Tuesday, 15 May 2018


The sphere of influence of Canadian literature operates around me by virtue of my place of residence and my education. Not always does a Canadian writer give off Canadian vibes, whatever those vibes might be. Canada, like many nations, comprises regional cultures and political entities, and to say one regional entity constitutes Canadianness means ignoring the uniqueness of other regional cultures. I know some Canadians resent having to read about rural life in the prairies, or pioneer life in Ontario, or urban life in Quebec, or coastal life in Newfoundland. In any event, these cliches dissolve upon close inspection. Nowadays, Margaret Atwood is the most famous Canadian writer, but not everyone knows she's Canadian: she signifies as a science fiction writer and social activist. Nevertheless, her entire corpus reflects an awareness and critique of the cliches of Canadian literature (pioneer life in Canada, urban life in Ontario).

One way to look at Canada is as a northern place whose political identity cemented itself after the humanist revolutions of Europe and, especially, the republican experiment of the United States of America. Technological innovation permitted an influx of nationalities onto its shores from all over the world; indeed, the young Canada encouraged immigration to cement its existence as a state, at first within the model of the nineteenth-century nationalism and later in the looser notion of a community of persons agreeing to identify as a group so as to participate in the globalized world.

The cultural traits of this country derive from the co-occurrrence of multiple cultures arriving within a politically designated boundary and commingling. First were the numerous indigenous peoples, whose societies were not monolithic and thus not easily roped into one category, though many Canadians have tried. Next were French merchants and farmers, and then the nations under the umbrella of the United Kingdom, itself comprising English, Scottish, and Irish peoples. Not to be underestimated is the role of American immigrants, whether the imperial loyaltists during the American war of independence or the escaped slaves and their descendents before, during and after the American war between North and South. Twentieth and twenty-first century waves of immigration have altered this nineteenth-century compendium of cultures even further.

Canadian literature reflects the country's multicultural and multilingual history and sociology.  I define the literature of Canada as writings with a bent towards the art and craft of writing, rather than writing deployed primarily for the purpose of other disciplines--commerce, government, marketing, law, and scientific and technological innovation, as well as overlaps among these disciplines.

Below are some key sources of information useful to those seeking to learn more about Canadian literature and its writers.

CanLit Guides, maintained by the scholarly journal Canadian Literature
The Canadian Encyclopedia
Magazines Canada  
The 150 Bestselling Books by Canadian Authors
Canadian bookseller Chapters Indigo's list of Canadian books 
CBC Books 

Here are twelve Canadian writers, a list reflecting, understandably, I hope, my own reading habits and experiences.

Margaret Atwood
Alice Munro
Michael Ondaatje
Lawrence Hill
Rohinton Mistry
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Robert Sawyer
Miriam Toews
Emma Donaghue
Thomas King
Leonard Cohen
Robert Munsch

Monday, 16 April 2018

Light and Shadows Series: Translucent Sculpture to Opaque Sculpture: Part One

My challenges with this project expanded geometrically the more I thought about it. I did not want to alter the appearance of someone else's sculpture for the sake of moral creative rights (the rights of a creator over the use and re-representation of it). I recently attended a talk on Canadian copyright laws, and I am not in the mood to transgress a creator's copyright or patent (as the case may be).

As a result, I faced the prospect of creating a translucent sculpture myself. I have not, however, ever created a sculpture, translucent or otherwise, beyond, I suppose, the occasional papier-mache piece, such as my pencil holder and, years ago, a papier-mache pinata shaped like the Death Star for my then young-son's birthday party.

I decided not to get cutesy with the definition of sculpture, such as considering a poem or short story to be a word sculpture. A sculpture is a work of art in three physical dimensions, I told myself firmly.

Not being someone who steers away from a Quixotic battle (e.g., PhD in English literature), I did some research into translucent or transparent media suitable for sculpture. Using the internet, of course, I came up with the following possibilities:

clear (translucent) resin

I had a balloon animal phase when my son was younger (the same time I was making Death Star pinatas), so that medium at least I can say I have experience with. The resin method has the best transferability from translucent to opaque, however, since I can use the same mold to make two different pieces, one translucent and one opaque.  Glass can be painted over, as I suppose, can balloons.

I have some decisions make. Stay tuned for Part Two.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Shadows and Light: Positive connotations to negative connotations

My Shadows and Light project leads to a medium much more familiar to me: words.

 The Diction Switch up stage, the third in the series, involves changing a section of writing so that words with positive connotations are replaced with synonyms with negative or "tragic" connotations.

A connotation is a meaning of a word that implies or suggests an attitude or moral stance, as opposed to the denotation of a word, which is more like a dictionary definition. For example, a woman can be a lady, a broad, a dame, a dyke, a wife, a harlot, a female, a mother. Although these terms have a similar referent (a female human) at their cores, some of these words have positive associations, while others have negative associations, while others have neutral or mixed (both, either/or) connotations depending on the context and on the speaker or audience. The exercise asks not to substitute entirely new denotations of a word but instead to switch to a word with the same general denotation but with negative connotations.

