Thursday, December 16, 2010

MISSING LYNX and Ho Ho Ho...

I get sooo little time to blog, but if I don't write this, my head will explode... and I don't want that to happen right before Christmas.

Those of us who have never depended on the Montreal Gazette to do our thinking for us, have always suspected that the FLQ crisis was not as it appeared -- even though it was forbidden (in polite society) to ask obvious questions.

All that has changed in the past few months, but as usual, English Montreal slumbers on, reading Rover Arts, and waiting for Barney's Version to hit the theatres.

I, too, will be seeing Barney's Version, although I don't expect it to be as revealing as Louis Hamelin's amazing novel -- this season's real literary event, and possibly the most important book by a Quebec writer that I've read in my lifetime.

I know most Montreal anglos will never open, let alone read, this 600-page "brick" (as translator Sheila Fischman calls it) -- couched in dense witty joual, and packed with characters rescued from the freezer chest of news and police reports of 40 years ago.

I can't think of an English publisher that would pay to have it translated, either, or who would attempt to dump it into Canada's shrinking book-buying market, which still prefers reassuring Canadiana -- like How The Scots Invented Canada -- they certainly did -- and coffee table books that foster the Grand Delusion that we really are a great country intrepidly crawling on our hands and knees towards independence from the Queen,

That's a pity, because it shows us up as the nation of card-carrying schizophrenics we really are.

Therefore Louis Hamelin's stunning masterpiece of investigation and reflection will probably only be read in Quebec, where its message will only be partially heard. That's not surprising because -- as some may recall -- soon after the October crisis, Pierre Vallières proposed the shocking theory that the events that brought on the War Measures Act and changed our history forever, were really an elaborate police operation designed to devastate and demonize the legitimate nationalist movement in Quebec --

Vallières' theory was naturally ridiculed and demonized in its turn, most loudly in the Montreal Gazette by writers like MNA William Tetley (remember him?) in editorials that claimed the facts of the case absolutely proved otherwise.

Well, it turns out, Tetley was a windbag, all along -- something I somehow sensed at the time even though I didn't read the Gazette. The facts of the case tell a different story, after all, something much closer to Vallières' Version.

Which we will not be seeing in the theatres this Christmas.

So here it is: The expanding case for the RCMP and military being behind the murder of the cabinet minister. Some of these little nuggets (coated in suspicion and ready for deep frying) will give some people indigestion. Many were gathered from reading Louis Hamelin's brilliant novel, LA CONSTELLATION DU LYNX. Others come from my own perusal of timelines and reports, dating back to those days in October, when I was a young woman, fresh from the suburbs, exploring the fleshpots of rue Panet in Montreal's east end where I roomed with a friend whose left-wing Jewish boyfriend only dreamed of getting arrested and locked up in Parthenais Prison. He had spent the previous summer hitching around Quebec, and had ended up at the Maison des Pêcheurs in Gaspésie where the Rose brothers began their exciting adventure. Everyone turned up there that summer -- even nice Jewish boys, along with undercover agents of the SQ, the RCMP and those whose livelihood depended on being able to blend in with the hippies.

Here are the highlights of the case that ought to fire anyone's imagination -- if anyone still has an imagination, that is:

Let's take them one by one, in no particular order (at least for now: this is a blog, after all, and a work in progress):

Try this one:

Canadian troops were already in place in Quebec and on full alert a week before James Cross was kidnapped on October 5, 1970. I want you to think about that for a minute or two before you read the rest of this. An 'invasion' of Quebec was apparently planned -- by at least certain elements in English Canada, or its armed forces -- days before the triggering event, the kidnap of the British Trade Commissioner, had even occurred.

Have you got that? Are you wondering why you didn't know that? So am I --

Do read on. And Happy Holidays to you all!


A news leak during the crisis revealed that the RCMP was aware of the whereabouts of the FLQ kidnappers and was keeping track of them

Mysterious tenants living next door to the hideout where Pierre Laporte was held on Armstrong Street, at St Hubert military base, were likely police informers or others carrying out surveillance of the kidnappers.

The RCMP fumbled the ball, big time, when it failed to pass on the communique from the Liberation cell calling on the Chénier cell to refrain from killing Laporte. These and other strange discrepancies in the official story have festered in the back of our minds since October 1970, and the inquiries that followed, including the one into Organized Crime, and RCMP's use of "dirty tricks" that often blurred the boundaries between it and the criminal underworld.

