Thursday, August 2, 2007

Correlli & Pop Song

Have a look here at the lyrics to Don Henley's "In the Garden of Allah" ahead of your upcoming seminar, and the music video here, and the echo of Sorrows of Satan will be clear.
I am the world's smallest Don Henley fan, but the lyrics are very clever and pleasingly allusive and witty both.
An e-text of the novel the song is more directly based upon (via a 1936 Marlene Dietrich film) is here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Darwin on Women

I received this exceptionally potent engagement with the question of Darwin's scientific misogyny from classfellow Alice Knowlden. It is significant for me on several levels, but I wanted very much to hear your positions, responses or analyses.

I was thinking (and discussing with a classmate) about the passage you read of Darwin's theories on sexual selection and women. At the time I found it difficult to understand just why I didn't have a more violent reaction to such statements that, introduced today, would be quite inflammatory. Considering that I am of the ilk who generally reveres Darwin's theories as truth and that they represent a solid explanation of how nature, and in general, humanity works on a whole. Therefore I should, as you say, accept the truth in Darwin's words regarding women. However, I obviously do not. Which lead me to wonder just why this was.

The closing remarks made on this topic, by the student I cannot recall the name of, touched on part of why I think I don't take Darwin's views regarding women so seriously. That is, Evolutionary theory today, although based on Darwin's theories, do not necessarily take everything Darwin hypothesized into account. One of the main components about scientific theory, if I learned anything from my Psychology classes, is that theories are not fact. They can have a huge amount of evidence or supporting materials regarding the theory, but in order to prove that a theory is truth it needs proof. Although they are the closest we have to the truth regarding the progression of our existence, Darwin's theories are still theories. As such, we are still able to work with these theories, fine-tuning them closer to the truth as we gather more evidence and information.

Clearly (or at least hopefully), the notion that men are superior to women is an obsolete one. But a rejection of feminine inferiority, does not necessarily mean a rejection of Darwin's sexual selection. Perhaps it needs just an adjustment of how the theory of sexual selection is viewed or used. Simply stating that women are supposed to choose their partners, and thus have a passive role in their sexuality, while their suitors compete for their attentions and the opportunity to procreate. This fails to take into account the sheer variety of people out there. If Darwin feared the degeneracy of the human race while admitting there are elite people who value morality and progression. Then he is admitting that there are different calibers of people out there all located at varying points on the physical and moral spectrum. Let's provide an example of a wealthy business man who enjoys a variety of benefits of his age and monetary value. He's attractive, is able to work out often to improve his physique, he is easily able to support himself and is quite intelligent. What will he look for in a partner? Is he going to compete for just any girl out there? No, he's likely to compete for an attractive, perhaps also wealthy, physically fit and if he's really smart he'll also look for intelligence in his future partner. He's improved himself to such a point, that he's not looking to share his genes with someone who might provide inferior genes to their offspring. Thus, the kind of women he is looking for is one who has also improved herself to the best of her ability. Women these days and even in history) use many different tactics to improve themselves to better attract a sexual partner or mate, just as much as men do. A successful man or woman is probably not going to settle down with someone with a severe drug addiction or someone who is clearly not as intelligent. Both women and men will select and compete for a proper mate who will only add to their already superior genes. So is it not feasible that although Darwin's theories regarding sexual selection may be true regarding peacocks, but in the complex world of the human race it needs a certain amount of adjustment? It does not necessarily mean that Darwin was wrong, just means that his theories need to conform to how a specific social structure works.

And this is perhaps why I did not jump up and down with outrage in class and perhaps why no one else did either. We can accept that Darwin's theories are the best explanation, but we can also take his theories and understand them with regard to the complex nature of our social structures and realities.

And these realities do not leave much room at all for the notion that men are superior to women.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Permission for use of your scholarship?

As I discussed last week, I would like to use your Group Projects as supporting material for my Engl 105W course. If you have no objection, please send your permission to me by email either with your project or after the course grades are posted on go.sfu. Otherwise, send no permission & your work will not be used.

Additionally, if you are interested in a copy of your Final Essay being used as a resource package available on Library Reserve for my modified version of our course taught as at the 300-level this coming term, please send me a paper or electronic copy after the course grades are posted on go.sfu.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Guest Speaker

We have a guest speaker at Friday's lecture: WHO researcher Dr. Bruce Alexander -- one of the world's leading scholarly authorities on addiction. Dr. Alexander's upcoming book for Oxford University Press, The Globalisation of Addiction, is an explicitly Darwinian account of the epidemic of addiction in first- and second-world countries as being a degenerating consequence of free-market capitalism. Dr. Alexander has also authored a recent study for the Centre for Policy Alternatives, The Roots of Addiction in Free market Society, which is available online in portable document format. You can read about him in Britain's Daily Telegraph and Guardian.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Final Essay

The final essay is thirty-five hundred words, with an open topic, due in my Department mailbox at noon on August 13th. While I did catch the groans, this is a WI course, and therefore draught and revision is mandated: thus, a draught of the thesis paragraph must be submitted, corrected and approved, and the revisions incorporated into the final version.

