Friday, April 4, 2008

The Metaphysics of "All Tomorrow's Parties"

William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties will seem very confusing and, quite likely, somewhat disorientating to readers who don't know its metaphysical background or the intellectual concerns that animate it. Today's lecture began outlining a framework for understanding how and why Gibson treats these matters in his fiction.

All Tomorrow's Parties presents us with a fictional world "the-year-after-the-next-year" where (to quote Bob Dylan) "Everything is Broken." The process of social fragmentation here in Vancouver that Douglas Coupland laments in Hey Nostradamus! is become widespread in ATP: families, cities, states & provinces, countries and individual psyches are things of shards and tatters. However, Gibson's text presents an important paradox. The free market system which, in Gibson's fictional outlook, is the cause of this fragmentation is actually growing more unified, and that unification has spreading to the verge of global uniformity. The paradox in encoded in Gibson's plot, which is an eschatological race between the villain (explicitly a Bill Gates-type) and the rag-tag-band-of-heroes (Laney, Chevette, Fontaine, Rydell) to use a new product (a nano-fax machine) supplied ahead of demand - and thus without a known purpose) either for profit-without-end or for the Rapture.

Gibson's metaphysic in his cyberpunk novels -- and in his "idoru" trilogy-so-far (of which ATP is the third) is the evolution from the human (us) to post-human (part us & part not us.) The "non-us," of course, is information technology. In the fourties, Marvin Minsky of MIT famously said "in the future, if we're lucky machines will keep us as pets." That is the view of things behind Gibson's cyberpunk. The fragmentation in ATP will be made whole again by the blending of consciousness and IT. "Rei Toei" -- the Idoru -- becomes a cybernetic Messiah, emerging in transcendent form simultaneously from every 7-Eleven-type store around the globe. And here in the non-fiction realm, even if Minsky's remark sounds extremist to us, it is difficult to avoid the thought that some significant change will result from our now near-constant exposure to IT.

How long have you been looking at a screen so far today ..... ?

Gibson's metaphysic, then, in All Tomorrow's Parties is Creative Evolution: an idea best associated with Henri Bergson (1859-1941), a philosopher who, in my view, lacks proper appreciation - whether or not one acccepts his thesis. Creative Evolution, generally speaking, is the assumption that evolution is always an advance: that hardships, although bad news for some or many individuals, creates in the long run improvement for the species - such as the human race. Bergson gave us the term elan vital -- or vital force -- to describe the existence of an immaterial life force that expresses itself in organic matter. This idea is, in my observation, the unconscious assumption behind most people's thoughts on evolution - of all levels of education. It's earlier term - Social Darwinism -- was nearly unchallenged. The interesting fact is that it is non-Darwinian. That is, Darwin's entire project was to try and establish that evolution is not a force for improvement, but one which can as easily eliminate as produce improvements. Peter J. Bowler is an indefatigable writer in defense of Darwin against all type of creative evolutionism.

So, William Gibson has given fictional form to this intellectual field: using ideas from emerging technologies to suggest a eudystopic IT path that the elan vital might take. As lecture will develop further, Gibson also invokes the concept of emergent properties to create his virtual reality: i.e. his fiction. As the property of wetness emergences from the combination of two independent components neither of which themselves have the property wetness, so in All Tonorrow's Parties the property of existence arises from those components which comprise Rei Toei -- the idoru.

I love fiction, and I love it for many reasons. And one of these is its ability to bring the fantastic closer to the real by making it plausible. As I suggested in lecture, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a computer-generated celebrity, run by an algorithm of market-tested qualities, with a good singing voice, appealing appearance and virtual fashions, has al least no less reality (in a meaningful sense of "reality") than a person, experienced by mass public entirely through media, marketed as a performer, who can neither sing, play an instrument nor dance.

"All Tomorrow's Parties:" Titular Significance

The title of our final course text, William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, has its genesis in the first single by the influential 60s cult band Velvet Underground comprising Lou Reed (who wrote the song), Nico, and John Cale. Click here for the song lyrics.
There is further circularity, by the bye, in that band having taken the title of a bizarre book for their name.

Gorillaz: Virtual Band

Classfellow A.T. draws attention to Gorillaz, a virtual band that necessarily evokes Gibson's Rei Toei. There is a YouTube clip of them with Madonna here, and their homepage is here.

(It is not truly Idoru virtual, but it is a big step on that direction!)

Nodes & Interstices

Last Wednesday's lecture outlined the two Big Ideas that are behind the repeated references to 'clocks' and 'nodes' in All Tomorrow's Parties: respectively, the 'clockwork universe' and 'interstices .' On Monday we'll finish this outline and then see how these two Big Ideas are worked diversely by William Gibson into his fiction as settting, characterisation and plot.

[The graphic here is actually a seriously cool graphical representation of this very blog in the form of nodes and dendrites, created from this web tool. In effect, it's how Laney might see our blog as it "haunts his nodal configuration...." (p. 19)]

'Interstices' are an extremely important concept within the novel and (as Gibson is suggesting) within present-day Vancouver: 'Terminal City' -- updated for 2007 as a cyber-Terminal.

The following is non-essential, and is only here for anyone with an personal interest in these technological ideas. Those with other kinds of interest need read no further.

As lecture explained, interstices are conceptual parts of the idea of nets: fishing nets, wireless networks, the internet itself. Gibson's first novel is titled Neuromancer, and deals with the idea of Neural Networks: a system model of information not being located in a centralised and unified place -- such as in the homunculus ('little man') model -- but instead is distributed as signals across a complex network of nodes and signal pathways ('axons.') The model is derived from the architecture of the brain, and is used to construct non-CPU computers, Artificial Neural Networks ('ANN'), under a concept called parallel distributed processing, under the doctrine of Connectionism.

Part of the power of nerual networks (biological or artificial) is that the individual nodes have a equality of signficance relative to each other, and the clusters within a network have plasticity of function, so that the breakdown of, or attack upon, one, or even several, nodes does not destroy the system, as the information are redistributed across the reamining nodes. As you probably know, this was the advantage that the United States military hoped to exploit by developing the Internet in the first place.

