Friday, November 24, 2006

My poster and my press release

So, I get a press release! And a very cool poster, as shown above. This is very exciting. And a little terrifying, considering I still have half the lecture still to write.

Here's the PSA:

The end of history on tap at the Ship

On Tuesday evening, patrons of the Ship Pub can engage in a discussion about the end of history when Dr. Christopher Lockett presents “History's Better Angels: American Exceptionalism at the End.”

“I’m going to talk about the end of history and the way that relates to American culture,” the English professor explains. “My general argument is that American Exceptionalism—the school of thought that America is the exceptional nation, the indispensable nation—is deeply invested in the concept of history’s end.”

The concept is rooted in two opposing notions. The first, which dates back to the Puritan settlement of America and finds its base today with the religious right, is apocalyptic. “The Puritans viewed the new continent as a battleground for Armageddon,” Dr. Lockett says. “Certain sectors of the religious right still firmly believe this, that America is God’s ultimate weapon in the endgame with Satan.”

The opposing view is utopian, and supposes that history is a cumulative process that eventually arrives at its ultimate or perfect form. This isn’t a new idea, Dr. Lockett notes. The very idea that history is linear and progressive suggests an end-point. Philosophers from Hegel and Marx to such contemporary neo-conservatives like Francis Fukuyama have envisioned an acme of humanity’s social evolution.

“There’s this idea, advanced most recently by Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man (1992) that American-style liberal democracy is the natural end point for human development,” Dr. Lockett contends. “The flaw in this brand of exceptionalism is that if the entire world does adopt the American model, then America ceases to be exceptional.”

The question he finds most interesting, however, is the anxiety that arises over what happens at if this ending point is achieved. “There is a deep ambivalence in the writings about this, largely because of the sense that conflict and challenge leads to progress. What kind of world arises then in the absence of such difficulties?”

Dr. Lockett’s talk will employ American novelist Don DeLillo’s book Underworld (1997), which he calls a “fairly comprehensive critique of this concept,” and Walter Benjamin's figuration of "messianic time," as alternative modes of thinking these forms of history.
Lockett’s exploration of History's Better Angels gets underway at The Ship on Duckworth Street, St. John’s, at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Following his remarks, open discussion will be invited.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Deadwood

The goatee goes in cycles, the longest of which was effectively all of last year. But sometimes it only lasts two or three weeks before I lose it.

One of the fun things about the process is that after I shave it, catching a glimpse of my reflection is kind of a novelty for a little while -- and the longer I had it on, the longer my newly naked face is a source of pleasant surprise.

The last hairwatch instalment (which will in fact be the last), I commented on my scruffiness and that I'd be losing it soon. Well, that turned into a lie -- as my pic from the Pratt Lecture night revealed (because I know that everyone is so fascinated with my facial hair that you tune in every day for an update, and inconsistencies in my posts spawn all sorts of commentaries. Hey, bear with me ... what else is a blog if not a digital forum for self-obsession? These are things I think about ....). As it turns out, I was just lazy. Sometimes I let the damn thing grow for the simple reason that I hate shaving my upper lip.

ANYWAY ... I figured this time I'd shave it off in stages. And so for your viewing pleasure, I give you the look I like to call "the Deadwood":

All I need now is a hat. Hey, come to think of it:

All right, it's not exactly the OK Corral or anything ... actually a whole lot more noir than Eastwood (which is, in fact, a major plus). But yes, this is my new hat, which has had me making a list over the last couple of days.


1. Keep my head dry.

2. Greet people by touching my fingertips to the brim.

3. Really get my Indiana Jones impersonation off the ground.

4. Talk with dames.

5. Look at people menacingly from under the brim.

6. Lurk under misty streetlights with style.

7. Engage in witty, colloquialism-strewn repartee with saucy cabbies.

8. Look really suave behind the desk of a backstreet office, with slatted shadows from the venetian blinds fretting my still, poised form.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pratt Lecture 2006

It occurs to me that I haven't been the best documenter of things here of late ... In particular, I've never posted pictures of any of my friends and colleagues, or for that matter of much to do with work or play here in town. Well, here's a fusion of the two: work AND play, in the form of the 2006 Pratt* Lecture. As a member of the organizing committee, I was very pleased at it's success this year.

This annual lecture, sponsored by the English Department, features a prominent artist, writer or scholar; past lectures have been delivered by Ursula Le Guin, Linda Hutcheon, Seamus Heaney, Northrop Frye, David Lodge, Stan Dragland (to name a few). This year, we were fortunate enough to have Susan Gingell, a scholar of Canadian poetry and poetics at the University of Saskatchewan, who last night delivered a wonderful lecture titled "Towards a Poetics of Noise: Writing the Oral in the Canadian Context."

