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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some fun from an unlikely place

Here's a treat for all three of you: an uncharacteristically (for me) bawdy post.

I am currently reading Derek Attridge's Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce (not related to my classes: I really should read first what I have to). Today I was reading his chapter on Saussure (for those who don't know, he's the influential early 20th century linguist whose work ultimately spawned structuralism, post-structuralism, and semiotics). Part of the chapter involves Attridge's problematizing of etymology (which is based in part on the work of earlier critics).

I was reading this chapter when I came across a translated phrase that had me rolling in the aisles. Attridge tells us that Saussure was against folk etymology, which he saw was responsible for "mangling" words. He describes this phenomenon using the phrase "des coq a l'ane," which is a French idiom meaning an arbitrary change of direction. I knew that this phrase literally means "from the rooster to the donkey," but Attridge, whether consciously or not, translates it literally as "from cock to ass." I'm still wondering whether Attridge threw this in as a joke; there are safer ways of translating it!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tonson's Miscellany, volume II

Just a couple of random thoughts, observations, etc, etc.

-The main site I consulted for funny videos is sadly down at the moment. Actually, it's not so much down as it is completely overwhelmed by porn (, NSFW). Believe it or not, I'd rather have funny videos.

-Reading up on the influence of philosophical scepticism in the time of Dryden's (1660-1700), I read a very interesting quote by a thinker I had never come across before. The book was dealing with scepticism in the middle ages, where some "heretics" decided to separate faith from reason. A later exemplar of this was Pomponazzi, a professor of philosophy at the University in Bologna (late 15th-early 16th century), who says,

"I believe as a Christian what I cannot believe as a philosopher"

-turns out the term "witticism" is much older than I thought. I seem to remember reading that it was a relatively recent coinage (c. 1900), but I was reading Dryden's apology for his heroic play The State of Innocence, a massive operatic version of Paradise Lost which was never performed. In it, Dryden says uses the term "witticism" and qualifies it with "if I may use a new term!". This is news to me, though I have known for some time that it was Dryden who introduced many French words and phrases, such as ballet and a propos, into English.

-I made my monthly (or thereabouts) visit to Benjamin Books here in Ottawa on Saturday to pick up my copy of The Complete Poems of the Earl of Rochester (ed. Vieth). They were selling the original hardcover for 20 bucks CAN, whereas the reprinted softcover is about 23 bucks USD. As always, I looked around and found a few other gems:

-James Thomson's The Seasons and Castle of Indolence in one volume (7 CAN)
-Harold Bloom's The Visionary Company (3 bucks; this should be useful for my Romantic poem course)

I was tempted to pick up a few more titles, but I will wait until next month. I have my eyes on an old hardcover of the poems of Abraham Cowley (excluding his unfinished epic, Davideis, I believe). The asking price is 20 bucks, but considering how hard it is to find Cowley, much less an old hardcover, that sounds fairly reasonable. Heck, most penguins nowadays go for about 20 bucks (don't get me started on the crooked nazi criminals that Penguin Books have become!)

I'm off to read some lesser known poems by Andrew Marvell. He's not my favourite poet (Dryden is better and Waller flows more), and he is certainly difficult, but he has some wonderful lines. Then again, I like Samuel Johnson's poetry (despite its unpopularity), and most people find him difficult. One of his contemporaries, the great actor David Garrick, complained that reading his poems was like reading Greek (which he didn't know).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Boy oh boy

Just a quick note on the weather here.

Torontonians don't know cold weather. In fact, Toronto is the Florida of Canada. Let me illustrate this with an example:

The weather today in Ottawa is -19 (yep, -19 Celsius), and this is without windchill! With the windchill, it's a cool -27 degrees. The mercury has been about the same all week; it rarely gets warmer than -10 here in January.

The weather in Toronto today? -11, which is -17 with the windchill. So including windchill, Ottawa is about 10 degrees C colder (not just today, but in fact all week). People weren't kidding when they told me Ottawa was cold!

Interesting factoid: Ottawa is only the 7th coldest capital in the world. Which is the first, you ask? Not Reykjavik, not Moscow, but Ulanbataar, capital of Mongolia! the second coldest? the capital of Borat's nation, Kazakhstan.

Despite this, in the month of January, Ottawa is third coldest behind only Ulanbataar and Astana (Kazakhstan). Reykjavik (Iceland) is much, much warmer than I thought: average January temperature is around -1 or so, which is nothing here (it does slow a lot in Iceland).

You all have my blessing to use these interesting facts as icebreakers at your next cocktail party. Just make sure I'm not there saying the same thing!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Piled Higher and Deeper Redux, and then some

I entered the Alumni Auditorium at the University of Ottawa at about 6:30 pm (EST), and the "lecture" by Jorge Cham, the creator of PhD Comics was already speaking, so I took my seat as unobtrusively as possible.

