Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Group memberships

Here are the memberships of the four Groups for the assigned project.

Some Do Not:
No More Parades:
A Man Could Stand Up:
The Last Post:
S ....
The three people absent last Wednesday can each slot into one of the six-member groups, next class.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

State & Citizen: Pre-WWI versus Now

Opening lecture detailed the far remove at which the State was held from the individual in Britain before the Great War. You can find the same thesis argued in this history. One of the radical consequences of the First World War, and of the Modernist movement, was, as stated, the involvement of the State in individual lives to an increasing extent.

Immediate evidence for the degree to which the State's responsibility is presently conceived can be found in this article from the Vancouver Province.

Its author, one Joey Thompson, reacts to the dragging death in Maple Ridge of gas station attendant Grant De Patie (pictured here) ..... by blaming the government for not having a law: in effect conceiving of the State as capable of preventing all human tragedy if it would just pass enough laws or apply sufficent taxation.

Whether this fundamental faith in the omnipotency of government is laudable or damnable is outside the purview of our course. What concerns us is how utterly alien Ms. Thompson's mentality would have been to people in Britain before World War One.

To them, it would be be as if Ms. Thompson read of the serial decisions made by the teenaged Darnell Pratt to (i.) drink to excess, (ii.) steal a car, (iii.) drive impaired, (iv.) drive without licence, (v.) steal petrol, (vi.) deliberately run an attendant over, and (vii.) remain indifferent to the screams while he slowly grinded the innocent man's face, limbs, and chest to the bone under the car over a five-mile drive toward an unimaginably agonising death .... and then after she had considered the matter, Ms. Thompson were to decide that the blame belongs to the athletic & administrative incompetancy of the Vancouver Canucks.

Update: the only noble thing about this sickeningly revealing event & its aftermath is explained in an article entitled "Grieving parents reject hate."

Update2: via the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily, a timely and somewhat biting article from Britain's Telegraph developing this topic, with the lede:
Despite being richer, people are not happier than in earlier times. Only government can solve the problem, with a more caring attitude. And more therapists... more>>>>

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Damn Tempest" Discussion

A useful follow-up e-mail from a classfellow on our vigourous "damn Tempest" debate from this Monday. (And my respects go to students sticking to their guns in class .....)
Tempest's decision to choose heaven by becoming a better man and giving up his money is more noble and useful in a sense, because even while living in poverty, he will aid others and reform himself into a good man - both of which would take a great deal of perseverance and work. One can thus look at surrender to hell as a cowardly act. If Tempest had given himself to hell, it could have been considered a show of unwillingness to put the effort into becoming a man empathetic to others in pain, while leading a far more difficult life of poverty. In hell, Tempest would neither have been able to become a good man, nor help others. He also would not havelearned empathy, only regret and suffering.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Group Project: Wendesday Class

First & foremost, I want you to know how grateful I am for your kind forebearance at this time. I promise it will not unappreciated.

So, for the Group Project. As I detailed, an SFU emeritus professor of English, Dr. Ralph Maud, has, I'm told, the film rights to Parade's End. Now, Parade's End is a very great book, and -- like with any book great in both senses -- it will be a source of pride & of value to have read it as your life goes on.

Because it is a large book, the more assistance and time one has appreciating it the better. So for these two reasons, a Group Project engaging Parade's End will be very rewarding.

Accordingly, our class this term will create a compendium to the book: a sort of superior Coles Notes by university undergraduate scholars aimed at the generally-educated public who will be attracted to, and by, the film version of Parade's End.

This Wednesday's class, then, you will begin the project, in the following way.

