Friday, 26 November 2010

Happy American Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to those south of the border.

7 Quick Takes (66)

1. After writing my 7 Quick Takes last week, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it to my housemate who wanted to go slack-lining. So out we went to the park, where he taught us (a friend of his and I) how to sword-fight and where we did some slack-lining. It was a deal of fun, and his friend apparently comes from near Fort McMurray. She grew up in Edmonton, but had family in Lac La Biche. It was a good night, but my feet ended up being pretty cold after the slack-lining. I am also better at sword-fighting after even one session. To the right is a photograph of me falling from the line that night. I did land on my feet, which tend to get pretty filthy when slack-lining.
It started snowing that night.

2. Snow and photography. An unseasonable amount for British Columbia. There is good news: winter photography is as excellent as spring, summer, and autumn photography. It can be especially interesting in British Columbia, with snow on lush ferns and palm trees. I am glad that I got some decent shots of totem poles with snow on them. As a result, I started worrying (again) of cultural appropriation and my own commission of it. This to an extent made it impossible for me to uncritically enjoy putting up photos of the totem poles. But I am still going to put some on here, I think. You can decide whether there is anything problematic with the practice of taking and distributing images of cultural artifacts in museum spaces. (It's also easy to read this as some sort of attempt at using these artifacts as Canadian national symbols, especially when snow-clad. I won't pretend that I don't think of snow in patriotic terms.)

3. On Saturday, after spending some time working, I went to a dance recital/ competition in which a friend was participating. Some other friends were going to accompany me, but one backed out for reasons I can't recall and the other, at the last minute, messaged that she was too sick. I went alone, therefore, to cheer for three. Given my general lack of physical coordination and my general ignorance of dance, it was a bit awkward. Most of the audience was composed of dancers. Nonetheless I enjoyed watching; skill is always fascinating to see.

3. On Wednesday I attended the last seminar of my Asian Canadian Studies course. In it we were to read a chapter of Judith Butler, this one on mourning and politics. Butler asks who we are able/allowed to mourn, and what it means to theorize mourning. It's really a good article. She problematizes the word "we" in her own ways (as well as problematizing "I"), but that got me thinking (and talking in class) about the inherent ambiguity of that pronoun. In speech, "we" can mean [I + you], [I + they], or [I + you + they]; regardless, a person who uses "we" in speech necessarily claims to be speaking on behalf (or at least to be speaking about the condition of) not just themselves but also another person. In writing there are other possiblities, including [I + I]. You'll see the [I + I] formulation when two or more co-author a text without indicating who wrote which portion. Then one imagines the voice of the text being their shared voice or something even more ambiguous. (If you watch the documentary on them, you'll learn that the Hensel twins use pronouns and third-person nouns in interesting ways when Instant Messaging.)
It seemed appropriate that in the last seminar of this course, in which we are often compelled to destabalize things we had previously been taking for granted, we ended the day with the destabalization of basic pronouns. We've broken so much down that we can't even describe "our" own action.

4. For the class for which I am a TA, we read Coetzee's The Life & Times of Michael K. I rather enjoyed that book, but I find it hard to access. Like lots of good books, it seems easy at first, perhaps because of the clean, clear prose. One of the most fascinating things about this book is that it is set in South Africa, and yet Coetzee never makes clear a) when it takes place (Apartheid? post-Apartheid? near future?) or b) what the protagonist's race is.

5. In the context of my research for my Asian-Canadian paper, I encountered the interesting idea of the American civil religion. Wikipedia has a brief and insufficeint description of it. The Wikipedia article (and perhaps the original coiner of the term) seems to imply that American civil religion is somehow an outgrowth of or intrisically related to Christianity, especially Protestantism. This is not always true. The article in which I discovered this idea (Jane Naomi Iwamura, "Critical Faith: Japanese Americans and the Birth of a New Civil Religion." Immigration and Religion in America. Ed. Richard Alba, Albert J. Raboteau, and Josh Dewind. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.) has a good description:

"Civil religion," according to Bellah (1975: 3) is "that religious dimension found . . . in the life of every people, through which it interprets its historical experience in the light of transcendet reality." For many in United States, this "transcedent reality" is shaped by both the Christian tradition and Roman republicanism, which, in turn, lends meaning and justification to the principles of "democracy," "freedom," and "equality" before the law. Americans affirm their faith in these principles and to the nation through a shared set of "beliefs, symbols, and rituals" (e.g., the Bill of
Rights, the Lincoln Memorial, the inauguration of the president). Civil religious institutions are historical creations, yet they need no justification. For instance, the Constitution "does not call upon any source of sacredness higher than itself and its makers." Ultimately, civil religion has an integrative function and binds the individual citizen psychically and spiritually to her fellow Americans and to the nation-state (Albanese, 1992; Wuthnow, 1998b).

For some time I have struggled to understand the peculiar sort of patriotism and nationalism that certain American citizens hold; the idea of civil religion helped me come to some sort of terms with it. I have no problem with patriotism, but I do have a problem with American exceptionalism. The unquestioning appeal by many Americans to Constitutional documents, the founding fathers' intentions, and whether something is "American" or "unAmerican" (as if either is a remotely useful or definable adjective) has also baffled me for some time. Now I think I have a better grasp on the sort of sociological forces that undergird these phenomenon, but I still don't feel like I have a real grasp on the way this tendency is left unquestioned. Are there any American readers willing to explain the invocation of these ideas (Constitution, founding fathers, "American" v. "unAmerican") to me?
(Please note that I am aware that some Canadians are equally guilty of using strange adjectives, like "unCanadian," without a decent explanation of what they mean. It just seems more prevalent, and it seems to hold more rhetorical weight, in the United States than it does here.)

6. Among other wastes of my time, I have been laughing a lot this week over at Reasoning With Vampires. (Anyone else think blog titles should be italicized?) I don't always agree with her comma vendetta, as in fictional prose the use of commas is justified if you are creating rhythm. One needn't always be as minimalist as a newspaper in fiction. In general, though, I think what this woman is doing is fascinating. She takes fierce grammatical, stylistic, and content editing and turns it into visual art. Paradoxically, I now want to read at least one of the Twilight books. It's sort of a detective-work thing. If the books are as bad as people say they are, and if they are as bad as Reasoing With Vampires repeatedly demonstrates that they are, then what I wonder is why they have the popularity that they do. They must supply some need or desire that their readers are not getting elsewhere (as distinguished from "cannot get elsewhere"). What is that need or desire?
And how can I harness it?

7. Below is the Grooveshark playlist I listened to while writing this post and trawling Facebook. It is akin to what I've been listening to all week and is not akin to what I would normally listen to (with the exception of Bear McCreary).

"Jacob's Ladder," Rush
"The Trees," Rush
"The Spirit of Radio," Rush
"You Really Got Me," Van Halen
"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," Van Halen
"The Call," Regina Spektor
"Love Affair," same
"On the Radio," same
"Lady," same
"Oedipus," same (really like this one)
"Us," same
"Eet," same (stuck in my head)
"Samson," same
"Fidelity," same
"Evelyn Evelyn," Evelyn Evelyn (stuck in my head)
"You Only Want Me 'Cause You Want My Sister," Evelyn Evelyn
"Love Will Tear Us Apart," Evelyn Evelyn
"Hurt," Johnny Cash
"I Hung My Head," Johnny Cash
"O Verona," Craig Armstrong
"Gaeta's Lament," Bear McCreary
"The Shape of Things to Come," Bear McCreary
"All Along the Watchtower," Bear McCreary
"Kara Remembers," same
"A Good Lighter," same
"Kara's Coordinates," same
"Admiral and Commander," same
"Baltar Panics" same

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

What Do These Folks Have in Common?

According to Wikipedia, all of the following individuals have something in common. Do you know what that common trait is?