The essay must be a scholarly engagement with the major course theme -- degeneracy and progressivism in light of Charles Darwin and the death of God -- an involve at least one primary course text and one of the essay handouts.

By all means stop into office hours, or make an individual appointment, to chat about possible directions.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More Ought-from-Is-ism?

This article itself asks the question of the scientificity of this practice:
Mr. Hill's expertise: studying facial expressions and eye tracking to find out what consumers genuinely think about a new product.
In other words: People can lie, faces rarely do.
For the past two decades, Mr. Hill has been refining what he calls the art of "brain science" -- finding ways to use technology to tap what is largely undefined. That is the art of examining the 3,000 combinations of eye and muscle movements in the face that say so much more than words do.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Victorians on Evolution and Nationalism

An succinctly informative web page on the use of evolutionary doctrine to support English nationalism -- effectively, to show degenerate Irish and progressing English (& Scots at times) can be found here, from the Nebraska Department of Education.

Darwinian Reductivism on Women, Men & Sex

I wonder what your responses are to this current example of an analysis of social phenomena cast in terms of a reductivist form of Darwinian, adapted from Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, to be published by Perigee in September 2007. Degeneracy or Progressivism?
Human behavior is a product both of our innate human nature and of our individual experience and environment. In this article, however, we emphasize biological influences on human behavior, because most social scientists explain human behavior as if evolution stops at the neck and as if our behavior is a product almost entirely of environment and socialization. In contrast, evolutionary psychologists see human nature as a collection of psychological adaptations that often operate beneath conscious thinking to solve problems of survival and reproduction by predisposing us to think or feel in certain ways. ....
The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct

"What's wrong with this question?"

For us gramamrians:
CONNOISSEURS OF PEEVE-OLOGY, here comes the book you'll love to hate. "She Literally Exploded: The Daily Telegraph Infuriating Phrasebook," a collection of despised English usages, is now available on Amazon in the UK and Canada. More>>>

The New Victorians

Found via Arts & Letters Daily, with a tidy George Eliot reference:
But recent years have seen a breed of ambitious, twentysomething nesters settling in the city, embracing the comforts of hearth and home with all the fervor of characters in Middlemarch. This prudish pack—call them the New Victorians—appears to have little interest in the prolonged puberty of earlier generations. While their forbears flitted away their 20’s in a haze of booze, Bolivian marching powder, and bed-hopping, New Vics throw dinner parties, tend to pedigreed pets, practice earnest monogamy, and affect an air of complacent careerism. Indeed, at the tender age of 28, 26, even 24, the New Vics have developed such fierce commitments, be they romantic or professional, that angst-ridden cultural productions like the 1994 movie Reality Bites, or Benjamin Kunkel’s 2005 novel Indecision, simply wouldn’t make sense to them. More>>>

Rod Stewart Opposes Degeneracy

Frankly, I love this news story from today, regarding the recent "Live Earth" event:

Rocker Rod Stewart was so unhappy at the colourful language used at Saturday's Live Earth concerts - he pledged to cut out swearing at a recent gig.
Comedian Chris Rock's foul-mouthed appearance at Live Earth London prompted TV host Jonathan Ross to apologise to viewers.
And when Stewart played at Rioch Arena in Coventry on Tuesday, he promised to pay £10 to each member of the crowd if he swore.
He says, "I listened to people effing and blinding during the Live Earth Concert last weekend and it just sounded so cheap.
"If you hear me swear on stage I'll give you all a tenner."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cardinal Newman and Hugh Grant

The following section from the extract we read last class of John Henry, Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University is a salient example of his the relevancy, characteristic of the nineteenth Century, to present-day culture, easily sepearable from its contemporary context: in Newman's case, his religious tone, substance and intent.

