Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Experimental Seances

The experiment has come to an end and we await the results. While we are aware that the experimental hypothesis was impeccable and the protocol was reasonably complete, we are not yet sure how effective and error-free the experiment has been. All of you are now on holiday and some of you will never use your brain cells again. We, of course, are not on holiday yet, still stalking the hallways like the unquiet dead.

Well, here are some activities you can pursue if you do not want a fate like ours. Check out this link. The rest of Velcro City is also pretty amusing. Typical Brit humour, gone global.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop (1969)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mailer Error

Norman Kingsley Mailer died this morning, aged 84. He was an irascible and somewhat perverse man of letters. I will always remember him for a traumatic O-level year in which he published Ancient Evenings. It was a very interesting, meticulously well-researched piece of ridiculous social rubbish. It was also 704 pages thick. I wasted a lot of time on it. At the end I knew two things: Norman Mailer was a wonderful writer, and this was certainly not a good book.

All the same, wherever he's gone, I hope it's not to his ancient Egyptian hell. There is such a thing as too much description.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sense and Sensitivity

As IB students (and soon, graduates), you're supposed to develop an international outlook - open, tolerant and sensitive to other peoples and cultures.

When you write in your essay "Huck Finn meets the nigger Jim and they run away together", you will show yourself to be an insensitive - even racist - oaf rather than the IB student we had all hoped for. This is because, as you know, the term "nigger" is an offensive term to many people. So, if you intend to use it in your essay, you must fence it in with quotation marks, to show that you are quoting Mark Twain, and that you are not the one calling Jim a "nigger". OK? Do you know what I mean?

In the same way, please stop saying that white people or the entire white community is corrupt, heartless and hypocritical. Twain does not make that generalization - you are the one doing it. He has many examples of good-hearted white folks in the book. When you malign an entire culture/community so carelessly in an essay, you show yourself to be an insensitive Asian chauvinist. This is not the way to impress your examiner.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Corrections

If you feel like working your Paper 1 muscles today, you could take a look at the extract below. It's from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (2001). Alfred and Enid are an older couple and Alfred is developing Alzheimer's.


Enid could hear Alfred upstairs now, opening and closing drawers. He became agitated whenever they were going to see their children. Seeing their children was the only thing he seemed to care about anymore.

In the streaklessly clean windows of the dining room there was chaos. The berserk wind, the negating shadows. Enid had looked everywhere for the letter from the Axon Corporation, and she couldn't find it.

Alfred was standing in the master bedroom wondering why the drawers of his dresser were open, who had opened them, whether he had opened them himself. He couldn't help blaming Enid for his confusion. For witnessing it into existence. For existing, herself, as a person who could have opened these drawers.

"Al? What are you doing?"

He turned to the doorway where she'd appeared. He began a sentence: "I am --" but when he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he'd entered, he would realize that the crumbs he'd dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn't quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren't uniform, weren't an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he'd encountered the word "crepuscular" in McKay's Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so that for his entire adult life he'd seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of a kind of sinister decay; and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn't just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he'd sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant of realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and the next, or rather he became trapped in that space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing on out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see if the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he'd entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods -- "packing my suitcase," he heard himself say. This sounded right. Verb, possessive, noun. Here was a suitcase in front of him, an important confirmation. He'd betrayed nothing.

But Enid had spoken again. The audiologist had said that he was mildly impaired. He frowned at her, not following.

"It's Thursday," she said, louder. "We are not leaving until Saturday."

"Saturday!" he echoed.

She berated him then, and for a while the crepuscular birds retreated, but outside the wind had blown the sun out, and it was getting very cold.

Think clearly, write to the point

Hope everyone's papers have been going well!

If you're looking to get into a good frame of mind for Paper 1 tomorrow, I suggest that you look at some subject reports, to remind yourself of what IB examiners want or don't want to see in your scripts.

I've put the last 5 subject reports (May 2005 to May 2007) on LMS, so you can download it, scroll to the right pages for Paper 1 (it's somewhere in the middle, after Internal Assessment, aka IOC, and WL), and take a look at their feedback again.

A few reminders:

- Keep an open mind tomorrow when you read the passage and poem. Try not to jump to conclusions about what the piece is about (i.e. if you see a few references to war, don't assume immediately that the piece is about the futility and horror of war; don't make easy assumptions based on the title and year at the bottom - these assumptions are often wrong; etc). Allow the piece to speak to you - every piece will have its own set of concerns and style, allow them to come through. Sit there quietly and listen to it. Don't be too quick to impose your judgment on it. Spend the first 15 mins wisely. Read carefully.

- Do not write a super-long essay. A hefty script at the end of 1.5 or 2 hours may reassure you ("I have a good essay! It's 10 pages!") but it will dismay the examiner before he/she even starts reading ("#%^&*!! Another 10-pager! What is with this school and its students??"). It might be counter-intuitive for you, but please restrain yourself from writing a long essay. We value quality so much more than quantity that when we get a concise essay with good ideas, we are desperate to shower marks on it to show our appreciation.

So when your friend next to you raises his/her hand for the fourth time for more paper, restrain yourself. Write a concise and good essay. That will get you a '7'. Length will not.

- Write neatly. It matters. If you don't believe me, read the subject reports.


That's it from me for now. You guys have the intelligence and the ability to do well in this paper. Go out there tomorrow and show 'em what you've got! :)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Nov 2006 Paper 2 (SL and HL)

Why are so many people asking me for this paper? It's on LMS - I put it there a week or two ago and I just checked and it's still there.

Go look again, OK?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


For the last time, friends, none of our Part 3 texts are 'surreal'. Stop saying that - it only shows that you don't understand what 'surreal' really means.

In Term 3, we explained to the HL classes that true surrealist texts experiment with “free association, a broken syntax, nonlogical and nonchronological order, dreamlike and nightmarish sequences, and the juxtaposition of bizarre, shocking, or seemingly unrelated images”. Salvador Dali's Premonition of Civil War above is a good example of surreal art.

