Monday, March 28, 2005
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
Friday, March 25, 2005
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
- 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
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...
Saturday, March 19, 2005
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
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
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
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
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
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"?
“Gin and Goldenrod” versus Gord Sellar’s Blog
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.
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.
UNIQUE QUALITY OF FICTION
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.
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.
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
Hamilton, ON L8S 4L9
Professor Sandra den Otter, Department of History
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 www.NACBS.org
Please direct any inquiries to email@example.com.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Drop by and say "hello" ...
Update: second link above now fixed. Use this link to jump to the list of active Group Blogs ...
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."
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
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
Thursday, March 03, 2005
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.