Literary Celebrity in the United States and Canada
While the title of this chapter would seem to invite a study in contrasts, a comparison of national forms of celebrity requires a flexible analysis that acknowledges both the transnational dynamics of globalized literary markets and the specific institutional, political, and demographic conditions that inflect the performance of celebrity at particular geopolitical sites. This evaluation of differences, however, needs to distinguish itself from the ideologically laden Canadian tendency to see our culture as blessedly (or woefully) innocent of the highly industrialized star manufacture that takes place in the United States. Precisely because of the frequently felt imperative to paint Canadian culture as superior in its wholesomeness, in its imperviousness to the lure of a celebrity culture associated with the United States, I sought to cast "doubt upon the notion of a specifically Canadian approach to fame" in my previous work in this field, arguing that "no nationally specific performance of celebrity marks Canadian literary stars" (York 2007, 3, 5). Indeed, this very desire to protect Canada as a national space that is magically shielded from the twinned forces of celebrity and capitalism is worthy of continuing analysis. However, while Canadian literary stars may not perform their celebrity status in the modest key that this national mythology prescribes, the material processes through which that celebrity is attained and that allow for its expression are modulated by the material conditions of the national culture. To that end, my more recent work in Canadian literary celebrity, on the conditions of labor that attend the celebrity of Canada's Margaret Atwood, emphasizes specific material conditions of literary fame in Canada—the reduced access, for instance, to industrial celebrity workers in the literary field such as agents and publicists (York 2013). Accordingly, while this comparative chapter still refuses to posit a specifically Canadian or US American paradigm of literary celebrity, it brings the analyses of literary celebrity in the two countries into discussion with each other—in order to test the validity of larger questions about literary celebrity in general that nation-specific criticism inevitably offers, and to examine the ways in which nation may be a meaningful category of analysis in the study of celebrity.
To begin, it cannot be denied that literary history in the United States and in Canada has played itself out against a very different set of economic, political, legal, and cultural circumstances. Eli MacLaren uses the United States as a counterexample to Britain's extensive copyright control over Canada's publishing industries; whereas the British Copyright of 1842 made it illegal anywhere in the colonies to publish material that had first been published in England, the United States, decades earlier, was freed from any such restriction by the American Revolution. The new states' federal Copyright Act of 1790 made it legal for publishers to print any work published by a non-US citizen, and this opened the gates to a massive publishing boom; according to MacLaren, "in the last decade of the eighteenth century, Americans printed at least fifteen thousand different works—as many as in the previous two centuries combined" (MacLaren 2011, 8-9). It is to this freedom from restrictive copyright laws that MacLaren attributes the growth of a flourishing national literary industry in the United States. No wonder, then, that the industrial resources that underpin the growth of literary celebrity culture—literary agents, a wide variety of national publishers, editors, advertising—were developed to a higher degree in the United States of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
On the other side of the border, there are many examples of specific material conditions and formations in Canadian cultural history that have influenced the particular forms assumed by literary celebrity in Canada. The frequently remarked-upon visibility of the short story as a celebrated genre in Canadian literary history, most recently celebrated by the awarding of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature to Alice Munro, has its roots at least partly in state-sponsored cultural practices in other media, such as Robert Weaver's CBC Radio programs "Canadian Short Stories" and "Anthology," which broadcast early Munro stories as well as works by Timothy Findley, Michael Ondaatje, and Mordecai Richler. (Revealingly, though, when tributes poured in upon Weaver's death in 2008, the dominant theme was his modesty—yet another reinforcement of the narrative of Canadian fame as a low-key, behind-the-scenes affair; see DeMara 2008).