He began by stating why he had chosen U of Ottawa as a stop (it was his first time in Ontario), and he said he was impressed by the alumni, including Samantha Bee from the Daily Show (though I don't find her terribly funny) and Alex Trebek.

Mr. Cham spoke for about an hour, and it was a very amusing hour. He spoke about many things (grad school experience, the genesis and success of the comic, etc), but his theme was the "Power of Procrastination," which he had to translate into French, since he was in Ottawa, thus: Pouvoir du Procrastination.

I can't say the lecture changed my life, but I did laugh profusely and went away feeling just a little better about myself. During the Q & A, I asked him whether there were any projects in the future lined up, to which he asked, "like what"? I answered, somewhat facetiously, "a movie," which elicited laughter. He did, however, say that he will be working on a possible TV show, which is a far more appropriate medium.

In other news, I finally installed my webcam today, so those of you who for some reason want to see my (I'd recommend against it) can. For something I got for free, the quality isn't bad. I did have a little bit of trouble installing it. Isn't Windows XP supposed to be plug n play? Not sure whether this was Logitech's or Microsoft's blunder; my guess is it's the latter.

Piled Higher and Deeper

PhD Comics, I just found out, is coming to the University of Ottawa tomorrow (the 23rd). It is only one of two stops in Ontario, the other being UofToronto the following day. Since there is a noon and 6:30 session, I will probably attend the latter. This is only the second time the author has come to Canada, the previous visit occurring in 2005 in Alberta.
Jealous Zelda? :-)

Sunday, January 21, 2007


It's been a while since I've gone on a good old-fashioned, Dennis Miller type rant, but there are two things which bother me which cannot go by silently.

First is an Italian station called Telecapri (that I have access to it illegally (on the net) is besides the point). It is ostensibly a sports channel, but they never show sports! What kills me is that when they are supposed to show a match (say, a Serie A match), they will not show the players on the field, instead focusing on the commentator. I'm not kidding!! What's up with that?

My second rant is directed towards an internet phenomenon many of you are probably familiar with, i.e., Facebook, which you cannot see if you are not signed up. Very briefly, t is a website that gives you your own "space" and allows you to add friends and put up pictures. I must say that after experimenting with it, it is incredibly puerile. I had people messaging me who haven't spoken to me in months asking "how it was going, etc." If you are really serious about talking to me, phone, email, or even MSN me!! Don't just leave a message on there pretending nothing happened, or that everything is cheeky.

In short, the site is an egregious waste of time. However, I do concede it has one benefit: looking up old friends and acquaintances in different countries you've lost touch with over the years.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sad day

This will be irrelevant to most of you, but I could not, in all good conscience, let this barbarian act pass without some comment.

Hrant Dink, a prominent, outspoken Armenian living in Turkey, who was the editor of the premiere Armenian language newspaper there (Agos Daily), was shot to death today in Turkey. He was one of the dozens of people indicted under Article 301 for "insulting Turkishness," as was this year's Nobel Prize winner, Orhan Pamuk (who was freed on a technicality). So much for freedom of speech!

I didn't know Hrant Dink personally, but it is an example of the Genocide perpetuating itself.

This is the same country that wants to join the European Union; go figure!

Random Update

For those of you wondering, I'm still here. I was busy from the second I got back to Ottawa, and I just had a big presentation (80 minute seminar, actually) yesterday on Books III-VI of Wordsworth's Prelude. Usually my presentations are relaxed, entertaining, and witty, but for some reason, I was very nervous about this one. From the prof's reaction, as well as the comments of my peers, I think I did very well. I was also the first in the class to go, so that will definitely work in my favour.

I had my first Thai experience last Saturday (not that experience): I went to a Thai restaurant with a woman (yes, a woman, I know; big surprise) and it was quite good. I thought the Pad Thai was exquisite. Now I can see what the big deal is with Thai food. It should be said, however, that I don't like spicy food, and there's quite a bit of mind Thai dishes.

I actually slept decently last night: since the winter break, I've been tired all the time, which made concentrated effort difficult. Now that this presentation is out of the way, I don't have anything else due for a while, which is great.

Today I'm off to do some laundry, reading, and at 2 pm, I must go to the Research Methods class. It's actually a sweet deal: once or twice a month on Fridays, the PhD students must attend these sessions, and we get a credit for it! Afterwards, I'm meeting my supervisor-to-be and whoever else happens to be around at the local pub (one of many, and this one serves both Stella Artois and Hoegaarden on tap).

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that I added a new blog to my links, the first, in fact, in about a year. It is "HockeyJones," a hodgepodge sort of blog that is fairly entertaining.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Potable Addendum

I can't believe I forgot to mention this in my last post: during a traditional dinner, we enjoyed Pomegranate Wine. Yep, that's right, pomegranates. Strange thing is, it's impossible to get up here, but it is sold in North Carolina, where my brother lives. How much sense does that make?