Siddhartha might be written in a non-realistic (epic, legendary, etc) manner but it is NOT surreal.

Writing 101: Clarity

The problem:

Your essay seems crystal clear to you. But, when it comes back after assessment, your teacher has written 'Unclear' or 'Huh??' in many places. What do you do now?

Suggested solution:

Ask yourself: "When I write, do I write with a reader in mind?" i.e. are you writing for yourself, or are you writing the essay for a teacher/examiner-type person?

- If you're writing for yourself, stop doing that. An essay is NOT a diary entry. You are NOT the intended reader.

- The reader you must keep in mind is someone like me, or like Mr Quek.

You know how Siddhartha has that "clear and certain inner voice" that "had always guided him in his luminous time"? (p.70) That is what you should have.

Ideally, when you look at your essay, you should not only look at it through your own eyes. The clearest writers are able to imagine reading it through their intended reader's eyes. They can critically assess whether their essays are clear by imagining Mr Quek or I reading it, and they are able to see where we might have more trouble understanding the progression of an argument, a sentence, etc.

When I write blog entries, I imagine some of you reading it. That's why I break my writing up into shorter, coherent paragraphs - it's easier on the eyes and the understanding. That's why I write short sentences - they are easier to grasp. If you have not really consciously thought about your reader(s) when you write (your blog, essays, whatever), start doing so now?

First, the good news

Some of you have got it. Your essays completely bowl me over with their intelligence and insights. Absolutely amazing. If you are getting a '7' from me at this point, you belong in this group.


If I can possibly find ANY time this weekend (between marking essays and being in school for a camp), I will type out a couple of these essays and put them on LMS (if I do, I will inform you on this blog).

In the meantime, I leave you with this comment that someone made after reading one of these mind-blowing essays:

'I read XX's essay, and her way of looking at the text seems so much more in depth... like she not only talks about the things I talk about, she'll go on further to say "another way of looking at it.. .." or "not only does it suggest [something that everyone will write], it also [...]'

That's one of the distinguishing marks of a Grade '7', goddess-level sort of essay.

And - I can't teach it. It's unteachable (like that guy's enlightenment). YOU have to DO it. There's no use asking me for any more pearls of wisdom or advice. I've given you everything I have. You have to jump in and start swimming, or get on that bike and start riding. It's all you. You know what you must do, and you just have to practice till you get there. Enlightenment, as you all know, will not come from your teachers.

Or, I guess, you could also corner one of these folks with that enigmatic smile and kiss them on the forehead until you too 'get' it.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Of all the essays I read and marked this week, the ones that showed the most promising improvements (i.e. grade 6' nudging a '7') were the ones that were honest.

Remember what I said in class? A good reader is one who is involved with the text, intellectually and emotionally. He responds honestly to what he reads, is aware of his intellectual and emotional response, and is curious about how this writer has managed to make him react in this manner. He thinks about the ideas on offer, thinks about what his stand is - does he agree with the writer? (completely? partially? grudgingly?) And then, he considers the strategies that this writer has used to affect his intellectual and emotional response - much the same way that any intelligent person, after watching a good ad or listening to a political rally or watching a good movie, analyzes the way the director/speaker has evoked certain responses in him. An intelligent person knows that it is not magic that made him indignant during a speech or weep during a movie. There is an author behind those works, and at least some of the effects can be attributed to the choices that this author made.

A lazy reader does little of the above. A lazy reader is a couch potato. He prefers easy books/movies that don't challenge him too much. Books/movies are either 'great' or 'boring'. He doesn't like to think that hard about the book, or to react in complex ways. Ambiguous endings are a pain - why doesn't the writer/director make things less complicated? Tell us the good guys won and kill all the bad guys spectacularly. He doesn't bother to think about how the writer/director made him breathless with suspense - it was fun, but now it's over, let's get to the next one.

Now, a lazy reader, when asked to write a thoughtful essay (about how a novel engages him, for example), will substitute generally accepted ideas for his own (because he doesn't have many to start with). The teacher and the smart kids in class have said that certain techniques, when used, engage the reader - so all he has to do is (1) memorize those techniques, and (2) repeat those arguments. This is not an honest response. It is a learned response - a mugged response, a rehearsed response, there is little that is heartfelt about it. There is nothing morally wrong with doing this. But just realize that a student who does this is not our idea of a good student (obviously). So he gets a well-deserved '5'.

I understand that some of us are not lazy people - it may be that we are not sure of ourselves. Our ideas may have been shot down in class, so we think it's better that we take the smart kid's ideas than to venture into uncharted waters with our own ideas that have never been validated and approved by the teacher. You can do this. But - I just want to tell you - you can take a calculated chance these 2 weeks and write me a couple of essays that convey your own POV. Take a chance on your own interpretation. Think hard about how you understand the books, think honestly about the question, and write me an honest essay. You may be surprised - as some people have been - at how much easier it flows, how much more natural it sounds and I might be pleasantly surprised at how much more convincing you are when you are not repeating memorized points you may not necessarily believe.

It's not easy to think for yourself, but this is something that gets easier with practice. And - lastly - please do not complain about English A1 because it is not a subject where you can mug and get a '7'. If all you wanted was to memorize your way to an 'A', you needn't have - and you shouldn't have - joined the IB. Having joined the IB, please do not disgrace yourself by complaining that we are making you think.

If you need assurance that your ideas are not way out there, email me your thoughts/essays and I can give you feedback. Go on, be brave. Say something honest (and relevant). :)

An Interview With Roddy Doyle

Here's an exercpt from Dave Weich's interview with Doyle on October 4, 1999.(Taken from www.powells.com.)Although it's primarily about his new book "A Star Called Henry", there are parts relevant to Paddy Clarke - you'll recognise a bit of it in the brief write-up in the book. Hope it helps!

Dave: A Star Called Henry is filled with some very violent scenes. Paddy Clarke is violent, too, but in a very different way. I'd read it years ago, and rereading it, I felt that it was one of the most subtly achieved powerful endings I'd ever read.

