Saturday, December 02, 2006

Final Paper Deadline

Greetings -- no, not the Scottish kind; the English. For this class, the deadline for the Final Paper was revised to be Wednesday the 6th at midnight. Do not wait until the last minute, however....

Thursday, November 30, 2006

From J.F.- Highland Dancing

I thought that this was the best of the pictures which our own J.F. kindly lent to me of herself in a Highland Dance competition. Click on the picture here for a very good full sized image. Och aye, lassie!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Last Class of Term

Assuming that the University doesn't close on Thursday, we'll have a bang-up close-of-Term class. A presentation on Hogmanay (though we probably won't do the type of things that Alan Warner's characters did on the day;) a lecture revealing how Morvern is Our Lady of the Raves; the ever-popular Course Evalations; and then the last hour on a tour of the Highlands .... Pub that is, to discuss the Paul Virilio text: first round is on me, because ahm no Scots m'sel!

See you there, laddies & lassies: we're all Canadians, eh?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Middle-Class Twerpiness

I couldn't help blogging this à propos lecture on the overriding importance of class in matters English. A superlative example of how the middle-class grates on the lower- and upper- classes alike can be found at this dingalink to an episode of featuring one Anatol Lieven, pictured here.

A British man or woman will straightaway twig Lieven as an academic parvenu. Accent is the marker of class, and Lieven's too-precious tones, cultivated BBC-isms -- his prissy "t"s for instance -- brand him as a middle-class boy trying to affect an upper-crust: which indeed he is. One telling moment was his American interlocuter, Anne-Marie Slaughter, on the titter at Lieven's use of the down-market Shakespearean "lilies that fester." To North Americans (apparently) that is dashing erudition; for any British it is equivalent to your "deja vu all over again"-- C.S. Lewis (speaking of down-market) used it as an essay title already in the early nineteen-fifties.

Click on the title of this post to see and hear Anatol Lieven: "middle-class twit of the year" for 2006.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Morvern Callar" - Oban

Alan Warner grew up in the Highlands port town of Oban, in the Region of Strathclyde, which is seemingly the fictional setting for his first novel. The (helpful) google images are here; the "circular folly" from page 78 etc. is shown here; about Oban whisky here; click to the Oban Times; and there is a webcam (!) at this link.

New Political Reality for the Scots

"It's obviously unsustainable as a nation, & the only solution is partition: Iraq? No. It's the U.K." (Via the InstaPundit.)

In the beginning of Term, I believe, I observed that talk of nationalism was not only common but regarded as praiseworthy among Scots, Irish & Welsh, but English nationalism, in contrast, was considered by the chattering classes to be beyond the pale, and I further observed that a political inconsistency of this order couldn't last.

It didn't.
The United Kingdom should be broken up and Scotland and England set free as independent nations, according to a huge number of voters on both sides of the border....There is also further evidence of rising English nationalism with support for the establishment of an English parliament hitting an historic high of 68 per cent amongst English voters. Almost half – 48 per cent – also want complete independence for England, divorcing itself from Wales and Northern Ireland as well. Scottish voters also back an English breakaway with 58 per cent supporting an English parliament with similar powers to the Scottish one. (Via the Daily Telegraph.)
Scottish identity politics, then, are now operating in a very changed environment....

Update: a funny-serious follow-up article which for me hits the nail on the 'ead: "If it's good enough for the Scots it's good enough for the English." The Sunday Telegraph not just that 68 per cent of my fellow English now want their own parliament, but that 59 per cent would be happy for Scotland to be fully independent....

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Punk Lit

Thursday's lecture on Punk was background to the Trainspotting novel (Irvine Welsh being himself a former punk rocker.)

I conceive of Punk as a British working-class social movement of the mid-ninteen-seventies to early-ninteen-eighties which grew out of urban conditions obtaining in the years preceeding Margaret Thatcher's ascendency to the Prime Ministry. It is a class movement: 'class' in its proper historical sense of an upper, middle and lower class perpetuating the mediæval system of lord, vassal and serf, and, therefore, has merely a correlative relationship to economic standing (i.e. individual wealth does not determine -- and only incidentally has causative power over-- one's class position.) The class structure invented by Karl Marx is in contrast a bipartite system of a "bourgeoisie" owning the means of production and a "proletariat" producing; a system which Marx devised under influence of, first, Charles Darwin's fundamental belief in struggle as the elemental principle of Life, and, second, the commercialist assumptions of his Whiggish circle that life is economic at root.

Punk, then, is a nineteen-seventies' response by the lower class to the attitude that the ruling class holds toward them in the absence of Empire. Hitherto, being, pace Orwell, primarily a concern beneficial to the middle class, the British Empire had channelled, directed (indeed, developed) the physical and martial energies of the lower class as a means to build and sustain itself. With the loss of Empire after Britain had finally defeated in two World Wars the global Fascism of Germany and Japan, the lower class had no external outlet for their martial vigour, while the culture -- in terms of books, film, history, sport, comics, history, institutions, and language --that inculcated, developed and promoted it still remained operative.

Accordingly, in the absence of Empire and war as sanctioned outlets for the robust combatitiveness of lower-class single males (sport, of course, remains), the middle-class has experienced heightening of the sense of fear with which it historically regards the urbanised lower class. This produces intensification of the belittlement which, again historically, is the primary middle-class response to their fears; this expressed in pejorative labeling of young lower class males: thugs, hooligans, stroppers, lads, yobs, teds, punks, and (latterly) hoodies.

Hence, Punk: which, it must be kept clear, is class attitude not musical genre. Of course, there is characteristic style to punk music and lyrics, and characteristic style to the clothing. But for proof of the Attitude Thesis regards music, consider Pink Floyd. The hand-scrawled "I Hate" on Johnny Rotten's "Pink Floyd" T-shirt at his Sex Pistols audition cements the art-rock band as the punk bete noir. Yet it is not Pink Floyd's music or lyrics which mark them as anti-punk. The final movement of "Sheep" from Animals sounds like The Clash and the lyrics to the penultimate movement prefigure the Sex Pistols. It is rather that Pink Floyd are bourgeois to the core: Roger Waters' lyrics drip with the bathos, resentment, affectation, and "pity poor me" feelings that make loathesome the middle to both the class above and the class below.

The study, then, of Punk, in its English manifestation, follows a literary line that began with the 'angry young men' novelists of the fifties, through the masterpiece Clockwork Orange in the sixties, through to Lad Lit and now at Punk .... and perhaps touching on non-fiction hybrids like Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, Lydon's Rotten: No Irish , No Blacks No Dogs, and the works of Robert Twigger.

Thus, the field is fallow for interested undergraduate study: an Honours in Punk finction is certainly possible.

Due Date for Group Projects

At a request, I've agreed to modify the due date for the Group Project assignment to Monday December 4th, no later than midnight, in my mailbox at the English Department main office.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Punk: Music

On Tuesday, I'll stay around after class for anyone who is interested in further discussion on the musical history of punk rock. I will fill in details on two bands -- one English, one American -- who fill in the gaps in lineage between The Beatles & The Sex Pistols (prizes for correctly identifying the two;) locate Iggy Pop and The Rolling Stones in the punk lineage; and talk about several other important contributors to Punk Rock. And I am, of course, prepared to give an aggressive and defiant defense of my iconolastic revelation that The Beatles were the first Punks. (I'm undefeated - so B.i.O.)

