LINDA HUTCHEON: A Tribute
On October 5, 2010, Professor Rei Terada of the University of California, Irvine, gave a lecture in honour of Linda Hutcheon. The following evening, a reception for Linda was held at Father Madden Hall, St. Michael’s College. Both events were co-hosted by the Department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature. During the reception on October 6, Linda Hutcheon's exemplary career and impressive body of work were celebrated with both humour and tears, and she was presented with the prestigious Molson Prize, which is awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts annually to two distinguished Canadians working in the arts and in the social sciences and humanities.
Tammy Scott, from the Canada Council for the Arts and Angela Ferrante, representing the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
(SSHRC) offered their acknowledgement of Professor Hutcheon’s unparalleled achievements in the field of literary theory and their congratulations on behalf of those bodies that administer the award. In her remarks following the presentation of her award, Professor Hutcheon very graciously thanked all those in attendance and cheerfully remarked that winning the Molson Prize would now allow her to undertake new research without having to fill out yet another regular SSHRC application.
Following the presentation of the award, heartfelt congratulatory speeches were given by Dean Meric Gertler; Dean Brian Corman; Alan Bewell, Chair of the English Department; Neil ten Kortenaar, Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature, Dr. Pamela Coles, Dr. Caryl Clark and Dr. Barbara Havercroft.
Concluding the speeches, Linda was presented with a plaque for the "Linda Hutcheon Seminar Room," planned for Victoria College.The following poem was written and read by Neil ten Kortenaar, after the presentation of the Molson Prize and congratulatory speeches.
The Girl who Grew Up to be the Centre for Comparative Literature
by Neil ten Kortenaar
This is a tale about a girl dark and pretty
It is also the story of her land and her city
And in that town a university. A tale about narrative,
Adaptations operatic and literature comparative.
Young Linda and the Bortolotti family
Lived in working-class Little Italy.
In a house without books odds were against
A young girl developing a readerly sense
But two things are needed for reading to be
And Toronto had both in the highest degree
In North America the best public library
And the country’s greatest levels of ennui.
Fifties and sixties Toronto showed little sign
Of the city to be in a few decades time.
It was Presbyterian and self-satisfied
Sundays the stores drew curtains to hide
The goods that window shoppers might tempt.
Everything was designed sin to preempt.
Of Edwardianism it was the arrière garde
Modernist angst had not travelled this far.
We’re talking about a town proud to live
Outside historical grand narratives.
Much, of course, resisted this stiff, white city
But was passed over as so much ethnicity
Associated with spices, wine, and noise
Other languages and domestic joys,
Kept safely in ethnic neighbourhoods.
But back to little Linda, reading where she could
In the bathroom, bedroom, behind closed doors
Seeking silence, privacy and freedom from chores.
Mrs Bortolotti used to ask her daughter
What good she thought these books brought her
They took her from work and did not prepare
For earning wages, keeping house, or child care.
But one day the French teacher came to the door
To tell her parents their daughter could do more,
Should go to college. Her parents exchanged looks
At the thought of Linda spending more time in books.
Linda herself, unsure what university meant,
Announced she would be a literature department.
“You can’t be a department, you’re a girl, end of story
Just think! a professoressa among the professori!”
Linda, however, wanted the Italian she heard
With the English she spoke and the printed word
brought together in productive triangulation:
The hearth, the street, and the imagination.
So she registered to study lang and lit at UC
And Michael went too, for premed study.
Our Linda was in love with the life books afford her
With books and with Michael, if not in that order.
On into grad school Linda compared literature
but the question of reading kept eating away at her
“What for those books?” she could hear her ma say
And she still had no answer, after her MA.
Writing her thesis what bothered her most:
If postgraduate is just graduate, what then is post?
On the eve of postmodernism, pre-post as it were
(But this was Toronto; modernism it wasn’t either)
New Criticism prevailed, no longer so new
And what we call theory was far between and few.
Linda (now Hutcheon) became the very first grad
The Centre for Comparative Literature had.
Norrie Frye had founded the Centre, to be cutting edge
(With the English department always butting heads).
As down came the walls between high culture and low
Still unbridged were the two cultures of CP Snow
Science and humanities, surgeon and critic.
While Linda examined narratives narcissistic
Michael studied emphysema and fibrosis cystic.
She tried to convince Mike of her great vision
Opening a clinic of postmodern medicine
Where they could teach self-reflexive breathing
Treat consumption and narrative exhaustion.
“Medicine and literature, so alike in many ways,
Frye’s Anatomy differs little from Grey’s
Thomas Browne, Chekhov, and W C Williams,
All physicians who wrote more than prescriptions.”
She told Michael they’d heal with bibliotherapy
All who came with diseases Medico-literary.
Hutcheon and Hutcheon, Doctors in postmodern health
The motto on their signboard: “Physician heal thyself”
Mike loved the idea, but one thing worried him
So just what was the post in postmodernism?
