Clark (Lee) Blaise Biography
Clark Blaise comments:
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Fargo, North Dakota, United States, 1940; became Canadian citizen, 1973. Education: Denison University, Granville, Ohio, 1957-61, A.B. 1961; University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1962-64, M.F.A. 1964. Career: Acting instructor, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1964-65; teaching fellow, University of Iowa, 1965-66; lecturer, 1966-67, assistant professor, 1967-69, associate professor, 1969-72, and professor of English, 1973-78, Sir George Williams University, later Concordia University, Montreal; professor of Humanities, York University, Toronto, 1978-80; Professor of English, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1980-81, 1982-83. Visiting lecturer or writer-in-residence, University of Iowa, 1981-82, Saskatchewan School of the Arts, Saskatoon, Summer 1983, David Thompson University Centre, Nelson, British Columbia, Fall 1983, Emory University, Atlanta, 1985, Bennington College, Vermont, 1985, Columbia University, New York, Spring 1986, and New York State Writers Institute, Sarasota Springs, New York, Summer 1994 and 1995; exchange professor, Meiji University, Japan, 1994. Currently, adjunct professor, Columbia University, New York. Awards: University of Western Ontario President's medal, for short story, 1968; Great Lakes Colleges Association prize, 1973; Canada Council grant, 1973, 1977, and travel grant, 1985; St. Lawrence award, 1974; Fels award, for essay, 1975; Asia Week award, for non-fiction, 1977; Books in Canada prize, 1979; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1981; Guggenheim grant, 1983. D. Litt.: Denison University, 1979. Agent: Janklow and Nesbit, 598 Madison Ave., New York, New York 10022.
Lunar Attractions. New York, Doubleday, 1979.
Lusts. New York, Doubleday, 1983.
If I Were Me. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1997.
New Canadian Writing 1968, with Dave Godfrey and David LewisStein. Toronto, Clarke Irwin, 1969.
A North American Education. Toronto and New York, Doubleday, 1973.
Tribal Justice. Toronto and New York, Doubleday, 1974.
Personal Fictions, with others, edited by Michael Ondaatje. Toronto, Oxford Unversity Press, 1977.
Resident Alien. Toronto and New York, Penguin, 1986.
Man and His World. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1992.
Days and Nights in Calcutta, with BharatiMukherjee, 1991.
Days and Nights in Calcutta, with Bharati Mukherjee. New York, Doubleday, 1977; London, Penguin, 1986.
The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy, with Bharati Mukherjee. Toronto, Viking, 1987.
I Had a Father. New York, Addison-Wesley, 1993.
Editor, with John Metcalf, Here and Now. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1977.
Editor, with John Metcalf, 78 [ 79, 80 ]: Best Canadian Stories. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 3 vols., 1978-1980.
Calgary University Library, Alberta.
On the Line, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1982, and Another I: The Fiction of Clark Blaise, ECW Press, 1988, both by Robert Lecker; article by Blaise in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series 3 edited by Adele Sarkissian, Detroit, Gale, 1986.
(1981) My fiction is an exploration of threatened space; the space has been geographically and historically defined as French-Canada and French-America (New England), as well as extremely isolated areas of the deep South. Most of my fiction has been concerned with the effects of strong and contrasting parents, with the memory of Europe and of Canada, and the very oppressive reality, rendered minutely, of America. I am concerned with nightmare, terror, violence, sexual obsession, and the various artistic transformations of those drives. The tone of the work is not gothic or grotesque, however; I am devoted to the close observation of the real world, and to hold the gaze long enough to make the real world seem distorted. My work is also involved with the growth of the mind, the coming on of ideas about itself and the outside world. I would agree with critics who see my work as courting solipsism, and much of my own energy is devoted to finding ways out of the vastness of the first person pronoun.