Many of us have been mystified by the strange suddenness with which the authorities gave into some FLQ cell members request to go into exile -- definitely a win-win solution for b oth sides, since it added to Canadians' rage at Quebec while preventing journalists from accessing them for their version of the events, the true nature of their involvement, past histories -- all of which would have shed light on the secret behaviour of our intelligence agencies...

Some of us also recall the inquiry into RCMP dirty tricks which revealed the extent of police use of a network of informers and agents provocateurs in controlling (and even creating) FLQ cells before and after October 1970

But to me the most telling, bizarre detail of this whole dark mystery was the decision by the Cheney cell to hide out with their captive, Pierre Laporte, in a house they had recently rented right next door to Saint Hubert Air Force base, a few kms south of Montreal. Of course, if I were a kidnapper being sought by the police and armed forces, the first place I'd choose to lay low would be an area patrolled by radar and crawling with soldiers. Not just any military base but one of two NORAD centres for North America, one which had been the site of MKULTRA mind control experiments on children going back to the early 1950s...

Is an imagine beginning to form at the bottom of the sink of chemicals in the dark room of your mind, O Sixties Child?

How about the fact that all three members of the Cheney cell -- Paul and Jacques Rose, and their crony Francis Simard, had grown up in the general neighbourhood of the base, which could perhaps explain why the area they called home seemed like a "safe" place to hide.

Another odd detail that struck me when I read this, is that kidnapper Francis Simard happened to be exactly the right age for the MKULTRA mind control experiments done on children -- at Saint Hubert base.

Francis Simard was 6 years old in 1953, the same age as a friend of mine whose AF father enrolled her in first grade in that special class at Saint Hubert AF base, a few months after MKULTRA came into existence. It was Cameron's friend Allen Dulles who signed it into operation -- Allen Dulles who sometimes summered on Lake Massawippi, in the eastern townships. Allen Dulles, the CIA director who helped mastermind Operation Paperclip, which brought former Nazi scientists to North America and set them to work for the military in projects like the one at Saint Hubert base.

I also find it fascinating that the very first FLQ bombs exploding in Westmount coincided with the collapse of the MKULTRA project at McGill in 1963. Just when a smokescreen was needed to cover up a huge program of criminal research which harmed literally thousands of unwitting Montrealers, and others, BANG! BANG! Bombs start going off in mailboxes and the evil terrorist organization known as the Front de Libération du Québec suddenly grabs all the headlines.

When have we seen this before?

It's also fascinating that the supposed creator of the FLQ, was not even Quebecois - but a Belgian "resistance fighter" and probable police spy...

I find it fascinating that the fledgling FLQ, a ragtag band of confused druggies and longhaired student revolutionaries, some barely out of high school, were able to carry out a series of extremely successful raids on military armouries and other heavily guarded targets -- almost makes you think they had some inside help.

And that years later, such a fuss was made and continues to be made over De Gaulle's famous "Vive le Quebec libre" remark -- although he followed it up with a less audible "Vive le Canada" -- which didn't stop the Anglo establishment from manufacturing a diplomatic incident to justify a crackdown on "separatists" -- but really, who are the real separatists? The people of Quebec who cheered the speech, or the masters of Divide and Rule?

Finally, I am astonished that most of my peers who did not leave Quebec in the stampede to escape a new Nazi Germany controlled by Péquiste madmen (and women), still seem to accept the official story although when you look at it under a microscope it's crawling with bugs.

Given what I know about the MKULTRA program, I see a high likelihood the FLQ was an intelligence creation, a false flag operation modelled on so many others that came out of the fertile minds of military strategists, and that CIA-funded psychiatrists like Dr. Ewen Cameron played a role in getting it up and running.

In a declassified 1956 MKULTRA memo, Dr. Cameron mentions his rewarding work with 'POWS' for the Air Force -- the closest AF base to Cameron was St Hubert, and then there's Plattsburgh, up the road from his residence in Albany.

What are the odds that Cameron was involved in the secret US military electronic warfare experiments on French Canadian children enrolled in classes on the base?

I'd say, quite high.

Especially considering these secret experiments, according to my sources, aimed at scrambling the children's brainwaves and eventually controlling their behaviour.

It amazes me that no one knows this, but it amazes me less that writing a book about it can get one in trouble with the people who run our publishing scene here in Canada, the world's largest human laboratory (after Siberia).

