Friday, 3 July 2015

"I did, and he did."

In the summer of 1972, at a meeting with Jack McClelland (after the Royal Commission on Book Publishing was finished), I told him that I had a book I wanted to write on the Arctic. I gave him the basics. He said, "You write the book, and I'll publish it," I did, and he did. McClelland & Stewart published The Arctic Imperative in quality paperback in the spring of 1973.
— Richard Rohmer, Generally Speaking, p. 526 
Arctic Imperative is a chore. You start feeling like you'll know less at the end than you did at the beginning. The submarines and giant planes are the easy part. The eight identical chapters about who wants to lay pipe might as well be a baby slapping a keyboard with its hands.
— Chris Kelly, email to Stanley Whyte and Brian Busby, 6 June 2015

The Arctic Imperative is unlike any other book I’ve read. It repeats itself and it contradicts itself. It has no structure, yet moves forward with purpose. A failure, true, but it does intrigue. Just how did Rohmer do it?

Here’s my theory:

The Arctic Imperative is composed of information gleaned from press releases, newspaper clippings and the occasional note to self. This goes some way in explaining the curious formality. Richard Nixon is “Mr. Nixon”, Jean Chrétien is “Mr. Chretien [sic]” and the “Vancouver firm of F.F. Stanley and Co. Ltd.” work with “Tremblay, Heroux and Associates of Montreal, consulting engineers.”

See: The Globe and Mail Style Guide.

The reason that there’s no order is because clippings have no real order. Categorization is in the brain of the beholder and chronology becomes skewed because news isn’t always breaking. Consider how long “J.M. Douglas of Parry Sound, H.J. Kliener of Hamilton, and E.J. Smith of Burlington” worked on the X-Mac before it made the paper. Consider too the amusing Dennis the Menace strip that appeared in that same edition.

Dennis the Menace is set aside, but the clippings used as reference are given equal weight. Nothing is irrelevant and no detail is too small, which is how we learn of “a diplomatic note to the United States in 1971 on the instigation of David Anderson, member [sic] of Parliament for Esqumalt-Saanich. That note was delivered on August 18. 1971, and tabled in the House of Commons in April, 1972.”

How else do we explain The Arctic Imperative?

After his pitch, Rohmer had mere months to write the book.

It was imperative.

Three closing notes:

Where politicians are mentioned by name – “the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Stanfield”, for example – Pierre Trudeau is referred to only as “the Prime Minister”. His name never appears. I suggest this is no accident.

Rohmer’s “Canadian beaver” and ever-present “American eagle” appear here as the “Canadian mouse” and the “American elephant”. Republicans take note.

I was astonished – no exaggeration – to discover that my copy is a second printing.

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