer (novel) 1995
The Man from the Creeks (novel) 1998
(The entire section is 109 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Gaining Ground: European Critics on Canadian Literature, in Canadian Forum, Vol. LXV, No. 755, March, 1986, p. 38.
[In the following review, Lernout praises the essays in Gaining Ground.]
As the title of this book indicates, Canadian literature is slowly becoming recognized in Europe. But one of the editors, Reingard Nischik, warns against a too facile optimism. In her article on the history of European interest in CanLit, Nischik quite rightly points out that Canadians seem to lack a clear picture of what is really going on in Europe. In less than 30 pages she gives an account of the CanLit scene in 18 European countries and adds an admirably complete bibliography of European studies on Canadian Literature.
What emerges first in the article is that there has been European interest in Canada for only the past 10 years. This is hardly surprising. Ten years ago, when I was a sophomore in Antwerp, I was told that because America does not have a history it cannot have a literature. The people in power—European universities used to be a lot less democratic than North-American ones—stuck to Shakespeare, Milton and (maybe) a few romantics. Modern British literature is written by civilized Englishmen (preferably Oxbridge graduates) about civilized Englishmen. Usually only one person, a specialist in Shakespeare’s minor contemporaries who speaks an almost...
(The entire section is 814 words.)
SOURCE: “Views from Afar,” in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 35, Winter, 1987, pp. 111-16.
[In the following review, Söderlind praises Gaining Ground for its successful attempt to begin a dialogue between the literatures of Canada and Europe.]
In case anyone still doubted it, this collection confirms what has been rumoured for some time: Canadian literature is gaining ground in the universities of Europe. With few exceptions the seventeen essays included in the volume indicate that a good number of critics have spent considerable time and effort in getting to know our literature and our history. The authors represent a wide geographical, as well as critical, spectrum. The main centres for Canadian studies in Europe are found in West Germany, Italy, and France; and places like Kiel, Bologna, and Bordeaux have come to be synonymous with Canadian studies. The growing interest in the field is also illustrated in the seven associations devoted to Canadian studies that have sprung up all over the continent in the last decade. The most recent ones are found in the Netherlands and Scandinavia; a Swedish journal has dedicated a recent issue exclusively to Canadian arts, music, and literature. Reingard M. Nischik’s informative survey of the status of Canadian studies in the various countries shows that Canlit entered the European academic establishment by way of Commonwealth studies, a fact that may...
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SOURCE: A review of The Lovely Treachery of Words, in Books in Canada, Vol. 18, No. 3, April, 1989, p. 22.
[In the following review, Bowery praises Kroetsch's literary criticism in The Lovely Treachery of Words.]
In Canada we often write “poet-novelist” before a writer’s name. We have to do this more than most countries do. Of course most of these poet-novelists toss off an essay from time to time. But we seldom feel that it would be sensible to write “poet-novelist-critic.”
Margaret Atwood writes reviews and makes the odd address to a group of elected representatives. A long time ago Michael Ondaatje wrote a little chapbook on Leonard Cohen; bp Nichol wrote in all three forms, but you had to take his word about which was which.
Robert Kroetsch was successful first as a novelist. Then he became the first novelist to influence the poets as a poet. Next to Atwood he is the most often interviewed writer in the country. All along he has been not only writing the literary essay, but also reinventing it. He has not just written the requisite papers of a writer who works at universities; he has produced famous essays. They have introduced famous phrases into the literature.
Some of those famous essays, such as “Unhiding the Hidden” and “An Erotics of Space,” reappear in this collection.
When I go to...
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SOURCE: “The Carnival of Babel: The Construction of Voice in Robert Kroetsch’s ‘Out West’ Triptych,” in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 39, Fall, 1989, pp. 1-22.
[In the following essay, Ball examines the place and meaning of silence and voice in Kroetsch’s ‘Out West’ series of novels.]