Doyle: Thank you.

Dave: It's little things, like when they light Sinbad's mouth on fire. Around sixty pages later you say something in passing about how his lips look. All of a sudden, as a reader, you realize he's still suffering from that.
Page by page, that felt like one of the least linear things I've read.

Doyle: That's the challenge, trying to capture the world of a ten year old kid. If it works, it's because every word he gives us is true, dead and earnest. The violence was easy to achieve in some ways. It was a gradual process, remembering what it was like to be a kid at ten or thereabouts. The freedom, but also the fear. The gang: one would never be a leader, but one had to make sure one was close enough to the leader to avoid being hammered. It came back quite clearly to me.
If I feel guilty at all about things in my life, it's that I used my humor maliciously a lot when I was a kid, in some ways to save myself. I was never a fighter and never going to be. I used to compose silly songs about people, give them nicknames, things like that. When I came around to writing the book, I began to imagine how they must have felt. But you move on, you know. I think it would be ludicrous for me to hunt down a forty year old man with four children to apologize for a rhyme I wrote about him when he was eight; we'd both be equally embarrassed by it.
Gradually, it came back. That book took a year and a half. There wasn't much in the first half of that time. It was very slow. The biggest achievement of that book was putting it all together because it was all sorts of little episodes. I knew there was a shape, but I couldn't find it. It took a long time, putting pages together. I was trying to capture a different kind of link. It wasn't a logical one, not in the adult sense. It was a bit like subtle film editing. I was doing that a lot more than I had in the past, constantly going over things again and again.
I've told people that a good day's work is often a page. That's because I spend a lot of my day going over other pages.
You can feel that reading it. Because it's not as if you took a bunch of fragments, tossed them in the air, and laid them out into the book randomly. Any particular passage in the book contains bits from three different strains of the novel - which is where I thought it became more effective, more true to the unpredictability of a ten year old's mind, more of a craft.
One of the reasons I liked the ending so much was that you avoided all the easy cliches. You see Patrick's loss in those moments, but looking forward - reading between the lines, what you don't say - there's a lot of hope. It's balanced in a very credible way.

Doyle: I think all the books have that to a certain extent, they show a certain resilience. Part of the human package is loss. We can try to protect our children as much as we can, but that would be the biggest loss of all in some ways; you'd end up with them in the chicken coop - becoming chicken. An essential part of living is that loss, fear and cruelty, confronting it and triumphing over it. It seems like there's a balance that has to be achieved, a certain protection, but letting-go at the same time.
He's unleashed into the world just a little bit early. It's no tragedy, though. Parental breakdown, it's sad, but it's so common. Most people survive it quite intact. And other than that, he's just growing up. So the drama had to come from somewhere else.

Consultations and essays

A good number of you have been coming to see me, with essays that show clear signs of improvement - thank you very much.

For the rest who have not made appointments so far:

- If you have been scoring '7's consistently, that's fine. Practice on your own. Send me an essay if you like.

- If you've been scoring '6's, please send me at least 2 essays. I will give you feedback over email if you don't want to come back to school.

- If you have been scoring '5's and below, email me NOW for an appointment. That means YOU, Shahir. And if I don't get an email from you for an appointment by next week, I will be calling your parents to let them know the grade they should expect to see on Jan 7 next year. If both your parents and you are perfectly happy with the '4' or '5' you are getting now, tell me and I too will not ask anymore of you.

Thank you.

A message for SL students

I have just upload these documents onto LMS:

- Nov 2006 paper, markscheme and subject report (thanks Chris for the reminder!)
- May 2007 subject report
- Jennifer's brilliant Paper 1 essay from the Prelims
- the PwPt used for the SL paper review (I edited it a little)

Please note that I have uploaded the complete subject report this time, which starts by talking about WL, then IOC, then HL Paper 1 and 2, then finally SL Paper 1 and 2. So please scroll to the last few pages for the relevant information. Please read their feedback on Paper 1 too! It will help enormously.

Jennifer's essay on 'To Help a Monkey...' was everything I said it was in class. Please look at how she responds carefully to what is on the page in front of her - no pre-conceived notions, no attempt to make the poem say what it doesn't, etc.

That's it for now. More comments will come this weekend!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two roads


Postmodern Literature

All I can say is:



- Aristoitle

Friday, October 12, 2007

55 Miles to the Gas Pump

(A short story from Annie Proulx's Close Range - in its entirety.)

Rancher Croom in handmade boots and filthy hat, that walleyed cattleman, stray hairs like curling fiddle string ends, that warm-handed, quick-foot dancer on splintery boards or down the cellar stairs to a rack of bottles of his own strange beer, yeasty, cloudy, bursting out in garlands of foam, Rancher Croom at night galloping drunk over the dark plain, turning off at a place he knows to arrive at a canyon brink where he dismounts and looks down on tumbled rock, waits, then steps out, parting the air with his last roar, sleeves surging up windmill arms, jeans riding over boot tops, but before he hits he rises again to the top of the cliff like a cork in a bucket of milk.

Mrs. Croom on the roof with a saw cutting a hole into the attic where she has not been for twelve years thanks to old Croom's padlocks and warnings, whets to her desire, and the sweat flies as she exchanges the saw for a chisel and hammer until a ragged slab of peak is free and she can see inside: just as she thought: the corpses of Mr. Croom's paramours - she recognizes them from their photographs in the paper: MISSING WOMAN - some desiccated as jerky and much the same color, some moldy from lying beneath roof leaks, and all of them used hard, covered with tarry handprints, the marks of boot heels, some bright blue with the remnants of paint used on the shutters years ago, one wrapped in newspaper nipple to knee.

When you live a long way out you make your own fun.

