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!

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 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 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 ( 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.

          "ChickLit" -- Ethel Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

          When it first gained coinage, "chicklit" was questioned from some academic quarters as a disparaging term. For an strongly opposing view, read this article on the chicklit blog linked in this post title. See also, Chicklit: The New Woman's Fiction, Suzanne Ferris & Mallory Young, eds.

          Thursday, February 8, 2007

          Poetry: Course Approach

          Just to re-affirm what I said in lecture about how you can approach the Avison book in the course, particularily insofar as the Final Exam is concerned. Always Now is part of our study of fiction, and so will be treated as fiction. Margaret Avison shows us some aspects of writing and reading which can't be presented better any other way, especially in a Vancouver setting and a blog setting both, and so will be of unique benefit in your acquisition here of an improved reading and writing skill-set.

          So, read the poetry like fiction: relax, enjoy and look for the broad sweep of ideas and for the images that Avison's writing evokes. I will be lecturing a bit on the elements of poetry, as they relate to improved appreciation & enjoyment of particular poems, but on the Final Exam, you will just be asked a question, say, about the poems as fiction. I certainly hope that I will be able to help you to see & respect the beauty & artistry of this very great member of Canada's family.

          Novels and short fiction do have a strong aesthetic element and a strong focus of the meaning, history, rhythm and sound of words: it is just that in the sweep of narrative -- of plot & character, for instance -- these features, although valuable to know and apply, tend to be over-shadowed. Reading Avison allows us to see these invaluable fictional features straight and powerful, and thus understand them better.

          Remember, then, to look for Avison's vision of the landscape of Canada and its climate -- at the biggest and the smallest level perceptible to our unaided senses -- and her artistic sense that behind and beneath this beauty & power that is Canada is a larger meaning and value. Avison wants, that is, to let us live our sensory lives more fully and to enlarge our spirit to a greater degree: not a transcendent, 'spooky', level, but simply a natural spirit on a more expansive & richer canvas.

          The universal Canadian, I might call it. But remember, enjoy the sweep of the poems and the ideas & images that unify them -- just as you would reading a novel or short story -- as preparation for your Final Exam.

          Monday, February 5, 2007

          Blog Comments: Example, on Lecture

          I am glad that a number of you are using the "Comments" function to ask questions, make observations, and otherwise communicate. I'd rather it wasn't used just for the sake of it (it takes time to respond at a ratio of 255-1 ;--) but for legitimate use, it's great. Here's one from today:

          [O]n the lecture today, [I] found that you when you talk about [W]ilson's book, you touch upon a lot of little things, how much of those little things do we need to know?(stuff like snobbery and little themes contained only within its own chapter, if not paragraph)
          That's a fair observation, & not just a negative snipe. I have an answer, of course, but that doesn't make the comment illigitimate: it's important to state opinions freely & respectfully, as this one was.

          From my perpective, I want to balance generalities & specifics in my lectures, because too much of one or the other tends to bore students. If you want to which is easier, for me I can talk about general issues all day (literally!) but like all true scholarship it is effort to work through the fine grain.

          Now, with Ethel Wilson's Innocent Traveller, it is my understanding that it is absolutely essential to concentrate on the "little things"....because the book is nothing else but a collection of little things! It is like the picture of the face in the top right here: if the little things that make up the picture (the small images) were ignored, there would be nothing there! With Innocent Traveller, the book is nothing but an aggregation of fine, specific and precise details -- that is her art, just like a work of needlepoint is "just stitches" -- but take the stitcjes away & there is nothing there. (An appropriate metaphor, by the bye, because both Wilson's novel & a work of needlepoint are female-associated creative acts.)

          I hope that this explains my lecture method, and I hope also that it encourages questions or concerns to be as precisiely & respectfully listed in the comments section as our term progresses.

          Update: The "big theme" of Ethel Wilson's book is, of course, Time & Relativity: that's the major sweep of of her artistic design. It is also a representation of matriarchy -- a culture ruled by female values -- specifically in its portrayal of romance from women's perspective. These high-level facts to the novel were certainly laid out in lecture; but, again, with Wilson's artistic method, they appear in details, in minutiæ. And that is the way that we, as analytical readers, have to appraoch & engage the text. Fairly said?

          Mid-Term Essay Topics

          Choose any one of the following four topics for your Mid-Term Essay.
          1. "Poetry?? Poetry!!! What kind of total moron puts #$!@&ing Poetry in an "Introduction to Fiction" course?? Poetry is crap, with Zero connection to Fiction! Take the chapter "The Buried Life" from Innocent Traveller: it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the poem "Hid Life" from Always Now. Hey: loser Prof: Get a clue." Agree or Disagree supported by quotation from the two texts.
          2. The position of lecture is that reading and studying fiction is both a source of artistic delight and a unique means of acquiring practical skills and information that promote real-world success. ('Unique' in that these skills cannot be better obtained anywhere else.) From your own life experience, and using quotations from any of the course texts, write an essay that either supports this position, or argues that, in the cold reality of today's wired world, stories and poems are irrelevant: nothing more than nostalgia, a cute hobby for some. Update: "real word" corrected to "real-world." (Hat-tip "anonymous" in comments.)
          3. While the majority of the short stories, and Innocent Traveller, are expressions of a specifically European conception of "Vancouver," four of the short stories are by authors who identify themselves as being, in their individual ways, non-European: Pauline Johnson, Wayson Choy and Sky Lee. Selecting any or all of the stories, explain how specific literary features that these authors employ give a fictional representation of "Vancouver" that is non-European....even though it has been argued that the short story form is itself European.
          4. DIY: the open topic option. If you have your own strong interest or opinion on any of the course texts or the material presented in lecture, draught your own thesis statement and obtain written approval from your TA.

