Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Here, as mentioned, is the picture of "the Coll" -- the United Services College, at Westward Ho! in Devonshire, "Twelve bleak houses by the shore ...." -- where Kipling's Stalky & Co. is set.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Guest Speaker

Great news: Chick-Lit writer Nancy Warren will be a guest lecturer at a soon-to-be-determined date. It won't be the back-end of February, however, because she is off to Daytona to promote the partnership between NASCAR .... & the Harlequin publishing empire exclamation-mark question-mark. (She is writing the first book in a series which will be launched at the Daytona 500. Can you guess the book's planned title?)
Update: Nancy Warren will be speaking at next Tuesday's lecture (February 6th.) Here is a succinct 'blurb:

Nancy has an honors degree in English literature and has had previous careers in Journalism and Public Relations.
She lives in the Pacific Northwest (i.e. here) with her husband, two children and an ever expanding assortment of pets.

Nancy's great loves, apart from her family, are Jane Austen novels, old movies, Swiss chocolate, and men who believe in feminism, but still hold doors open for women.

Literary Recognition:

2004 RITA for Best Traditional Romance Finalist

2004 RITA for Best Short Contemporary Romance Finalist

Being a Man ... is bad for your health

À propos (just) Kipling's "Tommy", an article at the BBC reports that, according to University of Michigan's Randolph Nesse, "Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death."
Simply being a man is bad for your health, doctors have suggested.
A study in the United States shows men take more risks than women and are more likely to die from almost everything from heart disease to murder.
While men are more likely to die than women at practically every stage of their lives, the authors found the risks are highest in early twenties and in old age. More >>>

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Stalky Model of British Masculinity

Here are the twelve elements of British masculinity that comprise the Kipling's 1890s representation of male-ness in Stalky & Co. -- derived by Kipling's genius from historical British culture and forming the inescape centre of gravity for the universe of British boys' book, film and comic for the century that followed.
    1. A Kind and Sapient “Head” as immediate authority.
    2. Male sub-cultures have quasi-automonous existence within a over-arching patriotic system: e.g. Britain. [N.b. Patriotism is implicit but heavily tabooed: vid. "The Flag of Their Country" chapter in Stalky & Co.]
    3. A Chaplain-figure as council and side-access to the Head and the external political system.
    4. Judicious violence encoded equally all levels of the system.
    5. Encouragement of rebelliousness as a means to forestall revolution.
    6. Stalkiness: cunning trumps size.
    7. Stoicism, with Christian admixture, the background code.
    8. Meritocracy through action: successful performance of Masculinity (vid. “If”) determines the individual male's place in leadership hierarchy. [(a.) based on situational performances: i.e. not one permanent alpha-male; (b.) original entrance to Man-hood is by major performance: a Rite of Passage.]
    9. Women are on the margins -- the culture is monosexual – but they represent the external object of desire (the quest trope) once “man”-ness is achieved through culturally-sanctioned performance.
    10. A small group of complementary individual types: vid. The Beatles.
    11. Exclusive shared access to an esoteric code of speech – i.e. slang -- & cultural artifact – e.g. Boy's fiction in Stalky & Co., or the popmusic miscellania in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.
    12. Boyhood is not training for life; rather, Life is boyhood writ large.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lad-lit: Canadian and non-fiction.

A new book that is clearly lad-lit and clearly Canadian was reviewed very favourably in the centre fold of the "Books" section of the Toronto Globe and Mail. It was also well-reviewed in Quill & Quire, and elsewhere. The book is With the Boys: Field Notes on Being a Guy by Jake MacDonald, and is non-fiction of the reads-like-fiction type.
The Toronto Globe and Mail has the book's first chapter available online, and the following passage is worth our attention - especially as it echoes some of the ideas suggested in lecture.
Women appear in some of the stories too. Even when they're not on the scene, their absence is a kind of presence. Women keep an eye on men and exert a moderating influence on their behavior. That's one of the reasons that men like to occasionally get away from them. The singer Garth Brooks once remarked that he was teaching his little daughters a simple concept: "Men are pigs." All men know this about themselves, and they think it's funny. But at the same time, they have their own gender-specific code of ethics. Some kinds of piggy behavior are allowed, and some aren't. There are hundreds of rules affecting male behavior. That's too many to list here, and in any case every guy knows them. But women might find the male codebook strange and interesting. Women, for example, commonly assume that men like to talk about their spouses or sweethearts with their buddies. This is what psychologists call "projection." Women do it, so they think men do it too. A woman will happily dump the entire kitbag of her romantic woes on the table for the amusement of some other woman she's met four minutes ago. But no matter how late the evening or how debauched the conversation, you'll seldom hear a man say more than a few neutral words in passing about his mate. In the male codebook, talking about your love life is considered to be craven and unmanly. So women can at least relax about that.