The section was brought to my mind when reading a recent media reflection (online here, from Britain's The Independent) of the American prostitute with whom the English actor Hugh Grant was caught by the police. Read it for yourselves and see if it is not a perfect illustration of Newman's prediction, drawn from his insight into ...."the ethical temperament of a civilized age," that " is detection, not the sin, which is the crime."
But, if we will make light of what is deepest within us, nothing is left but to pay homage to what is more upon the surface. To seem becomes to be; what looks fair will be good, what causes offence will be evil; virtue will be what pleases, vice what pains. As well may we measure virtue by utility as by such a rule. Nor is this an imaginary apprehension; we all must recollect the celebrated sentiment into which a great and wise man was betrayed, in the glowing eloquence of his valediction to the spirit of chivalry. "It is gone," cries Mr. Burke; "that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour which felt a stain like a wound; which inspired courage, while it mitigated ferocity; which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice lost half its evil by losing all its grossness." In the last clause of this beautiful sentence we have too apt an illustration of the ethical temperament of a civilized age. It is detection, not the sin, which is the crime; private life is sacred, and inquiry into it is intolerable; and decency is virtue. Scandals, vulgarities, whatever shocks, whatever disgusts, are offences of the first order. Drinking and swearing, squalid poverty, improvidence, laziness, slovenly disorder, make up the idea of profligacy: poets may say any thing, however wicked, with impunity; works of genius may be read without danger or shame, whatever their principles; fashion, celebrity, the beautiful, the heroic, will suffice to force any evil upon the community.
And of course, any number of public persons (Paris Hilton the apotheosis and pure gift to the pedagogue) prove his remarks on celebrity and wicked behavior, the acceptance of.

Degeneration in Contemporary Culture

I believe that this article is as close to an uncontentious example as one gets of modern degeneracy....
Giorgio Armani junior ad sparks polemic in Spain
The advertisement shows a little girl in a bikini. The investigation started a few days after Dolce & Gabbana was forced to pull an image from Spain showing a woman pinned to the ground by a man as other men looked on.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Muscular Christianity & Missionary Cricket

From classfellow L. McC.:

The Irony of the Mission: How the Trobriand Islanders Pervert the Spirit of a Jolly-Old Pastime
The facts about this unique form of cricket, as I presented them in class, were a little bit misinformed. The English Anthropologists (headed by the Polish father of modern anthropology, Bronislow Malinowski) did not introduce Cricket. It was the the English missionaries who followed them, around the turn of the century, who brought Cricket to the Trobriand Islands. The adaptation of the sport had not been intended by these misssionaries; they merely wanted to offer an alternative pastime to the highly sexualized "Yam Dance" already practiced among the islanders. It was the islanders themselves who "transformed the game into an outlet for tribal rivalry, mock warfare, community interchange, sexual innuendo, and an afternoon of riotous fun" (Berkeley Media LLC).

This, then, fits the view presented in lecture of organised sport as the method by which the 'muscular Christianity' movement countered degeneracy within, and promoted purity of, masculinity. The dominance of English sport -- Association football (also known as 'soccer), cricket and rugby are inorder the three most popular sports in the world: baseball and American football are variations of English games rounders and rugby respectively -- thus created throughout the world is an incalculable legacy of this movement.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wikipedia: Barrel. Fish. Shoot.

A truly gruesome find from classfellow M.I.:

While I am certainly quick to acknowledge the poor quality of the article about The Mill on the Floss (prior to our alterations of course), at least it was apparent that the individual who wrote it took the time to actually read the novel before spilling his "insight" into the all-consuming void that is Wikipedia. Check out what is written about Rob Roy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Group Project: Class Time

We'll have time in class this week to make sure you're underway with your Group Project. I imagine that this will be a welcome opportunity to get fired up about a point of view. Remember the four available possibilities:
  1. God is dead, and (Western) society is progressing.
  2. God is dead, and (Western) society is degenerating.
  3. God is alive, and (Western) society is progressing.
  4. God is alive, and (Western) society is degenerating.
I am not closed minded: if you have an idea of your own for the project -- writing a dramatic completion of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for instance -- by all means run it by me Friday.

Mid-Term Draught: returned

Several of you picked up your draughts today, with my corrections on the first page and analysis on the last. I am here after three o'clock Tuesday and Thursday and my regular Office Hours on Wednesday for the rest of you. Naturally, it is expected that you will discuss any questions that you may have with the draught with me in person over the next two weeks until the due date for the revision, on July 9th.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Allegorisations of "Princess & Curdie"

I have received most (but not all) of your group allegorisations of Macdonald's The Princess & Curdie, and I liked each very well and liked two for just that slightly finer of particularity. In the final analysis, the group who took the technically-correct approach to the allegorisation deserves the textually-appropriate usquebaugh....

On "The Mill on the Floss"

Please bring your copy of The Mill on the Floss to class this coming Friday, as we will spend twenty minutes wrapping up our understanduing of the achivement of George Eliot, undeniably one of the most influential literary figures -- and arguably one of the most important people -- of the long ninteenth century.

