Saturday, August 4, 2007

Study Table

Here is the Study Table I promised in lecture (I have also added the version that your classfellow came up with on her own.)
  1. The "Erin Keating" Study Table
  2. Classfellow "Mee" study table

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"What I Don't Understand"

Here's the list of responses to Monday's "What I don't Understand" cards. I'll give enlightment, to varying degrees, to each at Wednesday's lecture:

What I Don’t Understand
• Inversion
• Woods stance
• Wood’s Argument form

What I Don’t Understand
• Dualism in Life after God
• Irony vs. lying in BAG
• Final exam concepts

What I Don’t Understand
• Why BAG is a polemic or anti-God

What I Don’t Understand
• Why Greene’s novel is praised as a work of polemical art

What I Don’t Understand
• Review concept of dust in the Amber Spyglass
• Review “dialectic” from the first couple of lecture

What I Don’t Understand
• Ironic gap

What I Don’t Understand
• sincerity

What I Don’t Understand
• in Pullman’s Amber Spyglass, what’s the relevance of the concept “world separation” (or “multi-world”)? and the sword used to cut an entrance between two worlds?
• Also, how’s multi-world and sword related to the author’s anti-God ideas?

What I Don’t Understand
• The significance of animals
• The concept of Creed

What I Don’t Understand
Life after God ~ main theme and main vocabulary: if you could maybe brush over it a little I’d really appreciate it

What I Don’t Understand
Brighton Rock
• Douglas Coupland

What I Don’t Understand
• The Amber Spyglass’ concepts and related definition

What I Don’t Understand
• Genre: one of the lecture you mentioned Amber Spyglass’ genre is polemical
• What to focus on in the course

What I Don’t Understand
• Plato’s cave
• Irony from The Book Against God: can you give examples (from book) and explain the intended effects? (I’m the group of audience that just don’t get the irony but I
need to get the irony but I need to get it for the exam)

What I Don’t Understand
• English pastoral literary type
• Similes and paradoxes

What I Don’t Understand
• How BAG is strictly anti-God (references, examples)

What I Don’t Understand
• You, your inability to bring light to any important issues aroused by the books. I can understand one maybe 2 lectures about genre, style, type etc.
• Maybe you should take some time out of your busy lecture schedule to lecture on things that matter. Life, love, death, time…how these topics relate…
Who cares if BAG is English Pastoral???

What I Don’t Understand
• How to avoid wordy rambling in essay exams
• How to be concise, and stick to the core concepts…

What I Don’t Understand
• The significance of Ida in Brighton Rock

What I Don’t Understand
• Imaginative truth definition (can’t remember)

What I Don’t Understand
• I don’t really understand the point of the Book against God is…
• I don’t understand why we had to read Anne Rice. That book was hard to read. It was awful .

What I Don’t Understand
• What you are looking for when you ask questions. (sometimes)
• How to learn to dissect a novel
• Some of the words you use (LOL!) I can look them up though
• Still how to deal with final exam questions breakdown

What I Don’t Understand
• Different kinds of irony like: Roman irony, dramatic irony…
• Although I attend to the lectures, I find it difficult to study the lecture notes on the web site and to follow it up.

What I Don’t Understand
• Why has Douglas Coupland forsaken us? Do we have to deny him three times or something?

What I Don’t Understand
• Your notes
• Some of your tangents however, some help me understand the text better
• Why some authors have such dissatisfying conclusions

What I Don’t Understand
• Ironic gap
• Difference between “dialogic” and “didactic”

What I Don’t Understand
• Bildungsroman
• English pastoral
• Literary distance
• London and Purnar
Immaturity vs maturity

What I Don’t Understand
• Dialogic novel
• All of the inversions?

What I Don’t Understand
• Why Life After God is a significant read?
• Is there a finite list of literary types/methods?

What I Don’t Understand
• Significance of lies
•The role of music in BAG


What I Don’t Understand
• How one can argue against something by making it look good
• How you can draw such plausible connections between concepts that before being lectured on seem completely unrelated.

What I Don’t Understand
• Why the ending seemed to be the way it was in Life After God, almost seemed out of place

• Why the Book Against God wasn’t a more harsh polemic, title is very misleading
• Why Sam Harris looks like Ben Stiller

What I Don’t Understand
• If Sam Harris’ definition of Atheist is valid, then the proof of God falls on the believer, not the atheist. Book Against God puts everything in the contexts of belief so that Thomas is less concerned with proving that God doesn’t exist that proving that we shouldn’t humour God.

What I Don’t Understand
• Some of these books (i.e. Amber Spyglass) don’t seem to be ‘anti-God’ but rather anti-institutionalised Religion, and there is a certain amount of Spirituality. Is this valid or are we to argue that it is completely polemical in a formal setting like an exam.

What I Don’t Understand
• Why the only alternative to X-ianity is Atheism
• Is the ultimate irony in BAG that Tom is more credible than the church?
• Anne Rice as literary excellence?

What I Don’t Understand
• Even though I know the direct meaning of English Pastoral, I don’t know how to identify them.
• Irony

What I Don’t Understand
• Chesterton’s Orthodoxy
• Doctrines

What I Don’t Understand
• Literary distance (Book Against God)
• Plato’s cave

What I Don’t Understand
• Not quite clear on Greene’s ultimate message in Brighton Rock. Heaven must exist if there I hell?