Words and World

An inside secret about Language is the extreme degree to which it is metaphorical: that is, perhaps most of our lexicon is simply an application of images from the external world. Consider the word "understand." It means, literally, "to stand under" and that is the original sense of "understanding" something.

Steven Pinker is one of the world's great minds: until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, now Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, authour of The Language Instinct, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works. These books are renown for being both intellectual and extremely funny: Pinker, a Canadian unacknowledged here in his own country, is a superior writer to most published novelists.

Pinker has a new book about language due later this year: The Stuff of Thought. He has this interview in the Toronto Star.

Says Pinker: "Look at almost any passage and you'll find that a paragraph has five or six metaphors in it. It's not that the speaker is trying to be poetic, it's just that that's the way language works.

"Rather than occasionally reaching for a metaphor to communicate, to a very large extent communication is the use of metaphor," he says.

It could be that 95 per cent of our speech is metaphorical, if you go back far enough in language."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Iffy-ness of Manhood

Kipling's poem "If" underscores the performative masculinity thesis: the argument that manhood is perpetually uncertain and under threat, requiring repeated confirmation, through the performance of actions codified by one's civilisation. In Kipling's poem -- which, as we saw in the film clip, still has culturally-resonant sensibility -- a son is a man IF he performs distinct actions according a known code; and a son is not a man IF he fails in those actions.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by
waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lectures this week

Tuesday's lecture we will finish our look at Cranford, and get a summary statement about the nature of the chick-lit genre. (See the earlier post here on the Mlynowski and Jacobs text.)

Thursday we will begin studying Stalky & Co. and the complementary lad-lit genre.

Actually, this reminds me to emphasise a point made in opening lecture about the purview of our course of study: to wit, two literary genres. Obviously, chick-lit & lad-lit say something worthwhile about the culture which creates, markets and reads the books in the respective genres. And the books hopefully stimulate interest in, as another genre writer put it, Life, the Universe, & Everything. However, our discipline -- university English -- is properly limited in on literary texts as its empirical and theoretical domain, and with the Print culture more widely. And the object of the course of study -- like any academic practice -- is understanding. Any moral judgement beyind this on the texts or surrounding print culture is, of definition, a purely personal matter: the place for moral judgement, praise or denunication is called Church.

A reminder here that if you are interested in the state of the current theoretical and literary-cultural engagement with chick-lit, please pick up our recommended course text, Ferriss & Young's Chick-Lit: The New woman's Fiction. Positions from this helpful text will be elaborated, now a basic foundation is laid, as the term progresses.

Update: there is a sequence of academic practice -- call it "Ogden's Ladder" -- which goes like this:

  1. Data collection.
  2. Information sorting.
  3. Contextualisation.
  4. Comparison.
  5. Analysis.
  6. Description.
  7. Evaluation.
  8. Understanding.

I came up with Ogden's Ladder some years ago in response to an encounter, which seemed to have wider relevancy, with a scholar who was intensely frustrating an interlocutor by, as I realised on reflection, actually beginning the academic practice with judgement, and then doing every other related aspect (including, as it happens, even data collection) from pure prejudice: in its strictest etymological sense, "pre-judice."

I'll phrase this list into specifically literary terms as our term progresses.

Borat & the British Class System

The following quotation, from this article , in today's Times of London interviewing Sacha Baran Cohen on the success of his "Borat" persona, is very revealing; not only of the continued existence of, but also some of the different defining characteristics between, the three social classes in Britain, as we have touched upon them in lecture. (The supporting comment on America is pertinent, on the MacNeil thesis that southern American landowners are -- as their Elizabethan accent reveals -- vestigal British aristocracy who emigrated to the American colonies.)

One of the most intriguing questions about Baron Cohen’s characters is: why do so many people fall for the act? Partly he relies on good manners and politeness: “Ali G and Borat worked very well in England with the upper class because they were so polite. They would keep this person in their room. Members of the working class might have thrown him out; members of the middle class might not have revealed themselves as much.
“We found that the Deep South of America was very good for Borat because people were so polite and so welcoming of strangers. They were so proud of their American heritage that they would talk to this person about America and American values for an hour and a half.”