The wine itself is interesting: it tastes very much like pomegranate juice, but bolder. It says "semi-sweet" on the bottle, but it's fairly sweet, almost but not quite like a dessert wine. I'm told it also has health benefits.
I'm back in Ottawa now. It was nice to see my folks, but it's good to be back. I did far too much travelling this break (Ottawa-Toronto, TO-Montreal, Montreal-TO, TO-Ottawa in 2 weeks, all by bus). I also found out a few days ago that, because I missed the first class on Thursday, my seminar dates were chosen for me by the prof. Looks like I have about a week and a half to prepare a seminar (not a mere presentation) on books III-VI of Wordsworth's Prelude. Not sure how the class will turn out: it has the potential to be the worst or best class I've ever taken. I will let ye know.
Tomorrow is the first class of what will probably be my favourite, "Restoration and its Discontents," with Nicholas Von Maltzahn, a respected scholar in the field and generally cool guy.
Well, I'm off to do some grocery shopping (man can only live off banana peels for so long), and get cracking on that seminar.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


I leave for Ottawa in a few hours (my bus leaves at 11:55 am Saturday, in case I have any fans eager to see me leave). It was nice to see my folks, etc, but I have to say I missed Ottawa.

Earlier tonight, my family and I celebrated Christmas. Yep, you read right. I've already posted on the significance of January 6, which was the original date of Christmas, but was later changed by Pope Sylvester in the 5th century to December 25. We're not a religious family, but it's one of the few traditions we take seriously, which also meant that I missed the first day of class on Thursday (I could have gone back to Ottawa earlier, but I would have felt guilty).

I have to say though, after one New Year's and two Christmases, I'm looking forward to school :-)

The image on the left is a random one from an Armenian manuscript. Lord only knows how old it is.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A New Year has dawned...

Well, I'm back from in Toronto from Montreal, where I've spent the last 2.5 days. I did not get a chance to explore the city, but I like it very much. Fortunately, Ottawa (my new home) is only a 1.5 hour drive away, so that makes it easier should I ever choose to return.

My stay in Montreal was not very eventful, but I decided to share some of my more noteworthy experiences with you:

The hotel where I stayed (Hotel Mairitme Plaza, and btw, they gouged us, charging a buck for each local call!) was teeming with unbridled teenagers. I had an entire bottle of wine for myself on NY's eve (and somehow only got a slight buzz), but it is entertaining to see teenagers who simply don't know any better. As my room was right in front of the elevator, I had a front row seat to some hilarious shenanigans. For instance, I saw two guys (friends I presume) who could barely walk, and one casually pushed the other one to the ground. The latter didn't get up for a couple of minutes, and after he got up, they both hugged (I assume), then the other stumbled backwards into my door. The security guard I saw in the elevator told me people were running around naked on some floors (not mine though).

I decided to have a smoke, so I went outside just after midnite to enjoy one. A couple of young women, upon entering the hotel, asked me what I was doing there, to which I replied, "I'm having a cigarette." One of them then asked me (I'm not kidding) "is your name Early or Arly or something like that"?, to which I replied "no." I couldn't help but notice the similarity to my own name, though that could be a coincidence (then again, TedT has met people in NYC who claim to know me, and I haven't been there since I was 12).

As most of you know, I'm not crazy about Toronto, and it is not simply a matter of having lived here for many years: people in Montreal I spoke to were unanimous in their dislike for Toronto. Without being derisive, they say "I don't know how you live in Toronto."

Finally, a literary anecdote: I took some reading material with me on the long trip (12 hours total), and with me I had a collecion of stories by my favourite story writer, Leo Tolstoy, whom I haven't read in about 3.5 years. I reread "Death of Ivan Illych" and "Master and Man," the latter being my favourite, even though it is not his best known. I must say that after all these years, I still have not come across any other western literature that comes close. Tolstoy's (as well as Dostoevsky's) stories are very spiritual and powerful. As Woolf said, the Russian writers pierce the soul. English literature is especially lacking in this respect, but it reminds me of what Forester said (paraphrase): The English novel is not the greatest, but English poetry fears no one." Though he was not a novelist, the closest writer in English to Tolstoy is, I think, Wordsworth. His only problem was that he never knew when to stop writing, but he has some of the most powerful passages and sentiments in the language.

I will be reading his Prelude next term for a class on the long romantic poem, for which we will also read Shelley's Prometheus Unbound and Byron's Don Juan. What scares me about the Prelude is that, at about 6000 lines, it was intended to be a prelude to a much longer poem. Currently, I'm reading Milton's Paradise Regained, the often ignored sequel to his magisterial Paradise Lost. It must be said, however, that it comes nowhere close to its predecessor, though it has one or two interesting passages. Before my term begins next week, I must at least try to put a dent into Dryden's Conquest of Granada, a gigantic play in two parts. I think the play must have taken no less than a week to stage.

Happy New Year to everyone. Though it is an arbitrary, occidental number (what about Chinese and Hebrew New Year?), it gives one perspective as well as a clean slate, more or less.