What I Don’t Understand
• The significance of the end of Brighton Rock where Rose and the priest talk and
Rose’s thoughts in the end
• What duality has to do with God in Life After God

What I Don’t Understand
• Why Brighton Rock is pro-God
• Why the dialectic of setting in BAG is important

What I Don’t Understand

Brighton Rock seems to outweigh its supposedly pro-God stance by all the negative events that transpire. I know that the idea is because there is evil there is God but it seems to be such a round about way. How is it Pro-God and not neutral or Anti-God?

What I Don’t Understand
• The difference between sarcastic and irony
• What’s the final exam is going to be like (lots of short answer questions and three essay questions?)
• Is there a similarity between Coupland & Wood’s work (both unstable)

What I Don’t Understand
• The different genre of each novel
• The difference between sarcasm and irony: sarcastic is the basic form of irony?

What I Don’t Understand
• The relationship of Max to concepts of the BAG
• Sarah’s position (mediator?)
• Wood’s an atheist?

What I Don’t Understand
• The concept of Brighton Rock being pro-God is vague to me

What I Don’t Understand
• Dogma
• Heteroglossia?

What I Don’t Understand
• Literary distance

Monday, July 16, 2007

More on Coupland: YouTube-ing

More helpful material sent along From J.L.:
Here is a link to a pretty old BBC interview with Douglas Coupland. I was very interested to see this, and I suspect many of my classfellows would be as well. In particular, I am fascinated by the way in which Coupland expresses contradiction without irony. He seems very authentic, and yet has no qualms about expressing very contradictory views without making any effort to reconcile them. The interview is in three parts, the link I supplied being to the first, and the other two being accessible from the same page. There is probably an interview somewhere on youtube that deals directly with Life After God. I like the BBC one.

More Relevant Pop Lyrics

From classfellow J.L.:
I must first make it clear that I don't find the discussion of song lyrics nearly as interesting as the books themselves, but as long as we're doing lyrics, we'd be remiss to ignore Bad Religion. Couple that with the in-class dialectical comment about the state of my own nation today, and we get an obvious choice of lyrics for the general consideration*:

Bad Religion-American Jesus

I don't need to be a global citizen,
'Cause I'm blessed by nationality,
I'm a member of a growing populace,
We enforced our popularity
There are things that seem to pull us under and
There are things that drag us down,
But there's a power and a vital presence
That's lurking all around

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate,
We've got the American Jesus
He helped build the president's estate

I feel sorry for the earth's population
'Cause so few live in the U.S.A,
At least the foreigners can copy our morality,
They can visit but they cannot stay,
Only precious few can garner our prosperity,
It makes us walk with renewed confidence,
We've got a place to go when we die
And the architect resides right here

We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering their ship of faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

He's the farmer barren fields, (In God)
The force the army wields,
(We trust)
The expression in the faces of the starving millions, (Because
he's one of us)
The power of the man. (Break down)
He's the fuel that drives the Klan, (Cave in)
He's the motive and the conscience of the
murderer (He can redeem your sins)
He's the preacher on TV, (Strong heart)
The false sincerity, (Clear mind)
The form letter that's written
by the big computer, (And indefinitely kind)
He's the nuclear bombs, (You lose)
And the kids with no moms (We win)
And I'm fearful that he's inside me (He is our champion)

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate
We've got the American Jesus
Exercising his authority
We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering their ship of faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

One nation under God(x10)

*This is the most complete/correct version I could find online. If any part of these is incorrect I trust loyal fans with access to the actual liner notes will supply corrections.


Vibrant Debates on our Course Theme

As serendipity has it, there is apparently a climate of dialect in the wider culture on our course theme, as a number of exceptionally potent debates are appearing in print and online fora.

One of them -- the most biting -- features the illustrious Canadian, Steven Pinker, (whom I have met) and Leon Kass, a medical doctor and biochemist who is, I believe, a non-secular Jew, on the topic of Science -vs- Scientism. Two others feature Richard Dawkins and are especially interesting for each coming counter to Dawkins from the side of science and unbelief, i.e. intra-atheist dialectic contra-Dawkins, to a degree.
  1. Pinker-Kass
  2. Dawkins-Wilson
  3. Dawkins-Krauss

Roman Irony

The example of Roman, or Rhetorical, Irony -- common in parliamentary discourse -- to which I referred in lecture can be seen at this LiveLeak link.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More Musical

Classfellow M.E-P. sends along a recommendation for a Swedish singer-songwriter, Eva Dahlgren, whose lyrics echo several of our course themes. Ms. E-P. has translated and transcribed some salient lyrics, below. This YouTube clip is also worthwhile viewing.

Give me a place in this World
By Eva Dahlgren, 1984

I don’t care about eternity
But give me a place
Here in reality
Another life
In another time
No peace can come from that now

I live by the playfulness
And by sincerity so deep and heated
I dream about fairytale worlds
About the other world
About up and down
That right becomes wrong

Give me a place in this world
Not necessarily in the sunshine
But my own window towards the street
That I can open and close
As I please
That is the only thing I need
That is the only thing
That my heart demands
That I can find somewhere
Where I can choose between
Peace and quiet

I live for honesty
And for all my secrets
For what is a lie
Against a crushed dream
Nothing that bothers us now

I want to love from overheating
Not like some welfare institution
I want to give life
From my own life
For my own sake

Ref: Give me a place in this world………..

