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.

Monday, July 04, 2005

British -vs- French: From the Top

The British-French antagonism expressed in much thug literature is evident at the top. At the G8 summit, French President Chiraq insulted British cooking:
The only thing [the British] have ever given European farming is mad cow ... You can't trust people who cook as badly as that," he said. "After Finland, it's the country with the worst food.

What I wonder is what "Le Ver" has against the Finns!
No 10 reacted with disbelief, saying it would not respond to such undiplomatic comments. British officials were particularly angered by the mad cow remark, saying that France had exacerbated the BSE crisis by refusing to accept British beef after it had been declared safe.
So, it's "steak 'n kidley" for us in class on Wednesday!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Government Yobs

The government in England is, it seems, as anti-social as the yobs. ("Teenagers" below is newspeak for "thugs."
If, as Tony Blair has demanded, teenagers are to show greater respect and behave with civility, let us hope they do not take their cue from the bickering members of his own Government. The secret Number 10 minutes of a meeting between the Prime Minister and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, disclosed by our Political Editor today, are a pitiful insight into an administration at odds with itself, presiding over a shambolic law and order policy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Light posting explained.

Sorry for the light posting this week -- I'm beavering away grading your essays. I read them all through in a relaxed way to give them their literay due. Then I go back and re-read them and make editorial corrections, note my analyses of your dialectic, and leave sundry observations literary and scholarly.
Full blogging will resume after lecture tomorrow, including a recapitulation of Sillitoe.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sense on Student Coffee Cents

A good, sound fisking over at Ann Althouse's blog concerning students & coffee shops ...
A café is not just the coffee. It is an entire hours-long experience that contributes to your success as a student. It's true that to be financially savvy you have to realize that you spend a lot of money by spending a small amount of money on a daily basis, but there are much worse daily expenses that call out to students: bars, movies, cigarettes, fatty snacks.

"Clockwork Orange" Comes to Pass: "happy slapping."

The wider relevence of this course is indicated in this article from today's Sunday Telegraph:

The violence seen in the video obtained by this newspaper has echoes of the extreme violence portrayed in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange. In the film, a gang of youths travels the country to commit violent acts, including rapes and murders, for fun. Jan Harlan, the late director's brother-in-law, who helped to make the Oscar-nominated film, said that such violence was "beginning to make A Clockwork Orange seem like Bambi".
He said: "Violence is on a totally different level than it used to be. We do not realise how violent the whole world has become in the last few decades. The danger is that in the next 30 or 40 years there will be a huge crowd of uneducated young men with nothing to do except become more violent and anti-social."

Thugs -vs- Military

Britain's centre-left government has now called the Army into the streets to defend England against invasion by .... yobs (i.e. backwards boys).

Mid-Term Essay: Comments & Replies

Use the comments section of this post to ask last-minute questions about the essay, including specific editing, for peer review and intructorial response.
I'll monitor regularily for the rest of the day & evening ....

Friday, June 17, 2005

Group Blogging Project Bleg

Would everyone please post the url of their Group blog into the comments section here: I'll then post and cross post.
Please also add your group's ideas for publicising your blog ....

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Aristotle on Thuggishness

A class-fellow sent me an excellent and typical quotation from Xanthippe's husband on how he would understand thuggishness.
I came across this the other day and I thought you might find it interesting. The rest of the quotation is as follows.
Man, when perfect, is the best of animals; but if he be isolated from law and justice he is the worst of all. Injustice is all the graver when it is armed injustice; and man is furnished from birth with weapons which are intended to serve the purpose of wisdom and goodness, but which may be used in preference for opposite ends. That’s why, if he be without goodness [of mind and
character], he is a most unholy and savage being, and worse than all others in the indulgence of lust and gluttony
.” Aristotle Politics Book I, Chapter 2.
You will all recognise this as an expression of our now-familar motto: corruptio optima est pessima.

No "Freedom" on MSN Spaces.

Regarding the choice of platform for your weblog, here's one argument against using MSN Spaces:

Microsoft's new Chinese internet portal has banned the words "democracy" and "freedom" from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing's political censors.

Blogging is the antithesis of totalitarianism, so this is Big News in the blogosphere.

