Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Relativity in "Innocent Traveller"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physics, Mathematics, &c. experts more than encouraged to correct the forumlae.

Great -- Awesome -- Blogging

Take a read of this blog post titled "Tally-Ho, Pip Pip": it is blogging that is better than much so-called literature. I've read putatively comic novels when I was an undergrad that weren't a quarter as witty as this blog guy and his commentators (the comments are just as hilarious.)

Because it's a blog, part of the experience is following the hotlinks to read the post of the moron being mocked.

Blog, Literature .... the lines blur. (Except here: no artistic genius here, more's the pity.) This is a real live case of blogging stimulating a level of literary creativity among a general population that some have said was dying out through irrelevance. Has the form, then, stimulated the content?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Always Now" Assigned Reading

Your cultured appreciation of beauty, œconomy and simplicity compells you to read all the poems in the second volume of Miss Avison's collected works Always Now: but, alas, exigency of lecture has countervailing compulsion to intensive reading. Accordingly, here follows a list of select pages upon which you might fruitfully concentrate your time and attention.
Pp. 17-40, 43-7, 50-53, 58, 65-7, 70-1, 79, 89, 92, 146-7, 153-4, 161-2, 164-5, 170-8, 185, 194, 258-9.
Update: spelling error corrected.
Update2: clarified pp 17-40, 153-4, and 164-5. (Hat-tip, "Melissa" in the comments.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Good Blogs

Scobleizer is a vigourous tech geek blog; The Elegant Variation is an equally vigourous blog on matters literary; My Life's Adventure is a recovering schizophrenic blogging the journey he is making through more stressful and full years of recovery. Compare to Innocent Traveller....

Let the Cobbler stick to his Last

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

Friday, January 26, 2007

Words and World

An inside secret about Language is the extreme degree to which it is metaphorical: that is, perhaps most of our lexicon is simply an application of images from the external world. Consider the word "understand." It means, literally, "to stand under" and that is the original sense of "understanding" something.

Steven Pinker is one of the world's great minds: until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, now Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, authour of The Language Instinct, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works. These books are renown for being both intellectual and extremely funny: Pinker, a Canadian unacknowledged here in his own country, is a superior writer to most published novelists.

Pinker has a new book about language due later this year: The Stuff of Thought. He has this interview in the Toronto Star.

Says Pinker: "Look at almost any passage and you'll find that a paragraph has five or six metaphors in it. It's not that the speaker is trying to be poetic, it's just that that's the way language works.

"Rather than occasionally reaching for a metaphor to communicate, to a very large extent communication is the use of metaphor," he says.

It could be that 95 per cent of our speech is metaphorical, if you go back far enough in language."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ethel Wilson: The Chick-Lit Angle

I'll be lecturing on the next course text, Innocent Traveller, in part as being a progenitor of what has become the current literary genre of Chick-Lit.
This past weekend's edition of Arts & Letters Daily features a review of a new book by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs: See Jane Write: A Girl's Guide to Writing Chick Lit. More than a review, it is an interview, a descriptive breakdown of the elements of chick-lit, and salient quotations from important chick-lit writers.
What exactly is chick-lit?
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t all about shoes. Or clothes. Or purses. Yes, some chick-lit characters enjoy their fashion collections, but if an interest in designers’ names is what made you look for advice here, maybe you should grab Vogue instead. Chick-lit is also not all about getting a guy. Love may be a happy diversion, or a painful pothole, but the chick-lit story is about the main character’s path to self-discovery. Although there’s usually a satisfying and uplitfing conclusion, the ending is more about hope for the future than snagging Mr Right.
An excellent compendium of current literary and print-cultural engagements with chick-lit is Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, eds: Chick-Lit: The New Woman's Fiction.

PS: More on Lowry

Some interesting comments developing in the Comments to the previous post, notably on the real pleasure of hatred when reading.
(I really object to the one that says I was "over the top" in lecture. No effing way.
Update: I'm only kidding here! I mean that I am over the top on purpose-- and more to come ;--)

Another on Famous Literary Drunks, with a great Dylan Thomas anecdote. Let's start a collection. I add Brendan Behan: off the top of my head I remember he called himself "a drinker with a writing problem," and an obituray said he was "too young to die, too drunk to live."

Relevant to Malcolm Lowry - a "Literary Drunks" Movie

Pace my lecture around Malcolm Lowry's "Gin & Goldenrod " on the mythologisation of drunkenness, here is Roger Ebert's review of a 2005 movie on a related topic:

Ebert, by the way, is in my opinion a superlatively skilled writer and literary critic.

