Q: What is it about the winter season that captured your attention for your lectures?
A: A long love of winter scenes and winter art, from Turner to Monet and Harris and beyond; the realization that in every book I've ever written there's a key winter theme or winter scene, from the "Christmas Journals" in *Paris To The Moon* to the presence in my last book, *The Steps Across The Water*, of a diamond-hard and cold Ice Queen... winter haunts my imagination. More to the point, it has haunted the imagination of modernity. One of the things that separates our times—say, beginning round 1800—from times gone by is the wealth of winter music, painting and literature. "A mind of winter," as Wallace Stevens called it, is a modern mind: searching the world for meaning in the marginal, and willing to confront, to squeeze the stressful in the hope it gives us something sweet. And then I just like snow—the beautiful silencing white background.
Q: You have arranged your five city tour to coordinate with your five windows to the season, is there any reason why Halifax was designated "radical"? I'm sure we like to think we are quite radical, but honestly...
A: Yes, I said: Montreal is romantic, Edmonton, recuperative, Halifax, radical. In truth, they were mere accidents of scheduling. Though I don't mind getting the chance to tell tales of polar exploration, as I will, in a city famously rugged. And I will get to talk about hockey, and against hockey violence, in Vancouver, which seems right.
Q: What went through your mind when you were asked to speak at the 50th anniversary Massey lecture?
A: I felt immensely flattered—"honoured" is a word done dead by time and overuse, but I really did feel honoured, picked out from the crowd and given a chance to preach. Though I may not be the one to say it, someone else said it well the other day in the Toronto Star—the persistence of the Masseys represent a kind of "civil discourse," a willingness to listen to ideas that can't be summed up in sound bites or reduced to slogans, that seems to me peculiarly Canadian. Perhaps I idealize Canada too much; but the presence of programs like IDEAS makes it easier to idealize.
Q: As you no longer live in Canada, do you think there is a chance your participation in the Massey lectures and your exploration of winter may lure you to move back and experience the wonders of a Canadian winter again?
A: My wife and I play regularly with the idea of returning to Montreal and its skies and snows. The reality is that our children are happily at school in New York, and the choice of a school is the modern equivalent of a monastic vow: once made, hard to break or alter. I do hope to continue to come home to Canada regularly, for hockey games certainly but also to be reminded of the possibility of "thinking the world" differently, something hard to do in the constant hysteria of America. Winter is a stressful but serene season, and though I have plenty of stress, I could use a little more counterpointing serenity in my life.
Q: Being cold is the worst, frozen noses and fingers and toes are the absolute WORST EVER, therefore, winter is the worst season. Counterpoint?
A: Cold is the hard part of winter, obviously, and I shall talk in Halifax about the guys who probably got colder longer and more painfully than anyone else—the North and South pole explorers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But even they found in the cold something kind of sublime, or at least spiritual; however unconvincing that may sound as winter approaches, it's part of the record of the winter mind.