Q: What is Creative Nonfiction?
A: “…if somebody asks me, “Read any good Canadian books lately?”, my first thought isn’t necessarily going to be about Canadian fiction. I’m more likely to name Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (2007), Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919 (2002), Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night (2006), Terry Glavin’s Waiting for the Macaws (2006), or any of a half dozen other non-fiction works. Not to be coy about it, I think that one of the crucial critical judgments about Canadian writing of the last quarter-century is that its non-fiction, including that undefinable genre-bending writing that goes by the unsatisfactory name of “creative” or “literary non-fiction,” has been more relevant to our understanding of ourselves, and less subject to the industrial orders-of-the-day than most (but of course not all) of our fiction.”
– Stan Persky, www.dooneyscafe.com
“Documentation: that is, of the world beyond the private self. The authority and urgency of the actual world, of the lives of others, and of public affairs as they shape our lives, remain the point of departure of non-fiction. Reporting reminds us that the writer does not arrive alone to the blank page but in the company of ancestors, comrades and neighbours and her conversation with them. Creative non-fiction has refined this task by proposing the essential link or bridge between this external world and the narrator. It is the genre, together with poetry, that draws the writer and reader together in a shared experience.”
– Myrna Kostash, “Manifesto”
Q: What and when was Byzantium?
A: Ask most people about the “fall of Rome,” or even more apocalyptically, “the fall of the Roman Empire,” they will probably place it in or around 476 AD. This was the year that Odoacer, a Germanic military chief, deposed the last emperor ruling in the west.
Popular historians still raise general lamentations of this loss to us of “Classical civilization…in the century of the barbarian invasions,” leaving behind it libraries put to the torch and “books turned to dust,” in the words of Thomas Cahill. In fact, to historians of Byzantium this was “one of the most famous non-events in history.”
When Rome “fell,” the eastern part of the Empire, with its ancient urban centres with their ports, palaces and academies, speaking mainly Greek, held 60-70% of the Empire’s total population. That was then the Roman Empire.
When, then, was Byzantium?
The adjective “Byzantine” belongs to the modern world, first used in German in the 16th century. A librarian who prepared editions of Byzantine writers – historians and chroniclers – decided that a “Roman Empire” that was Christian and Greek-speaking was something very much other than the classical Roman Empire, pagan and Latin-speaking, and so he introduced the term Byzantium from the Greek Byzantion, a Greek colony established in 800 BC near the shore of the Black Sea.
And that’s the name we give it now: Byzantium, a state, an empire, a civilization, complex and a thousand years long; in the words of one of its most recent historians, Averil Cameron: “[It] encompassed at one end the transition from the ancient to the medieval world and at the other the beginnings of the Renaissance and the rise of western Europe.”
The culture of Byzantium has been characterized as a “hybrid,” rooted in ancient Greek language, literature, philosophy, science, medicine, art, and education, fused with the political and legal institutions of Imperial Rome, and then grafting onto these elements Christian faith and doctrine. This hybridity has been called “the greatest achievement of Antiquity” and both western and eastern Europe are heirs to it.
Q: What are the six things we need to know about it?
A: Byzantium was the Roman Empire, with a twist.
Byzantium was the nerve centre of the One Holy Universal and Apostolic Church.
Byzantium gave us the icon, and the icon-smashers.
Byzantium, of all European cultures, had the longest encounter with Islam.
Byzantium never forgave nor forgot the Fourth Crusade.
Byzantium brought the Slavs into civilization.