Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Instructor's "Thanks!"

I say a grateful "thanks" to all of you for an exceptional course: I didn't have a bad moment this term and have countless wonderful memories. Most importantly, I understand the fiction much better than I did as a consequence of our congenial dialectic, week-in-week-out.
You each deserve credit for vigourously engaging -- in turns no-holds-barred or with delicate sensibility -- any topic on the representation of and relationship between the sexes that happened to arise (none were off limits) and yet without any of the dogmatism,didacticism, or domineering that (one hears) can happen ... out there!
It was your credit that the spirit of delightful schoalrship is alive and well -- in AD 2005 and here at Simon Fraser University.
I'll return to this post after I've submitted the grades so send your comments here then, when grades are no longer an issue!

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Lovely Guys, Loveless Girls"

From the Evening Standard's "This is London," this review of recent chick-lit by Charlotte Moore:
I've just read seven chick-lit novels in a week. It's like eating nothing but prepared meals. They're attractively packaged but you don't want to check the list of ingredients too closely. Their existence creates a hunger which they proceed, more or less successfully, to satisfy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Final Paper

Your Final Paper, three thousand words of literary-academic excellence long, is due in my Department mailbox at midnight Monday August 1st. Yes, I know this is overly-generous and I appreciate your plaudits; I know also that you view the three-per-cent-per-day penalty for papers received any later than that as being excessively lenient. But there you are.
The choice of specific topic is yours; however your argument must refer to at least two course texts, one each from the chick-lit and lad-lit sides. Note that you may focus your essay on only one of the genres; you will in that event have to allude meaningfully to the complementary genre. Secondary sources are recommended, conforming in execution to the English Department Style Guide.
The course lectures have used Darwin's theory of sexual selection heuristically: that is, as a device designed to improve understanding. (I would never direct scholars to wikipedia, and I would always direct them to the OED, but if one were to go the Wiki route,
it would say of hueristic that it is "...a way of directing your attention fruitfully.") Your paper does not have to refer to sexual selection, or to my trichotomy of "cad, curate, or Colin Firth" - however some alternative organising schema for the genres is required of your essay.
I am available at all times by e-mail, in my regular Office Hours, or by mutual appointment to exchange ideas, edit a thesis paragraph, or engage in dialectic.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Literary Bonbons"

Read this new article that dismisses lad lit off the cuff and damns chicklit with faint praise. (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)
It also makes explicit the struggle that many critics are having coming to terms with chick-lit as a genre: a struggle, in my estimation, that has ideological cause and which comes from an (again, in my estimation, unnecessary) essentialist attitude toward the books and their themes.
So what's the moral of the story? There's good chick lit and bad chick lit, just as there's good literary fiction and bad literary fiction - and maybe these labels are useless, anyway. I can hardly count the number of times I've read reviews that say, basically, "This book is chick lit, but never mind, read it anyway, it's great!" I wrote something like that myself, last summer, when I raved about Sarah Dunn's first novel, "The Big Love," which has just come out in paperback and which I would recommend in a heartbeat. The plot is nothing unusual - girl loses boy, girl has fling with cute boss, girl gets boy back and has to decide what to do with him - but the narrator's voice is so engaging that it lifts the book right out of the run-of-the-mill and into the perfect-reads category.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Literature the Opiate of the ....

I received the following stimulating email, which I am still mulling over. Your comments will be very welcome:
... it would be nice to talk a bit more about literature as opiate (OED: a. "Something that soothes or dulls the senses or causes drowsiness
or inaction" -- AND, I would stress the inaction....lulls a person into that they don't question things) ... I think some lit can be classified as opiate, but not all...however it might be hard to classify some works, since everyone's interpretation of a text will be different. It is probably more clear withthe lad lit books that end with the man being tamed and chosen for marriage after long occasions of intense rivalry with other men. It sends the message that it's ok to give in to the traditional roles of let women tame you, etc.. Similarly with the nice little romance novels where the woman chooses her man and becomes a wife and mother. Perhaps some women read those types of books if they are unhappily validate their lives, their choices, and to soothe any doubts the may have...Other literature COMPLETELY challenges these views or makes a complete riot of them, including Villette due to the tragic ending (I like to read the ending the way Bronte intended it...that is, that M. Paul drowns), and due to many other reasons besides. I think traditional notions of gender, sexuality, and social tradition come undone in the books we've read so far. It happens in almost every paragraph of Cranford!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mid-Term due time