Newly Discovered "Stalky" story

Our own Mr. Corsetti reminds me that there has been a relatively recent discovery of a "lost" Stalky chapter, known to Kipling cognoscenti as "Scylla and Charybdis." It thrilled me when I first learned of it, and am grateful to be twigged again of its importance to your knowledge of the Stalky model.
On April 7, 2004, it was reported that an unfinished manuscript belongingto the series had been found. Scylla and Charybdis sees Stalky and hisfriends catch a colonel cheating at golf. The manuscript was discovered byan archivist at a school built on the same site as the author's
ownchildhood school in Windsor, Berkshire. The Kipling Society's secretary Jeffrey Lewis said the novel was probably left unpublished because Kipling did not think it was good enough."He started a second draft and didn't complete it," Lewis told the BBC.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Thugs in the News

We discussed in seminar the appearance of "thugs" in the local news. I took the following Vancouver Province article from "The Voice of Sikh Youth."
As we now know, a 17 year old Sikh from Richmond made up a story of "five thugs" who beat him up and cut off his hair. To their great credit, posters on the forum thread in were mostly not only sceptical but called for prosecution of the Sikh youth were the story to turn out false.
Our interest in the story of course is how our course demographic of -- males between fifteen and thirty-five -- are convenient targets for easy fault. "Blame the thugs" is an ready motto for the media, the government (especially Britain's) and anyone in particular who is having personal problems. The "runaway bride" in America recently, and the young child in Edmonton last year who accidently hung his family dog were similar cases of someone inventing thugs as a way to disguise their own guilt.

Sikh leader, police urge community to remain calm
Five Thugs beat up 17-year-old Sikh beforecutting off hair
John Colebourn and Stuart Hunter
The Province June 1, 2005
CREDIT: Nick Procaylo, TheProvince
A 17-year-old Sikh was attacked by a gang of thugs and had his turban ripped off and hair cut at Grauer Elementary School in Richmond. An Indo-Canadian leader and police appealed for calm yesterday after a young
Sikh's turban was pulled from his head and his long hair cut off by five thugs. "
I'd like to ask my brothers and sisters to remain calm," said Balwant Sanghera, a spokesman for the Sikh Societies of the Lower Mainland. "This is very serious and we have some young men who may get too excited and I urge them to remain calm."
"The hair, the turban, they are all religious symbols to us. I think the people who committed this heinous crime need help." " I hope it's not a hate crime -- it's an isolated incident. I don't remember anything like this in the Lower Mainland
before." Said Richmond RCMP Cpl. Peter Thiessen: "This is absolutely disgusting. Whether this is a hate crime or not, we're not clear yet but it has all the elements that could classify it as a hate crime." This has huge overtones in the Sikh community and we want them to remain calm and not overreact." The 17-year-old Sikh was walking home across
the playing field at Richmond's Grauer Elementary School about 5:15 p.m. last Thursday when five Caucasian men in their 20s who were playing basketball approached. One uttered a racial slur and the Sikh ignored him and kept walking.
But the men ran after him and punched him in the head, knocking him to the ground. Once down, one of them held an X-Acto knife to his neck as the others punched and kicked him. They grabbed the teen's wallet, pulled off his turban and cut
off his hair with the knife. He was treated in hospital for cuts and bruises.
Nav Sanghera, a volunteer with the Indo-Canadian Youth Anti-Violence Group, said the attack "would be very traumatic to a practising Sikh." "This is the ultimate insult. When you go attacking someone's religious conviction it's hard to see it as anything else other than racist."
Kulpreet Singh, 22, a volunteer with the West Coast Sikh Youth Alliance, called the attack disturbing."This is five people targeting an innocent person for no reason -- it's just a racist thing."I think it was just a bunch of thugs. I think this is something a lot of high school students face. It is a very horrible situation."Singh predicted the victim will recover with spiritual guidance."The things they did to him, physically, he will heal from but when it comes to cutting his hair and taking his turban, he will need moral support and spiritual strength."Kasar Bhatti, a member of the Khalsa Diwan Society which runs the Ross Street Temple, predicted a community backlash."It is not only insulting but a desecration of the Sikh faith -- the hair is a symbol and it is to be kept unshorn and in a turban," Bhatti said. "You don't hear about that kind of incident happening very often."This is more than just a little fight in a school yard. The whole community will be upset and have demonstrations -- it's a matter of faith just like if a Muslim or Christian was attacked for his faith."Residents of the well-kept neighbourhood where the attack took place said there have been problems in the past, but nothing so violent."It's shocking. Weekends you hear noise and kids are drinking but I've never heard about problems like this," said Parwez Hamidi, 26.Linda Curial recently moved to Richmond from the Vancouver east side to get away from gang problems.She was surprised no one saw the attack. "You'd think at suppertime people are out working on their yards and someone would have heard or seen something," she said. "There's a lot of people going through the school grounds at that time of day."Police are looking for witnesses.In March, a 28-year-old man was swarmed by a pack of about 20 teens and savagely beaten at Minoru Park in Richmond.Three people are now before the courts on assault charges.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Old vs Young what is the meaning of thug.