In All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson presents history itself as a nodal network, and human lives the connecting pathways. The interstices are, in a sense, where the meaning or the potential for new meanings can be said to exist.
....plunging down the wall of this code mesa, its face compounded of fractally differentiated fields of information he has come to suspect of hiding some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension.
Something at once noun and verb.
While Laney, plunging, eyes wide against the pressure of information, knows himself to be merely adjectival: a Laney-coloured smear, meaningless without context. (p 85.)
PS: An article I published (in a Danish journal) on parallel distributed processing for a literary audience is in our library at this link: "Forbindeleser."
PPS: This link takes you to a post from a previous class blog with a powerpoint lecture on All Tomorrow's Parties from a polemically left-wing position, using Jean Baudrillard. (Pace Baudrillard, I am a distant friend & admirer of Denis Dutton ;--)

Influence of "Blade Runner" on William Gibson's Fiction

I found an excellent FAQ here on the influence of the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. The clip I showed in lecture last week has elements found suggestively in All Tomorrow's Parties: for example, the giant plasma screens on the sides of office buildings, "vast faces fill[ing] the screens, at once terrible and banal." (p6-7). Blade Runner was released in 1982, and was a version of a Philip K. Dick story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" published in 1968. William Gibson published his first novel in 1984, two years after the film was released, and has suggested that Dick, Scott & he share a shared imaginative vision (subsequently labelled, as you may know, "cyberpunk.") Here is a helpful quotation from the FAQ:

Gibson, in an interview by Lance Loud in an article on the 10th anniversary of "Blade Runner" for the magazine "Details" (October1992 issue), had the following to say:

'About ten minutes into Blade Runner, I reeled out of the theater in complete despair over its visual brilliance and its similarity to the "look" of Neuromancer, my [then] largely unwritten first novel. Not only had I been beaten to the semiotic punch, but this damned movie looked better than the images in my head! With time, as I got over that, I started to take a certain delight in the way the film began to affect the way the world looked. Club fashions, at first, then rock videos, finally even architecture. Amazing! A science fiction movie affecting reality!'

Clarke's Third Law and Gibson's "All Tomorrow's Parties"

As lecture offered, one important idea that inspired William Gibson's imaginative conception of All Tomorrow's Parties was surely novelist Arthur C. Clarke's famous Three Laws: specifically his popular Third Law:

    • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Gibson repeatedly presents the technology central to his plot in magical terms: the multiplied Rei Toei echoing 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice;' the renewal of the old watch 'before your very eyes' at the close of the book suggesting the djinn's promise of 'new lamps for old;' &c. &c.

ps: A reformulation of Clarke's Third law (of which there are many) -- 'Ogden's Corollary One' -- says:

  • Magic is Technology at a sufficiently advanced stage.
And an 'Ogden's Corollary Two' reads:

  • Sufficiently advanced Technicians are magicians. (Just never ask them to show you their wands....)

Supply, Demand & Desire

Today's lecture on William Gibson can perhaps be summed up by the literary question, How are we to understand the character Rei Toei, the idoru?

At the start of All Tomorrow's Parties it is said that "....she doesn't exist .... she's code. Software....Hundred percent unreal" (ch.21, p.82,) and by the conclusion she is not only real -- but the Absolute reality, chapter 68 "The Absolute at Large."

Rei Toei, then, is the incarnation of those universal forces that the text calls variously the Tao, the clockwork universe, the nodal point of history. Heavy stuff, to be sure, like the good science fiction that it is, but what is this doing in terms of fiction?

To answer this, lecture presented All Tomorrow's Parties in its aspect of satire, and identified Capitalism in our own day and age as the satirical target. However, evidence of Gibson's artistic merit as a novelist, the satire is not dismissive of Capitalism tout court, but rather targets certain of Capitalism's vices, while presenting some capitalist features in favourable aspect.

This non-extremism, or non-fundamentalism, regarding Capitalism is a feature which marks Gibson as a dialogistic author: creating a text which presents a dialogue between alternative conceptions through a heteroglossia -- a multiplicity of voices -- and thereby leave the final judgement upto the reader; allowing the reader to participate in the creation of the future.

This is in opposition to didactic texts, which have their minds made up; present the Good and the Bad already determined; thus compelling the reader to accept the narrator's moral position or be branded as among the Bad.

So, how does Rei Toei function in Gibson's satire? Capitalism can be described as a system which enables people to freely exchange money for goods or services that satisfy particular desires. Capitalism, then, assumes (a.) that people have desires, and (b.) that they will pay to have their desires satified. So, Rei Toei is described as being " amplified reflection of desire" ch.39, p.198.) She is, that is to say, in Capitalist terms, a Supply. Gibson expresses the supply function, in his novel, in terms of Say's Law, which, in a rough generalisation, says that "Supply creates its own demand." in other words, demand follows supply. This doctrine is put, in All Tomorrow's Parties, into the mouth of Tessa, who replies to Chevette's remark Rei Toei's kind of perfection " what people want," with this firm statement of Say's Law:'ve got it exactly backwards. People don't know what they want, not before they see it. Every object of desire is a found object (ch.15, p.82.)
Here, then, Gibson is treating in fiction the commodification aspect of Capitalism: the way that it turns values into commodities -- goods or services to be sold and bought. In this formulation, each good and service is an "object of desire." Thus, the Capitalist sequence is,
  1. A human desire.
  2. A capitalist's supply of an object of that desire: a commodity.
  3. A capitalist buyers' demand and provision of money for, and consumption of, that object.
All Tomorrow's Parties resists wholesale belittlement of this sequence, because, it was argued in lecture, the condemnation of people gratifying their desires is a form of Puritanism: those people who apply moral censure to desires and their fulfillment are said, in our culture, to be Puritanical; moralistic; Fundamentalist. William Gibson's background in the expressive nineteen sixties makes him very resistant to moral condemnation of free expression of will and desire.

In Wednesday's lecture upcoming we will see what aspects of Capitalism are being satirised in Gibson's gloriously polyphonic novel, and more of what his posthuman dystopia-utopia looks like.

Taoism in "All Tomorrow's Parties"

The assassin ("Konrad") in All Tomorrow's Parties is, as we have read & heard in lecture, a follower of Taoism. I found this website which can be provide helpful information to anyone who wants a fuller understanding of William Gibson's artistic use of the character and the metaphysical beliefs that he projects.

From that webpage, here are some specific Taoist concepts, beliefs and practices pertaining directly to Gibson's text:

  • Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
  • The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.
  • Each believer's goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.
  • The concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.
  • Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
  • Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.

