Canadian Culture in Lesotho

The new book by Rathwell and Rhenisch, the wake for the precursor to AI, Robin Blaser, a kind of American intervention into the Coast Mountains of the Northeast Pacific shore, Don’t Expect the Sun to Shine…

… is itself a remake of Lindsay Anderson’s sheepish film, O Lucky Man!

… which was less a film than the stage for a soundtrack by Alan Price …

… with Alan playing many of the parts between gigs.

When I saw it in a small mountain town in British Columbia in 1974, the theatre manager was so confused by it that he refunded our tickets. Richard had already left British Columbia. Not long after, he received his education in how little Canadian culture could do at that time, when exported to Africa. The experience is included in his visual novel Ultreye. He went as a Canadian. He finished his NGO experience as a being with two minds.

Ultreye is a post-individual viewpoint that saw the Western self as two selves, from the viewpoint of a non-Western third personality. Neurotypical literature and psychology would eagerly point out that this third personality is self awareness, as indeed it is. As a neurodivergent artist, Richard was discovering how

Neurodivergent literature employs the humour of masks, puppetry, buffoonery, and play. It seeks intrusions of objects bearing projections of selves aware of their fictional nature to turn both selves and fictions into dramatic stages. It then bows and departs. 

As Richard learned from two decades of poking at literature as protest (and the police beatings that followed), this literature can be real action in a material world. It doesn’t have to be penned within the thorn hedge of a book. A Canadian abroad doesn’t have to follow the time-honoured model of embedded English writers, such as Sir Richard Burton…

… who “explored” Kenya like this:

Burton “exploring” Africa.

Richard Rathwell learned just how much literature and imagery can be euphemisms for silence and silencing, even at the same time that they are voice. The colony of Basutoland has been the independent African state of Lesotho since 1966, with the British Crown occasionally making it a protectorate due to the mangling of any ability at administration out of the Cape Colony.

In the end, Queen Elizabeth II became less a symbol of colonialism but of an invitation to modernity and independence:

Queen Elizabeth II inspecting the Territorial Police

With a purse!

This learning experience led to Richard’s fraught return to Canada thirty years later, documented in Don’t Expect the Sun to Shine. As Richard laid it down, colonialism remained very individual in Lesotho, and always contrary to expectations. What looked like good deeds and foreign aid support remained as ridiculous as Capetown’s experience with demilitarization on a model learned from the Highland Clearances in Scotland and foreign aid workers seemed to remain as stuck in inappropriate imagery as these oblate fathers moving a heavy imagery of the Boer exodus into Basutoland a century before:

A colonial initiative that continues to succeed in places like Nepal, the giving of goats as the foundation of an economy, ran right up against another aid initiative that seems obvious to any Canadian’s heart, the planting of trees. What in British Columbia, might have looked like this…

Tree Planting in British Columbia in 1973

Note the US Army Surplus T-Shirt

… but which was really a heavy-handed conflict with Indigenous land use…

… became an environmental and social disaster in Lesotho. To be effective in a global context, a Canadian first has to learn what Canada’s culture is in a global context and integrate it, not the other way around. As Richard documents:

A still from Ultreye


After that, Richard devoted himself exclusively to world literature, arguing that Canadian Literature does have a place there, albeit a neurodivergent one. That is, it could support divergence rather than convergence. Or independence rather than integration. Or literacy in images rather than to the authority of words. Watch how Richard’s intelligence became a field of interest, played from many points, instead of as an individual.

For those of you not from Britain’s old Black and Métis colony on the Northeastern Pacific, British Columbia, here is Horsefly:

Here’s how the American ranching culture that settled in Horsefly in 1864 (just as Blaser’s incursion in 1966) worked out in Lesotho:

Richard was learning that the neurodivergence that made his participation at university in Vancouver more of a protest than a partnership, had strengths in the world. Three lessons he learned are:

Neurodivergent worlds are diverse and alive and have diverse agencies.

Neurodivergent literature moves through them all.

Instead of abstraction and cultural traditions as foundations, it employs multiplicity of views and selves in flux.

These selves in flux led to the stop screen motion of the screen book, Don’t Expect the Sun to Shine. There, the wake, a celebration of academic literary connection goes awry when the city speaks…

It became a feast, but not for Blaser’s descendants. But then…

Life is like that.

Do check out Don’t Expect the Sun to Shine. You can order your copy from your bookstore or from Eighth House Publishing in Montreal.

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