A comparative approach to Canadian and US American literary celebrity needs to acknowledge not only the structural differences between the two markets, but also the ways in which those markets and literary cultures have historically overlapped. Nick Mount, for example, has explored how the growth of Canadian literature in the late nineteenth century was, to a great extent, a product of cross-border publishing. In When Canadian Literature Moved to New York (2005), Mount assembles a long list of reasons why the US market was so attractive to and welcoming of Canadian writers. A century after the explosion of the American publishing industry that MacLaren describes, in the 1880s and 1890s, according to Mount, "the entire Canadian printing industry . . . was less than half the size of New York City's book and job business alone" (Mount 2005, 35). Whether those writers—Sophie Almon Hensley, Arthur Stringer, Palmer Cox, among others—then got systematically written out of the narrative of Canadian literature, as Mount concludes, is more difficult to establish, but what remains clear is that the history of Canadian and American literary celebrity was an intertwined one.
And it has continued to be. At mid-twentieth century, when a young Margaret Atwood was looking to establish a career in writing in Canada, she had few options when it came to finding a literary agent; in the 1960s she first signed, on the advice of novelist and mentor Jane Rule, with Hope Leresche of Hope Leresche and Steele in London, and then in the early 1970s obtained an agent in the United States: Phoebe Larmore, who remains her agent to this day. In recalling those earlier days to Roy MacSkimming, who was researching his book on Canadian publishing, The Perilous Trade, Atwood observed that "there were practically no literary agents in Canada then."1 In addition, some of the disadvantageous historical conditions of the Canadian publishing industry that MacLaren traces were still in place; Atwood recalled that "it was possible through a loophole in the Copyright Act for booksellers to import foreign editions of Canadian writers' books. They'd remainder them, undercutting the Canadian editions and depriving the authors of royalties" (MacSkimming 2007b, 17). To a great degree, the story of Canadian literary celebrity has been the story of Canadian writers, from Leacock to Montgomery to Atwood, intervening in the legal, economic, and political circumstances surrounding them as writers—whether by cofounding the Canadian Authors' Association (Stephen Leacock), seeking legal redress for disadvantageous contracts (Lucy Maud Montgomery), or incorporating oneself as a company (Atwood's O. W. Toad).
In recent years, literary critics working in various national literatures have turned their attention to the phenomenon of celebrity as it operates in the literary field of production. This growing area of inquiry has been dominated by studies of British and US American modern literary stardom, though critics of Canadian literature have more recently intervened in the discussion (Deshaye, Lee, Percy, Roberts, York). As I have suggested above, such interventions focused on Canadian literature may serve to test the validity of theories of literary celebrity that have arisen out of Anglo-American criticism, and to make us more aware, in turn, of the methodological parameters of the theorizing that arises out of nation-specific studies.
The first of the US studies of literary celebrity to appear in the twenty-first century was Joe Moran's Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America (2000). Moran is noteworthy for suggesting that literary celebrity is not to be easily equated, in its workings, with celebrity at other cultural sites. For instance, he argues that literary celebrity poses a special challenge to theories of celebrity that suggest that the market controls all, and that promotion alone can create the success of the celebrity; rather, the literary field, he maintains, is "one of the few areas of the mass media where market values have not triumphed wholesale" (Moran 2000, 42). Very much in the spirit of Pierre Bourdieu, he perceives a tension between or in combination of the forces of market promotion and literary "taste" or aesthetic concerns in the formation of literary celebrities in America. This phenomenon is not, of course, restricted to the American literary field.