ATP: Vincent Black Lightning

From a student commenter:
This is a relatively minor part of the book, but Fontaine mentions that Skinner rode a Vincent Black Lightning, I think it was a 1952, I can't remember.
Anyway, I don't know how popular it is or whether the version I know is a cover, but Richard Thompson that I can't get out of my head everytime I go to read the book.
This is a relatively good version, but I like the one I have better, just because of the back up vocals.

A Rei Toei-like character

I read "simone" as "SIM One:

A movie about a singer like Rei Toei, a famous singer, who is actually "a sea of code" is called Simone.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mid-Term Revisions

For those of you didn't have chance to pick up your graded mid-term revisions, here are the opportunities for you to do so.
From Friday to Monday night, you can get them directly from me by individual appointment. Contact me at your convenience by e-mail or at 604-250-9432 and arrange a mutually-convenient time.
From Tuesday to Friday, one of our Librarians has agreed to serve as agent. Contact Norma Marier at either, Bennett Library room 5007, or 778.782.3416 for an agreeable time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Student Financial Aid & Awards

Follow the hotlink in this post's title for a list of the financial aid and awards available to undergraduates: the deadline is April 15th.

A list of SFU bursaries (a hidden help) is on-line here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Time to recognize Web addiction as illness"

Following on from our guest speaker last class, an official psychiatry article, of interest to the tabloid The Vancouver Province, on internet adiction:
An editorial in this month's issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry says Internet addiction - including "excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations and email/text messaging" - is a common compulsive-impulsive disorder that should be added to psychiatry's official guidebook of mental disorders.

Clocks: "the order uncomprehended."

Both McLuhan, in his "Clocks: The Scent of Time" chapter, and our Coupland and Gibson texts passim, use an image of Time which Seventeenth Century metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan used in a pair of poems: "The Morning Watch"and "The Evening Watch."

William Gibson's character "Silencio" in All Tomorrow's Parties is presented as being "....colonized by an order uncomprehended" (p. 87) and the 'order' is in the form of a watch: that is to say, the clockwork universe behind the world of experience and appearance. ("some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension," p. 85.)
Silencio, in fact, is an Oracle for these horological forces: "....He has become the words, what they mean" (p. 88.)

As lecture explained, Gibson has thus put his novel directly within a long-standing intellectual and, more importantly, literary tradition. I displayed the poem "Evening Watch" by the great Seventeenth century Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan. Here is the final stanza:

11 Ah go; th'art weak, and sleepy. Heav'n
12 Is a plain watch, and without figures winds
13 All ages up; who drew this circle, even
14 He fills it; days and hours are blinds.
15 Yet this take with thee. The last gasp of time
16 Is thy first breath, and man's eternal prime
To explain this stanza, and help take Gibson's meaning, look at the little Scottie dog in the image here. He is standing on the face of "a plain watch" which, not having any numerals on it, is "without figures." Because the minute and hour hands block his vision of the whole of the 'plain', they are in effect "blinds" -- as in shooting blinds which block the little dog from seeing the full circle. [All Tomorrow's Parties, ch 43, p 215: "Because we have constructed this blind, says the cat."]

Let's interpret this: we can't properly see what the poem calls "heaven" -- that is, Eternity -- because Time, the past, present & future, blocks out, in a sense, our eternal view. In Vaughan's final stanza above, the phrase "eternal prime" invokes the horological sense of 'Prime," the first liturgical hour of the ecclesiastical day. Thus in eternity it is always morning, since there is no Time which can bring the day to an end!

Gibson's futurist re-vision of this in All Tomorrow's Parties gives a secular eternity, where matter can be endlessly re-created newly, and a post-human being -- Rei Toei -- is created & re-created infinitely from "pure code." (p. 184.)

Now, of course, we are here dealing solely in terms of Fiction: art to be enjoyed and delighted in for its æsthetic qualities. And if it should 'instructs' by this delighting? Well, that is purely for each individual to decide .....

Friday, March 14, 2008

Disconnection Anxiety Reseach

A must-read research report, in PDF, courtesy of classfellow L.H., on 'Disconnection Anxiety': I love the title of an article on the report from the engadget blog -- "68% of Americans suffer disconnection anxiety, should probably go outside." Brilliant deduction, Holmes!
The study used research collected on almost 5,000 people over two years, and found that feelings of "disconnect anxiety" affected people of all ages, triggering sentiments like "dazed," "disoriented," "tense," "inadequate" and even "panic." Interestingly, however, the reasons for disconnect anxiety changed as subjects got older -- teens and young adults worried about social communications being cut off, while older adults mostly fretted over work and safety issues.

Essay Writing Assistance for WI

The W.A.C. Bennett Library offers the following practical assistance to undergraduates for writing essays:

How Do I... Integrate Sources in a Paper?
How Do I...?
A series of term-paper writing drop-ins organized by the Burnaby Student Learning Commons. Bring your draft, your assignment, or just your questions. Share experiences with other writers and learn about strategies and resources to help you further as that term-paper deadline looms!
All "How Do I" sessions are in room
2004, Bennett Library, Burnaby campus.

Coming up next--

How Do I...edit my own draft?
Wed. March 19, 12:30
- 1:30
Thurs. March 20, 3:00 - 4:00
Tues. March 25, 12:30 - 1:30

Free for all SFU students; no sign-ups necessary.

Child-like intelligence created in Second Life

From ITNews Australia, via classfellow J.R., an article which I judge be intriguing and valuable, albeit overwrought:

By Liz Tay 14 March 2008 03:55PM Four-year-old Eddie might behave like a typical young boy. Outside of the Second Life virtual world, however, he is anything but. The child is a product of logic-based artificial intelligence and complex modelling techniques, and operates on what has been said to be the most powerful university-based supercomputing system in the world.
A creation of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Eddie has his own set of beliefs, and the ability to reason about his beliefs to draw conclusions in a manner that matches human children his age.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More detail on Rachel Marsden & SFU

À propos earlier discussion, I was surfing — a large-traffic left-of-centre American daily e-media — and to my astonishment found this major feature story on Ms. Marsden, who, I am to understand, is now a conservative commentator on Fox News Channel, being, it says, groomed for a very big profile. The article presents the SFU affair in prominent detail, puts the university (which it calls "....the famously progressive, Utopian Simon Fraser University") in high profile, and is compelling reading.
The sordid saga wreaked havoc on the lives of Marsden, [Swim Team Coach] Liam Donnelly, [Harrassment Co-ordinator Patricia] O'Hagan, and [University President John] Stubbs. But it also took a steep ideological toll on feminists....