  1. Divide yourselves into four groups of equal numbers.
  2. The groups will be divided according to the four books of the Parade's End tetralogy: one group for each of the four books.
  3. All four books were published separately in series, and are each written in a different style -- each of which has its own attractiveness. Some Do Not.... is set in pre-War Edwardian England; No More Parades in the early half of the War; A Man Could Stand Up-- in the ending and de-mobbing; The Last Post is post-War.
  4. Each group will exchange names & e-mail, list your names and Book assignment and e-mail them to me later, and decide on a rough plan of attack. This will include how you think a compendium of a book, to be used in support of a Film version of that book, will most effectively be formatted & informed.
  5. Decide if you want to run a blog (easy to set-up, easy to communicate by: virtually, at your convenience & from anywhere -- no need to meet in person then); or create a log-book or some other method of writing up your project.
  6. Then, repair yourselves to the Libray and (a.) pull out the Collections material on Ford Madox Ford & the books of Parade's End, then (b.) consult with the Librarians at the Main Floor Reference Desk and research articles under the Library Home Page, SFU Library Databases. Do Not use Googled articles and never use nor cite "Wikipedia:" this is a scholarly project.

One way in which this project will be supported is the background material to the period & World War One provided by our Individual Presentations: we might consider making our Individual work generally available in e-text form.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Victorians: Fin de Siecle & Degeneration

A question was asked about fin de siecle and end-of-the-world mentality. The apocalyptic attitude is ages-old. Even in the New Testament warning is given:

[1] This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. [2] For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, [3] Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, [4] Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; [5] Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. [II Timothy 3.]
Indeed, an argument I find myself making frequently is that History is a process of reaction away from, with each current denouncing its predecessor (in the manner of teenagers to parents) - frequently special pleading by label: "The Enlightenment" & "the Dark Ages;" and not to forget "Modernism."

Yet, for all that, among the Victorians was an obsession with they perceived as a crisis of degeneracy unique in its degree and different in its kind. To give a slightly trivial example, the tang of degeneration is part of the piquancy contributing to the enormous popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories. A much better piece of evidence is ... Marie Corelli! The unmatched popularity of her fiction and its immediate and uniform concern with degeneracy is very strong testimony to the zeitgeist. I own a copy of one of the better scholarly treatments of the matter,
Degeneration, Culture, and the Novel, 1880-1940 by William Greenslade, which I will put on course reserve.

Reasons for the obsession with degeneracy among Victorians, ones that cut across class, sex and income, are manifold and over-determining. Ordinary fin de siecle consequences are of course important. Additionally, a technological explosion had originally driven the Industrial Revolution which at once created a working class and forced it into urban concentrations. The resulting slums throughout the proliferating major cities -- Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, &c. -- ignored hygiene and bred disease and ignored social welbeing and bred vice: gambling, prostitution, brawling and drunkenness. Victorian England was the high water mark of Methodism and Evangelicism and its crusade for social reformation was uniquely intense. Slavery and child labour were abolished; fourteen-hour factory work days were reduced for women; prisons and hospitals, through campaigners such as Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, were made more humane. The Salvation Army campaigned to counter alcoholism and other vices. And the ever-intensifying technology of the Industrail revolution was turned, by reformers, to improve drainage, sewage and potable water systems.

To this social atmosphere I would add an element that I have not yet fully defined nor mapped the origins of (beyond its evolutionary connection to Puritanism), but which amounts to an aesthetic, emotional and an erotic preference for hid delights. It can be contrasted with an Age -- such as ours perhaps -- which prefers things revealed and decries restraint. The Victorians were titillated, and comforted, by what was known to exist but was draped from universal sight.

Add to this the intellectual earthquake which was Darwinism: a theory taken as a justification for progress and improvement -- the progress and improvement, that is, which is so much the character of Victorianism. The intellectual climate, then, produced a cast of mind which can be termed, not merely progressivist, but outright perfectibilian.

These, and indeed other, aspects of the Victorian Age, then, made it intensely (I don't say uniquely) expressive when developments which are comprehensibly termed "degeneracy" became evident. And thus it has become a commonplace among scholars of the Nineteenth Century to take obsession with degeneracy as a salient characteristic of the times.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Sorrows of Satan" ... in song

Don Henley's song "In the Garden of Allah" has a very similar conceit to Corelli's Sorrows of Satan, which you will recognise when you read the lyrics, here, and would be able to watch, were it not immoral to go to the YouTube link, here, so ....Don't.