Young and Proud
Eva Dahlgren, 1987

Iuvenis et magificu
Miles sum
Fidem mihi habens
Vitam persequor

I am the ground
Underneath your shoes
I am the dust
And dirt
Fields in the spring
I am the insurrection
Where freedom lives
I am the Oxygen
That you breath
I am the light
You dream
Everything lives
In me

Young and proud
I am a warrior
With faith in me
Life goes on

The inheritance from
Another time
In my veins
Flows the sin
But I won’t take
My life
As a punishment
As a tunnel
To eternity
What is it
Without you

Ref: Young and proud…

Never a confession
Until the look
Is murky
And the thought
Has stiffened
If I lie myself down
To die
And take revenge on life
The only thing
You have given me
Don’t blame me
You are a part
Of me.

Live so
Eva Dahlgren, 1991-1992

Looking for the words
To touch a heart
But black lines
On white papers become so black

Lovers in the inks
Fall soundlessly
To quiver
The heart requires
Lips closeness

Looking for the language
In order to wander your woods
Your nights
Shall bear fruit from my days

Consolation like
The words shall be breathed
In your thoughts
But in order to live
The thoughts require
Your dreams

Like the stars in the sky
For no ones sake
Stipple the night
Live like the wild wind
For the sake of the game
Over large waters

Like a flower looks for light
Like a poet looks
Live so
Live so
Like a field in summer attire
Like its beauty you are
Live so

Looking for the words
Which will remember my kisses
Just as warm
Just as smoothly they shall caress

Lovers in the night
Slowly fading
Looking for the words
That forever
Will carry my truth

Who lights the stars
Eva Dahlgren, 1991

It was seconds of eternity
Three short breaths
My whole life turned
Who made the choice
Not me
I heard words
Coming from my lips
That has never rested in my mouth
Thoughts never thought
Like new walls in a room
As if we’ve always loved
Since my diary’s first page
But that I get to write your life
Only luck
Not a choice
Of all these meetings
And everything that should have happened
How rarely am I the reason
For my life turning

I have no faith in destiny
That thought gives no comfort

But who turns the winds
Who gets me to go
Where I have never gone
Who lights the stars
That only I can see
In your eyes
Who turns the winds
And brings me there
To where my thought
Has never reached

As many years as I have lived
With the person I wish to be
So many women that I have role played
But never done it well
Must dare to just be
With memory of the child
Who let life choose
And dared to say YES

Eva Dahlgren, 1988

Let me be
Let me cry
Until the oceans have dried
Till my heart
Is a wringed out sponge
Let me scream
Let me dance
With the devils
And drink
Let it always
For ever
Be night

They took you
Took you
Why not me

The anger in the body
Has copulated with
The Sorrow
And the kids they give birth to
Have me held hostage
They offer me to eat
Out of repulsive little hands
And I swallow

Ref; They took you…

Always when the sun
Shines shadows over life
I know
That I must
To my end
I laugh at the Gods
In heaven
Those who know everything
Poor devils
But they don’t bother me

Ref; They took you…

The moon makes a street in the ocean
Separating black from black
I have to
Have to go
Because over there beyond the night
There my heart is on fire
And that I’m going to pour
Water on

Ref; They took you…

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Book Against God" Appraisals

This webpage has an array of links to informative reviews of The Book Against God, along with the following blurb:
In The Book Against God, Tom Bunting is the son of a vicar and loving parents, but his life is one long adolescent rebellion against his father and his father's God. Tom is self-centered, lazy, and a compulsive liar, and has spent years avoiding finishing his PhD dissertation. His wife, Jane, has recently left him until he can get his act together and his father has died. Tom spends what little time he does any work writing his "Book Against God,", with which he hopes to prove that God doesn't exist. Yet as his friend points out, how can he be against something that doesn't exist. James Wood is a renowned literary critic and The Book Against God is his first novel. The book has received mixed reviews, although one must wonder how much of that is from other writers enjoying the chance to skewer a critic. The Los Angeles Times calls it "witty, serious and intelligent."

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Alternative Media on Science vs. Religion

I found this to quite intriguing. The alternative Vancouver media sheet The Republic of East Vancouver, a pleasingly eclectic and broadminded anarcho-socialist paper, has a pair of articles in the current edition relevant to our purposes. It represents the possibility of a synthesis - which will either aggravate or stimulate....
Update: responsing to an e-mail from a classfellow; what I am most intrigued by is the organ in which this line of argument occurs. As I mentioned to that person, I can't yet get my head around the significance of this fact.

Contributor Matt Hogan writes on "The false dichotomy of Science vs. Religion."
One of the big questions of the day is whether capital “S” Science will win out against capital “R” Religion. To my mind this is a false debate: no self-respecting scientist would take religion on as a suitable opponent, and no religious person should posit their spiritual conception as factually accurate. Nevertheless they both do, and this immature conflict seems to be one that we can’t get beyond. In a more mature society, the opposition between Science and Religion, or Science and Art for that matter, would simply disappear.
Next, writer Michael Nenonen argues that "Muslims have good reason to fight secularism."

Like many people, I once thought that secularization was always a good thing, and that as Middle Eastern countries secularized they would become more democratic. The longer I study the history of the Middle East, however, the less convinced I am.
I’ve come to suspect that the Muslims of the Middle East have compelling reasons for opposing secularism....