Monday, March 10, 2008

jPod TV Episode Download

For Wednesday, please try to download & watch Episode 1 of jPod from the State Media homepage, and consider what the differences are between the work of art on this medium and on the Gutenberg medium.

Support Blurbs to Today's Class

Two media items - or, 'journal articles on-line' -- following from today's lecture & discussion are the nostalgia-tinged story from the New York Times pace Marshall McLuhan on what I explain in terms of cocooning on the decline of the office telephone, (link courtesy J.R.) and this reflection on the 'information bomb' (which most of you are not, by show of hands, in fact experiencing):
The Joy of Boredom
Don't check that e-mail. Don't answer that phone. Just sit there. You might be surprised by what happens.
By Carolyn Y. Johnson
March 9, 2008
A DECADE AGO, those monotonous minutes were just a fact of life: time ticking away, as you gazed idly into space, stood in line, or sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic.....Increasingly, these empty moments are being saturated with productivity, communication, and the digital distractions offered by an ever-expanding array of slick mobile devices. A few years ago, cellphone maker Motorola even began using the word "microboredom" to describe the ever-smaller slices of free time from which new mobile technology offers an escape.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Guest Lecture on Internet Addiction

To help us better understand internet addiction, treated in our Paul Virilio text, Information Bomb, we have as a guest speaker in this coming Wednesday's lecture WHO researcher Dr. Bruce Alexander -- one of the world's leading scholarly authorities on addiction. Dr. Alexander's recent study for the Centre for Policy Alternatives, The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society, is available online in portable document format. You can read about him in Britain's Daily Telegraph and Guardian. Now a book, published this month at Oxford UP, the argument has Dr. Alexander in high international media demand....

The talk, which begins at 12:30 in WMC3515, is open to friends & colleagues in the Department.

Update: from today's, headline "Disconnect Anxiety: ....59% of Canadians feel anxious without the [Inter]Net."
'Internet addiction" and "CrackBerry" are the narcotic-laced phrases we invariably use to explain our growing dependence on laptops and PDAs. Now a Canadian media research company has examined what happens to users in the absence of their virtual communication of choice and coined a term for the modern-day affliction: "disconnect anxiety."
The syndrome is described, in a study that will be released today, as the various feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access.

Friday, March 7, 2008

On Art, Text & Video Games

From classfellow R.S.:
I seems like if everything is a text, then there is a case for anything to be art. But hasn't that just removed from art the ability to just be art, and instead privileged the argument that something is art instead of the piece in question? That's what Post-Modernism has done, made everything you can argue about art. That is all part of the ethical-legal transition Virilio outlines.
Just had to reply to that point. I will still argue for the artistic merit in some video games, but I also understand how they as a genre lack artistic credibility.
And I allow that, in principle, a second coming of Leonardo daVinci could craft a video game....

CBC Axes JPod

On today's State Media homepage, disappointing news for Couplandians that they have decided against renewing the TV version of JPod.
Two-year-old drama Intelligence and new comedy JPod are missing from a list of returning shows released Friday by CBC-TV executive director of network programming Kirstine Layfield.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ha Ha Ha

Courtesy of prolific classfellow J.R. (with a twinkle in his eye, I warrant), this from the NYMag:
Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online. They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention—and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On Graphic Novels in Culture

À Propos our seminar discussion of graphic novels vis-à-vis McLuhan's line from comics to television (TV taking over the function & popularity of comics) -- graphic novels, we suggested, then taking over TV (with an added argument that TV, film & g.n. now form a symbiosis) -- here is an article via Arts & Letters Daily on graphic novels and shoplifiting:
1. Charles Bukowski
2. Jim Thompson
3. Philip K. Dick
4. William S. Burroughs
5. Any Graphic Novel

This is pretty much the authoritative top five, the New York Times
best-seller list of stolen books

There are race- and class-based conclusions included.

On Translation

Usefully, from a classfellow, on a:
....translation Hayyim Nahman Bialik and it goes like this: "....reading a work of art in translation is like kissingsomebody through a handkerchief." To which I heard Welsh poet Menna Elfyn adding: "....but it's better than not kissing at all."
We'll be looking (briefly, but helpfully) at Quine's Gavagai thought-experiment on the indeterminacy of translation in seminar this week.

Monday, March 3, 2008

On JPod

From a draught essay this term (edited):

["Douglas Coupland"'s arrival into the novel in his large black SUV]. These surreal developments within the narrative of JPod suggest that, for Coupland, the content of a work does not convey its social message, but rather the form of the medium itself does: in this case, the Gutenberg text. Marshall McLuhan is engaged by Coupland's text through its formal arrangement. By including the computer as the central dialogue, Coupland effectively comments on the new medium by making it itself the message. That is, the content of JPod is not the plot but the work within the plot: an integration of internet and language, which, as McLuhan argues, appropriates both as art, and therefore, in this radical sense, the book's message.

Grading of the Mid-Term

The Mid-Term draught is being returned today, with comments and a grade.
The grading procedure is as follows:
  • I have done intensive copy-editing and analysis, in red ink, on the first two-thirds of the essay. The remaining third is left unmarked, to provide you, once having read and studies my work, with a practical document on which to apply the same degree and type of copy-editing corrections yourself. Upon completion of that exercise, you are welcome to bring that to me in an Office Hour for discussion.
  • There is a circled grade beside my concluding comments at the end of your paper.
  • This is your conditional grade.
  • Upon revision of the draught, the mark can go down no more than one full letter grade and can go up no more than one full letter grade: conditional upon the quality of your revision.
  • If little revision is done, the conditional grade will stand
  • If no or poor revision is done the mark will go down.
  • If comprehensive revision is done, the mark will go up.
    • The mark after the revision will be the final grade for the assignment.
    • A complete re-write is possible, if the student feels that they wish to improve upon the range available from the conditional grade received. The complete re-write will be judged as a final revision and the grade on that re-write will be the final grade for the assignment.

    The mark after the revision, on the eight-week writing path, will be the final grade for the assignment.