"Miss Cutie Pie"

Oh, Oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard,
"What a big book for such a little head!"
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink!
Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more:
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1923


Is "sweet" the only available epithet for a girl?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Allegorical Matters

Let's say you are a man (some of you are)
and susceptible to the charms of women
(some of you must be) and you are sitting
on a park bench. (It is a sunny afternoon
in early May and the peonies are in flower.)
A beautiful woman approaches. (Clearly,
we each have his or her own idea of beauty
but let's say she is beautiful to all.) She smiles,
then removes her halter top, baring her breasts,
which you find yourself comparing to ripe fruit.
(Let's say you are an admirer of bare breasts.)
Gently she presses her breasts against your eyes
and forehead, moving them across your face.
You can't get over your good fortune. Eagerly,
you embrace her but then you learn the horror
because while her front is young and vital,
her back is rotting flesh which breaks away
in your fingers with a smell of decay. Here
we pause and invite in a trio of experts.
The first says, This is clearly a projection
of the author's sexual anxieties. The second says,
Such fantasies derive from the empowerment
of women and the author's fear of emasculation.
The third says, The author is manipulating sexual
stereotypes to achieve imaginative dominance
over the reader - basically, he must be a bully.
The author sits in front of the trio of experts.
He leans forward with his elbows on his knees.
He scratches his neck and looks at the floor
where a fat ant is dragging a crumb. He begins
to step on the ant but then he thinks: Better not.
The cool stares of the experts make him uneasy
and he would like to be elsewhere, perhaps home
with a book or taking a walk. My idea, he says,
concerned the seductive qualities of my country,
how it encourages us to engage in all fantasies,
how it lets us imagine we are lucky to be here,
how it creates the illusion of an eternal present.
But don't we become blind to the world around us?
Isn't what we see as progress just a delusion?
Isn't our country death and what it touches death?
The trio of experts begin to clear their throats.
They recross their legs and their chairs creak.
The author feels the weight of their disapproval.
But never mind, he says, Perhaps I'm mistaken;
let's forget I spoke. The author lowers his head.
He scratches under his arm and suppresses a belch.
He considers the difficulties of communication
and the ruthless necessities of art. Once again
he looks for the ant but it's gone. Lucky ant.
Next time he wouldn't let it escape so easily.

- Stephen Dobyns, from Common Carnage (1996)

Friday, September 21, 2007

It Could Only Be America...

I bring you the single best reason yet not to study TOK:

In response to the teaching of epistemology -
"As such, IB is hostile to the foundational principles of the United States. Our Declaration of Independences [sic] says, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident'. One of the foundational pillars of the United States is recognition of objective truth, real truth. IB undermines this principle and aggressively teaches the contrary view."

Oh Alec Peterson, how could you!

The full articles are here:

Charmingly entitled "Terrorism as Taught by International Baccalaureate" and "Why International Baccalaureate (IB) is Un-American" respectively, they make a very compelling case against offering the IB. For example, the program must be discontinued because "the IBO promotes the worldview of New Age-Pantheism Guru William Butler Yeats", and therefore "the IBO--UN view is the foundation of tyranny." Q.E.D.

I've heard him called many things, but I think that really takes the cake (and the metaphorical candles, the table, and perhaps the little plastic bride figurine too!)

I don't know which is worse: that the articles are written by 2 college professors of Political Science, or that some high schools actually agreed and it took an ACLU lawsuit for them to reinstate the program (http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/bendavupperstclairschooldi.html)

Yes, the ACLU. If nothing else, our pantheistic gods must have a sense of humour, and of irony.

- Aristoitle

(Come to think of it, if any of this were true, my TOK essay might just make me a paragon of traditional American values. Green card here I come!)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Truly Great

I think continually of those who were truly great
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasures in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the Spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Stephen Spender

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quotes on The Color Purple

Hi, these are the quotes on The Color Purple I keep referring to, but have not gotten around to printing out for you. I've decided that blogging them is better than printing them. The quotes all come from Alice Walker, edited by Harold Bloom, published by Chelsea House (2000).


Harold Bloom said, “The Color Purple gave rather more to storytelling & less to ideology, but it also now seems a period-piece, furniture of the spirit. Poor Celie is everyone’s victim, always being raped, beaten, or otherwise brutalized. Though Gloria Steinem found this ‘irresistible to read,’ less ideological readers may disagree. Alice Walker has intense pride & an authentic sense of social injustice. Whether these are, in themselves, aesthetic values remains open to considerable question.” (9)

Gloria Steinem said, “In the hands of this author, morality is not an external dictate. It doesn’t matter if you love the wrong people, or have children with more than one of them... What matters is cruelty, violence... It’s the internal morality of dignity, autonomy, & balance.” (Bloom 51)

Peter Prescott said, “her story begins at about the point that most Greek tragedies reserve for the climax, then becomes by immeasurably small steps a comedy which works its way toward acceptance, serenity & joy.” (Bloom 52)
“Love redeems, meanness kills - that is The Color Purple’s principal theme, the theme of most of the world’s great fiction... For Walker, redemptive love requires female bonding. The bond liberates women from men, who are predators at worst, idle at best” (Bloom 53).
“In the traditional manner, Walker ends her comedy with a dance, or more precisely with a barbeque”. (ibid)

Mel Watkins said that it is “a novel that is convincing because of the authenticity of its folk voice” (Bloom 54).

Robert Towers said, “The revelations involving the fate of Celie’s lost babies & the identity of her real father seem crudely contrived - the stuff of melodrama or fairy tales” (Bloom 56).
“The failure to find an interesting idiom for a major figure like Nettie is especially damaging in an epistolary novel...” (ibid)
“I find it impossible to imagine Celie apart from her language...” (ibid).

Dinitia Smith said, “The Color Purple is about the struggle between redemption & revenge. And the chief agency of redemption... is the strength of the relationships between women” (Bloom 57).
“The men in this book change only when their women join together & rebel - & then, the change is so complete as to be unrealistic” (Bloom 58).
“Walker’s didacticism is especially evident in Nettie’s letters from Africa, which make up a large portion of the book” (ibid). “occasional preachiness”.

