Archive for Education

Introducing Sita Sings the Blues

[My mostly unedited and uncorrected remarks for movie night 13/02/13.]

The movie you are about to see was almost entirely written, directed, produced and animated by American artist Nina Paley and released in 2008. I’ve been a great fan of it since I first became aware of it and watched it, shortly after its release.

The ostensible purpose for this showing is as part of my course this semester, Sacred Texts in the Religions of the East. Among the themes we are considering there is virtue in Asian religion. I wanted to include something narrative from Classical Hindu tradition and it dawned on me that the movie would serve as well as anything else, and in some ways better.

The film is especially interesting for a couple of reasons, both of which entail controversy: the first is its copyright status and the other copyright issues that arose from the release of the film; and second, its use of materials from the Valmiki Ramayana tradition.

The rest of my presentation outlines these two matters (note: I’m not going to bore you with such things as a synopsis of the Indian Epic which the movie is based upon – the film itself tells you most of what you need to know – and for that matter, neither am I going to comment much upon the film’s contents).

As a fierce copyright warrior, Paley originally released the film under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. This meant that anyone or any entity was free to view, exhibit, broadcast, or copy it – and even for charge – without any permissions from or compensation to Paley. Although, compensation is certainly encouraged and appreciated.

To that end, Paley in concert with the organization Question Copyright, developed a scheme whereby entities which share any revenue with her from showings, duplication or sale of merchandise may attach the Creator Endorsed logo to any materials associated with such enterprises.

You’ll notice that logo on the posters for tonight’s showing, and you’ll notice the can before me. Whatever you might wish to contribute I will be sure to get to Nina via her Paypal account.

Now, Paley’s stand as expressed through the creation and distribution of her film might appear to most as a mere eccentricity if not for her subsequent copyright problems.

The film uses a number of Annette Hanshaw recordings from the 1920s. While these were no longer subject to federal US copyright, through assorted State laws governing recordings, compositions, and the syncing of recordings with images which predated Federal law came into play as several entities came forward to demand royalties from Paley. Initially these entities demanded a combined US$220,000 from Paley but eventually settled for a mere US$50,000. Paley borrowed the money in order to pay up. She’s paid off the loan and made a little extra through speaking engagements and merchandizing.

Now, another condition of the settlement was that additional royalties would have to be paid in the event that 5,000 or more copies of the film were to be made and distributed. This applies to anyone who would produce +4,999 copies; the regime of the royalty payments is a byzantine arrangement involving 8 copyright holders each with their own royalty formula.

The copy were are to watch tonight is a limited edition numbered and autographed version I purchased when Paley opened her store of Sita merchandise. (I also have a graphic tee of a rishi playing the violin, but it doesn’t fit so well anymore.)

This we’d consider the major copyright issue, given the money involved and whatnot, but subsequent issues that have arisen that are perhaps more telling.

About a month ago, Paley changed the license for the film to simple public domain. This was the result of the fact that broadcasters and others simply refused to acknowledge the legally defined terms of the Creative Commons license and continued to pester Paley to sign agreements freeing them to show or use the film for whatever purposes; she`s consistently refused to enter into these agreements informing the parties in question that they had every right to do with Sita whatever they wished. The result was that they’d simply not use the film at all without such agreements.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was that our own NFB demanded that a friend of Paley`s remove all references to the film from a documentary he’s making since Paley refuses to do the paperwork to give the NFB and the documentarian permission to employ anything from Sita as they wish (all of which is given according to the Creative Commons license).

Now these issues are close to my heart as an objector to the copyright regime in North America and Europe, but they are probably not so important here. Still, with Paley, I’ll assert: copyright is broken.

Moving on, it’s probably more important here to acknowledge and discuss issues around the substance of Paley’s film.

Sita Sings the Blues has generated some controversy for its contents and its treatment of the Valmiki Ramayana.

Hindu nationalists have declared the film to be insulting to Hindu culture and derogatory to the story’s principals, especially Sita, a goddess.

Paley has also been criticised for the cultural appropriation her film represents. In an interview for the magazine Wired she said:

On the far left, there are some very, very privileged people in academia who have reduced all the wondrous complexities of racial relations into, “White people are racist, and non-white people are all victims of white racism.” Without actually looking at the work, they’ve decided that any white person doing a project like this is by definition racist, and it’s an example of more neocolonialism.

