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ENG215H1 (117)
Sarah Caskey (114)
Lecture 10


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Sarah Caskey

June19_Lec10: June 19 LAST CLASS Reconfiguring the Canadian Short Story Lisa Moore, “The Lonely Goatherd” (428) Michael Redhill, “Human Elements” (436) Thinking about David Bezmozgis’ “The Second Strongest Man” and Antanas Sileika’s “The Man Who Read Voltaire” - Settling in. The first few stories we read this term deal with the experience of settling and cultivating the raw Canadian land, weeding, hoeing, and farming it so yields results. These more recent and contemporary stories are equally preoccupied with settling in, but with the experience of immigration and the process of adaptation, assimilation involved in coming to a new country, new city, new language, and new customs and establishments. - Think of the transition: how the earlier stories placed greater emphasis on cultivating the land (the sense of place was so prominent in those narratives) and now the characters are experiencing more psychological hardships in the transition - The stories are not dissimilar in the way they deal with cultivating a new existence despite real hardships. In the earlier stories the hardships tend to be physical and the toll is taken within and among families and relationships. In the later stories, the hardships tend to be emotional and the impact is on individual and collective family identity. Parents become the children, as the children themselves are seemingly more adept at adapting to all that is new and different and unfamiliar. - This is true in terms of Mark and Dave in “Second Strongest Man” and “The man who read Voltaire” respectively and the narrator in “Simple Recipes” – the children are better able at making the transitions than their parents, who have had more experience in the past – consider not just what happens in the stories, but also how grammar and spelling etc. are used Work to be doing for the final exam: - Identifying dominant themes and issues in the narratives - Finding productive and relevant ways of talking about those large themes and issues through specific textual details or moments - Developing ways of relating two or three stories together, so that we relate, compare and synthesize insights about one narrative in relation to another - We have been developing these skills every class when we critically analyze the stories as part of our lecture and class discussion. But you also been developing them through your independent work with the in-class passage analysis and the comparative essay. The final exam asks you to relate two stories to one essay topic and this exercise is a logical extension, and culmination, of that critical thinking, literary analysis and essay writing. Identifying dominant themes and issues in the narratives: - Experience of immigration and adaptation - New cultures, customs and language in North America, in Toronto and Weston specifically - Both stories confront the idealization of America and the American dream, and offer a contrasting reality to that mythologized representation of coming to America. Consider the difference it makes that the characters come to North America, and to Canada specifically. - The characters and their families have complicated pasts: Riga, Latvia (Soviet Union, Soviet rule, prejudice), Lithuania (German and Soviet occupation during WWII) - This past serves to complicate their efforts to adapt to their present situations: what does it mean to come from elsewhere? How does elsewhere underwrite their present existence? How does the past more generally underwrite their present? - Both stories foreground family dynamics and pay particular attention to father figures, their strengths and weaknesses. - Mother figures play an interesting secondary role in the narratives as well (think of those as dominant theme issues you can pick up on) - How might you read these stories as being, above all, about families? What kind of families are they? Are there other stories that represent family units and their complications? - Both stories are narrated by young boys and part of the stories deal with the maturation and change in perspectives the young narrators experience. In both stories, it is implied that they experience a recognizable movement from innocence to experience, from youth to maturity (From an idealized to a more realistic one) – Even argue that Mark, from the outset, is grounded in firmer reality than Dave is, who idealizes the aunt and uncle: thinking they smell exotic and wonderful – Mark has a more clear grip on reality, but he is shocked that his reality does not match what Sergei thinks when he visits - Think how to relate two stories together: what do they have in common, what themes and issues do they both explore? Specific Textual details and motifs: the main themes have textual evidence (don’t have passages or the anthology’s access, so rely on memory, but discuss the stories with concrete detail, with reference to specific motifs – so when reading stories, try to identify the motifs) The Man who Read Voltaire: - Marooned/isolated in Weston (Dave and Jerry are “marooned” (isolated, marginalized, abandoned, set apart from) in Weston – and the abandonment is not Dave’s understanding of Weston to Toronto, but Weston to Detroit and larger America) - Shirts that are too big for the young boys = a