Correction: The link on the British side should have read "the missing link connecting The Beatles and then The Who to the Sex Pistols.
Update: the two bands are The Kingsmen and Slade. (Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci produced Fun House for The Stooges, FYI.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Trip to Scotland through SFU

Would you like to actually travel to Scotland next summer? Bonus experience of the Edinburgh Tattoo on which we were presented last class, and a "quaint village" visit. Details below.
Are you a fan of the 4-time World Championship SFU Pipe Band? Would you be interested in travelling to Glasgow, Scotland next August to watch them complete in the World Pipe Band Championships? If you would like your name placed on a list to receive more information about this group trip, please reply to me by email (absolutely no obligation. At this point I just need to guage interest.) Some potential highlights: Dinner with the entire Pipe Band in a quaint village called Bridge of Allan. Meet and greet with the band. Watch the band's rehearsal in Stirling. Visit to Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument. See the band perform in concert, and see recitals by individual members (to be confirmed.) Attend the nearby Edinburgh Tattoo. Entrance to the World Championships and seat tickets in the Grade one arena. Price (to be determined) would include: Flights, transfers, accommodation, tickets to the Worlds. Contact Ms. Holli Edgelow, Director of Ceremonies & Events, Simon Fraser University. T 604-291-4643 F. 604-268-6599

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Final Paper: Workshop on Thursday

In Seminar hour on Thursday we will have a workshop in preparation for the Term Essay. We will divide into groups of those who have and those who have not decided upon a thesis and exchange ideas and strategies. I will be providing suggestions, advice and provisional approval

New Database - "Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles"

The SFU Library is pleased to announce the acquisition of a new digital resource.
Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles

Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present is a highly dynamic and rich resource for researchers, students, and readers with an interest in literature, women's writing, or cultural history more generally. With about five and a half million words of text, it is full of factual, critical, and interpreted material. This first release of Orlando includes biographical and writing career entries on over a thousand writers, more than eight hundred and fifty of them British women. It also includes selected non-British or international women writers, and British and international men, whose writing was an important, sometimes a shaping, element in a particular writing climate. Orlando also includes more than thirty thousand dated items representing events and processes (in the accounts of these writers, but also in the areas of history, science, medicine, economics, the law, and other contexts).

If you have an questions about this database please contact Kim Minkus, English Liaison Librarian at 604-291-4304 or

Friday, November 17, 2006

Marx, Religion, Drugs, & "Trainspotting"

Here is the quotation from Karl Marx on religion to which I alluded in class:
Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.
There is a general lesson and a particular point to be drawn of this. The general is that the scholarly discipline requires us not to take popular understandings without turning to the source: this itself a specific case of the even more general moral that one musn't take second hand information when first hand is available.

Update: The particular lesson is that in Marxism's aggressively hostile stance toward religion we have yet another of the sadly common cases of followers corrupting the pure and simple message of the founder. Marx certainly demystified religion -- accomplishment radical enough for his purposes --but he saw its benefits: one might even say he affectionately saw its benefts. Indeed, his use of the term Opiate is itself affection -- for Marx is representing opium as the anæsthetic boon for which it was intended, not the demon bane of its perverted recreational use.
My thesis, then, of the representation of herion addiction in Trainspotting is, in part, Irvine Welsh`s fictional portraiture of a society -- modern Scotland -- where Religion is, if not absent then effectively dead and thus the Opiate of the people is....simply Opiates.

Monday, November 13, 2006

On Drugs in Britain

Someone re-write Trainspotting. The British tabloid The Sun is manufacturing outrage over the success this past week of a career criminal, one Peter Groves, in suing the Crown on grounds of a violation to his human rights. This after he was not given heroin in gaol while serving his latest stretch of porridge, a 2001 convition for robbery with affray, and thus enduring the symptoms of withdrawal.

Tuesday Guest Speaker

In the spirit of Remembrance Day, and in line with some of our course themes around post-Colonia Scotland, we will have a class visit from the Royal Legion's Mae Thomson. Mrs. Thomson (pictured here from the cover of this week's North Shore News) will be speaking on her experiences as a young woman during the Second World War, including her time under the Glasgow blitz and her understanding of the Scottish participation in the war, and then her subsequent emigration to Canada. The format will be a short talk followed by question & answer.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Place of Scots Studies in English curricula

A most pertinent article, sent along by classfellow D.S., on the place & validity of Scottish Studies in university curricula. Along the way it elaborates some useful notions of so-called Scottishness.
As always in this type of post, the title itself a hotlink to the article.

Drug Use: Guest Speaker on Thursday

To help us better understand the drug abuse depicted in Trainspotting, we are fortunate to have as a guest speaker in this Thursday's lecture WHO researcher Dr. Bruce Alexander -- one of the world's leading scholarly authorities on addiction. Dr. Alexander's recent study for the Centre for Policy Alternatives, The Roots of Addiction in Free market Society, is available online in portable document format. You can read about him in Britain's Daily Telegraph and Guardian.

Dr. Alexander's lecture will put drug abuse in the context of Trainspotting and modern Scotland. The talk, which begins at 4:30 in AQ 4150, is open to friends & colleagues in the Department.

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Trainspotting" DVD

Alert classfellow T.S. informed me that the DVD of Trainspotting is not in the Library as yet. I have confirmation of the order & hopes that it will be here within this two weeks. We thus have license to show scenes in class....

Dust Jacket 'Blurbs' for "The Trick is to Keep Breathing"

All your blurbs for Galloway's first novel were wonderful -- and all superior to the monstrosity on the front cover of our edition (its back-cover blurbs in contrast are well up to the mark.).

1. Galloway’s novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing is not simply about one woman’s sickness – really live, breathe and feel depression.
- “I used to be so good all the time…” The Trick is to Keep Breathing follows a woman’s struggle to be “good” again in thef.) face of seemingly unending roadblocks.
- Janice Galloway’s protagonist is the quintessential “Little Girl Lost”
- Keep your head up, “like Jean Brodie” in order to avoid the crippling depression faced by Janice Galloway’s protagonist.

- Imagine listening to Leonard Cohen while watching a film by Quentin Tarentino, it combines the two by being a book that is brutal, and depressing, visceral and morose, while still managing to inspire a laugh or two.
3. This is an honest, clever and tangled internal reflection that catches the reader off guard – and reminds us of our own craziness.
4. Galloway grabs the reader and drags them into the depths of the mind, imprisoned with one woman as she attempts to make sense of herself in her world.
5. If you want to discover the edge of madness – then the trick is to keep reading.
6. “A deeply personal and humanizing journey into the darkest places of the mind.”
7. “Breathing” is…an ‘escapist’ journey into a fractured mind,...seductive, jarring, engaging, dislocating and memorable.
- The inner workings of a mind slowly slipping into utter darkness
- The tragedy of the mind working within a machine. Trapped in a world with no means of conformity and instead spiraling into the deep depths of loneliness.

9. “A strikingly vivid narrative on the deconstruction of the human mind and its associations with the external environment through sentiment”
10. In the midst of dislocation and pervading existentialism, memory shifting and escape from reality, Galloway’s heroine lingers in the border of reality and insanity, exposing how close we are to madness and how the touch and the loving company or human beings is the base of human existence.
- “Two thumbs up!”
- “Galloway’s novel is a humanizing portrait of a woman attempting to learn to swim in a sea of disconnected meanings.”
12. A disturbing raw realization of what it is to be human.
13. A descriptive piece of literature that explores the mind of a woman and who is slowly disintegrating into a world which she has no control over. A unique effort to analyze what goes on in the mind of a disturbed woman.
14. A disturbing insightful look into the mind of a lost and helpless woman.
15. Galloway’s novel is intense and evocative, it mesmerizes the reader with its startling real depiction.
16. A personalized journey through the fractured mind of a believed woman – Janice Galloway exquisitely captures the language of loss.
17. Halfway through this book I wanted to stop Breathing.
- The Trick is to Keep Breathing is one woman’s harrowing journey through depression.
- The Trick is to Keep Breathing represents one woman’s encounter with depression and deals with some of the twists and curveballs we all must face one day.
- The Trick is to Keep Breathing is a raw, emotionally bare novel – like an exposed nerve.
- A woman’s struggle for identity; truly a definitive book in Scottish feminism.
- POW! Super Book
20. A Postcard of the mind…
21. The slow determination of a mind and body that is steadily going downhill because of self-inflicted abuse…alcohol and lack of discipline in her life.
22. This is a novel about a woman who is trying to make sense of personal tragedy in a society that expects her to be a Miss Jean Brodie.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

"The Trick is...."

