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.

    Saturday, March 26, 2005

    "Break, Blow, Burn:" NYT on Paglia & Power of Words

    [Via Arts & Letters Daily] “'The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words,' writes Camille Paglia. She can say that again, and Clive James hopes she will... more»"

    Friday, March 25, 2005

    Douglas Coupland & Generation Alienation

    My term for one of Douglas Coupland's primary themes -- certainly his signature theme -- is generation alienation. The title of his widely successful first novel Generation X entered language and, as naming will, gave a sense of separate identity to members (the etymology of that word is important in this context) of society based on mere age. Coupland's fiction -- on the lecture thesis that it is work of true art -- does not celebrate or boost the segmentation that it identifies but rather laments in its depiction of people, born between 1960 and 1975, isolated in some sense from people around them of otherwise shared background and cultural standing.

    The cross-division of a society by age began perhaps with the term "baby boomer" (children born after WWII to 1960) and was intensified by "the 60s generation" but the first is more vague and the second, in its reference to a sub-culture within an age group, narrower than Coupland's. With "Generation X" an epistemological change has reached a degree that suggests new ontology: it's identity is certainly cohesive enough create its progeny in "Generation Y," with "Generation Z" (perhaps under different nomenclature) certain to follow.

    As Coupland's fiction has progressed, the scope of his canvas has broadened and details added to his portrait of a society increasingly divided to the point of fragmentation. (As detailed in lecture, it is a particular benefit for us that not only Canada but Vancouver specifically is his setting.) Coupland's perceptive readers -- some of you are counted in that number -- recognise that one active cause of the segementation is marketing: the capitalist truth that sales success increases as a market for a product is more specifically identified for targeted advertising. This practice takes heightened importance from its wholesale adaptation into party politics. In this regard, Coupland's fiction presents us with a question of whether Western society can survive the fragmentation that follows ever-increasing segregation. Coupland might conceivably find fertile material for his fiction here in academia with the curent celebration of division over unity. (As an aside, the philosophical opposition here at play is nominalism versus universalism -- link via our Library databases.)

    For an intellectual underpinning to Coupland's portrait of generation alienation, I offered in lecture Dr. Bruce Alexander's theory that mass addiction is a consequence of a world-wide free-market. In his article "Finding the Roots of Addiction" (a precis of his upcoming book), Alexander uses the term "dislocation" to describe the effect that Coupland's fiction portrays: an increasingly wide breakdown of healthy "psychosocial integration." Two specific points of contact between Alexander and Coupland in their conceptions are addiction as the consequence of alienation-dislocation and Vancouver as "Terminal City" -- a place where cultural and ethnic strands are sharply terminated: neither capped nor woven together. As lecture detailed, addiction is presented with great artisitic skill in Hey Nostradamus!: it is a ubiquitous element of the story yet it never declares itself openly -- it is "hidden in plain sight;" the elephant in the living room.

    I found examples of generation alienation on one of your course group blogs. In my lectures on Hey Nostradamus! I pointed out how Coupland sketches Heather's neurosis by details like her reaction to the child's play area ball-pit in McDonald's as a breeding-ground of plague. Now, my own generation -- like Coupland and his -- shared water bottles at hockey practice and drank water straight from the tap. To us, Heather's attitude is plainly neurotic. To Gen Y, however, trans-fat-aware, Heather is simply being sensible. Similarly, Gen Y is annoyed when the endless hours that students spend at university computers doing MSN Chat are euphonically represented to them by an insightful baby-boomer lecturer .... In a phrase, generation alienation in action!

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005

    Douglas Coupland: Prophet

    One characteristic of fiction that attracts me powerfully is the ability of authors to seemingly prophesy. I lean presently toward the theory that the presence of prophecy in a novel correlates to the literary genius of the author. This is a quality of fiction I need to say; not of the author's personal qualities. Asked in an interview, or stated in a journal article, say, the novelist would be no more reliably prophetic than you or me. But within the true novelist's work of literature can be found a form of prophecy.
    • This quality relates to my statement in lecture that the significance of the work of fiction is independent from what the author says or believes his or her work is about. It is a quality of fiction that the writing of it brings out capacities in the writer of which he is unaware -- and is incapable of summoning by an act of will.
    • If I had to be academically precise in describing the nature of this prophetic quality, I would say that the true literary genius possesses an ability -- innate, trained or both -- of insight into human nature, social trends, and that dimension termed by Aristotle "theology."

    The example before us is our Coupland course text, Hey Nostradamus! When it was first published, its setting of a Columbine-style shooting in a Vancouver school laid the author open to a charge of cheap sensationalism. Obviously, it is only in violent, blood-thirsty, gun-legal America that dissafected teenage boys commit random fatal violence: Canada is a pacific, tolerant, nice place where violent acts are improper.

    Three years after Coupland wrote Hey Nostradamus!, here is today's headline from the Vancouver Province: "'Epidemic' of Teen Swarmings." The Vancouver Sun has this headline: "Two Males Stabbed Near Metrotown Last Evening." Again, that is just today. I presented in lecture local newspapers collected over the last two weeks which splashed across their front pages: a boy kicked into a coma by another random swarm of teenagers; yet another trial for the killer of Reena Virk; four Mounties killed by a man with guns; and a local teenager who stole twelve dollars of petrol, deliberately ran over the attendant and purposely dragged him -- screaming -- to a slow, hideous and agonising death for over five miles.

    Far from cheap sensationalism, Douglas Coupland writes uncannily wise prophecy. Should his novels perhaps be mandatory Canadian reading?

    Sunday, March 20, 2005

    God is in the ... Course Texts?

