Frankenstein as a figure of globalization

“Frankenstein as a figure of globalization in Canada’s postcolonial popular culture,” an article I published in Continuum 25.5 (2011), is now available for Open Access, via Athabasca U’s institutional repository. The abstract and downloadable PDF (post-print full text, but not publisher’s version) are available at http://hdl.handle.net/2149/3450.

Applying the popular ‘technological’ interpretation of Frankenstein to the problematic of globalization, these Canadian films [Videodrome, Possible Worlds, The Corporation] criticize the corporate institution, borrowing from Shelley’s story and its popular progeny to comment, with self-reflexive irony, on communication media and their instrumentality to globalization, its hegemonic naturalization, and the ‘imperialist aspirations’ of transnational conglomerates.

Research presentation on the absence of unions from science fiction

My AU colleague in labour studies, Bob Barnetson, and I had the opportunity about a month ago to attend the Popular Culture Association of Canada’s conference, to present our research on the absence of unions from science fiction. Barnetson has posted a copy of that presentation at his blog, for open peer review, as we turn to developing and expanding our research for publication.

McCutcheon, Mark A. and Bob Barnetson. “No Future for Labour? On the Absence of Unions from Science Fiction.” Popular Culture Association of Canada conference, Mount Royal U, Calgary, 20 May 2014. http://albertalabour.blogspot.ca/2014/05/presentation-no-future-for-labour-on.html

Science fiction TV and partisan politics

I’ve made an accidental observation while searching for images to use in a slideshow for an upcoming conference talk.
A Google image search for “the borg” shows results that include several images of the US president Barack Obama as a member of the Borg. E.g.:

Sample remixed image of Obama as the Borg


But a Google image search for “cylons” shows results that include images of Mitt Romney and John McCain (and to a lesser extent Sarah Palin). E.g.:

Sample image of Romney that refers to Cylons


It’s a strangely consistent polarization of two major Hollywood science fiction franchises, each used as instruments of partisan political satire: for reasons that may deserve closer analysis, right-leaning audiences on the right appear to be appropriating the Borg to satirize Obama, and centre-leaning audiences appear to be appropriating the Cylons to satirize Republicans.

Link

Academic service in the corporatizing university

Here’s a Facebook discussion I had with some friends and colleagues about academic service. I thought it might warrant a wider audience.

The discussion started when I shared a blog post on “Overcoming Post-Tenure Paralysis.”

Me (quoting the post): “Believe it or not, the biggest threat to midcareer professional success is often too many service commitments.”
Uh, damn right I believe it.

Friend: The more government services are cut, the more “volunteer opportunities” are created. The present fascist government would like nothing more than for the 99% to give up political affiliations and actions entirely because we are too busy with “service commitments”. Volunteer less, and protest more. Join a political party. Choose a candidate in the next election and become active in their campaign. (I know I’m preaching to the converted here, Mark, but hitting “like” seemed insufficient this time)

Me: the related story inside the increasingly corporatized university is that the professoriate is asked (or pressured) to do both more and less service: more service to protect collegial governance from corporate-style management, and, in the process, to shoulder governance work the administration should take responsibility for; and yet also less service, in committee work and related commitments that comprise “consultaganda,” giving the barest veneer of legitimacy to the administration’s decisions that it really doesn’t want to genuinely consult about. the documented inflation of senior management roles in universities does not then spell less service for faculty, but more: it becomes busywork to justify administrators’ similarly inflated salaries (thus too is documented) and – coming to my point here – it keeps critical scholars and teachers like me from doing the critical research and teaching that are themselves vital forms of political action.

Friend: Hear hear!

APO colleague: The buzz word I got fed for my job”academic effectiveness”. The moment you start trying to measure whatever the hell that is, you’ve forgotten what the hell a University is there for in the first place.

Contingent academic colleague: …so the tenure track do all this ‘service’, get course releases, then sessionals are paid next to nothing to teach the courses but can’t do research or service work so they also stagnate…. seems like the only people who get mid career success are the admins, what do they do again?

