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:

....film 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.
........film 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 PBS.org(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/escape/pioneers.html)
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. ogden@sfu.ca and http://amongthethugs.blogspot.com 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.