As you watch the movie you might find yourself sympathetic one or both of these criticisms, but – without going off on a pedantic rant – I caution you against that. For these particular materials Paley employs are fraught with respect to such issues as sacrality and scripture, and identity and colonization.

For the Sacred Texts class, the reading assigned to accompany the movie is the Introduction to an anthology of essays from 1991 entitled, Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia.

The broad lessons this volume seeks to impart are, first, it’s simply no longer tenable to consider the Valmiki Ramayana as some kind of Ur-text from which the others are merely derived or to which they are responses. Derivation and reaction has certainly occurred, but the contexts in which this has taken place are far more complex.

And so secondly, and subsequently, Many Ramayanas shows us that substance(s) and spatial and temporal location(s) of Rama-narrative materials are, on the one hand, stand each alone, and on the other hand, stand as threads in an immensely complex tapestry covering all historical time and a wide space extending well beyond South Asia.

Thus, the accusations against Paley – from the right and from the left – backfire or rather are, as the kids say, an EPIC FAIL. Sacralizing Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana, as well as defending it as the culture of the Other, is to reify some particularity which is problematic on numerous levels.

Indulge these remarks on the Valmiki Ramayana which are intended to bring this to a conclusion.

First, to assert that anyone is guilty of blaspheming against the Valmiki Ramayana by questioning anything about Sita and Rama is to do violence against the Sanskrit text:

Sita, upon her marriage to Rama, no one in the West could view relatively without simply abandoning any claim to moral seriousness – she is a paragon beauty because she’s just lost all her milk teeth; alternatively, she is just a petulant tween who loses her protection in the forest because having seen the deer (a demon in disguise) she demands that Rama acquire it for her because she adores it.

Furthermore, Valmiki (and whoever else might have put their impressions on the Sanskrit text) stuffed it with moral paradoxes that the tradition wrung its hands about for centuries and could not resolve. And these are set up by the very fact that Rama, the legitimate king in succession to his father, is put aside by the keeping of a promise his father made to Rama’s stepmother. From there the (Sanskrit) story proceeds with a set of moral paradoxes which Indian tradition has never really resolved (Rama’s killing of Vali, king of the monkeys, for example).

All’s to say, Valmiki’s text seems to invite contestation, and other Ramayana traditions seem to heed to the call. To suggest that anyone is capable of, culpable in, offending against this particular narrative is to try by  violence to suppress efforts which this particular text implicitly, if not explicitly, invites.

At the same time, there’s no small irony to the accusations of neocolonialism leveled against Paley. For the Valmiki text is itself a story of Othering and colonization: the historian Romila Thapar has demonstrated quite persuasively, particularly in her 1978 book, Exile and the Kingdom: Some Thoughts on the Ramayana, that the cultures of the rakshasas (demons) and the monkeys closely resemble the cultures of certain South Indian tribals (so-called scheduled castes and adivasis, fìrst dwellers) which remain today. (The representations of Ravana and his followers as demons, and Hanuman and his followers as monkeys, were troublesome for the Jains who explicitly framed their versions by mocking the idea of demons and talking monkeys and rendering those groups as merely human.)

And it’s worth noting that in the Independent period South Indian (read Tamil) nationalism has viewed Rama vs. Ravana in inverted terms – Ravana is, at the least a tragic hero, at the most, THE hero of the story as a figure resisting Sanskritic colonization of the Dravidian South.

And again, anyone who desires to, in effect, sideline the fact that Ramayana is problematic with respect to gender issues is a fool or a fascist. Paley joins a long venerable tradition of women’s perspectives – the folk songs of Telugu women for example – on the story.

Those are all the points basically I’ve wanted to make. But let me conclude with a brief point on a new discovery for me about the film. Rereading the Many Ramayanas introduction, apparently for the first time since I first saw this film, this paraphrase of the essay on South Indian shadow puppet Ramayana performances stuck out:

Unlike the Ram Lila of Banaras, performed before huge crowds, the spectators at the Kerala puppet plays are few—and those few often doze off soon after the performance begins. As a result, the puppeteers perform principally for one another. Aficionados of the genre, they strive to outdo each other in voluminous commentary and witty remarks, incorporating into the telling of the Ramayana verbal treatises on grammar, local references, and satire of pious ideals. This internal audience has thus shaped the many layers and frames of the drama, giving rise to yet another kind of diversity within the Ramayana tradition.