    In the Thursday tutorial, Jessica commented on her perception that, while she sees how the course texts do form a chronological arc of stories which represent Vancouver as "Terminal City, she has observed a lot of God in the course texts. (The allusion in this post's title, by the bye, is to a saying of contentious attribution that "God is in the details.") Since it was I who had bespoken the course texts and from a very different set of criteria, I've had to think over Jessica's the welcome query for a time.
    Having now done that, my best response is that the presence of a religious theme to the course texts and lectures is -- with the obvious exception Hey Nostradamus! -- incidental. For my own part, as a student myself of the material, here is my reading of that theme.
    Of the short stories, Alice Munro's "Forgiveness in Familes" is the best in the Gerson collection, far and away. Munro to my knowledge is not considered a religious writer: but the potent fact of religion is well within her fictional purview. Innocent Traveller is Ethel Wilson's fictional narration, in the character of "Rose," of the life of her aunt Eliza ("Topaz;") neither of whom are notably religious. The elder sister and long-term matriarch -- "Annie" -- is a deeply and influentially pious character, but that was a biographical fact too strong for literary art to try to diminish.
    Here is a quotation that I believe sums up the religious attitude in Innocent Traveller:

    Into her majority and forever, Topaz took her three loyalties. Not religion, though she had an indigenous faith in God, for Topaz might well have been (and perhaps she had been) a heavy-footed Bacchante, a milder Maenad with satin-white skin, dancing heavily and happily, excited before the flickering shrine ...
    Of John Mills' autobiography it can be said that it recounts his conversion mid-life to Christianity and that event redounds to his life's -- and autobiography's -- underlying theme: to wit, what he terms each person's "symbol at the door." Yet here again, the conversion forms a small - albeit reinforcing - part of the literary whole. The world of Jobs and the author's mother are the major content, and the antinomy of phenomenal and numenal the major theme. Which brings us to our current text, Hey Nostradamus!, where religion is front-&-centre. However, as the initial lecture on Coupland hopefully made clear, it is the sheer, even radical, unexpectedness of the religion in the book that demands our attention. In that sense, then, as far as the lectures go, God should be at least somewhat anomalous in the course texts.
    Well, so much for my take. All of yours are most encouraged in seminar, in office hours, or perhaps best, in the comments section below...

    Group Project: How to Promote Your Blog

    This article at has good advice and tips on ways to make your group-project blog better known.

    Saturday, March 19, 2005

    Improved Writing is Easily Achieved: OR How to Recover from a Dumbed-Down Canadian School System

    As I mentioned in lecture, your mid-term essays had an average quality for first year university students that was higher than expected. Now, the low expectation was not caused by your capacities, but rather by the deplorable -- indeed, abysmal - state of the Canadian (and American, and British) primary and secondary education system.

    Not only don't High Schools teach proper grammar, but few (very few) teachers know grammar themselves. You can prove my claim by a fun test: the next time you meet a school teacher in a social setting, ask him or her to define "gerund" and to provide you with an exemplary sentence. You might also ask the teacher to take this test: it is an application exam for a school in England from 1989 for eleven year olds. (Link courtesy Lou Rockwell's blog.)

    Of course, because you yourself are a product (more accurately, a victim) of this system of putative education, it is likely that you don't know what a gerund is either. However, it is your good fortune to now be in one of our admirable universities which are still faithful to the ideal and practice of high academic standards. Accordingly, you have a course instructor who here directs you to purchase The Little, Brown Handbook: an excellent Canadian reference work and self-teaching tool for English grammar. A copy is also available at the Surrey campus Library, here: as is a compact version, here.

    Contrary to the impression that you were given by your school, it is a very easy matter to make significant improvement in the mastery of the fundamentals of English grammar. Simply begin at the beginning of the Little, Brown Handbook and study a section a day. A section takes about fifteen minutes, and the book can be compleated at an easy pace, review included, in a couple of months. The book is organised in a very rational way, is written in plain langauge, and combines brevity and comprehensiveness in almost artistic proportion.

    The reward for those who follow this discipline is incalculable: in academic success, career progress, and in any aspect of life in which confident literacy is a boon -- which is to say, every aspect. Test this assertion for yourselves: if you start now, you might improve your mark on the (significant) essay component of our Final Exam by a good twenty per-cent.

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    How Important is a Bibliography? Read This...

    This story from today's Toronto Globe & Mail online should frighten you into creating a complete Bibliography, or "Works Cited" list for every academic paper you submit. Scary scary ...

    Mid-term Essay Re-edit

    For those of you eager to revist their mid-term paper in order to improve their (admittedly already formidable) writing and literary-analytical skills, please hand me a re-edited version at the end of lecture on April 5th. Remember that the minimum standard you are aiming for is a full grade level: i.e. C+ to B+. Make sure your complete revison pays direct attention to all the professorial comments lavished with abundant precision on your paper.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    Mid-Term Paper: Copy-Editing Symbols

    The abundant notations made on all your mid-term papers are standard copy-editing symbols. Here is a helpful link that explains several in detail with example. As detailed in lecture, two idiosyncratic symbols I add are "hmm..." -- when the point noted is plausible but not argued to a certainty -- and "risible" -- when the statement noted is contentious to the point of inviting laughter.

    I wish to compliment you all on the admirable quality of the papers that you submitted. I both enjoyed and benefited substantially from your analyses of the relevance of blogging as a dialectical complement in the scholarly study of fiction.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Husband novelist; novelist wife blogs: bizarreness ensues.

    Pace the relationship between fiction and blogs, the opening to the lead article in today's certainly drew me in ....

    The first inkling my husband had that I was thinking about
    suicide was when he checked
    my blog. He was in Little Rock, on the first leg of a tour
    that was supposed to take him from Arkansas to Alaska, back to Denver and over
    to St. Paul, Minn., a circuit more suited to a professional indoor lacrosse
    league than to a
    literary novelist.