On our study of the Galloway text, after reading and responding to it directly we are now re-considering it in light of Claire Colebrook's essay from our Virtual Course Package. There are many particular points of illumination to be gained from this, but at a general level it allows us to see Galloway's literary quality: this, her first novel, is open to interpretation from a variety of critically valid approaches, all of which resist simplistic and reductivist judgements from a narrow party-line ideology.
[The picture here to the right is Colebrook reading at a Deleuze conference this past year. ]

Into the Last Four Weeks

Four weeks remaining for our search for understanding of modern Scottish literature, and we are right on schdeule. Your Lecturer has immersed himself in reading and responding to your mid-term essays, and will hand them back this week in good time for you to incorporate his marginal and concluding notes into your Term Paper.

We'll conclude our look at the Galloway text this week and turn to Trainspotting -- along with an orientation session in seminar Tuesday to ensure we are starting to bring the various elements of our course into one cohesive picture....and avoid this fate of the gentleman pictured here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Why do the Scottish Hate the English?

Well, ressentiment has likely something to do with it .....

Here are the links from the presentation on Scottish-English history & some Scots humour.
I meant to say the funny disclaimer and forgot... love this...
Scottish history, like everything about Scotland, is subject to the Scots proclivity for embroidery...
Anyhow, here is the link to the page about scottish humour....

A chestnut on this topic goes as follows. God is about to create Scotland and is speaking glowingly of the glory of it all to Jesus. "It will have majestic landscape, the best drink in the world, the strongest and fairest men and women, an invigourating climate, two cities that will be the envy of the world, and a supreme delight called haggis that only the Scottish people themselves will be fortunate enough to appreciate."
Jesus replies: "But surely is unfair to the rest of the peoples of the Earth to put every good thing into this one small country."
"Ah, yes, well," saith then the Lord, "wait until you see who I'm giving them as neighbours!"

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Seminar Responses to Galloway

Here's the first, succinct & impressive, summary of the group seminar responses to The Trick is to Keep Breathing. More to follow ....

Judgement: Overall, we all liked the novel.
- We found that the stream-of-consciousness style made the novel relatable.
- Though we didn't have much first-hand experience with the kind of depression felt by the protagonist, everyone can relate to feeling sad or lonely.
- The format and structure match the style of the writing. The way that some sentences break off without properly concluding and the way that there are no clear cut chapters follow the way that the mind works.
- We found the doctors to be frustrating, especially Doctor 3. We disapproved of his methods and found him to be incredibly unhelpful.
- We found the protagonist's obsession with buses was interesting. The buses could be seen as a symbol for journeys. The way that the protagonists often feels that she is going the wrong way on the bus, the way that she feels out of control, and the dream where the bus crashed into a wall are all symbolic of Joy's personal journey, her lack of direction, and the roadbloacks that spring up.

Now, the second ..... (Their last point is a breathtakingly daring piece of literary criticism -- the kind that improves the humility of Course Lecturers.)

- about the state of being depressed
- accurate portrayal of depression
- still human
- Book is an experience of her problems, she is objectified and put through the revolving door of the medical system with ritualistic appointments.
- Curveballs in life have unhinged her life-leaving her confused as to what is signficant
- Human contact is necessary; Continental theory-we're all displaced.
- descriptions of mathematics and geometry in all texts, in Miss Brodie and
Laidlaw (in descriptions, ex. "the street was at a right angle" instead of some other descriptive
- John Knox as TV? TV makes her feel guilty, all those thin women. Morose theme of Calvanist guilt.
- She reads Tarot cards for past and future, the present moment freaks her out, she can't make sense of it.
- Depersonalization:ex. Doctor scripts.
- about control-or lack thereof. Connection between mental illness and continental thinking. Theme of disconnect between objects and meaning. State of being.
- She goes to a hospital, she wants them to make her better. They tell her to relax, there is no miracle cure, healing has to come from within.
- She develops a sense of self throughout the book.
- She constantly makes lists and lives by them.
- Takes up hobbies to please others: ex. cooks to please men, keeps cooking even when things are bad. She knits because her friend does.
- She makes her own decision when Tony makes a pass at her, she refuses his advance and controls her life more so.
- She switches from gin to the more positive whisky at the end of the novel.

Group Projects: Status

We'll have seminar time this week to work up an effective status report on your Group Project, but one shatteringly helpful idea hit me over the head on Friday.

It came about from two hilarious causes: one, the humour clip from Thursday's presentation; and two, my reading of the "Introduction" of my copy of "Trocchi to Trainspotting" -- skipped the first time around. I'll read this latter to you in class Tuesday & see if it breaks you up like it did me.

A similar arrangement of the Group Project is a very effective one for my Modern Japanese Literature in Translation course, & very enjoyable for the students. As I have mentioned, this is my first time teaching our current course, & so I am enjoying the learning very much (I very much loved reading the novels & background materials over the summer.)

So, it has now hit me with the full force of a caber tossed on my head:
the theme for your Group Project is .......

"Scotland Invented .... [fill in the blank]"

with the "blank" of course being your Group's choice of local Scots influence. Go wild, laddies & lassies.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Student's Interpretation of Galloway

A classfellow helpfully sent along this intriguing engagement with the Galloway text. By all means, forward your own personal readings for the wider benefit.

I think Galloway is trying to draw an association between mental illness and continental thought as a similar psychological state. It reminds me of Hume's ideas about thought formation, and how everything is devoid of meaning in itself, but associating that object with sentiment transforms it. I imagine that if this were heavily internalized, there would be a loss of connection to the self, because the self is a construction of human sentiment. Skeptically speaking, there is no part of the human body which houses such an abstraction, and if so, which part? Where does your hand end and your forearm begin? The associations and names we come up with helps us understand the world, but through illusion.

Instead of witnessing events through the I, they witness it through the 3rd person perspective. This is supported in the text, such as on page 12:
The nice thing is that I need not be present when I am working. I
can be outside myself, watching from the corner of the room.
This also explains why all the interviews with the narrator are never addressed in the "I", and how the narrator explains her physical movements in terms of depersonalized, moving
objects. It reminds me, to some degree, of Buddhist philosophy, with the idea that meditating on word puzzles in order to achieve an altered state, where nothing is connected (no binary oppositions). I know that doubleness isn't necessarily binary opposition, but they both involve an association between sentiment and objects. Binary opposition is largely applicable to moral judgements, and judgement is attached to guilt. The narrator is making connections between her ....[paramour's] death that quite possibly don't exist so maybe she is at this point of crisis, and her mind is a point of conflict: the guilty, ascetic self associated with Calvanism and a depersonalized "object" of continental thought....The narrator's state of mind could be regarded as a "continentalist enlightenment," yet everyone "healthy" in the book seems to attach a sentiment of mental illness to her behaviour.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Doubleness Debate

A quite useful debate, pro- and con-, in Tuesday's class about the presence of doubleness in Scottish Studies. I thought that there were strong cases made on both sides, and it was an excellent opportunity to air differences of opinion, for one, and to more clearly definine doubleness in contradistinction to, say, two-ness.

This being compleated, I have opportunity to state my position, which is that the matter is not whether doubleness is a feature of Scottish life and letters to a greater degree than in some other culture. Put another way, our attention is not to "Unique Scottishness Doubleness" as a fact; but rather to "The Assertion by Scottish Writers & Intellectuals of Unique Scottishness Doubleness" as a fact.

And more practically, of course, the claimed doubleness is an excellent heuristic for a scholarly introduction to Scottish Studies.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mid-Term Essay: Extra Office Hours

I hope that you are all well on track with your mid-term essays. I am going to hold extra Office Hours this week for any last-minute questions or discussion -- Monday October 22nd from noon to three o'clock. Best wishes!

I will, in fact, add additional Office Hours permanently after this coming week. I currently have five hours each week, with one hour every day of the week. Thinking over possible ways to accomodate everyone's schedule, it seems that if I have one day, mid-week, where there is a long block of time that goes beyond any one two-hour class I can remove that occasionally-stated reason for non-attendance.