* * *
Clark Blaise's short stories and novels are marked by their preoccupation with the tensions between a host of metaphorical extremes. Blaise is attracted to raw experience, spontaneous impulse, grotesque realism, uncultured thought: simultaneously, he is a polymath who needs reason, order, intellect, and learning in order to survive. For Blaise, these two worlds can never coincide; yet his fiction is driven by the strategies he employs in his attempt to make them coincide. The most obvious strategy involves doubling and superimposition. Blaise's characters are often two-sided, and their stories detail, through extended use of archetype and symbol, a profound desire to discover an integrated and authentic self. A list of the authors who influenced Blaise—including Pascal, Flaubert, Proust, Faulkner, and Céline—suggests that his work is philosophical, realistic, epic, eschatological, and existential. It is important to note this range, if only because Blaise has been viewed as a purely realistic writer involved with the tragic implications of his age. This perspective seems curious when one considers the extent to which Blaise's stories become self-conscious explorations of their own mode of articulation. Their ultimate reality is internal, psychological, personal, and self-reflective. To trace Blaise's growing preoccupation with this self-reflective mode is to describe the evolution of his fiction.
A North American Education, Blaise's first collection of linked short stories, is marked by the multi-leveled revelation of the fears, obsessions, and aesthetic values informing its three central narrators. In the final group of tales—"The Montreal Stories"—Norma Dyer begins to comment on the cosmopolitan milieu he inhabits from the removed and condescending perspective of an intellectual elitist who appears to be in full, if arrogant, control. But as the three stories comprising this section develop, panic sets in; the distanced third-person perspective of the opening eventually gives way to a revealingly fragmented first-person mode that details Dyer's personal and narrative collapse as he confesses that "I who live in dreams have suffered something real, and reality hurts like nothing in the world." In the "Keeler Stories" we hear the confessions of "a writer, a creator" who "would learn to satisfy himself with that." But here, as in the closing "Thibidault Stories," Blaise makes it clear that his narrators will never be satisfied with their creations, or with themselves. Yet they continue to deceive themselves in the belief that "anything dreamt had to become real, eventually."
The dreams shared by Blaise's narrators are always highly symbolic and archetypal in form, a conclusion supported by even the most cursory reading of Blaise's second short story collection, Tribal Justice. Here, in some of his richest and most evocative fiction, Blaise returns again and again to his narrators' meditations on their art. If there is a paradigmatic Blaise story—one that reveals the various tensions I have described—it is surely "Grids and Doglegs." It begins with its narrator recalling his interest in creativity, maps, education, history, archaeology, and cultural life; but no sooner is this interest articulated than it is ruthlessly undercut by hints of isolation and impending doom. Other stories—I think particularly of "Notes Beyond a History" and "At the Lake"—are framed by the same kind of divided opening, and by the same suggestion that the narrator who inhabits that opening is psychologically split.
Blaise's first two books established him as one of the finest short story writers in Canada at the very time he decided to explore a different genre. While Lunar Attractions proved that Blaise could master the novel form, it also demonstrated that his fundamental attraction to self-reflective writing remained central to his art. After all, Lunar Attractions is a semi-autobiographical account of a writer's development: David Greenwood insists on seeing himself in every aspect of his creation, so much so that his fiction becomes an intricate confession about his failure to get beyond himself. Yet Lunar Attractions is by no means purely solipsistic: it is a book about our times, about growing up in our times, and about the symbols and systems we use to explain our lives. Blaise has written that he wanted "to create the portrait of the authentically Jungian or even Freudian whole mind," which "sees every aspect of the natural and historical world being played out in its own imagination, and it literally creates the world that it sees."
These words suggest that for Blaise the writer can never be merely a recorder or even the interpreter of events. He must give form to experience and must be responsible to that form. The nature of this responsibility is the focus of Blaise's second novel, Lusts. Here the nature of writing is explored through Richard Durgin's struggle to understand the suicide of his wife, a successful poet who challenged Durgin's assumptions about the social and political implications of art.
If Rachel is Richard's "other self" then her death is doubly significant: it suggests that Blaise may have overcome the personal divisions that kept his successive narrators from becoming whole. Does this mean that he has found the integrated self he has sought throughout his work? A forthcoming volume of autobiographical essays may answer this question. But Blaise has written autobiography before—most notably in Days and Nights in Calcutta—only to return to the story of his personal and aesthetic search. The search is essential to his art, for the quality of his writing—its permutations, obsessions, and complex use of voice—is tragically dependent on Blaise's constant inability to find himself or his final story.
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