From one so concerned with the multiplicitous nature of voice and the elusiveness of meaning, Robert Kroetsch’s work has displayed a remarkable cohesiveness. As a writer whose many voices include those of poet, novelist, postmodern theorist, and intensely nationalistic critic of Canadian literature, he is also his own best explicator. A Kroetsch essay about an Atwood or Ross novel works equally well as commentary about the author’s own fiction, because of the way ideas echo back and forth. Likewise, his fiction can help unravel his often puzzling theoretical statements.
Kroetsch began his writing career as a novelist, and his most clearly formative period comprised the years 1966 to 1973, when the three novels of his “Out West” triptych—The Words of My Roaring, The Studhorse Man, and Gone Indian—were published. Most of his critical writings and interviews have been produced since then, and almost without exception their themes and assumptions can be traced back to problems tackled by Kroetsch in those three books. The “working-out” process so evident...
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SOURCE: “There's No Business Like Snow Business: Narrative Voice in Robert Kroetsch's Gone Indian,” in Multiple Voices: Recent Canadian Fiction, edited by Jeanne Delbaere, November 29-December 1, 1989, pp. 202-16.
[In the following essay, Thieme discusses Gone Indian as a post-modernist retelling of the frontier story.]
In Gone Indian (1973), the second novel in Robert Kroetsch’s ‘Out West’ triptych, an American graduate student, Jeremy Sadness, journeys to Edmonton for an interview for an academic post, which he never attends. On arrival at Edmonton Airport he is immediately confronted by a notion of alternative identity and what is referred to as ‘the possibility of transformation’,1 when he finds that the suitcase he has claimed is not his own, but that of one Roger Dorck, a barrister and solicitor resident in a town called Notikeewin. Strip-searched along with a character he initially labels ‘the world’s most beautiful blonde’ (p. 8), but who proves to be a transvestite, Jeremy quickly concludes ‘This is a peculiar land. … Illusion is rife’ (p. 8) and this episode proves to be a pattern for his numerous subsequent encounters with fluid or overlapping identities. The switching of suitcases suggests that Roger Dorck may be an alter ego for Jeremy, but this is only one of a number of possible alternative roles available to him. Accepting a...
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SOURCE: “Robert Kroetsch: Criticism in the Middle Ground,” in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1991, pp. 63-81.
[In the following essay, Creelman examines Kroetsch's “critical plurality.”]
One of the things we seek, I think, is freedom from definition, because definition is as restrictive as cosmology.
(Labyrinths of Voice 7)
Robert Kroetsch’s career as a writer has been marked throughout by his attempts to “kick free” from the many literary traditions and models that threaten to confine his texts. In his novels, Kroetsch has disrupted the conventions of characterization and plot structure in an effort to make the reader a more active participant in the signifying process. In his long poems he has broken down distinctions of genre by mixing lyrical meditations and prosaic reflections, and has erased the distinctions between literary and non-literary discourses by filling his texts with passages from newspapers, seed catalogues, and farmer’s diaries. In his essays and interviews—our main source of information about his theoretical positions—Kroetsch makes similar moves to free himself from the logocentric and positivistic impulses of thematic criticism and New criticism, by searching out positions that proclaim a faith in process and multiplicity. His rebellion from...
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SOURCE: “The Post-Colonial as Deconstruction: Land and Language in Kroetsch”s Badlands,” in Canadian Literature, No. 128, Spring, 1991, pp. 77-89.
[In the following essay, Seaton argues that Kroetsch deconstructs the myths of land and language in Badlands.]