Accordingly, I will have a three-hour Office Hour block on Wednesdays, effective November 1st, from noon to three o'clock. My Office Hours schedule with be then as follows:

Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Tuesday 10:30-11:30; Wednesday, 12:00-14:55; Thursday 10:30-11:30, Friday 12:00-12:55. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Please only use your SFU account for email contact. In urgencies, I may be reached on my cellular telephone at 604-250-9432

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Scots Invading England!

A delightful article today at on "The Scottish Invasion: Who rules London?" most pertinent to our developing sense of the character of Scottishness. Click the title of this blog post for the full article.
The Scot, which in the British imagination is a bluff and mumbling fellow, may seem like an unusual object of fear and loathing. But in London, it seems the city is being ruled over by a group of ambitious Scots—what Jeremy Paxman, a popular BBC presenter, has dubbed the "Scottish Raj." Prime Minister Tony Blair, who claims Englishness, was born and educated in Edinburgh. Five of Blair's 20 Cabinet ministers are Scottish, meaning that about one-twelfth of Great Britain's population has produced one-quarter of its Cabinet. The ruling Scots include Gordon Brown, who will probably succeed Blair as prime minister, and John Reid, the home secretary, Brown's only real rival for the post. Menzies Campbell, the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, is Scottish, as is his predecessor, Charles Kennedy.

"The Trick is to Keep Breathing" -- the Video

Garbage has a song referring to our Galloway text: click the title of this post for the YouTube video.

Janice Galloway Web

There is a riot of information at the Janice Galloway homepage -- both specific to the author and general on Scottishness .

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sample Mid-Term Essay

A reminder that a sample of an "A+" essay is on course Reserve

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tuesday: Reminder on McIlvanney text

Just to remind you to as mentioned Thursday to bring your Laidlaw text to class one more time tomorrow....


First off -- I called the British Consulate and asked the Deputy British Consul-General in Vancouver, audibly Scots Mr. Andy Newlands, for the correct pronunciation of the Laidlaw author's name. He supported classfellow K.'s "M'cILLvanney -- but not because of the "Mc" versus "Mac", but rather the double "N". The alternative spelling "McIllvaney" is pronounced MACillVNy.

Update: But stop the presses -- a Scots old-timer here has just told me that William McIlvanney was writer-in-residence here in the early nineteen-eighties, and the pronuciation is MACillVNy.
Update II: Our Department's Scottish Studies expert, Dr. Leith Davis, confirms MACillVANy.

Second, great work last Tuesday identifying so many of the elements of Laidlaw that deliberately set it in the American crime genre.

  • harsh, sparse and colloquial prose.
  • Smart Cop set against Stupid System
  • an underworld setting.
  • fascination bordering on glorification of Mobbery.
  • wise but jaded senior cop partnered with callow rookie.
  • unconventional and individualist detective techniques prevail (originating in Dostoevsky but known popularly as the Columbo model)

Add any additional tropes in the comments section ....

Franco-Scots Creation of .....America?

As presented in lecture, one claim of the continentalist side of present-day Scottish Studies (c.f. the Michael Gardiner essay or book) is the importance of France in Scotland in the creation of America. The Eighteenth century French writer formative in the developing idea of the American democratic model -- whose name escaped me in the ex tempore part of last lecture was Alexis de Tocqueville.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mid-Term Deadline Extension

Yes, that's right -- I have been, shall we say, encouraged to extend the deadline for the mid-term essay until the Tuesday: that is, October 24th in class. Best wishes!

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Always the Women"

A one-woman play being performed at SFU Harbour Centre in the Fletcher Challenge Theatre looks to give a corrective to John Knox's warped portrayal of women in the Bible.
Always theWomen with Nina Thiel, Saturday, October 21st, 8:00 pm, $5 per ticket -- "a solo performance of Jesus' encounter with women in the gospels."
There are posters of the play with strong reviewers' comments in the English Department .

Tuesday's Class Location

As stated in Thursday lecture, for class on Tuesday October 17th we will convene in Special Collections at the W.A.C. Bennett Library on the Seventh Floor. Librarian Anthony Power will give a talk on our collection of books by Scots writer (and Monster) Alexander Whitelaw Robertson Trocchi.

So, see you in Special Collections this coming Tuesday at three-thirty.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"SuperGran" is In ....

The Library has now received a VCR of three SuperGran episodes. It is in the media collection and can be signed out. Alas it is in U.K. PAL format, and needs the video unit in LIDC at Harbour Centre.
Update: Great news: our new Media Collections Room in the W.A.C. Bennett Library has a Multi-region VCR player. Go to the media Collections desk, sign out the video, take it station #4, and sit back & chuckle at Scottishness for a spare half hour.

Supergran is a Scots cult classic, (Billy Connolly wrote & performs the theme song) and affords North Americans an entertaining, hilarious & quite plausible entre to Scottishness. Worth a half hour!

"Laidlaw" Social Context: 1977

Update: The Filth & the Fury is avaliable on Loan from the Bennett Librray

McIlvanney set Laidlaw in the specific social situation in Britain in the mid- to late- nineteen seventies: the publishing year is 1977. The clip seen from Johnny Rotten's video autobiography of the Sex Pistols, The Filth & the Fury, shows the deteriorated condition of Britain -- as Laidlaw describes the cities, "....Just architectural dumps where they unloaded the people like slurry."

This was the state of life in the U.K. that gave rise to both Punk Rock and Thatcherism. John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) makes this point directly in "The Filth & the Fury," showing the first image of Margaret Thatcher with the voice-over, "People had had enough." (Lydon's point in the opening sequence is his statement that "the Labour Party, which had promised so much after the War, had done so little for the working class," over clips of Heath & Wilson successively.)

This has to be kept clear for any useful understanding of modern British literary history (i.e. my specialty!). Punk Rock was not a response to Thatcher: they were both responses to the same social condition -- neither Punk nor Thatcherism would have existed without the state of affairs in Britain that conceived them both. The chronology makes Rotten's point more clearly -- especially for North Americans & those who were not there (as, ahem, I was ....)

Margaret Thatcher came to power in the middle -- May -- of 1979. Laidlaw was published in 1977, & presumably written in 1976. Punk Rock was effectively finished by 1979. (It softened into New Wave. What is marketed as 'Punk' today is smooth up-tempo pop.) Here's Johnny Rotten from No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs:
By 1978 the masses of Great Britain had woke up to “Punk”, but it had become a tired cliche for third rate pub bands and chancers.
We do the facts here, and analyse the literature accordingly.
(ps: From the landscape in Laidlaw, I'm taking that Punk reached Scotland at about a eight- to twelve- month lag from London.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Scotland & France: The lastest ....

Like any love affair, the relationship between Picts & Gauls has its moments. In this article, the French national football team manager credits the Scot ball boys for this weekend's defeat of France [!] -- but also can't resist including a word of love....
But I was disappointed with the attitude of the ball boys who slowed the game down whenever the ball went out of play. That was very disappointing for me from a country known for their fair play."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Tips on Reading the Deleuze Text

Gilles Deleuze, whose Empiricism and Subjectivity : an Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature is on course reserve as part of the background critical reading, is a continental (read, pâce Liz Lochhead "frenchified") literary theorist (his sometime attribution "philosopher" should, for our purposes, be read as an honourific, or an omnivorous generalisation.) How should monsieur Deleuze's essay be read?

For myself, I prefer to read literary theorists literarily (not, observe, literally) - that is, I expect delights. If the author fails to present these to me in a reasonable space, I then start to skim for nuggets. Should you happen not to find the writing of M. Deleuze to be deep, systematic, lucid & inviting, then simply ensure that you have the sense of the translator's Introduction, chapters one and six, and the conclusion.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mid Term Essay Topics

Update: some browsers apparently could not originally display all the format in this post. Adjustments made accordingly.

The criteria for the mid-term essay are detailed in the syllabus. The three topics are as follows. Write on one topic only.

1.] Develop a unified theory of the literary relevancy of the use of dialect Scots by Spark, Lochhead & McIlvanney. Concentrate your argument on direct textual analysis.