From a class-fellow:
What does it mean to be a thug today? I think there is a generational gap when it comes to the word "thug". The older generation (30 years old and up) associate the word with violence and brutality. The younger generation (under 30) associate the word with slang and the hip-hop culture that is prevalent in our society. The word differs in meaning depending on the speaker. What do you think???
I put this on my group's blog:

Monday, June 06, 2005

Mid-Term Essay Assignment

The mid-term essay, due June 20th in lecture, is two thousand words on either a topic of your own choosing (and my approval) or one of the following:
  1. With your choice of material from the course lectures and blog, and any supplementary material of your own discovery, respond to Margaret Atwood's assertion that men's bodies are the most dangerous things on Earth by using Rudyard Kipling's fictional portrait of Stalky and Co.
  2. Graham Greene uses characterisation in his novel Brighton Rock to represent two opposing metaphysical views in the contrast between Ida Arnold and Pinkie. Analyse Greene's superlative command of characterisation in this regard, with Ida and Pinkie personifying authority and thug respectively for your organising schema.
  3. Using the multi-layered representative system that Mordecai Richler encodes into the text of his masterpiece, give an account of Duddy Kravitz's apprenticeship in terms of Charles Darwin's natural selection model of performative masculinity.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

"Brighton Rock" Summary

It is easy from the distance of seventy years to inadequately appreciate Graham Greene's achievement in his creating of Pinkie. The first portrait of an entirely modern type of lad, Greene's Pinkie attracts the reader's sympathy while remaining entirely repellant. When I read the novel, the sharpness that Greene's creates in Pinkie has the pain of razor cuts in my mind. Greene's genius manages to present the "root causes" of Pinkie's situation in the British (specifically, Brighton) working class conditions, and to cut down the upper class in the scene with the two troffs in the bar, without permitting any sensible reader to excuse the course of life that Pinkie chose to follow.

With the full-length study of Ida Arnold, Brighton Rock again uses a character to condemn of a way of life -- or more properly of an approach to life -- while sustaining a sympathy in the reader. Ida is the middle class -- "the great law-abiding middle class" -- and their shallow hedonistic and tolerant attitude to life is mercilessly vivisected by Greene through Ida and Darrow's banal experience of religion compared with Pinkie's purely existential knowledge that he will burn in Hell eternally. "This is Hell; nor are we out of it." Yet Ida's is shown to us with a twinkle. As she prepares herself to commit adultery with Phil, she is "a great big blossoming surprise." To a degree, Greene's metier was "epater les bourgeois."

Moreover, it is Greene's literary gift to be able to write a novel of pure realism takes place in a Christian ontology. The metaphysic of Hell has few superior literary representations, yet the novel never violates the unity of its ninteen-thirties Brighton setting, nor its realist conventions.

Behind all, of course, is the Stalky model. Prewitt is a protrait of ruin: yet ruination explicitly from a public school and a "great Head." Himself a public schoolboy, and one who repeatedly tried to escape by (failed attempts at) killing himself, Greene is nonetheless unable to escape the Stalky model in defining a height from which a fall will be great. Pinkie's failure is exemplified by the distance that his "Co." lies from the harmonious complementary mutuality that portrayed in Kipling's masterpiece of young British manhood.

And Brighton Rock seemingly makes it impossible to miss the contrast between Stalky's world and Pinkie's in the matter of women. Where women were side concerns -- a plot device -- for both Stalky and Kipling, the trajectory of Pinkie's downfall matches precisely, from beginning to end, the trajectory of his relationship with Rose. And in relation to the organising themes of our course, the competition, battle and rivalry between males that Darwin's sexual selection declares to be universal is ubiquitious - Pinkie is is direct competion with Hale, Spicer, Cubbitt and Colleoni.

Finally, on the matter of masculinity as performace, and of the lads' failure to performace, let Ida's comment stand for the novel's -- indeed, all the course novels' -- message:
"Men always failed you when it came to the act."