I do want to emphasise the value of dialectic in university studies, and especially in fourth-year courses. My two weeks of lecture have presented The Mill on the Floss in a particular way and with a definitite judgement of its merit. You individually, of course, do not have to share either my configuration of the text as an advancement of a specific intellectual position (represented in J.S. Mill's essay 'On Nature') or my high esteem of its supreme literary quality.

This coming Friday, then, you will be asked to succinctly formulate your comprehensive understanding of the novel in terms of the following components:
  1. J.S Mill's third sense of 'nature.'
  2. Charles Darwin's doctrine of natural selection.
  3. Herbert Spencer's doctrine of the survival of the fittest.
  4. Auguste Comte's three stages of history
  5. natura non facit saltum.
  6. progressivism.
  7. degeneracy.
  8. morality and commercialism.
  9. Romanticism and Post-Romanticism
  10. family (generation and characteristics) and local place (environment.)

The challenge will be making certain that there is a clear understanding of how these componets are simply abstactions from one unmistakale and unified artistic whole in imagination of George Eliot.

Mid-Term Deadlines Ajusted for Extension

Just to confirm that the deadlines for the Mid-Term assignment have been adjusted, and posted, according to the extension that the class requested & which I granted.

Monday, June 18, 2007

John Stuart Mill "On Nature"

I thought I would blog a salient precis of Mill's argument in "On Nature" in relation to our course. As mentioned in lecture, "On Nature' was written between the publication of "In Memoriam" and Origin of Species and is notable for the succinct clarity of its articulation of a configuration of 'first things.' Due to the print culture of the nineteenth century -- prose essays from 'eminent Victorians' were read all but universally by the middle- and upper-classes -- and to the status of the subject, Nature, as the de facto 'summum bonum', Mill's essay becomes in effect the invisible but efficacious background ultimate belief through the Edwardians; even, I believe, to us, the Second Elizabethans.

  1. Nature is "the entire system of things; the aggregate of all the power and properties of all things." Mill's Nature, then, replaces God.

  2. 'Nature' is also a word used, in a secondary, a looser, a less accurate, sense, to denote "....things as they would be, apart from human intervention.' This is the sense in which people use the phrase "Nature as opposed to Art' or distinguish the natural from the artificial.

  3. This secondary sense is an inferior -- a misleading, in fact, in Mill's term, an "unmeaning" -- one for Mill, by primum principium. (MajorP.) Nature is 'all things.' (MinorP1.) Human actions are included in 'all things'. (C.) Human actions are part of Nature. Thus, 'human intervention' or 'Art' is not 'apart' from Nature, and thus the secondary sense is meaningless.

  4. The (reductionist, monist) summary of this is that " has no power to do anything else than follow nature; all his actions are done through, and in obedience to, some one or many of nature's physical or mental laws."

  5. There is also a third sense in which people use the word 'Nature': a moral standard against which human actions are to be compared. "[A] third meaning in which Nature does not stand for what is, but for what ought to be; or for the rule or standard of what ought to be." This is expressed in terms such as "Natural Law," Natural Justice," "human nature," "unnatural acts," "inhuman behavior," etc.

  6. Mill wrote 'On Nature' to debunk this third sense. In his words, "The examination of this notion, is the object of the present essay."

  7. Mill has three points against this.

  8. First, because man is part of nature, all of his actions conform to nature by, once again, primum principium.

  9. Second, the third sense is irrational, "....because all human action whatever, consists in altering, and all useful action in improving, the spontaneous course of nature." Instead of copying nature, sane human actions oppose nature: building houses for shelter & warmth, farming, curing diseases, etc.

  10. Third, the sense is immoral, "....because the course of natural phenomena being replete with everything which when committed by human beings is most worth of abhorrence [i.e. nature murders everyone, nature tortures many (and every one of us is born of torture & often death), and nature destroys property and land without mercy or discrimination], anyone who endeavoured in his actions to imitate the natural course of things would be universally seen and acknowledged to be the wickedest of men."

  11. In his debunking of this third sense of Nature, Mill shows himself to share -- even, I believe, to advance -- the Victorian obsession with and anxiety over, progress and degeneracy.

  12. This opposition to the state of nature which Mill presents as being the mark of rational man produces progress.

  13. Nature is instinct: and 'society' is the name given to the state of human control over instinct. "[N]early every respectable attribute of humanity is the result not of instinct, but of a victory over instinct." An example of progress is the increased cleanliness of (some few) societies.

