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The perils and pleasures of solitude: discussing novels in an online post-secondary humanities course.

Presenter: Christine Liotta, BCIT

This presentation meditates on evidence from online class discussion of novels in an elective humanities course offered to non-literature majors at an institute of technology; and asserts that reading a long fictional work and discussing it online can result in rich debate and exploration, as well as increased confidence on the part of participants as they develop their ability successfully to analyze and interpret long texts. Now common at post-secondary institutions, online class discussions may augment face-to-face classes or be one component of a distance-education course. While asynchronous online discussions of novels can be considered from many theoretical perspectives – for example, online pedagogy, the spectacle, self-creation through new media – they can also be related historically to the origin of the modern novel as a literary genre that developed in the eighteenth century from among and for a newly literate middle-class consumer; a genre that allowed a sustained individual rather than communal experience with the fictional artistic and commercial work. Given the current popularity of social, playful, useful, but often fragmented and self-promoting media like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, it’s timely to explore new technologies’ potential for encouraging not quick consumption, comment, display and repetition but a private, leisurely space and time that can then promote creative dialogue among students and teachers in a post-secondary class: a space similar to what novel-reading originally provided and still can offer.

Wherein lies the problem? A consideration of oral and written modes, with the assistance of Mister Oscar Wilde.

Presenter: Paul Kinsella, BCIT

In “The Decay of Lying,” an essay which I will suggest is consciously modeled on Plato’s Phaedrus, Oscar Wilde sounds a trumpet blast against the thickening typographic atmosphere of his time (the late Victorian period). Faulting, for example, its renewed tendency towards the production of lengthy novels based on pedantic research methods rather than freer imaginings, Wilde affects to attribute the cause to a falling-off in the practice and cultivation of the art of lying, both in literary circles and in society at large. I will argue that Wilde’s tongue-in-cheek lament for a declining “cultural” practice can easily be read not only as a humorously-phrased advocacy of the experiential delights of a more primarily oral society, but also as an earnestly-intended attempt to re-position literary production closer to the values of its oral cultural roots, a position which he in fact makes explicit in a companion essay, “The Critic as Artist,” wherein he emphatically calls for a “return to the voice” in order to re-vitalize the literature of his time. Wilde’s direct attempt to shift the cultural center of gravity towards the oral side of the spectrum reveals him as a shrewd analyst of the “myths of literacy” of his own day.

The iPad & literacy.

Presenter: Tim Kosub, BCIT

The myth of literacy is the view that literacy is essential to be a well functioning member of a democratic community. A more recent myth is that literacy somehow closely depends on the medium in which it is consumed and produced. Thus Brooks and others have suggested that reading through the Internet or by eBook readers is necessarily less involving of the reader than is the traditional paper book. Critics like Brooks gesture at the sensual properties of books, at their collection as benchmarks of literary and intellectual growth, but mostly, they remark that the paper book’s form lends itself to focus, while the Internet or eBook’s nature links to distraction. I will counter that neither the Internet nor the ebook are essentially different from traditional libraries or books. Both provide information; both can seduce us from other things we should be doing. The internet and eBooks are (potentially) vastly more powerful than the traditional library and book. That power is also the source of their greater distractiveness. So we shall need to learn new tactics to properly harness their power. The new iPad is the best way to make my point, since it not only is a superior eBook reader, it also easily connects to the Internet, games — the very paradigm of modern distractions.