Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On the Individual Research Assignment

The Individual Research Assignment has two points of rationale (beyond the improvement of one's writing): the first is to ensure that a course on Graphic Novels is fully grounded in scholarship, and the second is to give strong and direct preparation fo rthe final paper. Isolating and adhering to a single potent thesis is the one achievement which can most materially benefit one's work for a successful paper.
"Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." Robert Mustand.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Proofreading Abbreviations

An on-line list of proofreading abbreviations may be viewed at this link.
I use the version authorised in my beloved Little, Brown Handbook for marking essays, but the differences are minor.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Current stories on issues of Jewishness: pace "Maus"

Two online articles on issues of Jewishness pertinent to attitudes represented in Maus: one from the slightly left-of-centre Toronto Globe and Mail on the speech of a Holocaust denialist, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at Columbia University in the U.S.; the other at the libertarian law blog The Volokh Report titled "Is Neo-Conservatism a Jewish movement?"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Imperfect heroes: the Perfect Villain?

From seminar this week, it is a peculiar thing to encounter, from within Western civilisation, expressions of praise for works of art or entertainment that "deconstruct the myth of the superhero."

As I detailed, the notion that a hero is perfect and needing a critique to reveal his flaws is a freakish one in Western civilisation. The idea is introduced virtually ex nihilo by two 19th Century philosophers -- Nietzsche in Germany and Thomas Carlyle in Britain (the latter being, strange as it seems, by far the more influential) -- who promoted their own invention, from springs hardly untainted, of an elite human being, the Übermensch ('Overman'), who exists entirely beyond the criticism of the herd, and then the playwright Bernard Shaw, at the end of the 19th Century, popularises the overman idea in plays like his Man and Superman.

The comic book Superman, which of course encoded this idea deeply into popular culture, has, as we now know, an intriguing, and mitigating, justification in its creation by two North American Jews in the 1930s who subverted the Nazi's Aryanism by throwing an American super-Aryan back in their faces.

In the entire rest of the Western tradition, which is, for all intents and purposes, all of it, heroes just are flawed. It is hardly an exaggeration, in fact, to say that 'flawed' is part of the very definition of 'hero.' In the Judaic stream, their great national hero is King David: his figure fills the space that in other cultural stories is occupied by a semi-mythic incarnation, but in the Hebrew scriptures is flawed to the point of broken. In the Greek stream, their demi-gods and deities, more than flawed are odious: petty, vindictive, mean, jealous, capricious.

I offer you to think of a hero, real or quasi-real, (King Arthur my choice); reflect on his or story story; and ask if they be perfect or flawed. The answer, I wager, is always 'flawed.

Yet, a complexity arose in one seminar. My confident story threatened in its stability by the discovery that perfection indeed exists: but not in a hero but in a villain. To wit, George W. Bush was presented to me as absolute Evil - perfect in malevolence, infinite in reach. Lucifer in Gaiman's Sandman is read as being morally ambiguous; nay, Milton's Satan I am given as a very hero. But George W. Bush has no shade of good, no remittance from pure and total Badness.

From the seminar, I was reminded that George W. Bush caused Islamic terrorism and recently acted with a veto specifically to prevent sick children from receiving any medical care. From the news, I am told that George W. Bush caused the current death and devastation by the fires in the State of California. He also started the Iraq war so he could send kids off to to get their heads blown off for his amusement. And from the blogosphere, a DailyKos direct quotation: "George W Bush is a conscience lacking, cold blooded murderer who enjoys seeing innocent people killed."

It seems to me, then, that there is no evil in the world for which George W. Bush is not personally responsible. This certainly screws up my tidy theory that Western culture does not typically deal with people in absolutes; preferring instead shades, mixtures, development.

For myself, I'm not American and so have no special investment in Mr. Bush one way or the other. In the interests of my developing scholarly ideas, however, I welcome the opportunity to have my theory debunked fully and mercilessly.

So, please add a comment that gives a specific item as evidence of the total and perfect evil of George W. Bush.
Update: predictably, part of the blogosphere is satirising the configuration of George W. Bush as Absolute Evil.

Individual Essay Presentation: Example

Here is another sample of a student essay for the Individual Research Presentation assignment that exemplifies the character and quality being submitted. Although, there are other possible types of successful essay, certainly, and these are welcome, this one straightforwardly fits the criteria detailed in the assignment post.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not your parents' small group presentation ....

