Monday, January 28, 2008

Adventures in TAing, case 2 (in a ? case series)

Case 2: Students' reactions run the gamut from bemusement to total disbelief when I tell them that first-person pronouns are perfectly acceptable in their written work - and not only that, but that I expect to be able to 'hear' the voice of a human being in their writing, rather than some approximation of a robot aimed at spitting out objective proofs. When I posed the question of voice to about 35 students in a class last week, a whole two thought that 'I' statements were valid in scholarly writing - and both were quick to slap on restrictions. One student asked me if it wasn't better to use indirect statements like "One can argue that...", though this strikes me as the worst way to feign an authoritative voice - not only is "one" clearly a poorly disguised "I", but the sentence is passive and sounds entirely uncertain of what it's about to claim. Can one argue or is one arguing? And who talks like that, anyway?

(For the longest time, I suspected that this was a failing of Ontario high schools. While, personally, I can recall learning the 'persuasive essay' form in high school, this was in Grade 13, which has since been abolished. But now that I have 3rd and 4th year students in my English tutorials, who have spent years writing papers in whatever disciplinary-specific fashion they've been taught - this is a class for English minors - it would seem that the high school system can't be entirely to blame.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

The X-Men and identity politics, pt. 1

In response to a complaint at the X-Universe Message Board that there are hardly any gay mutants - despite the fact that the mutants in the X-Men's universe are popularly understood as analogous to queer or racially Othered youth - a poster named Tiger Shark wrote the following: "the X-men is already a metephor for minorties everywhere and of all kinds, so there's no need to trot out a 'gay' X-Man just to fill a quota".

There's something immediately appealing about this logic, though I'd suggest that it ultimately fails. It's appealing, I think, because claims to X-Men's metaphoricity are incredibly seductive. Under the logic of metaphor, an implicit comparison allows for the attributes of a to be read on to b. So X-Men is not just a superhero comic - depending on who you talk to, it's also about race relations and civil rights, homosexuality and homophobia, 'the red scare', Jewish-American assimilation, and/or teen alienation.

That said, a metaphorical relation implies equivalence, and some of these metaphors are more equal than others: given the overwhelming normativity - the characters are almost universally whiten, malen, able-bodied, middle-to-upper-class, and heterosexual - of the X-Men, the race and sexuality readings can be contradicted and deconstructed without much effort.

The same poster later accused me of "being too literal" and "lost in minutiae", though these sound like reasonable demands to place on language. We should be skeptical of a comic book that, literally, presents us with dozens of heterosexual characters but asks us to understand (misrecognize?) them figuratively as non-heterosexual. A certain degree of dissimilarity is expected in a metaphor, but this isn't just minutiae that I'm getting stuck on - it's a fairly evident contradiction that's embodied in nearly every X-character.

[This was all inspired by a specific textual incident, but I'll get to that in the next installment. My apologies if you've read my 'Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants' paper, which I posted here, and this sounds redundant. But most people don't want to bother with a 20 page document, and it feels helpful and necessary for me to rewrite some of those arguments in a more concise manner and with some tweaking and more contemporary examples.]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A prescient exchange in advance of Heath Ledger's death

[Note: I promise to get back to posting stuff with more regularity. In the meantime...]

Following news of Heath Ledger's death, a friend made a passing comparison yesterday to Brandon Lee as another actor who died quite suddenly and unexpectedly just when it appeared that he'd reached the A-list. (And I just checked: Brandon Lee was also 28.) Streebo and james, two readers/commenters at Geoff Klock's blog, also recalled a thread in which Geoff responded to my criticisms of Ledger's Joker - which may be his final character, given that his only subsequent film is still shooting - and in the same thread I noted a certain visual similarity to Lee's Crow. And then our dialogue gets even creepier. I recovered these bits from the comment section on Geoff Klock's blog:

neilshyminsky said...
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 3:21 PM EST
Having watched the trailer, I'm also noticing a lot of similarities between Ledger's Joker and The Crow: the aesthetic, the posture, the stare. Which all, again, seems very un-Joker-like.

geoff klock said...
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 3:35 PM EST
un-Joker like is only half the problem. The real problem is why on earth you would want the Crow haunting your movie?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Headphones v. Speakers

[Getting back into the habit of posting on here after a few weeks off - please forgive my tardiness! This is just a short post, though.]

I made my 'best of' music list before Christmas and left Panda Bear's "Person Pitch" off. I had listened to it a couple times over the speakers on my computer and it left me completely unmoved. But when I read Pitchfork's list later that day and saw that they called "a headphones record", I was reminded that my first response to The Knife's "Silent Shout" worked just like that - completely unimpressed with how it failed to fill the room, but blown away by what it seemed I couldn't hear before when I played it on my ipod. And, just like "Silent Shout", it feels like an entirely different album now that I've listened to it over headphones while riding the subway. And, honestly, I have no idea why there would be such a huge difference. (It's not as if this happens to me all the time.)