Some of Moran's more nation-specific analyses of literary celebrity may sharpen analyses of literary celebrity in Canada—by contrast as well as congruence. One of the factors to which he attributes the intensification of celebrity in the American literary world in the twentieth century is the expansion of universities in the middle of that century. Moran points to the resulting increase in college bookstore outlets, creative writing courses and programs, and forms of publication that responded to these new market needs, such as the quality paperback format (Moran 2000, 45-46). While Canada did experience its own boom in university funding and building in the 1950s and 1960s, the scale is remarkably different. At present, there are over four thousand postsecondary institutions in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education; in Canada, by comparison, there are eighty- three (Canada 2012). Even though this disparity may not be so great when one factors in the populations of the two countries, the fact remains that, in terms of markets and units sold, the US postsecondary market is immense. Also, for various reasons, creative writing was never as fully integrated into literature departments in Canada as it was in the United States; as Louis Menand reported in 2009, there are 822 programs in creative writing in the United States, 37 of which offer PhD degrees (Menand 2009). By comparison, in Canada there are half a dozen stand-alone programs, the same number of graduate degrees, and the same number of combined majors/diplomas, fewer in total than the PhD programs alone that are offered in the United States. A trend to note, though, is the recent growth of Canadian MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs in the field and, as John Barber reports, a 2010 survey shows that half of all published authors in Canada have studied creative writing (Barber 2012). Still, the sometimes acrimonious arguments about creative writing programs fueling the publishing star system that take place in the United States appear only sporadically in Canada, and, as yet, they are more difficult to substantiate.
Further on in the 2000s, several studies appeared written by scholars of modernism that began to recalibrate the traditional assumptions about the relation between that international movement and celebrity culture. The formerly prevailing assumption was that modernist writers were in full flight from all forms of popular culture or else, in borrowing from popular culture, they somehow elevated it, brought it into a more rarefied setting (Goldman 2011, 5). Now, however, scholars have begun to treat the notion that modernism and celebrity were intertwined phenomena. As Aaron Jaffe writes in his Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity, "Progressively, modernists strove to get the most effect from their existing renown in the popular press, over national radio, and from associations with cultural institutions, practices which served as feedback loops for publicizing and sustaining their careers, reputations and imprimaturs" (Jaffe 2005, 5). Five years later, collaborating with Jonathan Goldman, Jaffe edited Modernist Star Maps: Celebrity, Modernity, Culture. "The essays collected here," write Jaffe and Goldman, "demonstrate the folly of imagining the modernists immune to the explosion of mass-mediated celebrity around them" (Jaffe and Goldman 2010, 5). The very next year, Jonathan Goldman expanded on his essay on Chaplin from the Modernist Star Maps collection, relocating it in his book Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity (2011). Here, Goldman took the next step in revising the relationship between literary modernism and celebrity; not only did modernists not spurn celebrity, modernism and celebrity are "manifestations of the same impulse" because they "perform similar cultural work on the notion of the exceptional individual" (Goldman 2011, 17, 2). Modernist style, for Goldman, is celebrity.
From a comparative point of view, it is important to note that these recent, exciting trends in the study of modernism and celebrity take as their subject, almost exclusively, texts by English, Irish, and US American writers: James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this scheme, American writers become subsumed within the paradigm of Anglo- American modernism. Indeed, Goldman tends to choose moments of transatlantic contact as flash points for the celebrity/modern understanding of the self as public that he explores in his book. He opens his fascinating chapter on Gertrude Stein, for instance, with the story, recounted by Stein in Everybody's Autobiography, of her meeting Mary Pickford while on her 1935 tour of the United States. Stein agreed to be photographed with Pickford, and once she had shown some enthusiasm for the idea, Pickford backed out, Stein presumed, because she sensed that Stein "needed" the photo-op more than she herself did. (Goldman does not mention the national ironies of this anecdote, but they are manifold: Stein, an expatriate American returning home from Paris, to be greeted by "America's Sweetheart"—who was born in Canada.) In his opening chapter on Oscar Wilde, Goldman highlights a similarly transatlantic moment as a watershed in modernist celebrity: Wilde's famous riposte at the gates of US customs on January 3, 1882: "I have nothing to declare except my genius" (Goldman 2011, 20). The meeting and merging of celebrity and modernism that Goldman, along with Jaffe, explores is attended by another confluence—transnationalism.