    Wikipedia-SFU Connection

    Because I can't resist. Wikipedia & two-degrees of separation from SFU (a connection from Hell, that is!)
    Right-wing pundit Marsden turns to eBay after breakup with Wikipedia founder

    TORONTO — Rachel Marsden, the right-wing pundit better known in Canada for a series of scandals in her personal life, has apparently had a messy breakup with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
    Marsden posted photos of herself on eBay on Sunday to accompany items she says were left behind in her New York City apartment by Wales, the Wikipedia creator who has himself confirmed he was briefly involved with the Canadian media personality.
    Wikipedia is a popular online encyclopedia that has an entry on Marsden that has itself been the subject of controversy.
    "Hi, my name is Rachel and my (now ex-) boyfriend, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, just broke up with me via an announcement on Wikipedia," Marsden says in her eBay posting.
    "It was such a classy move that I was inspired to do something equally classy myself, so I'm selling a couple of items of clothing he left behind, here in my NYC apartment, on eBay. Jimbo was supposed to come visit me in a couple of weeks and pick up some of his stuff, but obviously that won't be happening now."
    In an e-mail exchange with The Canadian Press on Sunday, the 33-year-old Marsden had this to say: "It didn't really help matters that Jimmy chose to announce the breakup to the entire world via Wikipedia (which apparently now is an online encyclopedia that doubles as a personal soapbox?) rather than to me directly (which he did much later, in an instant message discussion)."
    A quick scan of Marsden's Wikipedia page reveals that a battle of epic proportions has been playing out for years between Marsden and her supporters and various Wikipedia editors concerning references to her past legal troubles....
    She first came to the attention of Canadians in the late 1990s, when she accused a swim coach at Simon Fraser University of sexual harassment. But the swim coach, who was fired and later reinstated, claimed that she had stalked him, although his allegations were never proven.
    Wales himself once waded into the battle about Marsden's Wikipedia page after Marsden contacted him to complain. He ruled that the article didn't meet Wikipedia standards.
    That left him in an apparently uncomfortable spot when it was recently revealed by the tech blog Valleywag that he had embarked upon a personal relationship with Marsden. The story, complete with supposed transcripts of their instant message exchanges, set the blogosphere on fire.
    Wales posted a statement on Wikipedia on Saturday to explain himself and to say the relationship was over....
    "First, while I find it hard to imagine that anyone really cares about my sex life, the facts are: I am separated from my wife. I considered myself single at the time of my one meeting with Rachel Marsden on Feb. 9, 2008," he wrote.
    "I am no longer involved with Rachel Marsden. Gossipy stories suggesting that I have been in a relationship with her 'since last fall' are completely false ... I care deeply about the integrity of Wikipedia, and take very seriously my responsibilities as a member of the board and as a member of the Wikipedia community. I would never knowingly do anything to compromise that trust."....

    Sunday, March 2, 2008

    Comments on the Blog

    My thanks to the classfellows leaving useful comments. I, however, am less useful -- I neglected to turn the comment moderation function on, & assumed no-one was commenting (relevance wider there, I'm sure!)

    Apologies, and, as I say, gratitude!

    Wiki Vandals

    (Where is wiki grafitti?) NYRB, via Arts & Letters Daily:
    Not only does Wikipedia need its vandals, the vandals need an orderly Wikipedia,
    too. Without order, their culture-jamming lacks a context... more»

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008

    Join us for "Virtual Classroom" Creation

    Look like Saturday afternoon is the target for a get-together to set up a virtual classroom in Second Life. There's four of us so far: if anyone else wants to join us for a couple of hours of pizza a beer (on me), send me an email for directions.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Office-Plant Blogging

    It's always spring in hothouse my wonderful office.

    AQ6094: office hours are always as scheduled.

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Notes on Draughting Academic Essays

    (With thanks to Harbrace College Handbook, The Little, Brown Handbook, and others) here is today's writing presentation slides, on-line.

    And confirmation that the due-date for the mid-term draught is now Friday, February 22nd, six o'clock pm, in my Department mailbox.

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Language & Computer Media?

    This is just relevant enough to cross-post here from my 342 course blog: it is a very English television advertisement for a word processor -- in the invented mis-language Unwinese and by the great Stanley himself. More on Stanley Unwin here.

    Bits of Virilio

    A few worthwhile links on Paul Virilio, literature and the internet medium. A YouTube clip (en français); a NetTime analysis (left-activist site); and an interesting result set from the reliably useful Literature-Map.

    (The text accompanying the image here is: "[...] The breathtaking frantic pace at which events have been unfolding over the last quarter of a century favor the rise of a power of forgetting. Whence not only the infamous and sinister "revisionism" or negationism that seeks to invalidate the events occurring from Second World War on, but, more insidious still, the computerized undermining of reality [...] Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor, 1995.)

    Monday Draughting Seminar

    Following up in case you missed the e-mail (ha!) instructing all to bring whatever much of the Mid-Term Essay draught outline is accomplished (including next-to-none) to Monday's class for a workshop.

    Remember that the Pertinent & Impertinent links on the blog here include several on writing directions for you, if needed..

    Thursday, February 14, 2008


    Please don't neglect to spend time between now and Monday reviewing your notes from the film viewing, and coming up with your individual analysis of how Tron functions in light of either Snow Crash or Marshall McLuhan.

    On the topic of virtuality, I believe that the film holds up surprisingly, and comendably well, (and the 80s clothes and cinematic tropes are delightfully amusing.) I have the tentative opinion that its intellectual respectability, specifically in relation to virtual reality is no lower than that of The Matrix.

    I, naturally, have my own view of tron in McLuhan-esque terms, which I will add to the class discussion on Monday.

    Friday, February 8, 2008

    Notebook Computer Use in Lecture

    Wisdom received by e-mail from a student:
    I was actually wondering if you would mind making a comment in class (or e-mail or whatever) about laptop use in class? I've found it really frustrating during a lot of our classes that classmates have been checking their facebook, e-mail, photos etc during class time. The scrolling and flashing on the screen is really distracting in my peripheral vision. It's so disrespectful, I just don't get it.
    Again, Verbum sapienti satis est.

    Thursday, February 7, 2008

    Group Presentations

    The group presentations, analysing and appreciating online graphic novels, are going very well: well at the standard expected of fourth-year seminars. I uploaded one of the hand-in notes as an illustration to the blogosphere of the good quality work we have.

