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 29, 2007


For years I've had an inside joke with some friends about Harrison Ford, namely, that everyone of his movies from the past fifteen or so years is the same. In every such movie, his family is invariably kidnapped, resulting in a predictable climax of "Gimme back my family" or similar phrase. Turns out someone from the Family Guy staff has been spying on me because on last night's episode, they had a brief joke to that same end. My talents are wasted here !

(BTW, I ask John to corroborate my story).

Now for some good news: I managed to buy a used Lazy Boy recliner for 40 bucks. It will serve as my much needed thinking and especially reading chair (it helps to have a good reading chair when one spends the majority of the day doing little else).

Time Machine?

At least one person thinks H.G. Wells was on to something.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Post on Harry Potter?

Has the world gone topsy-turvy?

No, not yet.

Along with everyone else on the planet, I learnt today that Dumbledore, a character from the Harry Potter series, "is gay." I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, but this comment, from none other than JK Rowling, piqued my interest.

I don't mean to sound like Michel Foucault ("What is an Author?"), but Rowling's pronouncement is meaningless. Without trying to sound moral, she has no more right to say this than anyone else. This reminds me of the words of inestimable and titanic Northrop Frye, viz., that if Shakespeare came back from the grave and told us what he meant by x or y in Hamlet, his insights can be considered as nothing more than just another interpretation among others. In the same way, Rowling's pronouncement cannot be privileged above a simlar one made by anyone else.

It is true that, contrary to the wishes of Foucault and Barthes, we very much live in an authorcentric society, and this latest pronouncement is just another manifestation of this reality.

(note: I'm not being evaluative here, but merely descriptive).

On another note, when I get a chance I will write my first attempt at film criticism: I will discuss the brilliant program Curb Your Enthusiasm from a formalist perspective. Stay tuned (if you have nothing better to do).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fat Cats Strike Again

After noticing that was down for several days, I just found out that the site was shut down and the creator arrested. I'm not sure how this was done since the man did nothing wrong legally, and no precedent yet exists to facilitate the prosecution of such people. Since when was linking to content a crime?

Technically, other sites, including Google, are guilty of this, but I suppose this poor man was an easy target.

I'm pissed right now!, the site that started it all, is nowhere near as good as tvlinks was.

On the plus side, I recently found a database, as it were, of online streaming sites. All you do is type in the name of the show or video, and the site will direct you to other sites that link to the content of other sites. Sounds confusing, but it really isn't.

De-Motivational poster

Ebaumsworld has recently been promoting user made de-motivational posters. Not surprisingly, the quality has been plummeting with each successive series. However, I thought this recent one was hilarious and well done. It is now my desktop background, replacing the famous line from Office Space "It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Best Movie of All Time

I couldn't resist sharing this one with you. I've seen my share of B-movies, but this one takes the biscuit.

From what I understand, the clip is from a movie called "The Intruder," and the protagonist's name is Rambu (seriously). It's a 1986 rip-off of the then popular Rambo. What the Greek subtitles are doing there is anyone's guess.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I haven't posted any other video like this, but I couldn't resist this one.
I officially and unequivocally nominate this guy for the 2007 Darwin Awards.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Books, Books Everywhere...

Several readers of this blog are no doubt curious about my quotidian activities. Therefore, I have at last decided to reproduce my list of readings for my two upcoming minor Comprehensive exams ("comps"), also known as Qualifying exams (Quals).

Tonight I am concluding the reading for my first comp, which is a minor in Theory. The following represents only those texts I read during the past six weeks. Not included are any secondary sources I consulted or previously read works that I merely reviewed (I have ignored MLA citation to make things easier. "" refers to an essay or chapter, otherwise a book is indicated.

Karl Marx, Essential Writings.
George Lukacs, (preface) Studies in European Realism
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (selections)
Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World (Intro) and Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (Ch.1)
Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"
Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations
Aram Veeser (ed), The NEw Historicism (selected essays)
Edward Said, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism
Gayatri Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?"
Homi K Bhabha, Location of Culture (selected essays)
Ahmad Aijaz, In Theory (selected chapters)

Freidrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny" and bits of Interpretation of Dreams
Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"
Jacques Derrida, "Cogito and the History of Madness, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," "Differance," Of Grammatology.
Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, "Nietzsche, History and Genealogy, "What is an Author?"
Roland Barthes, Mythologies, S/Z (ch.1), Pleasure of the Text, "Death of the Author."
Harold Bloom, Anxiety of Influence
JF Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition and "Universal History and Cultural Difference."
Frederic Jameson, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Jean Baudrillard, Simulations
Julia Kristeva, "Semiotic and the Symbolic" (as much of it as I could stand, which is about half).
Deleuze and Guttari, "Rhizome"

Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? (most of the essays therein).
Hayden White, Metahistory (Intro)
Claude Levi-Strauss, "Structural Analysis in Linguistics and Anthropology"
Boris Eikhenbaum, "The Theory of the Formal Method"
Victor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique"
Vladimiar Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (chs. 1-3)
Northop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (re-read the preface)
Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn (Intro)
F.R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (Intro)
Matthew Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" (reread)
Aristotle, Poetics

The actual list is longer, but in some cases I did not read the remaining books because doing so would be unnecessary or superfluous if not impractical (I did not, for example, more than glance at Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks because the volume would have made unreasonable demands on my already limited time).