metaphor for not fitting, or not fitting in - Crossing the border = emphasis on thresholds and boundaries, emphasis on bridge = in-between place - Opposition between nowhere and elsewhere - “Was it beautiful” = powerful question, think of how it opens up discussion about American dream, and how that changes when you are in Weston, Ontario and the tendency of the brothers and mother to idealize America - Reference to Voltaire: emphasis on tolerance and acceptance of differences when the stories depict the pressures to conform and to assimilate - References to the adults’ involvement in WWII: DP camps, Hiroshima, the Red Army, Dresden Second Strongest man - Weightlifting and contests of strength versus immigration nd contests of emotional resiliency - The debate to stay or to go as represented byt eh father, Roman, and his friend, Gregory - Dusa the dentist - The KGB officer and his monstrous being - The polo shirt: the American dream, and the possibility that if you buy the brand (shirt etc.), you will have that lifestyle – and then the shirt is ripped Relating the two stories together: how might you talk about these two stories together (MWRD and SSM) - Identity Place Bridging identity and place (in-between-ness); Dislocation, disjunction, marginality; Travel; Diaspora; Instability, fracture; Complexity, plurality; Competing realities of the past and the present; Revising expectations and impressions - The two stories refigure questions of identity, stressing that geographical affiliation is only one component of identity construction. Bezmozgis and Sileika stress the way their characters have intertwined affiliations, to Russia and Lithuania, to Weston and Toronto, to the past and to the future, to their dreams and to their reality, as their fictions offer complex and multiple answers to the questions of identity, belonging and cultural inheritance. - Choose one dominant issue and develop it in relation to both stories. See the possibilities for developing aspects of this argument (but use the understanding of specific ideas and motifs to enhance the description i.e. when you talk about identity, talk about the scene where Mark is looking at his father’s passport photo, or when Dave is reconfiguring his father) - Also, remember the questions of how to preserve culture outside a homeland, how to change without losing oneself, how to navigate the consequences of taking on new ideas and practices—are all a single, existential question: “How are we to live in this world?” The Second Strongest Man: - The Russian unlicensed dentist in the story: lets us know how communities are formed, how roots ultimately get established with the community that she develops in her dental practice, and the struggles of all immigrants (certified dentist in Russia, then immigrates to Canada, waiting for licensing here) - Page 492 conversation between Roman and Gregory: “Roman you did the right thing, you got the hell out of that cemetery, now you can look forward to a new life… submitting to gravity, he looked again like my old father” Notice how identity within a single paragraph or a single moment, can be shifted and transformed - “Russia was becoming a colossal piece of shit was another story… genius for leaving… My father: I often think of looking back… Everyday is a struggle… Look, I’m not blind, I see your car and your apartment… Believe me, your worst days are my best” – has to do with the intangible and the material gains/losses - Gregory sees how he struggles: “I see your car and your apartment”: NOT that he’s impressed, Gregory appreciates that he drives an older car, but he’s getting at the intangible losses/gains when he talks about “Your worst day is my best” - For Roman, everyday is a struggle: looks at homeless people and thinks that three days out of five, he’ll join them - Page 488: Sergei: “… In Riga, people now line up just for permission to line up” – so their family lacks the material finances to furnish their lives with material goods, but they do have an intangible gain (security) by coming to Toronto, and that’s what Gregory is alluding to - The intangible gain is alluded to via the KGB Red Army officer: it was customary to heavily monitor and watch the USSR athletes, so that they don’t get away - KGB officer asks Roman for dental help, page 482: “My father took me to … a KGB officer always travels with the team but turns out my father knew him… Roman? You are here? I didn’t see you on the plane... My father said that he lived here now… It’s a beautiful country, clean city, nice cars, beautiful parks… I also hear you have good dentists” - Roman challenges the idealized notion of Canada with the reality of his struggles everyday - Roman wants to arrange the dental work, but the conversation between Roman and the KGB officer is one of shifting power: the KGB officer has power, and he always needs to be served – Roman is able to help in this instance and the officer is pleased, but the threat of his displeasure is very ominous - Page 486: “… the KGB officer was coming down… his face was badly swollen, with every step he took, the swelling became more dominant… up close he was a swollen jaw… On seeing the agent’s face, my father stiffened and seized me by my shoulder, he pulled back, putting himself between me and the KGB officer… white cotton gauze between his teeth… my father tightened his grip on the back of my hand” - Dental work with the