    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    It is, of course, Japan....

    [Update] The "news media & the blogosphere" are the same, in fact. The old media just doesn't accept the reality yet.

    William Gibson will, as we shall come to see, laud the explosion of novels for cell phones in Nippon. (Via classfellow J.R.)

    Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

    Tuesday, February 5, 2008

    On Plagiarism

    The matter of plagiarism arises in any treatment of fanfiction: an interesting article on the topic via today's Arts & Letters Daily.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    Support for McLuhan

    From classfellow R.S.:

    Tool Use Is Just a Trick of the Mind
    By Michael Balter ScienceNOW Daily News 28 January 2008

    Don't take that hammer for granted. Using tools may seem like second nature, but only a few animals can master the coordination and mental sophistication required. So how did primates learn to use tools in the first place? A new study in monkeys suggests that the brain's trick is to treat tools as just another body part.

    "This article is saying that human minds are able to understand tools because we understand them as an extension of ourselves. McLuhan, the next focus of archeology?"

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    Mid-Term Topics

    Criteria are in the assignment post.
    1. Select an on-line work of fanfiction and discuss it in light of chapter seven--on the role of art as prophet and buffer--from Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media.
    2. In Snow Crash, the Librarian is a medium and its content is Sumerian myth. According to Marshall McLuhan, this relationship would transform the myth into art. As an art form, the myth surrenders its truth aspect and becomes æsthetic only. Explain whether or not McLuhan argument here is that (a.) computer technology is a hot medium which (b.) in this case diminishes the human benefits of myth.
    3. Do you agree with McLuhan that the content of a printed work of fiction is irrelevant to its social message? Your argument must (a.) focus on any one of the three works of printed fiction in our course, and (b.) use any one aspect of the internet (e.g. IM, e-mail, YouTube, etc.) as a comparison.

    Class Cancellation January 30th

    The delightful picture here (courtesy of a shool in Surrey, Pacific Academy,) says all.
    Class is cancelled today: no dead-lines will be effected, with the presentation scheduled by Messrs. Yee, Sanders & Ryan moving to the coming Monday, where it will share a day with Ms. Passman and Messrs. Feddes and Bennett.
    A God-sent opportunity to stay ahead with your reading of McLuhan, Virilio.... and even jPod.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    New Book on McLuhan

    Via the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily, an enticing online essay about Marshall McLuhan, titled In the Garden with the Guru, by a former student and neighbour of his, one Bob Rodgers.
    I believe McLuhan is on a comeback but in a way more sustainable than first time around. Few writers on emerging technologies get far without quoting him or using his percepts and terminology. Communications as an academic discipline is only a generation old and shows no sign of going away. McLuhan was a co-founder of that discipline, if not its godfather. I think this time he is here to stay.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    On Published Literature versus Webfiction

    Classfellow Shawn sends along this thoughtful write-up of his comment in class today, which gets to the heart of one of the most significant consequences for literature from the Internet. We will discuss the issues specifically raised in Monday seminar time, set up by a clip of mine from The Beatles' Anthology to illustrate the point at hand. basic point is that the difference between publishing through traditional means and publishing online is that the enforcement of standards shifts from being enforced by a select few (in anticipation of a wider audience) to being enacted and enforced by the audience themselves as a collective. The struggle of the Internet as a publishing medium is to find ways to express these standards in ways that allow users to effectively filter content. When a work is published in print form by an established publisher it is assumed to have successfully pass the standards subjectively set by an individual publishing house. Publishers establish a basic reputation for what they typically publish, be it chick lit, pulp sci-fi or avant-garde poetry. So works gain a certain credibility by simply being published and then credibility within a genre by virtue of the publisher’s existing track record. A work enters the market place with a level of status conferred by its meeting of basic publishing standards which are enforced by a small select number of people. These criteria are often a balance between artistic or scholarly merit combined with what will turn a profit or at least cover the basic costs of publishing. The publishing system is the first major filter works must pass through but it isn’t the only one. Oprah, book critics, canonization within the university system and sales statistics all serve as filters, each with varying degrees of cultural capital. Works published on the Internet bypass this initial filter allowing for interesting experiments with self-publishing. There is the requirement that a work is in the right format and can be actually transmitted in binary code and there has to be an actual forum for it to be published within not to mention the basic requirement of having access to the necessary technology. One of the things that makes the Internet interesting but also bursting at the seams with [bad] content is that there is not established gatekeepers (If you don’t count censorship by internet ‘publishers’ such as Facebook) once these basic requirements are met. But works published on the internet are subject to standards and what essentially amount to filters functioning in the same way as publishing houses and Oprah. Works published on the Internet still exist within a form of market place and are subject to the standards enforced by the general collective of users. The challenge of the Internet is how it expresses these standards and connects individuals to works that meet these standards. Right now standards are often express on a sort of best sellers list mode blended with word of mouth and various rating schemes. Sites such as Youtube operate on a blending of these strategies.While the audience doesn’t have to ability to prevent the initial publishing of a work, content will sink to the bottom of the pile quite quickly through lack of views or negative reviews. So the audience has the ability to manipulate and enact basic standards and to influence what gets viewed. Youtube is also shaping what gets viewed through sections such as "featured videos" or "promoted videos". Such web applications perform the same function as publishers do as gatekeepers though they don't actually prevent the works initial publishing. Some sites do this better than others, would be an example in my mind of a site where there isn’t a clear and concise way for standards to be expressed and content to be filtered be it by the collective user base or by the sites moderators. I think we are still in the early days of direct filtering by the audience and of standards being established by the audience themselves but that doesn’t mean it isn’t already happening.

    ....And This Question regards "Snow Crash"

    From classfellow Jaason, this question which will stimulate our next point of departure for understanding & better appreciating Snow Crash.

    If new forms of media contain and convert into art the old forms of media, does not Stephenson run the risk of turning the Sumerian myth into art? The librarian is nothing more than a piece of software yet it is given complete knowledge of the myth. In other words, the librarian is a medium and its content is the myth. According to McLuhan, this relationship would transform the myth into art. And being an art form, the myth would necessarily lose its claim to universal truth and become subjective. As a result, Snow Crash might fail at reconciling technology with humanity. Responses?

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Interview with Neal Stephenson.

    This interview at Reason magazine online has some helpful insights into the mind behind Snow Crash in terms of our own course structure.