Friday, January 19, 2007

Teen Chick-Lit

A class-fellow came across this chick-lit link while proctrastinating earlier this week. Chapters Books knows that they are onto a good thing with teen chick lit - an exemplary title is Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson - as the eagerly made theatrical version of Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants testifies. I discovered recently that my younger daughter had simply devoured them -- and she is not much of a reader.
My prediction is that this will be an emergent genre ....

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Class Cancelled: Thursday January 18th

Covering the wicket here besides the email notice, I have had to cancel tomorrow's lecture to attend my mother's funeral. Tutorials will still be held.
Thanks for your understanding -- See you next Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Asssigned chapters for Stalky & Co.

Just a reminder that only specific chapters of Kipling's Stalky & Co. are assigned -- though of course you can read the entire book for fun & profit. It's quality over quantity in the required readings, but of course the recommended texts are opportunity for scope!

As listed in the syllabus , the assigned chapters are:
  • 'Stalky'
  • 'In Ambush'
  • The Moral Reformers
  • Regulus
  • Slaves of the Lamp, Pt. II.

Jane Austen Dives Between the Chick Lit Covers

From the online Telegraph a year back:

Jane Austen is to be relaunched as a romantic novelist in the style of Danielle Steel and Dame Barbara Cartland. Her six novels are to be given glossy, pastel covers designed to appeal to women put off by the idea of reading a 19th century writer. Click for more >>>>

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Men 'cannot write romance.'

A controversy from this past autumn followed this report:

Men just cannot write romantic fiction, according to a new television programme that examines the success of one of the most denigrated of literary genres. Daisy Goodwin, the presenter of BBC 4's Reader, I Married Him, a three-part series on the novel to be shown in the autumn, said yesterday that, after interviewing writers and readers, she had concluded that "you can't have a really seriously-written romantic book written by a man".

This then provoked this now-famous debate in the Daily Telegraph between two writers of the opposite sex....and opposite point of view.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stop Procrastinating: Right NOW!

A very helpful article in, of all places, the Toronto Globe & Mail, on the student's vice of procrastination:

....15 to 20 per cent of us are procrastinators. The condition is even more prevalent among the student population, where a third of most students' days are eaten up by procrastinating, something he pointed out yesterday while students seated around him gabbed, surfed the Internet and slept in a lounge on campus.
"Usually when I have an assignment I put it off until later," confessed Robert Maxwell, an 18-year-old biology student as he was distracted from his textbook on plants.
"It's a bad habit."
Three major factors contribute to precisely that habit, according to Prof. Steel. Self-confidence is key. Those who believe they can, essentially, will and those who don't, won't. The value of the task is important in whether it gets done. Is it something to enjoy or dread? And finally, delay. When does the task need to be completed? It's hard to get motivated about something that can be put off until some distant deadline looms.
Click here for more >>

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mid-term Essay: Schedule

Here is the arrangement and the schedule of dates for the Mid-Term Essay, fifteen hundred words and revisions. The assignment is worth twenty percent of the Course grade, of which five percent is for the draught and fifteen percent for the revision.

Five-week writing circuit:

  1. Course week five, Thursday February 8th: Choice of topics posted on the blog
  2. Course week seven, Thursday February 22nd: first version of the essay due in lecture.
  3. Course week nine, Thursday March 8th: essay returned with comments & grade.
  4. Course week ten , Thursday March 15th: final revision due in lecture.

There is, then, a good three course weeks to analyse the completed paper and the writing process and discuss with the TA, if required.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Blog Post promise

I remember saying I'd blog something, but I failed to write a note down. Anyone happen to remember what it was .....?
Update: I remember. It was this statistical article on the demographics of Romance Fiction readers. It has such data as "Romance fiction comprises 53.3% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America." Click here for the three sections:

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Getting an "A" in the Course

Well, there are effective strategies to help achieve this.
  1. Stay in touch with Lecturer and the TA by visiting Office Hours regularily: with the former, to talk over the primary course texts as you read them, with the latter, the writing assignments in lecture
  2. Stay on top of the reading schedule, which will ensure that you have already read the book being lectured upon.
  3. Draft your writing assignments -- even roughly -- as soon as possible after each is assigned, and then bring that rough draught to an Office Hour for discussion.
  4. Draft a rough run through of the thesis paragraph for the Mid-Term essay as soon as the topics are released, and then bring that draught to the TA's or Lecturer's Office Hour for discusion.
  5. The Final Exam -- worth thirty-five percent of the course grade -- is based one hundred percent on material presented in lecture and familiarity with the primary texts. Attend the lectures and read the material and the Final Exam will be very straightforward: you will finish the exam with an hour to spare for revision. Fail to attend lecture, or fail to read the material thoroughly enough or with time for reflection .... & it will be a very tough three hours -- the more so since, alas, lectures are not taped nor are notes posted online.

