Why Henry Miller’s work was banned

On the 70th anniversary of the release of Henry Miller’s notorious Tropic of Cancer, the Globe and Mail sought the opinion of two York University professors for a Feb. 14 books feature.

“He had a forthrightness about life as he was experiencing it,” said Susan Swan, a humanities professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, as well as the author of The Wives of Bath, The Last of the Golden Girls and the upcoming What Casanova Told Me. “He didn’t bow to any literary conventions of the time, that literature should be artful and describe sex elliptically. He wandered right in and said what he saw, and I think in that way he had a profound influence on other writers. It was a call to describe the world as it was rather than something that was more idealized.” Even more subversive, said Swan, was Miller’s dismissal of the puritan work ethic driving his fellow citizens back home – a notion that might shock contemporary society far more than Miller’s shattering of sexual boundaries. “He was one of the first North American writers to tackle the subject of pleasure in our lives and critique the notion of life to be lived for the bottom line,” she says. “He wanted to appreciate life as it was lived. He was kind of a hippie that way. That, too, is revolutionary and still rather suspect….If he was around today, he’d probably laugh at the way technology has made us work that much harder.”

Miller’s book was censored in the United States and Canada until the 1960s. In Canada, “we permitted administrative censorship, censorship behind closed doors, where there is no accountability or public knowledge,” said Bruce Ryder, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. He is writing a book about the history of book censorship. Ryder notes that while the real precedent-setting cases are the Dominion News ruling in 1962, which permitted “girlie” magazines such as Playboy legal entry into the country, and the Brodie decision that same year, which deemed Lady Chatterley’s Lover an acceptable literary work, Tropic of Cancer‘s history in Canada is still significant. First marked on the customs banned books list in 1938, Miller’s work become a cause célèbre in the sixties, when copies from the United States started leaking through the border. “It was the attempt to suppress Tropic of Cancer through customs prohibitions and RCMP searches and seizures in libraries and bookstores that I think played a very important role in changing Canadians’ attitude toward book censorship in the early sixties,” Ryder said. “We were stepping out of our complacency and our tolerance for hidden censorship of bad books and starting to hold our public officials to account for their restriction of our reading choices without our knowledge.” By 1964, says Ryder, attitudes toward Tropic of Cancer and its follow-up, Tropic of Capricorn, liberalized.

Goodyear Guy the longest-running ad on Canadian TV

“Often creative people want to invent new stuff all the time,” said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, in a Globe and Mail article Feb. 14 about the 13-year-old Goodyear Guy, the longest-running ad in Canadian radio and TV. “It takes some self-restraint and some courage and strategic thinking to make work the familiar.” Michelin’s classic slogan, “Because so much is riding on your tires” is “a very powerful piece of communication” because it shifted the focus to the family and babies and the notion that it is “really important that you can stop and be safe.” But Middleton also figures the Goodyear Guy campaign has been a smart response. “The somewhat tongue-in-cheek, cynical, sometimes acerbic guy who ends up looking a bit of a klutz but not that much of one is actually quite lovable,” he said. “Lovable’s not a bad thing for a relatively grudge purchase, especially when you’ve got Michelin, [whose pitch] is heavily emotional.”

Capitalism must peak before the revolution comes

In Empire of Capital (2003), Ellen Meiksins Wood, a retired professor of political theory at York University, argues in Empire of Capital that US imperialism is solid and tangible because it is, as Lenin wrote a century ago, “the highest stage of capitalism,” wrote a Globe and Mail reviewer Feb. 14. The nation-state is still the most important body in the world, but it doesn’t need to build empires of its own. This, she says, is accomplished by the big corporations, by the capital markets of the world, and by agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with the assistance of the US military. Wood, wrote the Globe, is a devout Marxist who seems to be supporting the argument that capitalism needs to reach its most advanced stage of development, its peak of success, before the promised revolution will occur.

Weightlifter Jillian Halligan qualifies for nationals

Former competitive swimmer and York alum Jillian Halligan has made huge inroads in weightlifting, making up for lost time by qualifying for the Canadian national championships in June, reported the Toronto Sun Feb. 14. Though she isn’t expected to win in her weight class, just being there will be a huge accomplishment, said the newspaper. Halligan found weightlifting after 15 years as a swimmer, routinely competing on the national level in her specialty, the 100-metre butterfly. “I was just talking to a friend of mine and he said, ‘You should get into (weightlifting), you’re built right for it’, and so I went to a conference, where I met David, my trainer.” She describes the ideal weightlifting build, her build, as “short legs, short arms, and a long body,” which can be developed into “brutally strong legs, brutally strong back, and a brutally strong stomach.” It’s her focus on technique, and the ability to really work on the mental aspect, that has helped distinguish Halligan in the sport in spite of her late start. She has an excellent grasp of how a human body works, and how to make it work harder, especially after earning a masters degree in exercise physiology at York University in 2000.

Male inmates escape in romance novels

National Post business writer John Karastamatis interviewed three romance writers, including Michele Young, executive officer, Office of the Dean of York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies, for a Valentine’s Day story. Ninety-three per cent of romance novel readers are female. “But there are male readers,” Young insisted. “Some of the most vocal fans, the ones who write letter after letter to romance writers, are men in prison. For them, romance fiction is an escape. Probably that’s exactly what it is for most readers, male or female, in or out of jail.”

When Cupid’s arrow strikes at the office

Schulich School of Business Professors Ellen Auster and Steve Weiss have shared the past 15 Valentine’s Days as married co-workers, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 14. They were pictured in a photo and featured as an example of people who found their mate in the workplace. There are risks, but there are benefits, too. Auster, professor of strategic management, met her Valentine, Weiss, professor of policy and international business, in the winter of 1986 and married him in 1989. They were both working as visiting professors at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, when they were approached by Schulich’s dean in the spring of 1991 to work in the same department. He was looking for two mid-career professors and was able to find them in one couple.

A short story by Mary Swan

The Globe and Mail online Feb. 13 offered readers a chance to read “Where You Live Now”, a short story from Mary Swan‘s new collection The Deep and Other Stories, published in the United States by Random House in the spring. A graduate of York University and the University of Guelph, Swan has been published in numerous magazines and journals, including The Malahat Review in Canada, and Harper’s in the United States. Her stories have also been published in several anthologies including Emergent Voices (Goose Lane 1990), Coming Attractions (Oberon 1999), Best Canadian Stories 92 (Oberon 1992) and The O. Henry Awards 2001 Prize Stories (2001). Swan also has a book forthcoming from Granta in England. She lives in Guelph, Ont., with her husband and daughter.

On air

  • Richard Leblanc, policy professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, discussed the relationships between the country’s companies and our politicians in light of former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin’s previous appointment on the board of CHC Helicopter Corporation, on CBC Radio’s “On the Go” in St John’s, Feb. 16.
  • Lawyer Casey Chisick, who teaches a course called “Copyright in the Digital World” at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, was interviewed about the Canadian recording industry association efforts to have Internet service providers such as Telus, Shaw, Rogers and Bell, provide the names of Internet users who are “stealing” music online, on CBC Newsworld’s “CBC News: Today” Feb. 16.