The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Monday, October 30, 2006

Picture Time

My friend sent me a couple of pictures from an outing we had 2 weeks ago. I'm sharing with you one picture I thought particularly amusing:

The woman on my left was the birthday girl: we were pretending to be an 
existentialist/nihilist French couple who had lost interest in everything.  
I think my shirt and hat combo is particularly appropriate.


Monday, October 23, 2006

De la litteratura

I was recently re-reading Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction, a popular book in its time (1983, 2nd edition 1996).  It is a book that isn't without its merits (Eagleton is a good writer), but he spends more time proselytizing rather than going in-depth.  

Eagleton does ask a very interesting question, which I paraphrase as follows: What is Literature?  Many would define it as good or fine writing.  However, this poses a problem: if literature is by definition good, then there can be no such thing as bad writing, something even I'm not willing to accept.  Similarly, though, if one resists the value-laden definition, then "bad" literature becomes as valid as "good" literature.

I don't have any answers to this; I'm still grappling with this and similar issues that I've only come across or thought of recently.  I think it's a good thing, though, to question, at times, our assumptions, or, as Benveniste would say, ask for "proof of the obvious."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Of Books and Men

I believe I've already mentioned Benjamin Books in Ottawa, one of the best used bookstores I've ever been to, and conveniently located about 1 minute away from my house. I simply can't believe some of the stuff I have found there. Here are some titles I purchased this week, the last three having been bought today:

Nicholas Rowe, The Fair Penitent
The Letters of William Cowper
Five Heroic [Restoration] Plays, ed. Dobree [including plays by Roger Boyle, Elkanah Settle, John Crowne and Nathaniel Lee]
Four Restoration Marriage plays [by Dryden, Lee, Otway, and Southerne]
The Mermaid Series edition of Thomas Shadwell, including The Sullen Lovers, a True Widow, Bury Fair, The Squire of Alsatia. This is in addition to his The Libertine, which I already possess.

If you've never heard of these guys (except Dryden), don't worry: very few people have.
By the way, Benajmin Books sold these books for an average price of 5-6 dollars. Not only are these among the most obscure titles I've ever found (nothing comes close in Toronto), the prices are fantastic.

On a side note (J will appreciate this), I'm glad I'm never going to have to procure reference letters from York again. I've never had trouble finding referees, but actually getting the letters is about as painless as getting a tooth extracted, and there's always a complication beyond my control. Transcripts are similary cumbersome, but apart from cost, they haven't bothered
me as much this year.
I've also noticed that the profs here (U of Ottawa) in my department actually want their students to do well. One prof in my area whom I haven't had yet encouraged me to apply for OGS and SSHRC, and he even offered to look at my proposal. I'm still friends with some profs at York, but that is something I never saw in my five years there. Maybe it's the size of the department?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Blindndess and Insight

(This post is probably my most arcane one yet, but I will try to make it intelligible, in the short space, to most readers)

I was reading, believe it or not, Paul de Man's Blindness and Insight recently. He has the distinction of being probably the only "Deconstructive" critic still read (and even that's a stretch). Having something of a New Critic/Formalist background, I was interesting by his comments on the dead end of either approach (though I think he confuses the philosophies with the actual practices). He shows, quite logically, how the New Criticism/Formalism of I.A. Richards and his disciple William Empson breaks itself down. In other words, if you push their logic far enough, it will say something they didn't wish to say, namely, that poems are so ambiguous an differential that there is nothing unified about them (in like manner, Hume took Locke's epsitemology to its logical extreme, saying, in effect, "if you believe this, you must then believe this. Similarly, the post-structuralists differ from the structuralists only in that the latter believed that meaning was the product of differences only, and the former took this to its logical extreme).

In any case, arguing against de Man is something that requires much patient though and effort, things I am in short supply of right now. However, he did say something fairly straightforward which made me pause. In a 1970 essay on the New Critics/Formalism, de Man maintains that it is because of the logical inconsistency of the New Criticism that it had not (within 30 years or so) produced any lasting works of criticism. That was 36 years ago. Now, from a safe distance, we can make a similar pronouncement: though people still read Derrida, and Deconstruction has left its mark on literary studies (and other areas), I can't think of one single lasting work of Deconstructive literary criticism. Names like Hartmann, Hillis Miller and, to a lesser extent, de Man are rarely if ever mentioned anymore. Conversely, people still read Empson and Cleanth Brooks, both of then New Critics writing in the 30s-50s. I respect de Man's logical rigour, and I'm not sure if I agree (or understand) with everything he says, but this is an instance of blindness on his part.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Take a look at this

Dear Readers,

I direct your attention to a somewhat amusing yet irritating "discussion" that has been going on concerning one of the posts. Apparently, I've been accused of "anti-muslim rhetoric" and "insulting uhammad." Take a look at my post and see if that makes any sense. Funny thing is, I was talking about how the Pope's comments were taken out of context and misinterpreted by corrupt imams, and that's pretty much what's happening now. It is a demonstration of that principle in action.
Please read my post and tell me where on earth I am guilty of either offense.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The O Word

 No, not that O word: I'm referring to Opera, a little known web browser that's been around for some time.  After finally getting fed up with Internet Explorer (and also simply wanting a change), I downloaded both Firefox and Opera.  In my opinion, Opera is the better of the two, but that could simply be a matter of taste.  

Why Opera?  It's faster, looks nicer, has tabbed browsing and, best of all, no POPUPS!  Don't get me started on the laughable pop up blocker for IE: it's actually more annoying than the popups themselves.  I also find it funny how those annoying poker pop ups make their way through but important ones don't.  Hmm...

I just remembered: I had a message of my voicemail the other day, and I though, "yes, I'm important enough for someone to call me."  Turns out it was one of those "sorry we missed you" home security guys.  I thought to myself, why the hell would they be phoning me?  Then my housemate reminded me that Bell probably sold my phone number.  Bastards!  This is what I don't like about our current communism (this ain't capitalism anymore, and extremes meet).

It's like going to a movie: if I pay for a admission, there's no reason on earth why I have to sit through annoying commercials.  The whole reason we have commercials on TV is because they technically pay for the programming, hence the reason you must pay for commercial free TV (such a waste of time anyway).  Similarly, I found out not too long ago that whenever you write the LSAT or GRE (Law School and Grad School Admission exams, respectively), which cost about 150 bucks a pop, they sell your information to other schools, usually sketchy ones you've never heard of (then again, St. Louis University in Madrid didn't sound bad).  If you're selling my information, at least subsidize the fu#$^n thing!  

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dat's all, folks

I was searching for some, you guessed it, Ali G clips last night when I stumbled upon what is quite possible Ali's (Sasha Baron Cohen) funniest performance: what turns out to be a roast of England's most famous couple, Posh Spice and David Beckham (whose expulsion from the English side came 5 years too late, btw). At certain points in the video you can sense just how uncomfortable the Beckhams are.

I also unearthed Ali G's address at Harvard's convocation (2004), but unfortunately it wasn't very funny. I'm surprised that Harvard, of all places, invited him. Maybe they had someone else in mind merely made a mistake on the letterhead: they were actually looking for Ali C, a prominent psycholinguist from Denmark.