I want be sure that I was compleatly clear regarding my expression of hatred of "Gin & Goldenrod." First, it is an example of my critical judgement that both love & hatred of literature are ideal responses: indifference is the only vice. Second, although I hate the story, you yourself don't have to. If you love it, say, you simply need to be able to articulate clear and objective reasons for the textual source of your Love ... as I gave clear and objective (indeed, compelling) reasoned analysis for my hatred.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Munro & the trap door

The lyrics typed below -- from T Bone Burnett's song "The Trap Door" from his 1982 EP of the same name -- are relevant to a point about good fiction to be argued in the Monday lecture. Update: the full lyrics are at this link.

"It's a funny thing about humility: as soon as you know you're being humble, you're no longer humble.
It's a funny thing about life: you've got to give up your life to be alive.
You've got to suffer to know compassion; you can't want nothing if you want satisfaction.
... Watch out for the trap door.
It's a funny thing about love: the harder you try to be loved, the less lovable you are.
It's a funny thing about pride: when you're being proud you should be ashamed.
You find only pain if you seek after pleasure; you work like a slave if you seek after leisure.
... Watch out for the trap door."

For information on Burnett, click here:

MORE: the topic of didactic fiction was discussed earlier: stories and novels designed to teach a lesson about a particular idea or principle. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is an example of didactic in fiction. In connection with our study of Alice Munro's "Forgiveness in Families," what I call the paradox of didactics was outlined. Along the lines of Burnett's lyric, above, the more direct your didacticism is, the less effective will your teaching be. Munro's lesson about revelation of self and repentance takes its effectiveness from the delicate aristry by which the lesson is concealed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Blogging is The NBT

Well, proof positive of my contention that Blogging is the Next Big Thing -- that is, five years on every class will blog like they now eMail -- here.

1920s Chick-Lit: Diary of a proto-Bridget Jones

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fourth Lecture: Big Ideas

The Big Ideas from Wednesday's lecture were Aristotle's principles of formal discourse.

Aristotle is the Pythagorus of communication: he derived principles from analysis of experience that underly Western academia and have had the same efficacy for three millenia.

There are three aspects to discourse: Grammar, Rhetoric, & Dialectic: the Trivium.

  • Grammar: knowledge of the sounds, form and syntax of a language
  • Rhetoric: arranging words for maxiumum effect: persuasive or informative.
  • Dialectic: the logical arrangement of ascending arguement: the movement toward knowledge of the Good (the summum bonum.)

We concentrated on Rhetoric, its three aspects of appeal & how they are used by our short-story authors.

  • Ethos: the constuction of an apparent authority, a credibility, for the writer in order to appeal to readers' acceptance.
  • Pathos: the appeal to the passions, the emotions, of the reader.
  • Logos: the appeal to readers' acceptance by the appearance of rationality, of logic.

You'll have noticed, I'm sure, how these three types of appeal make the reader (or the hearer) the important component in understanding writing: here, fiction. This, of course, follows smoothly, cleverly, subtly, and with an extreme of intelligence from previous lectures regarding the intended and implied audience.....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How to Blog: Wednesday run-through

Tomorrow's lecture I'll run through the simple mechanics of setting up a blog through Google. Try it yourself at

UPDATE: For a good virtual tutorial on "How to Setup a Blog "at, click here.
[Hint: Throughout the tutorial, ignore the "CREATE A BLOG" button and use CONTINUE.]

UPDATE 2: Use the Comments section of this post to exchange blogger tips, ask & answer questions, offer advice, &c.

[PS: prize for the person who identifies the relevancy of the image here.]

Third Lecture: Big Ideas

Big idea from Monday was that fiction has definite elements that can be detailed by empirical analysis. Plot, Character, Setting, Point of View, Theme, Language (&c.) and Symbolism (&c.)
We are now concentrating on Frame Narrative -- a finer-grained literary aspect. A student essay online on frame narrative in a the context of women's writing is here.

Blog Comments

I've opened up the blog to anonymous comments: but for a reason or three I'll be moderating them.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stop Procrastinating: Right NOW!

