Monday, January 28, 2013

Arnason, David. A Girl’s Story. From Bowering, Hutcheon, editors. Likely Stories. Coach House Press, 1992. Originally published in The Circus Performers’ Bar. Vancouver: Talon Books Limited, 1984.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Understanding history for a post modernist point of view

What is history?

  • How so we know the past?
  • How do we make sense of it?
  • Traditional response is to make stories about it
    • E.g. historical fiction, history textbooks
  • Yes, the past once existed
  • We learn about it through documents and other artifacts that have been left behind
    • Traces of the past
    • Based on those
  • We construct or reconstruct the past
History vs. Truth
  • What is fact?
  • What is truth?
  • Who decides?
    • Not easy to decide from post-modern
  • Novel, 1984
    • Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth
    • Rewrites history to reflect current view
  • Now have technology to manipulate pictures as well
  • Is there a single meaning to the past?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • Different people see things in different ways
    • E.g. Five blind men and an elephant
Billy the Kid
  • Book is not about the real Billy the Kid
  • MO exposed to American popular culture after WWWII
    • Movies with Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry
    • Read American comic books
  • Became fascinated with Billy by the age of eight
    • Legend and truth woven together
  • In late 1960’s, discovered a series of paintings about Ned Kelly
    • Read books, newspaper articles, Royal Commission Report
    • Listened to recorded ballads about Kelly’s exploits
  • Showed author how he might create his own picture
  • Had already written some poems using Billy’s voice
  • Legend of Billy emerged
    • With his memories of playing Cowboys and Indians as a child
  • Wrote the book over two years
    • Took another year to edit and rearrange the manuscript
  • Never interested in the real Billy
  • Instead, saw him as an alter ego
  • Author looked for links between
    • Mythology
    • History
    • Biography
  • Created a collage of photographs, lyrics, ballads, short prose pieces, interviews, tall tales and found poems
Putting the book together
  • The photographs and layout of the book
    • Two important elements
  • Many of the photographs staged
    • Used family and friends
  • Worked with an editor
    • Dennis Lee
The Real Billy the Kid
  • Born New York City
    • November 23, 1859
  • Real name: Henry McCarthy
    • Mother remarried William H. Antrim
    • 1873
    • Source of alias?
  • Moved to New Mexico
  • Used William H. Bonney as an alias
  • Committed first murder
    • At the age of 12
    • Knifed a man who insulted his mother
  • By 18 years of age
    • Charged with 12 murders
  • Captured and sentenced to death
    • After his gang killed a sheriff and deputy
  • Escaped by killing two guards
  • Eventually trapped and shot to death
    • By former friend, Pat Garrett
How the author plays with traditional conventions
  • Who was Billy the Kid?
  • Facts? Myth or fiction?
  • MO used some post modern techniques
Post modern literature: some characteristics
As readers we think historical fiction authors have done their research
  • Questions role of author
    • One single, authorial voice
    • Who decides that work has one single meaning
      • Meaning of work is not fixed
  • Shifting point of view
    • Other voices include
    • Pat Garrett
    • Paulita Maxwell
    • Sally Chishum
  • Mostly Billy’s voice but
    • He is killed on page 6
      • His list of dead includes himself
      • So is the book written after he is dead?
Discontinuous narrative
  • Storyline does not proceed in a linear fashion
  • “television” writing
    • In fragments
    • In present tense
  • Has a cinematic feeling to it
Other techniques
  • Paradox
    • Billy
      • “gentleman”
    • Pat Garnett
      • “sane assassin”
      • “sociopath”
  • Layering
    • How many times is Billy’s death mentioned throughout the story?
      • Building on death, may feel like travelling in circles
  • Makes writing feel dense
    • Used a variety of sources
    • To recombine elements of the past
    • To create a new work of art

Monday, January 7, 2013


There are no eternal facts, as there are no eternal truths.
There are no facts, only interpretations.
-Friedrich Nietzche 1844-1900
German philosopher

Postmodernism: a definition
  • There is no fixed definition
    • Reaction against modernism?
    • Evolution on a path to?
  • Some characteristics
    • General agreement
  • Post WWII
    • Later in North America (1960-1970)
  • Reaction to war and its aftermath
    • Reaction to devastation
  • Modernists
    • Words no longer adequate
    • Continued experiments with form
    • Questioned everything
      • What is going on?
Postmodernism and capitalism
  • Market capitalism
  • 18th-19th centuries
  • Technology
    • Stream driven motor
  • Literature
    • Realism
    • Jane Austen
Second stage...
  • Late 19th century to mid 20th century
  • Monopoly – capitalism
  • Technology
    • Electric and internal combustion engine (car)
  • Literature
    • Modernism
Third stage...
  • Multinational or consumer capitalism
    • Emphasis on marketing, selling and consuming goods
    • Not on producing them
  • Technologies
    • Nuclear and electronic
  • Literature
    • Postmodernism
This is where we are now. No one knows what comes next because there are no rules.

