Monday, May 24, 2010

How do you spell "Hiatus"?

Future forecast: comp exam is on the 28th. Moving day is the 29th. And my trip to Montreal/presentation for Congress starts on the 31st. I get back on the 5th, and (assuming I passed the written, knock on electronic wood) I take my oral exam some time before the 11th. To plan for that busy-ness, I've got tomorrow to finish my Congress paper and send my change of address, Wednesday to finish my flash cards for the exam, Thursday to study the potential object texts I could be asked about the exam (Mass Effect for PS2, Mafia Wars for Facebook, and Super Mario Cross-Over) and to turn my modem in to Rogers. All of which is to say, it's going to be a busy few weeks, and I'll see you all on the other side of 11th. And then I'll try something different--maybe a daily feature for a week or two. Or something. I'll be back, though. Count the days, gentle audience.

Later Days.

*EDIT: And if you want to leave a message, and wish me luck... I could use some luck. Whole heaps of it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Quotations: Who Should Be More Insulted Here?

“Song lyricists have something of the cartoonist: a sense of the psychologically vivid and a willingness to let subtlety go.” --David Burrows, Sound, Voice, and Music.

Later Days.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I was going to post this on my Facebook status, 'cause of its relative brevity, but I thought it would be too much bragging. So I'm posting it here, because once you utter the phrase "I posted it on my blog," any level of narcissism can already be safely implied.

I've now typed 500 pages of single-spaced notes for my comp exam. It's time, therefore, to stop reading and start reviewing. And hope that whatever texts that are left have really comprehensive reviews available online.*

*If anyone on my comp committee is reading this, that is A JOKE. Totally a joke. I've read everything, and there is no reason for anyone who may or may not be operating in an examining capacity to be overly zealous in verifying that.

Later Days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Comic Panels: I am Person! Of consequence.

Both the two big comic publishers, DC and Marvel, are in the midst of a series of relaunches after their last big stories, Darkest Night and Siege, respectively, wrapped up. DC managed to do a lot better than Marvel in setting up new plot points; in DC, we have the aftermath of an interstellar war, a mystery of twelve resurrected heroes, a fugitive everyone on Earth has forgotten, the return of the Fastest Man Alive, the White Lanterns, and probably more I forgot about. Marvel's story: everything that's happened for the seven last seven years is back to normal. Enjoy!

...So yeah, less than dramatic.

That said, I really enjoyed Romita and Bendis' Avengers 1. I'm not even sure why; the plot as someone at pointed out is essentially Back to the Future 2, with superheroes (You've got to travel to the future! You're fine--the problem is your KIDS!). And the dialogue is very Bendis-y. But there's a sense of, well, everything's back to normal. And not just normal, but classic, and heroic. It helps that they've brought back a classic villain, the immortal time traveller, Kang, who's proven time and time again that blue face masks are THE must-have fashion item of the 30th century. Here he is, seconds away from a sucker punch ala Thor:

Oh, Avengers. You had me at KANG!

Later days.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Moving Day--Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

Or, alternate title: Hey, I Found My Camera!

I don't think I've said so, but I'm moving out of my apartment into a house with two other gentlemen from the English program. The final move is set for May 29th. So for those keeping track of my schedule, that means I write my written comprehensive exam on the 28th, move the next day, and leave for a conference in Montreal on the 31st. Then I get back on the 5th, just in time to take my oral defense. Why did I schedule so many stress-inducing events in one period? Simple: I'm thinking ahead. Looong term ahead. Whatever life's future hurdles--dissertation, marriage, birth of children--I can look back, and think, well, at least this isn't that bad as that last week of May in 2010.

Yep. Totally planned.

Anyway, for me, the most stressful part of moving has been getting Rid of My Stuff. The place I'm moving is fully furnished, which means that a large portion of my furniture needs to be disposed of. This step would probably have to occur sooner or later; wherever I go post-degree, I probably won't be in a financial state to bring it all with me. So I guess I'm just going with "sooner." I sold the coach and loveseat a few days ago--which means that I've been watching TV from the oh-so-comfy position of a mattress I grabbed and pulled into the living room. And I'm getting getting rid of the spare bed on Saturday. The kitchen table and chairs are hopefully going later today. The only piece of furniture I'm having trouble getting rid of, in fact, is this one:

Not the TV, mind you. Goodness no; I need something to play video games on. I mean, conduct research with. No, I mean the thing the TV sits on. The... shelving unit? Leveled coffee table? Horizontal bookcase? Maybe my difficulty in naming the piece reflects the potential buyers' problem: it's not an easy piece to classify. On the other hand, if there's any piece of furniture that I need to take with me, I'd rather it was this one; it's fairly collapsible(compared to a couch, anyway)and out of all my furniture, it's pretty much the only thing that's got some family value to it. My grandparents kept it in their basement for years, and looking at it now, I can still remember playing alongside my cousins and siblings with little barnyard animals, while the "grown-ups" conducted themselves upstairs. I've used it as a bookshelf/TV stand for the past half decade now--there's some sentimental value there.

And that sentimental value can be yours for $15. Or best offer. Between you and me, I'm kind of desperate here.

Anyway, the other big thing I'm getting rid of is the old bike, the one I've been posting about/complaining about for the last year. Here's a photo:

Oh, how the mighty have fallen/been dismantled. Again, my sentimentality--or perhaps Protestant thriftiness--has prevented me from merely throwing away the object in question. Rather, I've arranged for it be donated to a local program that teaches kids about bike repair. (And if I had only taken the course myself, the bike might have lasted a bit longer...) The catch is that I need to bring it in, which means finding someone with a van. I've arranged for that to happen tomorrow, but for today, that meant preparing the bike for transport. In particular, I had to saw off the bike lock that I'd lost the key for. That was a fun 20 minutes. For the record, here's what the inside of a bike lock looks like:

Six photos, and that was the best one. Anyway, if for some reason you can't make out fine details in fuzzy-view, there's an outer plastic shell that's kind of gray, an inner silver metal layer, and, at the center, a set of yellow, rope-like strands. I was expecting the metal, but not the strands. I don't know if this is standard for bike lock cables, or whether I've been suckered by the cyclist equivalent of painting bars of lead gold. At any rate, it's certainly secure enough; given the amount of noise and energy it took to hack through the damn thing, I don't know how today's modern bike thief does it.

Final note before I return to studying. A few months ago, I had the following conversation with my father:
"So I was looking through my things, and I see you guys left me a hacksaw. A HACKSAW. What on earth would I ever need a hacksaw for?"
"Oh, you never know. Might come in handy."

Touche, father. Touche.

Later Days.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Book Informed Me of the Existence of "How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic," so at least it wasn't a complete loss..

I'm desperately trudging through the last few books I can cram in before the exam. Sadly, my slow reading rate is really catching up to me at this point. Is it petty that I'm feeling smugly superior about the fact that the text I'm currently reading is very theoretically difficult, but rife with spelling errors?

Well, yes, it is, but at least I have the theoretical basis to justify my pettiness. See, according to Hodge and Kress' Social Semiotics, texts exert a certain level of modality that signals the appropriate affinity group that it is trying to appeal towards. Modality in this case means a claim towards truth and reality. A person can claim to have a high level of modality by using nothing but logical propositions and high level jargon (like, say, the term modality), but he or she is clearly aiming an affinity towards high-level discourse and logic-based arguments. Also, probably academics. On the other hand, a person could claim a high level of modality by appealing to simpler, language, the kind of down-to-earth tones that regular people understand--it's still a level of modality, but the audience you're appealing to is different.

Or to rephrase, modality = truthiness. Thanks, Stephen Colbert.

Now, spelling and grammar in general indicate that the person using it belongs to a certain social group--Kress and Hodge argue that not using double negatives sets up a social group every bit as much as using the term "fo'shizzle." So the text I'm reading is attempting, through its high grammar, to signal an affinity towards an academic group, and create a modality based on this affinity and high level. But because the spelling errors are so rampant, the affinity fails. Now, it could be argued they are deliberately introducing mispellings, which signals their commitment to an anti-affinity, an anti-domain outside the scholarly norm. (Like some guy who tries to write humorously about academic theory on his blog, thus creating a rapport with his readers while striking against the academic institution.) But this destroys their effective modality, which lends me to believe it's just an error on their part, and that thus the theory isn't as much of an all-encompassing truth as it pretends to be. Considering that the book is part of a long list of comp texts that all try to inject a high modality into my reading, to the point where I feel like I've been institutionally enveloped, being able to take the text to pieces feels like, in communist terms, taking apart the Master's house with his own tools. (Yes, I know that the communist point was that you can't actually do this. Didn't stop them from using hammers to break down a bunch of houses.)