gauze etc., there’s something humorous about the jaw and gauze that are disfiguring the agent’s face, but despite the humour, his face shows disempowerment and punishment that exists in the Soviet Union – KGB is monstrous, and he becomes the personification and evocation of the father’s anxieties of life in the Soviet Union – Also, corruption are put on display in his disfigured and frightening face - The Soviet Union is shown to carry life filled with threat, especially because Roman and his family are Jewish – so they left the USSR not for the polo shirts etc., the reasons are intangible and immaterial, but they have to do with political reasons and freedom, and control over one’s own successes and failures - i.e. Madeleine Thien in “Simple Recipes” talked about the gift her parents gave her in immigrating to Canada: “a life that can have failure” – the USSR life lacks control, they are taken care of by the government, whereas in the free world (i.e. North America), free to have own successes and failures - After the dinner where Sergei and Gregory came to the home, with the best cooking of the mother, Mark has come to reconcile with Sergei being the “second strongest man”, Sergei recognized his own vulnerabilities: the polo shirt has been ripped during the course of this (a rich metaphor for the tearing apart of idealized perspectives i.e. Mark’s youthful idealization of Sergei or of the experience of coming to North America) - The immigration to Canada is not the lifestyle marked by the Ralph Lauren marketing, but it’s a life with real hardships – so emphasis on fissure, breakage (also emphasized in Madeleine Thien’s “Simple Recipes”) - Page 494 middle: “New boy, who is the world’s strongest man” “Sergozha” “Wrong boy, that was yesterday’s answer, isn’t that right Gregory” – “Sergei slapped Gregory’s arm aside, you bastard, don’t you dare touch me… my father offered to drive or call them a cab, but Gregory smiled the familiar Soviet smile, what for? Have you forgotten, there’s always a car waiting downstairs” – the threat of life in this communist country, so what follows is this powerful image of containment and enclosure (clear boundaries) - “Below in the parking lot, a man smoking by a dark Sudan… my father appeared in the parking lot with Sergei, holding his shoulders – I watched as my father shook hands with Gregory and the man… illuminate his swollen face” – so it’s obviously the KGB officer coming to pick up Gregory and Sergei: his swollen face and constant presence provides the reminder to remind us of the restrictions part of Soviet life – it informs us of what the family has gained by immigrating: not tangible gains but the intangible freedom and security – Mark reevaluates what this real life means for him, and what it actually looks like - Page 486 the dentist: “Generous, beautiful, it was a beautiful night you understand” there’s something discomforting about this explanation, the KGB officer does not have the same authority here as Toronto – one wonders what he asked the dentist to do, and if she was put back in the more familiar context of the USSR – suggests something more insidious – no textual proof except how he exercises power and “gets things from people”, also possible that this is the way he speaks and his expressions in general - Roman’s reaction to the KGB officer: “I’m glad to hear you are happy” … In the elevator, the father says to the son, “Don’t ever forget. That’s why we left the Soviet Union: so you never have to know people like him” - So in this way, the KGB officer is characterized as unscrupulous, threatening or monstrous Lisa Moore, “The Lonely Goatherd” (428) - The author wants the readers to chase their imaginations, pursue the stories afterwards - This story wants to us to engage with the story in order to map out the narrative - This story asks for the consequences of things i.e. Anita gets pregnant, or Carl sleeps with Sara as well, the consequence of playing with the glue is that their hands stick together (things have consequences) - Notice that at the end, Carl looks like the troll – so maybe some kind of play: life takes on the form of art - Start at the beginning: “This is not a typical story about Newfoundland, a fishing village, sheets bellowing on a closed line, clapboard houses, idealized Newfoundland”, instead, page 428: “The houses dig their heels into… Carl felt like a kid” - How is St. John’s depicted in this opening scene? This is a highly animated, personified house with faces, not the idealized portrayal of Newfoundland as a setting, just the focus on SADNESS and dysfunction, especially between Anita and Carl: “Carl loves her but he’s been sleeping with other women” - It tells us that Moore is interested in the contemporary happenings in the place, specifically what happens between Carl and Anita, and their dysfunctions - Notice the allusions to other places: 1) Other women intruding into their relationship: Bones, hipbones, cheekbones, knees, 2) Taxi stand: allusion to travels, 3) Stereo that picks up messages from the dispatcher = allusion to “The Enormous Radio”: radio purchased, put into apartment, and the owners of the radio are able to hear the conversations of other tenants in the apartment, 4) Carl overhearing the taxi driver, almost as if entangled in the bedsheets with them, Carl felt like a kid - There’s also emphasis on other texts and contexts - From there, Moore