2.] It is argued that John Knox and David Hume represent a dynamic opposition at the foundation of contemporary Scottish literature. Using your own understanding of the essential characteristic of Scottishness, analyse how this putative opposition functions in literary terms in any two of the primary course texts.

3.] Textually analyse the matriarchies represented in Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off and Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in terms of the continentalist theory of Scottish Studies.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On Handing in Assignments

The following circular has just been distributed to all of us from On High concerning the handing in of assignments. Note that, as specified on the syllabus, our assignments are either handed in during class or placed into my Department mailbox which is open 24/7/365.
.....procedures regarding assignments handed in outside of class. The new procedure is as follows: Department staff do not date stamp assignments handed in outside of regular class time; nor does the General Office any longer maintain a sign-in procedure for such assignments. Instructors are therefore strongly advised to have students hand in all assignments during class meeting times, or during their office hours. Please do not encourage your students to slip papers under your office door.

Office for Hours

In response to a question, my office (AQ6094) is on the north-west quadrant of the Academic Quadrangle, sixth floor, facing toward the quadrangle interior.

Question on Individual Presentations

I am receiving some questions about the Individual Presentations, and I want to re-iterate to everyone that the full criteria are in the Course Syllabus.

When you are researching and designing your presentation, it is my recommendation that you read the syllabus closely and near the middle and just before the end and verify that each and every criterion is fully & properly met in your project.

For instance, one criterion states that the presentation must be "....related to the Scottish background." This, then, openly entails the foreground -- which is obviously the course texts -- and the canny presenter will build his or her presentation with this syllabus fact in mind.

Lastly, do rest assured that the assignment grading has accomodated the efforts of the early presenters who have first broken the hard ground (or some rude Scots equivalent phrasing.)

"Rob Roy" and Whisky

Following from yesterday's Individual Presentation, here are sections from Sir Walter Scott's deutero-canonical Rob Roy ("Volume Two, Chapter Twelfth") I have alluded to on whishky (the mis-spelling is pointedly done.) I have emboldened some noteworthy text:
Each of the Highlanders had their naked dirks stuck upright in the board beside him,—an emblem, I was afterwards informed, but surely a strange one, that their computation was not to be interrupted by any brawl. A mighty pewter measure, containing about an English quart of usquebaugh, a liquor nearly as strong as brandy, which the Highlanders distil from malt, and drink undiluted in excessive quantities, was placed before these worthies. A broken glass, with a wooden foot, served as a drinking cup to the whole party, and circulated with a rapidity, which, considering the potency of the liquor, seemed absolutely marvellous.

I hae had chappins eneugh," said Inverashalloch; "I'll drink my quart of usquebaugh or brandy wi' ony honest fellow, but the deil a drap mair when I hae wark to do in the morning. [!!]

This explaineth much!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

New "Pertinent & Impertinent" Links

You will see that I have added links to the Pertinent & Impertinent list (top of the blog to the right-hand-side) to the course syllabus, group field-school project, and individual presentations posts. This way they will always be visible & clickable for you at the top of the blog.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On the Lochhead text

A wonderful deliver of the second act of Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off. The series of scenes showed a remarkable array of styles: all of which were effective, none of which were dull, and together all of which were illuminating. I want to thank you all very much for your effort and engagement: I am very satisfied.

As I said when the judges were in recess, the dramaturgy brought out features of Scottishness muted in the reading of text (with due apologies to Dr. Johnson.) This, of course, was Lochhead's intention, and she would be very proud to hear of her success. The bawdyness and the humour were mentioned specifically after the performance, and these are the most immediately obvious features. But I would like to draw your attention to two additionally important elements of Scotsness that the play puts forward: the rudeness and the rough energy.

"Rude" in its etymologically proper sense of uncultured and rough-edged, and roughly energetic in the sense of Rob Roy of the Highlands: not weakened and tamed by the artificialities and cultivated intrigues of the city and town. Keep these concepts in mind, and make note of the importance of (using Lochhead's formulation) Frenchification as we progress through our study of the course texts.

Group Project: Example

A reminder that criteria for the Group Project are posted in the syllabus. There is an open variety of creative options for the form in which you will present your Field School work: portfolio, blog, video, &c., &c. Your project requires the Instructor's written approval on a one-page outline of your plans -- I suggest you do this initial approval stage sooner rather than later.

I had an example to bring to Tuesday's class for your Group Projects, but this Saturday's Vancouver Sun gives me one much better. Their "Arts and Life" section has not so much an article on as a hagiography of filmaker Norman McLaren. (This post's title is a hotlink to the online version.)
The Sun writer all but declares that McLaren, who was born and raised in Glasgow, essentially created modern Canadian identity. For example:
Though reluctant to carry the burden of the national identity on his shoulders, through work such as Spheres (set to the music of Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations by Bach) and Neighbours, McLaren's Academy-Award-winning stop-motion short about two men who end up killing each other over a flower, McLaren nonetheless projected the image of Canada as a creative, experimental and above all, socially conscious place to live.
So, assuming McLaren were the subject of study, the project would be to find the best means of showing how characteristics of Scottish identity contributed to those features of his art -- his contribution to Canadian society -- that become Canadian.
For an NFB précis of McLaren, click here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Scottish Wikipedia? Groan.

It indeed is never so bad as might be worse. Click on the title of this post for .... this:

Wikipædia is a project tae big a free encyclopædia in mony leids. This Scots edeetion wis shapit on 23rd Juin 2005. We hae 1,633 airticles the nou.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Film Interest? "Mrs. Brown"

I wonder if there's any interest in making a class event of Mrs. Brown: Dame Judy Dench as Queen Victoria & Billy Connolly as her Scots servant John Brown. There is no direct connection to course texts (we will be looking at Trainspotting in any event), but it is an absolutely delightful film; it has substantive critical elements on the mixed bilateral antagonism and respect between Scots & English; and gives an acclaimed sense of the Scottishness which we are striving after here.
But that's just my opinion! Add yours, anonymously if you prefer, to the comments below.

Imagery from Liz Lochhead's Chorus opening

Here is some of the visual imagery invoked by the chorus opening of Mary Queen of Scots got her head Chopped Off -- a jacket cover of Scots novelist George Macdonald's Lilith with a depiction of an anthropomorphic Corbie; paired with Henry Raeburn's "The Skating Minister." [Click on the picture for a larger image.]

Tudors: the Graph

I drew a graph on the blackboard of the Tudor dynasty as it relates to our Lochhead text, & the several "Marys" in particular. I'm going to figure a way to blog a Visio version of that graph: stay tuned ....

Darwin: Evolutionary Misogyny

I have put Darwin's Descent of Man, 6th Edition, on Course Reserve in order that you can compare his nineteenth century misogyny to John Knox's of the sixteenth century. Darwin's declaration that

man has ultimately become superior to woman. It is, indeed, fortunate that the law of the equal transmission of characters to both sexes prevails with mammals; otherwise, it is probable that man would have become as superior in mental endowment to woman, as the peacock is in ornamental plumage to the peahen,
is the necessary result of his belief in the two evolutionary mechanisms that he invented -- natural selection & sexual selection. His theories, then, as he constructed & defended them, are thus flawed.

To my mind, the absence of any serious engagement among scholars and special interest groups with Darwin's excessive belittlement of women has a whiff of political expediency. That is, feminists who have read Descent of Man may be reluctant to give Darwin the same critical attention as other similar -- even far less strong -- misogynists receive, due to the use Darwin can be as a stick against other enemies. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

For us, however, our motto is rather, Fas est et ab hoste doceri (Ovid.)

"First Blast of the Trumpet ...."

Of John Knox, Liz Lochhead made him an important character in our current course text, Mary Queen Of Scots got her Head Chopped Off. Dr. P. Hume Brown (1849-1918), a founding Scottish Studies scholar, claimed of the Scots that Knox, by his writings, "....revealed the heart and mind of the nation to itself." Hence for these, and other reasons scholarly, we do well to study the one -- in effect, the only -- work of his which retains currency: The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

We will spend five minutes Tuesday's class finishing off our direct analysis of Knox: primarily to be clear about the political substance of the polemic, and to look at one or two uniquely Scottish elements within it.