    Reason: Snow Crash is almost a parody of a libertarian future. Do you think the affinity-group-based societies you outline in that book are on their way? Do you see that as a warning note, or a natural state we're progressing toward?
    Stephenson: I dreamed up the Snow Crash world 15 years ago as a thought-experiment, and I tweaked it to be as funny and outrageous and graphic novel-like as I could make it. Such a world wouldn't be stable unless each little "burbclave" had the ability to defend itself from all external threats....

    Reason: You gave a speech at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference a few years back in which you suggested that the focus on issues like encryption was too narrow, and that we should give more attention to what theologian Walter Wink calls "domination systems." This surprised some of the attendees, partly because it reached outside the usual privacy/free speech issue set and partly because, hey, you were citing a theologian. What brought you to Walter Wink, and what other light do you think theologians can shed on our approaches to government?

    Stephenson: ....Wink takes a general interest in people in various places who are getting the shaft. He develops an empirical science of shaftology, if you will. (Of course he doesn't call it shaftology; that's just my name for it.) He goes all over the world and looks at different kinds of people who are obviously getting the shaft, be they blacks in apartheid South Africa, South American peasants, or residents of inner-city neighborhoods dominated by gangs. He looks for connections among all of these situations and in this way develops the idea of domination systems. It's not germ theory and modern antibiotics, but it is, at the very least, a kind of epidemiology of power disorders. And even people who can't stomach the religious content of his work might take a few cues from this epidemiological, as opposed to theoretical/ideological, approach.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Course Participation Bonus

    Beneficial contribution to the class dialectic will be treated as follows. Consistent participation in class discussion is assumed, at the Instructor's discretionary judgement.

    Full attendance:
    1. For the Final Paper, rounding up to the next letter grade where percentage is within five points. (E.g. Final paper is 85.5 %: grade assigned is 90%.)
    2. For the Group Critical Theory assignment, eliminating the lowest grade of the three presentations and scaling the remaining two for the fifteen percent component of the course grade.
    One class absence:

    1. For the Final Paper, rounding up to the next letter grade where percentage is within one point. (E.g. Final paper is 89.0 %: grade assigned is 90%.)
    2. For the Group Critical Theory assignment, adding five percent the lowest grade of the three presentations.

    Two class absences:

    1. For the Final Paper, rounding up to the next letter grade where percentage is within one point. (E.g. Final paper is 89.0 %: grade assigned is 90%.)

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Group On-Line Literature Project Criteria

    In the three-person groups set in the critical theory assignment, complete an on-line literary engagement with fanfiction. The objective of the assignment is demonstration of familiarity with and critical understanding of literature in the online medium.
    • There are two sections, each worth ten percent of the course grade, for a total assignment grade of twenty percent.
    • The due dates for the two sections are chosen by the group, with three weeks at minimum between the two dates.
    • Each section will work hands-on with an aspect of fanfiction. Some alternatives are:
    1. a blog on an existing fanfiction
    2. a fanfiction creation of the group's own
    3. a Second-Life project
    4. a critical-theory essay or manifesto
  • Select from the course list of fanfiction sites or research a choice of your own.
  • Each section assumes 10% of the course grading effort for each group member.
  • Hand in a hard-copy proposal for the full project (both sections) by February 4th.
  • Group Critical Theory Assignment Criteria

    This assignment is worth fifteen percent of the course grade, has three sections, and is done by groups of three members. Thus, for each student, each of the three sections involves five percent of the graded effort for the course.

    • For each section, the group will lead a thirty-minute seminar discussion on a webserial graphic novel of your choice.
    • The discussion will treat the webserial in the context of media and literary theory: ordinarily McLuhan or Virillio. The purpose of the discussion will be add specifically to our understanding of how on-line literature functions within, adapts to, or critiques upon the internet.
    • On the sign-up sheet available on January 14th, each group will in turn select three different seminar dates on which they will lead class discussion.
    • The format that the sections take is the group's decision. As one example, each member in turn speaks for five minutes and leads seminar discussion for five minutes.
    • Whether one webserial is used for all three discussion dates, or whether each of the three different dates is used to discusses a different webserial, is the decision of each group. The webserial or serials can be taken from the course on-line bibliography, or can be a separate group selection.
    • At the end of the presentation, hand in a hard copy of your written work: notes, outline, even draughts, as you prefer. This is used to ground the grading process for discussion
    • Each section will be graded individually, on a written response sheet the week following. There is one group grade for all members.

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    "Some thoughts on writing well"

    From the Nota Bene section of the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily today is a useful article which encourages plain English by offering "some thoughts on writing well."
    At my local recycling center, the first bin is labeled “commingled containers.” Whoever dreamed up this term could have taken the easy way out and just written “cans and bottles.” But no, the author opted for words out of the bureaucrat’s style book, and chose the raised-pinky elegance of a phrase distant from normal English. He also added poor spelling (“comingled,” also a correct spelling, would have been clearer) and pointless redundancy (the concept of “co” is already embedded in the word “mingled”). How did they pack so many errors into two words of modern environmental prose?

    Mid-Term Essay Criteria

    Here is the arrangement and the schedule of dates for the Mid-Term Essay, twenty five hundred words and revisions. The assignment is worth thirty percent of the Course grade, [of which fifteen percent is for the draught and fifteen percent for the revision.] The specific method of grading is detailed in its seperate post, here.

    Eight-week writing path (updated 27/02):

    1. Course week four, Wednesday January 30th: choice of topics posted on the blog
    2. Course week six, Friday February 22nd: draught version due Department mailbox.
    3. Course week nine, Monday March 3rd: draught returned with comments & grade.
    4. Course week ten, Monday March 10th: peer-editing of draught revision.
    5. Course week eleven, Monday March 17th: revision due in class.
    6. Course week eleven, Thursday March 20th: revision returned with comments & grade. (Earlier if needed.)
    • The draught is an opportunity to get your ideas and structure freely down on paper. The marking will identify the types of error which require revision: after studying these you are encouraged to bring the draught to Office Hours for additional and thorough-going help.
    • The revision will be graded according to the improvements made from the draught.

    Explicit Writing Criteria

    The explicit writing criteria for the course are detailed in The Little, Brown Handbook, ranking Canada alongside England with its Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler's Modern English Usage, and Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.