What a Lad Looks Like

You may have seen one of these on campus. Observe the Poster Child for what our culture regards as absolute failure: a young working-class male between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five. A lad, in other words. And thus does society turn boys into lads ....

CBC on Britain vs. the Lads

The authorities change, but the antagonism to lads endures. Shoel sends us this link to a story CBC NewsWorld broadcast recently on the latest crackdown on the lads: a ban on ....... a style of clothing!

Nb: When you bring up the story on the CBC homepage, click "RealTime Video" under "Choose Your Media" on the top right.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Why Blogs are Great: # 87692.

"In the future, everyone will be Hitler for fifteen minutes."
Ha, as they say, ha. [Via Instapundit.]

Nb. This is a blog riff on Godwin's Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." This is otherwise known as an "argumentum ad hitlerum."
In my experience -- all too lengthy -- Godwin's Law is infalliable.

Soundtrack for our Course

If a yob could do new-beats/hiphop/garage music, listenable for rock fans, that gave a cohesive literary-level narrative to New Labour laddism, his name would be Mike Skinner, his nom-de-rap would be The Streets, he would have been born and raised in Brum and would live now in Brixton (Brixton!), Kristna L. would have turned me on to it at our first lecture, he would have called this concept-album epitome a grand don't come for free, and I would have ordered it for our Media Collection, and it would be available for you to sign-out & listen to.

And it is so.

Quadrophenia & "The Guinea Pig"

The "Brighton" clips from from the movie version of The Who's masterwork Quadrophenia helped set up our study of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. Both the film and the double-album rock opera are very relevant to our course, providing as they do another artistic representation of failed masculinity: a young man unable to find validation and suffering from a aggressive impulses without sanctioned expression. The title -- "Quadrophenia"-- can refer in part to the multiple ways in which the lad's masculinity fails: with women, with other men, with his family, with the authorities. At my request, the Media Collection at our Library has a copy of the dvd available for home viewing. If you have an opportunity to watch it, you'll enjoy the film.

Nb: Here is a black & white period picture of mods & rockers in early 60s Brighton.

By the bye, Rolling Stone magazine makes mention of The Who's ".... thuggish, working-class youth image [and they suggest that] .... it was more than image."

The Media Collection also has a copy of The Guinea Pig for home viewing. A 1960s British film starring a young-ish Richard Attenborough, it is generally regarded, along with Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, as the cinema-juste for early lad-lit. I find it formulaic and clearly inferior to the subtlty, craft, daring, authenticity unflorced tenderness and insightful realism of The Browning Version. But, that's just me. Please see for yourself if you have the chance.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Article: World Record Marriage

Please keep this article in mind -- specifically the couple's individual answers to what makes a happy marriage -- for when we study Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.

Peer Seminar Discussion

One the advantages of blogging a course is the ability to informally publish scholarly analyses from seminar that would otherwise get no further airing. Yesterday's discussion of Rob Roy in terms of the two genres under study was most exceptionally strong, (humblingly so, in fact.) Accordingly, I will use this post to edit and copy any of your written summaries that I receive. I encourage you to continue the discussion in the "Comments" section ...

