Sunday, December 30, 2007

Preparatory Reading

For those of you who are getting started with the course reading, the first text -- Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co. -- is the foundation for our understanding of all the readings that follow. Read Stalky & Co. as a literary manifestation of the code of masculinity that was uniform in the British Empire to 1945.

Kipling is a very great author. The fact that he provokes intense emotional reactions from literati both for an against is a mark of his undeniable and peerless literary excellence. There is little worse than an author expressing views that you loathe with supreme literary genius -- and little better on the other side.

Be sure to engage the book on its own terms in the first reading, and try to gain sensibility for its aesthetic: Stalky & Co. had almost universal reach and its direct literary influence on English life & letters is practically impossible to overstate.

It is in many ways very contemporary: picaresque and crude, written in note-perfect sub-group vernacular, and a very rare inner-portrait of an under-culture by a legitimate member who happened also to possess the ability to express the reality in brilliant fiction.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Course Outline: Spring 2008

ENGLISH 342: Evening
"Among the Thugs: Masculinity and its Discontents
From End of Empire to Third Way."

A number of short but highly influential post-World War II novels share a common inspiration: the mutual and open aggression between the British social establishment and young men of the lower-middle and working classes. The succession of labels given by generations of order and authority to deride this type—stroppers, louts, mods and rockers, hooligans, yobs, punks, lads and, recently, chavs and hoodies—are eloquent testimony in language to the enduring antagonism. In the historical context, the novels will be read against the rapid decline of Britain after her pyrrhic victories in the two World Wars: the martial masculinity bred to build and sustain Empire at once devalued and feared in the post-Colonial Welfare state. In the literary context, we will examine the development from the “angry young man” novel to today’s “new laddism”: the latter genre containing the attempts by Martin Amis and Nick Hornby to write a “Third Way” form of British masculinity capable of being accommodated within the feminism and socialism of New Labour's social legacy.

Note: cinema and popular music also took inspiration from these issues and samples from “Trainspotting” and “Quadrophenia” to "The Football Factory" will illustrate our study.

Kipling, Rudyard: Stalky & Co.
Greene, Graham: Brighton Rock
Stillitoe, Alan: Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Burgess, Anthony: Clockwork Orange
Amis, Martin: Success
Hornby, Nick: High Fidelity

Lydon, Johnny: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
Hornby, Nick: Fever Pitch

15% Class participation
10% Class presentation
20% Group polemical project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2000 words)
35% Final paper (approx. 3000 words)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

This Instructoral Thug Thanks You!

Well: please accept my thanks to you faithful attendees of "Among the Thugs." 9:30 is very early in the day for me, but I loved coming every time. The seminar portions of our course always seemed to go particularly well -- I often sat back and smiled at your independent engagement with the themes.
We ended on a wonderful note for yours truly -- the palpable disquiet in the class as the echoes of 1984 grew to a crescendo in the conclusion to Nick Hornby's High Fidelity as Rob "submits to" (or, "accepts!") Big Sister is recognition that the "thugs" are getting the boot ... again: but this time from size 4 DMs and sensible pumps and Aldos. My credit to you and your sympathy for the British Thug and his treatment in fiction.

N.b. Once the course grades are submitted, please come back here & add your comments to this post, free of marking issues ...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Final Paper

The three-thousand-word Final Paper is due in my Department mailbox at midnight Monday August 1st. Because of the generous deadline (I can't help it; excessive niceness is a character flaw of mine) I will be enforcing the three-per-cent-per-day penalty with rigour (even relish.)
The topic of the paper is open to you within the limit that it has to (a) include treatment of at least two assigned course texts, and (b) argue within the context of British masuclinity after 1945. Secondary sources are advisable and should conform to the standard in the English Department Style Guide.
I am available at anytime by e-mail, in my Office Hours as usual, or by appointment to discuss your topic, review your thesis paragraph, or suggest ideas and raise dialectical objections.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Thugs and 7/7

Perhaps our course might have provided some framework for understanding, or even predicting the outcome of, significant and troubling post 7/7 events like this.
Football hooligans communicating over the internet have spoken of the need to put aside partisan support for teams and unite against Muslims. Hooligans from West Ham, Millwall, Crystal Palace and Arsenal are among those seeking to establish common cause.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Christopher Hitchens & Stalky-ism

I included Christopher Hitchens in today's lecture on Martin Amis as one of the Oxbridge set who affect a clotted prose, a cult of dipsomania and a sneering anti-conservatism that is well-reflected in their posed photographs.
No-one -- very truly, no one -- is seemingly at greater remove from Kipling and Stalky-ism than Hitchens. Indeed, Hitchens is a formal
advocatus diaboli for the Roman Catholic Church - he has argued with customary fetid relish (and, a pert paradox, equally customary lack of taste) that Mother Theresa was a monstress.
Yet in
this article published in today's UK Daily Mail, Hitchens responds to 7/7 -- like an aging and decrepit war-horse catching the sound of a bugle -- with an identifiably Stalky-esque patriotism; unwitting testimony to that model's durability.

We shall track down those responsible. States that shelter them will know no peace. Communities that shelter them do not take forever to discover their mistake. And their sordid love of death is as nothing compared to our love of London, which we will defend as always, and which will survive this with ease.
"This we learned from famous men,
Knowing not we learned it.
Only, as the years went by—
Lonely, as the years went by—
Far from help as years went by,
Plainer we discerned it."

[Rudyard Kipling: "Dedication"]

"The Quiet Power of the Stoic"

Andrew Sullivan has this article in the current Time magazine, which he calls on his blog "The Uses of Stoicism."
Victory in this war will be elusive and never complete. As long as
some maniac wants to kill himself and others in a subway or supermarket, we will not be able to stop him. And so stoicism matters. Getting on with our lives matters. Spelling bees, college football, celebrity gossip, high school proms: the simple continuance of these things is integral to the meaning of freedom.

Or so the British have long proved. Their small-c conservatism can lead to errors of complacency--like appeasing Hitler in the 1930s. But it is also a deep strength, as self-effacing as it is unmovable. When mass murder comes to America again, and it will, we could do worse than remember their stoicism. And how modestly powerful it is.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Blair praises Londoners "stoicism"

From today's online Guardian:
"I would also pay tribute to the stoicism and resilience of the people of London who have responded in a way typical of them."

British Stoicism

The following is from (Sullivan being an expat) and insists on stoicism as essentially an English - not an American - national characteristic.

THE BRITS AND STOICISM: Here's one cultural difference between Brits and Americans. Brits regard the best response to outrage to carry on as if nothing has happened. Yes, they will fight back. But first, they will just carry on as normal. Right now, a million kettles are boiling. "Is that the best you can do?" will be a typical response. Stoicism is not an American virtue. Apart from a sense of humor, it is the ultimate British one. Neveratoss captures this perfectly today:
Went to the pub at lunchtime to see the latest new on events in London. Three young guys were sitting directly in front of the TV as details of a major terrorist attack on London were emerging – all three avidly reading the Sun's account of the Steven Gerard/Liverpool fiasco.

That's a reference to a soccer story. Do not mistake this attitude for indifference. It's a very English form of determination.

WHY CRICKET MATTERS TODAY: An emailer reminds me of another Englishman's commentary on seeking pleasure and diversion even in wartime, perhaps especially in wartime: "I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun... The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound
mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the latest new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature."C.S.
Lewis, of course, in a 1939 sermon at St Mary the Virgin in Oxford. Yes, England beat Australia today - by
nine wickets.