But once you peruse the documents and read the wealth of material available on MKULTRA, the events of our recent history begin to make a whole new, horrible kind of sense.

I really wish it were possible to bring this material into the light of public debate -- while I also realize it would provoke a collective nervous breakdown for many of my colleagues, not unlike the collective shock we all received when Pierre Laporte died.

I don't know a remedy for the shock of realizing your career, relationships, politicial beliefs, and network of social connections is built on a massive fabrication, designed by the military and intelligence services to divide and control us all.

If I were one of the people who have, for decades, found employment and "meaning" by acting as agents of the same Canadian government (and its secretive organizations) that implemented the false flag terrorist event known as the October Crisis -- I would not be reading this blog. I would be trying to rid my mind of the parasitic fear that has fuelled so many of my personal initiatives over the years, as I carried out my functions.

Hey, it happens to the best of us -- right? We can all be unwitting police informers, agents provocateurs -- the financial pressures and ambitions that motivate all of us, not to mention the techniques, have been in use for decades, if not milennia. We can all be mind controlled and inducted into activities that, when you lift up the cover or unfurl the curtain, turn out to be not in the best interests of the majority --

That's putting it mildly.

When you have an entire minority indoctrinated in the belief that the Canadian government and military saved us from French Canadian Nazis, when in reality the provable Nazis take their orders from Ottawa, Washington and London -- you have a recipe for social stagnation and collective incoherence.

And that's what we have, here in Montreal, after four decades of living in the aftermath in one of the great deceptions of modern history.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Military Secrets

In the same month that I read Louis Hamelin's stunning new novel, LA CONSTELLATION DU LYNX, whose plot dissects the layers of disinformation like bandages wrapping the mummified corpse of Labor Minister Pierre Laporte -- I also learned something else that didn't exactly shock me (I'm much too old for that) although it confirmed what I already sensed:

The RCMP is in charge of vetting judges for the annual Governor General's literary awards.

That's right. Before you can be chosen to decide which Canadians books and authors are deserving of the coveted $20,000 prize,you have to be "liked" by the men and women in funny red uniforms who always get their man ... and who have been implicated in numerous scandals since their early days

Nor was I surprised, because a while back I learned (accidentally, while browsing the Foreword to a novel by Ray Smith) that some of Canada's most powerful literary editors come from military backgrounds, ie the US army, Black Watch Regiment, and RAF.

I find this funny -- not "funny" as in "ROFLMAO" but funny as in "Whoah" -- is there a country in the free world which puts the police and military in charge of culture? Isn't this a policy we would expect from a dictatorship rather than a democracy? Are artists and writers made from the same material as soldiers? And if so, why wasn't I told that back in university when I signed up for my first creative writing seminar in fiction with Malcolm Foster?

Ray Smith's list was only partial, because it was a list of his personal friends who happened to all be ex-military men, as he is himself. I am sure there are plenty of other movers and shakers in the small, small world of Canadian publishing that have clearance from the police and military to mould our thinking. They may not be military types,exactly, but people like Anne Collins of Harper Collins (who played a fairy tale princess in a movie before she worked for Saturday Night and went on to head one of Canada's largest branch plant publishing firms) are clearly also involved in the selection process that ensures the book-buying public reads and knows mainly what our leaders want us to read and know.

I was reminded of the time, back in 1989, when I was asked to give a workshop in Kingston, Ontario, the home of the Governor General's awards and also of an important military base.

In 1989, a Kingston publisher, Quarry Press, had just brought out my first novel, and I was invited to speak at a "fiction conference" they had organized late in November. The conference itself turned out to be a fiction. Four people paid the hefty $900 fee to attend -- they were the "audience." The rest of us -- writers and editors -- were paid to be there. There were so few people in the room, I can name almost all of them: John Metcalf, Leon Rooke, Kent Thompson, Bob Hilderley, Geof Hancock, Charles Foran, David Helwig and his daughter Maggie, Douglas Glover, Diane Schoemperlein, Marilyn Mohr, Wayne Grady, and a few others including Robert Richard who was then head of Writing and Publishing at the Canada Council.

