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!"