The Power of Insignificance

 [ . . . ] the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.                                                                                     George Eliot, Middlemarch The Greatest English novel of all time Does anybody read George Eliot anymore?  I have come to believe that Middlemarch is the greatest novel ever written in the English language.  For sometime I was convinced that the accolade had to go to one of Thomas Hardy's many novels.  Hugh Hood, novelist and my professor of the 19th-century novel, assured our graduate seminar that the title of greatest and most influential novelist belonged to Charles Dickens.  The officious, online award of number one is invariably given to James Joyce's Ulysses --that novel that everyone knows about but almost no-one has read. Literature is "an a

The Mystery of the "Off" Switch . . . Solved! Sort of.

Where's the "on" switch? Just when I was feeling so smart because I'd bought myself a new fancy-pants Mac computer, I had to spend 45 minutes looking for the power switch to turn the damn thing on.  Then I had the problem of figuring out the right way to turn it off.  In the early days of personal computers, people mocked the fact that you had to choose "on" to turn your computer off.  Though I thought myself more savvy when I bought my Mac, apparently, pressing the near-invisible "on" button was not the right way to turn it off. "OK Boomer" These " OK Boomer " moments became a motif--these days people say " meme "--in my encounters with technology.  Every time I dealt with a new "app" (why does everything have to have a nickname, abbreviation, initialism or acronym which obscures its meaning?  A sour-grape complaint for another day), I ended up asking "how do you turn it off?"   The millennial resp

Free Will and Determinism

  The Choice is clear Faced with a choice between free will and determinism, the choice has always been clear.  Neither our legal system nor our morality could exist without free will.  No-one could be accused of a crime or a sin, unless we accept that they had free will, that they had a choice.  In recent eras, the conviction that determinism is wrong has been reinforced by expressions like "biological determinism" and "social determinism."   Biological determinism "Biological determinism" is widely recognized as the fallacious belief which claims that the limitations and diminished social status of women are determined by their biology, not by patriarchal societies and cultures.  In fact, there is a schism inside feminism with French feminists recognizing some role for biology and American feminists denying biology. Social Determinism "Social determinism" allows the idea that members of the upper classes of society are in fact superior. Some 19

The Truth about Money: Money Good; Money Bad

What is money? Anything can be used as money:  paper, tokens, clay tablets, seashells, tree bark, pixels on a computer screen, strokes on a ledger somewhere, even people.  Historically, not just slaves and cumal were used as money.  The Bible tells us a man can beat his servant because " he is his money " (Exodus 21:20-22).  As Jacob Goldstein reiterates throughout Money:  The True Story of a Made-up Thing :    "money is money because we believe it’s money." However, some things become like money (a soft way of saying they become money) even when people doubt, question or just don't notice.  Silver, data, Modigliani nudes , and, most importantly, "commercial paper" have all become forms of money despite doubts, questions and ignorance.                              In 2008, the day after the Lehman bankruptcy, this Modigliani                              sold for $150 million (USD). Someone was shifting                              currency from the st

The Politics of Adjectives

"If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from? "                                                                                  anonymous "The Great Canadian . . . . whatever" Have you ever noticed how many Canadian businesses and organizations brand themselves as "The Great Canadian . . ." something or other?  Ever wonder why?  In a brief article in the Catholic magazine Commonweal in 1929, Harvard Professor of Literature, Douglas Bush, asked the question "Is There a Canadian Literature?"  His answer was that in order for a Canadian literature to exist it must produce evidence of greatness, a great novel or poem or play--something great enough to be included in the established canon of great literature.  The sardonic response has been that in order for anything to be "Canadian" it must also be "great"; ergo, "The Great Canadian Bagel," "The G


  ideology  (noun) 1. the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group. 2. such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation. 3. in philosophy, the study of the nature and origin of ideas.a system that derives ideas exclusively from sensation. 4. theorizing of a visionary or impractical nature. ( Random House Unabridged Dictionary )   In Ideology: An Introduction , Terry Eagleton describes ideology as follows:    A dominant power may legitimate itself promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unspoken but systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient


  intertextuality (noun) a term coined by Julia Kristeva to designate the various relationships that a given text may have with other texts. These intertextual relationships include anagram, allusion, adaptation, translation, parody, pastiche, imitation and other kinds of transformation. In the literary theories of structuralism and post-structuralism, texts are seen to refer to other texts (or to themselves as texts) rather than to external reality. The term intertext has been used variously for a text drawing on other texts, for a text thus drawn upon, and for the relationship between both. ( Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms ) In Intertextuality , Graham Allen describes "intertextuality" in the opening of the book this way: The idea that when we read a work of literature we are seeking to find a meaning which lies inside that work seems completely commonsensical. Literary texts possess meaning; readers extract that meaning from them. We call the process