  1. Justice: Stalky & Co. has it. There is a reason there for the violence and it is always rationalised & controlled (as in the larger Empire model). The punishments fit the crime and there is always justice done after the rebellion. Comparatively, as far as Pinkie is concerned there is no justice. He commits murder and gets away with it. It can be argued that the lack of justice is Pinkie's downfall. He gets in over his head, has no sense of plausible boundaries to guide his behavior and, thus uncontrolled, things prove to be too much for him to handle. [Instructor: I liked very much the analogy you came up with in class of Pinkie as a "wind-up toy murderer." He just buzzes about from some inner compulsion, and in the absence of respected baffles or blinds to guide him on a sensible direction, he ultimately simply wheels & careers over a cliff.]
  2. My comment in class today was that the characters in Brighton Rock differ strongly from those in Stalky & Co. with regards to confidence. As you mentioned in one of the Stalky lectures, one thing that makes those boys so frightening (or rather, made them frightening to 19th-century authorities) was their complete and total confidence in themselves and their abilities. In Brighton Rock, characters are constantly speaking and acting out of paranoia and insecurity, rather than out of confidence. I suggested thatthis causes them to act in a reactive rather than proactive manner; it seems that true "stalkiness" would consist of planning a "stalk" and carrying it out accordingly, rather than making a mistake and finding ways to cover it up after-the-fact. [Instructor: Brilliant!] I also posed a question to the class, however convoluted or masturbatory it may be: If confidence is what makes Stalky frightening or "demonic", what does Pinkie's paranoia and insecurity say about Pinkie if we view him as the "fallen" Stalky?
  3. In seminar to-day we discussed the following: 1. Pinkie's phone no: three sixes. We thought this meant that Pinkie, being aged 17, was still a boy, not yet a man, and also that three sixes is the demonic symbol. 2. Cigars are mentioned in connection with Colleoni, a father figure, but when the inspector offers Pinkie a cigarette Pinkie refuses one because he doesn't smoke even cigar-ettes ...
  4. In regards to today's debate question in class (How is Pinkie like a fallen Stalky?) Pinkie's model of behavior and society is a realistic model; while the Stalky model is far too idealistic. Pinkie's world is darker and much lonelier than Stalky's because it is meant to represent real life. Outside of the military school Stalky and his chums attend there is a big badworld that does not care for pranks and tomfoolery. Stalky lives in a world where everyone looks out for one another, while Pinkie lives in a world much like ours, where people look out for No.1. I would appreciate any feedback. Do you believe the world that Pinkie lives in is much more like our own? [Instructor: I certainly do. A minor observation of mine is that the Stalky world is not technically "idealistic." As I enjoy saying so much, Kipling is a literary genius -- of a type for certain, but granted that type a very great genius. His portrayal of the United Services College is idealised - absolutely. However it is much more of realism than its (many) detractors -- then and now -- are either comfortable with or have the courage to admit! Indeed, what is actually behind much of the loathing of Stalky & Co. is the deep but unacknowledged awareness that so much is accurate: the horror, that is, that such a world in microcosm existed, and in principle could exist again]

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Group Assignment: Criteria

The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will create and maintain a Web Log discussing any one of the works on the course reading list in light of a Darwinian view of performative masculinity, using a combination of scholarly and popular representations of Thugs -- or males in general - as either dangerous, inept or unwanted. Your Final Cause will be the advocacy within the blogosphere of the cultural relevance of literay scholarship.

A short tutorial on setting up a blog will be given during seminar this coming Wednesday.

The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during Office Hours, and online most times.

Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries. There will be one group grade for all members.

I will take a snapshot of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

Individual Presentation: Criteria

The individual class assignment is to give an oral presentation of no longer than five minutes on one of the course texts in light of the Stalky model. Your presentation will shed light on the ways in which your selected text represents in fiction the antogonism between the social authorities and young, disaffected single British males.
The intent of the assignment is to help get you started on your Term Paper. You should select your text and approach accordingly - on a topic you are strongly engaged with, either for or against. Following your five-minute presentation, you will receive beneficial response and discussion from your class-fellows to the end of directing (or re-directing) your research.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tribalism Alive & well

Enduring Tribalism.
Look at this picture of today's victorious Champions League winners, Liverpool FC.
Let it be admitted first that academic interpretations of cultural and anthropological phenomena can be, on occasion, to say it kindly, a stretch. What the heck: say it unkindly, pompous and preposterous. That being said, the picture here shows me that primitive emotions and forms of behavior are still part of lad nature. The leader of the tribal warrior (i.e. the team captain) lifts the "trophy" over his head. Now here is my typing of the OED definition of trophy.
Gr. and Rom. Antiq. A structure erected (originally on the field of battle, later in any public place) as a memorial of a victory in war, consisting of arms or other spoils taken from the enemy, hung upon a tree, pillar, etc. and dedicated to some divinity. Hence applied to similar monuments or memorials in later times.
What I saw when I watched this live after class was some chieftan lifting the decapitated head of the defeated rival before the tribe dances in ecstasy of celebration. At the moment, I find no better explanation for the peculiar nature of the ritual depicted in this photograph, or the intensity of the passions of those involved -- both victors and those defeated.
Your thoughts?

Blogging is the NBT

Well, proof positive of my contention that Blogging is the Next Big Thing -- that is, five years on every class will blog like they now eMail -- here.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Posting to "Comments"

For the present, please post comments using the identity choice of "Other." I'm going to see if the spamming problem was isolated: creating blog members comes with problems that I hope to avoid if possible.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Roman Noir - Film Noir & "The Browning Version"

After viewing The Browning Version, one of our class-fellows did some helpful research into film noir & roman noir. Her findings embellish the course theme nicely, and she has kindly allowed me to blog a paragraph or two here.

