Thursday, September 28, 2006

" 'weep 'weep"

A Brief History of Chimney Sweeping

"Many Sweeps’ Boys were parish children or orphans, although others were sold into the trade by their families. Some grew up to be Journeymen (assistants to the Master), the remainder were put out to various trades to attempt to become skilled at other work.In London there was the London Society of Master Sweeps with its own set of rules, one of which said that boys were not required to work on Sundays but must go to Sunday School to study, and read the Bible. Conditions for the children were harsh and sometimes cruel. Some were forced to sleep in cellars on bags of soot and washing facilities rarely existed. Cancer of the testicles was a common illness amongst the boys and was contracted from the accumulated soot."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thursday's "Jerusalem" Student Colloquium

Tomorrow's class will begin with two indivudual presentations and an introduction to Goethe on Science, and will then move into the main event; a colloquium on Blake's Jerusalem. Of the people who do encounter Blake, including those who fall in love with his work, very few engage his prophetic books; finding them dauntingly inacessible. Well, pity them. The prophetic books are simply Blake at his fullest potency. That is to say, works like Jerusalem are read exactly like the Blake writings that we have been studying for the past three weeks.

At our Thursday colloquium, you will all put your heads together in a student-led round-table format and analyse Jerusalem in terms of the previous works: There is no natural religion and All religions are One; Auguries of Innocence; The Marriage of Heaven & Hell; and Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I believe that with your combinded insight and intellectual, a valid & perfectly comprehensible picture of this superlative work of literary genius will appear.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

T.S. Eliot's "Christ the Tiger"

T.S Eliot, moderist, works very directly and admiringly with Blake's The Tyger in his 1920 poem Gerontion ("old one"?) Click the title of this post for an online version. "In the juvescence of the year / Came Christ the tiger .... / Tenants of the house, / Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season."

More to come on Blake's engraving of the tiger in the illustarted poem ....
Update: Dr. Harris mentioned during his slide-show of Blake's illustrations the non-ferocity of the tiger illustrating The Tyger from Songs of Experience. Now, there is something about the specific expression on the tiger's face that still eludes me. However, I believe that the general conception of the tiger in Blake's vision is as a children's illustration. This interpretation harmonises the poem directly with The Lamb from Songs of Innocence -- which is quite clearly child's verse, and has been universally presented as such within the Anglosphere print culture -- as part of a design for a child audience. Such as design has an impeccable literary pedigree -- Dickens & Tolstoi for two -- but is, shall we say, not currently favoured by academics.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Group Projects

We're now advanced enough in our study that we can get our Group Projects up and running. There are a full ten weeks until the deadline, and I know from the calibre evident in this class that the projects will be outstanding. I am greatly looking forward to the opportunity of studying them at the end of term.

On Tuesday we will make a list of the subjects that you favour -- mainly, as discussed, some of the Romantic poets whom we are not able to address ourselves to in detail in lecture -- and assign groups of interested scholars. The only firm criteria that I will have for the mode of your engagement is that it must be set in terms of how your subject, in specific detail, was a Romantic.

Goethe: pre-lecture

I hope you are enjoying your encounter with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in the form of a collection of his writings on science.

The virtue of Goethe is that he was an unchallenged universal genius -- of the calibre of Leonardo da Vinci -- and so his conception of science has supreme weight. I was very happy to have found the edition that we are using when I was putting our course together. Someone deserves our thanks for putting this compendium of salient observations into one manageable volume.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Being a Man" -- an English Department Colloquium

Department Colloquium "Being a Man (in the Lousy Modern World)"
Monday, September 25th, 7:00 pm, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

This event features a talk from British Lad-Lit author Robert Twigger, with a response panel to follow. Twigger – who has won the Newdigate Poetry Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature – occupies a literary terrain where a masculine performative identity is developed for post-colonial men through a variety of Empire-class male adventures. He has gained a consequential readership among non-middle-class males, and his books have proven to be appealing movie material. Big Snake, the author’s hunt for the world’s biggest python, is now a National Geographic film, and Miramax is currently preparing Angry White Pyjamas – a literate reflection on the twelve months that Twigger, a self-described “scrawny Oxford poet,” spent among the Extreme Right in Tokyo in brutal training for a black belt in Yoshinkan aikido – for world-wide movie release.
Twigger set on Canada as the Empire setting for his newest lad-lit book: Voyageur, just released, takes the form of a recreation of Mackenzie’s trek in a birch-bark canoe from Lake Athabasca to Bella Coola. Fittingly, then, the author has chosen the SFU English Department to give his literary ideas their first open academic airing, here, at our Colloquium. Peter Dickinson and Steve Collis have agreed to participate on the response panel, joining Rebecca Wigod, Books editor for the Vancouver Sun.
You are all very welcome to attend and, if you wish, contribute your response to Robert Twigger’s talk, as there will certainly be opportunity for moderated response from the floor.

