Scrupling Canadian women’s nonfiction writing

to scruple

In a CBC-Radio interview on The Current, the distinguished Canadian peace activist and scientist Ursula Franklin introduced me to the Quaker tradition of “scrupling.” In response to my interest, Ursula Franklin emailed me in November 2010: “delighted that you understand my reasoning to revive the old notion of “scrupling” as an activity and the use of scrupling as a verb. Today we google. High time – I say- to scruple also.”

“To scruple” means “to hesitate as a result of conscience or principle.” This hesitation, a pause to reflect, is a move that invites a critical distance, a useful antidote to the status quo. The etymological root of “scruple” is —

from O.Fr. scrupule (14c.), from L. scrupulus “uneasiness, anxiety, pricking of conscience,” lit. “small sharp stone,” dim. of scrupus “sharp stone or pebble,” used figuratively by Cicero for a cause of uneasiness or anxiety, probably from the notion of having a pebble in one’s shoe. The verb meaning “to have or make scruples” is attested from 1620s.

Canadian women nonfiction writers need¬† a “small sharp stone” to prick at the conscience of editors, publishers, literary prize jurors and reviewers. To think about the context in which Canadian women’s nonfiction is produced, is to suddenly feel a pebble in one’s shoe, an irritation that irks.

We also need to prick at the psyches of those who minimize the value of writing, education, the arts, and critical thinking. Our ability to communicate ideas and insight to others makes us natural candidates for engagement in public discussion and debate. We need spaces to share information, to publish reviews and observations about writing and life, to invite writers to investigate the politics and poetics of our cultural life and our everyday.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to locate a digital meeting place of writers and readers, an archive of work, a space for reviews and reflections. What would it look like? What would it do? How might it help us innovate in our own writing, share the insights of others, provide us with information about how to break down and through institutional barriers? How might it influence and inform? How might a collective writing space explore and undo limiting attitudes, even those that remain unspoken.¬† How could we make common cause to ensure that ethnocentrism and racism don’t remain the unarticulated status quo of the way things tend to work in our world? Continue reading “Scrupling Canadian women’s nonfiction writing”