Film Noir developed out of the gangster and the detective genre, so it may apply to Brighton Rock as well ...
Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts : by Susan Hayward: noir emerged from a period of political instability: 1941-1958, the time of the Second World War and the Cold War. In the United States this was a time of repressed insecurity and paranoia: the American Dream seemed in tatters and American national identity under severe strain. As a result of the war, women had moved into the workforce and had expanded their horizons beyond the domestic sphere--which they had controlled--to go and fight. The men's return to peacetime was a period of maladjustment: what had 'their' women been up to? where was their role at work and in the political culture generally? and what had they fought the war for, only to find the United States involved in a new kind of hostility based in suspicion and paranoia? So the question of national identity was also bound up with the question of masculine identity. noir is not so clear-cut in its misogyny. Film noir gives a very central role to the femme fatale and priveleges her as active, intelligent, powerful. dominant and in charge of her own sexuality--at least until the end of the film when she pays for it (through death or submission to the patriarchial system) .... a break with classic Hollywood cinema's representation of woman (as mother/whore, wife/mistress--passive). These women are interested only in themselves (mirrors....) and in getting enough money by all means foul, to guarantee their independence.

Oxford History of World Cinema, "Britain at the end of Empire."The Browning Version (1951) p.374 does not identiy the film as either Film Noir or as British New Wave, but here's what it says: "With some historical distance from the war it became possible for cinema to question the conventions of masculinity required by patriotism and conventional gender roles. ...The Browning Version...indicts any version of manhod which sets store by stoicism, silence, and repression of feelings. A classics master is shown to have become a wizened, embittered husk through years of mute tolerance of his wife's unfaithfulness, and because of a failure to show his own emotional life, either to her, or to his pupils".
Some other references:

1. "The post-war Age of Anxiety" Cahpter 7 in Film and the Working Class:the
Feature Film in British and American Soc. Peter Stead, 1989.
2. "Hitchcock and Genre: The Classic Thriller Sextet" Chapter 6 in Alfred
Hitchcock and the British CVinema. Tom Ryall, 1986.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


So, where have we progressed to in our course of study? We are looking at a series of British post-war fiction that gives voice to a large number of males between the ages of fifteen and thirty who have an openly antagonistic relationship with the dominant authorities. As times change, the type of people who (as we shall see) hold power change substantially. What is constant, however, is their fear and repression of young men, and the use of derogatory epiphets to define them: "thugs," "hooligans," "teddy boys," "mods," and, currently, "lads."
The attitude of the authorities toward the lads is encapsualted perfectly by our course tag - a quotation from Margaret Atwood:
"Men's bodies are the most dangerous things on Earth"
We are now completing our examination of Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co. which I am arguing is a kind of Urtext (see OED) for twentieth-century British masculinity. In addition to understanding its literary formulation, lecture identified a set of fundamental qualities -- which I refer to as the Stalky model -- that subsequent novelists of troubled masuclinity work both with and against.
These qualities are summarised as follows:

  1. Close-knit group of contrasting male companions.
  2. Unspoken (taboo'd) respect for the larger system.
  3. Resistance, criticism & forms of rebellion written into the system as an outlet against revolution.
  4. "stalkiness" - individual cunning and pluck - beats brawn and size.
  5. A kind and sapient Head.
  6. Stoic-Christian blend that is fully orthodox to neither.
  7. Under the Stoic-Christian ethic, judicious violence is built into the system.
  8. Centrality of performance as a defining value: its ultimate form is a rite of passage.
  9. An authority-confidante -- typically an ecclesiastic - as a personified conscience.

Wednesday's lecture will complete our study of Kipling, discuss the Stalky themes in the course film The Browning Version and introduce Graham Greene and his novel Brighton Rock.

Post-War Britain at its most God-awful

To get a fuller appreciation of how decrepit post-War England had become, and help thereby your sensibility for several of the course texts, read this article from the BBC on the 1985 stadium fire at Valley Parade in Bradford. There are links to several audio clips.

Picture courtesy
On a personal note, I was a visiting spectator at Valley Parade several times as a boy (I supported the cross-town club, Bradford Park Avenue). My father was a boyhood Bradford City supporter, and he broke down when, here in Canada, he heard of the tragedy.