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    Significance of Fiction Titles

    We have heard in lecture about the significance that titles (as well as other key markers) have in works of fiction. For Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits we discussed three allusions, One is to Mills' father: the phrase is one of the British music hall tag line he would characteristically repeat. Another is (as should be obvious) to his mother, who dominates the book -- as, we may conclude, she dominated Mills' psyche.
    The third and most complex is the rabbit. This allusion involves what Mills calls "Symbols at your door" -- an element of your life which resonates powerfully, repeatedly and with meaning to you alone, (see pp 240-1.) In Mills life, a place from childhood -- a garden near Yately in southern England where he went away with, importantly, his mother & father individually -- and a particular rabbit-hutch remained with him as pure reality. (p 224.) The rabbit recurrs, flayed alive, in a scene from an American work of fiction; it blends into a crucified lamb in a drawing he made as boy; into a character of a German soldier spitted and impaled in a novel he wrote; and ultimately into a symbol of ... well, of an unbearably personal recounting of an excruciating family loss.

    Note that, as a literary scholar, when you analyse the meaning of the title in a work of fiction, don't fail to look directly to the obvious. Both "mother" and "rabbits" are in the words of Mills' title, and, although the greatest titular significance is not always directly verbal, it not infrequently, as here, is.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    Two Exemplary Class Presentations

    At this stage of the term, I'd like to post the notes from two of the individual class presentations that I have been enjoying each week. I chose the first because, to use an anglicism, it is played with a straight bat. It is well organised, presents some captivating points, and safely meets the assignment criteria. It doesn't try to hit the assigned requirements for a six (to continue the cricket metaphor) but that is very seldom necessary. In a business milieu, this would be called a professional presentation -- safe, yes, but strong & effective. The second is a discursive type of presentation: more like an essay, more of lecture style. It takes a commendably bold position & argues it forcefully with winning touch of cheekiness.

    To add a helpful note here, I'd say that, ideally, short presentations will be memorised. Not a course requirement, just a tip for career cases. By the bye, do you all know the correct -- i.e. OED -- meaning of "exemplary"?

    1st Presentation

    “Gin and Goldenrod” versus Gord Sellar’s Blog

    Writer’s Motive
    1. Forms of Expression
    - The writings are on easily accessible media such as books and webpages.
    - Writers’ motives are desires to feel heard and to let the world know what they are about.
    - For ex., Malcom Lowry often include inspirations from the landscapes and nature in his writing. Sigbjorn is a representation of Lowry’s frustration regarding urbanization. “Progress was the enemy. Ruination and vulgarization had become a habit.” (58) – Narrator
    2. Discoveries for New Ideas
    - Writing is about transforming intangible concepts from the mind to tangible textual design.
    - The process of categorizing the thoughts and organizing the ideas may open up a new way of thinking for the writer.
    3. Records of the writer’s belief and perception
    - Human are constantly changing themselves toward their ideal self-images.
    - Writings set marks that reveal or reflect author’s values at the time.
    - Helpful for retrospection.
    Reader’s benefit
    1. Deepen the understanding of human nature
    - Read other people’s lives thoroughly, and then compare theirs to our lives.
    - Experience the surroundings with another point of view, or another perspective.
    2. Reading expand people’s horizon.
    - Collection of information.
    - Broaden our interests. Ex. I didn’t know what a goldenrod is.


    1. Not interactive between the writer and the readers
    - Fiction story gives information; whereas, blog starts discussion.
    - Information does not go both ways.
    2. Bigger economic cost
    - Create barriers to entry.
    - To publish something in print, then ship it, store it, then finally sell it to consumers. The process involves an enormous cost.
    - On the contrary, blog only requires a computer and an Internet connection. For its reader, blog is just few clicks away implicating smaller economic cost.


    1. An artistic creation
    - Like any other forms of art, every element within the artwork exists for a specific reason in serving the artistic whole.
    - In fiction’s case, title, diction, punctuation, and syntax are those elements.
    - Take an example on opening paragraph of “Gin & Goldenrod”. An descriptive exposition on settings with meaningful diction creating both literal and figurative imageries. Ex. “The bay looked like a polished metal mirror” (56). Diction often implies connotation meaning, which establish an atmosphere. Ex. “motionless”, “sunless”, “gray”, “quiet”. There is an uneasy undercurrent beneath the words. In contrast, blog’s opening is much straightforward like business letter. It introduces the beginning of situation, and develops from there; it adds no icing to the cake.

    In conclusion, a unique quality of fiction is the depth of opening paragraph. Comparing the weblog, fiction opening paragraph tends be more sensory that readers can see, hear, taste etc.

    2nd Presentation

    Before this class I had never really looked at weblogs, at least not the diary type. Ever since I have been looking at them, solely for the purpose of this class, I have discovered that they just really annoy me. For various reasons, primarily though because I think that they are just pointless things to read and they are nowhere close to being fiction. I have to admit that I found a single blog to be disturbingly addictive to read, until I finally thought about what I was reading and it just wasn’t that interesting and I didn’t care about this person’s life. The politic blogs I can stand and enjoy, because they’re informative. As I am shocked by the number of people who don’t know who Tony Blair is.

    The term fiction is so general but in terms of quality fiction, blogs don’t even compare. I am sure there are some that do, however I only found a story of one. It was called Plain Layne, aka Laine Johnson. The blog was of a “young adventurous lesbian with a past” (New York Times). It ran for three years and had thousands of readers. However, it was eventually exposed that Plain Laine was actually a product of the imagination of a 35 year old man, Odin Soli. Clearly the whole thing was fictitious, Mr. Soli refers to Miss Laine as a character; however, he did say that he was providing some “genuine emotional experience”. I never read the blog, but the readers were in an outrage when the whole thing took place. This just proves that you never know if a diary blog is real or made up but that still doesn’t mean that it’s quality fiction. It sounds as though Plain Layne easily could have been, engaging the readers with literary prose, therefore I am willing to except this as quality fiction, but for a large portion of the rest, I am not.

    When I think of quality fiction, I think of Alice Munro’s Forgiveness in Families. I don’t think about these blogs where people just talk about what they did that day. In Alice Munro’s story, she teaches the readers this idea about life. Reading becomes an observation, and depending on how an idea is conveyed, it determines what benefits people may acquire form reading it. Alice Munro describes this concept about reality in such a subtle way, but by the end it seems so apparent and true about life. The remarkable bit about it, is that it is a fact about life that we often tend to forget about or just not realize when we live day to day. Through Val’s repentance, the readers are given this opportunity to step back from the story and realize how this situation is true to life. So many people try to blame their issues on others, denying reality, they don’t want to realize this horrible truth about themselves. The fact that Val does this too only makes the character more human like.