lets us know that both characters (Carl and Anita) are artists: Anita’s art is even described as being sad: “The old man watches TV… she catches polaroid snapshots… slow motion time of the ball flying through the air… she says it’s an analytical reduction… it’s like she’s stripping him” – very often, we look for art that’s authentic or real: Notice the way that Anita’s art is marked by the reproduction of another reproduction, consider the elements of regression and a distance between Anita and any real or actual subject - Here again, she paints golf courses from the TV set – golf sets themselves are manicured and contrived (hand-made, non-natural) settings, and then she then takes a polaroid snapshot of the screen – she does NOT want to capture the golf course, she wants to capture the effects, the details of the recording devices, the mechanisms by which the golf course is reproduced: she is not interested in the actual golf course: “the snowy texture of the video, the glossy texture of the video, the slow-motion of the ball flying through the air” – she is interested in capturing the video, the snapshot of the video, how they can be captured – she is interested in the mechanisms by which we record and capture these moments (contemporary orientation of her artwork) - Reference to VCR etc. – it’s the capture (through her artwork) of these transient things, that are moving so often - Why is Anita’s artwork sad? So often, we think of the artist as being the creator – there’s a sense that in her artwork, there’s a lack of creating – “What constitutes art? What makes it valuable? What has the artist contributed in terms of aesthetic value?” Is her art really sad, or is she just capturing the highly-modernized world, where it’s hard to confront reality – instead, it’s easy to confront it in indirect ways i.e. laptop and phone generation: the advantages but also the fears/concerns relating to people: communication skills, being able to have a quiet moment that’s not represented by a visual aid etc. - There are lots of interesting books on the market now speaking to just this kind of thing, and this short story is engaging that debate (though her technology: polaroid and VCR are dated) - This scene of Anita’s artwork can be more issuing, or starting some kind of conversation: Is it art? Is it not art? Is it sad? What does it say about Anita’s perspective? - Carl’s art: working cheaply with Styrofoam: Arts and Culture Centre: if you need a centre to support arts and culture, it suggests how fragile these things are – making things out of Styrofoam: a highly artificial substance, he’s working in a medium that has a reiterated element of artificiality (like the VCR and polaroid of himself) – his own work he shows once a year: so it takes a lot of time - Consider the nature of Anita and Carl’s work: What comment does it make about Newfoundland? You have Carl and Anita in highly contextualized ways: involved with technology and their cultural moment - The idea of Newfoundland in general (stereotype: regional, rural, quaint, newly washed sheets hanging on dryer), but also multicultural: Author writes, “The new tourism ads…two kinds of shots of Newfoundland: 1) Clouds and water, cliff-based, untouched mountains, 2) Children running in meadows through clotheslines of brightly coloured laundry… the effects show tourists going to a more slower being, towards a past that’s been reserved… rural Newfoundland … branded Newfoundland: quaint, unsullied by modernity: the ads promise something beyond landscape, something felt” – the author here wants to offer a Newfoundland that’s not in sync, that’s very contemporary, and in keeping with that, she describes artists that are involved in this environment i.e. not craftsmen, not making their own maple syrup etc. (painter of technology and sculptor of Styrofoam) - Who arrives? Who leaves? Who’s altered by passing through? And how do all these stories fold together to make a place? = the ideas that come to mind when passing Newfoundland - “Closing down of summer” by Macleod: global and international influences are a threat = loss of language and dialect: remember that the global and international influences, as expressed in the trope of tourist, are acidic to the miner and his wants to preserve his Gaelic past – for Moore, she talks of the inseparability of the global and local, and what results from the inevitable mixing - Page 431: “Carl tries to remember what he loves about Anita… the night they walked to Signal Hill” – Signal hill = landmark of St. John’s, has a flag signaling the point where the first wireless message was received, and it originated from UK - So there are these references to Anita and Carl’s details to their relationships: notice the intermixing and blending of these things, and the reference to Signal Hill is consistent with how Newfoundland is not marginalized, but traffics signals (transmits things) from one place to another - Two other points: there’s Carl and Anita’s relationship, the disturbing way their relationship is handled, including Anita’s pregnancy that she seems surprisingly indifferent to i.e. the two goldfish: considered a problematic indifference to her pregnant state - Reference to German tourist, Hans, very stereotypical: his own essence reduced to a “cold fish”, highlight beyond that how some of these details about the re
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