Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Course Final Exam

Well, I hope you found that the Final Exam was structured as advertised! Please leave your comments here now that it's history.

The survey results about your feelings toward this blog were as follows:
  • "A Total Help" = 75%
  • "Who Totally Cares?" = 13.5%
  • " Total Waste of Time" = 11.5%

Some of your wrote comments & I'm grateful. There are also some intresting comments being added inposts below -- some good detail & neat ideas. (Tao & the Ice Hockey goalie in one ...)

"Simone" & Rei Toei

From a helpful "Peyman A": (I am to read "simone" as "SIM One"?)

....post this link onyour blog. It is about a singer who is actually like Rei Toei, a famous singer, who is actually "a sea of code". The movie is called Simone. I suggest everyone should go rent it and watch it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EntZGr90-qk

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Final Exam Preparation

I know that you are all doing diligent study for the Final exam Tuesday morning. There's the fine-grained detail and the major Course themes, naturally. Your lecture notes, notes on the texts, and of course this blog are your effective resources. However, I want to encourage you to keep in mind as you prepare the motto I repeated through the Course, that fiction indeed instructs, but instructs by delighting.
Let your study time for our Course, be guided by your aesthetic response to the literature: keep your love of any of the particular works topmost in your mind, and you won't go far wrong on the Exam.

Sincere best wishes.

Monday, April 2, 2007

ATP: Vincent Black Lightning

Crosscut buzz from classfellow R.B.
This is a relatively minor part of the book, but Fontaine mentions that Skinner rode a Vincent Black Lightning, I think it was a 1952, I can't remember.
Anyway, I don't know how popular it is or whether the version I know is a cover, but Richard Thompson that I can't get out of my head everytime I go to read the book.
This is a relatively good version, but I like the one I have better, just because of the back up vocals. I'm a band kid; I can't help it. If you want to listen to that version, you can

The Closing Lecture of the Term

On Wednesday we'll wrap up our understanding of All Tomorrow's Parties and then tie things together for the course as a whole, all with a nod to the shape of the Final Exam. Also, we'll have opportunity to write course evaluations for students who were unavoidably absent today....

Sunday, April 1, 2007


The process of larger national political unities breaking into smaller national fragments -- generally, to intensify ethnic, religious or economic homogeneity -- is reflected, as detailed in lecture, in All Tomorrow's Parties. The term balkanisation covers the process, as does devolution and decentralisation.

The concept, as Gibson well knows, is well-debated. What I found interesting when researching the concept for these lectures is that it is a promiscuous concept. When one side or the other finds it in their immediate interest to fragment a larger political unity, the concept is vigourously advocated as a Good. Then, when it is in the interest of each of the same sides to sustain, or create a large political unity, then balkanisation is decried as a great evil.

The result for me was that my low -- very low -- opinion of political operatives and advocacy was re-affirmed (not, God knows, that it needed it.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Bridget Jones in Paris" Blog

'Petite anglaise' blogger wins sacking case
By Henry Samuel in Paris
An Englishwoman sacked for bringing her employers in Paris into disrepute by writing an internet diary under the pseudonym petite anglaise was awarded £30,000 for wrongful dismissal yesterday. a test case for bloggers in France and beyond, a tribunal concluded that Catherine Sanderson, whose blog is said by some to be the equivalent of "Bridget Jones in Paris", had been dismissed "without real and serious causes". >>more

Nanotechnology today....in Alberta

From the Vancouver Sun
EDMONTON -- A shiny new building rises from the snowy campus of the University of Alberta, a brash, imposing upstart amid the older faculties of physics, chemistry and engineering....
Welcome to the brave new world of nanotechnology, where for the first time in human history, scientists, once relegated to theorizing about atoms and molecules, can now touch, see and even manipulate some of the smallest particles in nature.

Taoism in "All Tomorrow's Parties"

The assassin ("Konrad") in All Tomorrow's Parties is, as we have read & heard in lecture, a follower of Taoism. I found this website which can be provide helpful information to anyone who wants a fuller understanding of William Gibson's artistic use of the character and the metaphysical beliefs that he projects.

From that webpage, here are some specific Taoist concepts, beliefs and practices pertaining directly to Gibson's text:

  • Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
  • The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.
  • Each believer's goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.
  • The concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.
  • Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
  • Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Devil Tempts Literature Students

Do not read this article. It is evil.

William Gibson Wrap up

Monday we'll wrap up All Tomorrow's Parties -- Balkanisation, nodes & networks, interstice & emergent properties, and autonomous zones -- and then move on to talk about the Final Exam. Keeping in mind, as we will be, that these Big Issues are used by Gibson for their Imaginative Truth, not their economic, political or computer science Truths ....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Supply, Demand & Desire

Today's lecture on William Gibson can perhaps be summed up by the literary question, How are we to understand the character Rei Toei, the idoru?

At the start of All Tomorrow's Parties it is said that "....she doesn't exist .... she's code. Software....Hundred percent unreal" (ch.21, p.82,) and by the conclusion she is not only real -- but the Absolute reality, chapter 68 "The Absolute at Large."

Rei Toei, then, is the incarnation of those universal forces that the text calls variously the Tao, the clockwork universe, the nodal point of history. Heavy stuff, to be sure, like the good science fiction that it is, but what is this doing in terms of fiction?

To answer this, lecture presented All Tomorrow's Parties in its aspect of satire, and identified Capitalism in our own day and age as the satirical target. However, evidence of Gibson's artistic merit as a novelist, the satire is not dismissive of Capitalism tout court, but rather targets certain of Capitalism's vices, while presenting some capitalist features in favourable aspect.

This non-extremism, or non-fundamentalism, regarding Capitalism is a feature which marks Gibson as a dialogistic author: creating a text which presents a dialogue between alternative conceptions through a heteroglossia -- a multiplicity of voices -- and thereby leave the final judgement upto the reader; allowing the reader to participate in the creation of the future.

This is in opposition to didactic texts, which have their minds made up; present the Good and the Bad already determined; thus compelling the reader to accept the narrator's moral position or be branded as among the Bad.