  14. The natural state is filth. Cleanliness is the most artificial state imaginable. "Children, and the lower classes of most countries, seem to be actually fond of dirt. The vast majority of the human race are indifferent to it: whole nations of otherwise civilised and cultivated human beings tolerate it in some of its worst forms, and only a very small minority are consistently offended by it. Indeed, the universal law of the subject appears to be that uncleanliness offends only those to whom it is unfamiliar, so that those who have lived in so artificial a state as to be unused to it in any form are the sole persons whom it disgusts in all forms. Of all virtues this is the most evidently not instinctive, but a triumph over instinct. Assuredly neither cleanliness nor the love of cleanliness is natural to man...."

  15. Evident in the emboldened passages is the attitude of caution, suggesting a fear of, degeneracy: in fact, a class anxiety: middle against lower.

  16. This is most expicitly stated. "But even if it were true that every one of the elementary impulses of human nature has its good side, and may by a sufficient amount of artificial training be made more useful than hurtful; how little would this amount to, when it must in any case be admitted that without such training all of them, even those which are necessary to our preservation, would fill the world with misery, making human life an exaggerated likeness of the odious scene of violence and tyranny which is exhibited by the rest of the animal kingdom."

  17. This characteristic and deep-seated unease about social degeneracy can be detected in a passage on "social virtues."So completely is it the verdict of all experience that selfishness is natural. By this I do not in any wise mean to deny that sympathy is natural also; I believe, on the contrary that on that important fact rests the possibility of any cultivation of goodness and nobleness, and the hope of the ultimate entire ascendancy [i.e. the hope of progress.] But sympathetic characters, left uncultivated and given up to their sympathetic instinct are as selfish as others.... But (to speak no further of self-control for the benefit of others) the commonest self-control for one's own benefit - that power of sacrificing a present desire to a distant object or a general purpose which is indispensable for making the actions of the individual accord with his own notions of his individual good; even this is most unnatural to the undisciplined human being: as may be seen by....the marked absence of the quality in savages, in soldiers and sailors, and in a somewhat less degree in nearly the whole of the poorer classes in this and many other countries....Veracity might seem, of all virtues, to have the most plausible claim to being natural, since in the absence of motives to the contrary, speech usually conforms to, or at least does not intentionally deviate from, fact....Unfortunately this is a mere fancy picture, contradicted by all the realities of savage life. Savages are always liars. They have not the faintest notion of not betraying to their hurt, as of not hurting in any other way, persons to whom they are bound by some special tie of obligation; their chief, their guest, perhaps, or their friend: these feelings of obligation being the taught morality of the savage state, growing out of its characteristic circumstances. But of any point of honour respecting truth for truth's sake they have not the remotest idea; no more than the whole East and the greater part of Europe...."

  18. Mill also addresses moral degeneracy -- in the sense of vice and depravity -- directly, and posits the need for penal or capital punishment of degenerates. "Again, there are persons who are cruel by character, or, as the phrase is, naturally cruel; who have a real pleasure in inflicting, or seeing the infliction of pain. This kind of cruelty is not mere hard-heartedness, absence of pity or remorse; it is a positive thing; a particular kind of voluptuous excitement. The East and Southern Europe have afforded, and probably still afford, abundant examples of this hateful propensity. I suppose it will be granted that this is not one of the natural inclinations which it would be wrong to suppress. The only question would be whether it is not a duty to suppress the man himself along with it."

  19. Finally, the following passage lays out a general vision of Progressivism, which, although pre-Darwin, is very evidently evolutionary in form, entirely gradualist, and rooted in an ordered society. It is, if fact, the type of understanding which is the essence of the Idea which George Eliot transmutes into literary art in The Mill on the Floss, her pastoral masterpiece.

  20. In the section from which the following passage is taken, Mill is continuing his debunking of the conception of nature as a guide for human conduct, and is saying that, since evil exists, God (assuming He existed) would either have to be willing the evil to exist or be powerless to stop it, unless, He is under some necessary limitation whereby a Perfectly Good world is an imposibility, and His only way of bringing about goodness for humanity is through accumulated progress. [In a footnote, Mill makes clear that this he has taken from Leibnitz, and is the real meaning of that philosopher's famous dictum that God has created here 'the best of all possible worlds' -- with significant emphasis on the word possible.

  21. "....[God] could do any one thing, but not any combination of things; that his government, like human government, was a system of adjustments and compromises; that the world is inevitably imperfect, contrary to his intention....[T]he best he could do for his human creatures was to make an immense majority of all who have yet existed be born (without any fault of their own) Patagonians, or Esquimaux, or something nearly as brutal and degraded, but to give them capacities which, by being cultivated for very many centuries in toil and suffering, and after many of the best specimens of the race have sacrificed their lives for the purpose, have at last enabled some chosen portions of the species to grow into something better, capable of being improved in centuries more into something really good, of which hitherto there are only to be found individual instances....[I]f Nature and man are both the works of a Being of perfect goodness, that Being intended Nature as a scheme to be amended, not imitated, by man."