I ask you to bear this in mind when the shadow puppets appear in the film. And consider the following from Paley’s Wired interview about the shadow puppet scenes in the movie:

Those are friends of mine from India. That’s all unscripted, all improvised, and that’s their natural speaking voices. They’re not scholars — they were laughing, saying, “Oh, I should have read up on the Ramayana before I came,” and I was like, “No, no! I want you to go with what you remember.”

Though I can’t say for sure, I think it’s apparent that Paley was aware of the Kerala tradition and decided to take the playfulness of it and kick it up a notch as you’ll see.

With that, let’s get to the business at hand. I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I have (the 9 or 10 times I’ve seen it).


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Imagining, Re-Imagining, and Re-Re-Imagining

[Indulge me as I post these brief presentations I’ve made over the last couple of years. I do so before I suffer some massive supernatural tech failure, and because I’m deep in the midst of (re-)thinking, (re-)reading and (re-)writing about some stuff in them.]

Here we have the presentations I made last fall and the fall before for ongoing the Laurentian colloquium called, “Re-Imagining the Humanities.”

In 2011, I offered this under the theme, “Imagine: the Work of the Humanities and the University Experience.”

Above the underpass of the Parker building there ought to be a big sign that reads “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

I say this not as an expression of any jaded view about the university or education.

But, it seems to me that post-secondary education is becoming less able to propagate skills, knowledge, and values, and human development than it should be.

Still, I believe that it’s increasingly important for the university, especially with the humanities in mind, to make explicit that what it has on offer is a holistic programme of cultivation.

This is not meant to lead into the usual apologia for the humanities with pat reminders that, if nothing else, we teach “critical thinking, analytical reasoning & written communications” (to use the list of skills the CLA is intended to measure).

Besides, in the teeth of such modest claims we often throw a refutation of such utilitarian justifications.  But if we were to argue from utility, I think that a far more comprehensive argument is to be made.  That:

  • We promote critical thinking, etc. to be sure
  • But we also provide unique content (to which critical thinking is to be applied)
  • And that content transmits humane values
  • And that content, and its values, are the very stuff of the cultivation of character (or virtue in the classical sense)

Of course, acquaintance with Can. lit., Ancient philosophy, or the Confucian Classics does not guarantee personal development.  But certainly as long as we continue to provide the content we do, and which students are only able to grasp as “through a glass, darkly” (for whatever set of reasons), we can be certain that growth through university education will be inhibited.  Content needs to appear within a bigger picture.

The best statement I’ve encountered lately suggesting that higher ed. serves this holistic purpose comes from Margaret Mead who said:

In college, in some way that I devoutly believed in but could not explain, I expected to become a person.

I’d find this a little rich if it weren’t for the fact that it seems to speak to issues concerning our students today.  First, there’s no doubt that many students don’t know or can’t articulate why they are here.  Second, recent material I’ve read suggests that many students are looking for a reason to believe – they have spiritual concerns, questions about ‘the meaning of life’ (for lack of another way to put it), and they desire to cultivate values or virtue. (But, for whatever reasons, university work isn’t often the place that’s done.)

They experience life like the rest of us, aware of “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” and in the face of them they might say that “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” or throw up their hands saying life’s “nasty, brutish and short.”

These phrases are often just slogans or clichés to students (as well as poorly understood).

But what we do in the humanities is present Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Hobbes and others in full, and let them address those perennial questions that many of our students seek to answer.

The genuine literacy that higher ed. offers, surely delivers some of the very stuff that all of us need to approach big questions.

Of course, one doesn’t need a university education to engage fully in the encounters into which life inevitably drags us.  But to enter university is to volunteer to train for such contests, and to accept a dedication to some vow like, in the words of Edward Gibbon:

We improve ourselves by victories over ourselves. There must be contest, and we must win.

As for the role of those of us in the university – more treacle, I know – increasingly I have to believe, as Sharon Daloz Parks says, that:

every institution of higher education serves in at least some measure as a community of imagination in which every professor is potentially a spiritual guide and every syllabus a confession of faith.

And it’s the matter of imagination that ultimately I find the hardest to convey to effect in the classroom.  Between me and the students, something imaginative is not always being born.

So, to conclude, I want to say that above the stage exit wherever Laurentian convocations are held ought to be posted a sign, again quoting Dante, “that without hope we live on in desire.”

As the economy contracts, as jobs for university grads become scarce, and as our discourses about every major issue become more Manichean, our students need as much as ever to leave university with something more than a credential or the ability to say only that they completed a post-secondary education.