I was asked to talk about the Canadian Urban Novel, and because I am no academic, and had little time to prepare, I decided to improvise on Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen. My talk was rambling and wide-ranging. I was not sure it made much sense. I focused on certain "visionary" passages, like the speech by the Old Indian Chief who advises Canadians to "dream their future." No critic that I know of has ever been able to make much sense of Beautiful Losers, so I was in good company. I talked about the effect the book had had on me, in my early twenties in Montreal, because it described a hallucinatory city populated by mental patients, deranged psychiatrists, abused orphans and aboriginal ghosts, lurking under the potholed pavement and decaying financial facades. It was contemporary, aimed at my generation, and long passages from it stuck in my mind as a call to awaken, rise up, take up arms against a secretive enemy. As I explained all this, I watched the faces of my audience, especially of the editors, and noticed they did not look pleased.

Later, some of them actually moved to Montreal -- it was hard not to notice this sudden influx, as they also took up the few positions available in Anglo journalism -- and over the next 5 to 10 years, it was clear they were very busy, networking at the Gazette, gradually turning Montreal's marginal literary scene into a depressing extension of the one in Toronto. Some people like being colonized, and they definitely had their supporters in high places. Soon, Montreal's Anglo elite were throwing their weight behind a literary scene they had ignored back in the days when it was just local, and more authentic.

All that happened 20 years ago - ancient history.

While the official Can Lit scene has moved into town and flourished in the sunlight, those of us who found ourselves more marginalized than ever, went deeper underground and took up research. And what we have learned from all this digging turns out to be very interesting.

One thing we know, that everyone needs to know, is the central role played by military intelligence in the creation of the cultural phenomenon known as Can Lit:
a topic that wold take some time to elaborate.

One thing we know about the military: they don't waste their time on trivia. If they're involved in our national publishing scene, to the point of even vetting competitions, there is a need for them to be there.

There has to be something to hide. And it has to be something big.

Hmm. Let me guess.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who dunnit? October 1970

During the recent commemoration of fortieth anniversary of the October Crisis (1970-2010) and the death of Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, I got to wondering what really happened, way back then...

So when I learned there was a new novel, by Quebec writer Louis Hamelin, that explored the same questions I have been asking, I ran out and bought it. I haven't finished it yet, but it has already triggered a whirlwind of questions. Some of them I have been asking for a long time, and some are altogether new -- and pretty alarming, I think, to anyone who really cares about this country, the one called Canada, the one we live in and think of as 'home.'

I can see scandals looming like thunderclouds,nebulously at the moment.

The question that haunts me the most is: What if what we think happened in October 1970, when the Front de Liberation du Quebec kidnapped two men, one of whom ended up dead - is actually a lie?

How many people would be forced to look back at their most deeply held beliefs, loyalties, and actions of the past 40 years, in the light of new information that suggests we have all been duped?

How's that for an indigestible irony worthy of a Russian novel?

La Constellation du lynxLa Constellation du lynx by Louis Hamelin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without a doubt, this novel has saved my life. I was 19 during the October Crisis, a passive spectator in a national drama that never quite made sense, not at the time, and not in retrospect. Louis Hamelin has changed the past by going back and, like a good journalist, resurrecting the ghosts, especially of Pierre Laporte (alias Paul Lavoie) who haunts these pages. What will keep most of the anglophones away is the thick Quebecois dialect, the multi-layered plot, the sheer length. It took me three weeks, but I made it. I never lost interest, could barely bring myself to put it down, and when I reached the end, I felt like a satisfied tourist returning from an extended crawl through the Great Pyramid.

I plan to write more about this elsewhere. (Just watch me.) It is the book of the year. It is a massive achievements not just of research and reflection, but redemption. How long will it take for the truth to penetrate the public consciousness, which has been poisoned by decades of disinformation? Is it too late for Canada to face its own colonial darkness? Can this epic even be translated into English, without bringing down another War Measures act? I have my doubts about that, too...

In the meantime, this novel should be given as a Christmas present to every Quebecer. It's as if the dead child at the end of Claude Jutra's film Mon Oncle Antoine had suddenly resurrected from his coffin and walked back into our lives. Now we can all grow up.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dying to read...

Making a list, checking it thrice

Books that caught my eye recently and if I don't write down the titles...

Francis Simard, Pour finir avec Octobre (translated into English by David Homel)
Peter Dubé, Subtle Bodies
Michel Thien, Ils riaient avec leur bouche
Ken McGoogan, How the Scots Invented Canada
Louis Hamelin, La Constellation du Lynx
Kathleen Winter, Annabel
Joanna Skibsrud, The Sentimentalists
Rawi Hage, Cockroach

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Holocaust as Cliché

Sarah's KeySarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Parts of this are riveting -- the story of Sarah's childhood and her family's deportation from Paris to Drancy, and Auschwitz. Unfortunately, much of it is badly written Holocaust kitsch.

