Monday, October 31, 2016

Guest post: An Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals

Last winter, I took graduate level seminar Public Intellectuals in Canada: Their Essays, Talks, and with Dr. Joel Deshaye at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it got me all riled up. 

Considering the academy is churning out so-called intellectuals without even recognizing the status, or implications of the term, I wrote "Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals.”

Why? Because manifestos harness imaginative power.

Manifestos intervene. Manifestos are excessive. Manifestos are relentless. Manifestos interrupt. Manifestos persuade. At their core, manifestos are public declarations, often pushing political, social or artistic motion.

While elitism is defined as a select part of a group that is superior to rest in terms of ability or qualities, to truly be successful as a Canadian Public Intellectual one needs to speak to an audience, and appeal to a broad range of voices. One voice can’t speak for the whole, but many voices can create a chorus. A manifesto is a critical poetic choir of sorts.

As a poet and journalist, I’ve written several manifestos. In my opinion, the manifesto acts as a conversation between private and public thought. In my tenure as Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence, I wrote “An Incomplete Manifestofor Canadian Women In Literary Arts,” in 2014, though it wasn’t the first time I was drawn to the manifesto as a genre. I’ve also written a “Modern Day Riot Grrrl Manifesta,” in 2011 for International Girl Gang Underground zine, and “A Fragmented Manifesto,” for GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose published in 2009.

I am drawn to manifestos. They exist somewhere between poetry and criticism.

According to Mary Ann Caw, who edited Manifesto: A Century of Isms, “Originally, a manifesto was a piece of evidence in a court of law, or put on a show to catch the eye. The manifesto is: “a public declaration by a sovereign prince or state, or by an individual or body of individuals whose proceedings are of public importance, making past actions announced as a forthcoming.”

Manifestos articulate specific plans for action, and can discuss the intersections of feminism and social justice. Unlike the essay, which is quieter, more textual, manifestos are loud. Manifestos are messy. Manifestos elicit. Manifestos ignite. Caw notes, “The manifesto is an act of the démesure, going past what is thought of as proper, sane and literary.”

I didn’t intend to write to convince or convert, only to consider. This “Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals” is an invitation, an offering.  Hopefully, I’m not coming across as a one trick pony. I’m only taking Atwood’s advice to “think pink, and pack black.”
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An Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals
By Shannon Webb-Campbell


BECAUSE we need to acknowledge the land where we gather

BECAUSE this is unceded and unsurrendered Mi’kmaq and Beothuk territory

BECAUSE Indigenous communities of Newfoundland and Labrador have always existed despite what was declared in 1949

BECAUSE we relate to the characteristics of this country now called “Canada”

BECAUSE private actions can have public impact

BECAUSE public is a relationship among strangers

BECAUSE we have a responsibility as publics

BECAUSE we are involved in the affairs of a community

BECAUSE not all communities are recognized as publics

BECAUSE we must examine

BECAUSE we want to discuss poetry’s potential in public

BECAUSE Michael Warner notes, the diary can’t have an imagined public

BECAUSE public sphere is purely imaginary

BECAUSE publics are internalized as humanity

BECAUSE an image of writing should be the ghost of freedom

BECAUSE there are all kinds of knowledge transfers

BECAUSE public language addresses a public as a social entity

BECAUSE Daniel Rigney believes capitalist ideology is the main type of anti-intellectualism

BECAUSE paradox is the elitism of intellect and progressive ideals

BECAUSE mass media is a manufactured product

BECAUSE we are of the public, by the public, and for the public

BECAUSE of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message

BECAUSE personal and social consequences of any medium is an extension of ourselves

BECAUSE new technology eliminates jobs

BECAUSE fragmentation is the essence of machine technology

BECAUSE electric light is pure information

BECAUSE it’s a medium without a message

BECAUSE Glenn Gould reminds us, you can’t forget to pay homage to the source where all creative ideas come

BECAUSE we don’t have to duplicate the eccentricity of experience

BECAUSE we must discover how high our tolerance is for the questions we ask of ourselves

BECAUSE questions extend the vision of our world

BECAUSE this is a performance of the self

BECAUSE self-reflection means you always question yourself

BECAUSE questions paralyze the imagination

BECAUSE there is a new kind of listener

BECAUSE there was two hundred thousand “so-called” Indians in what became Canada

BECAUSE most of Canada clings to the attitude of a dominion

BECAUSE we’ve been watching from a ring seat, waiting for our time

BECAUSE Conrad Black deliberately had absolutely no contact, direct or indirect with anyone

BECAUSE in the past he’s known the prime minister

BECAUSE like Phyllis Webb, all our desire goes out to the impossibly beautiful

BECAUSE the glass castle is an image for the mind

BECAUSE we claim the five gods of reality to bless and keep us sane

BECAUSE a place of solitude is not where I choose to live

BECAUSE I prefer a suite of lies

BECAUSE Thomas King knows the truth about stories

BECAUSE stories is all we are

BECAUSE I’m not the Indian you had in mind

BECAUSE you are beginning to wonder if there is a point to this

BECAUSE you can’t say you would have lived differently years down the road if only you’d heard this story

BECAUSE we’ve heard it

BECAUSE George Eliot Clarke is parliamentary poet laureate

BECAUSE journalists turn facts into jazz

BECAUSE we have all the public fun

BECAUSE revolution is the orgasm of history

BECAUSE you really want to be prime minister

BECAUSE we have the privilege of academic freedom

BECAUSE poetry begins where lying ends

BECAUSE when I tweeted that last Clarke quote, Sina Queyras responded: if only

BECAUSE publicness can’t be underestimated (especially for women)

BECAUSE to think publically takes great risk and vulnerability

BECAUSE women’s work and criticism is still under-represented

BECAUSE we’re taught not to take up space

BECAUSE we are rarely invited to speak

BECAUSE there isn’t one way to write or think about anything

BECAUSE women are prevented from evolving in public

BECAUSE poetry makes its own mouth

BECAUSE the public doesn’t read

BECAUSE poetry repeatedly enacts its own construction and deconstruction

BECAUSE David Suzuki doesn’t have to kiss anybody’s ass

BECAUSE he doesn’t have to mask truth that comes from his heart

BECAUSE if you want everyone to like you, you are not gonna stand for anything

BECAUSE there will always be people that object

BECAUSE the greatest need we have is for clean air

BECAUSE we owe it to mother earth to take care of her

BECAUSE Margaret Atwood knows she is omnipresent and omniscient 

BECAUSE those are two attributes of the divine

BECAUSE the issues of responsibility are legal, moral and societal

BECAUSE intimacy builds worlds

BECAUSE we need to run the marathon

BECAUSE speaking in public still makes me sick

BECAUSE we must think pink, pack black

BECAUSE Atwood’s done her job

BECAUSE we’ve yet to do ours


Shannon Webb-Campbell is a Mi’kmaq poet, writer, and critic. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015), recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award, is her first collection of poems. She was Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, and is a board member.

Shannon holds a MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and currently studies and teaches English Literature at Memorial University. Her work is anthologized in IMPACT: Colonialism in Canada (Manitoba First Nation Education Resource, 2017), Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane, 2015), This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2015), and others.

She curated “Screening the Offshore” at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and worked as a curatorial assistant at Eastern Edge Gallery. Shannon is poetry editor at Plenitude Magazine.

Her play Neither Love Letters Nor Moonlight, premieres at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 2017. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.




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