    From my experience of weblogs, the bloggers are the people seeking these realizations about life that fiction provide. Also, so many of them are Vals. They claim they use their weblogs as a way to, “express their feelings” or that it’s therapeutic but it’s more often just them bitching about life.

    I found this one weblogger Aaron Wall. I posted on his blog and asked him why he does it. He said that he uses his weblog to better understand his mind. I found it hilarious that his next post was him solely talking about how disgustingly fat he is (He gained 40 pounds in less than year). He was crying for, I’m not positive but most likely sympathy and understanding. (I just wanted to tell him to get up from his computer desk and take a walk, outside.) Anyhow, this is exactly similar as to how Val cried for sympathy. “I was going to school for the first time and all of the other kids had their mothers with them and where was mine? In the hospital having a baby. The embarrassment to me” (Munro 94).
    Though Forgiveness in Families and diary blogs communicate the realistic trials of life, fiction contains this superlative quality: this ability to communicate an idea about life, allowing the reader’s to realize this truth. While weblogs just continue to be a form of mindless entertainment, fiction continues on to educate this realistic concept. This is what makes fiction, quality fiction.

    Mid Terms Returned March 15th

    Your Mid-term essays will be handed back at the close of lecture next Tuesday. Although I had entertained the idea of returning them early, I think on reflection that the standard two-week window is worth maintaining.

    Undergraduate Essay Competition

    This is a reminder of approaching deadline (May 15, 2005) for the Canadian national essay contest mounted by the North American Conference on British Studies and funded by the British Council. We welcome submissions of essays by undergraduate students at any level, on any era or area of British Studies. Essays must have been completed in a Canadian university in the 2004-5 academic year, and must be submitted with a faculty letter of nomination (maximum one essay per student). Submissions must be post-marked by May 15. One hard copy, with student's address, should go to each of the three adjudicators:
    Professor James Alsop, Department of History
    McMaster University
    Hamilton, ON L8S 4L9

    Professor Sandra den Otter, Department of History
    Queen's University
    Kingston, ON K7L 3N6

    Professor Lynn Wells, Department of English
    University of Regina
    Regina, SK S4S 0A2

    Winners to be announced by Sept. 1, 2005 at
    Please direct any inquiries to

    Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    New Course Group Blogs

    Here are two new course blogs: one is formerly "Team Riot" latterly "EnglBlog2"; the other is at -- [Deleted].

    Drop by and say "hello" ...

    Update: second link above now fixed. Use this link to jump to the list of active Group Blogs ...

    From Douglas Coupland's Publisher ...

    A tiny window into the life of a successful writer (& artist, in this case) in this reply to my email to Douglas Coupland's publisher, Douglas-McIntyre, offering the author opportunity to speak to us:

    "Hi Stephen, thanks for your interest in Doug Coupland, and support of his books.Unfortunately he is not available to help your class. He's busy promotinghis new novel, Eleanor Rigby and is just swamped."

    Lecture: March 8th

    Today we closed out our study of John Mills by tying together the various strands that we have been following in lecture into one unified fabric.
    The abstract concern in Thank Your Mother is with finding reality in a world of appearances. as the book progresses, Mills shows how much of the world that we take for granted is a fraud. We see Mills' adopting a fraudulent "working class" persona to win a desired woman. His friend Richmond puts on a show of being a pukkah Englishman. Institutionally education is presented as a fraudulent means for governments to reduce the unemployment statistics, both by dragging out the time taken to teach the curriculum and by widely -- indeed universally -- expanding the student population. And the profession of teaching is reduced to the duping of gullible parents by ordinary people who merely keep themselves one page ahead of their students.
    In short the world of "Jobs" (in his "Book of Jobs" chapter) is mere activity, not meaningful existence -- the appearance of life rather what Mills senses is its deeper reality.
    Mills calls this deeper reality the numinous [numena is the - Latin plural- antonym of phenomena] and his book relates the protagonist's slow discovery and eventual full living embrace of it. The early section "The Night of Lucia" is a microcosm of this journey: Mills and a companion come to the point of expiration in a snowstorm in the Swedish countryside [the phenomenal], when by a freak of weather they see a cottage a few hundred yards ahead. Warmed and fed, they are entertained by a young daughter of the cottage, a tiara of candles about her head, singing an ethereal hymn of that day's festival to Saint Lucia - Queen of Light [the numenal.]
    Some delighting experiences of the numenal and more, depressing, experiences of the phenomenal - army service, Jobs, etc - led Mills to embrace Christianity: albeit in a robustly carnal version of charitable Anglicanism.

    The eventual results of this I will leave for a seperate post, on the topic of the significance of the book's title.

    Monday, March 07, 2005

    Douglas Coupland: Official Site

    Here is a link to the Hey Nostradamus! page on Douglas Coupland's truly magnificent official site. In my educated opinion, this is a web site done to almost perfection.

    New Group Blog

    Here's a late starter -- but maybe a strong closer -- in the group blog project. Well worth a look ....

    Paglia warns internet: "Only Art Lasts:

    Via Matt Drudge, Camille Paglia intends her new book as a pertinent warning against putting technology before art, or, put another way, against giving the transient form more importance than the permament substance.
    Paglia has been and continues to be a strong booster of the internet's benefits for scholarship & effective polity, so her caution has weight.

    UPDATE: Here is her advance article.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    Ethel Wilson & the Nature of Time

    For students who have their focus on Ethel Wilson, this article - linked today on the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily - suggests that her treatment of Time in The Innocent Traveller correlates to in a legitimate speculation in her contemporary science.