I was ambivalent from the beginning about the way the story alternated, almost mechanically at times, between France 1942 (told by an omniscient third-person narrator) and Paris in 2002 (in the first-person voice of an American woman who lives in France). At times I forgot this device and admired de Rosnay's ability to imagine the world of Sarah and her family, but for me, the story ended, or fell apart when the little girl arrived home at her family's abandoned apartment, found the new family living there, and discovered her brother's body in the cupboard.

This was the shock we had been dreading from the first scenes, with a sense of its inevitability, but also hope that some miracle might avert, not just tragedy, but the blank predictability of the boy's death. Surely, the writer could have found a way to keep him, and the story, alive: such as the concierge creeping into the apartment and hearing the boy's cries from his hiding place. Sarah's story might have continued, in that distant time and place, and perhaps even grown magical, managing to convey some deeper message about childhood/war/loss/survival.

It's almost insulting not just to our intelligence as readers, because we saw it coming all along, but to the craft of storytelling that this moment is presented as a climax when it's actually more of a sudden letdown -- a major bummer, and a lousy plot decision from any writing point of view. Not only does Sarah's journey fizzle when she finds the body, so does the story and most of our interest in it.

Now it's Julia's turn to become the heroine, as her narration takes over in all its breathless triviality and false naivete. Julia seems to have emerged from a box labeled Typical American Woman. Tall, blonde, with a model's looks, she works for a Paris-based magazine but has never heard of Vel' D'Hiv or Drancy, or thought too deeply about the holocaust until Sarah's story suddenly takes hold of her life. For that matter, she hasn't even given much thought to why she married her arrogant French husband, except that he's good in bed.)

Cliches about 'the French' spill from the narrator's innocent lips and pen: their coldness and hypocrisy, their grating refusal to acknowledge their role in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Coming from an American -- whose country came into the war late and ever since has supported dictators, invaded countries and murdered millions in the name of "freedom" -- all this has a familiar, hollow ring -- and it obviously sells books. Sarah's Key made the New York Times Bestseller list, and has been widely praised.

A few years ago, a poll showed that French students led the world in awareness of the holocaust. France also saved more Jews, per capita, from the Nazis than any other European country. But Tatiana de Rosnay seems not to care about complexities, and does not bother to delve behind the stylized, diffident facade her Parisian characters present.

Perhaps Sarah's Key could have been a great book, but it almost seems some American editor got hold of an early draft and saved it for Hollywood by not offending Americans' taste for casting themselves in the role of rescuers of the Jews and all humanity.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oh, the Irony

Are we irony deficient?
by Ann Diamond

What is dramatic irony and why is the world so flat without it? Why is it opposed to authorial omniscience? Because an omniscient narrator does not make mistakes, but a narrator possessed by irony is a walking disaster, a ticking time-bomb of irreconcilable opposites, propelled forward by delusory beliefs and blatant self-deception.

Few writers would dare to appear naked in public the way Madame Bovary does. When an author is in control, the reader is a spectator, reduced to complicit admiration, mere aesthetic appreciation. but when dramatic irony is present, our emotions are engaged -- horror, pity, outrage, cynicism, shock, disbelief.

Dramatic irony is the difference between a picturesque stroll and a roller-coaster to hell. Where third-person omniscience creates distance and complacency, irony stimulates emotion, revulsion and a desire to overthrow the human condition.

Why do many writers of autobiography abhor irony? Irony interferes with our urge to self-perfection. It disrupts our presumed values and exposes dark motives under the surface of pious pretence.

Dramatic irony is what leaps on stage through the ripped curtain of our badly-acted, hastily scripted lives. And when it’s allowed to work its magic, it steals the show.

Strangely, though, only beginning writers really seem comfortable the power of nudity, or the hilarious fallout that can result from an excess of honesty, poured directly onto the page.

One thing we all hate to be is unconsciously funny, or pathetically unaware of the sad truth of our lives. So authors strive to be authorial, and first novels are rewritten to eliminate dramatic irony, because it threatens to escape our control.

Some examples of ironic plot-lines we have refused to explore:

(1) the quest for "love" that devolves into jealousy, hatred, utter defeat

(2) any quest for personal greatness

(3) the truth of our own victim-hood

When we push ourselves to our limits and beyond, we become ridiculous. The last thing we really want is the shock of true recognition, the kind that unleashes complex emotions in our audience. So as authors struggle for omniscience, they rewrite some of their best scenes, strip away emotional values and replace them with socially acceptable ones.