So, how does Rei Toei function in Gibson's satire? Capitalism can be described as a system which enables people to freely exchange money for goods or services that satisfy particular desires. Capitalism, then, assumes (a.) that people have desires, and (b.) that they will pay to have their desires satified. So, Rei Toei is described as being "....an amplified reflection of desire" ch.39, p.198.) She is, that is to say, in Capitalist terms, a Supply. Gibson expresses the supply function, in his novel, in terms of Say's Law, which, in a rough generalisation, says that "Supply creates its own demand." in other words, demand follows supply. This doctrine is put, in All Tomorrow's Parties, into the mouth of Tessa, who replies to Chevette's remark Rei Toei's kind of perfection "....is what people want," with this firm statement of Say's Law:
....you've got it exactly backwards. People don't know what they want, not before they see it. Every object of desire is a found object (ch.15, p.82.)

Here, then, Gibson is treating in fiction the commodification aspect of Capitalism: the way that it turns values into commodities -- goods or services to be sold and bought. In this formulation, each good and service is an "object of desire." Thus, the Capitalist sequence is,
  1. A human desire.
  2. A capitalist's supply of an object of that desire: a commodity.
  3. A capitalist buyers' demand and provision of money for, and consumption of, that object.
All Tomorrow's Parties resists wholesale belittlement of this sequence, because, it was argued in lecture, the condemnation of people gratifying their desires is a form of Puritanism: those people who apply moral censure to desires and their fulfillment are said, in our culture, to be Puritanical; moralistic; Fundamentalist. William Gibson's background in the expressive nineteen sixties makes him very resistant to moral condemnation of free expression of will and desire.

In Wednesday's lecture upcoming we will see what aspects of Capitalism are being satirised in Gibson's gloriously polyphonic novel, and more of what his posthuman dystopia-utopia looks like.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Twitter": Cell-phone Mini-blogging

From FT.com
By Richard Waters and Chris Nuttall in San Francisco
Silicon Valley is abuzz over a new mini-blogging service for mobile phones that some predict will be a mass-market hit with the reach of a YouTube or MySpace.
Over the past two weeks, Twitter has attracted the sort of hyperbole the Valley reserves for its next internet darling – though such self-reinforcing adulation also led to dotcom mania.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Clarke's Third Law and Gibson's "All Tomorrow's Parties"

As lecture offered, one important idea that inspired William Gibson's imaginative conception of All Tomorrow's Parties was surely novelist Arthur C. Clarke's famous Three Laws: specifically his popular Third Law:

    • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Gibson repeatedly presents the technology central to his plot in magical terms: the multiplied Rei Toei echoing 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice;' the renewal of the old watch 'before your very eyes' at the close of the book suggesting the djinn's promise of 'new lamps for old;' &c. &c.

ps: A reformulation of Clarke's Third law (of which there are many) -- 'Ogden's Corollary One' -- says:

  • Magic is Technology at a sufficiently advanced stage.
And an 'Ogden's Corollary Two' reads:

  • Sufficiently advanced Technicians are magicians. (Just never ask them to show you their wands....)

Clocks: "the order uncomprehended."

William Gibson's character "Silencio" in All Tomorrow's Parties is presented as being "....colonized by an order uncomprehended" (p. 87) and the 'order' is in the form of a watch: that is to say, the clockwork universe behind the world of experience and appearance. ("some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension," p. 85.)
Silencio, in fact, is an Oracle for these horological forces: "....He has become the words, what they mean" (p. 88.)

As lecture explained, Gibson has thus put his novel directly within a long-standing intellectual and, more importantly, literary tradition. I displayed the poem "Evening Watch" by the great Seventeenth century Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan. Here is the final stanza:

11 Ah go; th'art weak, and sleepy. Heav'n
12 Is a plain watch, and without figures winds
13 All ages up; who drew this circle, even
14 He fills it; days and hours are blinds.
15 Yet this take with thee. The last gasp of time
16 Is thy first breath, and man's eternal prime
To explain this stanza, and help take Gibson's meaning, look at the little Scottie dog in the image here. He is standing on the face of "a plain watch" which, not having any numerals on it, is "without figures." Because the minute and hour hands block his vision of the whole of the 'plain', they are in effect "blinds" -- as in shooting blinds which block the little dog from seeing the full circle. [All Tomorrow's Parties, ch 43, p 215: "Because we have constructed this blind, says the cat."]

Let's interpret this: we can't properly see what the poem calls "heaven" -- that is, Eternity -- because Time, the past, present & future, blocks out, in a sense, our eternal view. In Vaughan's final stanza above, the phrase "eternal prime" invokes the horological sense of 'Prime," the first liturgical hour of the ecclesiastical day. Thus in eternity it is always morning, since there is no Time which can bring the day to an end!

Gibson's futurist re-vision of this in All Tomorrow's Parties gives a secular eternity, where matter can be endlessly re-created newly, and a post-human being -- Rei Toei -- is created & re-created infinitely from "pure code." (p. 184.)

Now, of course, we are here dealing solely in terms of Fiction: art to be enjoyed and delighted in for its æsthetic qualities. And if it should 'instructs' by this delighting? Well, that is purely for each individual to decide .....

Nodes & Interstices

Last Wednesday's lecture outlined the two Big Ideas that are behind the repeated references to 'clocks' and 'nodes' in All Tomorrow's Parties: respectively, the 'clockwork universe' and 'interstices .' On Monday we'll finish this outline and then see how these two Big Ideas are worked diversely by William Gibson into his fiction as settting, characterisation and plot.

[The graphic here is actually a seriously cool graphical representation of this very blog in the form of nodes and dendrites, created from this web tool. In effect, it's how Laney might see our blog as it "haunts his nodal configuration...." (p. 19)]

'Interstices' are an extremely important concept within the novel and (as Gibson is suggesting) within present-day Vancouver: 'Terminal City' -- updated for 2007 as a cyber-Terminal.

The following is non-essential, and is only here for anyone with an personal interest in these technological ideas. Those with other kinds of interest need read no further.