"Skeptical Inquirer" edition

The latest edition of the journal Skeptical Inquirer is entitled "Science, God and (Non)Belief. The articles, uniformly atheist, are online at this link.

The enticement on Arts & Letters Daily -- itself a pro-secular organ -- reads as follows:
What is prayer, and how can it work? This is not just a question of religion, but of neurophysics – and logic...

The Noah's Ark Theme in "Life After God"

Course TA Candace Knighton sent me a delightful and subtle pensée on the depths of Coupland's use of the Noah's Ark story, which she kindly permits me to share for wider benefit:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth…and the LORD was sorry that he had made man…so the Lord said “I will blot out… man and beast and the creeping things and birds of the air. Genesis 6: 5-7

And the LORD said in his heart “I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. Genesis 8: 20.

Noah’s ark is a symbol of global destruction, but also a promise from God. On page five of Life After God, Douglas Coupland mentions and illustrates the ark (a truly post-modern moment). We see birds fly in the sky while the sun shines over the iconic boat from the Old Testament. It is a pleasingly cruise-like image, but under the still water (suggestive of Cathy’s secret world “just on the other side of the water”), are the bloated corpses of man and beast. According to the Bible, all humans are descendent from Noah’s family. We are all related to a man who closed up his boat and listened while his neighbour’s drowned. All humans have survivor-guilt, but are also the Christian God’s chosen and blessed.
We have been discussing fear of death and the possible symbolism of animals in Life After God. Coupland depicts humans sharing the earth with the animals which were given the chance to survive the Flood. According to Coupland, animals only live in the moment; “Dogs only have a present tense in their lives” (223). In “The Dead Speak” Coupland depicts everyday scenes impacted by nuclear devastation. Understanding of time, past, present and future, becomes meaningless and humans are forced into the present tense, like animals, to watch their own demise. Wisdom, or goodness, or evil becomes irrelevant.
Today’s apocalyptic vision is centered on global warming. I do not think it is just a coincidence that the movie Evan Almighty (a Noah’s ark remake) is in the theatres at this time. Many people have seen "An Inconvenient Truth" with its graphic depiction of inhabited land gradually being drowned by rising ocean water. Some others may remember the movie "Waterworld" (1995) in which all but the tip of Mount Everest is under the ocean due to climate change. Anxiety over death and chaos is usually depicted in art. After the Black Death, people danced the danse macabre and created paintings of animated skeletons inhabiting the earth. The comedy “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb” dealt with human anxiety over global nuclear destruction. Evan Almighty allows people (Christianity’s descendents of Noah), to huddle together in the dark, to laugh at the ridiculousness of the upcoming Flood as well as their helplessness against it.

Environmental Religion

Classfellow M.E-P. sends alone the following information about an upcoming event from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Protect our Sacred Waters, which she contextualises as follows:
It is both environmental and Religious!! And didn't you say that Generation Y's eschatology was global warming etc. Well in that case some of them might want to go and listen to this.
It does indeed make interesting support for my suggestion.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Dialectical Response

Classfellow A.N. makes the following audacious dialectic response to my lecture presentation of Life After God.
Update: by 'audacious' I mean that I like it very much, and would be glad of more!

I don't buy the notion of Life After God being an non- or anti-polemical. Is Douglas Coupland being deceptive? Dishonest? Cunning? Elitist? Probably.Let us take a look at page 273:

"I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line. I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God. But then I must remind myself we are living creatures - we have religious impulses - we must - and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion?"

This is undeniably an intensely polemical statement regarding human nature. I find myself struggling to remove personal feeling from this argument, but I digress; I cannot help myself. I, as a staunch atheist along the lines of Harris and Dawkins, firmly believe in love. I do not believe that lack of religious conviction equals lack of compassion, but exactly the opposite; citing events such the Crusades of the 13th century, the Thirty Years War, religious conflicts in France in the 16th century and Ireland in the modern day, as well as the numerous acts of violence god commits against heretics and non-believers should be more than enough evidence to prove Christianity's obsession with violence. Furthermore, to assert that human beings are naturally religious is simply ridiculous. The fact that two paragraphs of fiction are inspiring me to angrily write polemic should be proof enough that Douglas Coupland is not only blatantly trying to be polemical in Life After God, but is clearly glorifying Christianity in a way that Graham Greene could never hope to achieve.

Lamenting the Death of a Charming Polemicist

I have just learned that a most wonderful man, renown polemicist on the anti-God side, and jewel in the SFU faculty (Psychology) has died unexpectedly. Dr. Barry Beyerstein was a gentleman and a scholar, a vigourous, publically activist and unrelenting Skeptic, who remained persistently gentle, gracious, and cheery.

He and I had a public debate back when I was an undergraduate (not on any topic relevant to this course) and we had pleasant encounters periodically after that; including a guest lecture he gave, to my benefit, at a course of mine at Harbour Centre a couple of years back.

Links here, here and here. His like is rare and valuable. Resquiat in pacem, Dubitare.