It is commonly argued that early imperial discourses of the New World inscribe an effort to make strange new lands familiar to Eurocentric systems of meaning and understanding.1 However, conceptualised from the start as the site of the strange, the new lands continued to resist European epistemological appropriation and whatever the imperial’s claims to control and knowledge, the sign of the land continued to enter the discourse as a site of the unknown and the resistant.2 Now, current criticism often characterises post-colonial writing as constructing counter-discourses to the once-dominant imperial discourse, writing against the imperial’s inappropriately Eurocentric systems of understanding, and instead writing the land as an element within local constructs of meaning and value. But the counter-discursive strategy still shares with the imperial certain basic assumptions about the relations among humans, discourse, and land: both discursive strategies still inscribe a belief that the land, though conceptualised initially as a site of the strange and the resistant, can somehow be controlled...
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SOURCE: “What Kroetsch Said: The Problem of Meaning and Language in What the Crow Said,” in Canadian Literature, No. 128, Spring, 1991, pp. 90-105.
[In the following essay, Wall examines the meaning of Kroetsch's apparently chaotic approach to criticism in What the Crow Said.]
I think criticism is really a version of story, you see; I think we are telling the story to each other of how we get at story. It is the story of our search for story. That’s why criticism is so exciting. Not because it provides answers, but because it is a version of story.
(LV 30) 1
Were it not for Robert Kroetsch’s generous attitude toward the critic’s role, it would seem an act of hubris to attempt to interpret What the Crow Said, the novel that he wrote as his “own personal struggle with the temptation of meaning.” I think the critic can, however, delineate the parameters and expression of that temptation without ignoring his injunction that the temptation to impose meaning “is the reader’s struggle too” (LV 15). In this novel, the tendency to impose meaning not only creates a dilemma for the writer and the reader: it is a central issue for the characters as well.
The world of What the Crow Said is a world without order—as we conventionally expect it: time warps...
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SOURCE: “Rooting the Borrowed Word: Appropriation and Voice in Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue,” in Inside the Poem: Essays and Poems in Honour of Donald Stephens, 1992, pp. 113-22.
[In the following essay, Jones discusses the problem of finding an authentic Canadian voice in “Seed Catalogue.”]
“Once upon a time he was a gardener of the possible fruition.”
(Kroetsch, Completed Field Notes, 255)
LYRE, LYRE, PANTS ON FIRE
Robert Kroetsch’s essay “Unhiding the Hidden” begins with an expression of the desire for—and the impossibility of producing—genuinely “original” writing in Canada, that is, writing rooted entirely in its place of origin, writing that speaks with a singular Canadian voice. “The particular predicament” of the Canadian writer, as Kroetsch describes it, is that he1 doesn’t really live in a new world, but inherits a pre-existent linguistic and experiential grounding from elsewhere: “he works with a language, within a literature, that appears to be authentically his own, and not a borrowing,” but which, no matter how familiar it may initially seem, is in fact borrowed (17):
The Roman writer borrowed a Greek word into a Latin context. The Canadian writer borrows an English word into an English-language...
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SOURCE: “Kroetsch’s Fragments: Approaching the Narrative Structure of His Novels,” in Postmodern Fiction in Canada, 1992, pp. 137-60.
[In the following essay, Kuester presents an overview of the narrative techniques used in Kroetsch's novels.]
In this age of postmodernism, the belief in a coherent world governed by logically derived laws of causality has given way to a cosmology seeing man in a shattered world of fragments. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the concept of postmodernism stressing the disorientation of the individual (and the artist) in such a fragmented world, was applied to literature by American critics such as Leslie Fiedler and Richard Wasson. For Wasson, the postmodernists represent a new sensibility: whereas for some modernists, such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, “experience was full of paradoxes and contingencies which the great poet ordered through metaphor,” postmodern writers are no longer able or willing to create such all-encompassing metaphors. They rather “desire to get back to particulars, to restore literary language to its proper role which for them means revealing ‘the raggedness, the incompleteness of it all’” (Wasson 462, 476).
Among those contemporary Canadian writers who have taken an active part in the theoretical discussions regarding postmodernism, Robert Kroetsch certainly holds the top position. As a professor of...
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SOURCE: “The Double Guide: Through the Labyrinth with Robert Kroetsch,” in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, 1993, pp. 19-27.