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.”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

More on Marie Corelli

Here is some more helpful background on Marie Corelli, specific to our course engagement with her.
  • This article on The Victorian Web shows her attitude to the decadents, in the form of a denunication of Algernon Swinburne. (Pace Sibyl in The Sorrows of Satan: "Swinburne, among others, had helped me live mentally, if not physically, through such a phase of vice as had poisoned my thoughts for ever."
  • From the Literary Heritage, an article on her Shakespearean aspect: Marie Corelli and the Stratford-upon-Avon controversy.
  • Corelli's succinct entry in The Literary Encyclopedia, click here.

Classfellow Comment on "Sorrows of Satan"

I have this stimulative email from a classfellow. I'll follow up on this in more detail in Monday's lecture. Any Wilde experts amongst us?
I've just finished The Sorrows of Satan and found a few resemblances to Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Both centre around a fairly naive young man who is corrupted by a worldy gentleman who intoxicates the naifs withthe possibilities their attributes will allow them to acheive - Dorian with his beauty and Geoffrey with his millions. (Also, both of the love interests were named Sibyl which stood out to me, although, perhapsthat was simply the "it" name for the end of the 19th century). However, one of the major differences, I found, was Corelli gives Geoffrey a second chance to mend his ways, Wilde leaves Dorian as a wretched corpse, completely unrecognizable to his servants. This redemption, of course, is important in the Christian faith and what I would imagine is Marie Corelli's world view. Also, this book has unearthed my Catholic guilt, which was quite unexpected.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Class Cancelled: Wednesday January 17th

Covering the wicket here besides the email notice, I have had to cancel today's class. My mother has a terminal illness out in MSA hospital & I'm going there now. Sic transit gloria mater. See you all Monday.

Stoicism in the British Charcter

In the aftermath of the 7/7 Islamicist terror attacks in London, the tenor of the British response was widely praised as Stoical. Blog entries, with expansive links, can he found here, here and here.

This strain within the traditional British character (it is, historically, intertwined with Christianity) is important to understand if one wishes a full understanding of the Edwardians' (in general) and Marie Corelli's (in particular) reaction to the Deacadent movement. One small example is Gilbert & Sullivan's satiric operetta on aestheticism, entitled Patience. You'll be familiar with its immortal lines:

If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line / as
a man of culture rare ... And ev'ryone will say / As you walk your flow'ry way, / "If he's content with a vegetable love which would certainly not suit me, / Why, what a most particularly pure young man / this pure young man must be!"

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Classfellow's Comment

A classfellow usefully reflects on our engagement Monday with Sorrows of Satan on The Times article by Dawn Eden, author of The Thrill of the Chaste, on the virtues of chastity.

Interestingly, while many had criticism for Dawn Eden’s article “Casual sex is a con: women just aren’t like men” little was said on Sybil’s dialogue excerpt from Marie Corelli’s “The Sorrows of Satan”. Both written pieces express similar opinions on the issue of chastity and women. Thus I wondered if the way each opinion is presented, had anything to do with the discrepancy between the number of criticisms raised for Eden’s article and Corelli’s book. For me, it is less shocking to see an opinion I object to in the form of a dialogue, than in an article. In the case of Sybil’s speech, the presence of Geoffrey’s voice objecting to her opinions, made it somewhat disputable as to whether Corelli truly or fully shared Sybil’s beliefs. Moreover, because Sybil is a fictional character, the manner in which she delivers her ideas (“preachy”) could not be assumed as the way Corelli would have presented the same opinions. It would be
understandably more difficult to critic Corelli directly for her opinions and how she articulates them. Eden’s work however, simply by being an article, left no doubt about the fact that the opinions and the manner they are expressed are certainly hers.

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 >>

Student Reflection

A typically-excellent SFU-student casual reflection on course material: showing why we're still great.