More response to "Life After God"

From classfellow J.L:
The idea that an act of human goodness was rewarded by god with the gift of animals directly contradicts the order and (according to my own textual interpretation) spirit of the story of Eden. The naming of the animals takes place before the fall- in fact before the creation of Eve. Coupland's vision of an act of goodness in this time frame makes a substantial change to the story, and the fact that such a huge idea is left as a conspicuous loose end makes me wonder if there's a deliberate literary function for it or if it's just a beautiful thought that made it into the book and just didn't tie neatly into other things. It's quite profound either way. Also, my brief reading on reveals what may be another direct (though subtle) biblical parallel (and not necessarily a deliberate allusion): 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:1 15-17 This is the first time that death is mentioned anywhere in the old testament. There's an odd starkness to this explanation; Adam has no knowledge or experience that could inform him of the nature of death, and God talks about it as if he (Adam) should know. The way that Coupland talks about understanding death- when he compares it with recycling for instance-strikes me as being expressive of what me may infer Adam's understanding of death to be. In scripture we need to see someone die- Abel, at the hands of Cain,before we can grasp the concept in this literary form. Coupland seems to have expanded this dynamic. We are first treated to various views of the Flash, always quite removed from it. We know intellectually what it connotes but it is divorced from the visceral response that comes from confronting death. And then in The Dead Speak we witness death first hand and it becomes real.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Group Project Review

A reminder that the next tutorial -- Monday July 9th -- is the peer review of the Group Project.

Click on the hotlink here for the criteria. The topic has been left open for your group to decide among yourselves: if you should be uncertain I recommend that you advocate for some aspect of the books which invigourates you by your strong agreement, disagreement, love or hate.

You can chose a literary aspect of the texts -- the characterisations, or the plot, or the settings, or the ideas, or even your judgement of their literary worth-- or, you can start with an idea of your own -- denial or affirmation of God, for instance -- and use two texts to support or elaborate your idea.

Then let the dialectic commence. As always, if you have any questions, simply leave a comment on the blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

On Coupland & Destabilisation

K.N. sent the following question by e-mail, which matched an conversation I had in Office Hours with another classfellow, which challenges the lecture expectation of a destabilising effect of reading Life After God.

Do you think that Coupland assumes that the majority of his readers ARE stabilized to begin with? It seems to me that his destabilizing style is actually comforting to the destabilized generation(s) that form his intended audience. The intensely questioning nature of his writing is very familiar to those who have grown up in an increasingly confused world, where a generation gap occurs every 5 years and we are constantly flooded with information that changes our ability to place ourselves in a constant narrative.

This is certainly a provocative point: Coupland's generation "X" (my own generation) is more stable than your generation, "Y," and so what looks like a destabilising book to Gen. X will simply be life to Gen. Y.

For lecture purposes, however, I will cut the Gordian Knot, and say that the uncertainty and instability is the characteristic of Life after God and will ask you to identify and understand the specific literary aspects of that characteristic: the status of the narrator, for example, the presence of existential Fear, etc.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

This Weekend's Examples of our Course Dialectic

This weekend's examples that I found of the course dialectic on the God question are from Scientific American and Foreign Policy, via, of course, our friends at Arts & Letters Daily.
  1. Two prominent defenders of science exchange their views on how scientists ought to approach religion and its followers....the authors explained their respective tactics for engaging the enemy and tackled some of the questions that face all scientists when deciding whether and how to talk to the faithful about science: Is the goal to teach science or to discredit religion? Can the two worldviews ever enrich one another? Is religion inherently bad?
  2. Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Coupland-esque Lyric

From classfellow K.N.

These are the lyrics to a song by The Weakerthans that I think has total relevance to Coupland's message in Life After God....

"Sounds Familiar"

We emerged from youth all wide-eyed like the rest.
Shedding skin faster than skin can grow, and armed with hammers,
feathers, blunt knives:
words, to meet and to define and to...
but you must know the same games that we played in dirt,
in dusty school yards has found a higher pitch and broader scale than we
feared possible,
and someone must be picked last,
and one must bruise and one must fail.
And that still twitching bird was so deceived by a window,
so we eulogized fondly,
we dug deep and threw its elegant plumage and frantic black eyes in a hole,
and rushed out to kill something new,
so we could bury that too.
The first chapters of lives almost made us give up altogether.
Pushed towards tired forms of self immolation that seemed so original.
I must, we must never stop watching the sky with our hands in our pockets,
stop peering in windows when we know doors are shut.
Stop yelling small stories and bad jokes and sorrows,
and my voice will scratch to yell many more,
but before I spill the things I mean to hide away,
or gouge my eyes with platitudes of sentiment,
I'll drown the urge for permanence and certainty;
crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sample Individual Writing Presentation

I post the following revised version of the Individual Writing Presentation, with the author's permission, chosen as a representative sample which captures the spirit of the assignment, and has itself the absolutist and bellicose tone which exemplifies the polemical mode being treated of.