Trudier Harris said, “From the beginning of the novel, even as Walker presents Celie’s sexual abuse by her stepfather, there is an element of fantasy in the book. Celie becomes the ugly duckling who will eventually be redeemed through suffering” (Bloom 61).
“Celie’s predicament might be real, but she is forced to deal with it in terms that are antithetical to the reality of her condition” (ibid).
“The fabulist/fairy-tale mold of the novel is ultimately incongruous with & does not serve well to frame its message... [The Color Purple] affirms... patience & long-suffering... it affirms passivity; heroines in those tales do little to help themselves. It affirms silence in the face of, if not actual allegiance to, cruelty. It affirms secrecy concerning violence & violation. It affirms, saddest of all, the myth of the American Dream becoming a reality for black Americans, even those who are ‘dirt poor’...” (ibid).
“I will continue to react to all praise of the novel by asserting that mere praise ignores the responsibility that goes along with it - we must clarify as much as we can the reasons that things are being praised & enumerate as best as we can the consequences of that praise” (Bloom 62).

Have any comments about these quotes? Let us know. I think the last quote (in blue) is especially interesting!

Monday, July 23, 2007

bell hooks on The Color Purple

Any further comments on her article now that you've gone home to digest it? Any thoughts she's led you on to, or any dissenting opinion?

Monday, June 18, 2007

2007 Locus Awards (Update)

Yes, these are up, and constitute a nice list of readings for certain kinds of readers.

Link here.


And the winners are... here:

Best Science Fiction Novel: Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge (Tor)

Best Fantasy Novel: The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra)

Best First Novel: Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon/Throne of Jade/Black Powder, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Voyager); as Temeraire: In the Service of the King (SFBC)

Best Young Adult Book: Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK; HarperTempest)

Best Novella: "Missile Gap", Charles Stross (One Million A.D.)

Best Novelette: "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth", Cory Doctorow (Baen's Universe 8/06)

Best Short Story: "How to Talk to Girls at Parties", Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)

Best Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Best Publisher: Tor

Best Anthology: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin's)

Best Collection: Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)

Best Editor: Ellen Datlow

Best Artist: John Picacio

Best Non-Fiction: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Phillips (St. Martin's)

Best Art Book: Spectrum 13: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood)

Friday, June 15, 2007

'Affair Of The Heart'

The sonnet is historically a 13th-century form of poetry which consists of fourteen lines normally written in iambic pentameter. It typically discusses spiritual matters and affairs of the heart. There are, however, many interpretations of this definition.

The earliest seems to be the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, with a rhyme scheme abba-abba-cde-cde; a theme is displayed and expounded in the first two quatrains, a new theme is introduced in the following three lines (marked by a 'turn' or volta in the ninth line) and the whole is concluded in the last three lines. Often, the six concluding lines present a solution to a dilemma or problem posed in the first eight lines.

The familiar English sonnet form as we know it was first introduced in the 16th century. Prior to that, poets like Milton contented themselves with the Italian form. The English form scans as abab-cdcd-efef-gg; a triptych of related images evolves in the three quatrains and a conclusion is given in the last two lines. Shakespeare in particular was enamoured by this form (example here).

There are modern forms of the sonnet as well, with other shapes and sizes. Hopkins, for example, played with the sonnet form more conventionally in 'As Kingfishers Catch Fire...':

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

He also used the unusual 3/4 sonnet in poems such as 'Pied Beauty':

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

As you can see, the sonnet takes many forms. Consider this last example, 'Affair of the Heart (guest starring several other organs)'. What kind of a sonnet is it, and how does it achieve its effects?

A serenade is coursing through my gut:
The wine and other wine and soup and beer,
The pesky discourse of the radiant slut,
The urinary moiety of fear.
Still here to come the stew of Irish style
That loiters with a cannibal intent,
A battery of a salt-and-pepper guile
Provoking now dyspeptic accident.

Then comes the coffee and the last goodbye.
And suddenly the shock is too damn' near;
A last tear for the last girl of my eye.
My tent! My hut! My residence so dear!
The lawyers and their wallet-turning thugs
Make alimonious hell of secret hugs.


A sestina is a poem that has 6 stanzas (of 6 lines each) followed by a stanza of 3 lines (a tercet). Every stanza uses the same words at the end of each line, but in a different order in each stanza. The last stanza (the tercet) must use the same 6 words in the middle and at the end of each line.

This is an example.



Tina and Seth met in the midst of an overcrowded militarism.
"Like a drink?" he asked her. "They make great Alexanders over at the Marxism-Leninism."
She agreed. They shared cocktails. They behaved cautiously, as in a period of pre-fascism.
Afterwards he suggested dinner at a restaurant renowned for its Maoism.
"O.K.," she said, but first she had to phone a friend about her ailing Afghan, whose name was Racism.
Then she followed Seth across town past twilit alleys of sexism.

The waiter brought menus and announced the day's specials. He treated them with condescending sexism,
So they had another drink. Tina started her meal with a dish of militarism,
While Seth, who was hungrier, had a half portion of stuffed baked racism.
Their main dishes were roast duck for Seth, and for Tina broiled Marxism-Leninism.
Tina had pecan pie a la for dessert, Seth a compote of stewed Maoism.
They lingered. Seth proposed a liqueur. They rejected sambuca and agreed on fascism.

During the meal, Seth took the initiative. He inquired into Tina's fascism,
About which she was reserved, not out of reticence but because Seth's sexism
Had aroused in her a desire she felt she should hide - as though her Maoism
Would willy-nilly betray her feelings for him. She was right. Even her deliberate militarism
Couldn't keep Seth from realizing that his attraction was reciprocated. His own Marxism-Leninism
Became manifest, in a compulsive way that piled the Ossa of confusion on the Pelion of racism.

Next, what? Food finished, drinks drunk, bills paid - what racism
Might not swamp their yearning in an even greater confusion of fascism?
But women are wiser than words. Tina rested her hand on his thigh and, a-twinkle with Marxism-Leninism,
Asked him, "My place?" Clarity at once abounded under the flood-lights of sexism,
They rose from the table, strode out, and he with the impetuousness of young militarism
Hailed a cab to transport them to her lair, heaven-haven of Maoism.