Regarding Crime and Punishment, it "appeared" in 1866, before Sorrows of Satan in 1895. I think why Crime and Punishment reminds me so much of Sorrows of Satan, is the desperation of the main characters. Yet whereas Raskolnikov, provokes sympathy, Mr. Tempest provokes disdain. Both books seem to provoke thoughts about tour human nature and its split in character about what is right and what is wrong. It is certainly an interesting read after Milton's Paradise Lost!

P.S. Pp. 108, 111,137,138 are some points of interest where Mr. Tempest shows his division of character best so far

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yesterday Snow Disaster

I trust that you all made it safely off the mountain last night: I confess that duty alone made me hold the class against better judgement. If it is any consolation, I was trapped here until after seven-thirty and when I got to the bottom of Gaglardi by the Big Bend I, quite literally, could have got out of my car, put on my CCM Tacks & around skated with ease. A bus smashed in the middle of the hill, jack-knifed into a truck, & about a hundred cars simply abandoned. A compleat disaster.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

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

Cause and World War One.

As argued in lecture, there was no cause to the First World War. The popular factoid that the death of a minor (though pleasant and competant) European royal in a dour Balkan capital caused the West to immolate itself in four years of a Dantean Inferno in French ditches is not false but merely silly on its face.

Attributing a cause to the War is not an empirical or academical problem, but a historical-conceptual failure to use the term "cause" properly.
Before the putative Enlightenment, it was understood that there are four causes, delineated by Aristotle in his Physics, that together explain an event.
  1. Material cause: the physical properties involved.
  2. Formal cause: the aggregate of underlying properties which amount to its unique identity.
  3. Efficient cause: the initial motion or action which began the event.
  4. Final cause: the event's function or purpose -- its end.)

Take a simple illustrative example. I am about to pot the black in a game of snooker. Thwack! It's in; I win yet again. Material cause is the solid constrution of the table, balls, &c.: if the cue ball were tissue and the black jello, the event (the potting of the black) would not take place. Formal cause is the rules of billiards, the shape of the table, cue, rack, and all the other contributing elements that shape and frame -- i.e. that form -- the event. Efficient cause, of course, is the mechanics behind the cue hitting the cue ball. And final cause is Stephen Ogden winning the match and having his universal supremacy at billiards re-affirmed for posterity . Or something like that.

Applying, then, the robust pre-Enlightenment concept of causation to the problem of how and why the First World War began we see at once its great explanatory power as well as the relative feebleness of the Englightenment's shrunken understanding of "cause". The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by an inept Bosnian terrorist is efficient cause of the First World War: and a good efficient cause it is. But being stuck in Englightenment-Cause thinking has trapped the generations of post-War scholars in an impossible search for more, or for bigger, or for better efficient causes: impossible, because no efficient cause and no amount or quality of efficient causes can ever fully explain an event. Now, of course, if the event should happen to be small enough, and if the mind contemplating the case be sufficiently bereft of imagination (or, it might be said, of rigour), then an efficient cause can seem adequate. But events on a large or more significant scale reveal the impotence of the Enlightenment-Cause model.

Material cause of the War includes 1914 Europe's demographics, military technology & ordnance, national-geographical, and perhaps the crossover network of treaties in effect. Its formal cause can be summed up as the ethnic, cultural and political histories of the nations and Empires involved. And final cause is ..... well, final cause is for each historian, historiographer and theologian to decide and to argue individually.

Ford Madox Ford in Parade's End puts one conviction of WWI's final cause -- the Tories' -- into the mouth of the protagonist Christopher Tietjens; and that would be the altruism of England. Tietjens is Ford's literary manifestation of Tory England, so when it is said of him that "....it is, in fact, asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you," [Penguin, 207] it is actually England that has asked for trouble (and will, in fact, be smashed -- insofar as its Tory character is concerned) by entering the War altruistically to defend the "surrounding" societies of the Belgians and the French primarily for the sake of (to Madox Ford, cricket-inspired) Duty.