I will restrain myself from responding to the substance of the poelmic itself, but you are encouraged to do so, using the comments section here. You might look first at the comments to this post for the most immediate direction from which counter-polemic would come.
It is argued by aesthetic philosophers that polemic messages should not be incorporated into art. In this essay I will make two cases. My first task will be to dispose of the claim that polemic and literary art (in this case the novel) are in some way incompatible. I will then argue that not only is polemic perfectly compatible with all forms of art, literary or otherwise, but vital to them as well. In order to make the first case, I am forced first to deal with the idea that the purpose of art is to “create beauty” or to “delight”.
Art is often defined implicitly or explicitly as bearing a direct connection to beauty. This assertion is demonstrably false. Much of ancient art is clearly not intended merely to be pleasing to the eye, but to express and perhaps make sense of difficult aspects of life (the skull motif present in much indigenous art, for instance). More recently, the works of Marcel Duchamp (including Fountain, which consists only of an ordinary urinal) are some of the most well known in examples of art that is specifically intended to subvert ideas of beauty.
The argument that art is in any way defined by beauty, therefore, is reduced to making one of two fallacious arguments. The first is to redefine beauty to include any feeling that art produces in anyone. Obviously if this definition is accepted, then the argument is reduced to a trivial truth, and the word beauty robbed of its meaning. The other is to assert that anything not deemed beautiful (generally by the person making the case) is not art. If we accept this arbitrary premise, then there can be no dialogue about the subject at all.
Having established that art can have any number of intents behind it, and that the intentions of the artist are not always correlated to the way in which the work is received, it is now appropriate to direct our inquiry to the specific instance of polemic, as it is only now that the question becomes truly relevant. Because having set realistically broad parameters for what art intends to do, we open the particular technique of polemic for even more nuanced criticism. For now the question is not whether polemic is compatible with beauty (and we will see that it is) but whether or not polemic is compatible with artistic expression of any kind, and with any intent.
Given that the question is whether polemic and novels should ever mix, polemic need only be proven to be compatible with a single set of artistic goals in order to answer this rather ambiguous question of ought. And here the evidence is overwhelming: not only can polemic be successfully harmonized with art, it has been throughout history. And not only is polemic compatible with some artistic goals, but it is demonstrably so even with the narrowly defined goal of beauty. The Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and (most relevant to our concern) the works of Orwell, Salinger, and Twain all contain powerful and often explicit polemical statements.
It is not, however, enough to simply state that polemic needn’t hinder a novel. A case can, and should, be made with greater force in defense of polemic as a vital and valuable technique in its own right. For if polemic and novel were never to be combined, some of the greatest works of literature would never have been. There would be no 1984, no Paradise Lost, no Candide.
In modern society, forceful rhetoric and the art of stating one’s views with the intent to convince has become stigmatized through association with politicians and lawyers. Anyone who adopts a polemical approach to self-expression in most public forums risks censure on the grounds of not being open-minded or fair. Given that polemic in its raw form is so frowned upon, and that beauty remains highly respected, the ironic truth of the matter may well be that the novel is in fact the best place for contemporary polemical speech.

Punk Conference

Those who have the type of musical interest indicated in the comments threads here, note that the English Department is running an International Conference on Punk in Spring 2008, with courses in Punk-Lit in support.

Comment here for more information.

Business & English Courses

Here is the link to the biennial report from the 2006 biennial "Skills & Attributes Survey Report" from the BC Council of Business titled "What are BC Employers Looking For?"

As shown in lecture, of the top ten skills sought by businesses in all employment sectors, only one -- the lowest ranked-- is a technical skill. Writing, reading, analysis, teamwork and other abilities taught and developed in the Arts faculties are ranked far higher.
Read the document and keep it to mind for guiding your course selection & study focus through your undergraduate years.

Monday, June 11, 2007

An On-going Dialectic on our Course Subject

The indispensible Arts & Letters Daily has been sustaining an informal dialectic in its "Essays & Opinion" column (main page, right-hand side) for the past few days on out course topic.
  1. Supernatural ideas have never helped human beings to understand the natural world. Alchemy, faith healing, astrology, creationism: none has advanced our grasp of nature one iota... more»
  2. Many agree that the decline of religion may be a cause of the decline of the family. But what if it’s the other way around? Mary Eberstadt speculates... more»
  3. Christian Wiman was raised with “the poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God.” Since he’s had his diagnosis... more»
  4. Shouldn’t every educated person be instructed in the great religious and secular traditions, as well as their greatest books? Atheism is not enough... more»
The article from left-wing journal The Nation indentifies the polemical character of the anti-God warriors -- "The New Atheists" -- this way:
....each man is at war, writing as if no others had preceded him, and with a passion that can only be described as political.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Course Dialectic: Sibling Polemicists

Update: Here is an 'Anatomy of the Sibling Row.'

Well, well: here's the dual ling sibling polemicist version of our course dialectic. Perhaps the most uncompromising polemicists of the present day are the Hitchens brothers - Christopher & Peter. To get a sense of their extremity, Christopher is literally the Devil's Advocate: appointed advocatus diaboli by the Vatican to oppose the canonisation of Mother Theresa, whom Hitchens charges with Crimes against Humanity. Peter on the other side ... well, let's just say that Peter is on the opposite side.