A valuable contribution to this trend in new studies of modernist celebrity is Faye Hammill's Women, Celebrity and Literary Culture between the Wars, also published in the first decade of the 2000s (2007). Like Goldman, she opens with a modern transatlantic celebrity exchange: a citation from Anita Loos's memoir Kiss Hollywood Goodbye, which tells of the much-publicized visit of the celebrated author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to London in 1926. Hammill's selection of authors under study is similarly transatlantic: three American writers, three British writers, with one Canadian—Lucy Maud Montgomery— sandwiched in-between. But Hammill draws attention to her transatlantic choices as a "deliberately varied selection"; she intentionally structured the book with Montgomery in the middle in order to situate "Canada in relation to American and British literary culture" (Hammill 2007b, 2, 24). In her analysis, the specificity of national publishing conditions is never subsumed by an overarching modernist transnationalism; Hammill notes, for example, the way in which Montgomery's country of origin was "treated reductively" in a newspaper article describing another cross-national moment of celebrity contact: her celebrated visit to Boston in 1911 (Hammill 2007b, 110). Nation does not, in this analysis, circumscribe or act as a horizon for the analysis of the particular literary celebrities in question, but it is nevertheless present as an important social context for their representations and is not folded into a global modernism.
A corresponding example of a critical analysis of modernist celebrity that retains the nation as a site of significance is Loren Glass's Authors, Inc: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States 1880-1980. Another contribution to this burgeoning field in the mid-2000s (2004), Glass's project, like that of Goldman and Jaffe, draws modernism closer to celebrity as a means of meditating on the private individual turned public personality: "In the collision between private interiority and public exteriority that these texts document, we can see emerging the intimate dialectical relation between modernist authorship and mass cultural celebrity that deeply informed the field of cultural production in the twentieth-century United States" (Glass 2004, 8). Such a collision—between private and public, national and transnational—is not, however, restricted to twentieth-century America, as Jaffe, Goldman, Hammill, and others demonstrate.
In places, Glass's book explores the possibility of national inflections of modern celebrity. In focusing on modern American literary celebrity, Glass feels the need to account for the figure of the hypermasculinized American literary hero: Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, et al. He develops the intriguing argument that the modern American literary celebrity embodies a crisis of masculinity, wherein the mass market comes to figure as a threatening feminization. Again, modern America is not the only site at which to espy the workings of this particular literary celebrity formation; one thinks of the modern
Canadian poet Irving Layton's foreword to his 1959 collection A Red Carpet for the Sun, in which he inveighed against
modern women . . . cast in the role of furies striving to castrate the male; their efforts aided by all the malignant forces of a civilization that has rendered the male's creative role of revelation superfluous____We're being femi
nized and proletarianized at the same time. This is the inglorious age of the mass-woman. Her tastes are dominant everywhere. (Layton 1959, n.p.)
Even though this hypermasculine male author figure is not exclusive to US American literary culture (one thinks here, as well, of late D. H. Lawrence), it is tempting to see it as a hugely influential one in that culture—one whose influence certainly crossed borders, as the example of Layton might show.
In recent C anadian criticism, another way of br inging nation into the analysis without moving toward a reductive search for national essences is in studying the way celebrity may form part of a national script. One of the earliest works to take this tack is Smaro Kamboureli's essay "The Culture of Celebrity and National Pedagogy" (2004). There, Kamboureli argues that celebrity operates within Emily Apter's concept of the "imperium of affect"—an "easy" or "happy" depoliticized feeling about national culture that replaces "oppositional discourse" and undergirds the pervasive workings of national pedago- gy—that "tight relationship—structural, ideological, and material—between cultural production and the representation of the nation" (Kamboureli 2004, 45-46, 39). So Canadian writing is celebrated, according to Kamboureli, insofar as it supports this teleological narrative of the progress of the nation. As a result, those writers who are celebrated tend to subsume hard-edged political critique to this "easy" celebration of difference, or else their works are critically read in such a way. My own theoretical stance on this question is that both national pedagogy and the celebrity systems implicated in it are less totalizing, more fissured in their operations, as Richard Dyer argued of celebrity years ago in his pioneering study Stars (1998 ): "Examination of stars' images reveals complexity, contradiction and difference" (Dyer 1998 , 14). Of course, Dyer adds, "It might still be legitimately argued that the complexity, etc. is all part of the beguiling, empty spectacle of capitalism," but "in the end it all depends on how closed (and hopeless) you see society and people as being" (ibid.). In a similar vein, celebrity as national pedagogy may operate, as Kamboureli suggests, to shore up hegemony, but it may just as easily contest hegemonies.
