Friday, August 28, 2009

Cheers, Alice Munro!

A class act by Alice Munro, who has withdrawn her book from consideration for the Giller Prize. It is very hard for young(er) writers to get publicity, or to compete with heavyweight names like Munro or Atwood. Hopefully, this opens up the field rather than setting up Atwood for another win, which would either make Munro's gesture seem futile, or make Atwood look like a gloryhound. Possibly, it will draw some additional attention, both nationally and internationally, to the Giller Prize nominees (or maybe i'm being optimistic).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Canadian Literature is shitty.

i mean that in the most literal way. In the past year, i seem to encounter a lot of poop in CanLit. Leonard Cohen's experimental novel Beautiful Losers and Rohinton Mistry's short story collection Tales from Firozsha Baag come to mind (mostly because TfFB is on a course reading list for my upcoming semester). In both works, constipation is a metaphor for Canadian identity. Canadian identity is often expressed as absence: we are not x or y, we are not Britain or the United States, we are not a starting point or a destination. In TfFB, Mistry explores pluralism; he shows that Canadians must negotiate between old world and new, cultural heritage and assimilation. Constipation is associated with tradition, with the inability to let go, with the desire to keep something pure or singular. Cohen's narrator experiences similar constipation: he tries to keep everything organized, he cannot break out of his structured (imperialist?) mindset.

Poop, then, is the ideal Canadian state. At least, that's what the lit seems to say.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Virginia Woolf on Words


i saw this video on the feminist website jezebel.com

"Our business is to see what we can do with ... the English language as it is." According to Woolf, it is not the position of writers to produce new words, but to arrange existing ones in new ways. But this is apparently the only recording of Woolf speaking, so it is well worth listening to although the audio quality isn't great.

(also, if you don't read Jezebel, you should. i'm not a fan of many of the celeb articles, but there are very intelligent commenters, which is rare for the internet; and some very thought provoking articles about women in the workplace and women in pop culture)

EDIT: aha! there is a transcript of the recording here

Monday, August 10, 2009

the women must die

have you ever read a book that is so good it makes you think i could never write like that, not in a million years? Ann-Marie MacDonald does that to me. Her novels are so intricate, her characters so compelling, so tragic, it makes me want to give up writing fiction. i just can't do it the way she does. her novels are long, full of recurring symbolism, historic events - a kind of realism that exposes itself as romance.

Before i had heard of Ann-Marie MacDonald, i noticed a play at the library where i worked. The title intrigued me: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). i didn't realize it was by the same author as a novel i was reading for class, Fall On Your Knees. really, i should find the play and read it.

MacDonald's novels are huge, physically imposing books. They are masterpieces of feminism; i would venture to label FOYK as a female epic. The books question Canada, Canadian nationalism, history, official versions of things, memory and remembering. The truth, these novels suggest, will come to light, despite official attempts to erradicate or white-wash events. (at least, i'm assuming that The Way the Crow Flies will do this; i am almost finished the book but not quite). These novels are beautiful, haunting tales of sexual abuse of children, of girls growing up into women, of women asserting their place in history. They are dark, but FOYK resolves itself with hope; hope that "the truth shall set us free". i'm not sure that TWTCF can do the same because it questions truth on a deeper level; "the truth lies".

i wrote an essay about FOYK, comparing it with Jenny Sampirsi's is/was; my prof gave a name to what i was doing: exploring death-writing. Figures of dead girls and dead women permeate these novels. i am considering writing another paper adding TWTCF to the mix. Death-writing, the opposite of life-writing.

The novel i'm writing now is beginning to feel very bland to me. Perhaps because i am steering so clear of the death-writing that i love to explore academically, but am afraid to approach creatively. Why are the corridors of literature strewn with dead females? Desdemona and Juliet, Ophelia, Lady Macbeth . . . they were not the beginnning of this trope, but i feel i haven't delved nearly deep enough into the ladies of Shakespearean tragedy. There is something here, something that says "the woman must die". Why? So that her body can serve as a screen for anxieties: sexual, social, racial; the collective anxieties that plague every culture. The female body is a screen. On that screen, fear is projected by men, by other women, by family, by strangers. The women must die. The girls must die, before they become women.