Some Small Group class presentations are more ... out there, shall we say, than others, as you can see here, here, here, here and here.
There is a perfectly innocent explanation. Honestly!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Inklings

Here is a very helpful, link-rich website on the Inklings group and their illuminating relevancy to the occult aspects of Neil Gaiman's text. As I suggested in lecture, Gaiman is clearly an admirer of the Inklings.

And of course I need to link to the Oxford Inklings blog....

Monday, October 22, 2007

Occult & local cats

À propos this week's lecture on The Sandman, note this article in today's Vancouver Sun on the policy of Pet Shelters to withdraw their black-coloured cats from adoption during Halowe'en.
There are some really sick people around," said Duncan.
"You know, the whole black cat and evil thing. Certainly black cats are in grave danger at Halloween."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Manga Confession

From today's, manga as someone's personal demon ....

Friday, October 19, 2007

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore is a GN that consistently finds its way into our class discussions.

Its historical origins are marked in England by 'Guy Fawkes night' every November the 5th & the attendant rhyme "Remember, remember, the 5th of November/ Gunpowder, treason, & plot," we used to say (in fact, I still have a card with the slogan) that "Guy Fawkes was the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions."

The phrase that is used as the ad slogan for V for Vendetta -- "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people" -- is an expression of the central truth in Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan: politics are fear and power, that's all. And another phrase from "V" -- "Blowing up a building can change the world" -- is a paraphrase of Satan in Paradise Lost, Bk XIII :

126: Nor hope to be my self less miserable
127: By what I seek, but others to make such
128: As I though thereby worse to me redound:
129: For onely in destroying I finde ease

134: In wo then; that destruction wide may range:
Thus the film validates my understanding that Leviathan, often read as mere philosophy or a 'humanities' work, is a thoroughly literary work: here, having been reworked into a screenplay. Of course, the film takes on ominous meaning after the London bombings by Islamic terrorists.

V for Vendetta is left-wing agitprop, of course, but, natheless, it is intensely relevant to our studies. As some of you know already, agitprop & didacticism are my bane in art. I detest being beaten over the head with any one political or social position or the other: on the other hand, I absolutely adore heteroglossia - the dialogic play between competing positions; the opportunity to see both sides fairly represented & unresolved is almost an absolute criterion for Art - in my opinion, that is.

To illustrate why I condemn agitprop, here are series of quotations from a *left-wing* exemplar -- Lenin -- which are practically dialogue from the *right-wing* character of the political leader in V for Vendetta.
  1. "It is necessary secretly -and urgently-to prepare for terror. And on Tuesday we will decide whether it will be through the SNK [Sovet Narodnih Komisarov - Soviet of Peoples' Commissars] or otherwise."

  2. "It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed."

  3. "Comrades! The revolt by the five kulak volost's must be suppressed without mercy. The interest of the entire revolution demands this, because we have now before us our final decisive battle "with the kulaks." We need to set an example.
    1) You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the public sees) at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich, and the bloodsuckers.
    2) Publish their names.
    3) Take away all of their grain.
    4) Execute the hostages - in accordance with yesterday's telegram.
    This needs to be accomplished in such a way, that people for hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know and scream out: let's choke and strangle those blood-sucking kulaks.
    Telegraph us acknowledging receipt and execution of this. Yours, Lenin
    P.S. Use your toughest people for this."

[Quotations taken from "Wikiquote" advisedly (then verfied independently against a reputable source) as a ready means to invoke your accepted authority ....]

How much better for art -- how much better for its effect & longevity-- had the film followed Orwell's example in "1984" & left the transitory orientation of the party in power a matter indifferent.

Update 1: Thanks to all who participated. We'll talk about The Libertine now this coming week.

Update 2: Please read this supreme work of film criticism comparing V for Vendetta unfavourably to Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The author, Matt Feeney -- to whom I tug my forelock as critical nobility -- complements my objection to V for Vendetta's agitprop by showing, with succinct devastation, how Gilliam's film is superior by its subtlety and its recognition that tyranny is a system and a process. Remember: Hobbes states clearly that Leviathan is not the person or the party who happen to be in power, but rather the system of laws and letters which the person or persons in the offices encoded therein merely administer. To give two citations establishing this, first, "Of Commonwealth, Chapter XXII:

In a body politic, if the representative be one man, whatsoever he does in the person of the body which is not warranted in his letters, nor by the laws, is his own act, and not the act of the body, nor of any other member thereof besides himself: because further than his letters or the laws limit, he representeth no man's person, but his own.