Christopher Hitchens' current book is one of the currently-popular atheist polemics: God is Not great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Extracts can be found online here. Brother Peter has now responded in an article, online here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mid-Term Essay Topics

Please choose one of the following topics for your Mid-Term assignment. I have used your own very helpful suggestions from the May 30th lecture.
  1. Does either one of Philip Pullman or Graham Greene more effectively integrate his polemical position into his literary art? Construct your case (there are three possible) using direct quotation from the two novels.
  2. Using textual quotation and your own evaluative judgement, place The Amber Spyglass and Brighton Rock into a dialectical exchange about the subject of God, where either novel artistically represents a dialectical position to which the other is a direct literary response.
  3. Explain some of the ways in which Pinkie's "dividers" in Brighton Rock and Will's "subtle knife" in The Amber Spyglass function as literary devices within their respective texts. Your conclusion can be used to give your estimation of their relative artistic effectiveness.
  4. The lecturer has presented Graham Greene as one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, according to the aggregate critical consensus and textual evidence. Compare the form and style of Amber Spyglass to that of Brighton Rock and argue for or against the claim that Philip Pullman is an equally great novelist in this the twenty-first century. If you so wish, your comparative evaluation may be framed around the different genres (children's literature versus adult fiction) to which the two novels belong.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Classfellow Dialectic

Classfellow J.L. sends along this dialectical engagement with a point from lecture which I encourage you to read and leave comment in response. Helpful particularly is the definitional distinction offered in regards to polemic and art of "content" versus "execution."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"On Writing Well"

From the Nota Bene section of the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily today is a useful article which encourages plain English by offering "some thoughts on writing well."
At my local recycling center, the first bin is labeled “commingled containers.” Whoever dreamed up this term could have taken the easy way out and just written “cans and bottles.” But no, the author opted for words out of the bureaucrat’s style book, and chose the raised-pinky elegance of a phrase distant from normal English. He also added poor spelling (“comingled,” also a correct spelling, would have been clearer) and pointless redundancy (the concept of “co” is already embedded in the word “mingled”). How did they pack so many errors into two words of modern environmental prose?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Discussion Questions

In our course, it will likely be very difficult for those with strong beliefs on either side of the dialectic to avoid intense feelings, even emotional reaction. Such is the nature of the God question.

Use this post -- accesible from a link in Pertinent & Impertinent -- as an outlet for these emotions by leaving responses or queries arising from lecture. Add them in the comments section, & I will keep a running subject heading here in the post body.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Study Questions for Wednesday's Lecture

In this Wednesday's lecture, you will have opportunity to discuss a couple of questions that will help make sure of a clear understanding of main issues around The Amber Spyglass.
  1. How was the film clip shown in last Wednesday's lecture relevant to the course?
  2. What is the importance of the attention being drawn in lecture to the 'loadstone resonance' between Philip Pullman's Amber Spyglass and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation?
  3. What is your judgment of Phillip Pullman, specifically in terms of literary artistry?

Our Course Dialectic: Public Examples

I've been looking for current instances of the course dialectic between pro-God and anti-God advocates in a polemical form. Here are two that I have found, one in Canada, one in America. (To be scrupulous, for those who are agitated politically, one polemic appears in a centre-right organ, the other a centre-left.)
Remember that our course dialectic is an artistic one: observing the polemics helps us to see the concepts underlying the art.
Please leave a comment if you find any further cases.
Update: how's this for an example from today's DrudgeReport:

Awaiting the response over on HuffingtonPost ....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Victoria's Day

We're about to enjoy a holiday in honour of Queen Victoria. Tallying up her vestigial influence on Canada is an inexhaustible pastime -- Victoria, Alberta, Prince Albert, New Westminster, Regina were all named in her honour, for a start.

I came across this oblique & tendentious article in the Telegraph on the predominance of women at the political head of England following on from Victoria's eminent sixty-four year regnancy:
Have you noticed that modern Britain is the most matriarchal society in the history of the world? The four most famous figures in the public service since the war have been women - the Queen Mother, the Queen, Diana, Princess of Wales and Margaret Thatcher.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lecture Three: Online Notes

The PowerPoint presentation of the third lecture is online here.

I'm giving the request to put all lecture notes online ..... consideration. (I.e. the only argument in favour seems to be "makes students' lives easier." I'm waiting for a convincing "Makes students' intellectual growth better" type of argument....)

Student Comment

I received the following engaging email from a classfellow K.N. with permission to blog it. If you have a perspective on the course novels, or in response to lecture, please e-mail it along.
This is something that you probably don't hear much but I have to accuse you of UNDER analysing.
I think some time in lecture devoted to outlining exactly what the concept of God portrayed in Pullman's novel is would be extremely beneficial to understanding the argument of the novel. I thought that the concept of Will and Lyra being on a mission to destroy 'God' was over-simplified. Will and Lyra are definatly on the warpath against the Church because of the Church's actions, but they are less anti-God than pro-conciousness. I felt that what Amber Spyglass stands against isn't the idea of God, but rather the idea of organized religion and buerocratic stifling of what is Good (in the asthetic sense) and natural. This is where a definition of God would come in handy... Amber Spyglass is against Yaweh, against a controlling, punishing and anthropomorphic view of God that is represented in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the God that people have acted in the name of throughout history in order to justify the horrific acts mentioned in lecture as well as Pullman's representation of these acts in the separation of children from their daemons (representative of soul and free will). The antagonist in Pullman's novel isn't really God at all, but Megatron. He, like the church, takes advantage of belief and dehumanizes people. The actual death of God at the end of the novel is not a heroic feat, but an accident. This Yaweh figure has become old and frail and useless, so that the slightest puff of wind can blow him away. If the Catholic Church, for instance, knew for a fact that God was dead would they tell anyone? I think not.
Pullman's amazing concept of Dust actually symbolises the true meaning of Religion (from the Latin, re ligio - to reconnect). A theory popular to eastern mysticism and users of psychedelics has us believe that we are all connected through the concious
force of the universe. Pullman takes this a step further and makes Dust (or conciousness) a tangible substance. Humans have, in this 'fall', not fallen from connection with God but fallen from a connection with conciousness. A connection between humans and Dust (when Lyra reads the Alethiometre) creates truth which seems to be Pullman's ultimate goal. Truth stands in direct opposition with the Yaweh concept of God and organized religion.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Philip Pullman HomePage

It can only be beneficial when a novelist on a course reading list has a website. Here is Mr. Pullman's .....

