Monday, February 26, 2007

Coupland's New Book - Terry Fox

The Five Ladies of Fiction have a helpful post here linking to a scan of a Vancouver Sun article on Canada's great hero, Coquitlam's Terry Fox. Coupland is donating all of the book's royalties to the Terry Fox Foundation.

If you'll forgive a personal reflection, I was the same age as most of you are now during the Marathon of Hope and was born only one month earlier than the great man. It's difficult to explain to those who were not around just how big a deal the whole thing was in Canada. You couldn't go anywhere -- from churches to strip clubs -- without collections being taken and received for the cause. Strangers in malls or on transit would talk about it, and people wept in public openly when it was learned that he was dying.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Big Blog Success & "Is Canada the Next Failed State?"

This article, from American blogger Austin Bay, gives good evidence on the real power that blogs now have. Specifically, he describes the effect that the American had on the attempt by an unelected Canadian judiciary to censor details of the massive corruption trial of the federal Liberal party. This analysis is framed rhetorically as question of Canada, given its present social and political attitudes, will be able to survive as a nation.
[The blog analysis is the good bit, but it also helps to hear how we look from another country!]

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Blog Future

Please check back here from time to time. I will be creating a blog title in month or so that will let me blog more generally on English Literature. I will still have course-specific blogs for my on-going teaching. As you know, the link list on the right contains the two courses I will teach this summer.

I look forward to your continuing comments on your own experiences with literature .

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Final Exam Post-Mortem [Updated]

Return here after Wednesday, when the grades are submitted, for a post-mortem of the course final examination ....

Update: The class did hearteningly well on the Final examination: that is, the modal average was commendably good. To answer Mr. Vatne's comment below, it was your competancy which had gladdened my heart when he encountered me. I will blog some details tomorrow.

If you wish to discuss any particulars of the course grading, please arrange to come and see me in person in my office on the Burnaby campus (AQ 6094) at your convenience. As a security policy I do not give out grade information over email.

Update II: Here's just a few passing observations on your Finals.
  • "She was in essence as much a Canadian as those who had trodden..." is a quotation from Ethel Wilson, as most of you got correct. However, only one student who attempted the question identified the speaker correctly as Rachel, not Topaz.
  • Just under five percent of you gave ten successful definitions and a few more had several correct answers. On the whole, though it was an opprtunity lost for too many of us. Please forgive my nagging, but an unfamiliar word encountred while reading fiction is an invaluable opportunity to improve your vocabulary. Look any new word you encounter up in the OED and the small investment in time and effort will embed the word in your memory. As I tend to repeat, the practical benefits of a strong vocabulary are incalculable and extend to almost every part of your life.
  • "minimall" by the bye is a characteristic coinage of Willian Gibson's: adapting a fragment of lexicon to a new purpose in the free-market almost-future.
  • Answers on the academic virtue of comparing blogs to fiction were mostly in support; though several successful essays found cause to cavil. The common theme of several essays in support was the recall of the nature of classical dialectic as a pedagogical device: that is, blogs are similar in some formal sense to fiction, which gives a template against which the greater structure of fiction can be seen in clarifying comparative relief.
  • I was particularly heartened to see that a majority of your essays expressed a greater knowledge and appreciation of this city of ours as one consequence of our course of readings of Vancouver fiction. A few of you even hit for a six the ability to increase sense of shared communal integration as one, important, "quality of fiction."

On the whole, very well done and a pleasure to read. This was a favourite term of mine, and I hope many of you follow through on your committments to read fiction more regularly. Those of you who expressed interest in taking English as a Major are welcome to drop by my Office Hours at any time to discuss.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mobile Blogging Arrives

Hard to argue with this: (via the BBC online.)

Bloggers using FoneBlog simply send text or photos to a
prescribed number and their weblog will automatically update.
The system will really come into its own as multimedia messaging and camera phones take off, said Chief Executive of NewBay Software Paddy Holahan.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Metaphysics behind "All Tomorrow's Parties"

William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties will seem very confusing and, quite likely, somewhat ordinary to readers who don't know its metaphysical background or the intellectual concerns that animate it. Today's lecture outlined a framework for understanding how and why Gibson treats these matters in his fiction.

All Tomorrow's Parties presents us with a fictional world "the-year-after-the-next-year" where (to quote Bob Dylan) "Everything is Broken." The process of social fragmentation here in Vancouver that Douglas Coupland laments in Hey Nostradamus! is become widespread in ATP: families, cities, states & provinces, countries and individual psyches are things of shards and tatters. However, Gibson's text presents an important paradox. The free market system which, in Gibson's fictional outlook, is the cause of this fragmentation is actually growing more unified, and that unification has spreading to the verge of global uniformity. The paradox in encoded in Gibson's plot, which is an eschatological race between the villain (explicitly a Bill Gates-type) and the rag-tag-band-of-heroes (Laney, Chevette, Fontaine, Rydell) to use a new product (a nono-fax machine) supplied ahead of demand - and thus without a known purpose) either for profit-without-end or for the Rapture.

