Northrop Frye was, I believe, the first to suggest that Canadians habitually ask themselves, “Where is here?” I suggest that we can and should answer that question, and that yesterday’s election gives us a convenient opportunity to get started. Here is likely to turn out, however, to be rather more muddled a place than we would prefer.
Unfortunately for easy answering, at least for 95% of the population, Here has never been over-run by a foreign invasion, and even the 5%, although struggling valiantly these days for a coherent identity were when the invasion took place resolutely plural and appear resolved to remain that way for many practical and political purposes. Sadly for them, too, the really effective invasion was by germs. The invasion of people and governments followed the germs. The people who came before the germs were primarily traders. I believe that statement is more or less correct, because the germs came very early.
In any case, whatever we make of the history, we gained from it no reason to wrap ourselves in the ‘Mother Canada’ kind of metaphor, as for example the Russians could. When I was in public school we were very big on ‘The Mother Country’ but that made Here into a branch of There, which failed eventually to meet either the facts or our evolving notions of Here, and was discarded. Recent events in what used to be Great Britain and has now become Ridiculous Britain have shown how wise we were. But that still left us with an unresolved question of Here.
We have learned to do quite well with Here in sporting applications. Here is the place where athletes are supplied with red and white uniforms adorned with maple leaves and expected to own the podium. Here is the place the athletes call home for sporting purposes, and not the place they go back to when the season is over, or their careers. If they win we give a great cheer for Here, and then get on with our lives. But where is Here for them?
Since the land where we live is so huge and diverse, and since we have failed to imagine for ourselves a Motherland we can latch onto, we tend I fear to identify Here as something much smaller, a province perhaps, or even part of one, or a city, or even a neighbourhood. We are instinctively tribal, in that sense. It is very difficult imaginative work to place yourself in a countrywide Here unless you have had the opportunity to become at least somewhat familiar with the entire sweep of the land, and to meet on more than casual terms its people in some of their diversity. I have been fortunate that way, because of my work. Perhaps that is why Here to me takes the shape that it does.
I submit that Here belongs not to geography, or demography, or history, but to a four-dimensional continuum that I call Time-Place, analogous to, but not the same as, the Space-Time of mathematicians and physicists. (In order to make sure that I am not talking complete nonsense I looked up ‘space-time continuum’ on Google, which took me to Wikipedia, where I found out that, “In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that fuses the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional continuum. Spacetime diagrams can be used to visualize relativistic effects such as why different observers perceive where and when events occur differently.” That statement cheered me immensely.
Time-Place, therefore, is any imaginammatical model that fuses the three dimensions of Time (Now, Then, and When) and the one dimension of Place (Here), into a single four-dimensional continuum. My suggestion, therefore, boils down to this: that as Canadians, which we all know we are, we should assign the name ‘Canada’ to this continuum as it exists for us collectively, identify it formally as a ‘Muddle’ fit for human habitation in a state of enjoyment, and get on with living in it. If this sounds silly, and evasive, well perhaps it is, but in an affirmative sense that does no harm and may indeed do us much good.
In other words, we should look at yesterday’s somewhat muddled election result as an entirely appropriate manifestation of Here in continuum with Now, Then, and When, and with the necessary capacity to serve its intended purpose and evolve as required. We don’t have to look it through the partisan eyes of our political parties, any of them singly or all of them together. It may suit them to be adversarial, and may even suit us, the people, but we do not have to be adversarial too.