What that may be is hope.  Hope in a larger sense, which we might take from the Dante references, understood as the ground of fulfillment.  Without it there is only desire, understood as the affliction of the residents of Dante’s Limbo, the longing for something missing in which fulfillment might be found.

PS – in the “Proust Questionnaire” section of the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, mystery writer PD James was asked, ‘What is your greatest regret?’ to which she replied, ‘That I didn’t go to university’.

This past fall, I presented this under the theme, “Worldviews in the Humanities: Whose world view?”

Every year, I face an intellectual and pedagogical dilemma, one which I’ve shared recently with Kornel, and one which I’ve failed to resolve in any satisfactory way. The source of this dilemma is the course RS 2205 – The World’s Living Religions. This introduction to Religious Studies (at least it is in most places, though not for US at Laurentian – and that’s a point worth noting which I hope to return to later) which is in reality an introduction to RELIGIONS, is problematic in several ways, yet seems to have a certain utility for a liberal education (and importance for Laurentian and our Department at UofS). But it’s fraught.

The problem with this course is that it has a built-in set of assumptions – reinforced by the limits of what can be communicated in a (virtually) fresh folk setting – but which, in any case, skew the 1st & 2nd order terms in which multiple sub-disciplines of the field operate. Of course, much of the damage done by a world religions intro course might be undone in more senior courses, but here few students return for advanced, more discriminating, study in Buddhology, Indology, Sinology etc. (the emphasis on “Eastern” fields here is on purpose).

So, the problem is, what students walk away with from World Religions is a set of thumbnail sketches of several “religions,” constructed within a framework in which it’s imagined that a number of abstract concepts are shared across them in some way: divinity, text, rite/ritual, belief, etc., etc., etc. The problem is that this is to advocate (intentionally or not) for what we might call:

a worldview of worldviews

Insofar as a world religions course is expected to propagate pluralism, it may be said that it succeeds, yet the question is, ‘how does any of that reflect reality’? And, well, it does and does not. It does insofar as it manages some materials from foci that we might be able to draw together in order to label it as a ‘tradition’. It doesn’t insofar as it tends to create an orthodoxy by which, it may be imagined, that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, even Jews, Christians and others, are expected to conform, or at least by which world religions’ scholar might judge them.

Thus, what/who is a good Hindu, Buddhist, etc. is defined in such a course. But has any service been done when students are sent into the world with such a reconstructed bourgeois conception of the Other in their minds? It should seem obvious that the “Islamist terrorist” or “Christian fundamentalist” becomes a problematic entity here, not in himself but insofar as he is imagined to be within or without that company which “world religions” constructs.

Tomoko Masuzawa ably (perhaps excessively) documents this process in her The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. I’m not particularly concerned about the Christian dominance that Masuzawa argues was originally built into the construction of the idea of world religions: as others have argued (as the discipline of RLST insists) the playing field has been levelled since the mid-20th century, and world religions or comparative religions has, in large measure ceased to dominate the scholarly activities of the discipline, and now occupies a shrinking corner next to assorted specialties and a plethora of other pursuits.

For the same reasons, I’m not particularly concerned by further step taken by Timothy Fitzgerald in his Ideology of Religious Studies to the effect that RLST has been dominated by, and constructed out of, a liberal Protestant ecumenical theology. Again, specializations etc. have larger left most if not all of this behind.

But, insofar as the work of scholars like Masuzawa, Fitzgerald, and many others in between, and further afield, compel us to re-evaluate how we understand religion, and religions, historically, and how we teach them, this work calls attention to problems like that which I outlined initially and, by extension, the prevalence of “world religions” discourse in the greater contemporary cultural world.

In a sense, RLST has seen the chickens come home to roost.

As a result we in the field find it difficult to get a hearing in order to contest a popular vision of religion and religions, one that retains all the worst vestiges of thought from the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the reductionism of 19th century social science, and bourgeois ecumenism. And one based on so totalizing and essentializing a conception of religion which RLST in large part invented and which persists in middle-brow thought.

We can see this in places of lesser and greater concern:

(But let me begin with a middling – though immediate – concern: essentialized religion is reproduced in virtually every world religions textbook produced for undergrads in North America. And despite his claim to have written a different kind of textbook, one that presents religion with its warts and all, Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World simply reproduces a series of religious essences but with the added vice of essentializing particular religions’ perceived flaws.)