"The trouble with intending to say something regularly is that I haven't always got something to say. How in the world do newspaper columnists find 600 words without fail every couple of days? And these people who fill cyberspace with their blogs day after day after day? Or preachers coming up with a sermon every week? It's not like writing a novel. I know how to keep going at that. But most of the time I'd rather read than write, and rather listen than talk."
He should definitely steer away from university lecturing, then!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Synopses of First Two Books in Pullman's trilogy

TA Candace Knighton sends along the links below to excellent synopses of the first two volumes of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy: a help to launch you into our, third, volume.

The Amber Spyglass does work well as a stand-alone novel: we join it, as we often do in novels, in medias res ....

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Writing Criteria

The explicit writing criteria for the course are detailed in The Little, Brown Handbook, ranking Canada alongside England with its Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler's Modern English Usage, and Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.

The Little, Brown Handbook is set on Course Reserve and is available at the SFU Bookstore, on the tradebooks floor. It is an indispensable work for anyone who will ever write non-fictionally.

Part I of the Handbook gives the specific criteria used in grading writing in 105W. They can be summarised under the following simple headings.

  • Precise fidelity to the Rules of Grammar.
  • Correct spelling.
  • Use of Plain English.
  • Opening paragraph is a statement of thesis.
  • Subsequent paragraphs develop the thesis logically (ideally, by dialectic.)
  • Concise paragraph structure, including:
    • three to five sentences;
    • one clearly-identifiable topic sentence;
    • two or three sentences that develop the topic;
    • one transitional sentence to conclude.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

What is a Writing-Intensive Course?

What is a Writing-Intensive course?


A W course is one that fulfills the following conditions:
  1. Students have opportunities to use writing as a way of learning the content of the course and are taught to write in the forms and for the purposes that are typical of the disciplines and/or professions, in ways that are clearly distinguished from remedial and foundational skills courses.
  2. Examples of writing within the disciplines are used as a means of instruction about typical structures, modes of reasoning, styles of address, and the use of technical language and of evidence.
  3. Students receive appropriate feedback and response to their writing that is based on explicit criteria and is directed at improving the quality of their writing.
  4. Revision is built into the process of writing for formal assignments, usually in terms of revisions of the same paper, or alternatively, in revisions accomplished through successive similar assignments.
  5. At least half the course grade is based on written work for which students receive feedback (see Criterion 3).

Individual Writing Presentations

This tutorial assignment, worth fifteen percent of the Course grade, is an opportunity for peer-editing.

Twelve-week writing circuit:

  1. Course week two, Monday May 14th: write in tutorial a one-page response to the question "Should novels, works of literary art, be used as weapons in partisan battles about God?" and present to Tutorial leader for five-percent credit.
  2. Course week four, Monday May 28th: in tutorial, groups of four or less read each others' one-page response papers and provide peer evaluation to be used for a first revision.
  3. Course week seven, Monday June 18th: in tutorial, groups of four or less read each others' first revision of the one-page response papers and provide peer evaluation to be used for a final revision. First revision presented to Tutorial leader for grading.
  4. Course week eight, Monday June 25th: first revision returned graded.
  5. Course week eleven, Monday July 16th: in tutorial, groups of four or less read each others' final revision of the one-page response papers and provide peer evaluation. Final revision and peer evaluations presented to Tutorial leader.
  6. Course week thirteen, Monday July 30th: final revision returned graded.

Nb. The draught, completed, receives five percent; the first revision is worth five percent; and the final revision is worth five percent, for an Assignment total of fifteen percent of the course grade.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Course Outline

Writing Intensive

Instructor: S. OGDEN

The God Fiction
Blog address:

So, we live in a consumerist secular mass-culture among a wired generation of irony and self-fulfilment. On Sunday churches are empty and malls are full, and TV evangelists share Paris Hilton’s sexual ethics .... and her YouTube bandwidth. Why the Hell then is our culture still passionate about a God Who isn’t there? In this course we consider this paradox by reading fiction by five authors who have especially strong engagements with the Christian God: two powerfully against, two powerfully for, and one …. well, one pleasingly uncertain.

This course will improve understanding not only of the arguments, feelings and cultural consequence of both believers and atheists, but also of ways in which novels that engage the God problem become themselves a contributing influence on the meaning which culture gives to religion. The course texts are chosen for the immediate force of the literary treatment of their respective themes. Lecture will present the material fairly and in its full vigour, without respect for personal pieties: this is, as Monty Python saith, the right room for an argument.


Pullman, Philip The Amber Spyglass
Greene, Graham Brighton Rock
Coupland, Douglas Life After God
Wood, James The Book Against God: a Novel
Rice, Anne Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Chesterton, G. K. Othodoxy
Harris, Sam Letter to a Christian Nation

10% Participation
15% Three individual writing presentations
20% Group Polemic Project
20% Mid-term paper (1500 words with revision)
35% Final examination

Thursday, February 8, 2007