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.