In the taxi he soon kissed her. She let him unbutton her Maoism
And stroke her resilient skin, which was quivering with shudders of racism.
When beneath her jeans he sense the superior Lycra of her militarism,
His longing almost strangled him. Her little tongue was as potent as fascism
In its elusive certainty. He felt like then and there tearing off her sexism
But he reminded himself: "Pleasure lies in patience, not in the greedy violence of Marxism-Leninism."

Once home, she took over. She created a hungering aura of Marxism-Leninism
As she slowly undressed him where he sat on her overstuffed art-deco Maoism,
Making him keep still, so that she could indulge in caresses, in sexism,
In the pursuit of knowing him. He groaned under the exactness of her racism
- Fingertip sliding up his nape, nails incising his soles, teeth nibbling his fascism.
At last she guided him to bed, and they lay down on a patchwork of Old American militarism.

Biting his lips, he plunged his militarism into the popular context of her Marxism-Leninism,
Easing one thumb into her fascism, with his free hand coddling the tip of her Maoism,
Until, gasping with appreciative racism, both together sink into the revealed glory of sexism.

- Harry Mathews, 1988 (Taken from The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997, ed. Harold Bloom)


Would anyone like to begin a commentary for us on how this poem works? And achieves its effects? :)


'The Waking'

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

- Theodore Roethke, 1953.

While I'm on a roll today I thought I would share one of my favourite poems.

It's a villanelle, btw, meaning "it consists of five tercets [3-line stanzas] and a quatrain [4-line stanza], all on two rhymes, and with systematic later repetitions of lines 1 and 3 of the first tercet".

Another lovely villanelle can be found here.


Norwegian and Polynesian Literatures

(This is a comment on Ian's post from April 21. I upgraded it to a post when it became too long.)

Ian, you sound like you're answering TOK Qn 5 (the one with Noam Chomsky's quote) here. :)

I must say that I agree with ballista. Literature - art in general - and science and mathematics are people's representation/explanation of the world to themselves, and reveal both insights into the world and into the authors. And, have you read Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat)? Try it if you haven't - he's a neurologist who writes like an angel. And you might think after that that science tells us something about humanity too.

I think it's fair to say that we can understand (to an extent), through the books we read, the authors and, from there, the world that the authors were writing in. But we should perhaps also consider the following:

(a) To glean insights into an artist's life/personality/thoughts through an examination of his/her creations alone seems to be a rather lopsided exercise, and more guesswork/clairvoyance than scholarship sometimes.

Where the tale ends and where the author begins (& whether it's possible to find that line) - how much of the author is in the tale - is a tricky issue and many authors have explored it to great effect. If you have time, pick up The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and let him play with your mind.

(b) It's an old chestnut from TOK - that our interpretation of works from alien cultures/periods may draw more upon the ideas from our own culture/time than our knowledge/understanding of those of the works in question.

So when we read Medea (by Euripides in the 400sBC!) or Hamlet (from 1600s England), and discuss the feminist or Freudian issues in these texts, we should be aware that these are modern interpretation frameworks that we are using on much older texts. In the same way, saying that Huck Finn was an angsty teenager ignores the fact that the idea of teenage-hood is a twentieth-century concept, whereas Mark Twain was writing in the 1870s-80s. :-( Our assumptions that characters should be rounded and psychologically realistic are fairly modern assumptions as well (eighteenth century onwards?) and thus if we choose to judge Medea on these terms, we should at least be aware that they were not the same terms that Euripides' audience judged the play on.


But, coming back to Ian's main idea (that we may understand humanity through its art - literature) - I thought, after a degree in literature, that studying literature written only in the English language meant that you understood only the English-speaking world and (let's be modest) only a tiny bit of it at that (I can't say I understand much of the Jamaican world after only having read 2 Jamaican authors). So I would proposed, for all out there (all one of you, I guess) who are interested in studying literature to understand life, why not try comparative literature? And compare 2 really different literatures, like English and Chinese, or Russian and Swahili, to get the full flavour of humanity.

That's the end of a long post to end the drought! (And if I've made any mistakes here, please let me know & I'll gladly correct it.)


Thursday, June 14, 2007

'Sick Leave'

When I'm asleep, dreaming and lulled and warm -
They come, the homeless ones, the noiseless dead.
While the dim charging breakers of the storm
Bellow and drone and rumble overhead,
Out of the gloom they gather about my bed.
They whisper to my heart; their thoughts are mine.
'Why are you here with all your watches ended?
From Ypres to Frise we sought you in the Line.'
In bitter safety I awake, unfriended;
And while the dawn begins with slashing rain
I think of the Battalion in the mud.
'When are you going out to them again?
Are they not still your brothers through our blood?'

- Siegfried Sassoon (1917, at Craiglockhart Hospital)

The next time you're on MC, think about us in the mud.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Playing Twenty Questions with Literature

Playing Twenty Questions with Literature is an excellent way to look at literary analysis. Answer all twenty questions and you are reasonably assured of having made a good stab at analysing the text before you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Everyone talks about Web 2.0 and how it will affect literature in our generation.


Friday, May 4, 2007

TONY Good Reading Bracket Contest

This is your opportunity to decide which books a savvy New Yorker should be reading. Has an entertainment value all its own.


This would make you an ultimate English scholar, if you could afford it. Sigh. We live in hope...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Political Poetry

There is much to read about kingship in Shakespeare; there is also much poetry. In fact, there are two Shakespearean plays written entirely in poetry, and both deal with kingship: This is one (John of Gaunt's words here, in lines 42-51, are especially poignant), and there is another king who received the same treatment elsewhere (bonus question: who is it?).

But the issue of kingship is always one of power, even in lands without kings; the Israelites clamoured for a king and got one, despite warnings as to the meaning and power of such a symbol. One can sense the burning laughter of God at the end of that chapter.