A very helpful article in, of all places, the Toronto Globe & Mail, on the student's vice of procrastination:

....15 to 20 per cent of us are procrastinators. The condition is even more prevalent among the student population, where a third of most students' days are eaten up by procrastinating, something he pointed out yesterday while students seated around him gabbed, surfed the Internet and slept in a lounge on campus.
"Usually when I have an assignment I put it off until later," confessed Robert Maxwell, an 18-year-old biology student as he was distracted from his textbook on plants.
"It's a bad habit."
Three major factors contribute to precisely that habit, according to Prof. Steel. Self-confidence is key. Those who believe they can, essentially, will and those who don't, won't. The value of the task is important in whether it gets done. Is it something to enjoy or dread? And finally, delay. When does the task need to be completed? It's hard to get motivated about something that can be put off until some distant deadline looms.
Click here for more >>

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mid-term Essay: Schedule

Here is the arrangement and the schedule of dates for the Mid-Term Essay, fifteen hundred words and revisions. The assignment is worth twenty percent of the Course grade, of which five percent is for the draught and fifteen percent for the revision.

Five-week writing circuit:

  1. Course week five, Monday February 5th: Choice of topics posted on the blog
  2. Course week six, Wednesday February 14th: draught copy due in lecture.
  3. Course week eight, Monday February 26th: draught returned with comments & grade.
  4. Course week ten, Monday March 12th: final revision due in lecture.

There are, then, a full three course weeks to analyse the paper and the writing process and discuss with TA if required.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Wider Relevance of Good Story-telling

This entry from the blog "Captology Notebook" discusses the importance of story-telling -- "narrative" -- in successful elections.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lecture: student query

A student has sent a question about the relationship given in lecture between "....literature vs journalism vs autobiography." Anyone care to clarify this formulation? Use the comments function, below.

Proof of my Gold River-ness

Here are the pictures of this past summer's return to Gold River where in Junior High School after immigrating I was taught the hard way to lose my accent. The water is impossible clear -- the boy is jumping into fourteen feet of water but the water surface is invisible. [Click for larger images.]

Cordova Street: circa

This is Cordova Street at the time that then-logger Martin Allerdale Grainger frequented it .... along with an image of the author himself courtesy of ABC BookWorld.

Lecture Ideas: January 10th

I should like to use posts to list the Big Ideas after each lecture. Feel free to add any additional or lesser ones ones in the comments.
  • Realism
  • minimalism
  • reductionism
  • de-/re- mythologisation
  • literature vs. journalism vs. autobiography
  • Aristotle and understanding through knowledge of function.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Getting an "A" in the Course

Well, there are effective strategies to help achieve this.
  1. Stay in touch with Lecturer and the TA by visiting Office Hours regularily: with the former, to talk over the primary course texts as you read them, with the latter, the writing assignments in lecture
  2. Stay on top of the reading schedule, which will ensure that you have already read the book being lectured upon.
  3. Draught your writing assignments -- even roughly -- as soon as possible after each is assigned, and then bring that rough draught to an Office Hour for discussion.
  4. Draught a rough run through of the thesis paragraph for the Mid-Term essay as soon as the topics are released, and then bring that draught to the TA's or Lecturer's Office Hour for discusion.
  5. The Final Exam -- worth thirty-five percent of the course grade -- is based one hundred percent on material presented in lecture and familiarity with the primary texts. Attend the lectures and read the material and the Final Exam will be very straightforward: you will finish the exam with an hour to spare for revision. Fail to attend lecture, or fail to read the material thoroughly enough, or with time for reflection .... & it will be a very tough three hours -- the more so since, alas, lectures are not taped nor are notes posted online.

Getting an "A" on an English Paper

An excellent article here with practical advice from Jack Lynch at Rutgers University on success, lovely success; "A" glorious "A."

Monday, January 8, 2007

Grading: Numerical Equivalents

The Simon Fraser University Grading Scale is online here. The scale of numerical equivalents for letter grades is as follows:

A+ 96-100
A 90-95
A- 85-89
B+ 80-84
B 75-79
B- 70-74
C+ 65-69
C 60-64
C- 55-59
D 50-54
F 0-49
N Incomplete
DE Deferred

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Literature vs. Academics

This via the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily: "We love stories. But for more than 30 years, people who teach Literary Theory in universities have been denying that love, or trying to kill it dead..." A polemical article entitled "Getting it all Wrong" on what the Hell it is we are doing here.
We love stories, and we will continue to love them. But for more than 30 years, as Theory has established itself as “the new hegemony in literary studies” (to echo the title of Tony Hilfer’s cogent critique), university literature departments in the English-speaking world have often done their best to stifle this thoroughly human emotion.

Vancouver Short Stories: Assigned

The first of the the short fiction to be lectured on from the Gerson collection are as follows. You will find the Table of Contents on page ix. We will then return to the remaining short stories in the book desultorily.