Individual Presentation: Gnostic Terms

A few terms -- all more or less overlapping synonyms --from the individual presentation today on Gnosticism:
  • Rosy Cross: the central symbol of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross, i.e. the rosicrucian order. The homepage of the Rosicrucian Archive is littered with terms like mystery and hidden meaning.
  • Manichean: a metaphysic of Persian origin of perennial attraction to gnostics. Absolute dualism: Good and Evil are opposing gods of co-equal power.
  • Apocryphal Christian writings: (apocrypha = Gr. "hidden") Non-Biblical documents, real or fraudulent, dated to early centuries AD. To gnostics, this extra-biblicality is suppression and, then, secrecy and proof of power. To non-gnostics, they are documents that, where they are not fakes, merely did not pass the criteria of the various editing panels set by the early Church to compile a compendium of works into one authorised anthology eventually called simply The Book -- or in Latin, Bible. Gnostics at times intimate that Christianity hides the apocryphal writings. The Catholic encyclopedia has an extensive treatment. The texts are widely available: here online for instance. The Book of Mormon is an example of an extra-Biblical text that has illuminati qualities. One other major non-Christian text may also come to mind here.
  • The illuminati: simply, enlightened ones. The Conspiracy Archive has a treatment. Freemasons are illuminati; "New World Order" is an illuminati jargon.
  • Kabbalah. A Judiac mystical tradition. Pop singer -- and perennially interesting person -- Madonna (or Madge, to the press in her adoptive home, England) is a practicing Kabbalist. On Kabbalism's sometime claim that mere open sexual practices have been exaggerated into charges of sexual deviancy to cover supression by the Church: right here in Vancouver, one Ivon Shearing, leader of the Kabalarian Society, was convicted by B.C. Supreme Court in 1997 on two counts of rape, three of sexual assault, four of indecent assault and three of gross indecency involving seven teenage girls between 1966 and 1989. You can read an account and estimation of Kabbalism in the transcript of a trial at the Supreme Court of Canada against Shearing. Quotation: "The accused was the leader of a cult which believed that enlightenment is reached through ascension by steps of consciousness. He preached that sexual experience was a way to progress to higher levels and that he, as cult leader, could be instrumental in enabling young girls to reach higher levels through sexual and spiritual contact. He was charged with 20 counts of sexual offences alleged to have occurred between 1965 and 1990. Two of the 11 complainants were sisters who had resided with the accused at the cult’s group residence while teenagers .... the Kabalarians are a secretive society whose original philosophy seems to have been reduced by the appellant to a hodge-podge of spiritual fantasies (e.g., having sex with disembodied minds). Kabalarians believe that enlightenment is reached through ascension by steps of consciousness. Sexual experience, the appellant says, is a key way to progress to the next level. Perhaps not surprisingly, the appellant preached that he, as the leader, could be instrumental in enabling young girls to reach these higher levels through sexual/spiritual contact with him."

Gnosticism, as detailed in lecture, is a catch-all term covering an overlapping complex of institutions, ideas, and traditions; characterised generally by a shared sense of secrecy and conspiracy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pronunciation: Apology to Classfellow J.S.

A semester back, I pompously corrected the in-class pronunication of the word "synecdoche" by current classfellow J.S. I have just discovered, using the OED to check a use of the word I heard at a scholarly talk (and that by a Scotsman, no less,) that SIN3KD3KI -- just as J.S used it -- is correct.
Thus productively humbled, I accordingly apologise.

Contraries .... as a category

To frame the class' questions from today on Blake's assertion that Contraries are a necessary condition for fulfilled existence, in preparation for discussion on Thursday after the lecture on Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, consider the relationship between the concepts of "good & bad" and Blake's contraries as being seperate categories.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Group Project: Alternative Conception

The commendable desire of many to add the so-called later Romantics -- the die-young Romantics is another apt name for them -- to our study this term can be accomodated by a flexible revision of the Group Project.