Or this, from "Of Commonwealth" Chapter XIX:

Of all these forms of government, the matter being mortal, so that not only monarchs, but also whole assemblies die, it is necessary for the conservation of the peace of men that as there was order taken for an artificial man, so there be order also taken for an artificial eternity of life; without which men that are governed by an assembly should return into the condition of war in every age; and they that are governed by one man, as soon as their governor dieth. This artificial eternity is that which men call the right of succession.

Here is a sample of Mr. Feeney's prosaic and witty brilliance:

Now the Wachowski brothers have taken V for Vendetta, Allan Moore's mad-at-Margaret Thatcher graphic novel, and updated it to express their present political rage. The Wachowskis are very angry at George W. Bush, but still, for some reason, it's Britain's Parliament that gets blown up.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Weird visual illusion

Ahead of this coming week's lecture on Neil Gaiman's Sandman, why not take the test at this link and leave a note of your result in the comments section here.

I can only see it go clockwise .....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Proposed Changes to Syllabus

I heard from a small delegation of students today that the writing workload for our course is .... a challenge. My inner self immediately recalled the old days, when I was a undergraduate, where we had three fifty-page papers for each third year course (and walked to university fifty miles in the snow, uphill both ways), and I also inwardly hummed the second verse of Kris Kristofferson's "Best of All Possible Worlds."

However, my kind, gentle accommodating outer self committed to a review of the assignment array, particularly in relation to the five small group assignments, which were presented as requiring some significant work.

On reflection, I present the following adjustment of the assignment requirements, which require unanimous agreement before they can be implemented.
  • Change from 5 small group assignments to 2, each of the two worth 10% of the course grade, and both can be on either the formal aspect or a social context. You can chose any two of your currently scheduled dates for these assignments. The class presentation date will remain the same.
  • The small group assignment being then worth 20%, the remaining 5% of the current assignment weight will then transfer to the seminar group project, which would keep the same criteria, but would be worth 25% of the course grade instead of the current 20%.
  • Change the Final essay world length, currently 3500 words, to "between 3000-3500 words"
So, the updated weighting would look as follows (changed text emboldened.)

20% Four individual written research presentations (4 x 250 words)
20% Two group written research presentations (2 x 400 words per student)
25% One group written evaluative presentation (1500 words per student or equivalent)
35% One final research paper (between 3000-3500 words)
I will discuss in person with Thursday seminars, and then send an email to all class members and poll the preference.

Art, a criterion of: from SFU Peak.

There is this useful student article (albeit with some errors of grammar) pertinent to our inquiry into valid criteria for art, published in the current edition of The Peak.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reminder: Assignments Schedules Available OnLine

A reminder that I have made a grid of all your Small Group & Individual assignments available at my online filespace.

To increase the convenience even more, here is a list of direct links to each.

This is an opportunity for you to verify that you are scheduled:

  1. for four, and four only, Individual dates,
  2. for five, and five only, small Group dates,
  3. in the dates that you have written in your agenda. (The dates online here are taken from your hand-in sheets.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Creator & Created

Update: There is a vastly superior review of the Schultz biography here, at the New Yorker magazine online, and featured on today's Arts & Letters Daily. The review is an outstanding example of analysing comics effectively, substantially yet without ponderous pretension.

The often-intriguing relationship between comic character and comic creator is treated informatively in this review on of a new biography of Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, Featuring Good Ol' Charlie Brown.

The biography is Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis. I have not read the biography, but the writer of review comes across with a naively idealised view of humanity -- effectively blaming her childhood idol for lacking Sainthood.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Individual Assignment: Sample

I have uploaded this sample of the Individual Assignment from among the first scheduled round to allow you to orient yourselves to your classfellows' work. The sample I have chosen did not receive the highest grade in the class -- although the author is a top-class student -- and contains (as indeed most of our work does from time to time) several errors. However, the engagement is at a suitable level, and the central insight it that argues is a very creditable one and presents an understanding helpful beyond the purview of the specific essay.