    Thursday, March 03, 2005

    Lecture: March 3rd. Blackadder "General Hospital"

    In lecture today we looked at the "General Hospital" episode of the Blackadder Goes Forth series. Note, the the bye, the title's double intention.The purpose of this was multiform. First, it was part of John Mills' pedagogy to use video to expand students' experience of the material being studied. As we know from lectures, experience is a major explanantory schema for Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits. Second, the humour in Blackadder comes from the British vaudevillian tradition from which Mills' own humour (& much more in his book, hint hint) derives. Third, the resonance of WWI for Mills' book -- that being the fictional accounting of his own life -- is deep. And fourth, the episode's military hospital setting will enliven your appreciation of the same setting in Mills, which will hopefully then help you locate the passage's fictional significance.

    Significance of Mills' Book Title

    The lecture today opened unexpectedly with a fake Final Exam having one question: write a two thousand word essay on the significance of John Mills' title Thank Your Mother For the Rabbits.
    This is a plausible question for a real Final Exam, and the title has profound importance for a major theme of Mills' work. Indeed, it is fairly close to the surface of the text. Next Tuesday's lecture will deal directly with this topic, but you may want to consider it on your own between now and then -- in addition to continuing with your second reading of the Coupland text.

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    Fiction versus Lies

    To help appreciate the scope of the concept of fiction, we are currently using John Mills' create autobiography to consider the intersection between -- and in this particular case, the intermingling of -- fiction and non-fiction. Add to your understanding by reading the following story from today's online version of the CBC and experience lie in its naked form. Now, textually analyse the shameless lie in the article text in comparison to the tenor of Mills' text & add your comment to this post.

    Monday, February 28, 2005

    Reminder: Mid-Term Essay

    I'm assuming that you all have your mid-term essays under revision. I'll stay available by email through the evening for any last-minute questions on minutiae.
    A couple of class group blogs are going good guns: check out and

    Friday, February 25, 2005

    Feb 24th Lecture

    Today filled out more of the historical framework for Vancouver fiction. The identity of Vancouver -- it's setting, in literary terms -- has a strong genetic component. The First Nations writing with which we began our study identified a foundational form for Vancouver (& more broadly, British Columbia) , with subsequent texts reflecting the effects of the British colonisation which followed. The fiction we are studying gives a literary interpretation on the development of "Vancouver" -- the quotation marks here point to the conceptual identity of the place -- as a terminus: the end of the exodus from Britain. This aspect of Vancouver as the "Terminal City" -- an early choice of name -- adds much to the character of Vancouver and is a strong theme in our most recent two works of fiction.
    The documentary shown in our lecture Remittance Men is an excellent local production which gives important historical context to the formation of our cultural geography.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2005

    Homer Nods: "Grammer"?

    "Homer," indeed, "nods" on occasion. Here's an email I received today from one of your classfellows:

    No, is isn't a call for help, rather; I found a spelling error in the class blog about the midterm assignment. The irony is where the mistake lies"... edit for correct grammer and logical cohesion..."Catch it? "grammer."
    I thought I'd share. Hope you get a bit of a chuckle out of it too.

    Of course "Homer" refuses on principle to use any computer spelling checker. Making spelling errors and having oneself corrected is an encouragement to more attentive proof-reading.

    On the subject of grammar, here [via Arts & Letters Daily] is a valuable and exceptionally readable article on recently-deceased grammarian Eleanor Gould.

    Update: Can anyone find at least three typographical errors in our edition of Innocent Traveller?

    Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    Mid-Term Essay: Concluding Paragraph

    A good re-conceptualisation from one of you during a consultation on the mid-term essay during my office hour today. As I detailed in lecture, your concluding paragraph will summarise your argument and then suggest a broader application for further research.
    As your colleague rephrased this, with laudible brevity, the conclusion will generalise your argument. I'll add additional insights as updates to this post as I get them from my consultations with you.

    Update. One quality of fiction found by a student is allusion to - or inclusion of - a deeper system or concept. Mills' rephrasing of biblical text in modern vernacular suggests reduction - or even mockery - but it can also be read as reinvigorisation of text dead to Mills' contemporaries.

    Sunday, February 20, 2005

    Room Change! Tuesday, February 22nd

    The upcoming lecture will be held in Lab 230. A note will be posted on the door of 1105, but please spread the word where possible...

    Thursday, February 17, 2005

    All-Natural Relaxant for Final Exam Anxiety

    To quiet any unnecessary anxieties regarding the final exam, I will tell you here that it will be an entirely fair examination - no surprises. It is designed so that if you came to the lectures, participated in the tutorials, read the course material attentatively, and reviewed the material in advance of the exam date, you will have no undue problems at all.

    In all sections of the exam you will be able to select from a number of choices. There will be a section on literary terminology; another naming the title & author of a passage and briefly commenting on its significance to the work from which it is excerpted in light of lecture material; and, of course, an essay section which will simply require you to discuss relationships between specfic works of fiction and themes (not specific material) from the blogosphere.

    If this doesn't cause you to relax and take great joy from the remainder of the course, simply come to see me in my office hours where we can discuss my deservedly renown "Dr. Ogden's Six Specific Student Strategies for Successful Final Examinations."

    Pop Culture Tag Phrases

    Synchronicity: (sidebar - where is that word in Mills' autobiography?)
    Walked out of lecture today and saw the cover of the Vancouver Province: the perfect example of a contemporary pop culture tag phrase matching John Mills' title" "Thank your Mother for the Rabbits." (The Province headline riffs on the original phrase ..."

    Mid-term Help

    For good help with your Mid-Term assignment, have a look at the following email from one of our excellent Surrey Librarians, Gordon Coleman, about use of the SFU Library's link to the MLA database.

    In answer to Mr. Coleman's question, by the bye, we are here in Engl 101 indeed the first scholars to research blog writing. Consider yourselves pioneers in scholarship. [My own research will be appearing in journal publication later this year.]