As lecture explained, interstices are conceptual parts of the idea of nets: fishing nets, wireless networks, the internet itself. Gibson's first novel is titled Neuromancer, and deals with the idea of Neural Networks: a system model of information not being located in a centralised and unified place -- such as in the homunculus ('little man') model -- but instead is distributed as signals across a complex network of nodes and signal pathways ('axons.') The model is derived from the architecture of the brain, and is used to construct non-CPU computers, Artificial Neural Networks ('ANN'), under a concept called parallel distributed processing, under the doctrine of Connectionism.

Part of the power of nerual networks (biological or artificial) is that the individual nodes have a equality of signficance relative to each other, and the clusters within a network have plasticity of function, so that the breakdown of, or attack upon, one, or even several, nodes does not destroy the system, as the information are redistributed across the reamining nodes. As you probably know, this was the advantage that the United States military hoped to exploit by developing the Internet in the first place.

In All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson presents history itself as a nodal network, and human lives the connecting pathways. The interstices are, in a sense, where the meaning or the potential for new meanings can be said to exist.
....plunging down the wall of this code mesa, its face compounded of fractally differentiated fields of information he has come to suspect of hiding some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension.
Something at once noun and verb.
While Laney, plunging, eyes wide against the pressure of information, knows himself to be merely adjectival: a Laney-coloured smear, meaningless without context. (p 85.)
Ps: An article I published (in a Danish journal) on parallel distributed processing for a literary audience is in our library at this link: "Forbindeleser."

Classroom Insta-messaging & Profs

Read this post from instapundit.com 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.

Essay Writing Assistance

From the Student Learning Commons people at the great W.A.C. Bennett Library:

As we near the end of the term, the Yosef Wosk Student Learning Commons would like to remind you of the additional academic support we provide students in writing and learning skills. (Via one-on-one appointments or drop-in .)

As....students enter the semester's 'writing crunch' and then final exams, please take a minute to remind them that there is additional writing and learning skills support available in the Student Learning Commons (room 3695-Podium Level 3-to the right of the Library). (Emphases mine.)

Some of the areas our friendly and knowledgeable Peer Educators and myself can assist students in are:

- planning and flow of a paper,
- integrating quotes (sic) and paraphrasing,
- improving coherence and cohesion,
- controlling sentence structure and punctuation,
- exam strategies,
- overcoming exam anxiety,
- ....more.

.....we do not edit or proof papers. The YWSLC Coordinator and Peers provide the insight, skills, and techniques to improve a students own performance, including learning how to write, edit and proofread their own work.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gorillaz: Virtual Band

Classfellow A.T. draws attention to Gorillaz, a virtual band that necessarily evokes Gibson's Rei Toei. There is a YouTube clip of them with Madonna here, and their homepage is here.

(It is not truly Idoru virtual, but it is a big step on that direction!)

TA lecture: notes

Our TA has elected to have her Microsoft PowerPoint file from her excellent lecture on politics & All Tomorrow's Parties hosted online at SFU for full access, here. If there is any trouble with them on local workstations, please leave me a comment at this point.

Blogs of Note

TA Steve Zillwood recommends the following two blogs.

Making Light is run by the husband and wife team of Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who are the editors for Tor Books in New York. A very well-written and topical blog, covering aspects of the publishing industry, current events, writers and
writing, and tons of other oddball items of interest - and the best part is often the comments after each post.

The second is Neil Gaiman's blog. I think that a fair number of our students will be familiar with him, largely because he has written in so many forms over the past couple of decades (novels, comics, radio plays). He too covers a lot of topical information and news items, with a focus on writing and writers.
Mr. Zillwood also recommends a third, but you will need to contact him individually for that url.

A blog I like recently is The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics by an SFU employee, Heather Morrison. It is worderfully bloggy: varied, literary, informative.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Literary Method: from Comments

The comments thread to the "Douglas Coupland & Cynicism" post shows several responses to the explication in lecture of the four-part structure of the afterlife in relation to Hey Nostradamus! Rather than reply to the common attitude there, I wanted to bring it up to a main post, as important points regarding the method of academic analysis of fiction are in play here. I want to thank greatly the commentators themselves for stimulating this little treatise: if they would stop by an Office Hour, I'll repay them in coffee & (pace my post on Canadian spelling) doughnuts.

The commentators object bluntly to the four-fold structure (Heaven, Purgatory, Limbo, Hell) as, in a repeated phrase, "hogwash." Objection, of course, is admirable and welcome, in principle. I myself object. But scholarly objections require that scholarly conditions be met. There is, as I read the comments in question, an unavoidable sense that Coupland's text is here accomplishing its intended destabilising effect: the fact that the commentators frame their objections against "Roman Catholicism" leads me to wonder whether the real objection might not be coming from an evangelical Protestant position, and is actually directed against the four-part doctrine itself, rather than its use to explain Coupland's art.

So, to put this in terms of the academic method of analysis of fiction. Straightaway, there is a need to correct the objections against historical fact. The four-part afterlife is not Roman Catholic: or, rather, not exclusively Roman Catholic.
  1. The model predated the creation of Protestantism by seveal hundred years. (Cf Dante & The Divine Comedy, below.)
  2. Although the Roman Catholic Church has not abandoned this doctrine, it is also held by some Protestants. For example, scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote of his affirmation of Purgatory and Limbo.

The first step, then, of academic analysis is to research the main historical facts under dispute, rather than take one's assumptions as being correct.

Next, be restrained both in configuring one's opponent's position and in expressing one's counter-analysis. The pejorative "utter hogwash" is perfectly possible -- I have myself experienced utter hogwash in academic settings -- but it is best to consider the strength of the position being objected to. (This is sound Sun Tzu pragmatics, among other things.) Being wrong and being hogwash are two different things. Scholarship almost means presenting one's argument for refutation: that is the nature of the dialectical method stretching back to the Pre-Socratics. Hogwash, on the other hand, denotes statements with neither plausibility nor support.