But this analysis of Canadian literary celebrity as a carrier of national pedagogy has been valuable in its revisions and interruptions of "easy" readings of particular celebrities as essentially Canadian. Taking the example, again, of Margaret Atwood, criticism has moved away from the uncritical invocations of Atwood's essential Canadianness toward serious interrogations of how that "Canadianness" is constructed and how it operates. Laura Moss in "Branding an Icon Abroad" applies many of Kamboureli's observations about the intertwining of national pedagogy and literary celebrity to the way Atwood presents herself and is presented outside of Canada. Atwood abroad, for Moss, is a Spivakian native informer who simultaneously embodies the transnational (a great writer on the global stage) and is an icon of a branded nation (representing "the international image of Canada that it wishes to project," L. Moss 2006, 23). But in a step away from a Frankfurt-school-like theory of pervasive hegemonic pedagogy, Moss shows how the paradox of the "transnational national" allows for contestation; while the "icon abroad," she argues, is being solidified in its meanings and consumed, the icon at home is vigorously contested. The notoriously vexed reception at home of Canada's internationally best-known author substantiates Moss's point, as would, for example, contemporary British Muslim writers' varied responses to Salman Rushdie's treatment of Islam.
Looking more specifically at aspects of Atwood's stardom that have been placed at the service of a transnational-national mythology, Erin Aspenlieder highlights the "wilderness ethic" of many of Atwood's works, both fictional and nonfictional. Wilderness, argues Aspenlieder, is produced by Atwood as an iconic, naturalized form of national belonging, in early works like Surfacing and in the media as well as Atwood's own auto/biographical representations of her wilderness childhood. Aspenlieder produces a dynamic analysis, however, by noting, like Coral Ann Howells, that as Atwood's career develops through several decades, the implications of her wilderness ethic shift from the national to the global. Beginning in the 1980s, depredations on the wilderness are increasingly seen as a global environmental concern in her work, but Aspenlieder notices that "she continues to produce her celebrity as tied to the wilderness" (Aspenlieder 2009, 7) and to the nation.
Kamboureli's article begins with an anecdote about the first season of CBC- Radio's contest "Canada Reads," and an increasingly fertile field for thinking about national mythology and celebrity has been the study of literary prizes and contests. In her recent book Prizing Literature, Gillian Roberts takes exactly this approach to the question; the subtitle of her volume is "The Celebration and Circulation of National Culture." Roberts persuasively shows how
literary prizes do particular kinds of work: they promote and perpetuate competing forms of valuing; not only are they competitions themselves, but they also compete with each other; and, in the context of national cultural celebration, they contribute to defining the parameters of the nation and its culture, particularly where immigrant writers are concerned. (Roberts 2011, 17)
Roberts's analysis of immigrant writing and the ways in which it is often interpellated "into a host culture" (ibid., 221) extends Kamboureli's insights about the production of "easy" multiculturalism by literary celebrity culture, though in Roberts's case it is most often a matter of commentators filing down the rough edges of cultural contestation in works of literature, rather than an act of canonizing timidly compliant texts. So, in comparison with Kamboureli, Roberts acknowledges the "critique of the nation-state" that Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion launches, while exploring how the novel's treatment by Canada Reads "defus[es] the novel's politics" (ibid., 83). Kamboureli, on the other hand, locates the problem in the novel itself, in its tendency to aestheticize "failure," and eroticize "politics," in effect reproducing "the nation's symbolic violence" (Kamboureli 2004, 47).