    I was just helping one of your students get started on his essay. For fun, I typed blog* into MLA. I did get hits, but they're related to the use of blogs as a writing tool in the ESL classroom -- i.e. nothing along the lines you're looking for. Can it be that no English lit profs are doing research on the blog as a writing form? I find this unlikely, but maybe it's true. If your students are looking for more material in addition to the blogging books on Reserve, they could try one or more of the Communication databases. Researchers in fields like Communication and Media Studies are going to town on this emerging topic. Not all the articles will be relevant, of course.
    Hey, you could even post this email in your blog! If so, here are a few links for the students to follow up:
    (1) MLA = Modern Languages Association Bibliography = search engine for English lit students
    (2) Communications databases = choose any of the first three on this list:
    (3) Direct link to the list of books on reserve for your course:

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    Tenth Lecture

    This lecture introduced John Mills' Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits. The book presents some of Mills collected occupations, but our interest is his creation of several idiosyncratic, significant and weirdly comic novels. I recommend you find and read his Runner in the Dark: an entertainingly intellectual thriller set in a plausible 1990s Vancouver.

    Thank your Mother for the Rabbits is an autobiography that seems to somehow achieve the status of a novel: in the same way that Mills life story is of labourer who achieved the status of
    emeritus professor of English at Simon Fraser University. His recently-published Youth, Father and Curmudgeon, likewise, is a cookbook that entertainingly celebrates a reflective masculinity.

    The bildungsroman - novel of formation (of character) - and kunstelroman - novel of artistic formation- are obvious candidates for categorising Thank Your Mother, and the lecture accordingly detailed these literary types. However, I suggest that the picaresque is a mode of fiction which also helpfully defines Mills' autobiography; with its movement from low to high, moments of small delinquencies, consistent tone of epater les bourgeois, and of course its recurrent comic mood. Furthermore, the book's recounting of spiritual redemption is a element of the picareseque in its Spanish origin, Typically, Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits combines features of all three of these literary types, without being fully any of them.

    For all that, in light of the subject of our course -- English 101: Introduction to Fiction" -- we will take a special interest in the way in which Mills book reveals itself as "the Genesis of a novelist..."

    Mills' autobiography has some formal similarities to a blog: it is episodic, reflective, commentative and is very much one man's encounter with the world told in a mixture of direct and tangential posts, so to speak.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2005

    Comparing British Blogs to American

    Excellent article from the Times comparing British blogs to their American forebears. Essentially - and as I would have predicted - the British blogs are more upper class than the populism of the Americans'.
    A quotation:
    "A study of British political blogs carried out by the Hansard Society last year criticised the UK’s main sites for pandering to 'internet connoisseurs rather than ordinary members of the public'."
    What characterises Canadian blogs, would you say?

    UPDATE: More here, from the left-wing "Guardian" (formerly the Manchester Guardian) about the Right.

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    Mid-term Essay: Assignment

    This is your Mid-Term Essay assignment, detailed in the course syllabus thusly:

    Mid term paper, fifteen hundred words: due March 1st in lecture. Assignment sheet will be handed out in lecture on February 15th. Emphasis will be equally on literary analysis and writing mechanics.

    So, your assignment is to write a fifteen-hundred-word scholarly paper that identifies and comparatively analyses any one quality of fiction in any one work of fiction from the course reading list. Your object of comparison will be weblogs: either blogs in general or a specific blog or blogs. Your analysis must make reference to at least one of the books on Course Reserve, and the reference works must be properly listed in a bibliography. See the English Department Style Guide for assistance in this regard. You will also be well advised to consult with SFU Librarians in researching and preparing your paper.

    In other words, you need to find some specific literary aspect of a course book, chapter, or short story. Although course lecture and seminars have given examples of "qualities of fiction," you will need to make your own discovery for your essay. When you settle on a quality of fiction, you should make a rough outline of its features and of ways in which they are made to function in the text. Then, using your understanding of weblogs, compare specific points of difference. Organise the points of comparison, structure your paper to develop an argument, write two or more draughts, edit for correct [grammer] grammar and logical cohesion, and submit by the due date.

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    Blogs Win!

    Well, it's official: the CNN executive stonewalled, the Mainstream Media imposed a news blackout and circled the wagons around one of their own, but the blogosphere kept the story alive and now Eason Jordan has resigned after twenty three years at CNN.

    As Glenn Reynolds says, Jordan should have read this. You should too -- it's on Course Reserve (a recommended, not required, text.)

    Update: note that links the story under their "Entertainment" section! Well, it's certainly entertaining for the blogosphere ...

    Latest Blog SmackDown: CNN's VP & CNE

    The current blogosphere show of strength is against CNN executive Eason Jordan. The pressure is coming from conservative blogs, by and large, but senators from the Democrat party are also adding their weight.

    Here's a fairly neutral blog roundup. Stay tuned to see if Big Media can hold off the small band of determined bloggers ....

    here's a big left-wing blogger on the case.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005

    "In the Garden of Allah" -- Fiction?

    In seminar next week we'll consider, a propos John Mills' autobiographical Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits, what is and what isn't fiction. Have a look here at the lyrics to Don Henley's "In the Garden of Allah" ahead of your upcoming seminar.
    ps: a prize for the first person in each seminar to identify the obvious mistranscription (evident without having to listen to the song.)
    pps: you can find a .rm version of the music video here.

    A Successful Blog Workshop

    The blog workshop given today for your term Group Project was productive. Poppy seed cakes helped. (Note: the wag who called them opium cakes - notwithstanding the admirable allusion to Rudyard Kipling - is a threat to my career.)

    The information I presented on the
    features of an effective blog (yes: they're my own) can be summarised in three points:

    1. Variety. Post from different perspectives; link to and express opinions on different ideas; look for inventive and even groundbreaking approaches to your literary subject.
    2. Brevity. Be succinct. Verbosity and prolixity are vices in scholarly prose. The need for short, sharp expressions of ideas native to the blogosphere -- and online writing generally, is an effective training discipline for scholars.
    3. Community. The force of the blogosphere comes from the accumulated exchange of the individual specialisations of the network of independent bloggers. The model is parallel distributed processing with its thesis that the aggregation of nodes in a neural network creates an emergent property: natural consciousness or artificial computation. Accordingly, create links to other sites in the blogosphere relevant to your approach to the work of fiction you have chosen for this assignment. All being well, you will receive links from some of them in turn, and the exchange of insight, questions, and, ultimately, knowledge will begin.