Lesser transgressions:

CBC Radio’s Tapestry. Episodes invariably treat religion in bargain basement Schleiermachian Romantic terms, degenerating into the merely therapeutic – religion (better to call it faith here) is just a personal feeling by which one makes one’s own meaning in the face of contemporary alienation, often with breathtaking cultural appropriation of Eastern materials.

The Ottawa Citizen’s feature “Ask the Religion Experts.” These experts are mostly clergy and community activists; where they have advanced academic training it is of a narrow and partisan sort. The questions they address are usually theological or faith constructions of matters of more substantial social or political importance. Prison chaplains, terrorism, abortion, etc.

But of particular interest to me – so I may be exaggerating its significance – is that religion, defined and reduced to various systems of ideas, and so subject to moral and metaphysical scrutiny (and found wanting if for no other reason that the rest on a basis of belief in supernatural beings) is the crux of the reaction against religion represented by contemporary atheists who populate the internet and non-academic publishing.

What we find here is the construction of world religions turned in on itself. And here, Masuzawa’s argument about Christian dominance in the invention of world religions is important. For the New Atheist critique of religion is an old school imagining consisting of the West and the Rest. It treats Eastern religions with kid gloves while implying that they are no less irrational than those of the West, and making this explicit when any anecdote reflecting badly on Asians presents itself, or via some tenuous connection between religious sources and social injustice.

So, in conclusion, to return to my original dilemma. Teaching Asian religions in particular, within world religions and even independently, I find myself caught between a dangerous shoal and a lee shore: at risk of becoming an apologist for Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. or supplying fodder to religion’s new cultured despisers. At least in upper level courses there is opportunity to provide some clarity to fundamental concepts (belief, text/scripture, etc.) and their content. But in The World’s Living Religions, there is little space to accomplish this, and each tradition ends up reduced to a laundry list of texts, beliefs, practices (reducible further to a simple scorecard of beliefs about supernatural and metaphysical things) all meant to create an impression of a worldview. This doesn’t tell you much about eg. “Hinduism” and it doesn’t tell you much about Hindus and how they make their way in the various worlds they occupy.

This shortcoming, in tandem with criticism of religion as a 1st order term by scholars like Fitzgerald, would seem to undermine the enterprise of RLST.  In response, I can only say that if culture, particularly of the East, wasn’t housed within RLST then where would its place in the university be? I have to assume that you’d agree that scholarship and teaching directed at the amorphous target of religion (as it’s commonly understood) is necessary within any university, to the best of that institution’s ability, thus minimally as some program of the study of the religious cultures originating throughout the geography of the world, if only as a single course. As a provider of such a limited vision, among other things, all I can do is open some spaces to indicate that there are some things limited, if not artificial, about the picture that we’re trying to paint (which is not really different from the other editorial limitations put on any other course of study of 13 or 26 weeks). But the difference from the past is that we do and must invite an interrogation of the tendency to construct worldviews of Hindus, Buddhists, et al. and how much more a worldview of worldviews?

This last one was well received (as was the one which followed mine, by Kornel Zathureczky) enough so that KZ and I are embarking on some serious work in methods and pedagogy and whatnot in RLST.

ATM I’m up to my eyeballs in all sorts of stuff about teaching religion in K-12 and post-sec contexts. The legitimacy, but especially the necessity, of this kind of religious ed. that my sources are selling – with little in the way of interrogation of terms and methods, or reference to the state of the art – I find increasingly gob-effin-smackin. Slingers of new pedagogy are not only earning their bread by repackaging old suspect visions of something called religion, but they are institutionalizing stoopidity for snowflakes. Bitin’ the hand that feeds.

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Story of the Day

Before his revelation as a Hassidic master, the Baal Shem Tov was employed as a shochet (a ritual slaughterer). Once one of the local Jewish land-holders sent his non-Jewish servant with a chicken to the shochet to be slaughtered. Some time passed and the servant returned with the live bird. The landowner inquired as to why the servant had not had the bird slaughtered. The servant replied there was a new shochet in town, as the old one, the Baal Shem Tov, had left. “Well,” asked the landowner, “why did you not have the chicken slaughtered?” The servant replied, “This shochet wets his sharpening stone with water. Reb Yisroel would wet his stone with tears.”

Via saieditor.

