The Sounds of North: Political Efficacy and the “Listening Self” in Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air

  • Vikki Visvis University of Toronto


In a historical moment where sound and aural senses are elided, either as a result of technological advancement or as noise pollution, Elizabeth Hay’s novel Late Nights on Air mounts a defense of sound and listening by foregrounding alternative discourses from the period that derive from the Canadian North. Specifically, by alluding to Glenn Gould’s method of contrapuntal listening and the explorer John Hornby, whom John Moss in 1971 aligned with the “greatest Arctic narrative [of] silence” (56), the novel configures sound and listening as efficacious, both in terms of political engagement and identity formation. Ultimately, in Late Nights on Air sound and, by extension, aural sensory engagement within a specifically Canadian northern tradition disallows a reductive understanding of Canada’s sonic environment in the late twentieth century as technologically obsolete or as ecologically threatening by revealing its value as a political and identity-forming tool. 

Author Biography

Vikki Visvis, University of Toronto

Vikki Visvis is a lecturer for the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where she teaches Canadian literature. She has published on Canadian and American fiction by Eden Robinson, Joseph Boyden, Kerri Sakamoto, Dionne Brand, David Bergen, Michael Ondaatje, and Toni Morrison in Studies in Canadian Literature, Mosaic, ARIEL, and African American Review