Without irony, stories slip into staid formulae.
Truth is a powerful form of therapy that many people simply refuse to have anything to do with. And truth, these days, is often plastered with irony.

In the 20th century, anxiety took over our lives and popular fiction. In the 21st, we entered the realm of the universal lie. The mind-numbing violence on TV and in Hollywood films is really a turning away from irony – and from our inborn ability to see past surfaces. Violence is the most imprisoning plot there is. It's the triumph of fear and self-loathing, and our religions are soaked in violence.
In a world of flying shrapnel, , there’s no place for triumphant language that states only one side of the case. Words like “love” for example, have longer horns than a Papal Bull.

Blame New Agers and their positive affirmations for the omnipresence of kitsch, irony’s retarded twin. Blame the 'Christians’ who twist reality to give Armageddon a nice little Hollywood dénouement.

Irony happens in the realm of sudden, massive reversal -- of climaxes that overturn everything we thought we cherished and believed.
Starved for irony? Try this simple mantra: “I am an irony magnet.”
In no time, you’ll be covered in a sturdy chainmail coat. Which – believe me -- we’ll all be needing in the days to come.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Too Small to Fail

In the months just after September 11, 2001, Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos travelled to India where she began collecting stories on the microcredit phenomenon. On several visits, she spent months trekking from village to village, sleeping on reed mats, and learning about the Dalit (formerly known as 'untouchable') women who are the driving force behind the microcredit movement which is spearheading social and economic change throughout the country.

In Saris on Scooters, we find a vivid and fascinating account of the struggles and achievements of remarkable women who, though often illiterate, have overcome great obstacles in building businesses and cooperatives using small loans. The book is also entertaining, thanks to Arnopoulos' quest to understand a vast and baffling country she obviously loves. As she moves around doing interviews and gathering data, a whole, crowded world opens up which would be inaccessible to most travellers in India: the world of village women whose daily lives revolve around subsistence gardening, livestock, cottage industry, and of course family. The more she explores this world, the more fascinating and inspiring her story becomes.

Westerners are used to reports of collapsing banks, failing investment funds, and endemic corporate fraud -- but these stories are driven by the heroism of the poorest of the poor, living in a country which is only marginally affected by the high-tech revolution happening in its cities. The world of the village women is still agrarian and communal, and the women behind the self-help movement seem like human incarnations of Mother Earth. As they emerge from the shadows of a pre-industrial society, they offer inspiring solutions to some post-industrial nightmares: pollution, GMOs, social and environmental degradation.

Arnopoulos points out the inherent wisdom of these women who live at the bottom of the human totem pole. Their solidarity, spiritual strength, and apparently selfless commitment to creating a better future for their children, stand in stark contrast to the spectacle of western societies now literally drowning in oil, where war for resources is becoming a way of life.

Each chapter of Saris on Scooters stands as a lesson in how, as one Dalit 'seedkeeper' tells Arnopoulos, the most essential kinds of knowledge come directly from Mother Nature, not from books and universities. It comes down to a revolution based on rediscovering an ancient source of renewable resources and human energy which are there for all, to be shared with the whole world.

Friday, May 7, 2010


For the third time in my life as an ageing child of the sixties, I am reading Beautiful Losers.

The pyrotechnics of this much-acclaimed, maniacally experimental novel obscure the shocking truths it is woven around.

A hidden holocaust
MKULTRA mind control
Nazi experiments on human beings, in particular children

Cohen peppers the novel with references to this tragic story, but uses these horrors as comic triggers. The reader zigzags between heaven and hell, as the amphetamine-gulping narrator gropes for a missing moral centre in a world that has exploded.

When we read it in the sixties, we were shocked, thrilled and titillated. But, as Bob Dylan says, "Things have changed."

Read in the light of what we know now about the classified goings-on at McGill during the years preceding the writing of this bizarre roman-a-clef, it tends to seem tragic.

Maybe there was even comedy at Auschwitz. I wouldn't be surprised there were clowns in the barracks, loved for their ability to get a laugh out of the dying and soon-to-be-dead.

Human soap turns up several times in Beautiful Losers, as well. It's one of those standards of holocaust humour, I guess.