Grainger: "In Vancouver"
Johnson: "The Two Sisters" & "Siwash Rock"
Livesay: "A Cup of Coffee"

Carr: "Sophie"
Lowry: "Gin and Goldenrod"
Munro: "Forgiveness in Families"

Choy: "The Jade Peony"
Lee: "Broken Teeth"

Ideally, you will read all the stories and find one or two that you have a strong and personal reaction to. This will be advantageous during your seminar work.

Introductory Bloglist for Engl 101

A conceit for our course will be the relationship between blogs (a representative type of eText, that being now the type of text written and read most widely in modern Western societies) and fiction. Accordingly, here are some representative Blogs to get us started.

Here's us:

The "blogfather" - Glenn Reynolds. The original popular world-wide blog:

Blog influences election: Reynold's evidence on "Rathergate."

A blog from one of our course authors:

A typical (and excellent) personal blog, from Vancouver:

Canadian political blogs:



Rick Mercer-wing

Two American political blogs:



Commentary on the importance of storytelling:

Course Syllabus

English 101: Introduction to Fiction
Spring 2007

"Books, Blogs & The Terminal City.
Imag[in]ing Fiction in an e-text Age: the Vancouver Experiment"

Course Syllabus & Information

This syllabus provides the reading schedule for English 101, Spring 2007. If you are up-to-date with readings, you will be ahead of lecture. Note, however, that this schedule is not a Procrustean bed : week by week, lecture will follow the developing class interests and course dynamic; covering, na'theless, all material -- superbly, might I add -- by the conclusion of week thirteen.

The specific assignments for seminar work will be set and handed out by your TA in tutorial.

Course Texts and Reading Schedule:
Vancouver Short Stories Click here for More Information >>>
January 8th & 10th
January 15th & 17th

The Innocent Traveller
January 22nd & 24th
January 29th & 31st
Always Now
February 5th & 7th

February 12th & 14th
Hey Nostradamus!
February 19th & 21st

February 26th & 28th
All Tomorrow’s Parties
March 5th & 7th
March 12th & 14th
March 19th & 21st

Blog Analysis, Review, and prep. for Group Project & Final Exam
March 26th & 28th
April 2nd & 4th
Final Exam

April 10th

Blog Reading Assignments Set in Lecture.
See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a four percent per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, provide a letter from a physician on letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that illness or injury prevented work on the essay. The letter must cover the entire period over which the assignment was scheduled and may be verified by telephone. For any matter effecting deadlines, consult with the TA in person and before the assignment period.

1. Mid term paper, fifteen hundred words. Emphasis will be equally on literary analysis and writing mechanics:
2. Group e-text writing project: TA handout.
3. Individual class presentation: TA handout.
4. Final exam: Tu. April 10th 08:30 – 11:30 am. See GoSFU “View my Exam Schedule” for Room Number.

Course Approach

Read the material well in advance at least once, attend lectures & seminars and participate in seminar discussion, and you’re halfway to success.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
15% Seminar presentation
20% Group e-Text project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 1500 words)
35% Final examination

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday & Wednesday: 10:30-3:00, Tuesday & Thursday: 1:30-3:00. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Please only use your SFU account for e-mail contact. Other e-Mail accounts are blocked by white-list.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Welcome to SFU Introduction to Fiction

Books, Blogs & The Terminal City
Imag[in]ing Fiction in an e-text Age: the Vancouver Experiment

It is fair to question the relevance of novels and short fiction to a culture that now works predominantly on e-text. Dead trees and dried ink seem static and very yesterday by contrast to pixilated hyperlinks, cut-&-paste text, file downloads, and real-time web interaction. The advent of e-media - blogs, email, pda, text messaging, WiFi and laptops - inescapably challenges what was formerly called "the world of books" and forces lovers of stories to re-evaluate and re-present the case for fiction to a new and recharged era. In this course we will do just that. Our city has always been on the bleeding edge of technological change, and we will trace how, in the virtual realities of the course literature, the early name of "Terminal City" retains evolving significance for Vancouver through to the present day. To understand this, we will isolate one niche in the e-media ecology - the blogosphere - and construct a model of its form and function as a comparative reference point for a literary analysis of our works of Vancouver fiction. Blogs - web logs, or small independent online publications - have unique and illustrative similarity to the literary design of the works of fiction chosen here. These points of similarity between blog and book will then allow us to map the outlying area of difference: the awesome universe of literature.


Gerson, Carole, ed. Vancouver Short Stories
Wilson, Ethel The Innocent Traveller
Avison, Margaret Always Now
Coupland, Douglas Hey Nostradamus!
Gibson, William All Tomorrow's Parties

10% Course participation
15% Three seminar writing presentations
20% Group e-Text writing project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 1500 words and revisions)
35% Final examination