"Mill on the Floss": Death by Lecture

This majestic poem sums up my attitude to teaching The Mill on the Floss.

-- The Tables Turned --

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

-- William Wordsworth --

I love the beauty and the gentleness and the balance and the flow and the ease and the cool flow of narrative confidence that Eliot has created in what is simply a work of highest art, tout court. I want to enjoy and participate in the artistic masterpience, not pull it apart and look at the guts.

That is why I wanted to put the intellectual analysis part all in a bundle last class, so we can the better delight in the novel this coming class, and not, hopefully, do 'murder to dissect.'

I hope that you too are enjoying the book, and that we can reach & appreciative understanding in lecture with the body still leaping and growing and flowing alive.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Reading Victorian Prose

Among the pragmatic educational advantages of reading essential prose passages from the great Victorian writers of literæ humaniores is the experiential benefit: the opportunity to use your response to the experience as a means whereby the mind and character of the Victorians is revealed in its contadistinction to your own. For Mill, and Carlyle, and Newman were how the literate -- in effect, the entire bourgeoisie -- in the ninteenth century took their entertainment. If you did not find John Stuart Mill 'On Nature' and entertaining experience, well, then you now have an experiential window into the sensibility of your counterparts in that period.

Of course these sections also give an indispensible store of knowledge of what is perhaps just as elusive as the temper of a past Age: its background ideas, assumptions, and default principles. It is my belief that just to read the fiction solely, or to just read the fiction with the summaries of ideas that lecture provides, is a simulacrum: an incomplete and ultimately bloodless experience. The æsthetic experience is, of course, of very high value -- in George Eliot, indeed, it is in effect Final Cause -- but it is not the sole high value. The intimate, organic, and for them unexamined, unity of idea and æsthetic, of intellect and feeling, is just that characteristic note which veritably defines what it is to be a Victorian novelist.

This is so well encapsulated by the passage I read in lecture today from Mill's Autobiography: indeed the emboldened phrase is what I consider the very motto of the Victorian literary sensibility.
What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence.
If you should be having any challenges with the experiential pedagogy we are using this term, by all means stop by an office hour or make a special appointment to develop the understanding even further.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Idiocracy & devo

Classfellow JP sends along Idiocracy, which delightfully illustrates the (elitist) Darwinian anxiety about the progression & regression of humanity.

"WARNING: The following program deals with mature (Darwinian) subject matter and contains scenes of violence and coarse language. Viewer discretion
is advised."
The idea traces back to the short story that I have alluded to by Cyril Kornbluth, "The Marching Morons."

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mid-Term Workshop

We will have a writing workshop for the Mid-Term essay draught in tomorrow's class - come with your ideas for effective writing and your topic of choice.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Some thoughts 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?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mid-Term Topics

Chose one of the three topics here: the emphasis is on analysis, judgement and the mechanics of writing.
  1. Troubling the placidly laudatory lecture presentation of Scott's supreme literary genius in Rob Roy is the matter of the highly idealised characterisation of the titular character. Evaluate this in reference to the manifold artistic representation of the north and south opposition in the text, as detailed in lecture.
  2. On any reasonable view, the characterisation of women in Rob Roy and Princess & Curdie is formidable and inescapably noteworthy. Present your judgement of the literary functions of Diana Vernon, Helen MacGregor and the Princess Irene, in context of the paired opposites which are guiding our study through the long nineteenth century.
  3. Imagine that Charles Darwin had been influenced, not by Malthus' Essay on the Principles of Population as he claimed, but by Carlyle's "The Everlasting No" and Scott's Rob Roy. Write an article aimed at publication in a scholarly journal that explains how the course handouts from Darwin were specifically derived from those two Scottish texts.

Scott's "Rob Roy" & our Course subject

The first lecture, course week two, on Rob Roy did position the novel as terminus a quo for the course, but I want to be certain that I had made the point sufficiently well.

In the early years of the century, Scott's novel encodes as deeply as possible -- in structure, character, setting, plot, narrative -- the decadency of civilisation and the health & purity of rude places and people. Too obvious to be seen to present readers is the very fact that the novel's explicitly historical setting is effectively an invention of Scott's to that purpose.

One dimension of the fundamental opposition that the text represents, not covered in lecture, is presented in the following dictum from Rob Roy himself:
'Let it come, man--let it come,' answered MacGregor: 'ye never saw dull weather clear without a shower; and if the world is turned upside down, why, honest men
have the better chance to cut bread out of it.'
This formula -- a martial clash vivifies & purifies a decadent Age -- was to be repeated, heinously, almost exactly a century later, as the drumbeat of an entirely unnecessary and unforgivably-conducted war sounded to the same effect in the second decade of the twentieth century ....