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“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands”

Among the boodles of new work I’m facing for next academic year is the prep for a pair of new courses:

RLST 2236 EL 01 The Spiritual Life: Institutions & Practices

This course examines the variety of religious vocations in the religions of the world in their institutional settings. Primary emphasis is placed upon life in the formal setting of the monastery and avowed ascetic practices, but consideration will also be given to other forms of quasi-ascetic religious living, like among the Amish, and priestly vocations. We will look at the social organization, economies and politics of such communities, and the relationship of religious communities to the outside world. Other themes considered include the place of gender, celibacy, poverty, education and medicine in monasticism around the world. (S) (lec 3) cr 3


RLST 2237 EL 01 The Spiritual Life: Life Stories

This course examines the autobiographies, biographies and hagiographies of a variety of figures from the religions of the world. These spiritual life stories invite us to the consideration of the many facets of the religious life, such as conversation, confession, religious self-image, asceticism, veneration of saints, gender and religion, as well as the everyday life in religious communities.
(S) (sem/tut 3) cr 3

In selling the first of these courses, I’ve repeatedly advertized them to this year’s classes with the shocking promise of a week’s worth of lectures on flagellation.  Of course, I’ve thought, should I REALLY do that?  I’ve been mostly inclined to do it nonetheless: religious life –> asceticism –> active mortification (self- or at the hands of another).  And so much good historical and popular stuff to draw from: Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei and dreamy albino self-flagellating Paul Bettany, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the real Medieval Flagellants and all that other fabulous stuff from one of my favourite book-possesions, a very old edition of Flagellation & the Flagellants: A History of the Rod in All Countries from the Earliest Period to the Present Time by Rev. Wm. M. Cooper, B.A.

If I’ve been wavering about lecturing on BDSM for God, I’m tipping more in favour of it now.  For catching up on posts over at Dangerous Minds, I hit upon a post about Christian Domestic Discipline.  Who knew!

And doing a little extra research (ie. Googling it)  I hit upon this marvelous resource for all you devout couples out there which are burdened with an impiously unruly wife, CDD (which, I see, is linked in the DM post):

This website is intended to be a haven for married couples who practise safe and consensual Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD), or for those who would like to learn more about CDD. It is intended to provide support and encouragement for those who believe in traditional Christian marriage, with the husband as the head of the household, and the wife as his helpmeet.

This website is intended to provide a refuge for those interested in a Christian Domestic Discipline marriage. Here they might find information and share fellowship with other CDD couples without having to wade through pornography, warped practises, or distorted ideals of what we believe God created for marriage. This site is not the typical “spanking” site prevalent on the web. This site focuses mainly upon improving marital relationships by sharing the guidelines and marital roles listed in God’s Word.

I think the Dangerous Minds folk are correct:

The justification in their minds seems to be of a theological nature, an ass-slapping triad of master. slave and heavenly father! Take out the Christian references to a supernatural power and what is being described here is no different from a bog standard BDSM website.

However, it’s a bit prudish and fallacious on their part to go on to argue that:

If it’s not a zany form of Christian BDSM, then the alternate explanation of CDD must be that it’s a justification for domestic abuse invoking a higher authority. That’s where it transitions from kooky to sinister. One website tells husbands when it’s appropriate to spank their wives in front of the children! The “you’d better keep yourself up, or else” and the “look what you made me do” bullying aspect of this is simply appalling.

Though many still argue that extreme or even middle of the road BDSM is pathological or veiled abuse, I seriously doubt DM’d be prepared to argue that or connect it to wife-beating. 

And without real proof of a connection between CDD, Christianity and/or spousal abuse, I see nothing sinister here at all (or zany for that matter).  Rather, I don’t see anything more in CDD in the main than the self-same banality of Gorean, Medieval or Clown kink, and pretty much every other kind of durdy role-playing.


Spank me, Daddy!  Spank me … for Big Daddy!


BTW, while it remains in bureaucratic limbo, this course is not dead and I intend to revive its approval process this year too, among all that admin-type work I’ve got to do:

RLST 22** EL: Religion and Sexuality

This course examines traditional religious attitudes and responses to human sexuality, from ways in which it is controlled or proscribed, to ways in which it is celebrated or embraced.  Major themes considered include: monasticism/chastity; religion and the body; fertility rites; the religious aspects of marriage; religious attitudes toward homosexuality; tantra; sexuality in New Religious Movements; and, sexual imagery in religious literature. (S) (lec 3) 3 credits

Surely this will be a fine place to reuse my flagellation/CDD lectures.  (The sales pitch will include the gag, “sorry, there is no practicum for this class.)