The requirement in the present case is for the objections to be cast in light of the material and arguments presented in weeks of lecture. I must say that I do not see this as having been done here. So, what is the main case for the four-part afterlife as an explanatory schema for Hey Nostradamus!?

  • The argument from structure. The structure of a work of fiction with literary quality has, lacking clear evidence to the contrary, thematic significance. So, for a four-part novel, one looks for analogues relevant to the theme of the text. Observing that Hey Nostradamus! has a religious theme, as well as a plot centred explicitly on Christianity, one casts about for four-part systems in that religion. Two of the largest were presented in lecture: the afterlife, and the gospels. (Note that this is required just as much when the text seems to be directed against religion as in support of it.) So, objection to the four-part afterlife in this context needs to contend with the force of this academic aspect.
  • The novel opens with the main character actually being in Purgatory: that is, in an ante-state before Heaven but after Earth. Frankly, in context of a four-part novel, this is nearly irrefutable evidence for Coupland having the afterlife structure as part of his artistic design. At the very least, it would be scholarly dereliction to fail to explain why this is not part of the literary design.
  • The text has an aggregation of lexical cues (a.) to the four different states and (b.) concentrated in separate sections (e.g. the word "purgatory" appears in one part, "heaven" repeatedly in another.
  • The four-part afterlife has a potent literary tradition which adds immensely to the plausibility of Coupland having appropriated it. Most powerfully, the great Dante's Divine Comedy (a supreme work of literary genius) is structured according to the levels of afterlife (three-part to resonate the doctrine of the Trinity: Dante was an orthodox Christian, which Coupland is not.) We are drawn to this parallel pointedly by the title of Coupland's text, which invokes another medieval writer.

Short of repeating lecture, then, this is enough to say that the case for the four-part structure in the text is strong. Not, please note, irrefutable. Quite the opposite, in fact. The point here, though, is that in order to object to the explanation, the strengths of the claims in its favour have to dealt with in proportionate strength.

Furthermore, the literary method of analysis takes account of the concept of Imaginative Truth. To speak counter-factually, even were the four-part afterlife exclusively Roman Catholic, non-Catholic, even anti-Catholic, writers could find the concept artistically irresistible. Lecture gave Led Zeppelin and Joss Whedon as examples of anti-Christians who use Christian ontology in their art. To point, Coupland could in principle use Purgatory and Limbo artistically without any Roman Catholic suggestion at all: the artist, indeed, may not even be aware that the ideas have any specifically Roman Catholic denotation.

Likewise, literary art does not require that there be direct correspondence between the use of a concept in a novel and its original formalities, nor need there be, what the American poet Emerson called, "a foolish consistency" in the concept's fictional application. Art uses resonancy, allusion, careful distortion, apposition, contrast, invention and inversion: all tints and shades are on the master's palette. (A major example in this regard is Ulysses by Modernist writer James Joyce, wherein a large part of the appeal for its devotees is finding (and then flaunting the finding of) the presence, shape and fictional purpose of, distorted episodes from Homer's original in the Modernist revision.)

I hope this brief account of one part of the academic analysis of fiction is beneficial. If not, look to my inadequacies as the reason, not the discipline itself, which is all glory. And for any specific questions on the details of Hey Nostradamus!, again, stop by Office Hours.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

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 similarity to 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! A science fiction movie affecting reality!'

Coupland and (Generation) Alienation

My cacophonous term for one of Douglas Coupland's signature themes 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 segmentation 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 current 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 offer 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 artistic 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 euphorically represented to them by an insightful baby-boomer lecturer .... In a phrase, generation alienation in action.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

TA Lecture

An opportunity to hear another perspective on course material comes Monday, when TA Jodie Salter will be giving us a lecture on All Tomorrow's Parties.

"The Man" in "ATP"

I left a point slightly unfinished in lecture. The character referred to as "the man" -- the assassin -- in All Tomorrow's Parties is presented namelessly as a fictional device to, in part, leave his moral status uncertain for the reader and thus increase tension in the plot. In other words, not knowing his name, we wonder about his character (in more than one sense) and thus how he will influence the outcome of the story.

The man is eventually named -- in the late "The Birds are on Fire" chapter -- but only at a significant moment in the story development. Explanation to come in lecture at the appropriate moment.....

The Metaphysics of "All Tomorrow's Parties"

William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties will seem very confusing and, quite likely, somewhat disorientating to readers who don't know its metaphysical background or the intellectual concerns that animate it. Today's lecture began outlining 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 nano-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 been 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 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 lecture will develop further, 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 nor dance.

Monday, March 12, 2007

William Gibson, Blogger

William Gibson is a serious blogger, as you can witness for yourself, here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Douglas Coupland: Prophet, Part II

Reading of the latest murder here in the Vancouver area, this time at Whistler, provokes me to update my evidence for Coupland's view of a violent present-day Vancouver.

The following are only desultory samplings from the last month or so. Proof here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And more, alas, here.

"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 that band having taken the title of a bizarre book for their name.

Douglas Coupland: Prophecy

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 was this headline from the Vancouver Province: "'Epidemic' of Teen Swarmings." The Vancouver Sun had this headline: "Two Males Stabbed Near Metrotown Last Evening." Again, that is just one day: look at the media and find never ending repetition. ("Drive by shooting in Chilliwack" from last month, e.g.) The first time I taught this novel, I presented in lecture local newspapers collected over the weeks of the lectures 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. His novels could be mandatory Canadian reading.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More detail on some of the types of "Irony"

In reply to a couple of specific questions about two or three of the types of Irony introduced and explained in Wednesday's lecture, here are some examples of these types taken from my own current readings (& one from a personal experience.) For more research, the book I quoted from in lecture is in the W.A.C. Bennett Library: A Dictionary of Literary Terms, by J. A. Cuddon.