I am choosing two origin texts: one is someone else's writing, and the other is mine. For the exericse to work, the words in the original must already lean towards having positive denotations and connotations, or else the switch will not be noticeable. Finding phrases with positively denotated words is not that hard when it comes to someone else's writing: some many good poets write about more or less happy topics. The hard part is my own writing, since I am not prone to avoiding ideas and words with negative connotations.

 I. Poem by Another Writer

Original: "Upon Julia's Clothes" by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

When as in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (me thinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!

My notes:

I aspired to keep the basic sense but also the meter and rhyme scheme--iambic tetrameter in rhyming triplets--but I decided to allow myself to deviate as I desired from the language and culture of a seventeenth century Devonshire vicar, such as Herrick was.

Revision: Julia in Shadows

When in burlap my Julia flees,
Then (I brood) how achingly speeds
The transformation of her guise.

Later, when I wince at the futility
of her swings at fate, the memory
of her glares steals peace from me.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Major Light, Minor Shadows: Changing a Song from Comedy to Tragedy, Part Two

I did my transposition from comedy (major) to tragedy (minor), as discussed in my January post.

Here is my original "Walk on By."

My playing is yikes!, I know. 

Below is my transposition from the original G major key to the G natural minor key. The transposition to a natural minor lowers the third, sixth and seventh degrees one half-tone.

That is, where once there was  E, B and F# is now Eb, Bb, and F.

The A section

G A B   A B   A B   G C C B  B    B   A G A  G A G A F# C C B becomes

G A Bb A Bb A Bb G C C Bb Bb Bb A G A  G A G A F   C  C Bb

And the B section

E  E   D E    D B   B   B   A A A A G B   D E   E  E    F# D B   B   B   A A A B  A D  becomes

Eb Eb D Eb D Bb Bb Bb A A A A G Bb D Eb Eb Eb F   D Bb Bb Bb A A A Bb A D

The accordion playing me does not do left hand chords well.  On accordions, chords are built into single buttons.

Writing everything down helps me.

D  D  C                                              G  D   D
B  A  G                                              E   B  A
G  F# E for Major Key A section      C  G  F# for Major Key B section    leads to

D    D  C                                              G    D     D
Bb  A  G                                              Eb   Bb   A
G    F  Eb  for Minor Key A section   C     G     F    for Minor Key B section

Below is my playing of the tragic version of "Walk on By"

Edmonton: Unbound book launch

Edmonton: Unbound is a new book published by my writer's group, the Edmonton Writers Group. Our launch was on Sunday, January 8, at Edmonton Public Library's Enterprise Square branch, the temporary home of the main downtown branch while the downtown library is under renovation.

All the stories are set in Edmonton. Not surprisingly, The Talus Dome inspired two of the stories.

As was the case for EWG's previous book, Between the Shelves, all proceeds go to Edmonton Public Library.

The book is for sale at Amazon. Getting in touch with Edmonton Writers Group (or with me, for that matter) can also get you a copy.

Brad OH Inc has posted interviews with the authors. I am among one of those authors. My contribution to the anthology is called "The Lot."

Friday, 29 December 2017

Major Light, Minor Shadows: Changing a Song from Comedy to Tragedy, Part One

Years ago on a CBC Radio 2 show, the host Tom Allen played a transposition of REM's "Losing My Religion," written in a minor key, into a major key. Tom giggled, and so did I. Long ago I took some music theory, and I remembered transposing melodies from one key to another, and I remember learning about the different modes of western music with exotic names like Dorian, Lydian, and Mixolydian.

Scholarly journals such as Psychomusicology and Music Perception operate on the assumptions that music and mind have a relationship and that the scholarly study of such a relationship is worthwhile. Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a book, Musicophilia, about the ways that music perception is influenced by neurological conditions.

The idea that a specific key can have a specific meaning and emotional effect is something that western composers took for granted, at least until the twentieth century, when the idea of keys were called into question. Beginning in the eleventh century, western musical theorists associated different modes with different emotions, though the different theorists didn't necessarily agree (Temperley and Tan 239). Rita Steblin in A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries gives examples of these emotion-key mappings. Here is one specific scheme in Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806), where, for example, C major connotes "innocence, simplicity, naïvety, children's talk" and F# Minor, the "gloomy key," "tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language."

David Temperley and Daphne Tan of the Eastman School of Music did research whose aims and conclusions are nicely summarized in the article's title, "Emotional Connotations of Diatonic Modes"  (DOI 10.1525/mp.2012.30.3.237) published in Music Perception in 2012. on the emotional reactions of non-musicians on hearing pairs of same melody written in two different modes, specific patterns of whole tones and half tones.

The mode most people call the major key is in the exotic naming I learned as a teenager called Ionian, while the Aeolian mode is similar to the type of minor key called descending melodic minor (Temperley and Tan 238). According to tradition, the major key has positive connotations and the minor key has negative connotations (Temperley and Tan 239).

