On settler colonial music: Mickey Vallee, ‘Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North: The Cultural Politics of Benevolent Domination’, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, 32, 2014


Abstract: This article follows the critical theory that Canadian wilderness painting exists only when the artist disavows their presence at the scene of capture, and suggests that it is due time the theory be applied to Canadian sound pieces such as Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North (1967). A contrapuntal radio piece that marked Glenn Gould’s baptism into experimental documentary, The Idea of North explores how the North is placed in the Canadian imaginary as an ambivalent object of national identity. In this article, I argue that the aesthetic procedures of The Idea of North create a narrative space through which the Other is constructed as a savage who is subsequently saved by the benevolent welfare state. Thus, The Idea of North idealizes the North by virtue of (1) its distantiation from the North, and (2) its Othering of Canada’s Inuit as savage and helpless, reflective of (3) a new benevolent racism that made up assimilationist ideology, a requisite for post-World War II Northern resource development. The Idea of North is, thus, an aesthetic example of ‘differential racism,’ which proceeds through perceived cultural rather than biological differences, and works to include the targeted social group rather than exclude them. Given The Idea of North’s nar- rative of the North’s future, I argue that the future is a convenient temporal sche- matic through which the present remains governed. I maintain that we must add benevolent racism to the cultural theory of exploitation and domination in order to understand the contemporary structure of racism that haunts any cultural denials of colonialism.

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