To summarise the lecture last week, I argue that The First Blast is a rhetorical, and grammatic, triumph, but a dialectic failure and & effectual disaster. Knox wrote within the scholastic tradition of his priestly training; losing nothing of it in his turn to protestantism. The one shining facet of Scholastic writing (pace Paul Feyerabend) is its openness: the training demanded its practitioners state the most authoritative objections laid publicly against the argument it, and declare, moreover, any that should happen to occur to the writer himself. Knox does this straightaway in his third paragraph -- and indeed elsewhere, and, I believe in a way that defeats him. This at least we must accounted to him for righteousness.

The Scholastic tradition of writing was essentially the trivium: the first three of the seven Liberal Arts (the quadrivium were arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy -- a delightful ascent, conceptually, it must be said.) The ascent in the trivium was from the structure of words and meaning (grammar), the arrangement of words (rhetoric), and the arrangement of the ideas (dialectic.)

In The First Blast, an example of Knox's grammatical command is his neologism "monstiferous" to effectively express his sense of the extremity of monstrosity his ostensible subject (the regimet of women) represents. His rhetorical command is everywhere evident. No more so, of course, than in my primary contention that The First Blast .... is not actually directed against its titular subject: rather, the regiment of women is a blind from behind which he can conduct his offensive against his real enemy: Roman Catholicism.

Of rhetoric, Swift declared that "proper words in proper places is the essence of true style" -- in my words, chosing and placing words for maxiumum possible effect. Knox's ability to hide his real, seditious, purpose behind the rhetoric of mysogyny is rehetorically impressive. Likewise his plain language, and his opening blast of immediate and sustained attacking corneal force which answers in form precisely the declared image in the title.

Every student knows the three rhetorical appeals: logos, ethos, pathos. It is not always clear, however, that these appeals are not matched to any substance: the substance is in the dialectic, not the rhetoric. Ethos, for instance, does not entail the moral dimension, as a category of metaphysics. Rather, it is a method of appeal to the ethical image of the hearer and draws on the ethical reputation of the writer. So, we can now better understand Knox's superlative rhetorical command, taking logos illustratively. Logos, then, is not a logical arrangement of the argument (that is addressed under the mode of dialectic) but rather a use of words which gives an effective appearance of logic. In the paragraph beginning with note [46], Knox writes:
The apostle takes power from all women to speak in the assembly. Ergo, he permits no woman to rule above man.
The use of the word ergo in a properly-arranged sentence gives the appearance of a logical statement, but in fact the sentence is illogical: a perfect non-sequitur, or perhaps more properly, a "fallacy of composition" error.

As for dialectic, as mentioned, and discussed partially in lecture, The First Blast ... is a disaster. Selective quotation from his scriptural source is persistent flaw, but a venial: and, it must be said, nearly a universal. Culpable, though, is his elided treatment of Ephesians chapter five, and his risible mis-reading of the Creation story in the second chapter of Genesis. And he cites St. Augustine in his support -- the same Augustine that argued in the gentlest cadence in perhaps the most important non-Biblical work in the entire Western Humanities, Civitas Dei of the theological (if not the practical) equality of the sexes. But enough of the ubiquitous particulate errors: the argument entire simply vanishes as if a mist when one denies (and in the affirmaion it was -- & is -- Calvinism contra mundum) the Calvinist Suprlasarianism which Knox does here nothing more than reiterate. Even if one were to allow Knox's exegesis ex hypothesi, it is still only true of fallen humanity: ".... in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." For Calvin, humanity was depraved before the Fall: so much the worse for Calvinism.

And to come now to the Scholastic credit of Knox, to his argument's own destruction, in the passage before note [59], Know writes:
If any thinks that all these former sentences be spoken only of the subjection of the married woman to her husband ....
Ex ore tuo! The pauline passages which make up his substantial New Testament argument (setting aside his treatment of the passages about women in relation to cultural orality in Roman public assemblies, the casuitical form of which declares its foundational insubstantiality) speak to the conditions for marriage in its Christian conception -- i.e. dissolutive only in Death -- and thus have no direct applicability to the relation of women & men extra-maritally.

These are just a small few of the available means of debunking the dialectic in its surface attention to female regnancy. His central motto in that seems to be the one given just in advance of note [108]: "....that particular examples establish no common law." This, of course, and the accumulation of Biblical exceptions rebuking his assertion of universal male rule, leads him of necessity to casuistry; and thereby, as stated, effectively asserts his failure to have "a sure foundation."

The design of the piece as an anti-Roman Catholic polemic -- a sortie in a religious and political campaign -- will be addressed directly in Tuesday's lecture.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Being a Man" -- an English Department Colloquium

Department Colloquium "Being a Man (in the Lousy Modern World)"
Monday, September 25th, 7:00 pm, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

This event features a talk from British Lad-Lit author Robert Twigger, with a response panel to follow. Twigger – who has won the Newdigate Poetry Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature – occupies a literary terrain where a masculine performative identity is developed for post-colonial men through a variety of Empire-class male adventures. He has gained a consequential readership among non-middle-class males, and his books have proven to be appealing movie material. Big Snake, the author’s hunt for the world’s biggest python, is now a National Geographic film, and Miramax is currently preparing Angry White Pyjamas – a literate reflection on the twelve months that Twigger, a self-described “scrawny Oxford poet,” spent among the Extreme Right in Tokyo in brutal training for a black belt in Yoshinkan aikido – for world-wide movie release.
Twigger set on Canada as the Empire setting for his newest lad-lit book: Voyageur, just released, takes the form of a recreation of Mackenzie’s trek in a birch-bark canoe from Lake Athabasca to Bella Coola. Fittingly, then, the author has chosen the SFU English Department to give his literary ideas their first open academic airing, here, at our Colloquium. Peter Dickinson and Steve Collis have agreed to participate on the response panel, joining Rebecca Wigod, Books editor for the Vancouver Sun.
You are all very welcome to attend and, if you wish, contribute your response to Robert Twigger’s talk, as there will certainly be opportunity for moderated response from the floor.

The Scots are Basques, It Turns Out

.... in part at least, and so is the rest of the British Isles, says Stephen Oppenheimer in The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story.
Well that should shake things up in Scottish Studies!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Culture Studies Framework for Scottish Studies

Today was our full introductory engagement with the Cultural Studies approach to literature, favoured at present, as we have seen, in the field of Scottish Studies. For instance, as mentioned in lecture last week, and in an earlier post, the recent event sponsored by Dr. Davis and the St. Andrews & Caledonian Society -- a talk by Dr. Murray Pittock, professor of Scottish and Romantic Literature, Manchester University -- discussed historic and contemporary views of what it means to be a Scot. His neologistic concept of fratriotism was, in essence, a representation of colonial Scots activity at the studied level of culture: i.e. a uniquely Scots culture of horizontal relationships amongst individuals.
  • Note that the article hot-linked above in the term Cultural Studies is a Wikipedia entry. This is perfectly consistent with my views on the oxmoronic project (i.e. creditable open-source encyclopedia): articles on Wikipedia are perfect for convincing people who are convinced by Wikipedia. (You will recognise this, of course, as a braw Brodie-ism.)

There were several reasons given in lecture, as part of the explanation of the Gardiner article, why Cultural Studies is a particularly attractive approach in this day & age for Scots Studies.

Among these are the French character of the theorists central to Cultural Studies: Virilio, Delueze, Derrida, Foucault. Scotland has, as indicated in some of our texts, a strong historical connection (especially heavy in the sixteenth century) to France: three of our Scots "Mary's" were queens or consorts in France, for a start. Additionally, the anti-colonial orientation of this theoritic mode conveniently enables contemporary Scots to blur the image of their forebears' energetic Imperialist endeavours.