Gibson's metaphysic in his cyberpunk novels -- and in his "idoru" trilogy-so-far (of which ATP is the third) is the evolution from the human (us) to post-human (part us & part not us.) The "non-us," of course, is information technology. In the fourties, Marvin Minsky of MIT famously said "in the future, if we're lucky machines will keep us as pets." That is the view of things behind Gibson's cyberpunk. The fragmentation in ATP will be made whole again by the blending of consciousness and IT. "Rei Toei" -- the Idoru -- becomes a cybernetic Messiah, emerging in transcendent form simultaneously from every 7-Eleven-type store around the globe. And here in the non-fiction realm, even if Minsky's remark sounds extremist to us, it is difficult to avoid the thought that some significant change will result from our now near-constant exposure to IT.

How long have you ben looking at a screen so far today ..... ?

Gibson's metaphysic, then, in All Tomorrow's Parties is Creative Evolution: an idea best associated with Henri Bergson (1859-1941), a philosopher who, in my view, lacks proper appreciation - whether or not one acccepts his thesis. Creative Evolution, generally speaking, is the assumption that evolution is always an advance: that hardships, although bad news for some or many individuals, creates in the long run improvement for the species - such as the human race. Bergson gave us the term elan vital -- or vital force -- to describe the existence of an immaterial life force that expresses itself in organic matter. This idea is, in my observation, the unconscious assumption behind most people's thoughts on evolution - of all levels of education. It's earlier term - Social Darwinism -- was nearly unchallenged. The interesting fact is that it is non-Darwinian! That is, Darwin's entire project was to try and establish that evolution is not a force for improvement, but one which can as easily eliminate as produce improvements. Peter J. Bowler is an indefatigable writer in in defense of Darwin against all type of creative evolutionism.

So, William Gibson has given fictional form to this intellectual field: using ideas from emerging technologies to suggest a eudystopic IT path that the elan vital might take. As your lecture notes will detail, Gibson also invokes the concept of emergent properties to create his virtual reality: i.e. his fiction. As the property of wetness emergences from the combination of two independent components neither of which themselves have the property wetness, so in All Tonorrow's Parties the property of existence arises from those components which comprise Rei Toei -- the idoru.

I love fiction, and I love it for many reasons. And one of these is its ability to bring the fantastic closer to the real by making it plausible. As I suggested in lecture, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a computer-generated celebrity, run by an algorithm of market-tested qualities, with a good singing voice, appealing appearance and virtual fashions, has al least no less reality (in a meaningful sense of "reality") than a person, experienced by mass public entirely through media, marketed as a performer, who can neither sing, play an instrument or dance.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Final Examination Preparation

Just to make sure that you are all set in the right direction as you study for the Final, let me recapitulate the points made in the last lecture of the course.
  • First & foremost, your lecture notes are the key. The framework for the questions on the Final Examination will match the framework given in lecture.
  • You will need to have read the course texts studiously & then either re-read them (ideally) or reflected studiously upon your reading notes in light of the lectures.
  • For the essay component, you will need to have formed your own opinion on the course material and texts: on the ideas and the literary devices.
  • Your own work on the relationship between blogs and Fiction will be helpful in organising your thoughts under the various pressures of the university-level Final.

In conclusion, as stated and blogged severally, faithful attendance at lecture and participation in seminars will correlate directly to success on the Final.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


An open peer-study group on Friday at noon, in the students' lounge (with the ping-pong tables), for all ENGL-101 students.Friday: 12 pm. Bring your notes, discussion time. Let's figure out the best plan of attack for this final. All who can make it, bring others from the class as well.

[Nb: This is an excellent effort -- I commend you all highly. As I've said repeatedly, this class does credit to SFU's academic tradition. I've learned much from you this term. S.O.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Classroom Insta-messaging & Profs Blogging

Read this post from on students who text message in class. Be sure to follow the link there to the Ann Althouse blog. Briefly, they -- like me -- think that since WiFi makes messaging inevitable it's best to encourge the most beneficial use of it. And as I've discovered this term, blogging your course is a dream for the instructor. (The instapundit post includes a link on this topic to PrawfsBlog.)
For my part, students text messaging to each when they miss a point or don't get someting is advantageous and unobtrusive. And the fact that students can google during lecture will allow them to bust profs who bend the truth for ideology and will -- hopefully -- embolden students to raise objections.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Continued Postings

I'll be posting regularly throughout the week right through to the Final. Check back for updates to blogging on course material. Leave any questions you have in the "Comments." & I'll reply fairly directly.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

SFU Student's Blog

I just ran into an excellent former student of mine finishing her degree this summer. I was delighted to discover that that she has a blog - Bella by Barlight - and a very remarkable one at that. You may have time to check it out before the group project deadline tomorrow midnight.