  • Characters
    • Recognizable
    • Stress on character development
  • Plot
    • Structured, conventional, linear
  • Point of view
    • Established techniques
    • Understandable
  • Language
    • Does not question the ability of language to communicate ideas
  • “Grand narratives”
    • Assumes there is meaning in world
    • Interest in political extremes
  • Break with 19th century
  • Key year: 1922
    • Ulysses by James Joyce
    • The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
    • Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
      • Joyce and Woolf imploys streams of consciousness in their work
  • Key event: World War I
  • Writers could no longer write realistically because of how the world had changed
  • Traditional literary models
    • Could not adequately represent the post war world
  • The futility and anarchy that followed
    • Britain
    • Russia
  • Often suspicious of science and technology used in war
    • First technical war
  • Writers viewed the world as fragmented and decayed
  • World may be understood
    • But only in small pieces
  • Visual arts:
    • Expressionism
      • Abstract
      • interpretive
    • Surrealism
      • based on dreams
Modernism & literature
  • Literary characters
    • Not as “real”
    • Use of outsiders
  • Fewer traditional heroes
  • Story may not be told from omniscient point of view
  • Multiple points of view in one story
  • Turn from external reality of inner states of consciousness
    • E.g. Stream of consciousness writing
      • Character’s thoughts
  • Plot
    • Less structured or “planned”
    • May be no “neat” conclusion
    • Use of unconventional techniques to advance plot:
      • E.g. Songs, newspaper articles
      • Popular culture elements
Modernism & language
  • Language
    • Skepticism
    • Language’s ability to reflect reality
    • Author’s ability to reflect reality
    • “Language exists to conceal thought” –T. S. Eliot
Postmodernism & literature
  • Develops and extends style of modernist literature
  • Both modernism and postmodernism reject 19th century realism
  • Literature becomes more open-ended, fragmented
  • Aristotle (350 BC)
    • Beginning, middle and end
    • May be no clear cut ending, or,
    • May return to beginning
  • Consciously disorient the reader
  • Not what we expect
    • Not chronological, straightforward storytelling
High versus Low Culture
  • Blurs the line between
    • “high” and “low” culture
      • E.g. Billy The Kid
    • Fiction and non-fiction
      • E.g. film and books
  • Who decides?
    • E.g. postmodern artist: Andy Warhol
      • E.g. photos of Marilyn Monroe
Postmodernism & the interpretation of literature
  • Who decides what a poem/story/novel means?
    • Ask the author?
      • May not be totally aware
    • Ask the reader?
      • Everyone brings their own set of assumptions
    • The text itself?
      • Does reader require knowledge of an external source or event?
Modern thinking vs. Postmodern thinking
Structure  Anarchy 
Theory  Anti-theory
Authoritative interpretation  No final interpretation
Search for underlying meaning No underlying meaning
Encyclopaedic knowledge (contained) Web of understanding

  • Distrust towards universal claims about
    • Truth
    • Ethics
    • beauty
  • Instead
    • Based on individual perception
  • Provisional
  • No fixed knowledge
    • The way you view the world
Modernism & grand narratives
  • Stories on how we see the world define ourselves
  • Every belief system based on “grand narratives”
  • Canada
    • What do we believe about our country?
  • United States
The Grand narrative of Marxism
  • Basic belief
    • Capitalism will collapse on itself
    • A utopian socialist will happen
  • What really happened?
    • Feudal systems collapsed
    • Replaced by totalitarian regimes
  • Narrative fell apart, there was nothing at the core
Post modernism and grand narratives
  • Critiques these stories
    • beliefs
  • Points out that they serve to hide the contradictions
    • Occur in any social organization
  • Every attempt to create “order”
    • Also demands the creation of a equal amount of “disorder”
Grand narratives
  • Rejected by post modernism
  • Replaced with “mini-narratives”
    • About local events
    • Not large scale or global
    • Provisional, based on situation
    • Make not claim to universally true
Modernism & education
  • Why are we educated?
  • What is the purpose of gaining knowledge?
  • To become an “educated” person
  • Ideal:
    • Liberal arts education
Postmodernism & education
  • Knowledge is functional
    • You learn things
      • Not to know them
    • But to use that knowledge
    • Emphasis on skills and training
  • Much more accepting of modern world
  • May use technology to produce art
  • May sample other works of art to produce new work
  • What is an original?
    • E.g. music recordings
Postmodernism & philosophy
  • Desire to return to pre-post modern era
    • Associated with conservative political and religious groups
  • Postmodernism
    • Attracts liberals, radicals, feminists
  • Focus thinking about action/social reforms as local/limited
    • E.g. improved day care centres in your own community
  • Focus on specific local goals
  • “think globally, act locally”
  • Offers an alternative
    • To global culture of consumption
  • Celebrates a variety of voices
  • Interested in differences and diversity