This increasing attention to the culture of literary prizes in Canada invites comparison with US American literary culture. The most widely recognized and debated contemporary literary media events in the two nations are Canada Reads and the no-longer extant Oprah Winfrey Book Club.2 How are celebrity and nation implicated in these "mass reading events" (Fuller and Rehberg Sedo 2006, 5)? The most obvious difference between the two is the way in which the Canadian event announces its national project in its very title, and the conditions of production for "Canada Reads" would have to include, prominently, the role of a national, publicly funded (if decreasingly, under the current government) public broadcaster as its sponsor. Fuller and Rehberg Sedo have shown that this national imperative produces a particular form of imagined nation: "the bilingual conception of the Canadian nation-state with anglophone Canadians clearly the primary audience" (ibid., 21)—a situation that the CBC tried to address with the introduction in 2004 of "Le Combat des Livres" on la Societe Radio-Canada.
However, as Fuller and Rehberg Sedo show, the national project of Canada Reads is not a straightforward affair. They argue that it is complicated by several factors, such as the multiple media platforms used by the contest; the online discussion boards, for example, facilitate discussion among readers who are not necessarily circumscribed by the territorial boundaries of the nation (ibid., 19). If the national (and nationalist) frameworks of Canada Reads are transgressed by its means of delivery, it is also the case that the Oprah Book Club, on the other hand, was more of a nationalist project than might first appear. Looking at the seventy books chosen over the Club's fifteen-year history, from 1996 to 2011, in terms of national origin, a resounding fifty-four were written by American writers. This is not the only indicator of the national narrative informing the Winfrey book club, however. When I carried out my survey of the nationality of Winfrey authors, I was most surprised that there was not a single French book selected over the fifteen- year span of the club, and the only titles chosen by an English author were the very last two chosen by Winfrey in December of 2010: Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The historic tendency of the US American nation to define itself against its former imperial center and its long history of antagonism toward the French nation—most powerfully felt in recent years when France did not support the US petition to the UN on the invasion of Iraq—find cultural resonance here.
As Fuller and Rehberg Sedo demonstrate for Canada Reads, though, the national narrative that lies, more subtly, at the heart of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club is not without its internal contestations and fissures. In this final section of the chapter, I will examine the counterpedagogies that emerged in both clubs, and their implications for a theory of national literary celebrity.
One could easily imagine an argument that the Winfrey book selections, particularly those by writers of color, have been produced to consolidate a national imaginary that is similar to the one that Fuller and Rehberg Sedo identify for Canada Reads: the white, female middle-class viewership that has formed the core of Winfrey's viewers. Have Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Pearl Cleage been interpellated into a "host culture" of "easy" multiculturalism, custom-made for unthreatening consumption by a white audience? No doubt there are many ways in which this work of interpellation did take place, and it is part of the universalization of human experience that Winfrey's Book Club and, indeed Winfrey's brand in general, consistently performed. However, John Young, writing on Toni Morrison's notion of her audience(s), argues that "the alliance between Morrison's canonical status and Winfrey's commercial power has superseded the publishing industry's field of normative whiteness, enabling Morrison to reach a broad, popular audience while being marketed as artistically important" (Young 2001, 181). Young bases his analysis in a history of African American literary production, arguing that "while white modernists [in the United States] often figured themselves as uninterested or opposed to market acceptance, there was no such choice to make on the other side of the racial divide" (Young 2001, 184). The seeking of a popular audience, then, for Morrison, is not automatically to be understood as a capitulation to that normative whiteness of the publishing industry that Young refers to. It is, rather, Young suggests, a denial "of the terms on which the dichotomy [between popular and elitist] is grounded" (ibid., 187), issuing from a long African American tradition of respect for popular audiences. This alternative alignment shakes up familiar assumptions about popularity as a threat to cultural capital in US American national literary culture.