The assignment, then, will be for a creative scholarly (if that is not a pleonasm) presentation of any one of the major or minor English Romantics; Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake excluded. I will consider an exception in the case of Wordsworth, if a convincing argument were made in writing and none of the poems assigned in the syllabus were included.

Keats, Byron and P.B. Shelley would be required to be among the Romantics chosen by our six class Groups.

The project would present the selected poet in an intellectually significant and revivifying manner: presented, that is, in a meaningful and stimulating contemporary context.

Boredom & Modernity

Classfellow J.S. sends along this from Elizabeth S. Goodstein's 2005 essay "Experience without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity":
...boredom was literally nonexistent until the late eighteenth century - that is, it came into being as Enlightenment was giving way to Industrial Revolution. While its continental cousins "ennui" and "Langeweile" are older, they were not used synonymously, that is, in the modern sense that combines an existential and a temporal connotation, until about the same time. This linguistic convergence reflects experiential transformations that were transnational in nature, for modernization literally altered the quality of human being in time. In the course of the nineteenth century, even as the temporal rhythms of everyday life were being revolutionized by technological and economic developments, a new, secular interpretation of human temporality was gaining ground. Faith in a coming redemption and in a divinely ordered eternity was increasingly being displaced by enlightened belief in human progress toward an earthly paradise; religious vocabularies of reflection on subjective existence were being eclipsed by a radically different language grounded in bodily materiality....Boredom epitomizes the the dilemma of the autonomous modern subject, for whom enlightenment has also meant fragmentation - for whom modernization and scientific progress have caused, in Max Weber's term, the "disenchantment" of the world such that history and religion can no longer anchor identity in the fabric of collective meaning.

Gnosticism, & Other Estoterics

I find this article on Gnosticism from the Jewish Encyclopedia a creditable source for those of you looking for an overview.
I have put Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels on course reserve, as an example of a true-blue conspiritorialist's take.
However, for a proper scholarly treatment, we have Rethinking ""Gnosticism"" : An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category by Michael Williams available from our eBrary. If you are truly interested, I strongly recommend you begin here.

To see a gnostic in action, read Thomas Vaughan's COELUM TERRAE Or The Magician's Heavenly Chaos here online. Thomas, brother of the poet Henry vaughan, wrote proxily such works as Anthroposophia Theomagica and Anima Magica Abscondita (the titles of which tell you very much about the gnostic sensibilty) under the pen-name "Eugenius Philalethes." Dr. Alan Rudrum, SFU Emeritus Professor, is the leading authority on Thomas Vaughan, and edited his collected works for Oxford UP. See his "Thomas Vaughan” in The Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, to be published by Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands (in press).

Alchemists, Kabbalists, Rosicrucians, Theosophists and other acolytes of the Inner Ring are all fellow estotericists -- Dan Drown turned the appeal into Gold. Now that's the real alchemy!

Blake & Swedenborg

A commendably enlightening background article on Blake's satirisation of Emanuel Swedenborg (html & .pdf formats are both available at the link) is available online.

There is also an excellent argument from the New Left Review for Blake's antinomianism as a legacy of his fellow-traveller status with the dissenting sects, also available online.

A perennially relevant account from a true Blake devotee is found in imp and curmudgeon sui generis Malcolm Muggeridge's classic A Third Testament, which I have put on course Reserve.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Individual Presentations Schedule

September 12th: J.S. October 24th: A.B. & E.Q.
September 14th: J.L. October 26th: E.M. & J.B.
September 19th: I.L. October 31st: J.G. & L.C.
September 21st: T.S. November 2nd: S.Y. & J.S.
September 26th: C.G. November 7th: R.S. & M.T.
September 28th: C.L. & M.G. November 9th: C.A. & C.G.
October 3rd: J.Mc. & S.C. November 14th: M.Z. & N.P.
October 5th: S.C. & A.A. November 16th: A.K. & M.M.
October 10th: D.S. & T.R. November 21st: P.S.
October 12th: P.M. & E.B. November 23rd: C.M.
October 17th: A.W. & R.S. November 28th: S.Mc.
October 19th: S.C. & L.S.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Course Syllabus

This syllabus provides the reading schedule for English 327. If students are up-to-date with readings, they will be ahead of lecture. Note, however, that this schedule is not a Procrustean bed for lecture: week by week, lecture will follow the developing class interests and course dynamic; covering, na'theless, all material -- superbly, I might add -- by the conclusion of week thirteen.
Supplementary resources works are available on course reserve. A Virtual CoursePackage of background articles on Romanticism and Science will be read in support of the primary texts.