Also, this course will give me the motivation I need to finally read through all those University of Chicago Press books I got on sodomy (for 5 bux each) to which I’ve referred in mixed company just for fun – my boss’s discomfort and lame attempt at deflective humour was a big smile.


Now having finished this, I’m continuing with my work-avoidance by finishing up Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille. 😉

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In honour of my extra storage subscription …

… my first graphics-heavy post.

For the first time in awhile I stopped to look at a set of those books I keep far less for their content, really, than for their value to me as objects.  These would be my complete – yet imperfect*** – set of:


“In Sixteen Accurate, Fact-filled Volumes Dramatically Illustrated with More Than 6,000 Pictures. The Only Encyclopedia for Young Grade-school Children. Accurate and Authoritative. Entertainingly written and illustrated to make learning an adventure.”

This encyclopedia is surely my very first source of many things learned and I remember looking through it repeatedly and for hours throughout my childhood.  (In family lore, however, these books served a far more important purpose for if not for them it’d have been far more difficult to get me to submit to potty training. )

The paper is thick.  There are no photographs or acetate sheets in here.  Obviously produced by many hands, the illustrations for the entries are coloured drawings, in various comic styles and some trying to approximate photos.  Consistently illustrated are the maps such as this piece of the map accompanying the article on Canada.


Of course much of the information is now dated.  Many subjects are hardly those to interest grade-school kids today.  And the prose is obviously aged.  Still, one might expect to read outrageous things which wouldn’t make it into such literature today; yet, as far as I can tell the contents are relatively progressive or liberal.

A random example:


Yes, thanks to the Golden Book Encyclopedia –

I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical

Ok, not quite, and only as a result of looking at this entry this very day did I learn that it’s called a “patter song.”

But speaking of gaiety, here’s an illustration not likely to find its way into a contemporary children’s encyclopedia.


Oh, those ancient Greeks fellas, all gay from the waist down, taking quiet chariot rides in the country, stomping grapes together clad in nothing but loincloths, and sometimes clad in nothing but sky, rastlin’ in twos and threes and fours or more!  Can you make a lyre go bow-chicka-bow-bow?

Anyway …. Last night I did a little internet searching on the Encyclopedia.  Wiki informs me that Golden Press has switched hands several times in the last few years.  I’d thought some time back that a new digital edition preserving the original style would be neat (with or without any illustration of one naked man mounting another on all fours).

***Our set had the matte finish covers.  My cousin Bill had the glossy finish covers.  This set I now possess – not the same one as my childhood – is matte finish save for 1 volume, Volume 5 which is glossy and will face replacement should the opportunity present itself.  I acquired these volumes at a flea market north of Peterborough several years ago, an occasion subject to a nostalgia all its own.

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Isn’t there a Better Name than “the Wikipedia Generation?”

I’ll be commenting on stuff like this after the Passover round of grading is done.

Profs blast lazy first-year students
Wikipedia generation is lazy and unprepared for university’s rigours, survey of faculty says

And here be the OCUFA report.  Er, at least some sort of executive summary.

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Reflections on the Solstice Round of Grading

I realize now that my most recent efforts to present students with opportunities to be creative and hopefully then learn more than they might otherwise from researching and writing run-of-the-mill prose, as well as other changes to some required work, are going to remain works in progress for some time to come.  First, to save me and my students from the tedious bits that might drag down the average short- or medium-length essay, I offered a pair of alternatives as 1) a short midterm assignment and 2) a medium end of term assignment.  The success of each has been really mixed.

The short assignment: a book report (1 each term for my year-long classes).  You can read the destructions for those here.  The medium assignment: a journal (interim submission in Decemeber, final submission in April) And you can read the destructions for that here.  Additionally, as the result of repeated pleading from both year-long classes, I went over my expectations for these assignments in class, more than once, and dedicating almost an entire class to them more than once, fielding each and every student question about them.

The book reports were almost entirely as expected.  Weak prose and mostly weak reflection and analysis.  (25/60 wrote on Night by Elie Wiesel – that one is coming off the list for next time, sorry Donna).  Curiously, everybody, save 1 or 2, took the narrative option and chose to leave the required report on a scholarly work for next term.  It’s pretty clear that they have very little idea how to conduct some research1 (though undoubtedly several simply are not inclined to put in the effort). Still, I’m left deflated when I think back on the youngins fitful (and either purple or saccharine) attempts to treat Wiesel’s Holocaust experience with enough gravity and an empathy they know they do not possess but cannot properly acknowledge by expression.