On the other hand, as Young suggests, that familiar opposition between shameful popularity and respectable cultural capital "holds especially . . . for white-male canonical authors" (ibid., 186), and the classic example of this alignment in the Oprah Book Club's history is Jonathan Franzen. Young, publishing his essay in 2001, and having written it any number of months before, could not have known how perfectly his reflections about the anxiety of the popular among white male American authors would be borne out by the clash between Franzen and Winfrey that occurred in the autumn of that year. When Franzen's third novel, The Corrections, was chosen for Winfrey's book club in September 2001, he at first cooperated with the venture. But public comments that he made at readings that autumn that were critical of the Book Club and of Oprah's tendency to choose down-market crowd-pleasers reached Winfrey's ears and she promptly disinvited him from the club.
What is interesting to me, in this context of US American literary celebrity, is the way in which Franzen, in effect, leveraged this very public spat to shore up his cultural capital. In the months following his disinvitation, The Corrections went on to win a National Book Award, and he published his account of being an unsuccessful Oprah Winfrey author, "Meet Me in St. Louis," in The New Yorker, a publication synonymous with elite cultural production. (At the same time, however, Franzen remains, like Atwood, a best-selling literary author, a writer whose books straddle the line between the more restricted cultural field of literary fiction and popular writing.) "I am failing as an Oprah author" (Franzen 2001, 74), Franzen reflects in his essay, which describes his trip back to his hometown St. Louis to film an autobiographical segment for the Oprah show. Indeed, failure is a keynote of this essay; as Franzen walks back and forth for the cameras in front of a tree that his family planted after his father had died, he reflects, "Apparently, I'm failing to emote." As a televised Oprah author, Franzen concludes, "I'm a dumb but necessary object, a passive supplier of image, and I get the feeling that I'm failing even at this" (Franzen 2001, 73, 71). But Franzen "fails" in the way that Pierre Bourdieu argued that elite artists who are anxious to protect their cultural capital "fail" in order to win:
In the most perfectly autonomous sector of the field of cultural production, where the only audience aimed at is other producers (as with Symbolist poetry), the economy of practices is based, as in a generalized game of "loser wins," on a systematic inversion of the fundamental principles of all ordinary economies____The literary and artistic world is so ordered that those
who enter it have an interest in disinterestedness. (Bourdieu 1993, 39-40)
Franzen, though he is no Symbolist poet, nevertheless aspires to appear closer to that pole of autonomous production, and so his failure, in this upside-down world of cultural production, is a win. It is also worth pointing out that, as Winfrey's television show wound down in 2010-11, Franzen did make an appearance, to promote his novel Freedom; the segment was part of Winfrey's project, in that final year, to find "closure" for some of the more acrimonious or unsettled episodes in the show's twenty-five-year run. And when Franzen did speak with the audience after the show, his approach was one that acknowledged, more fully than he had nine years previously, the interlacing of economic and cultural capital in his career. Speaking of his former disinclination to produce sound bites to promote a book, he admitted that "sometimes you need to do that." Now, he also admitted, with Freedom, he has done as well as a writer could hope: "sales and good reviews and the Oprah Show" (Franzen 2010). As I have suggested, Franzen has leveraged one form of capital to gain another.
How, then, does this contrast between Franzen and Morrison in their reaction to the Oprah Book Club and to popular audiences relate to the nation and to nation-inflected theories of literary celebrity? It does so powerfully, and in several ways. First of all, Franzen's resistance to popular venues of literary consumption, which persists as a felt tension today, even as he has accepted the need for promotional activity, is also a reaction to specifically national modes of reading. The grounding of critical reading in personal experience, a staple of the Oprah Book Club, situates Franzen as a US American author whose works need to be grounded in a specifically US American past and childhood. Hence Franzen's resistance to being taken back to St. Louis in 2001 by Winfrey's production team to film an autobiographical segment: "I'm a grumpy Manhattanite who, with what feels like a Midwestern eagerness to cooperate, has agreed to pretend to arrive in the Midwestern city of his childhood and reexamine his roots" (Franzen 2001, 70). Franzen's Manhattan cosmopolitanism here does battle with a narrative of middle US America that he both resists and recognizes.