Lastly, considering the matter at an academic level, the very nature of what is called (using Dr. Pittock's term, for instance) a project of Scottish Identity is inescapably cultural: a Scottish nationalism as much as a Scottish project peopled by those in principle hostile to, or, at least, suspicious of, nationalisms, require for social significance the existence of unique culture specifically separate from the English -- even the word "British" is used by them in actual or mental quotation marks. Hence, the Cultural Studies approach gives Scots Studies a formal body that harmonises with its substantial being.

An article arguing that the Cultural Studies approach is a necessity can be read at this link.

This now all being said, keep in mind that in this course we are taking a critical approach to Cultural Studies in relation to Scottish Literature after 1945. That is, our position is a scholarly neutral one, where Cultural Studies has the status of one of the objects in our field of study of Scotland & its fiction today.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Today's (British) Headlines & Gardiner

This news story, "Big Brother is shouting at you," via the indispensible Arts & Letters Daily, on the addition of a live voice, inescapably suggestive of Orwell's prophesy, to the CCTV cameras in public streets, claimed of Glasgow pioneerage in Gardiner's essay, significantly complicates Gardiner's central argument to my mind.
The issue also maps onto an intriguing bifurcation on response to crime in Britain between the Left & the Right (an idea that came to me when reading this essay, again from Arts & Letters Daily.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More Michael Gardiner

Our background culture studies theorist, Michael Gardiner, is aiming to develop a name for himself as a writer of fiction. Follow this hotlink to read online from his story on the Edinburgh Festival -- you'll recall the mention of the event in TPoMJB -- and see a list of his literary influences, amongst other things.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Template for Cultural Studies Analysis

In the spirit of the sceptical positionality of contemporary Cultural Studies, here is an analysis of the précis to Martin Gardiner's essay-length version of his From Trocchi to Ttrainspotting: Scottish Cultural Theory Since 1960. The essay abstract is presented first, followed by a (re-)presentation of its elements -- this amounts to a template for the formula from which essays from a Cultural Studies approach are constructed. The copywrite symbol [©] is used to denote set ideational structures and conceptual givens.

"Perspective" is often considered to be among the world-defining possessions of an individual. In fact, the unique vantage point is a cornerstone of liberal subjectivity and a defining feature of the rights of the individual, especially in the case of consumer culture. In the following, Michael Gardiner maps the idea of "The Enlightenment" onto contemporary optical innovations, pointing out the ways in which the democratic value of the individual viewpoint is mediated through the common lens of vision technologies. The result is a high-stakes struggle over the perception of "reality" and, ultimately, the meaning of knowledge.

[Theorist] ©maps the ©idea of [broad traditional concept] onto contemporary [catchy cultural artifact-type], ©pointing out ©the ways in which the [social judgment expressed in terms of the value of subjectivity] is ©mediated through the [specific catchy cultural artifact]. The result is a ©high-stakes struggle over [statement of philosophical relativism] and, ultimately, [traditional element of academic study.]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Readings: reminder

At the end of the all-important opening two course weeks, just a review of the method behind the reading schedule on the syllabus. It is designed to give an efficacious plan for your readings of the course material. Specifically, then, there is a two week block dedicated to each of the six primary course texts. These are supported by background readings, collected in the Virtual CourseWare Package. These background readings together form a cohesive approach to the material: here again, the reading schedule will, as stated on the syllabus, ensure that you are well ahead of lecture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Individual Presentation Schedule

Remember to look at the specific criteria for this assignment, as published in the course syllabus.
September 19th: K.J. October 31st: W.L.

September 21st: K.M. November 2nd: J.P.
September 26th: T.S. November 7th: D.N.
September 28th: A.R. & N.B. November 9th: L.Mac.
October 3rd: D.H. November 14th: D.S. & S.F.
October 5th: B.W. November 16th: M.S. & K.M.
October 10th: J.F. November 21st: S.S. & R.B.
October 12th: D.H. & M.Ma. November 23rd: M.Mo.
October 17th: C.T. & S.Mc. November 28th: L.M.
October 19th: M.J. & J.R. November 30th:
October 24th: K.L. & M.W.
October 26th: D.S.

Topics Selected:
Edinburgh. Bagpipes. Highland Dancing. Scots influence on the Canadian Military. Scottish Geography. Caber toss. History of golf. Celtic mythology.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Course Syllabus

This syllabus provides the reading schedule for English 342.. If students are up-to-date with readings, they will be ahead of lecture. Note, however, that this schedule is not a Procrustean bed for lecture: 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 on-line articles are from the Virtual CoursePackage: a collection of supporting material that places the primary texts in a theoretical, historical, and cultural context. There is a permanent link under "Pertinent & Impertinent" on the blog sidebar.
There are two short background texts on Course Reserve: Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism & Subjectivity and Paul Virilio, Information Bomb. These books are not available on-line in fulltext version, so students are advised to sign them out and read them in advance of the week positioned on the schedule.

Week One: September 5th - September 7th
Primary text: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
On-line Article(s): John Knox.
Week Two: September 12th - September 14th
Primary text: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
On-line Article(s): Michael Gardiner.
Week Three: September 19th - September 21th
Primary text: Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off.
On-line Article(s): David Hume. The Sceptic & Of Superstition & Enthusiasm.
Week Four: September 26th - September 28th
Primary text: Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off.
On-line Article(s): Friedrich Nietzsche ("ressentiment").
Week Five: October 3rd - October 5th
Primary text: Laidlaw.
On-line Article(s): Donald Macleod.
Week Six: October 10th - October 12th
Primary text: Laidlaw
Background text: Gilles Deleuze (on course reserve.)
Week Seven: October 17th - October 19th
Primary text: The Trick is to Keep Breathing.
On-line Article(s): Claire Colebrook.
Week Eight: October 24th - October 26th
Primary text: The Trick is to Keep Breathing.
On-line Article(s): Carole Jones.
Week Nine: October 31st - November 2nd
Primary text: Trainspotting.
On-line Article(s): George Orwell.
Week Ten: November 14th - November 16th
Primary text: Trainspotting.
Background text: Paul Virilio (on course reserve.)
Week Eleven: November 14th - November 16th
Primary text: Morvern Callar.
Week Twelve: November 21st - November 23rd
Primary text: Morvern Callar.
Group Field School workshop.
Week Thirteen: November 28th - November 30th
Perlicue, feenish.

Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a three percent per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, simply provide a letter from a physician on letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that an illness prevented work on the essay over the assigned three week period.
All assignments are to be placed in the Instructor's mailbox outside the English Department Office.

1. Mid term paper, two thousand words: due midnight October 23rd. Assignment sheet with choice of topics will be blogged on October 5th. Criteria include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics. [Note that these dates afford you flexibility. If your mid-term schedule is crowded, you are free to submit your paper at the deadline, which is approximately three weeks after the assignment sheet is distributed. If you prefer to get a critical response to your paper earlier in the course, you can submit yours as soon as you like after the assignment is blogged.]
2. Group field school project: beginning in course week four, you will organise groups of five students to take your study of the course themes, extrapolated from the primary works of fiction, into the local setting. Each group will select a local Scottish society, historical personage, or associative landmark, and work up a form of presentation that details how this feature of Greater Vancouver, characterised as a post-colonial landscape, devolves from the characteristics of identity theorised in our background reading, such as Deleuze, Virilio, Colebrook, &c.
The project is due in the last class of the term, November 30th, with seminar time set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor to develop your project. Suggested fields of study will be presented when the groups are formed in week four. By week seven your group will submit an outline of your project design on your own terms: signed approval by the Instructor will be the grading criteria for the assignment.
3. Individual class research presentation: sign-up schedule handed around in seminar. An oral presentation of ten minutes maximum on a specific topic related to the Scottish background: historical, cultural, literary, political or geographical. Suitable topics include authors, great works, intellectual figures, periods (e.g. Scottish Enlightenment), religious traditions, cultural traditions (e.g. whisky, Highland Games, bagpipes), Scottish film or performing arts, critical-theoretical positions relevant to Scottish identities, post-Empire Scotland, women’s influences in ancient or modern Scotland, Scottish nationalism, Glasgow or Edinburgh, Highlands or Lowlands, geography & Scots identity.
The criteria include research comprehensiveness, relevancy and contribution to the class' understanding; with an emphasis on the cohesiveness, clarity, comprehensibility, organisation, timing and other acknowledged elements of effective oral delivery. Hand in a copy of your rough notes at the conclusion of the representation. You will receive a sheet with Instructor's analysis, comments, and your assignment grade, a week after your presentation.
4. Final Paper, thirty-two hundred words: due December 4th at midnight. Topic to be discused and approved in writing with the course instructor. There is also an available option for a Creative scholarly paper, provided that strict failure standards are detailed and approved by the Instructor in writing, in advance.