          Sunday, February 4, 2007

          Course Poetry

          Poetry? In this course?

          The horror. The horror.

          I hear this sound from students.

          I say, Relax. Think of a happy place. Be well. Peace, my sister; Joy, my brother.

          Read the assigned pages of Margaret Avison in an easy and gentle spirit. Take the gifts being offered with grace from the good heart of a kind & humble Canadian woman. In the future, it may bring you bliss and benison during some unforeseen long and dark night of the soul.

          My own gift is a promise that I will not make it a heavy burden on your end-of-term studies for the final exam. I will also show you that poetry is a form of fiction, and that you can use what you learn here for fun & profit....

          Saturday, February 3, 2007

          More on "Blue Stocking"

          A note in a previous post asks for clarification of my thumbnail distinction between "Blue Stockings" and the "New Woman" as a means of explaining Ethel Wilson's use of the former term to describe Mrs. Porter in the "Hated House, Detested Wife" chapter.

          This is a good opportunity for me to map out a process of simple academic literary analysis.

          An unfamiliar term is encountered in the text: in this case, "blue-stocking." First, look it up in the OED. Under the etymology we find:

 its transferred sense it originated in connexion with re-unions held in London about 1750, at the houses of Mrs. Montague, Mrs. Vesey, and Mrs. Ord, who exerted themselves to substitute for the card-playing, which then formed the chief recreation at evening parties, more intellectual modes of spending the time, including conversation on literary subjects....
          The general definition is " who frequented Mrs. Montague's ‘Blue Stocking’ assemblies; thence transferred sneeringly to any woman showing a taste for learning," but as the emboldened phrase in the etymology reveals, the sneering is aimed at intellectually-minded women.

          The next step in the analysis is to see if the surrounding context of the phrase supports the definition. And indeed we see Mrs. Porter described as the highly-educated daughter of, and research assistant to, a Greek scholar; and the eventual founder and head of a School for Girls.

          Now, further, and more pointedly, the term "blue-stocking" is applied to Mrs. Potter by Topaz Edgeworth's father immediately upon his reading of a letter informing him that Mrs. Potter has become separated from her husband. This, then, adds to understanding the suggestion of a specific mental logic to Mr. Edgeworth's use of the term: in the textual situation, the assumed ratio is that Mrs. Potter's cultivation of mind is at the expense of ability to enjoy the body

          [By the bye, the same equation is drawn with the sexes reversed by another woman writer -- George Eliot -- in Middlemarch, where Dorothea leaves her scholarly husband Casaubon for carnal Will Ladislaw.]

          And with this understanding gained, the chapter can be read at a greater depth, with Ethel Wilson drawing a portrait of an intellectual woman, who declares herself "strong enough" to flourish on her own without support from a man. Wilson, with her fine literary subtly, draws a potrait of Mrs. Potter that shows the strengths and failings of this assertive female separatist.

          Finally, to fully understand the historical context -- to "historicise" in literary jargon -- we apply classical dialectic, and compare "blue stocking" to a term closely related enough for relevancy but different enough for illumination. And the term calling for attention is "New Woman": both applied to women activists at the Late-Victorian age in which Innocent Traveller is set.

          The OED defines New Woman thus: "....a woman of ‘advanced’ views, advocating the independence of her sex and defying convention." The existence of the two terms for what we now call "feminists" implies need to define separate qualities, and, indeed, the anxieties (by no means always male) about proto-feminism among Late-Victorians needed wider scope than charging against the cold austerity alleged of blue-stockings (i.e. too little sexuality), and so found a threat of wild excess in new Women (i.e. too much sexuality.) An excellent place to see this debate as played out in the 1890s is in Appendix C, "Debate over the 'Woman Question'" in our Library's copy of George Gissing's The Odd Women, book edited by a scholarly acquaintance of mine, Dr. Arlene Young: pp 370-377, Eliza Lynn Linton "The Wild Women" versus Mona Caird "A Defense of the So-Called 'Wild Women'. (Nb. "odd women" refers to the numerical superiority of women to men: the 'odd-women-out' in the marriage pairings.)

          These two terms, then, as lecture suggested, can be very roughly distinguished by a greater freedom of sexuality attributed to 'New Woman'; or, to put it the other way around, by the attribution of sexlessness attributed to 'blue-stocking.' This corresponds, again as a thumbnail measure, to a separation in the present day around the term "pro-sex feminism" -- of which, being a scholar of English, I know only that the debate around the term exists, and less than nothing about the human reality to which it refers.

          So much, at this time, for "blue-stocking" in Innocent Traveller.