    So, you are now well on your way with your Group Project. You have been given a head start and encouragement to make this a term-long effort, rather than (to cite an evil-Spock parallel universe nightmare alternative) a last-minute torment of all-nighter agony.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2005

    Group Project Update

    The Group Project post has been updated with the group memberships and links to those groups who have now created their own blog. Check the comments for announcements and blog names.

    A reminder that tomorrow I will lead a blog workshop during lecture.

    Ninth Lecture: "ChickLit"

    We concluded our study of Ethel Wilson's magnificent Innocent Traveller -- your lecturer having finally exhausted his superlatives -- by expanding on the significance of several interesting episodes and literary flourishes overlooked in our study of the book's major accomplishments.
    During seminar this week, class discussions brought up alternating male and female insights on how Innocent Traveller works as chicklit. To cite two samples from my notes from the seminars:

    1. Wilson was praised for having expressed a woman's experience - a celebration of spontaneity and lack of inhibition - through a form of fiction that is itself uninhbibited and diverse.
    2. The novel was disappointing because it lacked big action, had too much dialogue, and was too concerned with feelings.

    My response to the second assessment here was that there was (a) an epic hero, and that is Time, and (b) a constant violent attack - specifically, the narrator's use of an arsenal of literary devices to shatter the reader's ordinary, dull, day-to-day assumptions about Time.

    To the first, I asked whether, if we historicise the novel, this passage from the second chapter is pornography. [I've italicised some of the uhhm ... inciting descriptors]:

    Father had the kind of handsomeness of a happy dignified extrovert inspired by a strong and simple faith and the equanimity that shone from his fine eyes ... he and his partner Mr. Cork walked along with a grave and simple integrity which was neither smug nor proud.

    Father had a fine nose with generous nostrils, the kind of nose which, when surrounded by other suitable features, causes more trouble among females who are responsive to a bit of trouble than people suspect. He was tall, with good strongly-growing hair and whiskers. All these attributes, together with his deep sorrow and helplessness, touched the heart of every woman in the chapel and of every man too. Each woman knew in her heart that Mr. Edgeworth ... was, for all his vigour, ability and good looks, much more vulnerable than Mrs. Edgeworth would have been if her Joseph had been taken from her. Every wife and mother yearned over him, and so did others who were neither wife nor mother.

    Update: February 21st, 2005: It has been suggested to me that "chicklit" is a disparaging term. For an strongly opposing view, read this article on the chicklit blog linked in this post title.

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    Local Vanity Blog

    Have a visit to local vanity blog - you'll find it has some illustrative similarities to our upcoming course text: John Mill's Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits. The wit is similar, for a start.

    The term "vanity blog," by the way, is not a disparagement: it simply means a blogger who broadcasts his or her idiosyncrasies, recollections, or hobby horses. We can consider during lecture whether that makes Mill's text a vanity book ....

    Diary of a 1920s Bridget Jones

    Relevant to Ethel Wilson's novel The Innocent Traveller nodding to the tradition - or perhaps genre - in fiction of women's diaries, here is a recent article on a newly-discovered collection penned in 1925 by seventeen year old Ilene Powell from Bristol.

    Eighth Lecture

    We started a walk-through of Innocent Traveller: analysing the events as they occur in chronological sequence. As we discovered, Ethel Wilson is actually using assumed chronology as a device by which to represent in fiction the real effects that past and future have on present. The "Innumerable Laughter" chapter, for example, has Topaz Edgeworth's present experience of a sleep-out in the veranda materially transformed by one particular girlhood experience with her private teacher, Mrs. Porter. Or the following from "'By our First Strange and Fatall Interview'": "Mary was hardly prepared to see the future leap out into the open and transform her past ino something which was not enough. But this was now achieved by the young man in black walking by her side."

    The idea used by Ethel Wilson -- of Time as an efficient cause -- is not simply a fictional conceit. In contemporary Western society, Time is assumed thoughtlessly to be what a clock does: a rigid linear series of equal units. This was not the experience or understanding of time, certainly, in the pre-modern West, and likely not either in non-Western cultures.

    The lecture thesis on Ethel Wilson is that she is the first post-modern writer. Innocent Traveller certainly, as I read it, is in sympathy with Albert Einstein's relativity theory (again, as far as this layman understands it!)

    e = mc2 (energy equals mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light) is an equation that represents matter as being energy at a particular speed. For students of fiction this has as one important implication that the thoughts and actions of characters -- i.e. forms of energy -- have real and significant effects on the material world and on the movement of history, making the writing, reading and academic study of fictional representations of life a worthy enterprise.

    Of interest to our understanding of Wilson's fiction is the fact that Einstein's famous equation also defines Time as being Matter and Energy in a certain relation. Reformulate e = mc2 as c = [root] e/m.

    Reading this formula in a fictional way, then: if we read Wilson's novel as representing the human spirit as energy (Topaz is obviously a personification of energy) and the circumstances of the world (marriages, emigrations, etc.) as matter (using "matter" in the colloquial British sense) then the depictions of Time that Wilson has woven throughout her narrative are to be read by us as having the same reality as matter and energy do in our ordinary understanding

    By the way, with these formula, we're just having fun here: definitely no Math for the final exam!

    But to continue with the exercise, to help understand how the "c" - speed of light - in Einstein's relativity equation relates to Time, just look at it this way.