Getting an "A" on an English Paper

An excellent article here with practical advice from Jack Lynch at Rutgers University on success, lovely success; "A" glorious "A."

Monday, January 8, 2007

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Gaskell, Elizabeth - Cranford

January 9th & 11th
January 16th & 18th
Kipling, Rudyard - Stalky & Co. [Selected chapters.]
January 23nd & 25th
January 30th & February 1st
Gibbons, Stella - Cold Comfort Farm
February 6th & 8th
February 13th & 15th
Burgess, Anthony - A Clockwork Orange
February 20th & 22st
February 27th & 29th
Fielding, Helen - Bridget Jones’s Diary
March 6th & 8th

March 13th & 15th
Hornby, Nick - High Fidelity
March 20th & 22nd

March 27th & 29th
Reading Review & Dry-Run of Final Examination
April 3rd & 5th

Final Exam
April 14th

Support material available on Library Reserve.

The two recommended texts underly lecture & should be read if superior insight & subject knowledge be valued by the student.

The asssigned chapters for Kipling, Stalky & Co., are 'Stalky', 'In Ambush', The Moral Reformers, Regulus, and Slaves of the Lamp, Pt. II.

Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a four percent per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, provide a letter from a physician on letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that illness or injury prevented work on the essay. The letter must cover the entire period over which the assignment was scheduled and may be verified by telephone. For any matter effecting deadlines, consult with the TA in person and before the assignment period.

1. Mid term paper, fifteen hundred words. Emphasis will be equally on literary analysis and writing mechanics. Topics blogged in February 8th; first essay version due in lecture February 22nd; graded & returned March 8th; final revision due in lecture March 15th; Revision Graded & returned in lecture. Assignment worth 20% of course grade: 5% of this is the grade on the first version and 15% the grade on the revision.
2. Group e-text writing project: TA handout.
3. Individual class presentation: TA handout.
4. Final exam: Saturday April 14th 08:30 – 11:30 am. See GoSFU “View my Exam Schedule” for Room Number.

Course Approach

The course is working toward an understanding of two literary genres originating in Britain: chick-lit and lad-lit. The genres exist as an empirical fact of print culture: writers write, publishers publish, marketers market and journalists ... well, let's say journalists look for money, under those headings. We will look at a historical arc of texts in each of the two genres and submit them to a literary-critical analysis.

Read the material well in advance at least once, attend lectures & seminars and participate in seminar discussion, and you’re more than halfway to success. The Final Exam is based entirely on lecture material and knowledge of course texts.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
15% Seminar presentation
20% Group e-Text project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 1500 words)
35% Final examination

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: 3220 -- Tuesday and Thursday: 10:30-12:30. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Please only use your SFU account for e-mail contact. Other e-Mail accounts are blocked by white-list.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Course Outline

Chick-Lit & Lad-Lit: Good Girl, Bad Boy

Culture - meaning for our purposes print and film media, public education, government programmes, corporate advertising, and the fine arts - represents women and men, girls and boys in a certain way using certain ideas and assumptions. Literature is part of our culture, but with a unique and invaluable feature: the capability of great authors to intuitively capture aspects of a culture that influence the lives of its citizens without their awareness, and then write them into fiction. Reading novels, then, not only gives us artistic enjoyment, but reveals to us what is going on beneath the surface of things in the culture around us. Chick-lit and Lad-lit are two new and complementary genres of fiction that show the separate cultures of men and women, boys and girls, differing in ways that could hardly be starker. In this course we will follow very popular novels – all from England – of both genres alternately and show a trajectory of development for the representation of the two sexes from the turn of the last century to the beginning of ours.We will use afflata – media material, video clips and sections from popular film – to put the novels in their cultural context.

DISCLOSURE: the approach to the course is scholarly and questioning, and the mood is often light and jocular – befitting the primary literary material.

Gaskell, Elizabeth Cranford
Kipling, Rudyard Stalky & Co.
Gibbons, Stella Cold Comfort Farm
Burgess, Anthony A Clockwork Orange
Fielding, Helen Bridget Jones's Diary
Hornby, Nick High Fidelity

Ferriss, Suzanne Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction
Twigger, Robert Being a Man (In the Lousy Modern World)

10% Course participation
15% Three seminar writing presentations
20% Group e-Text writing project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 1500 words plus revisions)
35% Final examination