Week One: September 5th - September 7th
William Blake: Auguries of Innocence.
There is no Natural Religion /All Religions are One.
Week Two: September 12th - September 14th
William Blake: Marriage of Heaven & Hell.
Week Three: September 19th - September 21st
William Blake: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
Goethe: On Science.
Week Four: September 26th - September 28th
William Blake: Jerusalem.
Week Five: October 3rd - October 5th
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Apologia Pro Vita Sua; Lines Written at Shurton Bars; The Eolian Harp; Biographia Literaria.
Week Six: October 10th - October 12th
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Duty Surviving Self-Love; Frost at Midnight; Dejection: an Ode.
Week Seven: October 17th - October 19th
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Prose selections from The Major Works, pp. 543-603, 660-685; To William Wordsworth.
Week Eight: October 24th - October 26th
William Wordsworth: Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802); The Tables Turned; To a Sky-Lark; Surprized by joy - impatient as the Wind; Ode ('There was a time'); Lines above Tintern Abbey; The Ruined Cottage.
Week Nine: October 31st - November 2nd
William Wordsworth: Ode to Duty; Michael; The Prelude.
Week Ten: November 14th - November 16th
William Wordsworth: The Prelude.
Week Eleven: November 14th - November 16th
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein.
Week Twelve: November 21st - November 23rd
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein.
Week Thirteen: November 28th - November 30th
Course summary and recapitulation.

Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a three percent per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, simply provide a letter from a physician on letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that an illness prevented work on the essay over the assigned three week period.
All assignments are to be placed in the Instructor's mailbox outside the English Department Office.

1. Mid term paper, twenty-five hundred words: due midnight October 23rd. Assignment sheet with choice of topics will be blogged on October 5th. Criteria include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics. [Note that these dates afford you flexibility. If your mid-term schedule is crowded, you are free to submit your paper at the deadline, which is approximately three weeks after the assignment sheet is distributed. If you prefer to get a critical response to your paper earlier in the course, you can submit yours as soon as you like after the assignment is blogged.]

2. Group field school project: Essentially, your group of classfellows will spend some time looking at an application of modern science, defining how it operates on materialistic, mechanistic and atomistic principles, and then re-visioning the large-scale practice along Romanticist lines -- using the understanding of Romanticism that you gain from lecture and your readings. How you organise your project and present your conclusions is entirely free for you to decide: you may want to use a blog format, or construct a White Paper for example.
Here are some areas of focus for you to consider choosing from (You may want to add your own special interest:)

  • Darwinian evolution (the doctrine of natural selection.)
  • Industrialisation.
  • University Science practices: Physics, Chemistry Departments &c.
  • Animal use in science testing.
  • Nuclear development.
  • Urban planning and land development.
  • Modern psychology.
  • Modern Western medicine: surgery, drugs, &c.
  • "ADD" & "AD-HD" model of boyhood: ritalin & dextroamphetamine.
  • Human genome project.
  • Transgenic foodstuffs.
  • Cybercolonialism & virtual realities.

3. Individual class research presentation: sign-up schedule handed around in seminar. Prepare and deliver a five-minute-maximum oral presentation on a subject that helpfully elaborates some interesting background feature to the Romantic movement. Consider, for example, the social or geographical situation, the domestic & international political situation, the biographies of relevant public figures, or the work of major or minor Romantic writers or intellectual progenitors not on our reading list.
The criteria include research comprehensiveness, relevency and contribution to the class' understanding; with an emphasis on the cohesiveness, clarity, comprehensibility, organisation, timing and other acknowledged elements of effective oral delivery. Hand in a copy of your rough notes at the conclusion of the representation. You will receive a sheet with Instructor's analysis, comments, and your assignment grade, a week after your presentation.

4. Final Paper, thirty-five hundred words: due December 4th at midnight. Topic to be discused and approved in writing with the course instructor. There is also an available option for a Creative scholarly paper, provided that strict failure standards are detailed and approved by the Instructor in writing, in advance.