Murdered. There is something disturbingly sacrificial here. An open wound that begs to be probed.

Eventually, i hope i will feel up to the task. i'm sure someone else, someone more qualified, will (or maybe has already) explore the dead women of CanLit. But i'm conducting a seperate, private investigation. i have to. the literature, the characters, they deserve it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Singlish in comics

So i was pleasantly surprised when i was reading Birds of Prey, and came across Singlish; a variety of English used in Singapore. Representations of varieties of English are often limited to British/North American dialects, and seldom do one of the "New Englishes" appear in North American mainstream media (in my experience). So i was delighted to see Singlish appear in DC comics. Comics, like literature, are becoming increasingly diverse, and often multilingual. This is good; it represents the realities of a global culture. However, there are still some issues with how Singlish was portrayed.

The man speaking Singlish was pretending to be an idiot to get in with a crime lord. He used Singlish when in disguise, and standard English when being himself. Singlish, then, is associated with stupidity and a lack of education. Many non-standard dialects of English suffer this stereotype, because standard English is often considered "proper", best for education, or "correct". It is none of these things. A standard variety is useful for many reasons - communicating across varieties, writing academic papers that are meant for as broad an audience as possible, etc. - but non-standard varieties should not be considered inferior, nor indicative of intellegence or education. In fact, in future, i believe that most speakers of English will be able to operate across spectrums of English; using local varieties for everyday conversation, standard English for formal or international settings, and varieties in the middle as the situation requires. Regional varieties are tailored to suit life in the regions they develop in; they often can express things standard English is not suited for. Yet the stereotype remains that non-standard is somehow inferior.

It is great that DC used Singlish in one of its comics. Heck, i'm sure many, if not most, readers were previously unaware of Singlish, and this exposure is wonderful. However, what i'd really love to see are representations that show Singlish is not only the language of goons and that varieties are not something for standard-English speakers to mock or look down on.

i really would like to be pointed towards works of literature written in non-standard Englishes from around the world. suggestions are welcome in comments.

(i have read rather extensively on global/world Englishes. if interested in further reading, David Crystal is an author i'd reccommend as a starting point.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

interactive fiction

i found this lovely game by Emily Short:Galatea

It is a very beautiful, interactive text game; a conversation between the player - an art critic - with Galatea.  There are many endings, many routes to take.  The level of responsiveness is very cool; the way Galatea reacts depends on how you treat her and which subjects you bring up.  I had some trouble with it at first, wanting to ask questions that the program can't answer, but overall it is a very comprehensive game.  i will admit, i only found 5 endings on my own, then played through the various walkthroughs available on the site because i had reached the limit of my own imaginings.  i dare you to find more without consulting the cheats.

i really think this is an interesting game - there is a brief mention of feminism, and i think that exploring that topic within the context of the game would be very interesting.  If woman exists for (a) man, what happens when that man is gone?

now i'm thinking about it, i don't believe any gendered pronouns are used to refer to the player/critic. So depending on the user, that can really change how the game reads; if the critic is male, then in some scenarios Galatea transfers her affections from one male to another. In others, the male gaze is returned by a female. In yet others, she liberates herself, or is liberated with male assistance. If the critic is female, it becomes a scenario of woman helping woman - but in all the same scenarios. Hmm. i wonder if the critic is intended to be read as one gender or another. i did really picture the critic not as myself, but as a male character; to be fair, i play a lot of games, and with some exceptions (Oblivion, Fable II) usually am thrust into a male role. i wonder if i automatically read all 1st person game characters as male?  Time to rexamine my own assumptions.  While i do that, go play Galatea.

father death blues

Saw this over at Silliman's Blog, and thought it was pretty neat:



Allen Ginsberg - Father Death Blues

The sounds brings to mind the band Neutral Milk Hotel - so if you like this check them out. i love Allen Ginsberg, i really really do.