SITUATIONAL IRONY. In The Masked Rider, Rush drummer & lyricist Neal Peart writes of his 1988 cycling trip across West Africa. A devout atheist, Mr. Peart relates how on one stage he stayed briefly at a monastery and at night was given blankets knitted and donated as a charity effort by churches in the West. "....and I smiled at the irony -- me, the impious one who made a point of donating only to secular charities, on the receiving end of missionary aid." (Masked Rider, Pottersfield, 104.)

See also the above picture that I took on Friday evening at the Canada Trust branch on West Broadway. The branch was open, and the glass doors have a huge "Welcome" sign by the handle .... but the door was locked and, hidden behind the sign, there was a Security Guard who waved me away!

HISTORICAL IRONY. In my World War One course this term, a student presentation related the irony of Germany losing the two World Wars and having all WWII debts cancelled and paying only a eighth of the reparations set by the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, while England, after winning the two World Wars, payed debts as a result to Canada and the United States of well over $200 billion dollars -- payments that were only completed.... in 2006!

COSMIC IRONY. There is a good example, presented in lecture, in Hey Nostradamus!, of the irony that sons frequently become the type of person they least liked in their own fathers. Reg becomes like his detestable father, and Jason sees himself becoming like Reg (& Jason's sons, presumably, following after their father's most-despised traits.) "[Reg is] a lonely, bitter, prideful crank, and I really have to laugh when I consider the irony that I've become, of course, the exact same thing. Memo to Mother Nature: Thanks."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Invective: the Eric Alterman Example

To illustrate "Invective," a member of the family of rhetorical concepts to which Irony belongs, I offered the trailer to the upcoming film about Ralph Nader, An Unreasonable Man.

In the trailer, one Eric Alterman is portrayed, first, throwing invective -- sheer vituperaive abuse -- toward Mr. Nader: "Why don't you go and ruin another country? You've ruined this one [i.e. the U.S.A]" A characteristic of invective (as the trailer shows clearly) is that it reveals the person giving it to be bitter, petty-minded, sour, mean-spirited and perfectly disagreeable. Except where one is preaching to the choir, invective should be avoided by cultured and intelligent rhetors.

Mr. Alterman appears a second time in the trailer, and there he is exemplifying antiphrasis: "Thank-you Mr. Nader for the Iraq War; Thank-you Mr. Nader for destroying the environment; Thank-you Mr. Nader .... etc. etc."

The film's title, by the bye, is also antiphrastic: "A Unreasonable Man" invokes an ironic epigram by one of history's greatest ironists, Bernard Shaw:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
In reality, that is, the reasonable are called unreasonable by the unreasoning: perhaps an Irony of Fate, or Cosmic Irony.

"Imaginative Truth"

I'll be giving even fuller detail on the concept of Imaginative Truth, in relation to the four-part structural ontology in Hey Nostradamus!, during Monday's lecture.

Still not sure what "ontology" means? OED!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cognate Meaning for "Jason"

Classfellow R.B. passes on the helpful information that "....Joshua means "suppliant" so, if Jason and Joshua are the same, then perhaps the image on the front of the book is Jason?"

Coupland's "Doubt" in Literary Context

To help place the favourable representation of Doubt that, as lecture is arguing, Douglas Coupland has applied in Hey Nostradamus! within a wider literary sensibility, I quoted Monday from Scottish writer William McIlvanney's contemporary Scottish novel Laidlaw. Here are the relevant passages:
"I mean if everybody could waken up tomorrow morning and have the courage of their doubts, not their convictions, the millenium would be here. I think false certainties are what destroy us....What's murder but a willed absolute, an invented certainty?"
....was surprised again to discover that the most certain thing about Laidlaw was his doubt. Everything came back to that, even his decisiveness....
William McIlvanney, Laidlaw: Harvest, San Diego, 1994. p 134, 218.)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rock Bands & Religiosity

Showing clips of Led Zeppelin performances -- Stairway to Heaven and two gospel songs, Nobody's Fault but Mine & In My Time of Dying -- to demonstrate that Christian themes are "imaginatively true" for non-religious artists? That's a good thing.

Taking Rock seriously, on the other hand, is definitely a bad thing.
GWYNEDD, WALES—Calling it the planet's last, best hope for saving rock music, the Guardians of the Protectorate of Rock announced Monday that they would take the extraordinary step of unleashing a never-before-heard Jimmy Page riff, hidden for decades in a mythic, impenetrable vault.
"We who believe in the immortality of rock took a vow 30 years ago that we would never release this incredibly powerful force unless we faced a Day of Reckoning—and that day has come," said Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, one of the chosen few who helped forge the Secret Vault to Save Rock and Roll, at a press conference in the Welsh highlands. "Just look at the pop charts, and you shall know I speak the truth."

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Blog Criticisms

There has been some blogging on the nature of blogging in the past week from the Left: meta-blogging, as it were.
  1. Britain's The Guardian looks at Illiterary blogging.
  2. The Online Journalism Review at USC asks if blogs are a parasitic medium.
  3. Ann Althouse scolds childish blogger Eric Alterman for suggesting that blogs need to have less freedom of speech.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Douglas Coupland & Cynicism

A classfellow asked me in Office Hours why I am claiming in the lectures on Hey Nostradamus! that Coupland is strongly critical of cynicism. My answer was to quote from novel, for example Reg's remark: "Is that cynical? I hope not...." This did not seem to entirely convince, so I offer this 2000 interview with Douglas Coupland here on the blog, in the event that others share the questioning.
"I am the most uncynical person on Earth," he says, earnestly. "I'm ironic. I admit that. I'm Joe Irony. But people confuse irony with cynicism, which is like battery acid. It just wrecks everything."
The acid effect of cynicism was my configuration in lecture, as you recall. As stated Wednesday, I will lecture on Coupland and irony this coming week.

The article also gives a good presentation of Coupland's views on God.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Arc of the course

Today was a good time to review the arc of the course: the shape of the trajectory of the Vancouver fiction we have been, are, and will be, studying. I'm posting some notes from lecture on this.

On an X-Y graph, we have Time on the X axis going from the 1880s to Eternity, and 'ultimate meaning' or metaphysics, on the Y axis.