Human soap is really the lighter side of Mengele's experiments. Almost a euphemism for crimes so unspeakable they are never discussed. Thus the truth slips into the yawning abyss of amnesia, and a whole new generation of mind-controlled patriots are preparing to follow their leaders into Armageddon.

Still -- in the light of the documents sitting in Washington, and all that has appeared on the internet and elsewhere over the last few years, as child victims recover their memories and voices and begin to publish their accounts of CIA torture, funded by our governments -- Beautiful Losers seems strangely relevant today.

Part of it is set in a Montreal mental hospital, after all, during the days when MKULTRA was running amok in that city.

Other parts are set in the past, when Jesuit missionaries ran equally amok among the Hurons and Montagnais in Quebec. The absent heroine of Beautiful Losers is Katherine Tekakwitha, a Mohawk saint, who survived the smallpox that killed off most of her tribe, and ended up dying as a result of her conversion to Catholicism.

There are references to the orphanage where the narrator, and his mentor F., were raised, and introduced to various forms of rampant abuse.

Leonard was barely thirty when he penned this epic, fuelled by amphetamines and perhaps just a trace of rage, which he disguises behind comedy.

Reading it now, it's fairly obvious that Leonard knew quite a lot about Ewen Cameron and MKULTRA and the secret experiments on children, including First Nations children, at McGill. He also knew what happened to people who talked too openly about what they knew.

But how much did he know? Perhaps Beautiful Losers was written from bits and pieces of information Cohen heard, and cobbled together into a novel. Perhaps he did not directly witness these horrors, which he recounts in a hallucinatory stream of consciousness manner -- after all, it was 1966, he had done LSD, and read The Lamp of Albion Moonlight,by Kenneth Patchen, a novel some say inspired this one

But hallucinations alone -- even very well-informed hallucinations -- don't account for the parallels between the events described in Beautiful Losers, and the real, secret goings-on in behavioural labs at the Allan Memorial Institute, hub of secret CIA experiments on various hapless mental patients, and children.

The Nazi connection, which Cohen flirts with but does not develop, is plain to anyone, and now backed up by thousands of pages of declassified CIA documents. Not that those documents mention children, of course. If they did, my generation would have grown up a lot more quickly. We would have stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago.

There are no documents that survived past 1973, when CIA director Stansfield Turner ordered his staff to shred every piece of evidence relating to one of the ugliest research programs ever to grace the halls of learning.

But Leonard Cohen mentions them in BEAUTIFUL LOSERS. Oh, not too directly, of course, but he alludes to orphans and pedophile scientists and priests, and paints a picture of a world that, back in those days, seemed like the fantasy product of a mind wasted by drugs.

Cohen, the whistleblower, twanging his Jews' harp in the ruins of what used to be called The Free World.

Cohen the sly operative, shrewdly estimating the limits of what he could say in print. He knew if he told the simple truth, it would not be believed.

And he was right. Not ONE critic ever got the message. No one connected the obvious dots, or followed the trail of breadcrumbs that Leonard dropped for us in the woods. If they had, the trail would have led to the witch's door, and straight to the oven.

It's 40 years since Beautiful Losers was first published in 1996. And it's time for us to reread it, with a copy of John Marks' The Making of the Manchurian Candidate by our bedside, and our browsers poised to search for real, true stories of the orphans, children, First Nations children, pedophile priests, cynical politicians, and Nazi doctors... all of whom populate the pages of Beautiful Losers.

In mythic form, of course.
Is it surprising that I've tunnelled through libraries for news about victims?
Fictional victims! all the victims we ourselves do not murder of imprison..." p. 7
Still a brilliant literary diversion, this tour de force of style and showmanship is built on the bodies of the "fictional" victims whose graves Leonard graces with a book-length epitaph.

"I've poisoned the air, I've lost my erection.
Is it because I've stumbled on the truth about Canada?
City Fathers, kill me, for I have talked too much." p. 37

Recently in an interview, Cohen called Beautiful Losers a long "prayer." Strange, how religion tends to blur distinctions and wipe out memory: much like those drugs MKULTRA was giving out to all and sundry. I hope you'll go out and find an old copy, or buy the new edition, and decide for yourself.