Individual Writing Presentation: marks

Your draught of the individual writing presentation was returned in class today with a conditional grade. In order to confirm the grade, you bring it to an Office Hour over the next week or so to discuss the content and the degree to which it represents a sound understanding of the concepts, so crucial to the long nineteenth century, of progress and degeneracy.

In addition to the benefit to this assignment, this visit is, of course, designed to assist the construction of a sound draught for the mid-term essay, the circuit of which begins today.

I have about ten office hours a week, but I may be prevailed upon to hold additional time by appointment where it is absolutely necessary.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Scots: Pronunication & Lexicon

Scots -- either a dialect or a language, according as one's Scottish nationalist tendencies go, but, alas in either case, indisputably Anglic -- features in two of our course texts to varying degrees of obtrusiveness. Use this post as a central hub for lexicons, guides to pronunciation, and exemplary audio clips. A perma-link is on the blog sidebar.

  1. Scottish Dialect at the BBC
  2. More Scottish Slang at the BBC
  3. Pittin the Mither Tongue on the Wab
  4. Scots Language: at
  5. Scots Glossary
  6. Scottish Vernacular Dictionary

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Queen Victoria: Celebratory Day

We're soon to enjoy a holiday in honour of Queen Victoria.
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

Mid-Term Assignment Criteria

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

Eight-week writing path:

  1. Course week three, Friday May 25th: choice of topics posted on the blog
  2. Course week five, Friday June 8th: draught version due in class.
  3. Course week seven, Friday June 22nd: draught returned with comments & grade.
  4. Course week nine, Friday July 6th: revision due in class.
  5. Course week eleven, Friday July 20th: revision returned with comments & grade.
  • The draught is an opportunity to get your ideas and structure freely down on paper. The marking will identify the types of error which require revision: after studying these you are encouraged to bring the draught to Office Hours for additional and thoroughgoing help.
  • The revision will be graded according to the improvements made from the draught.

Group Polemical Project

Groups of five or less will be set in class on course week six, Friday June 15th. The project will include the following:
  1. at least two of the primary course texts,
  2. Darwinism as presented in the handouts
  3. any one of the great Victorian essayists
  4. Either (a.) a polemical account of the nineteenth century funeral of God, in the manner of our early twenty-first century's fashion for the topic à la Hitchens, Harris, Dennet et al; or (b.) a polemical engagement with a present-day issue revelatory of the death of God and the progress-degeneration axis.
  5. a creative OODA Loop concept.

There will be a intra-group peer status review of the Group projects in class on course week ten, Friday July 13th. The results of the peer review will be handed in to the Tutorial leader and form part of the grading of the project. The project is due in class August 3rd. The assignment is worth twenty percent of the Course grade.

Explicit 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.
  • Individual characteristics of scholarly writing, appropriate to fourth-year undergraduates. An excellent succint guide is Harvard College: Making the Most of College Writing.

Individual Writing Presentation

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

Ten-week writing circuit:

  1. Course week two, Friday May 18th: write in tutorial a two-page summation of the Darwin handout in terms of progressivism and present to Tutorial leader for five-percent credit.
  2. Course week six, Friday June 15th: in tutorial, groups of four or less read each others' draught summations and provide peer evaluation to be used for the revision.
  3. Course week twelve, Monday July 27th: twelve-hundred word Revision presented to Tutorial leader for grading.

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

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Reading Schedule

Following this schedule will keep you technically abreast of lecture. The advisable reading schedule is, as always, to have each text read in full before the first lecture upon it.

Week 1: Charles Darwin: Selected Passages (Handout.)
Week 2: Sir Walter Scot, Rob Roy
Week 3: Sir Walter Scot, Rob Roy
Week 4: George McDonald, Princess & Curdie
Week 5: George McDonald, Princess & Curdie
Week 6: George Eliot, Mill on the Floss
Week 7: George Eliot, Mill on the Floss
Week 8: Charles Dickens, Mystery of Edwin Drood
Week 9: Charles Dickens, Mystery of Edwin Drood
Week 10: Charles Kingsley, Water Babies
Week 11: Charles Kingsley, Water Babies
Week 12: Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan
Week 13: Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan

The two recommended texts are A.N. Wilson, God's Funeral and Buckler, William (ed.) Prose of the Victorian Period. They are recommended for several reasons. I would say primarily because, I am convinced, they are indispensable features of each English scholar's library: permanent furniture that will be perennially beneficial. God's Funeral is a delight and an education: the style and the personal details captivate while the dialectic informs the sweep of the intellectual nineteenth century clear ringingly in your mind. Prose of the Victorian Period is a trove of hard, gem-like prosaic art that shows the living mind of the century: and that a life which shows our century how writing can -- even, how should -- be done. Of course, more immediately, they form the ideational basis of course lectures.