    The Little, Brown Handbook is set on Course Reserve and is available at the SFU Bookstore, on the tradebooks floor. It is an indispensable work for anyone who will ever write non-fictionally.

    Part I of the Handbook gives the specific criteria used in grading writing in 105W. They can be summarised under the following simple headings.

    • Precise fidelity to the Rules of Grammar.
    • Correct spelling.
    • Use of Plain English.
    • Opening paragraph is a statement of thesis.
    • Subsequent paragraphs develop the thesis logically (ideally, by dialectic.)
    • Concise paragraph structure, including:
      • three to five sentences;
      • one clearly-identifiable topic sentence;
      • two or three sentences that develop the topic;
      • one transitional sentence to conclude.
    • Individual characteristics of scholarly writing, appropriate to fourth-year undergraduates. An excellent succint guide is Harvard College: Making the Most of College Writing.

    Course Syllabus

    Course Syllabus & Information

    Course Approach

    The calendar title of English 484 (writing intensive) is "Literature and Media." We focus on one specific medium on which literature is delivered and of which literature treats: the internet. The backbone of the course is the new critical edition of Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, which we will read and discuss evenly throughout the term weeks. McLuhan is a superlative theorist, a master of prose, relevant to literature proper and media generally, and with value perennial and universal.
    We will read and have lecture upon Gutenberg texts, and write a mid-term and a final essay on the WI criteria, and study and incorporate Paul Virillo's concise and explosive analysis of information culture in The Information Bomb.
    Under McLuhan's moral and operational division of media into Hot and Cold, students in groups of three will work for themselves in the "low-definition" medium of online literature. In the critical theory component, each group will lead three thirty-minute seminars discussion over the Term of their choice of an on-line graphic novel. Then, for the on-line literature project, each group will complete an on-line literary engagement: either a blog on an existing fanfiction, a fanfiction of their own, or a Second-Life project.
    Second Life is an excellent instantiation of both the subject of our three Gutenberg texts and the projected development of McLuhan's dictum that 'the medium is the message."

    Schedule of Readings

    Primary Course Texts

    January 7th & 9th:
    Understanding Media: Introd. First & Second, and Ch. 1
    January 14th & 16th:
    —Snow Crash
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 2
    January 21st & 23rd
    —Snow Crash
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 3-4
    January 38th & 30th
    —Snow Crash
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 5-9
    February 4th & 6th
    —The Information Bomb
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 10-12
    February 11th & 13th
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 13-15
    February 18th & 20th
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 16-18
    February 25th & 27th
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 19-21
    March 3rd & 5th
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 22-24
    March 10th & 12th
    —All Tomorrow's Parties
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 25-27
    March 17th & 19th
    —All Tomorrow's Parties
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 28-30
    March 24th & 26th
    Unofficial Reading Break
    March 31st & April 2nd
    —Understanding Media: Ch. 31-33
    April 7th

    Secondary Texts

      • The two secondary, or Recommended, texts concern the on-line aspect of the course and give important practical and theoretical information about IT at a level congenial to English majors, and aid understanding of literature in the on-line medium.
      • The texts should be read at a reasonable pace through the first six weeks of the course, and used for reference throughout the course.
    On-Line Literatures
    • Group work in the course deals directly with on-line literature, and is divided into two sections: Graphic Novels and FanFiction (Webserials.)
    • The lists of on-line literature from which you may choose are at the following URL:

    Class Deadlines

    January 14th, Group Theory Projects sign-up sheet.
    January 30th, Mid-Term Essay topics Posted.
    February 4th, Group On-line Literature Project outline due.
    February 20th, Mid-Term Essay Draught due.
    February 27th, Graded Mid-Term Essay Draught returned.
    March 12th, Mid-Term Essay Revision due.
    March 19th, Mid-Term Essay Revision returned.
    March 31st, Final Essay Outline or Thesis ¶ Draught due.
    April 11th, Final Essay due.

    Nb: There is a four percent per day late penalty for all assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, provide a letter on a Physician's or Surgeon's letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that illness or injury prevented work on the assignment. The letter must cover the entire period over which the assignment was scheduled and may be verified by telephone. For bereavement leave, simply provide, ex post facto, a copy of the order of service or other published notice of remembrance.
    Support material available on Library Reserve.

    Nb: “Participation requires both attendance and punctuality."

    Instructor Contact:
    Expanded Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday two thirty to five thirty, Tuesday ten o'clock to noon, Wednesday two thirty to three o'clock, Thursday ten o'clock to noon. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Use your SFU account for e-mail contact. Other e-Mail accounts are blocked by white-list.

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    First Course Reading

    Best to get started on McLuhan at the earliest convenience, with a breeze through the Second Life manual. The first novel will be Snow Crash....

    Course Outline

    Writing Intensive
    Instructor: S. OGDEN SPRING 2008

    Online Media: Literature in a Second Life

    This course will research and analyse the reciprocally causal relation between literature and the internet. Our theoretical framework will be Marshall McLuhan’s analyses of modern communication media and Paul Virilio’s contextualization of information media as a subset of applied technology systems. We will study three Gutenberg literary works: one which influenced the creation of an online medium; one which will influence another yet to come; and one which blurs formal differences between Gutenberg and post-Gutenberg literary works. The course requirements include reading and analysis of a list of post-Gutenberg literatures, including webcomics, webserials and fanfiction. There will also be on-going practical engagement with Second Life which, placed in concert with the McLuhan, Coupland and Gibson texts, allows for the question of Canadian identity in online media to be given critical attention.

    NOTE: This course assumes that its students have functional familiarity with PC computer use, terminology, and application, and are able to troubleshoot and repair, or have troubleshot and repaired, their own software and firmware, internet, and O/S problems. Each student will be required to have, or have consistent access to, a PC capable of running Second Life. Apple Corporation products will be condescendingly tolerated.
    McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media
    Virilio, Paul, The Information Bomb
    Stephenson, Neal, Snow Crash
    Coupland, Douglas, JPod
    Gibson, William, All Tomorrow's Parties
    [online] Sundry on-line Literatures.

    Rymaszewski, M. Second Life: The Official Guide
    McCloud, Scott, Reinventing Comics

    15% Three group critical theory projects
    20% Two group on-line literature projects
    30% Mid-term paper (2500 words with revisions)
    35% Final project (3500 words with draught outline)