Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Can a Man Die? Ay, As the Sun Doth Set."

From classfellow I.K., this literary analysis of Hey Nostradaus! vid. Beddoes' apothegm.
In response to the "Can a man die?" question, I thought mostly of written legacy. 

 Aside from the Earth/Body pulling away from the Sun/Soul, I also considered the emphasis on written document in Hey Nostradamus!.
 Coupland makes constant references to the medium of writing:
 Cheryl "scribbles what becomes her last will and testament on a school binder shortly before a rampaging trio of misfit classmates gun her down in a high school cafeteria..." (back of the book). This "God is nowhere/God is now here" phrase lingers throughout the entire book and her act of writing it down is an additional element which makes her the immortal yearbook picture on the news.
 Jason's story/perspective is told almost entirely via the pink slips of paper, as he madly writes in his work car or on-the-go (at the beach, etc). These slips of paper are enforced as crucially important, both as the sole truth which is to be passed on to his sons, and as the treasured (and ziploc-sealed) manner in which he continues to live for, and give peace to, Heather: "I drove home and put Jason's list of instructions inside a jumbo freezer-size zip-top bag in order to protect his pencilings from rubbing away completely. I removed my shoes and belt and fell into bed, holding an edge of the bag up to my face, and sleep came easily" (228).
 Speaking of Heather, her release comes from the writing she sneakily starts to do while at work (as a court stenographer). Her story is written in this borderline-forbidden manner, and by writing it all out, she immortalizes it for whoever comes across it one day.
Finally, regardless of the mistakes that Reg has made in his life (through his blind and unquestioning faith), he finds hope and solace through the letters that he disperses for Jason. Even if Reg's old age takes the better of his body, or if death defeats him, his changed and bettered self is also immortalized for Jason/whoever else to see one day. His written document of truth and hope will most likely outlive him and therefore assist him on his road to redemption.
 Also notable: Cheryl's parents' and brother's letters to Jason. Did these help them? Were they really that changed? Or did they purposely send these out as a last effort in communication to clear their consciences?
As always, do send these along by e-mail: don't hide your light under a bushel....

Wrath as Love Perverted

À propos the Purgatory section of Hey Nostradamus!, an excellent (and convincing) attempt from classfellow N.C. to explain wrath as Love, perverted.
...[H]ow wrath could be love perverted.
I believe that wrath is brought about when a person has an excessive need for justice, regarding a heinous act or event upon someone or something a person holds dearly to, but couldn't satisfy this need. Thus their need of justice becomes the need for revenge bringing about rage & wrath.
Please keep them coming....

Lady Gaga: A Big Gun Fires

The redoubtable Camille Paglia has a editorial in the New York Times this week on sexual failure and white middle-class prosperity -- "No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class" -- which contains an obiter dicum on Lady Gaga.

Followers of the England tabloid press will have noticed them taking the mick out of the professional sensationalist last week for falling off her footware ....

The American press likewise.

This, recall, by way of illustrating the shallows of popular culture and Douglas Coupland's attempt to find some humanity there (as we did in lecture using Paris Hilton as an exemplary case.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"The Plato Code" Cracked

UPDATE: excellent explanation of this here.

Science historian cracks "the Plato code"

A truly astonishing discovery has just broken on the intellectual world: one whose significance can hardly be overstated. Delightfully -- almost providentially -- it occurs for us during our course, and from a figure who has helped us in our growing understanding of the literature we are studying.

From the article itself:
A science historian at The University of Manchester has cracked “The Plato Code” – the long disputed secret messages hidden in the great philosopher’s writings.... Dr Jay Kennedy’s findings are set to revolutionise the history of the origins of Western thought....The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Queen's English

Here is a Public Service Announcement on the Queen's English.

The Importance of Paris (Hilton)

Have a read of this (by Christopher Hitchens), and this as well, for tomorrow's introduction to Douglas Coupland. The more time goes by, the more Paris Hilton seems to me like the patron saint of contemporary North American culture....

In the Hitchens polemic, take especial notice of this:
The supposedly "broad-minded" culture turns out to be as prurient and salacious as the elders in The Scarlet Letter. Hilton is legally an adult but the treatment she is receiving stinks—indeed it reeks—of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse.

On Douglas Coupland

Classfellow J.L. sends along an interesting Coupland tidbit. (I can't help but add that the Time magazine writer certainly does nothing here to elevate the intellectual standard of popular journalism by his self-aggrandising application, and peurile understanding, of Wittgenstein on language. This, of course, is no reflection on the pertinancy of the article for our purposes.....)

"This is a Time article detailing McDonald's' effort to alter the OED definition of the word 'McJob', coined by Douglas Coupland over twenty years ago.
The late Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that the meaning of a word was derived from the way it is used in language. Not according to McDonald's. The fast-food giant is currently lobbying dictionary publishers to change the meaning of the word McJob — or remove it altogether — on the grounds that it denigrates the company's employees.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Academic English Study Method

An overview of the study method in academic English, along with a breakdown of the University teaching model from general to particular, and a look at Cicero's sexpartite essay arrangement model, is online, here.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Dan Brown’s 20 Worst Sentences