We began our course in Vancouver-Past, at the turn of the twentieth century with Vancouver Short Stories.
  • Pauline Johnson: in the face of commercialism and materialism in new-Vancouver, reclaimed a pre-materialist re-vision of the place – Legend, the supra-physical – through her First Nations heritage.
  • Some stories – “In Vancouver,” “A Cup of Coffee” – have “Realist” design (pure materialist, "objective” (scientific) description of material fact), but Realism has artistic limitations. (N.b. Current polemical terminology, “Reality-based community,” uses this sense of 'realist.')
  • A familiar literary (& fine art, intellectual, & theological) term for this is “Modernism.”
  • Munro's “Forgiveness in Families” has a Realist-Modernist tone …. but adds an additional dimension – a secular epiphany -- cued for the reader by the use of an explicitly religious character, the narrator's brother, Cam.
  • The epiphany is a recognition of personal failing by the first-person narrator, new knowledge of her own flawed character – and thus the acceptance of personal responsibility, a secular (literay) Confession, producing a new sharing in the human condition.
  • This is not religious, and not strictly materialist …. perhaps, in a reserved sense, spiritual?
  • Next, Innocent Traveller: a seemingly detached, secular, Modernist narrative stance toward religious characters – e.g. Rachel, Mary, Father – is taken in the text, but a prominently-placed dimension of Eternity is added to this.
  • The text straddles straddles a border -- non-religious but refusing to be facilely categorised as plainly scientific: a mystical-Einsteinian engagement with the Infinite.
  • Next, poetry and the nearly-now. Margaret Avison takes the modernist scientific-immediate, purely physical attention, (a highly-regarded Modernist poet) to the world, but she then develops into what Douglas Coupland terms “orthodox” – i.e. a specific coherence found in a commited religious position.
  • Now, Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! This is Vancouver-Present.
  • Coupland has moved beyond modernist attitudes to religion, and beyond religious attitudes to modernism. Also moved beyond anti-religion, and beyond cynicism.
  • Takes a playful (ironic) attitude to the religious-anti-religious subject. His explicit treatment of religious character & theme derives from a combined artistic, autobiographical, and intellectual motive.
  • To come – William Gibson All Tomorrow’s Parties. As title indicates, Vancouver-Future. A new synthesis. A physicalised spirituality .... in the mode of Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.)

So, this is the trajectory that the course takes with the particular texts chosen. Any queries, uncertainties, confusions, request for clearer exposition, &c. that you, as they say, "might have," can be left under the comments here, & I'll address mself to them when I can.

Plant Blogging

It's wet, cold & snowing outside, but inside my aeschynanthus is blooming. The full delight is in the contrast: true for the literary as well as the horticultural voluptuary.

"Hey Nostradamus!" Lectures Extended

One of our TAs has suggested extending the lectures on Hey Nostradamus! to allow a fuller engagement with this popular book at this time of mid-terms.

No problem!

I'll continue with Coupland, then, through next week, and begin All Tomorrow's Parties on March 12th.

Today's lecture gave a look 'behind the scenes' at the creation of a work of fiction: specifically, why does a novelist (using Coupland for our example) write; what kinds of influences & inspiration bring about a work of fiction; how do these influences & inspiration become this or that particular novel, poem or short story?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Coupland's Book on Terry Fox

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

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

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Douglas Coupland's "jPod"

The website for Coupland's newest book, jPod, is off the chart SOTA. The book is about a group of the type of people who design just this type of homepage. Play with the site (click the post title), buy the book: here's a couple of screenshots ahead of lecture Monday. (From the jPod site, click the body of the "C:/God is a Xkb state indicator" box for a hit of the sensation of reading the novel.)

Douglas Coupland at "....the friction point between secular and orthodox cultures."

U2's Bono has famously remarked that "Sadomasochism isn't taboo in rock & roll. Spirituality is." This concept of taboo ― defined as a noticeable unease and discomfort at any non-dismissive mention of the taboo thing ― in relation to modern-day mention of God is also addressed notably by Virginia Woolf in her book Jacob's Room, where she writes the following:
"The Duke of Wellington was a gentleman," said Timmy.
"Keats wasn't."
"Lord Salisbury was."
"And what about God?" said Jacob.
The Scilly Isles now appeared as if directly pointed at by a golden finger issuing from a cloud; and everybody knows how portentous that sight is, and how these broad rays, whether they light upon the Scilly Isles or upon the tombs of crusaders in cathedrals, always shake the very foundations of scepticism and lead to jokes about God.
Woolf is invoking here an idea of Freud's that jokes are the means by which threatening, frightening or taboo'd elements in the subconscious mind can be given safe release into the conscious, and thus public, arena. (Freud, Sigmund, Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious. Trans. James Strachey, London, 1960. New York: Norton.)

The point in Woolf's text is that 'scepticism' (to wit, doctrinal anti-religious conviction) is a position of mental safety: a firm ground of conviction and belief which allows the sceptical mind to keep the dangerous & threatening ideas in its subconscious part, safely labelled, categorised, taboo'd, and, thus, controlled. However, when experience confronts the sceptic (or, the cynic) with some unexpected event ― such as a natural phenomenon, a passage of writing, a personal tragedy or epiphany ― then the safety of doctrine is unsettled, and suddenly discomforted mind reacts: perhaps with fear, perhaps with an attack against the cause of the unease, but perhaps with a (slightly desperate) joke.

This, then, is just the position which Douglas Coupland uses as his literary point of departure for Hey Nostradamus! As detailed in lecture, for an over-determined complex of reasons ― biographical, cultural, artistic, experiential ― Coupland engages the world with a consistent ambiguity by which he is able to avoid adversarial, dogmatic, or ideological certainties. This is iconically represented by the book's cover, as detailed in this earlier post.
To me, one of the most interesting places to be is the friction point between secular and orthodox cultures. (Douglas Coupland: Interview by Graeme Green. Clash magazine. Issue 6. Jan/Feb 2005)
Coupland uses religion explicitly in Hey Nostradamus! (he approaches the subject more obliquely in other texts, such as his newest, jPod) as a literary device by which to actually create the destabilisation that his text promotes. Through artistic use of the God taboo, Coupland's text invokes the Freudian unease in readers who have the mentality of dogmatic certainty which is portrayed antagonistically in Hey Nostradamus!.