Influence of "Blade Runner" on William Gibson's Fiction

I found an excellent FAQ here on the influence of the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. The clip I showed in lecture last week has elements found suggestively in All Tomorrow's Parties: for example, the giant plasma screens on the sides of office buildings, "vast faces fill[ing] the screens, at once terrible and banal." (p6-7). Blade Runner was released in 1982, and was a version of a Philip K. Dick story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" published in 1968. William Gibson published his first novel in 1984, two years after the film was released, and has suggested that Dick, Scott & he share a shared imaginative vision (subsequently labelled, as you may know, "cyberpunk.") Here is a helpful quotation from the FAQ:

Gibson, in an interview by Lance Loud in an article on the 10th anniversary of "Blade Runner" for the magazine "Details" (October1992 issue), had the following to say:

'About ten minutes into Blade Runner, I reeled out of the theater in complete despair over its visual brilliance and its similarityto the "look" of Neuromancer, my [then] largely unwritten first novel. Not only had I been beaten to the semiotic punch, but this damned movie looked better than the images in my head! With time, as I got over that, I started to take a certain delight in the way the film began to affect the way the world looked. Club fashions, at first, then rock videos, finally even architecture. Amazing! Ascience fiction movie affecting reality!'

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Group Project: Deadline

Just a reminder that this Thursday is the deadline for your group project. In other words, as stated in the assignment post, I will be taking a compleat snapshot of your group blog on Thursday at midnight.
Make sure not to delete your blog until the course grades are returned. I have been monitoring your blogs regularly throughout the term and, although the snapshot will be used as the benchmark in grading, I would like to return to your blog during the process to read posts, follow hotlinks, check formatting, and the like, in order to give your work its full appreciation.

A Red Pen WILL be Used to Mark Your Final Exams

Unlike here, your final examinations will be marked vigourously with red ink.

[PS: I post this jokingly!]

Friday, April 01, 2005

Mid-Term Essay: Re-edit Exercise

For those of you who are doing an exercise re-write of your mid-term essay, remember to hand it in at the end of lecture this coming Tuesday. I'll return them on Thursday.

Final Exam: Training Run

I've decided to blog a trial version of the final exam by Saturday, giving you three full days to go over it and help prepare yourself for the real thing. I'll give the answers in your seminar next week & answer any questions you may have. I'll blog it under this post title, so check back here.

- Identify the author and work of the following passage.

  • After the summing up, after the questions and answers ("O Death, where is thy sting?"), after the fusion of the large family standing together, life again became diffused and urgent; the scene which had bound them together ceased and the family dispersed. Something remained and something ended.

  • Give the definition of the following "e" words.

    • etoliated
    • ecru

    Explain the significance of the following passage in terms of the course lectures:

    • Hey Nostradamus! Did you predict that once we found the Promised Land we'd start offing each other?

    Write an essay of five hundred words on the following topic.

    • If Ethel Wilson had had the opportunity to blog, would, in your opinion, she have bothered to publish Innocent Traveller as a work of fiction? Include at least one fact of her biography from among those given in lecture in your answer.

    William Gibson & Types of Tomorrow

    Gibson sets All Tomorrow's Parties in the future - but just barely. It is intended to be a plausible tomorrow extrapolated from salient elements of today. Books that present possible futures are typically categorised as either utopia or dystopia: a better future or a worse future. (Remember the etymologies given for both.) Note that dystopias are often affirmative in intent: not predictions nor willful projections but corrective rebukes or cautions of present trends. George Orwell's masterpiece 1984 is exemplary. I argue that with All Tomorrow's Parties Gibson is attempting a new hybrid: a eudystopia, or a good far future built from materials of a bad near future.

    Monday, March 28, 2005

    Final Exam Prep: "Hey Nostradamus!" & Blog Features

    As a prepatory exercise for the Final Exam, consider the question "What formal similarities does Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! share with weblogs?" Review your lecture and study notes and post individual answers in the comments section of this post.

    "All Tomorrow's Parties:" Titular Significance

    The title of our final course text, William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, has its genesis in the first single by the influential 60s cult band Velvet Underground comprising Lou Reed (who wrote the song), Nico, and John Cale. Click here for the song lyrics.
    There is further circularity, by the bye, in the band having taken the title of a bizarre
    book for their name.