Tomorrow I begin reading for my second minor comp: 19th Century British Lit. The literature lists we are given are somewhat vague. That is, they only indicate the names of authors, and we are expected to know or determine precisely which works by these authors we must read. I will not bore you with the list of works I have decided on, but will include only the names of those authors whom I have deemed necessary to read. For the purposes of comparison, assume that every name listed hereunder involves reading one novel or at least several hundred lines of verse. Because this is my minor and not my major exam, I will not be expected to know as much about these authors. Not included in the list are names I, with the approval of a professor in the field, have deemed insignificant.

Jane Austen
William Blake
Anna Barbauld
Robert Burns
Lord Byron
ST Coleridge
Thomas De Quincey
William Hazlitt
James Hogg
John Keats
Hanna More
Thomas Paine
Walter Scott
Mary & Percy Shelley
Charlotte Smith
Mary Wollestonecraft
William Wordsworth
Maria Edgeworth

Matthew Arnold
E.B. Browning
Robert Browning
Charlotte and Emily Bronte
Thomas Carlyle
Wilkie Collins
Charles Darwin
George Eliot
Elizabeth Gaskell
George Gissing
Thomas Hardy
Gerard Manley Hopkins
George Meredith
J.S. Mill
John Henry Newman
Walter PAter
Dante and Christina Rosetti
John Ruskin
R.L. Stevenson
Algernon Swinburne
Alfred Tennyson
W.M. Thackeray
Anthony Trollope
Oscar Wilde
G.B. Shaw (not on the list but I have added him).

Fortunately, I have already read a good chunk of these authors, especially the Romantics (the first half), and in some cases, such as Walter Pater or Algernon Swinburne, the reading is very little. Things get far more serious next term when I write my major. On that exam, I will be expected to know virtually everything about 18th century British lit.

I can't help but feel I should be doing something else right now, like reading!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kudos, Jon, Kudos

(Note: the link below is incomplete. Follow this one to Comedy Central. However, you must manually select the video, which is entitled "Unsolved Histories.")

Kudos to the always witty and pithy Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart, which recently ran a segment on Bush's "warning" to the House Committee not to pass a resolution recognizing the events of 1915 in Anatolia as genocide.

I still can't believe Turkey has the gall to "threaten" the U.S. Not only is the Cold War over, but Turkey has demonstrated, especially in 2003, that it is a less than reliable U.S. "ally," which is to gloss over completely its human rights abuses.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What a day in politics

Well, I cast my ballot today at about 3:30 pm EST. After determining that I had originally moved here from Toronto, the women working the front desk asked hesitatingly if I was a leaf fan, to which I replied "no, they suck!" This drew some hearty, approving laughter.

I don't understand people who are so secretive of their electoral practices, so let me set the record straight: I voted NDP (for the first time) and in favour of the electoral referendum.

Predictions: Dalton McSquinty (Dr J's coinage) will remain PM of the province, and the mixed member proportional referendum will unfortunately be defeated by a large margin. I'm fairly certain the latter will happen because a) most people simply don't know what the referendum is all about, and b) those who do know will find it uncertain and intimidating. People generally fear change.

In other political news, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed Resolution 106 which recognized the massacre of the Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Though I'm sure there are people celebrating (as well as others who are less than thrilled), I'm not holding my breath because the resolution must now be put up for a vote in Congress, which I doubt will pass. Were it to pass in Congress, either Mr. Bush or the Senate will get in the way.

On this note, I find Turkey's thinly-veiled threats to the US risible. The only thing funnier is the US administration's serious acknowledgment of them. First, now that the Cold War is over, Turkey is no longer the indispensable ally it once was. Not only this, Turkey demonstrated in 2003 that it is a less than reliable one. Third, only the stronger of two countries is in any position to make threats. The US can threaten Turkey or just about any other nation, but it doesn't work the other way around, and Turkey needs the US more than the US needs Turkey. Finally, since when is the US scared to "offend" anyone? Isn't this the same US that invades other countries on a whim?


I feel vindicated

In the meantime, I am off to participate in the democratic process. The Ontario provincial election is today, and, in addition to choosing a premier, we are asked to vote on a referendum.
I am voting for anyone but John Tory, and I am all in favour of the referendum calling for a mixed member proportional system.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

You're in test

Never knew this existed until now. Reminds me of something I have said periodically: potheads are the smartest and most resourceful people one earth. The only problem is that their creative energies go into such matters as bong efficiency, etc. If they used their powers for good, all the problems of the world would be solved.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Black in Black

At long last, here is my post on accepted forms of racism. As this is a large, sprawling topic, I will focus on only one aspect of it.

We like to think that racism has become extinct in North America. As any intelligent person should know, this is simply and sadly not true. It is often said that, especially in Canada, racism is less overt. The particular phenomenon I am about to describe qualifies as covert because, as far as I know, no one has pointed it out.

