Frank Davey | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Frank Davey

Frankland Wilmot Davey, critic, essayist, poet (b at Vancouver 19 April 1940). Frank Davey is a leading authority on contemporary Canadian literature and culture.

Davey, Frank

Frankland Wilmot Davey, critic, essayist, poet (b at Vancouver 19 April 1940). Frank Davey is a leading authority on contemporary Canadian literature and culture. Through his books of poetry, his literary and cultural criticism and his rich range of essays on diverse topics, Davey has been a major figure involved in introducing the idea and practice of postmodernism to writers in Canada. He has spent his career exploring and advocating the possibility of new literatures and new approaches to criticism, a critical stance that has occasionally put him into conflict with the Canadian literary establishment. Frank Davey remains one of Canada's foremost critics and theorists.

Born in Vancouver, and raised in Abbottsford, Frank Davey did his post-secondary work at the University of British Columbia under the mentorship of Warren Tallman, an American professor with deep connections to the American literary avant-garde. Davey earned his PhD at the University of Southern California. He taught at Royal Roads Military College, Sir George Williams and York University. From 1990 to 2005 Davey was a member of the English department at the University of Western Ontario, where he held the honorary position of Carl F. Klinck Professor of Canadian Literature.

Frank Davey was the founding editor of the TISH newsletter, which served the emerging and dynamic Vancouver poetry community of the 1960s. As editor and regular contributor during the magazine's first editorial period (1961-1963), Davey articulated, demonstrated and advocated a complex theory of the poet's relationship to place. Influenced by the American Black Mountain School of poets, the TISH authors embraced an aesthetic that encouraged them to consider and engage with their own locality and their regional ex-centricity on the West Coast. As such, the TISH community has been described as the first post-colonial literary movement in English Canada because they wrote after and neither about nor because of colonialism. Other writers involved in the first editorial phase of the magazine include George BOWERING, Lionel Kearns, Fred WAH, Roy Miki and Daphne MARLATT.

Frank Davey's landmark 1976 essay "Surviving the Paraphrase" introduced a new era in Canadian literary criticism by critiquing the then-dominant school of "Thematic Critics," in particular the critical work of Margaret ATWOOD, John Moss, D.G. JONES and Northrop FRYE. Davey argued that these writers oversimplified Canadian writing by only discussing aspects of literary texts that supported their own arguments. Furthermore, he protested that they were overly influenced by geographic determinism - the belief that land and nation effectively determine literature. Davey argued for a more sophisticated kind of non-nationalist criticism that recognized formal and thematic complexities of Canadian writing, without paraphrasing and reducing literature to trite slogans about Canadian identity. Through his books on the topic, including From There to Here (1974), Surviving the Paraphrase (1983) and Canadian Literary Power (1994), Frank Davey introduced authors and critics to ideas of postmodernism and offered concrete advice on and evidence of how to produce more effective and engaged analysis.

From as early as 1965, when he founded the critical journal Open Letter as a forum for unconventional literary study of Canadian experimental writing, Frank Davey has fostered such non-thematic criticisms. Open Letter remains Canada's most important forum for discussion and examination of innovative and experimental ideas and texts. In his books of cultural criticism, Davey has taken his analysis of how literary language works to consider the public discourses surrounding Kim CAMPBELL (in Reading 'KIM' Right, 1993), Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka (in Karla's Web: A Cultural Examination of the Mahaffy-French Murders, 1995) and Adrienne CLARKSON and John Ralston SAUL (in Mr and Mrs G.G., 2003).