In not-really-alphabetical order:

Isaac Asimov
David Bowie
Gerard Butler
Marie Antoinette
Susan B Anthony
Muhammad Ali
Jim Carrey
John Coltrane
Richard Feynman
Kathy Griffin
Anthony Hopkins
Elton John
Samuel L Jackson
Franz Kafka
Kim Kardashian
Stephen King
Ann Landers
Abraham Lincoln
Jennifer Lopez
H P Lovecraft
Ewan McGregor
Friedrich Nietzsche
Gary Oldman
Natalie Portman
Christina Ricci
Anne Rice
Mitt Romney
George Bernard Shaw
Sarah Silverman
Gene Simmons
Taylor Swift
Teller (of Pen and Teller)
Pierre Trudeau
Shania Twain
Mae West
Bruce Willis
Malcolm X

Friday, 19 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (65)

1. A housemate and I went for $3 breakfast on Saturday. As it turned out, there was an enormous line-up, so we had Vietnamese instead, which wasn't $3. And by the time we got back it was already late in the afternoon, and since it was pouring we did not go slack-lining.

2. I wasted a lot of time this week. I feel pretty bad about it (I spent most of that wasted time watching Legend of the Seeker), but it does mean that I realized I need to work even harder at discipline. Limiting blog and Facebook access isn't sufficient. New work habits are necessary. The difficulty is that I have no "workplace" at which I can be very motivated. When I am at school, I spend "too much" time socializing... which is the only not-working time consumer I do not want to cut back on.

3. Joseph Addison's Cato is pretty good. To you American readers, you should be(come) familiar with this play; a lot of your Americana quotations are actually historical figures quoting this play. For instance, Nathan Hale's "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" is a rephrasing of a line from Cato, which was very popular in the States during that time.

4. I just found out that I got into a course I had been hoping to get into. Yay! I will be studying Renaissance (or Early Modern, if you think Renaissance is politically incorrect) again! Exclamation point!

5. Rain.

6. As in did last week, I went to Coffee Hour. It was good, in that I spoke to people I don't normally 'hang' with.

7. We did play-acting in the Pedagogy Workshop this week. I don't know how well people responded; it got oddly symbolic pretty quickly, though fascinatingly so for me. I volunteered partway through, as was inevitable. I wound up playing a particular emotional facet of a character (what did I say about symbolism?), in which I was on the floor in a fetal position shutting everything down. It's bad improv, but I was asked to play this very focused facet of the character. Odd... but fascinating, to have multiple facets of a character on the stage at one time.

And that's it for me. As usual, head on over to Jennifer Fulwiler's blog for more 7 Quick Takes.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (64)

1. I spent most of the weekend sick and grading papers and procrastinating. As a result of stupendous amounts of time lost, I instituted new rules: no Facebook or blogs (with the exception of investigating comments to make sure they're not inappropriate) or webcomics on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays, and I'm only allowed Wednesdays if I've already completed my lesson plan for the next day.

2. I spent Remembrance Day not-very-reminiscently. I did manage to get a new poppy and not lose it (thanks for the tip, Jon), but I didn't manage to wake up in time to get to the 11:00 service on campus, and I couldn't find the whole ceremony on TV. So there you go. I was going to do a whole post on memento mori, but since I didn't really have any related experiences over the All Saints-Remembrance Day span, I don't have much material for a post.

3. I watched Jonah Hex somewhere in there. I wouldn't, if I were you. It's not great. I thought it would at least be fun, but I guess not.

4. I have a lot of work coming up; I need to write an abstract for a paper on Asian-Canadian syncretisms. I have the pleasure/honour/joy/nightmare of having chosen a topic with a poverty of pre-existing scholarship. I also have about a month until another paper is due, so I mustn't waste much time.

5. I discovered Regina Spektor this week. By no means does she produce the sort of music I would choose to listen to on a regular basis, but I am broadening my listening habits a little tiny bit and I must say that I enjoy the songs I have heard her sing so far. Jon, do you have any opinions on this matter?