Fundamentalist Christian readers, for instance, will have a disturbed reaction to the unfavourable and, perhaps, blasphemous portrayal of the Christian protagonists; while Fundamentally Secular readers, say, will be at least as angered and unsettled by Coupland's consistently favourable representation of Theism at the plain surface of the novel.

The ultimate message for us, of course, is the nature of fiction, and the manifold artistic ways in which ideas are represented in art. Douglas Coupland's artistic genius is of a very particular type: all the furniture of the digital age is commandingly within his scope, and, for me, gloriously, he transmutes the universe of 'Generation Internet' into understanding.

And, more importantly yet, as Orwell said of Charles Dickens, Coupland's fiction has the power to oppose "....all the smelly little orthodoxies which are even now contending for our souls.'

Student comment on Hey Nostradamus!

From classfellow A.T.

I've spent a lot of time stewing over Hey Nostradamus! over the last week .... I'm not sure how it happened but I seem to be reading course books and relating them to music in much the same way you relate them to the books that we've previously covered. I love the way art inspires and sometimes helps us to understand other art. I'm convinced that "Wake Up Dead Man" by U2 is the song version of Hey Nostradamus!
video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK7kMAyuLow
lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/u2/wakeupdeadman.html

Jesus, were you just around the corner?
Did you think to try and warn her?
Or are you working on something new?
If there's an order in all of this disorder
Is it like a tape recorder?
Can we rewind it just once more?

Friday, February 23, 2007

On the Mid-Term

I love this Bizarro cartoon on the ever-more degraded state of language use!

A word about the mid-term essay project now well underway. The TAs are currently marking the first version of the essay and will return it to you by February 26th.

As you know, the objective of compulsory Writing Intensive Courses like ours is to provide an excellent opportunity for improved student writing ability. To that end, this first version of your essay is worth only five percent of the twenty percent that the Mid-Term represents in the ultimate course grade. Accordingly, your TAs have a mandate of marking to strict criteria for your greatest benefit.

Expect, then, this five percent grade to be an effective and accurate guidepost for you to improve your writing -- and, one hopes, your grade -- on the final version worth the remaining fifteen percent of the assignment grade.

So, for example, first versions which ignore the criteria set in the Mid-Term Topics -- say, (in the case of Topic #2,) failing to ground the essay in textual quotation, and using mere personal reflection instead following the instruction to argue -- can receive a first-version grade of less than 50%.

Study the first version carefully when it is returned to you, as it is a practical means of, for one, becoming a much better writer, and, for another, getting a significantly higher grade on your heavily-weighted final version.

Here's to good writing!

Writing Blog

A great blog, Paperback Writer, by professional writer Lynn Viehl ("36 Novels publiched in 5 Genres") blogging the practice of writing.

Paperback Writer is a personal blog written and edited by me. This blog never accepts any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. I write for my own purposes. Other than contracted royalties from the publishers of my novels from sales of said novels through booksellers, I never receive compensation from what I write, endorse or link to on this blog.

I have never been compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely my own or that of the visitors who leave comments. If we claim or appear to be experts on a certain topic or product or service area, we will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

For more information about Paperback Writer, contact the blog owner at LynnViehl@aol.com. This policy is effective as of August 1, 2004. (Post is here.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Terms from Lecture: Discussion Space

Use this post as a central point of reference and discussion for specific terms that I introduce and define in lecture during my explanations of the course texts. An example is "metaphysical modernism": being Margaret Avison's use of the concrete language of modernist literature to express ultimate meaning beyond physical nature.

So, if you have any questions about any particular term from lecture, or if you are unclear about any of the meanings, leave your question in the Comments section to this post, and a classfellow -- perhaps even a TA or the Lecturer -- can give his or her answer. In turn, consider checking back here regularly and see if you can provide a helpful answer of your own. (I have made this post a permanent link in the "Pertinent & Impertinent" section to the right.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Coupland's Attitude to "Religion"

A good illustration of Douglas Coupland's attitude toward Religion is found on a card that I saw this morning at the SFU BookStore. It has the painting shown here ― Cranach's "The Virgin and Child Under an Apple Tree" ―with the following motto:

Knowing who His Father was,
most were surprised
to see how much
He resembled Mary.

Now, if you understand this, then you understand much of Hey Nostradamus!, I think. The motto is clearly irreverent, and can be read, by those so minded, as making a pointed joke against a particular doctrinal belief. But the attitude is playful, not mean-spirited; ambiguous rather than dogmatic or cynical. (Ambiguous, because a Christian could still enjoy the joke, I presume.) It is a form of gentle Irony - a central Coupland literary mode which I will address myself to in upcoming lecture.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TA catch on an element of "Hey Nostraddamus!"

More proof of the high interpretive calibre of our TA complement: one of them sends along this:
I'm sure you've already noticed this, but in class today when you pointed out the first two words of Hey Nostradamus! are in bold (I believe), I flipped through to the beginning of the other sections and found that You and Jason are also in bold ("I
believe you Jason.")

Monday, February 19, 2007


Of course, I wouldn't put an essay question in the Final Exam on the significance of the single word-line "So." in Margaret Avison. But I might reward attendance by having a lesser-weighted question on meanings of another "s" word discussed lengthily in lecture today ....