What I am talking about are utterances often heard in the media (not the street) that are deemed humorous, but the logic is just as racist as something from a KKK pamphlet. I recently mentioned Will Smith, so I will use him as an example. More than once, I've heard various voices in the media exclaim that "Will Smith is not black" or other similar statements tending towards the same meaning.

Let us examine the logic of this particular statement.

First, to say that "X is not black", implies that the utterer knows what "black" is, regardless of his own race. The person clearly knows what black is, and demonstrates his disapproval by claiming that so and so does not live up to that status. Thus, before continuing, we must convict the utterer of essentialism, which is a crime in the 21st century. Essentialism (or essentialist belief) posits eternal characteristics to a thing or group. Thus, to say that "X is not black" means that all blacks have (or should have) the same characteristics and traits. By the same logic, one can say that "all women are x" or other similar statements. Essentialism ignores the manifest heterogeneity of any group.

This leads to a second problem. As I've mentioned already, any statement like "Will Smith is not black," which is merely a rephrasing of "all blacks are X," is essentialist. So just how is the person essentializing blacks? He is claiming that blacks have certain characteristics of which Will Smith is not possessed. What precisely are these? First, Will Smith is apparently not black enough. Second, for the most part, he plays stereotypically un-black roles. Similarly, he is not into guns, "bitches," and cars, as far as we know (if he is, it is not part of his public persona). Last but not least, Smith is fairly articulate and "nice." This reminds me of the film Idiocracy (funny movie) in which future rednecks accuse Luke Wilson of sounding like a fag because he speaks in the manner of a semi-educated person.

I will summarize my chain of reasoning. First, by saying that Will Smith is not black, the utterer of the statement has already essentialized black people. Next, the utterer is ascribing certain implied, unspoken characteristics to blacks, and we can deduce precisely what these are by observing what Will Smith is not. In sum, our utterer is claiming that blacks are very dark skinned and are (and must always) dress, act, and speak in a certain way (i.e, violently), otherwise they cease to be black. Blacks, the logic tells us, are not (or shouldn't be) nice; they are violent.

Therefore, our utterer is just as racist as any KKK member, but, of course, far less openly.

Personally, I'm disgusted with statements of this type. I find it refreshing that we have people such as Will Smith who are challenging racial and cultural stereotypes.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Headline of the Day

Headline courtesy of Professor Jack Lynch of Rutgers University:

"Samuel Johnson in Bar Brawl"

Can't say I blame him. After all, his portrait was attacked in London just a few weeks ago.

(By the way, this is an insanely geeky, literary joke with a worldwide audience of maybe eight).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hangover of Epic Proportions

I once had a hangover last a couple of days, but this guy takes the biscuit

Monday, October 01, 2007

New Link

I add a new link at the side so rarely that it merits a blog post. I've just linked to a fascinating site/blog called "The Situationist," which discusses, among other things, fascinating stories from the world of clinical psychology, advertising, etc. There is one post, for example, on the ideology promulgated by Hollywood "success story" movies. I also just read today that by 2050, people over 60 will outnumber those under 15 for the first time in history

Definitely worth taking a glance at.

The Yutz from Yale and other matters

Apologies for the lack of posts recently: I'm not only knee deep in books but am simultaneously wrestling with my old nemesis, Sleep. In fact, I took some Nytol a few days ago and it produced the opposite effect, so no more of that.

I finally got around to reading Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence. I've read some of Bloom's other work, and I've known the gist of this particular book for years, but after reading, I've come to the conclusion that it's total baloney. Bloom takes a fairly "obvious" idea and dresses it up in mystical and Freudian jargon to sound legitimate. This humorous review does more justice to the work than I can, and it is also where I got the cheeky, alliterative portion of my title.

I respect Bloom for many reasons: he is a man of extraordinary erudition and chutzpah, i.e., he is not afraid to say something unfashionable. He is also capable of making very insightful, aphoristic observations. Here are two such examples from memory: "Shakespeare influenced the world more than the world influenced him," which is a response to those critics who would abrogate any authorial, aesthetic agency and attribute such "fantasies" to social energies, and "No other writer in the English language so resisted becoming a poet than Samuel Johnson."

Unfortunately, I find that Bloom will often follow insight with insanity, and I also noticed very early on in my reading of him a few years ago that he will contradict himself plainly, sometimes in the same paragraph or sentence (examples: he prefaces a quote by Nietzsche by saying that it chastised him and still haunts him to this day. He follows the quote by saying that it has never troubled him).

Having said all this, I guess my estimation of him is ambivalent. I will say this though: whatever his strengths, he is no theorist, just as Wordsworth was (at times) a wonderful poet, but no theorist. Come to think of it, Bloom is highly overrated. Like Hemingway before him, his fame probably rests more on his personality than work. Am I wrong?

I watched The Pursuit of Happyness [sic] online a few days ago. I must say that Will Smith is an impressive actor, despite what some have said, and the movie is, though extreme at times, poignant and visceral. I bring this up because I promised a friend some weeks ago that I would write a short piece on acceptable forms of racism in North American society, using Will Smith as the target of such racism. Stay tuned.

Apart from reading, I must finish OGS and SSHRC applications (Grants). UGH!! (I know one person here will feel my pain).