Was it like postnatal or post mortem or
like the post before traumatic stress disorder?
Linda patiently explained that with his stethoscope
what he measured was the circulation of a trope.
Doctors with CAT scans and X-ray machines
Were examining patients’ mise en abimes.
A patient etherized, like the evening sky, on a table?
Was shaped by race and gender, inherently unstable.
“Bodies are a matter of words, as a matter of fact.”
Said Michael, “I love it when you talk like that.
It all fits. But surely there’s that which resists
That lurks below words, outside poetics
The heartbeat and breath where conscious fòrm ends
In the operating theatre, it’s not just performance.”
“Look,” said Linda, “there’s no original breath any more
The air we breathe has been breathed before
Transplanting lungs switches codes like translation.”
“But,” said Michael, “a transplant’s a one-way equation.
The exhaustion of discourse seems less remote
If the author’s in hospital with a tube down his throat.
Breath and death are not questions of art
No offense to Monsieur Roland Barthes.”
Certainly something did resist post-structuralese
The 80s had no jobs for Literature PhDs
For the Centre itself, Linda was a test case
Would complit students be able to find a place?
And it seemed at first this test had flunked
For many years she taught as an adjunct
Commuting to Hamilton to give courses at Mac
On year-to-year contracts, non-tenure track.
But change was in the air: in September 82
Toronto was transformed and Linda’s luck, too.
The city suddenly shed its colourless past
Developed a cosmopolitan, multicultural cast
Ethnicity was in, margins became centre
For Linda, itinerancy shifted to tenure
Her critical awareness of the always in-between
Put her at the heart of the postmodern scene.
She parlayed one job into a U of T position
The rest, as they say, is historiographical fiction.
At the MLA convention the delegates carried signs
Calling for “Linda for president in 1999.”
Oops, I meant 2000, but what can you do?
Errors will in, that’s the postmodern for you.
Linda no longer walked academe on tiptoe
She proclaimed the ethnicity her name’d made crypto
She supervised 61 students, but who’s keeping score
And was on the committees of another 61 more
Has written 9 books and 3 more with Michael
And edited 13—that’s every year a title
For the last three decades, and the pace has not eased.
Linda is a doctor eight times over at least.
She’d got her girlhood wish to be a literature department
Alone she was bigger than Guelph, Carleton and Trent.
Among literature departments surveyed by Maclean’s
On her own she’d rank fifth, just behind Queen’s.
And in 1982 another world-changing event:
The first opera Linda and Michael attended.
The sick and dying singing in foreign tongues
Linda loved their Italian, Michael their lungs.
In addition to the music and spectacle
Linda was drawn to the surtitles‘ crawl
Surtitles spoke to what her life was about
Sing in Italian and English words come out
As for adaptation what could be better?
In a flash a love song becomes a love letter
Musical notes transform into a written note
“Omicidio” she sang and murder it wrote.
Michael admired the display of lung capacity
When dying of consumption, hold that high c.
They blended their work, medicine and literatures
As well as the bookshelves marked His and Hers.
The shingle “Hutcheon and Hutcheon” Linda’d wanted
Now on the Internet’s prominently flaunted:
“Are you suffering from operatic blues?
As the notes climb higher and the body count too
Does it leave you desperate to turn a page?
Well you’re not alone and it’s not just a stage.
For twenty years, the Doctors Hutcheon Squared
Have studied what’s sick in opera and they cared.
Their patented formula bibliophilic-pathological
Is guaranteed to help you make sense of it all
Coughs, broken hearts, stab wounds and things
It’s just beginning when the fat lady sings
So remember, when next a soprano bleeds
Hutcheon and Hutcheon for your hermeneutic needs”
Operatic pandemics they’d delved so much in.
When hit by SARS, the city turned to the Hutcheons
Linda and Michael appeared on CITY-TY
With advice learned from Bohemian Mimi.
To a city in crisis they explained much depended
On knowing the narrative and how it all ended
Quarantine was effective and so too masks and gloves
But safest of all was not falling in love
Love was as fatal as viruses these days
The lesson they drew from Puccinis and Bizets.
Appreciating the Hutcheons’ medico-literary reasons
A grateful Toronto built the Four Seasons.
And we too wanted this occasion to celebrate her
By naming a space at the Bader the-atre
In her honour. That way none would forget
How much the Centre for CompLit’s in her debt.
But you who follow the news, are no doubt aware
The Centre’s fate is as yet up in the air.
So this Linda Hutcheon Seminar Room sign
Must be a floating signifier at least for a time.
We will secure a space to carry this word
We vow it will not be forever deferred.
As things fall apart, and the centre cannot hold her
This poem will have to act as a place holder.
While we desperately seek a room we can call her
There’s only this feeble homage to parody’s scholar,
All this poem shares with the tales she likes better
Is this bit at the end where it tries to go meta.
That’s it, the last word and final hurrah
Just be thankful I didn’t try to write opera.
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