Course Approach
The course is designed to provide an experiential engagement with the themes and materials declared in the course outline. In addition to information and and analysis in lecture, a variety of opportunities for students to experience different informative facets of the outlined subject area will be presented.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Participation
10% Individual presentation
20% Group Field School Project
20% Mid-term essay (2500 words)
40% Final essay (3500 words)
Nb: “Participation" requires both contributions in seminar discussion and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar.

Instructor Contact:
[UPDATED] Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Tuesday 10:30-11:30; Wednesday, 12:00-14:55; Thursday 10:30-11:30; Friday 12:00-12:55. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Please only use your SFU account for email contact.
In urgencies, I may be reached on my cellular telephone at 604-250-9432.

Post-post-modernism: "Postoppositional"

I'm on the bleeding edge of cultural studies terminology. I mentioned in the opening lecture that you will perhaps see the post- of post-modernism in your academic lifetimes. Researching for my other course this term, I found the following, by Scots theorist Cairns Craig (the link became unavailable today, but you can search the term on your preferred search engine. Follow this link to the cached version.
Thus to the eternal question of what follows postmodernism, Cairns Craig suggests the term postoppositional. He also analyses the place of postcolonialism.

Instructor's Philosophy of Teaching

I have a post on the blog for my other course this term on my teaching philosophy, here>>. It is cast in terms of a particular Scots novel (Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) but the main argument is sensible here. Please feel free to comment -- here on this blog post or in person during seminar. I owe special gratitude to our classfellow C.G. for the relevancy of the Japanese essay form.

I might add here that I know the flower & fruit of the horticultural model -- I read my students' essays at the end of every term, and it is ecstasy: there is almost univeral understanding amongst them of the material, sure, but, more importantly, of the wider context. And the point is that it seems to happen, not quite in spite of Instruction, but certainly the body of knowledge has been created from strategic nodes that I present, rather than from an entire intellectual building that I construct to completion, brick by individual brick.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tuesday Class Upcoming

As mentioned in the opening last week, on Tuesday we have a visiting lecturer: emeritus Professor Dr. Mason Harris, who has put together over his years of teaching an exceptionally informative slide show on William Blake, arranged for us in the context of our study on the Romantic engagement with Enlightenment science.

We will also need to make sure, through seminar, that we have a clear understanding of the position that Blake elaborates with characteristic potency in There is No Natural Religion. We can not be deceived by the brevity of the work: consider these works as artistic embodiments of the sensibility expressed in the opening quartet to Auguries of Innocence.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Thursday Seminar

Because we had the full-meal-deal two-hour lecture Tuesday, we'll do seminar work mainly on Thursday. In advance of the syllabus release, a reminder that your reading list for Blake is as follows:
  • There is no Natural Religion
  • All Religions are One
  • Auguries of Innocence
  • Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience
  • The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
  • Jerusalem

Group Project

There will be specific detail to come, but I'd like to give you an introductory sense of the Group Project this term. I am certain that you will find this a very exciting and memorable assignment: I know for my part, I'm looking forward very much to seeing your compleated projects.

Essentially, your group of classfellows will spend some time looking at an application of modern science, defining how it operates on materialistic, mechanistic and atomistic principles, and then re-visioning the large-scale practice along Romanticist lines -- using the understanding of Romanticism that you gain from lecture and your readings. How you organise your project and present your conclusions is entirely free for you to decide: you may want to use a blog format, or construct a White Paper for example.

Here are some areas of focus for you to consider choosing from. You may want to add your own special interest.

  • Darwinian evolutionion (the doctrine of natural selection.)
  • Industrialisation.
  • University Science practices: Physics, Chemistry Departments &c.
  • Animal use in science testing.
  • Nuclear development.
  • Urban planning and land development.
  • Modern psychology.
  • Modern Western medicine: surgery, drugs, &c.
  • "ADD" & "AD-HD" model of boyhood: ritalin & dextroamphetamine
  • Human genome project.
  • transgenic foodstuffs.
  • Cybercolonialism & virtual realities.


Slight chalkboard malfunction

Regarding our two course essays, where the blackboard on Tuesday showed 2000 for the first & 3200 for the second, it should have shown 2500 & 3500 respectively, in line with the Course Outline. Chalk malfunction .....

Monday, September 04, 2006