[In the following essay, Lane examines Kroetsch's novels and poetry in order to understand his literary theory, particularly in Labyrinths of Voice.]
How do we find our way through a textual labyrinth? Already, in the etymology of its name, the notion of doubling forms part of a trace that leads us to the Minotaur and the Classical world. But readers of literary criticism know that the concept of a labyrinth can also lead into the contemporary postmodern world of uncertainty. Just over ten years ago, Robert Kroetsch published his Labyrinths of Voice (1982),1 with which some critics believed the Canadian postmodern had arrived.2 Douglas Barbour soon noted how the “questioning” of the three speakers in Labyrinths is a “quest/ioning”. Barbour’s word-play, or oscillation of meaning, brings us to another important postmodern concept: that of the unresolved quest (unresolved, since resolution would neatly unify or package postmodern fragmentation and uncertainty). As Barbour said, way back then:
Robert Kroetsch is one of the most self-consciously aware writers around today, fascinated by the theoretical roots of his art; in the theoretical routes of the labyrinth of the...
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SOURCE: “A Map of Misreading: Gender, Identity, and Freedom in Robert Kroetsch’s Gone Indian,” in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1993, pp. 1-17.
[In the following essay, Snyder examines the ways in which Gone Indian has been misunderstood and suggests ways to correct the misreadings.]
M. E. Turner, among several others, has contended that the discussion of Robert Kroetsch’s work is too often based upon the critical positions set out in Kroetsch’s own theoretical work; Kroetsch’s literary output has enjoyed a high level of acceptance because Kroetsch’s criticism implicitly posits his own works as models for postmodern fiction and poetry. Although Turner’s argument is overstated, it is often difficult to separate Kroetsch’s novels from his critical pronouncements. In at least one instructive case, though, this tendency results in fallacious conclusions, not because of the naive linking of an author’s artistic and critical statements, but because of a fundamental misreading of both the critical and the literary texts.
“The Fear of Women in Prairie Fiction: An Erotics of Space” is Kroetsch’s most frequently cited theoretical statement. Gone Indian is perhaps Kroetsch’s most underappreciated novel. Both works have been consistently misread on the basis of what critics have anticipated Kroetsch ought to be saying, what...
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SOURCE: A review of The Puppeteer, in Books in Canada, Vol. XXII, No. 1, February, 1993, pp. 40-41.
[In the following review, Glover calls The Puppeteer “a literary confection of the first order,” but concedes that it may not be for everyone.]
I once knew a man in New York who worked as a buyer of rare works of art, which he collected worldwide, mostly as a tax dodge for wealthy clients who paid low prices and then donated the works to institutions at inflated paper values. One of his clients happened to be a Calgary oil baron who might have been a model for the mythically rich, half-blind transvestite millionaire named Jack Deemer who narrates Robert Kroetsch’s clever new avant-garde novel The Puppeteer.
Jack Deemer is a collector extraordinaire—of people as well as objects d’art. He has warehouses full of the latter, but people he has found somewhat less tractable. His wife Julie, for example, is dead, killed in a mysterious car crash in Portugal four years before, after spending a vacation in bed with Billy Dorfendorf, Deemer’s collecting agent, and a Portuguese dwarf named Dr. Manuel De Medeiros, who scouted spas for his wealthy but ailing master.
Dorfendorf subsequently murders Dr. De Medeiros in an undeveloped British Columbia spa called Deadman Spring, although no body is ever found. Hunted by both the police and Deemer,...
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SOURCE: “Heideggarian Elements in Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue,” in Canadian Literature, No. 136, Spring, 1993, pp. 115-28.
[In the following essay, Reimer locates Heidegger's notions about authentic truth and being in Kroetsch's Seed Catalogue.]
Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue is neither phenomenological nor structuralist, to borrow a distinction made by David Carroll in The Subject in Question (15). That is, it is neither subject-centered nor language-centered, but belongs, instead, to a third, rare, more sylleptic mode of writing aware of and making use of the conventions of the other two. As David Arnason has shown in “Robert Kroetsch: The Deconstruction of the Metanarrative of the Cowboy,” Seed Catalogue deconstructs ideologies which have become familiar to us concerning the Western hero and the purpose and function of the poem and the poet on the prairie, and is concerned with language and the way writing is a supplement to speech and experience.1 Yet the poem seems to some extent at least to have retained the phenomenological subject, the philosophical subject. Furthermore, it appears to be deeply concerned with the problem of truth and, in this light, practices a Heideggerian uninventing and unnaming. It uninvents spring, for instance: the spring season that opens the poem is not renamed but deconstructed much like the dismantling of storm...
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SOURCE: “Pulling Strings,” in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LXXII, No. 821, July-August, 1993, pp. 43-44.
[In the following review, Wylynko praises The Puppeteer for Kroetsch's examination of the ephemeral and the permanent.]
Like a pulp fiction murder mystery, Robert Kroetsch’s The Puppeteer leads a host of bizarre characters through a fast-paced chase for icons, money and one another. But the plot line is merely a disguise for Kroetsch’s mockery of this popular form, and a mockery of the human need for permanence that motivates these pursuits. As in all of Kroetsch’s fiction, the novel’s central task is to illustrate how sharply humanity’s approach to life conflicts with the ways of nature.
In a universe whose only true constant is change, we tend to surround ourselves with things. We buy products, and their apparent permanence allows us to see life itself as a product, a stable entity. The reality we fear is that life is a process, one of birth, maturation, decay and death, with no preconceived universal meaning. Kroetsch ridicules this fear, and encourages the reader to embrace the beauty of life’s cyclical quality.
The action is steered by the novel’s narrator, Jack Deemer, a millionaire Calgary oilman who uses his wealth to collect a wide variety of items. Deemer fancies himself a descendant of history’s great collectors—Hadrian,...
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SOURCE: A review of Alberta, in Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 13, No. 5, September-October, 1993, p. 15.
[In the following review, Caile praises the second edition of Alberta.]
The Canadian province of Alberta corresponds to states to the south wherein plains and mountains meet. In Alberta, Robert Kroetsch describes the contrasting elements of splendid peaks and vast rolling plains, of wide rivers and parched homesteads, of coal mines, wheat and oil fields, of an Indian past and robust upstart cities.
Alberta’s settlers have maintained their distinctive cultural groupings to a greater extent than in the United States, however. Its northern placement introduces muskeg and glaciers to the equation. Its people—in many ways the focus of the book—seem a thinner layer atop a larger land.
Robert Kroetsch gives us a writer’s travel guide—a profile of a province, a portrait of the people who live on it. Names roll out from his account with their own poetry. He utters them with obvious relish, appreciating their intrinsic rhythms and imagery.
NeWest’s Alberta is a second edition, coming 25 years after the original publication. It opens with a foreword, a 1990s writing-class road trip, and closes with remarks by novelist Rudy Wiebe. The several parts of the book fit together, yet easily break apart into separate sections....
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SOURCE: “Puppets and Puppeteers: Robert Kroetsch Interviewed by Lee Spinks,” in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, 1994, pp. 13-22.
[In the following interview, Kroetsch discusses his fiction and poetry.]
The following conversation took place in Hull on 24 October 1993 over a period of two hours. Robert Kroetsch speaks slowly and deliberately, often pausing to revise a word or qualify a phrase or statement. His sentences are frequently punctuated by a staccato burst of laughter.
[Lee Spinks]: Perhaps we might begin, Bob, with your most recent novel. Why did you return in The Puppeteer to the landscape and characters of Alibi? Was it from a sense of unfinished business, or did the earlier novel continue to nag away at your imagination?