Oh, and by the way? That text with all the spelling mistakes? It was Hodge and Kress' Social Semiotics.

I just blew your minds.

Note: I'm pretty sure very little of that made sense. So here's a panel of the week to clear everyone's palette. Actually, a cover, but never mind.

Oh, that Spider Jerusalem. What a card.

Later Days.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Quotations: Take that, Ludologists.

"The narratives of the world are numberless. Narrative is first and foremost a prodigious variety of genres, themselves distributed amongst different substances--as though any material were fit to receive man's stories. Able to be carried by articulated language, spoken or written, fixed or moving images, gestures, and the ordered mixtures of all these substances; narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting (think of Carpaccio's Saint Ursala), stained glass windows, cinema, comics, news items, conversation. Moreover, under this almost infinite diversity of forms, narrative is rpesent in every age, in every place, in every society; it begins with the very history of mankind and there nowhere is nor has been a people without narrative. All classes, all human groups, have their narratives, enjoyment of which is very often shared by men with different, even opposing, cultural backgrounds. Caring nothing for the division between good and bad literature, narrative is international, transhistorical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself." --Roland Barthes, "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives"

"It is impossible to remain insensible to the general goodwill that pervades certain places abroad where cannibas is smoked." --Roland Barthes, "Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers"

Later Days.

I could see myself doing this for the next 30 to 40 years.

Let's be honest. Posts of late have been sporadic, meandering, and oddly focused. But unlike usual, they've also had a sense of apocalyptic doom. The comp is three weeks away, and the closer the date comes, the more I descend into a nightmare of insomniac nights, bizarre sleeping routines, and an increasing certainty that I know nothing, and I'm going to fail miserably.

But right now, I'm feeling pretty good.

Today was the first day of a course I'm auditing. The professor couldn't make it (conference), and asked me to conduct the class. She did all the work: she printed off the syllabus, chose the readings, and even left a power-point presentation complete with sound clips of her explaining the course and subject. But the interactive part, leading discussions and focusing material, was all me.

Today I conducted my first grad seminar. Man, that feels good to say.

In case my bubbling enthusiasm wasn't a hint, it went really well. Granted, the technology was a bit off, but not so much as to derail things completely. We had some really great discussions on the readings (McLuhan and Metz, if you're curious). There was a very interesting dynamic--first, it was a five person class, counting me, which meant it was still small enough that everyone not only got a chance to talk, but pretty much had to talk, to keep things moving. But what was more interesting is the power dynamic. I had authority, but it was clearly an invested authority. I think this power shift let the others speak a little more freely--they felt like they could engage and challenge the ideas in the texts a little more than if a full professor was managing things. I thought the discussion was a lot healthier as a result; it's a balance I'd like to maintain if (when!) I lead such a course again.

Even though I was totally operating with a safety net, it really felt like I hit a milestone today. And it put the comp exam a little more into perspective. After four straight months of studying, I think I started to see the exam as this big monolithic THING that encompassed my entire being. Today reminded me that it isn't the most important thing in the world, or even the most important thing in my academic career. It's a milestone, yes, and a big one, but it's also a step on the road to other things.

Best part? Just prior to class, when I'm setting things up, one of my fellow students (who I hadn't met before) comes up to me and asks for permission to take the course. She totally thought I *was* the professor. Professional image win.

Later Days.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Comic Panel Wednesday: Party Like It's 2999

Every now and then, I remember that I do this feature. So in celebration of that remembrance, let's all enjoy a very 80s concept of what clubbing would look like in the 31st century:

The image is from Legion of Super-Heroes, vol 1, #283, originally published in 1982. The center Lothario is Wildfire, in a rare appearance before he became a ball of energy confined inside a humanoid suit, which consequentially put a damper on his nightlife.

Actually, I may have seen something like this image before...

It's official, then--night clubs of the future feature rings, psychedelic light shows, and floating platforms. Because that's how the 31st century rolls.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Fan Fic: ...after this scene, they all go out for ice-cream.