Hyphens: Illustrating Grammar vs. Style

From today's Toronto Globe and Mail
Bye-bye (or is it byebye?) to 16,000 silly hyphens
October 11, 2007 at 1:35 AM EDT
In my position of great privilege, hyphens are one thing I never have to worry about. Oh, I have the explanatory pages marked in reference books, and there are many of them. My Editing Canadian English devotes 12 solid pages to compounds and how they are made, to the difference between a hyphen and an n-dash and a solidus (that's what commoners call a forward slash). My Oxford Dictionary for Writers And Editors has a separate entry for each compound, one for crossbill (a passerine bird) and one for cross-bill (a promissory note), one for cross-link (hyphen), crossmatch (one word) and cross section (two words). I don't have to learn all these words and
exceptional cases; I don't even have to read them.

Office Hours

I like to have a great deal of availability, as not everyone is on campus outside class times in this day & age, and so I squeezed in an extra Office Hour between my morning and afternoon classes Tuesday & Thursday this term. As it has happened, two or three times already, including today, I have remained in the morning classroom in student consultation where it seemed discourteous, and perhaps superfluous, to break up to the office

I was just alerted also that the sign directing you to the Bennett Library yesterday was removed sometime before three o'clock.

What I will do, then, to provide maxiumum availability is to (a.) keep my Tuesday and Thursday hour, but to advise that I may be consulting in transit during the time, while (b.) extending my Monday Office Hour from four hours to six and a half hours, ten o'clock to four thirty, and my Wednesday Office Hour from five hours to six hours, from ten o'clock to three o'clock.

I am also available for consultation by appointment Friday mornings. And should there be a missed appointment, by all means call my daytime cell phone number: 604-250-9432.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lecture Week Upcoming

For lecture week seven, bring both your Miller and Gaiman texts, as we will wrap up the former and begin the latter. We will also see a worthwhile documentary analysis of comic book representations of the superheroes, pertinent to our Miller text.

Near-mint copy of Batman's debut found in attic

More from our State media, a story on a collectors find of the first Batman comic.

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2007 Canadian Press:
ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. - Holy collectibles, Batman!

A near-mint copy of Detective Comics No. 27, a pre-Second World War comic featuring Batman's debut, was recently found in an attic and sold to a local collector.
The comic is considered to be the second-most valuable available and can fetch up to US$500,000. The only comic considered more valuable is Action Comics No. 1, in which Superman makes his first appearance.

Stan Lee Interview on Podcast

An interesting podcast of an interview yesterday on Canada's State media network with the famous "Golden Age" comics artist Stan Lee.

An early, helpful and obvious (once you have heard it) point is that the evolution of graphic novel (as a concept) is driven by a decrease in the young readers of comics and a concomitant increase in the teen and adult readership.

This raises the question (raised and discussed in more than one quarter) of a cult of perpetuating adolescence into adulthood.

Lecture Summation

So, this week's lecture took a scholarly look at our first comic-book-cum-graphic novel, Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The first hour placed the book in the nested grid of themes and genre that Miller compresses into the title: to wit, a satire on contemporary television media, under the rubric "Returns" with in media term is synonym for (a.) financial profits and (b.) ratings; a satire on Left-wing or 'progressive' dogma on law and order issues relating to security of person and property, from the position of the medieval chivalric code invoked through the designation of the protagonist as a Knight-errant; and lastly a rejection of the gloriously junk-y Batman of golden-era comics and, of course, 1960s television, fame, denoted through the title's witty sense of it now being "a dark-and-stormy-night" and no longer the sunny escapism of Adam West and Burt Ward. (Me, I want my Adam West ....)

The second lecture hour submitted Miller's work to a close reading of pages, panels lines and even individual words, in order to see if the text can support the level of academic scrutiny that canonical texts in English Literature must bear. At the close of lecture, the result was that Miller's work had stood up, conditionally, to the close analysis.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

U2 Does Batman

Sorry, just because I love it..... Let's call it "Batman's reach in pop culture."
Click here>>>

"Deep Purple"

I found this delightful page illustrating the lyrics to the Mitchell Rose song "Deep Purple" that features prominently in Will Esiner's A Life Force.
It may help you to reflect upon the broad significance of Eisner's use of the song....

Monday, October 1, 2007

Video Games as Art?

À Propos our course thesis, this from the centre-left New York times via today's Arts & Letters Daily:

The Play’s the Thing
Published: September 28, 2007
Thirty-five years after Pong, fans and critics still debate whether video games can legitimately be called art. Certainly, whatever artistic potential that games have, few, if any, have fulfilled it. Halo 3 hasn’t changed that. Games boast ever richer and more realistic graphics, but this has actually inhibited their artistic growth. The ability to convincingly render any scene or environment has seduced game designers into thinking of visual features as the essence of the gaming experience.