Comments from the "High Fidelity" Post ...

Groan. The "comments" section of the previous "High Fidelity" post has been spammed, so I deleted it.
I've pasted the real comments here:

After viewing "The Browning Version" 2 other films that I would recommend that wondefully portray 'thug-ish' lads for either your ENGL 342 or 369 class are Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels" or to a lesser degree "Snatch." Although both films are clique in the character representations I think the films are lush with extreme cads. (& it's British)
8:37 PM
Dr. S.A. Ogden said...
Dear Felix: well noted. Ritchie's L.S.& 2SB is pretty much the theme movie for contemporary British lad culture. We'll look at sections from a couple or three other movies during lecture throughout the term that embellish the understanding of the fiction. It is worth us watching "The Browning Version" during lecture because it is important to get as full an understanding of the foundational text (Stalky & Co.) as possible, and the culture is so well removed from us that the visual dramatic embellishment is warranted.
10:59 PM
Dr. S.A. Ogden said...
PS:Doubly (at least) so, because it stars Psycho - Stuart Pearce - the yobbo's yobbo who played for England!
3:11 AM
Anonymous said...
I have to admit that my decision to register in English 342, theoretically the last class of my illustrious undergraduate degree, was largely prompted by the fact that High Fidelity was on the reading list. As I recently found out, this book speaks for an entire generation of young men. I went through a period where I was dating quite a bit. One of the standard topics that usually comes up, at least I hope it does for all you English majors, is favourite books. Every single guy I dated mentioned High Fidelity. Now, I am more than willing to admit that in all likelihood I attract/am attracted to a certain type of guy but still the popularity of this book shocked me. I decided I had to read it. I did and I enjoyed it, although probably not as much as the guys who read it. (Incidentally, I love the fact that the jacket blurb reads "keep this book away from your girlfriend-it contains too many of your secrets to let it fall into the wrong hands". Apparently, in reading it, I've stumbled across "enemy" secrets). After reading it I also realized that guys have secretly been quoting to me from this book for ages. Have you ever been asked to make a ridiculous top five list? (Here's a little secret for the guys, getting to know a girl's interests=good, asking her to make them into five point a list+not so good). Anyway, I look forward to analyzing this book in class because I can't wait to get ahold of all the enemy's secrets. Ha ha. Ok, that was an incredibly long ramble but, that is my style and that

Lads & their Uniforms

Recall how Stalky & Co.portrays the significance of wearing school house caps: in the "Stalky' and "last Term" chapters for instance.
The enduring importance of uniform clothing to the relationship between "lads" and "authority" can be seen in this and in this article from the online Telegraph. More to be found as we progress through the course fiction....

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Quoted in the London Times online, Tony Blair puts the blame for the latest generation of young men to be villianised by the powers-that-be on careless parents.
Update: And headline from the left side of the commons, The Guardian: PM attacks yob culture and pledges to help bring back respect.

It's all those bleedin' Lads' fault!

"Theodore Dalrymple" is a wonderful throwback to the Stalky era. He has just come out with what promises to be an indispensibly entertaining philippic against British lad culture, Our Culture, What's Left of It : The Mandarins and the Masses. I simply must have this, and I will put it on reserve once it arrives and I finish reading it -- i.e. one day after I receive it!
[This book brings to mind a Kris Kristofferson song: "Blame it on the Rolling Stones."]
Posted by Hello

"The Browning Version"

Here's an excellent synopsis of today's film, from The Criterion Collection
Michael Redgrave gives the performance of his career in Anthony
Asquith’s adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s unforgettable play. Redgrave portrays Andrew Crocker-Harris, an embittered, middle-aged schoolmaster who begins to feel his life has been a failure. Diminished by poor health, a crumbling marriage, and the derision of his pupils, the once brilliant scholar is compelled to reexamine his life when a young student offers an unexpected gesture of kindness. A heartbreaking story of remorse and atonement, The Browning Version is a classic of British realism and the winner of Best Actor and Best Screenplay honors at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Dangerous Bodies / Dangerous Words?

A classfellow commented during seminar Monday that, in regard to Margaret Atwood's assertion that "men's bodies are the most dangerous things on Earth," she had read of Atwood asking the women in a group what they feared most from men and receiving the majority replay "physical violence," and of asking the men what they feared most from women and receiving the reply "humiliation."
Here is Camille Paglia:
"Masculine identity is embattled and fragile. In the absence of opportunity for heroic phsyical action, as in the modern office world, women's goodwill is crutial for preserving the male ego ... ["No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality" Vamps & Tramps (Vintage: New York 1994) 19-94.]