I'm writing this at 4:17 am, so you can guess how my sleep schedule's been doing. But this time, my insomnia's your gain: I was sorting through some older stuff, and I came across this gem. It was written for a class on cyberpunk that I sat in on. One class, we we focused on hacker subculture, and we were all assigned to bring in something that resembles a "hack." In my case, I chose to write a short piece of fan-fiction. The idea is that it fit the general definition of a hack--unauthorized presence within a larger system--and it harkened back to the Grub Street hacks, a bunch of 18th century writers whose work was published by the printers in Grub Street. They were, as a group, horrible writers--poorly paid and universally reviled. The term "Grub Street hack" came to be known the lowest form of authorship. And what, in these days of Internet cyberspace, has earned the title of "lowest form of authorship" more than a fan fic writer? (Okay, maybe someone who designs LOLcat posters.) Anyway, I thought it was pretty clever, playing off the double meaning like that. Sadly, the professor didn't quite agree with me, but the joy of auditing a course means you don't have to be stellar, you just have to be there. Still, I had a lot of fun with writing the piece, and so, without further ado, I give you:

The Lord of the Deathly Hollows: A Fragment

A boy walked through an endless, empty cavern, following the path of a large, green creature. They trudged for hours in silence, until, at last, the green creature spoke. "An' where are we,again?"

"The Mines of Moria," said Harry Potter, shortly.

"Moria," Shrek repeated. "More like, like 'More-Dark. Ye get it? Do ye get it?"

"Would you shut up?" Harry hissed. "You're supposed to be looking for threats, not telling stupid jokes."

Shrek sighed. "Ach. He doesn't like mah jokes, he thinks ah'm just here to hit things, he's clearly got some sort of racial problems against Scottish ogres--"

"I do not!"
"--I'm starting to think I should have stayed with the donk--" He stopped in his tracks. So did Harry. A masked man stepped out of the mists before them. He was garbed entirely in black, complete with a flowing cape and a great dark helmet. Even from some feet away, they could hear the raspy sound of the figure's breathing.

"You shall not pass," said Darth Vader. He took a small cylinder from his side, and a red beam of light shot out from it with a faint hum.

Shrek leaned towards Harry. "Don't take this the wrong way," he whispered. "But his wand is definitely bigger." He straightened up. "Well, then," he said, starting forward. "Ah guess it's time for the big, mean ogre to hit--" Vader waved his hand, and Shrek flew backwards. He collided into the side of the cave, and landed in a heap.

Harry whirled around. "Shrek!" he exclaimed. A quick movement caught the corner of his eye, and he turned back just in time to see Vader advancing. "Protego!" he shouted, getting up a shield just in time.

Vader's lightsaber bounced off Harry's shield with a flash of sparks. "Your concern for your friend makes you weak," the Sith lord commented, circling around the boy. "Your friends will always make you weak. They will drag you down with their petty concerns, their little jealousies, their endless needs. Your friends are the reason you fail."

Harry brandished his wand. "No," he said, fiercely. "My friends are the reason I fight."

Now unnoticed by the two combatants, Shrek picked himself up. "There was some force behind that hit," he muttered. He noticed that another figure had entered the cavern, and was watching him silently. It was gigantic, dwarfing even Shrek, with a flaming back, full wings, and a long, coiling whip in its fist.

"Well, hello there, young man," Shrek said. "And what does your mommy call ye?"

The creature said nothing, but advanced slowly.

"Ah, the strong, silent type. Well, for yer sake, ah hope that silence extends to not weeping like a little girl." Shrek drew back his fist. "Brace yerself, boyo, 'cause this is really going to--"

The Balrog kneed him in the groin.

"Hurt," Shrek whispered, and fell over.

...Man, that was fun. Looking back, I can modestly say that I nailed Shrek's voice. Harry's okay too--no Rowling, but it works in a pinch. Vader... Vader talks a little too much here. And he's too angsty. Not enough Vader, too much Anakin. But what I mostly got out of the exercise--and even a bit now, from typing it--is how much fun it was. I totally get the appeal of fan fic. You get to play with established characters, which both makes it feel like you're participating in something bigger, and still carries a whiff of the forbidden, since it's "not allowed" activity. Plus, there's a challenge to it--can you match the character's tone? Do you have anything new to contribute? I might try this again some time; just as soon as my "Dr Who / Dark Tower / Uncle Scrooge" crossover finishes coalescing.

Later Days.