    Think of distance ("D") as being a change in place ("ΔP"). And Speed in general is represented as velocity ("V"). And of course Time is "T". You'll remember from High-School that the formula for velocity is V = ΔP / T. (Recall that we're saying that "D" is the same as "ΔP"). If we recast this equation for Time "T", then T = ΔP / V

    So, if our velocity "V" is a particular value - using Einstein's speed of light "c" - then c = ΔP / T and T = ΔP /c.

    Let's return to fiction! This last formulation lets us read Innocent Traveller (the traveller is the one ΔP'ing!) as showing us that Topaz's travels - to Vancouver, then to ... where? - and her velocity (Wilson depicts Topaz explictly as being nothing more than non-stop rapidity of speech!) are a form of Time. Or in other words, Topaz did have an effect on Time-with-a-capital-T: or, in the word the text uses at important points, on Eternity.

    This, then, is what Rose/Ethel sets out to achieve through her narrative fiction - an eternal life for her Aunt Topaz/Eliza.

    We will conclude the walk-through at the next lecture.

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    "Take a Book; Leave a Book"`

    Some of you may know that one of our classfellows has set up a shelf of books outside 1005, on a "take a book; leave a book" system. Great idea -- back-slaps to the originator! I'll certainly bring some of my extras in ...

    Purple Prose or Aphorism?

    I was asked recently whether the following is a vivid and effective image to use in a novel, or is it cheesy (& perhaps offensive). I'm interested in your comments ...

    "She thought that a man should approach a woman like a lion does a lioness." The would-be writer's sense is that the lion should be pretty damn careful ...

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    :iPod: a Musical Blog?

    One argument being made in our course is that technological revolutions in the presentation and delivery of text -- such as the Gutenberg revolution -- change fiction in substantial ways, and that the advent of blogs is one such important revolution.
    Another revolution is currently underway that parallels the emerging blogosphere, and that is the iPod revolution. Some of the characteristics of blogs -- the increase in individual autonomy, capability of choice, and opportunity for social expression -- also hold in concept for iPods (& other derivative systems) which I see many of you carrying.
    • Click the title for a some practical advice on iPod sound quality
    • Add comments below on the significance of iPods to the type of fiction we are studying in our course.

    Let the Cobbler stick to his Last

    Scientists are experts at science; literary scholars are experts at literature.
    Bad things can happen when either side forgets that ratio.

    Seventh Lecture

    This lecture gave a very rigorous explication of the intellectual background to Ethel Wilson's Innocent Traveller. The book amounts to a challenge to modernism's universal rationalism and realism's strict privilege of the physical - "the same dull round over again" as William Blake put it. Wilson celebrates the permanent mystery of human life, in the irrepressible person of Topaz Edgeworth, and the real effects of metaphysical realities in daily life. The metaphysical aspect that Wilson concentrates on is Time.

    Innocent Traveller is many kinds of books and - magically, inexplicably, and miraculously - all at the same time.
    - personal paen
    - family history
    - Genesis of Vancouver

    - people's history of Canada
    - anatomy of the human conditions
    - disquisition on ultimate meaning

    A technique for helping students to get the broad sense of a work of fiction was detailed, using Innocent Traveller as a practical example. Four things should be looked at:
    1.] the title
    2.] the opening paragraph
    3.] the closing paragraph
    4.] some revealing statement or two at the centre of the work of fiction.

    The last is tricky, but in Innocent Traveller, chapter 14 of the 28 chapters has merrily but without tact as the essential description of Topaz (opposing free spirit to convention) and But human beings are very strange, but there you are as the essence of Wilson's presentation of irreducible and glorious mystery of all of our individual lives.

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005

    Blogosphere has Another Big Real-Time Win

    This one is not only a perfect case of the blogs embarrassing Big Media, but it is roll-on-the-ground funny. The mainstream media reported yesterday that an American soldier had been kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq and would be beheaded. Here's an AP link from yesterday.

    However, almost immediately the blogosphere recognised and published the fact that the picture released by the terrorists was actually of a GI Joe action-figure doll!

    The significance for us here? Well, it is in the place of fiction in the discourse of truth. Until the blogosphere became a force, Big Media presented a narrative whereby truth came from watching or reading their News. Fiction, where talked about at all, was just stories. But now, blogs are revealing hoaxes such as this GI Joe doll, and the fraud perpetrated recently by Dan Rather and CBS news. The result is that people increasingly see that Big Media just tells stories of their own.

    As I hope we are starting to see in our course, the stories that fiction tells are a discourse of truth: truth told in a unique and uniquely important manner.

    Monday, January 31, 2005

    Alice Munro: Vancouver Sun

    There was a laudatory article about Alice Munro and her upcoming National Arts Club's Medal of Honour for Literature in this past Saturday's Vancouver Sun. Online version here:

    Group Project

    The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will select a short story or chapter of a book from our course reading list and create and maintain a blog about it. A short tutorial on setting up a blog will be given by me this week and Group memberships will be set in seminar.

    The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

    Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during office Hours, and online most times.

    Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries.

    I will take a snapshot of of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

    UPDATE: Groupings & Group Blog links.

    Group A: Emilie Yee, Steven Reddy, Harjit Gill, Navreet Hundal.
    Group B: John Lee, Andrew Clements, Jim Huang, Karim Sohrevardi
    Group C: Brent Vatne, Andrew Pope, Eric Van Wieren, Anho Sham
    Group D: Andreea Fantaziu, Allison Murdoch, Lindsay Madsen, Alisha Kuntz, April Pierce

    Group A: Billy Chiam, Jordan Lee, Sam Huang
    Group B: Tejinder Gill, Jessica Ramsay, Connie Melsted, Daisy Chen

    Group C: Enock Deer, Amar Sandhar, Amar Atwal, Sim Uppal
    Group D: Sunny Sidhu, Lisa Chen, Roby Dhillon

    Group A: Parnaz Kashani, Zahra Ali, Lena Kanno
    Group B: Sarah Evans, Paul Brokenshire, Brittney Bogyo, Kevin Caravan
    Group C: Scott Ko, Darrell Yeo, Stephanie Yin, Janet Lee.