Paying Attention: Critical Essays on Timothy Findley


221 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55022-367-4
DDC C813'.54





Edited by Anne Geddes Bailey and Karen Grandy
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.


Timothy Findley is receiving a lot of literary-critical attention these
days, and the reason is not far to seek. His writings are celebrated for
their way of “paying attention” to all the fashionable,
“scandalous” topics that intrigue our age: fascism, imperialism,
racism, gender problems, cruelty, homosexuality, transvestism. These
subjects recur continually in this collection of essays in which seven
women and two men (the reverse proportion, one suspects, might have
attracted adverse comment) discuss between them all Findley’s novels
and plays up to the time of publication. For some reason, his short
stories receive only passing treatment.

The essays are all scholarly, according to their lights—which means
that Foucault, Derrida, Benjamin, et al. are dutifully invoked. But it
also means that specifically literary questions are, for the most part,
sidestepped. Findley is judged not for his artistic skills but for his
capacity to raise sanctioned trendy problems. The tone is generally
earnest; there is an absence of saving humor. General readers may well
find themselves excluded by the sense of an academic closed circle
smacking of a literary élite.

Above all, there is no attempt at comparative evaluation. All
Findley’s texts are grist for this particular mill, and The Butterfly
Plague—in both not-altogether-successful versions—receives as much
attention as, say, The Wars. This is a pity, since Findley is an uneven
writer who is always in danger of descending into unconscious
self-parody. I wish someone in this collection had been sufficiently
independent to point out that to overemphasize the topics to which
Findley returns so obsessively is just as distorting as to neglect them.
It seems likely, if and when we wake from the fin-de-siиcle Freudian
nightmare that nourished these essays, that Findley’s work will be
judged neurotically limited. (Why, by the way, is there no probing
psychological analysis of Findley’s writings? It seems desperately

Finally, this book is not in fact quite as original as it seems. It
appeared as a special issue of Essays on Canadian Writing shortly before
this separate publication.


“Paying Attention: Critical Essays on Timothy Findley,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,