[Robert Kroetsch]: No, I had originally planned a much more ambitious story. I was going to look at this group of characters every ten years or so and see what happened to them, to treat them as human beings in a certain way. But after the second volume I think I’ve abandoned the idea. It was a wonderful idea [laughs]. But somehow it just isn’t working for me.
So the characters were going to be periodically picked up, dusted down, and reintroduced into your fiction?
Well I was going to pick up different characters at different stages. In the...
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SOURCE: “Framing the American Abroad: A Comparative Study of Robert Kroetsch’s Gone Indian and Janet Frame’s The Carpathians,” in Canadian Literature, No. 141, Summer 1994, pp. 38-49.
[In the following essay, Ball discusses similarities in the treatment of colonialism in Gone Indian and Frame's The Carpathians.]
It is the paradox of Columbus’ perceptual moment that it cannot end. The moment of the discovery of America continues. Its reenactment becomes our terrifying test of greatness; we demand to hear again and always the cry into mystery, into an opening. We demand, of the risking eye, new geographies. And the search that was once the test of sailor and horse and canoe is now the test of the poet.
Kroetsch “Moment,” 25
When Christopher Columbus “discovered” America he was, like other explorers, acting as the agent of a higher authority that remained nominally in control from a relatively stationary position—at home on the throne, at the centre of imperial power. Once he set sail from that imperial centre, however, Columbus himself was the one really in charge: no higher human authority was present to direct or curtail his actions, or to prevent him from making one of the most significant and far-reaching errors in Western history. When Columbus began treating the Americas as Asia, he was...
(The entire section is 4610 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Puppeteer, in Canadian Literature, No. 146, Autumn, 1995, pp. 140-41.
[In the following review, Ricou praises Kroetsch's deft use of language in The Puppeteer.]
Robert Kroetsch’s novels always pause to make you think. They make you think about truth and desire, about who tells story and what language is worth. They often make you stop to marvel at how things happen or why some machine works the way it does. I especially like the way they often force you to re-think everyday things you had never thought deserved thinking about.
The Puppeteer made me pause to ponder pizza. Pizza, I thought, is closer to a truly multinational, multicultural food than the infamous Big Mac. It is predictably, unpredictable: it can have an infinite number of toppings mixed in an endless confusion. Except when it is rectangular, it is round—both a satisfying whole and without beginning or end. Pizza is food for puppeteers.
The Puppeteer makes you think about how pizza is like a novel: “The rubble and design of a pizza, its ordered blur of colours and textures and shapes, arouse in me the collector’s will to win.” The design is more dependent than any of the earlier novels (except Alibi, to which it is both sequel and, perhaps, the field notes) on that paradigm of postmodernism: the detective mystery.
(The entire section is 1040 words.)
SOURCE: “A Somewhat Schizophrenic Package: Robert Kroetsch’s Anti-Memoirs,” in Books in Canada, Vol. 24, No. 8, November, 1995, p. 15.
[In the following review, Bowling finds A Likely Story compelling but ultimately uneven because of Kroetsch's overbearing use of theory.]
The most important point to make about A Likely Story is that it’s not an autobiography, at least not in any conventional sense. In fact, the author himself claims that such a genre is impossible. As a result, the book is entirely free of literary gossip, contains only a minimal amount of personal information, and avoids the axe-grinding that often accompanies writers’ explorations of their careers. Yes, this does sound dull, but Robert Kroetsch is one of Canada’s liveliest and most original literary theorists, not to mention an accomplished poet and novelist, and what he has to say about writing makes for a compelling, though uneven, read.
The opening piece, “Why I Went Up North and What I Found When He Got There”, sets the tone for the whole book. Here, Kroetsch investigates his reasons for heading to the Northwest Territories as a young would-be-writer fresh out of university, and his recollections of that experience are vivid and enlightening. He writes of a dangerous journey on a riverboat and of losing his virginity, but these are only incidental stories: what matters most is how the...
