And so America continues to search subconsciously for ways back, for snorkels to lower to those buried souls. Consider the resurgence of magical literature in America over the last decade and a half. Never since Tolkien has the fantasy genre -- the Twilight books and the wealth of vampire chronicles accompanying for example -- been so widely successful. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels are a recent manifestation of that search for snorkels. What could be more escapist than to imagine being a wizard estranged and insulated from his magical heritage and forced into the mundane -- muggle -- world? As Shoeless Joe was to Ray Kinsella, as writing was to W.P. Kinsella, so has Harry Potter been to a recent generation of Americans. Harry Potter is a mythological symbol of the type Campbell knows has been lost to the detriment of the people. He is the truth Americans wish they possessed, and he too defies the whole world of productivity and bureaucrats and fixes onto what Joyce called the "grave and constant in human suffering." Novels of this sort provide a vehicle back into the heartland and so capture the imagination of a public that knows not what it searches for.
It is interesting here to note that Kinsella has himself, in these later years of life, given up on writing to an extent. After a life-threatening accident in 1997, when he was struck by a car while walking near his home, Kinsella sued the driver for damages, not just medical bills but also claiming that "injuries suffered have made it impossible to write," (Twigg / BCBW, 2005). If writing was truly the dream Kinsella always had, selling it for settlement money puts him in a distinctly American category.
This introduces the question of Kinsella's Americanism. In interviews he claims,
I would say that if it wasn't for medical insurance I would likely live in the States. it's a much more exciting place to be. Even the politicians aren't quite so stupid. All politicians are stupid and corrupt but ours are not even corrupt. Bureaucracy is so much worse here than it is in the U.S., (Twigg / BCBW, 2005).
The man himself might be described as acerbic, with a strong superiority complex and bold, outspoken opinions. In his interviews he rails against academics, which he hates categorically, and curses contemporary giants of the literary field: John Metcalf and Norman Levine to name a few. A central psychological element which Kinsella skirts is a strong anti-authoritarian streak. These are qualities more commonly associated with Americans than the more reserved, liberal, English-style, Canadian culture.
Perhaps Kinsella's identification with American culture is partly a denial of the Canadian literary culture, which he views as colonial, and partly a subconscious acknowledgement that he, like Americans, harbors that same...
To begin with his view of the Canadian literary culture, one quote concerning John Metcalf should suffice:
Whereas in Canada we have this goddamned English tradition. And there is no one less imaginative than the English. Our Canadian literature is still dominated by a lot of asshole Englishmen who have the nerve to try and tell us what our literature is about. John Metcalf, of course, is the main offender. The very idea that this man, who has no background in our literature whatsoever, should try to tell us what Canadian literature should be about just makes me absolutely furious. There are ten or fifteen of his ilk floating around, (Twigg / BCBW, 2005).
That Kinsella harbors the dark desire endemic to the loss of the American dream is evidenced by his life. First, of course, in the decade or so wherein he worked outside of literature in various jobs, all of which he hated and which, furthermore, kept him too busy to ever write. Secondly, in his earliest writing following that period, Kinsella himself feels he had sold out. Though he admittedly hates academics, critics, and the critical -- read authoritarian -- reading of literature, his own literature specifically, he also admits that in that early time of his career he did try and appeal to those critics and academics.
[Interviewer]: So initially you thought you should appeal to them?
KINSELLA: Oh, sure. Originally I wanted to get a teaching position. I was writing to impress the critics and the snottier little magazines. There's a lot more conscious symbolism in my first books. Now I'm fortunate I don't have to do that anymore, (Twigg / / BCBW, 2005).
Furthermore, two more points may be made. First that Kinsella is himself an avid baseball fan -- unconfirmed reports claim he even worked as a talent scout for the Atlanta Braves -- and baseball is the American national pastime. America is the center of world baseball, major league teams in Canada play in an American league, and even professionals in Japan, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, dream of moving to the States to play. Just as foreign writers of baseball write about the sport here in America. Then there is the farm. Kinsella, with his farmyard dreams, identifies with the American hayseed tradition; farming, though integral, was never as important to the Canadian economy or the Canadian identity as it has been to the American. The farm being the setting of Kinsella's heart, of his beloved mythology, it seems natural that the location should be projected into a place where farming is not just important, but an integral, spiritual way of life. That place, of course, could only be a place called the heartland.
Perhaps it was the knowledge of that dark inheritance -- the drive to abandon the dream for success -- which drove Kinsella to write Shoeless Joe, a novel in which he so tightly clings to that fading dream. Ray Kinsella, the main character, never entertains the thought that he will sell his dream, and so he possesses the moral courage which at times has failed W.P. Kinsella, the author. Shoeless Joe is an idyll, a Harry Potter story, where the virtuous Arcadian ideal always conquers the dark need for stability and success. And perhaps Kinsella, the author, too believed that if he wrote it, they would come.
1. Kinsella, W.P. Shoeless Joe. New York: First Mariner Books, 1999. Print.
2. Twigg, Alan. "Kinsella, W.P." ABCBookworld, BC Bookworld. 2005. Web. 28 April 2010.
3. Besner, Neil. "Kinsella, William Patrick" the Canadian Encyclopedia.…
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