Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fight Club vs. Samuel Johnson

We've been immersed in Samuel Johnson's idea of literature over the past couple weeks in Medieval Lit. class. Rambler No. 4, maybe you've read it. Anyway, his basic idea is that fiction should teach, move, and delight. Teach us how to be virtuous by influencing readers, especially the impressionable young, through the power of example. Move us to action by these virtuous examples, leaving vice to creep around the edges of a tale, in shadow. Delight us through the  Realist-style narrative, where we can relate to common characters like ourselves.

I couldn't help thinking of this while watching Fight Club at a birthday gathering. All girls, drinking tea, eating cake, and watching Fight Club. One girl who had never seen it before commented that she preferred films that made her feel emotion, and not the kind that Fight Club had offered. It was strange for me to think about, as I choose heavy films on purpose - I like to have a multi-layered and socially applicable story and ideas to mull over and discuss after sitting for two hours.  I've decided that Johnson and I agree on one point: I don't think he would be a fan of the pure form of "chick flick", where gushy romance is the driving point of the plot and character interaction. That seems too in line with the Romances of his day, the fairy-tale knight in shining armor killing dragons and saving damsels, in lands and stories so removed from the reader's experience that there is no danger of them taking anything out of it to apply to their own lives. Teaching and moving are absent from the equation. I'm not saying Romances are totally useless: our imaginations are engaged by the stories of other lands and it is an honorable world where things work out for the best. There can be hope taken from that.

Johnson and I would very much disagree on how Fight Club goes about developing its themes. Brad Pitt as Tyler, the narrator's alter-ego, is a charismatic bundle of chaos, sexual attraction, and violence. Whereas Johnson believed virtue should be in the spotlight as he was aware of the terrible allure that vice holds for audiences, the film is very much centered in a place of frustration with society that can only be expressed through violent action. When the narrator, in a way the "humanizing" voice of the split character, realizes the power which Pitt's character has gained over him and the extreme violence against mediocrity and consumerist culture to which his frustration has led, destroys that living splinter of himself, there is a kind of hope to be found in that. Tyler's death, and the destruction of the credit company buildings, both mirror the removal of debt: the narrator's dependence on Tyler, and society's dependence on corporate hierarchy. This is a vague point still, I haven't quite figured out how to put it down in words, but there is some kind of connection between Tyler's tyrannical rule over everything and consumerist society, in which all members are commodoties, objects, unnamed/ numbers, to be used until they wear out or die.

So, Fight Club and Johnson. Similar in one way, and in another completely opposed. I think this demonstrates that the purpose of art and the way it goes about portraying an idea isn't restricted to one "form". I guess even mushy romances have their uses, as long as we keep thinking.

Friday, 27 September 2013

sorry brain

Today, I apologized to my brain. I think it was at around 2:30, when I was in class, and our prof was talking about metafiction. I had the worst headache. When I get them, it's either up the sides of my temples, or right at the front, like my personality-centre is having a meltdown and needs to cool off for a bit. I think the temple pain comes from grinding my teeth when I sleep. Also, I hadn't eaten much. I was running it off fumes. Cramming in more and more and more, until promise-crammed, I had to lay down in my room later on and sleep. In a half-dream state of daytime slumber, on the carpet with the sliding door to my balcony open. A distant lawnmower humming somewhere over the rainbow while a child called in a sing-song voice for his daddy, and the dreamy circle of ice-cream truck singing siren over and over and cold, feeling so cold with the door open, but being unable to move. My eyes were open and my headache was gone. I fixed my eyes on my silver watch band until it came chromey into focus. I had lived a hundred dream lives. It had been an hour. Eventually, I got up and put on a sweater. Eventually, my headache returned.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

virtual seminar (with comments on Quicksand)

Currently, I am waiting for class to start.

I am sitting in my apartment, with my bare feet pleasantly burying their toes in the thick earthy carpet, and "Harvest Moon" playing in the background. Yep. Virtual seminars are the best. I can even get up and make tea between posts.

Due to the CUPE 1393 strike, many professors have decided not to cross the picket line on this, a bargaining day where we all hope to God that something will be worked out. It's been 17 days of pamphlets and back and forth media-perspectives on what each side actually wants, with workers out on the sidewalks with signs and buttons, many students ignoring them, turning to their iPods or fellow students. We passed a couple of CUPE guys with a kite yesterday. "Not too much wind out today," my fellow student called to them. "Nope," they replied, "but we're hoping." "The winds of change!" I said and they laughed. I went on along the sidewalk humming Bob Dylan.

Oh! The first post!

Just for some context here, friends, we're discussing Quicksand, by Nella Larsen, one of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

So, the first point of view: Helga does not miss "the import" of Dr. Anderson's words at the end of chapter three, rather he misses the importance of what she is trying to convey with her rejection of Naxos school's "uplift" policies of conforming African-American students to "white man's pattern".


Oh my gosh, it's been an hour, and I am feeling quite overwhelmed by all these concepts and discussions, but most of all by my own feelings of inadequacy. People are so smart, yikes. But I'm enjoying reading how the comments go, the things people pick up on from these bits of text. Some write long paragraphs (like myself); some slip in a poignant one line question. It's kind of a cool way to do it, to write out our thoughts, responding in writing and receiving almost immediate feedback.

I shall make some tea and return to join the fray (all very decorous thus far!).


Half-time. I haven't had this much fun since the kite episode!


Threads of discussion:
"Quicksand Response"
"Does Helga Miss the Important Words?"
"Helga¿s conception of the ¿uncanny¿: ¿...that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar¿ (Freud THE UNCANNY)"
"The Economic of Quicksand"
"Helga's Discontent"
"quicksand and myth"
"Religion in Quicksand"
"Quicksand: First Impressions and 'Salvation' at the end of Larsen's novel"
"Break Time?"
"Quicksand and Nella Larsen"
"Quicksand: alternate endings!"


With a petering out, and a silence of the clear inbox, our discussion seems to have come to an end. This experience of virtual discussion has been one I hope to repeat. I can explain myself so much easier in writing, and it helps to have people's words in front of me and their names, so I can go back, think on their points. If you have not participated in a multi-player field of online textual discussion, I highly recommend finding a respectable forum where you may engage in hours of engaging dialogue. I learned a lot. And drank a lot of tea. Which for me equals a good day.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

on strike

Firstly, oh my word it is hot, and the air conditioning is out on campus, which has led to a lot of sticky-hot classrooms and early dismissals.

CUPE 1393 has been on strike for a few days now. Having never encountered such a protest (aside from a brief visit to the Occupy site in Edmonton a couple years ago), I was uncertain as to how to proceed as a student and GA on campus. In fact, I wasn't even sure why CUPE 1393 went on strike in the first place.

The main issues are connected with job security and other basic worker's rights as can be found outlined on the UWindsor website:

 I chose not to cross the picket line on Monday, but have returned to class since then. The sidewalks around campus property are full of people with signs, walking out in the cruel heat, some with their children, some handing out pamphlets. As can be seen from an article posted on the CBC website (, people on campus have mixed attitudes towards the strike. An article from the WUFA I read put the strike in perspective for me,: "Settling this strike does not simply mean successfully resisting the concessions being demanded; it also means re-affirming the democratic principle that collective problems be solved collectively." 

Hopefully, this can be accomplished.