Ann Diamond is a Montreal-based writer whose most recent book is MY COLD WAR, about growing up in the shadow of secret government experiments conducted on children.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010


I’m curious these days about subversive military themes that weave themselves through Canadian writing, especially novels. Throughout its history, Montreal has been the scene of overt and covert military operations: think Patriote Rebellion 1837. Think October Crisis 1970. Think Oka 1990. And it goes on...
So it happens that the first Montreal-based novel I picked up to read this week was Gwethalyn Graham’s EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN, which first appeared in 1942 to stunning acclaim. It won a Governor General's Award, topped the New York Times best seller list for 37 weeks, and was optioned by Samuel Goldwyn Mayer for the unheard of figure of $100,000 (but never made it to the silver screen).
Gwethalyn Graham moved to Montreal from Toronto, via Smith College. Set in Westmount, EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN a sober portrait of Montreal's Anglo elite viewed by an outsider. At times there's a claustrophobic sense of being trapped inside the four walls, and conversational routines of the Drake family home. Mr. Drake has lost his fortune in the crash of 1929, and given up all hope of ever gaining it back. His only son is off fighting in Europe, while eldest daughter Erica has a job as women’s editor of the Montreal Post. The distant war forms a dramatic backdrop to a personal story of two lovers held apart by family prejudice. It's Romeo and Juliet on Mount Royal, but the struggle is not between feuding French and English. In an era of widespread anti-semitism -- the polite variety found in Canada, contrasted with the kind that is ravaging Europe -- Erica falls in love with a young Jewish lawyer named Marc Reiser, and comes face to face with her family's deep-rooted prejudices.
What makes novels interesting is often what goes in the background of them. Not just subplots, but insights and asides not pursued or developed in a conscious way -- odd facts dropped into the narrative which illuminate a time and place.
Like Anne Marie MacDonald’s AS THE CROW FLIES, the plot of EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN is dotted with references to a world secrets, and threads a path through the repressed wilderness that is Canada. For example, there are glimpses of the nepotistic world of Montreal newspaper publishing is almost an extension of Westmount, and Erica holds her job partly due to her father’s connections.
Montreal is a divided city without hope, according to Mark, who came to Quebec from a northern Ontario lumber town where his family own a business. He finds himself unwelcome in the cozy upper class enclave where Erica and her family live their insulated lives.
While Erica battles her convention-bound parents for the right to date Marc , the real dramas going on in the outside world sometimes surface in conversation, only to be dropped because they`re insoluble.
A French-Canadian friend has heard rumours the Nazis are creating “human robots” in the conquered lands of eastern Europe. Marc, who has lost relatives in the holocaust, resents the dominance of the Catholic Church in Quebec, “responsible to no one and nothing but itself.”
Canadian politeness, bordering on censorship, drives the plot, forcing characters to address each other awkwardly as they endlessly debate the issues that seem almost quaint. The couple’s romantic decision at the end leaves much unresolved – but that’s not a bad thing. Their relationship may really be doomed, or they may overcome the social odds. Graham chooses to end the story in Montreal’s Windsor Station, at the moment when Marc catches sight of Erica, and starts to run toward her. The outcome of the war in Europe, and the progress of the undeclared silent war going on between elites in Canada, are left up in the air. The book ends on a day in the fall of 1942, with Hitler`s armies on the ascent in Russia.
War has also invaded the lives of Westmount's WASP community, even while Canada remains remote and aloof from the upheaval going on in Europe. Marc enlists in the Air Force while Erica’s brother Anthony is already overseas. Out of desperation at her family’s rejection, and in revolt against Canadian hypocrisy, Erica (28) decides, in the end, to join the women’s army corps and follow Marc to Europe -- The novel ends before they get there there – instead they become engaged, almost a plot necessity in a women’s novel written in 1942.
Nevertheless it holds our attention – both as a period piece and also a reminder of how much, and how little, Montreal has changed.

And then I thought...

New book club: Reading Montreal

Reading Montreal: a new book club for people who read, write, and are interested in getting to know more about Montreal's long literary tradition through group reading, discussion, presentations. There are a number of possible ways such a group could operate, eg monthly meetings at which members review their favourite books by Montreal writers. Or we might focus on "the Montreal novel" (is there such a thing? what are some examples?), review a particular decade, or delve into issues that have inspired writers working in this city: such as the recurring theme of "two solitudes." How have different ethnic communities experienced and written about this city ... and the province and country it is part of? These are just a few suggestions. Next question: who is interested in becoming part of such a group? And what would you like to get out of it?

Email Ann Diamond with your ideas and preferences, and let's see if over the summer we can develop a reading list and start a whole new process of discovering this city, and ourselves, through Montreal writing.