Me: How’s this for a telling symptom? The new issue of University Affairs, which is a national platform for university & college administrators, has a “career advice” article for post-tenure professors – and the advice is, literally, Service, Service, Service, and Service:

http://www.universityaffairs.ca/now-that–i-have-tenure-whats-next.aspx

Contingent academic colleague: I found a niche that doesn’t involve tenure or service, but it took ten years and some serious soul searching… now I teach 50% of the time and work for publishers for the other half, but it’s all on my terms so I’m actually very happy. Decent income, no committees!

Faculty Association staff member: Some ‘service’ work is often downloading work management should be doing and more often doing work that gives the appearance of faculty involvement in decision making. Look for that pesky word ‘recommend’.

Tenured academic colleague: Consultaganda. Just the word I’ve been looking for.

Note: Credit for the “Consultaganda” coinage goes to AU labour studies prof Bob Barnetson.

“Really really Canadian”

Many thanks to Bruce Sterling and Wired for the kind word about my article on copyright, Canadian science fiction, and social media.

Some pretty good stuff here, even if it’s, uh, really really Canadian.

I’ll take “really really Canadian” as a compliment. (Would there by any other way for a Canadian to take it?)
Not sure why WordPress waited four years to notify me about this particular pingback, but better late than never.

The Main Thing Students in Literary Studies Need to Understand: “Talk About the Writing”

In this post I want to try to explain, as clearly as I can, two things: 1) the proper focus of academic essays on literature (or other cultural texts, like plays or songs); and 2) how to achieve that focus in essays of comparison and contrast among two or more texts.

1. In your essays, talk about the writing.

The proper subject of an essay in literary criticism (here meaning criticism of any textual form) is the writing: the text as a composition of significant elements of form and style. (The analysis of how these elements work together to achieve artistic effects and cultural functions is what we call close reading, and it’s the core methodology, the critical practice of literary studies.) It’s a common mistake for students new to English studies to treat a text like a “window” rather than a “painting,” as U Penn’s Prof Jack Lynch puts it, in his excellent, short guide to Getting an A on an English Paper – a guide that I would advise as an absolute must-read for every student in English literary studies.

in an English paper, don’t talk about the “real world.” Talk about the writing … don’t assume literature is a transparent window that shows us the real world — it’s not something we can reliably look through. Often it’s more like a painting than a window, and instead of looking through it we should learn to look at it. … this doesn’t mean you can’t be interested in the real world behind the text. … Just remember that you don’t have any direct access to that real world, only representations of it. Never lose sight of that fact.

If an English paper is about these representations, then its thesis is the reader’s interpretation – that is, your interpretation – of how a given play constructs these representations, using dramatic techniques, literary devices, and other elements of form. Lynch describes some of these elements at http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/EngPaper/close.html – for instance, diction, word order, metaphors. The seven-point list of categories of dramatic form posted for Athabasca University’s Engl 303 world drama course assignment in scene analysis assignment is another useful catalogue of dramatic techniques; I’ve also posted a similar list of Categories for Textual Analysis of works in various media, including drama.

2. Compare texts, then, on grounds of common elements of form.

The key to writing effective English essays of comparison and contrast lies in identifying which such dramatic techniques or elements of literary form furnish the most interesting or distinctive grounds on which to compare two plays, and thereby to argue your own distinctive interpretation of these plays.

As well as “writing about the ‘real world’,” another error common among students new to comparative criticism in particular is not comparing plays directly with each other, but rather discussing how each addresses the student’s chosen theme or thesis. So an essay making that kind of error might argue something to the effect that two plays both represent an identified theme, and discuss how each one does so separately from the other, without considering what elements of form they might have in common. (Essays like this also tend to stay focused on “real world” type content – characters’ actions and events, as though they’re things that happen, not scripted constructions composed to convey specific artistic and cultural effects.) Instead, a stronger essay of comparison and contrast might argue that two given plays compare or contrast in their representation of a given theme – through the uses of two or three different dramatic techniques and/or elements of literary form that each uses in a way that’s significantly similar to or different from how the other does.

Further reference

More about integrating the grounds of comparison for an essay of comparison and contrast is at this page I’ve created in the Landing, Athabasca U’s social network.

And if you’re still unsure about the whole “talk about the writing” thing, I’ve blogged more extensively about it.

And, lastly, in another blog post, I detail four specific steps to practice the close reading of texts, in order to focus on how they’re written and the implications of that writing.