First the lecture, then the reception, and then the obligatory migration to the Duke of Duckworth for pints. Very very fun night.

First pictured: my friend and colleague Andrew Loman (19th Century American Lit), also on the committee, given the task of being the AV geek for Susan's powerpoint.

Susan at the lectern.
At the reception: Nancy Pedri (Lit Theory, World Lit), Don Nichol (18th Century, Textual Crit), and Don's wife Mary Walsh. Yes, THE Mary Walsh, Marg Delahunty herself of This Hour Has 22 Minutes fame.
I somehow managed to cajole some of my students** into coming to the lecture. Below, Rebecca, Rex and Jonny.
Duncan, Alana, Jill, Lauren, and Alex.
The woman of the hour, Dr. Susan Gingell, and my good friend Danine Farquharson (Contemporary Irish Lit, Lit Theory).
I'm with Stupid. Andrew and I are the Batman and Robin of American Literature in this department. Guess who's Robin? (Hint: I'm pointing at him).

Wow, that is a bad picture of me.

Nancy again with the incomparable Noreen Golfman (Canadian Lit, Film Studies ... oh, and in her spare time she's the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies).

*A NOTE FOR MAINLANDERS: The Pratt Family is Newfoundland's most accomplished and distinguished clan of artists, writers, and general raconteurs. E.J. Pratt (for whom the lecture is named) was a highly-regarded poet (they named a library after him at U of T); Christopher Pratt is a remarkable painter, whose works many consider cold and clinical, but I am quite taken with them.

**To clarify: Rex, Alana, and Alex are not my students, but friends of my students who apparently have an interest in the aesthetics of noise or the oral tradition. This means it's very likely I'm spelling Alana's name incorrectly (sorry). Though she and Alex did ask me what I was teaching next semester, I suspect they were just being polite.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The November lull

I seem to recall that it was about this time last year that I let my blog lag for a week and a bit ... something about November, perhaps. My apologies to my loyal readers for this unexpected hiatus, though I'm not nearly as delinquent as some people I could mention.

Not that my life has been exceptionally exciting this past week. The highlights are as follows:

1. I have a new hat. Having learned the hard way that unmbrellas are pretty much useless here because of the wind, and needing something to keep the frequent rain off my head, I opted for an Outback-style oilskin fedora that matches my Outback-style oilskin coat. I'm inordinately excited about this purchase, principally because I have at long last found a hat that looks good on me. It's one of the benefits of getting older, I think -- this same hat would have looked ridiculous on me ten years ago. I'm thinking of it as my Carlsberg years hat.

2. I'm delivering a public lecture in a week and a half or so, the writing of which has been preoccupying me the last few days. It's under the auspices of the Philosophy Department, and takes place at the Ship Inn Pub downtown. You've gotta love a lecture series that takes place at a pub. My talk is titled "History's Better Angels: American Exceptionalism at the End," which is deliberately vague because I'm still in the process of working out precisely what I want to say.

3. I have decided I need to buy a dictaphone. I was interviewed for the campus newspaper yesterday about the public lecture, and where I have been banging my head against the wall trying to articulate on paper my argument, I provided my interviewer with a lucid and succinct summary of the gist of my talk. I was tempted to ask her for a transcription of what I said. The thing is, this happens with distressing frequency: I'm having a hell of a time getting something written, then say exactly what it is I was to say in casual conversation. Of course, I then don't remember precisely what I said. So I'm thinking a dictaphone is in order.

4. My friends Nancy and Marco had a great party on Saturday night, with a spread of food to die for and lots and lots and lots of wine. I don't remember much about it.

5. As part of my research for this lecture, I've been reading a lot of Hegel, which is not something I recommend unless you happen to (1) need a reason to drink, (2) love circuitously written abstractions on dialectics, history and the Absolute Spirit, (3) are determined to understand the origins of our unspoken assumption that history is linear and naturally progressive, or (4) are masochistic.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I take it back ...

... THIS is the most beautiful headline I have seen in months.

Now, not to quibble, but it's not as beautiful as "Rumsfeld Torn to Pieces by Pack of Wild Dogs," or "Rumsfeld Accidentally Sucked Out of Toilet Hole on Air Force One," or even "Rumsfeld and K-Fed Beat Each Other to Death with Shovels in Ultimate Fighter Championship Cage Match" ...

But it's still pretty sweet. Time for the Dance of Joy Redux.

As we all breathe a massive sigh of relief

Well, thank god. I jumped (well, sort of fell and crawled, really) out of bed this morning and turned on the computer, and there was one of the most beautiful headlines I have seen in months.