Via classfellow M.J., here are "Dan Brown’s 20 Worst Sentences"--well worth reading the full article.
"And be sure to read some of the comments. They’re funnier than the article. For example:"
Author Dan Brown strode through the brass lobby of a bar and ordered a beer, his eyes white as something white. The bartender had eyes too.
“What’ll it be?” asked the bartender with his mouth. He raised the tone of his voice towards the end of the statement to express that he was asking a question ‘cos when someone speaks to you you can’t see question marks. “What’ll what be?” replied author Dan Brown, answering a question with a question and putting the emphasis on the what part of the reply, showing that the question he just asked is related to the question he was just asked.
The bartender shifted his eyes. A little too shiftily, thought the author (Dan Brown); was it a challenge? Did he recognise me? Was he expecting me? Was I expecting this? Of course I was, I’m Dan Brown. trust no-one Dan. Disassemble him with your brains.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mid-Term Topics

Following the Mid-Term essay criteria posted on the course website, here are the topics from which you chose one.
  1. A dialogic novel is contradistinct to the polemical or didactic novel: a dialogic text avoids a single strong moral position and instead presents two or more opposing positions in dialogue with each other. In a polemic novel, the favoured position is decided by the author; in a dialogic novel, the reader makes his or her own decision. (The difference here is also described as being between polyphonic --'many-sounded'--and monologic--'one-speech'--texts.) Explain whether in your critical judgement Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! is a dialogic or a polemical novel.
  2. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana antithetically represent Christianity in relation to what Brown terms "the Sacred Feminine." Using an analysis of the text on that subject alone, and avoiding any polemic of your own in your essay, argue which one best meets and which one fails to meet Plato's requirement for Truth.
  3. Examine the differing degrees to which the first balanced pair of course essays--A.C. Grayling's versus A.N. Wilson--use argumentum ad populam in their opposing arguments on religion. Make clear your awareness of the fact detailed in lecture that fallacies are flaws in logic but often values in polemical effectiveness. Note that this topic is a very effective means of ensuring that your own essay work in this course (including on the Final Exam) is soundly formed rhetorically and dialectically.

Ayaan Hirst Ali on the CBC

In advance of our study of Monica Ali's Brick Lane, I notice that controversial and under-death-threat writer Ayaan Hirst Ali is in Canada promoting her latest book Nomad: here, in a segment of CBC 's "Q" programme. The CBC article is online here.

I see that the Nomad page on contains blurbs from some of the heavy-hitters among the 'New Atheists.' Here is our anti-Catholic exemplar Christopher Hitchens':
“....the story of a young African woman, born into Islam, who was given every possible occasion to feel grievance, resentment and humiliation yet who has employed her own life as an example of internationalism, tolerance, multiculturalism and the redemption of others. Her humor and irony and fortitude constitute the finest counterpoint to the surly cult of death that presses itself against us. For me, the three most beautiful words in the emerging language of secular resistance to tyranny are Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”
A previous interview on CBC (On the Map with Avi Lewis, 2007) has become notorious: a good example of her controverisal self-positioning.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Religion Humour, from tutorial

TA Jennifer Nahrgang sends alone the following, well worth sharing:

I showed this clip to my class first day. The ingenious Sasha Baron Cohen playing Ali G and interviewing a (quite stern) Roman Catholic Priest, a representative from the Atheist Society, a Jewish Rabbi, and a university professor. It contains some pretty stupid humour [No surprise. Prof.], but I thought it served as a good example of a pretty accepting dialectic round table. ( And a few laughs .....)
I like this Ali G best...

And from classfellow M.P., this:
[Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1] .... is full of jokes against religion, but here are some links to the main points. I hope you enjoy them.

And of course, supreme is Monty Python's Life of Brian.

And here, courtesy of classfellow J.L., is a harsh and vulgar attack on religion: now that's polemic.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Misinformation on Final Examation.

It was reported to me today that someone claiming to have been a student in a former iteration of this course was outside tutorial rooms today giving what was presented as intelligence about the Final Examination--specifically, that knowledge of page numbers and text will be tested. This is a falsehood.

The facts of the matter are these. I ask each class with a Final Examination component whether they want an Open Book or a Closed Book examination. Classes that choose Closed Book have no need to cite page numbers in answers.

For classes that choose Open Book, the essay portion of the Final has a requirement that any quotations from course texts that the student uses in their essay be accompanied by page number and course text that they being quoted from. This is for the benefit of the TAs marking the Exams, so that they do not have to search through all the course texts page-by-page, on fifty Final Examination booklets, to verify the integrity, or even the very existence, of each quotation.

Draw your own (obvious) moral from this....

Note-Taking for University

"Learn how to listen and you will prosper even from those who talk badly.” Plutarch (AD 46-120) Greek Biographer & Philosopher.
The Student Learning Commons at the W.A.C. Bennett Library has an exceptionally helpful on-line guide to effective note-taking at university lecture. (It is a trifle disconcerting reading for the Lecturers themselves, because it implies--indeed, all-but declares--that many of us are dull, confused, inarticulate, habituated and otherwise deficient in our craft.)

The guide is available online in .pdf format at this hotlink.

The Student Learning Commons additionally has an entire page of links to on-line resources to improve the student's "Listening & Note-Taking" at this hotlink.

Note-taking in lecture is one of the skills that one learns at university with broad applicability in life. Arguably, learning how to take written notes from oral delivery is one of the most practically valuable benefits of a university education.

These resources linked here are very valuable: especially as it is increasingly common for undergraduates to confuse note-taking with copying down PowerPoint slides. It is rule worth learning that PowerPoint is not the Lecture: lectures are what happen when you are distracted by copying down PowerPoint slides....