The Market at the End of History: Literary Structuralism and Canadian Infrastructural Aesthetics

  • Author / Creator
    Carlson, Adam
  • Two well-worn ideas were resurrected in the months leading up the 2019 federal election: the first was the resurgence of what’s been called “Western alienation.” The second was imagined as a means by which such alienation and regional division would be both literally and metaphorically fixed—what Andrew Scheer called “a national energy corridor.” Scheer identified Canada’s national purpose with the exploitation of resources the corridor would make possible: “Often we say that the world needs more Canadian energy; I believe that’s true, but I believe Canada needs more Canadian energy, and we will work to make sure that is a reality.” My dissertation examines the origins and trajectories of both ideas, looking first at the historical and material roots of Western alienation as it pertains to both resource development and to the alienation of—the transportation and selling off of—resources outside of the national space. I analyze Western organic intellectual production to foreground how the form of value characteristic of Canada’s extractive staples economy structures political claims and infrastructure alike.
    In Part One, I look at the work of the so-called Calgary School of political science, the academic-/activist-/think-tank-ideologues who engineered the rise of both the Reform Party and of Stephen Harper, and who have helped to steer the way Canadian politics have been understood and performed for the last several decades. I show how these Western intellectuals draw on Canadian literary conventions, naturalist aesthetics, and structuralist narratology to disavow the nation state and maintain the objective normativity of settler culture, assimilating Canada’s particular history of settler colonialism within a universal neoliberal end of history. I trace a particularly Western version of settler colonial historiography that enables the Calgary thinkers to construct a universalizing common sense. I then document how this historiography—based on extremely-literal and idealist understandings of private property as fundamentally alienable—is used to posit a neoliberal market ecology, justifying, among many other things, arguments to privatize First Nations’ reserve lands as well as the extractivist premises underlying the corridor concept.
    In Part Two, I look at the discourse of Canadian resource development from the 1970s to the present, tracing the energy corridor concept as a periodizing scheme. Originally proposed by eccentric technocrat Richard Rohmer, the early corridor plan is a pristine example of what Maurice Charland calls “technological nationalism,” or a state-led project to build the nation technologically and unite its regions and peoples. I argue that Rohmer’s technological nationalism aims to produce and reproduce subjects in the image of the social and productive relations belonging to the industrialized nation-state. However, I employ a materialist methodology to show that the West’s inability to alienate its resources springs from Canada’s material reality as a mediation economy. Thus the logic behind Rohmer’s plan requires national subjects to take the form, not of the labour/capital relation of industrial production, but of technocratically-managed human capital. Consequently, the corridor—like all the current fantasies of “nation-building” pipelines—must be rearticulated in the present as a figure of what Timothy Mitchell calls “carbon democracy.” And, indeed, in the past several years the corridor plan has been dusted off and re-presented again and again: by CIRANO, a think tank associated with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy; it’s been endorsed by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce; picked up as a cause by many industry associations; and, most notably, Scheer made the corridor plan a significant part of the Conservatives’ 2019 election platform.
    By periodizing the corridor, I show how the subject interpellated by technological nationalism becomes the carbon-democratic citizen, whose belonging consists of mobility and access to consumer goods. Like the literary-structuralist figures deployed by the Calgary School, the corridor idea acts as an infrastructural frame to position subjects according to their relation to natural resources. As Scheer himself says, “No concept better illustrates […] how provinces can and should work together than a national energy corridor.”
    Both the work of the Calgary School and the political-economic functions of technological-nationalist state projects effect the transition to carbon democracy, concluding in the fantasy of a “market ecology” that fulfills the neoliberal idealist premises of overcoming material production and of governments vanishing into governmentality. That is, the Calgary brand of historiography and the idea of the corridor each mediate literal and figural alienation, imaginarily uniting the nation by way of ecological markets and smooth flows of goods, consumers, and energy.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.