Æsthetics in the News

The redoubtable Arts & Letters Daily presently features this article on the (improperly neglected) study of beauty.
The Uncertainty Principle of Beauty. Not only professional philosophy but large swaths of culture begin to look different once we've included desire and uncertainty in our idea of beauty. When, for example, we talk about beauty in purely formal terms — as Modernist critics did —we must conclude that beauty will always be a rare thing, its appreciation inherently difficult. But if instead we agree with Mr. Nehamas that beauty is identical to desire, that desire longs for engagement, and that such engagements are invariably risky, we might talk about beauty as we would talk about friendship: not as a verdict of something's worth but as indication that a relationship with the beautiful object will continue to give us unexpected pleasures over time.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

For Monday's Lecture upcoming

Just a reminder that on Monday we'll finishing our direct engagement with Margaret Avision and her representation of Canada, setting up our section on Douglas Coupland.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Ney Nostradamus!" Cover Icon

Any ideas flowing on what is signified on the cover of Coupland's book?
Update: So, as I said in lecture, turn the cover upside down, & it becomes a "?". This symbolises an important theme in Coupland's text: that Faith and Doubt are the same concept from different angles. Coupland's text presents the attitude of uncertainty and questioning in a congenial light, in comparison to rigid certainties.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Comment on "Comments"

Regarding comments to the blog posts here, they are as you know being Moderated by me: that is, they have to be published by me before they appear on the blog. I turned the Moderator feature on because I had a request to allow Anonymous comments, and that inevitably attracts Spam and Trolls (usually, "social-issue" trolls) which need to be kept off the blog.

Comment away.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Our Gibson Course Book

Classfellow Z.P. e-mails the following to encourage me to deport myself toward you on the principle of in loco parentis.

I am just sending you this brief e-mail to let you know that the last text we will be covering in English 101 is available at the BookStore, and that they will soon be returning their excess books to their distributors (or whoever they recieve them from). Therefore it might be prudent to put a reminder on the blog, and another at the beginning of monday's class, to let the other students know that it would be wise to purchase it before time runs out (it just would not do tohave more than half the class text-less when we reach it's study eh?) .... in this case the book was not available until late January. I believe this is just a special situation, rather than the norm.

Student Rebuttal

Classfellow A.M. sends this stimulating comment on Wednesday's lecture:

I absolutely despise poetry. In my humble opinion, the poetry we are doing is being over-analyzed. Im sure there are others who agree with me when I say that, maybe the poet did not have anything more to say. For example, in "Cement Worker....", yield", as you said is a yellow sign and emphasizes the almost synesthesia-like description of colour throughout this book. However, I think that you were possibly the only person in the entire lecture hall who thought of it that way. Of course, your thought is what counts being our professor, but I think that maybe, its just a simple poem, without five hundrer million deeper meanings. Or maybe its just my hate for poetry that is coming to the surface.
To the charge of over-analysis, I reply, à la one of Archie Bunker's malapropisms, "Now listen here, I resemble that remark!" And as you know, I think that hating something literary is clean & good: lukewarm indifference is the only response that I regret being the cause of.

More to come on my reply to this ....

My thanks to A.M. for the sincere & respectful engagement.

Blog from MS Office

OK, this is officially awesome. Blogger now has a free add-on downloadable at this link that integrates blogger.com into Microsoft Office Word.

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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blog on Girls & Boys Reading

The Books for Kids Blog, by a retired school librarian, blogs boys' reading & girls' reading. The first configures reading according to the performative masculinity thesis (that masculinity is inescapably unstable & insecure, and requires males to constantly perform to confirm masculinity.) The second invokes the 'princess' craze among YA girls (e.g. Ella Enchanted) and supports the 'plucky young woman' trope.
  1. Making It As a Modern Male: Y[oung] A[dult] Novels and the Teen Boys
    Many social commentators have lamented the "lost" generation of American boys, growing up in a time in which girls have garnered a lot of attention in the public mind. Although teenage boys are considered a hard sell for fiction writers, guys probably stand in greater need of the vicarious experience offered in novels than do girls, since boys often find their life experience in riskier behaviors and since they are thought to be less comfortable with sharing personal events and feelings with each other.
  2. Another Plucky Princess....
    Here's another royal romp to add to my earlier list of "Princess Stories That Won't Shrink Ze Brain." It's Kate Coombs' 2006 title The Runaway Princess. This one really is a romp, as fifteen-year-old princess no-wannabe Meg refuses to be the bait her slightly greedy father King Stromgard dangles before a gaggle of princes who fill the Kingdom of Greve to win her hand The princes straggle forth to slay a dragon, return his hoard, banish a witch, and capture a bandit, while the unwilling Meg is sequestered in a tower complete with embroidery kits. Meg, of course, readily escapes the tower, befriends the witch (with her own army of bewitched frog princes), adopts the dragon (he's just a baby), and captures the aid of the Bandit Queen (and the romantic interest of her brother "Prince" Bain.) Meg is no Ella, but she's a fun gal to spend a few hours with.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fun With Blogging

Here's an example of the effectiveness of blogging: someone blogged the Super Bowl commericals.

What's more, the same online journal (slate.com) is paying someone to blog the Bible! (Sample entry: The Bible's Pulp Fiction -- What Tarantino stole from Ezekiel.) Download an MP3 audio interview with the blogger here, or you can sign up for a podcast on iTunes here.

Someone else, however, has had enough....

Example Student Outline for Topic #2

Update: please feel free to bring hard-copy outlines and draughts to my capacious Office Hours for advice & discussion (as this classfellow did.) Your TA likewise will welcome your visit to their Office Hours. ["Hello 101: I'm listening....."]

Here is one student's rough, point-form, outline used to run a tentative essay idea by the instuctor.
More than nostalgia ->Important
- part of what shapes our personality
- reflection
- new life experience incorporating story ideas
- discover meaning in life *childhood, teenage life, adulthood)
- engages your mind
- rejuvenating
- discoveries
- memories
I like this type of Preliminary Outline because it is the result of some sustained reflection, and it represents an effusion of ideas: the advantage being that it avoids writers' block -- thinking too hard about precise formulation without having an outline to work from -- and allows the Instructor to simply hone down, rather than try to build up from an unknown foundation.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Poetry Blogging

Here are some, I dunno, helpful....informative....enjoyable....pot-stirring.... poetry blogs.

If you find any additional poetry blogs of special interest to you, list it in the "Comments" & I'll put the link in the main post.

          Paglia warns internet: "Only Art Lasts:

          Camille Paglia intends her latest 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 article version.