And that brings us to the idea of political poetry - poetry written for the express purpose of saying something about a country, a state, a political entity; often, to infuse or extol qualities in it - sometimes, the reverse. How much of poetry is political in nature? How much of it was successful?

For those of you who haven't seen a merlion, or who haven't read this before, here is the poem which is said to be the 'seminal poem on nation-building'. You be the judge.


(for Maurice Baker)

I have sailed many waters,
Skirted islands of fire,
Contended with Circe
Who loved the squeal of pigs;
Passed Scylla and Charybdis
To seven years with Calypso,
Heaved in battle against the gods.
Beneath it all
I kept faith with Ithaca, travelled,
Travelled and travelled,
Suffering much, enjoying a little;
Met strange people singing
New myths; made myths myself.

But this lion of the sea
Salt-maned, scaly, wondrous of tail,
Touched with power, insistent
On this brief promontory...

Nothing, nothing in my days
Foreshadowed this
Half-beast, half-fish,
This powerful creature of land and sea.

Peoples settled here,
Brought to this island
The bounty of these seas,
Built towers topless as Ilium's.

They make, they serve,
They buy, they sell.

Despite unequal ways,
Together they mutate,
Explore the edges of harmony,
Search for a centre;
Have changed their gods,
Kept some memory of their race
In prayer, laughter, the way
Their women dress and greet.
They hold the bright, the beautiful,
Good ancestral dreams
Within new visions,
So shining, urgent,
Full of what is now.

Perhaps having dealt in things,
Surfeited on them,
Their spirits yearn again for images,
Adding to the dragon, phoenix,
Garuda, naga those horses of the sun,
This lion of the sea,
This image of themselves.

Edwin Thumboo

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A blog that only an English major can love?


Saturday, April 21, 2007

love lit, love life.

I've been thinking of what I want to pursue in the future. With each passing day in class, the passing of lessons, and with the discourse of knowledge, I am increasingly inclined to make literature my future.

What makes literature so appealing to me for one? To me, without literature, you will never be able to understand the human race. The human race is so complex and each person in this planet is vastly different from the other. Literature to me encapsulates this understanding. It is through the study of one's character and personality as highlighted by the author that makes the reader understand, perhaps abstractly the psyche of the character. Take King Lear for example.

I once exclaimed to my teacher, Mrs Goh in the middle of class "oh why does Cordelia die!". And like all literature teachers, Mrs Goh went into a tirade of reasons as to why Lear brought it upon himself. That to me is the beauty of literature. That by understanding the psyche, the background, the personality of the character, are we then able to understand the character. It is painful to read about a one-dimensional character simply because he/she is so shallow, so colourless and so drab. Conversely, none of us are shallow, colourless or drab, and even if we are, there are so many forces that make us as such. Using the analogy of King Lear, we are able to see from the bigger picture as to why Lear is as such, why Cordelia as such and so on. Literature to me is a microcosm of the human race - where the human race seems to write about themselves in a third person.

To me, you understand lit, you understand life. Similarly, you love lit, you love life. Why so? Take for example Celie's narrative in The Color Purple. To me, the most poignant line is - "I spent fifteen minutes with my children. And she been going on for months bout how ungrateful I sis. White folks is a miracle of affliction, say Sophia." It makes you feel for the character. You see how Sophia Butler, induitably a domineering, strong-willed spirit can descend to such resignation, because of the consequence of racism. To some who may not appreciate literature, this would probably incite a "oh. so what?" response. But for me, you want to weep for Sophia because you know that Sophia is not a made-up character. She must have been born out of something in the author. Writing to me is not a blank slate. If one has a blank slate one is unable to write anything - think Lear "nothing will come out of nothing". Something must be there. And that something must be caused by larger historical factors. Understanding this would enable us to understand the human race.

Understanding the human race is only caused by understanding literature. Honestly, to me at least, it is impossible to understand the human race through Science or Mathematics. Granted, we can understand the composition of the human race, but never the behaviour of humans. How can atoms, molecules, sigma, pi and Pythagoras aid us in our understanding of human behaviour?

Literature on the other hand, gives us those insights to how us humans behave. It gives us a deeper understand as to how us humans carry ourselves in our daily discourse.

And if can see that, you will gradually love literature. Once you get that love for literature, you will be granted insights into life. And with those insights, you will gradually learn to love life.

- signing of from the class of joppa

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

U of Chicago

What wonderful questions for personal essays!

Makes me want to apply for university all over again! Aren't you guys the lucky ones. :)


Monday, April 16, 2007


"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," says the Bard. In fact, he seemed to have an unending fascination for the theme of kingship. Part of this might of course be attributed to the fact that he was a political hack, churning out plays sometimes partly for the benefit of his company's interaction with the English crown.

But whether you're reading Huckleberry Finn, The Drawing of the Dark, or one of Alfred Duggan's numerous mini-masterpieces on obscure nobles and rulers, you will return to this theme. For the theme of kingship is that of the delegation of universal authority, whether this authority is seen as the Mandate of Heaven or the Divine Right. What ails the king ails the nation; what triumphs a ruler gains show the blessings of the beyond.

It is particularly instructive to read Macbeth, King Lear and Julius Caesar one after another and in various combinations. Many people have essayed at least one; a number have commented on all three as a group. Even President Clinton has had his say. Then again, those who prefer the hurly-burly of the business world might have a slightly different perspective.

Sometimes, we read Lear and Macbeth as tragedy, as poetry, as psychological study. That is all fine and good. But as miniature riffs on one of the oldest of mankind's themes, they are elegant exemplars, portraits done in fine lines of atrament upon a field of snow. "Here lies one whose name was writ in water," says a famous tombstone in Rome. Thank goodness Shakespeare's words were written in a more durable medium.

Conversational Terrorism

How many of you are guilty of these? :)


this my personal favourite:


This technique requires prior knowledge of some embarrassing mistake or painful event in the other person's life. This knowledge can be woven into a comment in a way that agitates the other person without direct reference. A key word or phrase is tossed out like a grenade that embarrasses or humiliates the other person.