The mid-term essay is due, as you know, this Thursday: it can be handed in to my Department mailbox until midnight, at which time I'll pick all up.

Gulp! - I Found the Quotation ....

Well, I found the source of the statement, which a classfellow suggested might exist, that women represent a lower evolutionary development than men. The originator is Charles Darwin, and it's in the Descent of Man. And not only is it even more misogynistic (if that were possible) than anything read by our visitor today from the Descent, but it is simultaneously racist in the same shockingly extreme degree.
I am naturally reluctant to read it in class, but I was able to contact our Vistor and ask if he would write out the words from the reference I sent him. Of course, as Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Darwinian Faith, he could not refuse, so here is his quotation from the Descent of Man, from the specific reference I gave him:
It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, or rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but at least some of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races [i.e. non-white], and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation." Descent of Man, 1896, 563-564.
And, once again, dear class, remember your signed "Waiver"-- do not attribute these views to the course instructor!

St. Paul & Darwin on Husbands & Wives

A classfellow sends the full passage from the New Testament on the strictures for husbands and wives in Christianity.

And here's the Bible passage from Ephesians 5:22-33 (New International Version):Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so
also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this way, husbands ought to love their
wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church -- for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery -- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
We'll discuss this in seminar Wednesday, but my comments are that, as I read it now for the first time in some years, it seems entirely different from what Darwin said about women -- as we had it read to us by our visitor today. Darwin was clear and prolix- "men are superior to women" and in a great list of charateristics - courage, strength, intelligence, imagination, creativity etc etc -- with the only exceptions being maternality and vanity.

Ephesians, on the other hand, above talks only about _marriage_ -- and even there there is (a) reciprocity and (b) the quite remarkable -- indeed anti-Darwinian -- statement that men and women are _one flesh_. I just looked up what the Bible says about men & women, and it there it strangelyseems to emphasise their equality. As came up in class, the fifth Chapter (vs 1-2) of Genesis says that God is both male _and_ female:

... God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them;
And St. Paul on men and women says this (Galatians 3:28

... there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Again, your responses & developments are encouraged during seminar on Wednesday; but this does, prima facia, seem very different in spirit than "men are stronger in mind and body than women", and of course this from Descent of Man:

[Men have] a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women- whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music(inclusive of both composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half a dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on 'Hereditary Genius' that..the average of mental power in man must be above that of women.
And so this is why I would not read Darwin's scientific assessment of women to the class! I would hate it to be thought that I endorsed such misogyny -- let alone this extreme.
[Update: "and" changed to "as" in the Ephesians quotation, thanks to a comment below.]


Darwinian Sexual Selection? The headline to this article from the Daily Telegraph threatens extinction for males: "Become more macho or risk your extinction, men told."
It's another move in the growing counter-reformation against metrosexuality, here labelled "mantropy" - as in, metrosexuality is causing male virility to wane. I cite it here singularly for it's lad-lit element:
Andy McNab, the forAndy McNab, the former SAS officer and best-selling novelist, said there was already evidence that some men were reconnecting with their masculinity in a bid to make themselves more attractive to women.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

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 this weekend's 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 I've suggested in class.
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.

Darwin's Writings on Women

A reminder that Monday we will finally hear from Charles Darwin's writings on women. Remember that you will be asked to sign a waiver in advance ...

Mid-Term Essay Due

A reminder that mid-term essays are due this Thursday, June 30th, in my Department mailbox.
They may be handed in earlier, of course, but not later -- to avoid the specified grade penalty....