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SOURCE: “Strange Plantings: Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue,” in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 21, No. 1, 1996, pp. 17-36.
[In the following essay, Campbell argues that Seed Catalogue depends on an organic structure that evokes meaning from its content.]
My poem Seed Catalogue is about a prairie garden. I actually used the McKenzie Seed Catalogue from McKenzie Seeds in Brandon. This was part of my effort to locate the poem in a particular place and then I expanded the poem outward to whatever other models I wanted—the garden of Eden or whatever—so that I could get all those garden echoes working together. We have an experience of particular garden here. There are certain kinds of things we can grow and certain things we can’t grow. The garden gives us shape.
(Robert Kroetsch qtd. in MacKinnon 15)
It is my impression that all parts of speech suddenly, in composition by field, are fresh for both sound and percussive use, spring up like unknown, unnamed vegetables in the patch, when you work it, come spring.
(Charles Olson, “Projective Verse” 21)
Much has been made of Robert Kroetsch’s use of an archaeological model derived from a variety of sources including Martin Heidegger, William Carlos Williams, Charles...
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SOURCE: “Cyberwriting and the Borders of Identity: ‘What's in a Name’ in Kroetsch's The Puppeteer and Mistry's Such a Long Journey?,” in Canadian Literature, No. 149, Summer, 1996, pp. 55-71.
[In the following essay, Williams discusses the notion of self in the post-modern world as it appears in The Puppeteer and Mistry's Such a Long Journey.]
Borders are fast disappearing in the new Europe, along the information highway, and in the mega-channel universe. Hong Kong’s Star Satellite, carrying five television channels to fifty-three countries, has already changed the face of Asia. In India, a new generation openly celebrates the country’s “Californication,” while their elders debate “The Challenge of the Open Skies” (Joseph) to a state broadcast monopoly. Given such a fundamental shift in the mode of information, we might ask whether the nation state, or local culture, or even the concept of a substantial self can survive the communications revolution?
Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg threatened speech communities in Europe with a similar loss of identity. With the benefit of hindsight, we can understand how the book redefined the human subject as being self-bounded and self-contained, much like the bound volume which came to occupy a reader’s inmost consciousness. “I think; therefore I am,” the philosopher established as the surest...
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SOURCE: A review of A Likely Story: The Writing Life, in Canadian Literature, No. 156, Spring, 1998, pp. 145-46.
[In the following review, Creelman praises A Likely Story, although he admits the book contains little new material.]
For decades post-structuralists and cultural historians have been reminding us that the subject/self is an unstable construct of an unstable language, and that the author—if alive at all—is a function of the culture and not an independent creative identity. Yet despite these admonitions, we are still tempted to explore the inner-workings and reflections of the besieged writer. A collection of essays by Robert Kroetsch and two volumes of interviews by Jean Royer and Eleanor Wachtel sharpen this sense of temptation as they promise to inform us about the writer’s life.
Although promotional materials refer to the collection as “confessional,” the acknowledgement page of Robert Kroetsch’s A Likely Story distances the text from the problems associated with autobiography, noting that “these fugitive pieces … are concerned with the writing life, not with the personal life, of the writer.” A well known star of Canadian literature, Kroetsch frequently addresses literary conferences, and this volume brings together some of the talks he has given since 1989. The pieces are designed for public presentation; they are witty, humorous,...
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Garrett-Petts, W. F. and Lawrence, Donald. “Thawing the Frozen Image/Word: Vernacular Postmodern Aesthetics.” Mosaic 31, No. 1 (March 1998): 143–78.
Discusses Kroetsch's contribution to a postmodern aesthetic, one which consists of language's material presence, the frozen words trope, and how Kroetsch—as contrasted with Canadian pictorial art—engages in a vernacular exploration of visual/verbal limitations.
Additional coverage of Kroetsch's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 8, 38; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Poets; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 53; and Major 20th-Century Writers, Edition 1.
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