Schedule of Assignment Due Dates:
Assignment details in "Pertinent & Impertinent" Links.
Update: Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a four percent per day late penalty for all 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.

May 18th: Draught of Individual Writing Presentation.
May 25th: Mid-Term essay topics posted.
June 8th: Draught Mid-Term essay due.
June 15th: Group Polemical Project, members assigned.
Individual Writing Presentation peer analysis.
June 25th: Graded Mid-Term draught returned.
July 9th: Revised Mid-Term essay due.
July 13th: Group Polemic Project: peer review.
July 23rd: Graded Mid-Term revision returned.
July 27th: Revised Individual Writing Presentation due.
August 3rd: Group Polemical Project due.
August 13th: Final Essay Due.

Support material available on Library Reserve.

Nb: “Participation requires both participation and punctuality ."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday & Wednesday 10:30-3:00. 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.

Course Approach:

From the direction of the engagement with God. "God's Funeral" is the result of the materialism which produced, and was then strengthened by, Darwinism and Urban Industrialism (each of the pair then strengthening the other; and is then the cause of search for Resurrection: that is, a literary search for a revivified humanism. Giving shape to this is the perhaps paradoxical, perhaps merely natural, double-sided obsession, century long, with both progress and decadence.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pre-Darwinian "Survival of the Fittest" Image

Henry De La Beche’s drawing Duria Antiquior (An earlier Dorset), 1830:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

TLS on "Evolution Myths"

Just in time for our course, the TLS has this excellent article by historian Jim Endersby which encapsulates the theme our course & vector of lecture approach to the primary material. (Via the indispensible Arts & Letters Daily.)
On the morning of November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species made its first appearance and the world changed forever. An age of faith was plunged into profound religious doubt, and believers of every kind rose to pronounce anathema on Darwin’s godless tract, sparking a fresh battle in the long-running war between science and religion. But while the reactionaries raged, the scientific community soon came to accept natural selection, and the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s work in 1900 (which marked the founding of modern genetics) set the seal on Darwin’s triumph by providing the missing piece to his puzzle – a scientific understanding of just how inheritance works.
Unfortunately, everything in the previous paragraph is nonsense....

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Course Outline

Writing Intensive

Instructor: S. OGDEN

God's Funeral
Blog address:

Invoking Thomas Hardy’s poem of like title, A.N. Wilson’s God’s Funeral is a fluid exposition of what is surely the longest movement of the literary nineteenth century: the death and burial of God. Interestingly, an aspect of this long event that is subtly kept out of sight is the undeniably essential act of killing God in the first place. Main force in the assassination was, of course, Charles Darwin, and the blunt instrument was his theory of ‘natural selection.’ Darwin’s account of a progressive evolution from Ape to Man was victorious over the idea of Biblical creation in many minds through the long century.

Fiction, however, often has a mind of its own, and the power of literary art deflected the Darwinian weapon onto a different trajectory. In this course we will look at a range of nineteenth century writers who engaged very powerfully with the idea of evolution, but with a supreme literary perception that allowed them to see into the true radical centre of Darwin’s theory and recognise – decades ahead of the mainstream – that evolution has no direction except survival, and thus regression is as natural as progression.

Tying regressive evolution in with cultural anxieties about moral degradation resulting from the new industrialised urban concentrations, these six novelists represent a counter-force of early resistance to what was becoming known as Social Darwinism; inspired, in some cases, by a literary vision of a funeral without a Corpse: a God resurrected as a power of regenerative evolution.

PREREQUISITES: The normal prerequisites for this course are being waived. Students wishing to take this course require credit or standing in two 100-level English courses, two 200-level English courses and one 300-level English course. To register for this course contact Barbara Thorburn, the Undergraduate Advisor ( Reserved for English honours, major, joint major and minor students.

Scott, Walter Rob Roy
Kingsley, Charles Water Babies
Dickens, Charles The Mystery of Edwin Drood
MacDonald, George The Princess and Curdie
George Eliot The Mill on the Floss
Corelli, Marie The Sorrows of Satan

Recommended Texts:
Buckler, William (ed.) Prose of the Victorian Period
A. N. Wilson God's Funeral

15% Participation
10% Individual writing presentation
20% Group Polemical Project
20% Mid-term paper (2500 words with revision)
35% Final paper (3500 words with draught outline)