Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams (2014)

Oil and gas exploration occurring in tandem with pipeline expansion and construction, leading to runaway anthropogenic climate change: the stakes are so high for all of us.

More than that, the stakes are unimaginably high in culturally specific ways for the First Nations whose territories are being exploited by the natural gas fairyland in what's currently known as northeastern British Columbia, that frankly I'm not sure how I could have sounded so terribly blasé, just three years ago, the first time I read Hugh Brody's remarkable 1981 book Maps and Dreams. Everyone needs to read this book even now, absolutely everyone, and if a copy had been put in front of every Canadian university student in the early 1980s, the quasi-utopian impulse that's basically my brain's reptilian core wonders whether we might collectively have built a different world by now.

Okay, sure, maybe Jason Kenney, Christy Clark, and John Baird would have found a way into power regardless, so maybe we'd still be short on butterflies and unicorns. But the thing is, Brody wrote Maps and Dreams in an attempt to blow up or otherwise transform Canadians' perceptions of Indians; economic expansion; oil and gas development; and frontier mythologies. It's detailed, thorough, narratively intriguing, and intimate, but it didn't achieve what it needed to. Thirty years on, this book still reads like a revelation to most people, with 1981's worrying current events remaining worryingly current in 2014:
We need to change, the circle cannot hold, time to raise the black flag, etc etc. Hugh Brody managed to articulate all sorts of reasons for this in 1981, writing from and about a rapacious carbon-economy context whose grip on our collective imagination has only intensified over the years:
Any restraint upon the search for, and exploitation of, oil and gas reserves is held to be mistaken, futile, or simply unimaginable. We no longer believe that national interests, still less the needs of even a majority of an electorate, can much influence large oil and gas corporations. We are lured into being fatalistic about the very possibility of politics that mean anything to ordinary people, and about any prospect for control over our everyday lives. (p.274)
So, yeah. That right there is why I'm teaching Maps and Dreams in the fall, in English 478 at UVic. Time to radicalize, time to reimagine the humanities, time to prove that John Baird's Canada is not a real place.


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