[Tietjens'] mind was at rest because there was going to be a war. From the first moment of his reading the paragraph about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he had known that, calmly and with assurance. Had he imagined that this country would come in he would not have known a mind at rest. He loved this country for the run of the hills, the shape of its elm trees and the way the heather, running uphill to the skyline, meets the blue of the heavens. War for this country could only mean humiliation, spreading under the sunlight, an almost invisible pall over the elms, the hills, the heather, like the vapour that spread from .... oh, Middlesbrough! .... But of war for us [i.e. Britain] he had no fear. He saw our Ministry sitting tight till the opportune moment, and then grabbing a French channel port or a few German colonies as the price of neutrality.

You each will, I trust, be able to advance your own final cause of the War with our course under your belt ....

And to conclude, there was indeed no "cause" for the First World War: but there were, as for everything, four causes.

Update: Click this link for a typical school history attempting to explain the First World War in terms limited to efficient causes. It is actually a fairly sophisticated attempt of its type, differentiating as it does between "long term" and "short term" [efficient] causes.

View from "over the top"

First World War photograph of the view from an allied trench into no-man's land (that term was coined in WWI) to the German lines in the distance. Notice that nothing grows: all vegetation was annihilated as the entired ground was bombarded three times over. Only the rats thrived there. Click image for larger view.

Opening Class Follow-up

I've updated the syllabus for the mid-term assignment as discussed.

I'd sure like to come up with a strategy to make our Monday lecture hall more congenial. It has absolutely no seminar feeling, and it is quite impossible to make the proper human connection as
things are presently configured. Any ideas will be most welcome.

I hope the film was as enjoyable for you as it still is for me on the tenth or eleventh viewing. It certainly sets up our course material well. And you've had the background lecture up front, so its literary analysis & from here on out!

Feel free to add comments, critiques, suggestions, what have you, in the comments section of this -- or any -- blog post. Post anonymously if the criticism is especially harsh, ha ha.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Welcome To English 340

Rats, Gas & Shell-Shock: the Literary Scars of WWI
"The First World War is a period of history with which we have yet to come to terms, and which continues to haunt our culture." The Literary Encyclopedia

The success of contemporary British novelist Pat Barker's 1990s Regeneration trilogy and its subsequent film adaptation has opened new interest in World War One and indicates that Britain may at last be ready to confront the full atrocity of that unnecessary, unfinished and unconscionably mismanaged war. So unbearable were life and death alike in trench warfare that works of imagination in Britain struggled to face its full horrors squarely. Indeed, the literary history of 20th Century Britain to 1945 - including works as diverse as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lord of the Rings - is traceably scarred by festering wounds of the "War to End all Wars." In this course we will read and examine several now-neglected masterpieces by important British writers of the period, and see how each in its own artistic terms both succeeds and fails to respond adequately the (perhaps literally) unspeakable horrors of the trenches. We will look too at a few of the great First World War poets, including Sassoon and Owen, who, writing as they did from front-line experience, more immediately recorded those terrors, like gas warfare and shell shock, not even named before their devastation was accomplished.

NOTE: The BBC comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth, set in World War One, will be seen in clips throughout the course to give dramatic background and satiric analysis of the events. Testimony to the unresolved status of World War One in Britain, laughter turned to cathartic sorrow when first broadcast of the series' poignant conclusion produced national weeping.

Corelli, Marie The Sorrows of Satan
Forester, C. S. The General
Ford, Maddox Ford Parade's End
Woolf, Virginia Jacob's Room
Waugh, Evelyn Vile Bodies
Silkin, John, ed. Penguin Book of First World War Poetry

The following texts will be placed on reserve in the library: Women's Fiction &; the Great War by Raitt & Tate; Regeneration by P. Barker; The Great War in British Literature by A. Barlow; and The War in the Trenches by A. Lloyd.

10% Class participation
10% Class presentation
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2000 words)
20% Group project
40% Final paper (approx. 3500 words)