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.