Democrats take back the House. The Senate still might break left (though from the looks of things, the recounts and legal wrangling that seem inevitable will probably have this thing tied up for a few weeks still), and SIX, count 'em, SIX (that's 6, sechs, seises, sei) gubernatorial races went to Dems, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I'm so happy I could spit. Or do the dance of joy. Now let's just pray that the Democrats are not in fact as balls-less as everyone seems to think they are.

And on this occasion -- Numfar does the Dance of Joy for the midterm election results:

Friday, November 03, 2006

Of interest

Here's a really interesting article I found in Rolling Stone online detailing the overwhelming consensus among presidential historians naming George W. Bush as the worst president in history. And an article titled "All Hat, No Cattle" written in 1999 detailing in very precise terms why he was nowhere near qualified for the presidency. As they say, it's not as if we weren't warned (not that I could have voted on the matter or anything) ...

Also: the video for "The Saints are Coming," the Skids' song covered by U2 and Green Day for Katrina relief. Kind of portrays an interesting alternative history, doesn't it?

And since Bianca recognized my Family Ties reference in my subtitle, I'll keep it for one more post.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

An inadvertent truth

What John Kerry was supposed to say: "Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

What he said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq."

Poor John Kerry. He committed the biggest sin a politician can commit: he spoke the truth. And what's worse, he did it accidentally.

The shitstorm of condemnation from the American right, the punditocracy and the West Wing itself are doing a very good job of blustering and posturing and condemning Kerry's remarks as destructive and demoralizing and calling on all proper Americans to support the troops and their sacrifice. If only the Bush Administration would support the troops with more than rhetoric, it might have a leg to stand on here.

In some ways I imagine I should be grateful to Bush & co. for their spectacular vindication of my career choice: to listen to them, you'd think that not only is the pen mightier than the sword, but that words in and of themselves possess more power than bombs and bullets. Anyone criticizing the war, challenging its premise, calling for withdrawal, etc etc is putting the troops in danger; anyone calling for Rumsfeld's resignation erodes the fighting spirit of the men on the ground; anyone exercising first-amendment rights in anything less than a full-throated endorsement of the war effort gives heart to the terrorists and hamstrings the individual soldier (I'm waiting for Rumsfeld to produce the precise calculus: telling a joke about Bush = a kidnapping; demanding a schedule for withdrawal = an ambushed convoy in Tikrit; espousing liberal values = a spate of car bombings; and so on ...).

You know, I'm an English professor, and I had no idea that mere words had such immediate and concrete consequences. I'm so naive. Here I was imagining that things like proper body and vehicle armour, troop levels that concur with the recommendations of all the experts, and a coherent war plan that took local history and contexts into consideration might do more to protect the soldiers on the ground, and that not cutting their pay and veteran benifits would be good morale boosters. But then, I'm a milquetoast liberal university elite (with the collection of wine bottles to prove it), and don't know from military tactics.

So I shudder to think of where John Kerry's "botched joke," falls on the harm-to-the-troops scale of unguarded speech ... I suppose we'll be hearing soon of Baghdad blowing up and Osama bin Ladin being named as the new U.N. Secretary General. So it goes.

Especially, as I've said, because he's uttered a truth, one that flies in the dearly-held image of the U.S. military as being exclusively populated by committed, competent, elite units. This of course couldn't be further from the truth: with as massive an armed forces as the U.S. has, it can take all comers -- and what standards of intelligence, psychological stability and physical ability have traditionally been in place have been steadily eroded since the Iraq war began in 2003.

The most pervasive representation of the American soldier used to be the dogface G.I., the grunt who spent as much time peeling potatoes as firing a gun. Somewhere along the line that innocuous private was eclipsed by the uber-soldier, be he a Navy Seal or a Delta Force Commando, and the vast majority of our cinematic wars in the last twenty years have been fought by elite warriors bearing advanced weapons in small squads, taking on massive numbers of an undifferentiated enemy. The troubling truth of enlistment isn't so much that 99% of those signing up won't ever go near a Seal training facility or pilot an F-15, but that enlistment is a last resort for so many recruits escaping grinding poverty with no other prospects for employment besides an Army uniform.

And in the need for greater numbers to shore up the current war effort, recruiters, to quote the article I link to above, "are now being authorized to pursue high-school dropouts and (not to mince words) stupid people." Standards for education and intelligence are now at their lowest level since the Vietnam war. Which is kind of terrifying when you consider that that kid you know in high school who flunked Grade Nine three times and had a predeliction for setting his neighbours' pets on fire is being given an M-16 and a belt of grenades.

So Kerry tells an inadvertent truth: without education, without prospects, young Americans could well find themselves fighting a war whose principal architect has himself little regard for the benefits of an education. The blind leading the blank.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Morgan's second halloween ...