The worst problem2 with the book reports – not terribly many of them, but enough – was the authors’ failure to follow some of the instructions and that is to say the authors’ taking report to mean review, even when I expressly said:

FYI: this is not a book review a la  Therefore, you should avoid certain subjective observations about the work under analysis – for example, comments about how relatively easy or difficult the work was to read, excessively emotional responses to the work, and similar ‘editorializing’ really have no place in your report.

I had a really hard time keeping the bile out of my comments when I was told, more than once, that a certain work is a literary achievement because it’s eezee 2 reed, not 2 complukated, don’t use 2 many big wurdz!1!

The journals were a real mixed success.  I succeeded in inspiring a degree of creativity in some students.  Some put together various kinds of mixed media presentations; some made simple scrapbooks, some made pretty complex scrapbooks, of collected news and such plus the required commentary.  However, the really dismal efforts were not only short on acquired content but very often also formed of self-righteous professions of their authors’ great piety or self-righteous condemnations of the values, beliefs and practices of others.  (Fortunately, no one went off about the Muslims or the Jews – it was mostly evangelical sorts who came in for that treatment.)3  Otherwise, lots of truthiness: “I know that certain religious traditions believe X.”

I have to take some responsibility for the poor results, or rather they must seem to me understandable.  For after all the class discussion about the acceptability of personal opinion in the journals, I had to expect some folks were going to give lots of their opinions a full airing.  But what part of qualifications like “considered,” “substantiated,” and “informed” for those opinions didn’t they understand?  I mean, I even went so far as to drag out that cliché, just to get the attention of kids, “opinions are like assholes, everybuddy’s got one!” 

The gem out of the IMHOs?  On an entry about the Duggar family and an episode of their show about the courtship of their eldest son: “Imagine never kissing your spouse before marriage, or groping their ‘junk’.  Never having a sleep over.  Wow!”

* * * * *

And so I’m beginning to realize that I’m going to have to continue to work on the formal elements of assignments, and I’m probably going to have to devote some more time grading and also probably spread hunks of that time more evenly over a term.  I mean, I think I’m going to have to assign, minimally and to begin with, a paragraph which subsequent to my evaluation students will have to rewrite.  Then I’ll have to work on simple 3-5 paragraph descriptive essays, then argumentative essays.  Then get them to 5 and more pages.  Or some such scradgedy.4


1I have admitted that I’m really not up to shepherding students through any decent literary types of analyses.   And my efforts to direct students to lines of research – religiously oriented was the aim – in connection with fiction or memoir or biography, logically, was stunted.  But sending the student to research cargo cults to inform her reading of Christopher Moore’s Island of the Sequined Love Nun seemed like a useful avenue (turned out, it wasn’t for that student).

2Well, ok, much more trouble with the format and such things as my directions to identify the author, the intended audience, etc. which I seem to be unable to explain well enough for students to get fine and meaningful results.

3I got this gem as media in one journal (which the author received in an email from her grandmother!):

Finally, Someone Has Cleared This Up For Me.

For centuries, Hindu women have worn a spot on their foreheads. We have always naively thought that it had something to do with their Religion.

The Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C has recently revealed the true story.

When a Hindu woman gets married, she brings a dowry into the union. On her wedding night, the husband scratches off the spot to see whether he has won a convenience store, a gas station, a donut shop or a motel in the United States. If not, he must take a job in India answering telephones giving technical advice.

ISYN, she comments:

One good thing to note about this email, is that its travelling around North America.  This says something about our curiosity of other religions in the world.

The rest is also so oblivious that I don’t know if she simply didn’t understand or actually thinks there are prizes under bindis.

Oh, right, I forgot, this is the same woman who thinks Jews (among others) are irreligious if they don’t adhere to the strictest legal and religious prescriptions of their tradition. 

4I tried one other new thing this term and I’m not inclined to repeat it.  Each of my end of term exams had as 50% of their content 2 essays chosen from 4 topics.  Since performance on this part of exams has been rather poor in the past, I decided I would provide the topics to the students in all three classes in advance and instruct them to prepare whichever two they preferred.  I’m not fucking kidding, the results were worse than before.

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