Course Approach
The course is designed to provide an experiential engagement with the themes and materials declared in the course outline. In addition to information and and analysis in lecture, a variety of opportunities for students to experience different informative facets of the outlined subject area will be presented.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Participation
15% Individual research presentation
20% Group Field School Project
20% Mid-term essay (2000 words)
35% Final essay (3200 words)
Nb: “Participation" requires both contributions in seminar discussion and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar.

Instructor Contact:
[UPDATED] Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Tuesday 10:30-11:30; Wednesday, 12:00-14:55; Thursday 10:30-11:30; Friday 12:00-12:55. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Please only use your SFU account for email contact. In urgencies, I may be reached on my cellular telephone at 604-250-9432.

Course Theoretical Background

As I detailed in the opening lecture, a new book by Michael Gardiner, an assistant professor in the faculty of letters at Chiba University, Japan, has just been published, which is brings main themes from our course together, with an up-to-date focus. I have ordered two copies of From Trocchi to Trainspotting: Scottish Critical Theory Since 1960 from the Library to be placed on course Reserve.

I will be using the book as the background to lecture, so it is a support text rather than a critical necessity for your reading. However, the idea behind Gardiner's bok can be found condensed in an earlier article of his,
"Endless Enlightenment: Eye-Operated Technology and the Political Economy of Vision,"
which I have now linked in the On-Line Articles; Course Package post.

Scottish Studies Lecture

Dr. Leith Davis, Department of English and the SFU Centre for Scottish Studies, has organised two lectures sponsored by the St. Andrews and Caledonian Society.
Murray Pittock will be speaking on 'Scottish Identity: Historic and Contemporary' on Monday, Sept. 11 downtown at the Fletcher Challenge Theatre at 7 pm. It's free to the public, but people should call 604-291-5100 to reserve seats. A reception will follow. Dr. Pittock will also give a talk on Wednesday, 13 September in AQ 6229 at 12 noon: 'Fratriotism: Empire and its Limits in the Scottish and Irish Imagination, c. 1746-1837'.
Note that the hotlink above to the Centre for Scottish Studies lists Dr. Davis' publications in the field. You may find some of them useful and relevent as historical background to your choice of assignment topics.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Education Model of Miss Brodie, & Us

I want to expand slightly on Miss Brodie's expressed model of education, and how it relates to my own teaching methods. An example of the doubleness of Muriel Spark's portrait of her titular character, Miss Brodie's description of her teaching philosophy is clearly presented in favourable contrast to the pedagogy around her at Marcia Blaine's.

The word "education" comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of what is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and the stem trudo, I thrust. Miss Mackay's method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil's head; mine is a leading out of knowledge, and that is true education, as is proved by the root meaning.
This is certainly high comedic. It is also Socrates' & Plato's education theory. It is also, as the word "root" may have already suggested to you, an horticultural understanding of the process of teaching.

Put into my terms, the student is a seed, or a sapling, as you prefer it, and will develop to knowledge by forces and by programming already inside him or her: via DNA, in current scientistic jargon. The function, then, of the teacher - the Professor -- is that of the horticulturist: to create the conditions and provide the natural materials (water and fertilisation) conducive to the pupil's -- the plant's -- growth.

Opposing this is the Enlightenment model: in our present case, we should specify the Scottish Enlightenment, and in particular one of its major figures, David Hume. In this, the pupil's mind is a blank slate -- tabula rasa -- or a void into which stuff is built. The classroom image of this is that the Professor gives a blueprint at the start of term -- "this is a Wall made of one hundred and thirty bricks" -- and then the first week of class says, "this is brick one, this is brick two .... this is brick ten. Now we have the foundation row." Second week, it's "this is brick eleven, this is brick twelve .... this is brick twenty. Now we have the second row." Et cetera to week thirteen.

Going back to the Enlightenment origins of this pedagody (which, as I mentioned, has complete domination in the current-day Public Education system in North America,) the assumptions of it are a degraded vestige of what the Enlightenment retained of the deductive system of the Classical and Mediæval ages: the deductive, syllogistic, arangement of Major Premis, Minor Premis, Conclusion, where the major premis is a statement of Universal Truth, given by authority. For example:
  • Major Premis: All men are pigs
  • Minor Premis: Stephen is a man.
  • Conclusion: Stephen is a pig.
You may note that this logical system pervades even our model of the scholarly essay. The major premis is your statement of thesis -- a universal truth from the work or works under study, such as "Muriel Spark presents Miss Jean Brodie as a Calvinist God" -- in your opening paragraph; the minor premises are individual supporting examples from the text comprising the body of your essay; the conclusion is the spelling out of how the examples supported the Major Premis.

This, however, is only one possible form of essay. In Japan, for instance, they don't use -- indeed, they don't readily comprehend -- the deductive form of essay writing, but instead work intuitively from a civilisation-fundamental conception known as ki-sho-ten-ketsu.
Japanese rhetoric exhibits the textual characteristics that Hinds suggests. When
it comes to expository writing, this sequence of ki-sho-ten-ketsu is most frequently used (Ostler 1987, Hinds 1990, Kubota 1992). The sequence displays reader-responsibility and takes the quasi-inductive pattern. As the Japanese rhetorical pattern does not match that of English, English native speakers who encounter Japanese rhetoric feel that composition in Japanese is disorganized, unfocused or ineffective (Hinds 1990). But Japanese essays are not disorganized: they are just not organized for the native English speaker audience. Japanese readers rely on their knowledge of culture for interpretation, a knowledge English speakers don't have. Because the implied intention of composition normally comes at the end of the essay and because the essay does not take either the inductive or deductive style, it is difficult for native English readers to predict where the essay is heading before the final paragraph. As a result, when Japanese ESL students write an English essay using their native rhetorical pattern, their teachers are likely to find the essay hard to understand.
Ki is an unobtrustive introduction of a new topic or idea. Sho is a calm and organic development of that topic or idea. Ten is a turning, according to some principle of culture, history, or writer's individual character. Finally in the series is the ketsu, the tying-together, as with a bundle of twigs, where the ketsu is not explict in the essay, and in consequence is a koan, or an individual interpretation -- but one made with the broader apparatus of the Japanese civilisation.

So, for us, as for Miss Jean Brodie, the alternatives for education are between a system based on organic conception of the student's active and, in fact, necessary, participation in his or her intellectual growth, or a mechanistic, formal-mathematical model of instruction in which the student is passive, and, indeed, a mere unit of education, identical to -- and easily replacable by -- any other unit. This is, as you will have recognised, the idea animating Muriel Spark's description of the Marcia Blaine upper form teachers at the opening of chapter four:
The teachers here seemed to have no thoughts of anyone's personalities apart from the specialty in life, whether it was mathematics, Latin, or science. The treated the new first-formers as if they were not real, but only to be dealt with, like symbols of algebra.
By "not real," Spark means the students are conceived of as not human beings: Spark writes of these teachers that their pupil's days ".... were now so brisk with the getting of knowledge from unsoulful experts."

The matter, of course, is that the mechanistic and passive conception of learning is safe and ultimately undemanding. However, the organic model where winds blow, the environment is bio-diverse, and the student must participate and even struggle (to invoke a Darwinism) in order to obtain growth, is demanding and has, by definition, the absence of certainly that is uncomfortable and in fact frightening if it is not embraced -- but learning is exciting, stimulating and far, far more efficacious when the challenge is taken up.