How life imitates the rotisserie league: So I’m reading about a trade the Leafs made this week, now that the playoffs are over and no more NHL hockey will be played till fall. Hmm, they picked up centre Robert Reichel from Phoenix. Hmm, your key players are your goalie, first-line centre, second-line centre and main defenceman. This yields the second-liner, they have the first, and the goalie, hmm. But they gave up Danny Markov on defence. Hmm, how about defenceman Rob Blake? He’d be ideal and he’ll be a free agent. Hmm . . .

Thus does hope generate in the off-season, when everything is possible. The off-season is the season of hope; that’s its existential function. But there’s another metaphorical meaning of the off-season: It is the hour of pure theory, the time of the mind. Human beings may never stop thinking, but, mostly, thought is intertwined with action; theory must deal with practical consequences. Sheer thought is a luxury; it’s often why people are attracted to philosophy courses. The off-season is luxurious because there’s nothing you can do except – think.

We’re in the off-season politically now, too, because Parliament is in recess and the next election is far off. So theory flows. What if we combine two parties? What if we change our name? What if we move the franchise to Ontario? What about trading the leader? This is as true on the left as on the right, maybe more so. In the Marxist tradition, it was assumed you’d never get a revolution if you didn’t get the theory right first. That may sound practical and hard-headed, but sometimes, I think, it was just a pretext for the joys of spinning theory, especially if you weren’t likely to overthrow the bastards anyway. Once the season starts, theory is demoted. Someone breaks a leg or is a year older; the puck hits a seam in the boards; the other teams don’t do what you expected. Thank God, though, there’s always next off-season. Does that sound like an arts thing to you? It’s the Web site of a “Festival of Creative Genius” at Toronto’s Harbourfront next fall, with big corporate sponsorship. Globe readers got a brochure on it this week. I know people are already looking forward to it and I have nothing against the 14 artists – Joni Mitchell, Frank Gehry, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Sondheim etc. – who could? But it seems to come out of nowhere, unlike, say, the Harbourfront authors’ festival, which clearly emerged from the rise of CanLit and the obsession of director Greg Gatenby. So what can one say?

The word choices are odd: Neither “world” nor “leader” rushes to mind regarding songwriters and directors, though it is how you talk about corporations and CEOs. It plans to “explore the nature of creative risk and innovation,” like a selection from the business-book-of-the-month club than the arts. Also, “issues underlying artistic innovation and the nurturing of the creative spirit.” It starts to sound like a workshop for entrepreneurs and managers. Matter of fact, the Banff Centre for the Arts, which really once was all about art, has become The Banff Centre, partly to use artistic creativity as a model in management seminars.

The über-corporate sponsor is American Express, hardly an example of Creative Genius. But Amex, the upscale card, would surely like to have world leaders or those who identify with them in the fold, or billfold, or wherever. The brochure also talks about “the ability of one person to change the world.” I don’t know if one person ever changed the world, or even made it through a day on their own, but there’s no mention of collaboration with others or gratitude to the past, which I suspect most of those being “feted” would feel. This is a notion of creativity that owes nothing to society or history. On the other hand, one thing you can do on your own is shop and put it on your credit card.

I can feel this getting cranky, along with the perils of Irwin Silberism. (Irwin Silber: a left-wing American culture critic of the 1960s who rarely ended a review without saying, “However, this film/book/play is fatally flawed because it ignores the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.”) So I won’t comment on the odd, Germanic capitalization of Leader, as in “an onstage encounter with the Leader.” Or “creative revolutionaries,” since Thomas Frank has explained that revolutionary is now an almost obligatory term in ads if you’re going to distinguish your product from the glut of similar ones.

But I do dislike the larding on of language where it’s not needed. Some things should be allowed to provide, or just be, their own justification. This includes art and people. Last fall, Mike Harris, our Leader in Ontario, tried to justify education costs to business executives by saying, “Our children are not our problem, they are our future.” What the hell. Isn’t it enough that they’re our children?


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.