"What was it your ex-wife used to say?"
"Didn't we already have this argument just before you went through the de-tox program?"


Saturday, April 14, 2007


Is Robert Frost's 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' one of your Part 2 poems?

The last stanza might resonate with many in the coming months. :)

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."


Political literature

I think that Amelia has raised some good and interesting issues in her posting, but I'll leave it to other folks to comment on it - I think you have already heard enough from me regarding the ending. I'm sure there are others out there who are grappling too with the ending in _Huck Finn_? Or with the humour?


My posting is more interested in the relationship between literature and politics. I had followed a link to this website - http://www.kettering.edu/~mgellis/HANDT015.htm - from another blog, and there Dr Mark Gellis says

"It is important, by the way, to keep the political aspect of literature in mind. Nothing is more political than literature, even when it overtly makes an argument about a particular political issue, because so much of literature is concerned with power and morality, about what is true, good, and possible, about what is just and beautiful, about who has power and who should have power in society and in the family, and how that power should be employed, and for what ends. It is hard to find a work of literature that does not ask us to join with or join against certain characters (or the narrator); in doing this, a work of literature becomes an argument for (or against) a particular political, ethical, social, and/or moral agenda."

A compelling point of view. Now, look at this question from the Higher Level November 2004 paper:

“A writer cannot put literature and politics on an equal footing without failing as a writer.” How far does writing you have studied confirm or question this view?


:) What do you think? What is the quote in the HL question saying/implying/assuming? Whose view are you more inclined to agree with? Take a stab at it, go on.


Friday, April 13, 2007

class talk

Okay this might not be related to electronic literature at all, but I hope you guys can bear with me as i rant about Huck Finn again.

As i read the article by Leo Marx, i was wondering if Twain's way of ending Huck Finn can ever be justified. We all know how the ending goes - Huck subscribes to Tom's fantasies, and the moral purpose of the book seemed to disappear altogether. The ending appears to be disappointing, but is it truly unexpected?

If one is patient enough to read the book a second time, you'll find that the clues that hint toward this somewhat tragic ending are subtle, but they are present. A central theme of this book would be Twain's criticism of a decadent society - a society that appears pious and goes to church, but shoots and kills the next day. However, ruthless murders aside, we see genuinely good-natured people like the Phelps subscribing to this pseudo-religion as well. To me, their blindness to the crime of slavery is one of deliberate ignorance. Societal pressures have grained into their minds that slavery is the way the world works, but this notion might not have entered their hearts. Thus, people like the Phelps then turn to religion (or pseudo-religion) to desensitize their hearts to issues of racism; they continue doing good deeds and loving their neighbours so that they can see themselves as righteous. By doing so, they create for themselves a kind of self-righteousness that they can turn to, so as to avoid confronting the bigger question of racism and slavery. In a sense, they subscribe to a kind of make-believe to get by.

So, if the people of that time could subscribe to pseudo-religion to be at peace with their distorted notion of morality, why do we disallow Huck to return to Tom's world of make-believe at the end of the novel? Maybe this is Huck's way of dealing with the harsh reality of it all: that the ideals represented by the raft and his sound heart are impossible. In a way, it's like how Twain returns to the burlesque at the end of the novel after taking the reader through serious issues of morality - it was his way of dealing with reality. He brought up the real issues, but he didn't solve them.

[Clemens was able to] "point to what contradicts it in the facts; but not in order to abandon the genteel tradition, for (he had) nothing solid to put in its place." - George Santayana

Huimin and i were talking about this after one English class, and the conversation was about how we wouldn't mind being children again if we had the choice. Well, i guess that's subject to personal experience, but the point is that we all deal with reality in different ways. When people face a problem in real life, some of them shout it out, some of them indulge in computer games, some of them read a book, and some of them try to laugh it off. And we know some problems never get solved. In the same way, Twain embarks on the noble cause of tackling such problematic issues in Huck Finn; but when he realises that what he was saying then wouldn't appeal to his audience, he returns to the burlesque and reduces everything to a farce, in an effort to try and laugh everything off.

This is what i would like to think: you know when you say something and it turns out offensive to the other person, and then you try to laugh it off by saying you were just kidding, or by saying that the same applies to you? Well, that's perhaps how Twain felt. It's like a nervous laughter.

As for the electronic literature post, the video said something about form and content being separate? Well, in a remote sense, the form of Huck Finn may be appropriate, since Huck is now back where he came from, but the content does not favour this form at all. Haha but that's quite a remote point. Oh well.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Electronic text

I immediately thought of this video i saw on youtube, its by some professor specializing in new forms of communication. Its just an interesting visual take on the possibilites of new forms of electronic text... it was featured on the front page of youtube, i happened to chance across it.

Also, since youtube videos are a relatively new form of communication medium, that makes it even more interesting. Its a new communication medium being used to talk about other new forms of communication mediums. Think about the possibilities of that : ).


Monday, April 9, 2007

Hypertext; non-linear narrative

An excerpt from _Postmodern American Fiction_ (1998):

"For many observers... the advent of electronic textual forms represents a potentially historic transformation of literature, one where the reader's self-guided tour through a series of linked and interrelated 'lexias' (or blocks of text) departs sharply from the model of a single, linear narrative compelled by the printed page. Michael Joyce's _afternoon, a story_ (1990) has been celebrated both for the gracefulness of its prose and for its realization of the possibilities of hypertext narrative. Using the inter-connected and random properties of the hypertext reading experience to simulate the tangles of memory, _afternoon_ explores the consciousness of a writer named Peter, who is drawn into premonitions of loss and tragedy that - depending upon the paths through the text the reader chooses - lead toward different and often ambiguous outcomes."

If you're interested in hypertext narratives, check out

These examples may be (and probably are) dated, coming out of the early 1990s. Can anyone point us to more recent development in electronic literature?