Room Change: Wednesday May 11th

We are in AQ 4140 this Wednesday to view the lad-lit film The Browning Version: Tony Asquith's screen adaptation of Terence Rattigan's magnificent one-act play.
Among other benefits, it will embellish your sensibility for the setting of Stalky & Co.
Nb: This is not the characteristically abysmal '90 Hollywood remake.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Course Texts and Reading Schedule:

Kipling, Rudyard - Stalky & Co.
May 2nd & 4th
May 9th & 11th
Greene, Graham - Brighton Rock
May 16th & 18th
May 25th
Richler, Mordecai - Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
May 30th & June 1st
June 6th & June 8th
Stillitoe, Alan - Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
June 13th & June 15th
June 20th & June 22th
Burgess, Anthony - Clockwork Orange
June 27th & June 29th
July 4th & July 6th
Amis, Martin - Success
July 11th & July 13th
July 18th & July 20th
Hornby, Nick - High Fidelity
July 25th & July 27th

The two recommended texts for the course will be discussed throughout the term and should be read before and after the Mid-Term assignment.
See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines: Nb. There is a 3% per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted.

1. Mid term paper, two thousand words: due June 20th in lecture. Assignment sheet with suggested topics will be handed out in lecture on June 6th. Criteria will include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics.
2. Group e-text project: in collaboration with the Course Instructor, create a web log dedicated to a distinct topic the works from the course reading list. Groups set & assignment sheet handed out May 25th. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project
3. Individual class presentation: schedule and assignment sheet handed out in seminar. A five minute polemical presentation, on one of the course texts, that adds to the class' understanding of the course material and which lays out a possible research direction for your Final Paper.
4. Final Paper, three thousand words: due in lecture July 27th.

Course Approach

The course is looking for a literary understanding of a collection of British fiction written after 1945. These books share a common theme: in the words of the course outline, "the mutual and open aggression between the British social establishment and young men of the lower-middle and working classes." We begin with Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co. which expresses a model of masculinity that had engrossing influence before 1945, and then read the subsequently-written works of fiction and consider how the texts engage and disengage the Stalky model.

It is hoped that students will engage the material critically, test the hypothesis fairly and present a detailed, reasoned and rigorously researched essay expressing their individual analysis and response to the course of study.

Course requirement weighting:
15% Course participation
10% Seminar presentation
20% Group e-Text project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 1500 words)
35% Final Paper

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 11:30 – 12:30 in the lecture room. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. and Use campus mail accounts only for email contact. please.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Getting an A on an English Paper

An excellent article here with practical advice from Jack Lynch at Rutgers University.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Lad culture in Tudor and Stuart England

Follow this link to a review of a superb book, Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England by University of Sussex historian Alexandra Shepard. Her thesis is very pertinent to our course. Dr. Sheperd has uncovered laddism as far back as the late 1400s: that is, large numbers of dissaffected young males conducting themselves in ways that drew strong condemnation and forceful suppression from the particular elite in power. The article concludes this way:
... her findings offer an alternative view to the "sex blindness" of the
traditional theory that all men were viewed as intellectually and morally
superior to women, thereby creating a system that benefited all men at the
expense of all women. "We need a multi-relational framework when assessing
gender relations," says Dr Shepard, "it involves a great deal more than the
simple opposition of women and men."

Room Change

Our Monday lectures will now be held in WMC 3535. You will find it next to our Wednesday seminar room.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Welcome to English 342 at Simon Fraser University - British Literature Since 1945: "Among the Thugs: Masculinity & its Discontents from End of Empire to Third Way."

We will approach the course texts on their own historical terms, analyse the model of masculinity encoded therein, and chart the changes in the value given British manhood from World War II to the turn of the millenium as those changes are represented in fiction.

Browse the articles linked to the right here for a flavour of some of characters and background issues we will be dealing with.

The required reading follows the order below.

Kipling, Rudyard - Stalky & Co.
Greene, Graham - Brighton Rock

Richler, Mordecai - Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
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
Buford, Bill Among the Thugs
Duning, Murphy The Roots of Football Hooliganism

Wednesday, March 02, 2005