Contrast this with Toni Morrison's infinitely less tense embrace of overlapping audiences, and of promotional culture, which challenges the very idea that US American literary culture has only one way in which readers are aligned along a vertical scale of increasing or decreasing "seriousness." Such vertical constructions are often easily mapped onto economic, racial, and gendered hierarchies, with wealthy white men controlling the means of production. Morrison, with her experience as an editor for Random House, was all too aware of this stratification of the US publishing industry. But that very awareness may have acted as a spur, together with the history of African American authorship that John Young describes, to respond differently to US American literary culture. "I would like my work to do two things," Morrison declared: "be as demanding and sophisticated as I want it to be, and at the same time be accessible in a sort of emotional way to lots of people, like jazz" (Dreifus 1994, 75). Drawing on a classic example of an American art form that has challenged, from its very birth, traditional understandings of musical reception and racial- ized hierarchies in the artistic world, Morrison wishes for her writing to walk right past the stratified racialized, gendered, and classist ways of imagining a national US American literary culture.
The 2012 season of Canada Reads offered Canadian readers a way of pondering similar stratifications in Canada's nationalized literary culture. For the first time in the contest's history, nonfiction titles were in the competition, and much of the discussion, as in previous years, revolved around the question of how "Canadian" the five titles were. Some of the works were clearly aligned with well-worn myths of Canada as a hockey culture (Ken Dryden's The Game), or nationally specific tales of Canadian artists (Dave Bidini's account of being a rock musician in Canada, On a Cold Road). John Vaillant's tale of Siberian tigers in far eastern Russia, The Tiger, was clearly positioned as the cosmopolitan contender, and two memoirs, Marina Namat's Prisoner of Tehran and Carmen Aguirre's story of growing up as a child of anti-Pinochet revolutionaries in Something Fierce, were political memoirs that openly challenged the ethnic-racial normativity of the hockey and rock'n'roll national myths. The 2012 competition became an explicit ground for contesting national belonging, most shockingly when one of the celebrity judges, Anne-France Goldwater (described as "Quebec's Judge Judy"),3 burst into a discriminatory rant against both Namat's and Aguirre's books on air: "Marina Nemat—and it's known to other prisoners; other prisoners who shared her experience—tells a story that's not true, and you can tell it's not true when you read it." (Goldwater was relying on an open letter from twenty-eight former Iranian prisoners to Namat's publisher when the book was released in 2007, objecting to what they felt was fictionalization of execution scenes in particular. But the difference between this accusation and Goldwater's charge that the whole book is "not true" is an enormous one.) Goldwater went further with Aguirre, calling her a
"bloody terrorist____How we let her into Canada, I don't understand." Called
upon to account for her remarks after the show, Goldwater continued her verbal deportation: "Once a terrorist, always a terrorist, that's for sure____We have
to be careful who we let into this country; we really do" (Lederman 2012). Goldwater's national "we" evicts Aguirre, brusquely shoving her outside the walls of the nation.
So while I continue to believe that there is no essential national form of celebrity, and that no nation is predisposed to be either more or less vulnerable to its attractions, I continue to be fascinated by the way in which nation persists in informing the mechanisms of publishing and literary promotional culture in both the United States and Canada. Nation remains a meaningful category of analysis particularly for a criticism that is mindful of the material conditions of literary production, for the ways in which we produce literature are inflected by our markets, our laws, our literary awards and grants, and our degree of involvement with current neoliberal economic policies. For an analysis of literary celebrity, in particular, the practice of critics like Faye Hammill and Laura Moss is a richly complex one: to remain mindful of the distinguishing conditions of national culture, while not seeking national essences as the horizon or final objective of study. As the controversy surrounding Canada Reads 2012 and the publishing history of Toni Morrison and Jonathan Franzen reveal, national myths and relations of power continue to affect who we celebrate as authors and how we celebrate—or refuse to celebrate—them.