Eternal Conversations: Remember Louis Dudek


288 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-919688-75-6
DDC C811'.54





Edited by Aileen Collins, Michael Gnarowski, and Sonja A. Skarstedt
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Louis Dudek—poet, critic, and teacher—died in 2001 at age 83. This
“Tribute Anthology,” as it is called, celebrates a distinguished,
varied, and active life by printing contributions, in both prose and
verse, from 31 writers, relatives, and friends. Eulogy is naturally
predominant, and the poems are for the most part dreadful, but the book
contains two major contributions to Dudek scholarship: Michael
Gnarowski’s masterful “Introduction as History,” which draws on
their 40-year friendship and collaboration to produce an admirable
memoir that throws valuable light on Dudek’s writing and publishing;
and Tony Tremblay’s “Unrepentant Idealist: Louis Dudek’s Quarrels
with Marshall McLuhan,” which offers an admirably lucid and fair
account of the opposed intellectual attitudes of the two men. These
alone make the book essential reading.

At the same time, there are aspects of the book that cannot but sadden
those who looked to Dudek as a guardian of literary seriousness and
decent standards. Tremblay quotes him as calling for “a radical
criticism of literate culture.” Yet this follows Stewart Donovan’s
“Down Home with Louis Dudek: An Interview.” The interview has
obviously been transcribed by someone totally ignorant of the
subject—the names of Bliss Carman, A.E. Housman, Edmund Spenser, and
Sir Thomas More are all misspelt. Later in the book, Mohammed S. Togane,
identified as “a Somali-born poet who has lived in Montreal for over
thirty years,” quotes a passage from Yeats that he attributes to John
Donne three centuries earlier. And the editors never noticed! These are
all too obviously specimens of the “illiterate” culture that Dudek
spent a lifetime combatting.

Nitpicking? I think not. Dudek revered the literary past, detested
sloppiness, and endeavoured to hand down a high standard of intelligence
and scholarship to his followers. He would have been appalled by these
errors, which he would have seen as revealing clear evidence of cultural
decline. These contributors communicate enthusiasm and even love, but
Dudek’s most important message seems to have passed unheeded.


“Eternal Conversations: Remember Louis Dudek,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,