6. I also discovered a delightfully campy fantasy series called The Legend of the Seeker. I have no intentions of picking this up as a show I will watch regularly, but I looked it up on YouTube in relation to its complicated non-canon/subtextual love triangle. (The original article I read about it was excited specifically by the subtextual/forbidden female-female relationship more than the secondary male-female relationship.) Melissa, one of my "core" friends here, is fascinated by dynamics in love triangles in literature, so I was looking into it "for" her, but I thought it was pretty interesting in its own right.
See, this is what happens when certain types of people become English grads. Utter camp becomes fascinating as an analytical object. Now I'm busy thinking about canon and subtext. Can there be a canon subtext, or is all subtext necessarily extra-canonical?

7. On Friday I went to Coffee Hour, the English grad social. It's the first time I'd been; I keep meaning to go, but either I'm busy, dragged into helping homeless people (that happened once), or exhausted, and so never go. This week I did! There I had tea, and baklava, and talked with Michael and, more so, Melissa, and so really didn't get to know anyone else any better anyway. We got cliquey fast, it seems.
That's why I didn't get 7 Quick Takes done on time.

You could go visit Jen Fulwiler, host of this carnival, if you care to.

Saturday, 13 November 2010



I apparently had a social life today, so the regularly scheduled 7 Quick Takes will not be published. I am also giving up Blogger except for Fridays, Sundays, and sometimes Wednesdays, so you won't hear from me until Sunday. Sorry!

Saturday, 6 November 2010



This is where bloggers gather on the first Saturday of each month to share their latest and greatest blog posts. This weekend we are sharing our favorite post from October 2010!
Well, actually, this isn't where all that happens. All that happens at Elizabeth Esther's blog. Go on over to participate.
This month I want to showcase this post about a man with schizophrenia I just happened to meet, and the non-lessons I drew from that encounter. However, if you're interested in church-related stuff (and, if you're here from Elizabeth's general direction, you probably are), then you may also be interested in the time my church played Disney songs for hymns.
It's been a busy month for me. I can't wait to see what it's produced for you.
(I look forward to this thing all month long. I am such a loser!)

Friday, 5 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (63)

1. I finally got sick. I was wondering how long it would take. I've missed some classes on-and-off all week. I also went back to bed this morning and got up again three hours later. As a result, I don't really think I have a ton of (interesting) news for you, folks.

2. Due to the terrible state my backpack was in (and I'd only had it a few months), I went to the mall to buy a new one. I did get a new one, but that's less interesting maybe than the trip to the mall. What odd places malls are, but they work. For me, at least. I lose track of time in there. That's unusual because I don't go into any of the stores. (In which case I guess we can't say they work perfectly because I don't buy anything.) I was disappointed in the mall, though; they had no bookstores!

3. What the mall did have were poppy-vendors. I can't recall which org was distributing them. So I got a poppy and put it on and then lost it within a day, as always. This is an on-going thing for me; get poppy, lose poppy, get another poppy, lose poppy, panic on Remembrance Day, find another poppy, manage to keep poppy until 11 o'clock ceremony, have poppy easily visible for a few months in my room before I realize there's no point in keeping it.

4. On Hallowe'en I volunteered at church. It was fun. We were selling soup and cider and hot dogs; a lot of the staff were dressed up, and we played Hallowe'en music, beginning, of course, with "The Monster Mash." I went home early to Skype the folks, but felt tired and queasy. I thought it was from frying onions (I cannot stand the smell or taste of onions), but in retrospect I was likely getting ill.

5. Someone introduced me to PhD Comics. Like I needed a new webcomic to lose hours on.

6. Oh. Wait. Happy Guy Fawkes Day! I had forgotten about that until now. I won't have time to locate and watch V for Vendetta, however, as...

7. I have a stack of papers yet to mark, so I'll get on that, I suppose.

This blog carnival is hosted by Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary. Make sure you check it out.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Saving Babies

If you are looking for your Good Deed of the Month Opportunity, please allow me to suggest this: It primarily involves purchasing cookware, the proceeds of which go towards helping a child battle cancer.

If you are not looking for your Good Deed of the Month Opportunity, please ignore this message.
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