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.