In their acknowledgement of their predecessors in the study of music and emotions, Temperley and Tan make the distinction between perceived emotion and felt emotion. A song may sound sad, but the listener may nevertheless feel happy when they hear it (239). For example, I feel happy when I hear the song "Tennessee Waltz" by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart because I think the melody is beautiful, but the song sounds sad to me, perhaps because I am influenced by the lyrics, or perhaps for another reason.

Thus  a few difficulties arise with my experiment to add "shadow" to a song that seems "light." What do I want to do: make a song that sounds "tragic" or a song that makes me feel "tragic"? Besides that distinction, what is it that a song must to be "tragic"? In their research, Temperley and Tan asked participants to classify songs on how they sounded, rather than how the songs made them feel. They also simplified the categories of emotional reaction to two: happy and sad.

Temperley and Tan's participants were fairly consistent with their categorizations. They identified the Ionian mode, the familiar major key, as "happy." That result confirmed Temperley and Tan's prediction. Ionian mode is extremely familiar to begin with in popular music, for one thing, so they result may come from the comfort afforded to something familiar. As for the results generally, Temperley and Tan acknowledged that, generally speaking, modes considered to be "far away" from Ionian were classified as "sad." The researchers noted, however, that the nonmusicians were quite able to distinguish between different modes, despite their lack of music training, and that familiarity with certain modes that often used in popular music, did not explain their preference for some modes over others, beyond their shared preference for Ionian mode (the major key). The researchers played six different modes (Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, and Phrygian) of the same melody, and reactions to the modes suggested that the participants had the ability to distinguish them, to the point that participants' reactions to a specific mode was fairly consistent. Participants didn't necessarily prefer modes that should be more familiar, either. Temperley and Tan wondered if a mode that sounded "sharper" than others made people sense it as sadder.

For my experiment, I have  only myself and my limited musical abilities (two years' worth of music theory and several years, long ago, of accordion lessons). I read and listened to a good tutorial of the modes, and then I decided to play around with Audacity, a free music editing program.Audacity can certainly change pitches, but it can't autogenerate a transposition such that some notes are dropped by a semitone while others remain as it. I frankly was hoping for autogeneration.

The easiest thing, at least for my talents, to do is to take a tune I know and transpose it myself. As part of my novelty year (which  I have posted about), I wrote a tune called "Walk On By." It is in G major. My goal, then is to transpose it to a minor key and see what happens. I am tickled by the list of keys and emotions on David Loberg Code's website, so my plan is to transpose my G major tune to G minor, which Christian Stubart describes as "Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike." To me, this characteristic is close to what tragedy often derives from: a plan to ameliorate one's condition through a plan that ultimately fails.

That transposition will take me some time to do.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Shadows and Light

My first "change of lighting" experiment will use a photograph that I have taken. Some time ago I bought a decent digital camera, and I have been taking photos as a way to expand my creative output and stretch those creative muscles.

I selected a bright photograph and changed its lighting digitally to create a comedy/tragedy pairing from the same image. The experiment will involve me making a formal change and see what "content" changes result.

Before I select a technique, I must decide what I mean by comedy and tragedy. I look at these words in terms of drama, particularly Greek drama and its re-uptake in Renaissance drama. 

Comedies begin with disorder and end with harmony. In comedic drama, the initial disorder derives from scenarios such as mistaken identity, ambitious goals that are poorly planned or that fall victim to the unpredictability of human will, or protagonists trying to mitigate their powerlessness against antagonists and making mistakes as a result. Eventually, the problem is solved and the disorder is halted.People reveal their true identities, goals are achieved, and the powerless gain power over the antagonists: they convince antagonists to release their hold or they usurp the antagonists and take their power away.  Marriage is the traditional outcome of comedy. In Shakespeare's comedies, three or even four couples will become engaged. Dancing and music signals the good social relations that arise when people learn to get along and be fair and honest with each other.

Tragedy is the reverse of comedy in some ways. In tragedy, protagonists pit their will against the world. The desire to achieve goals creates disorder, at first only in the community, but later in the protagonists themselves. The protagonist's goals are destructive and selfish even if the goals didn't start out that way. A good person may get bad advice from a bad person (think of Othello and Iago), or a  good person may be put in a bad situation that the good person cannot full rise to the occasion to combat (think of Hamlet), or the community as a whole is to blame for harming good people (as in Romeo and Juliet). Death and disintegration signal a tragedy, but not all death is tragic. Death in tragedy is unnecessary and wasteful rather than natural. Even if the community rights itself after the death, the sense is that the deaths were unnecessary. 

My pairing will attempt to show this contrast between comedy and tragedy through lighting. In the term "lighting" I include colour, since colour is an aspect of lighting.

What does light change do in a photograph?  I looked at a book on photography called Stoppees' Guide to Photography and Light to see what I could do. I learned that in photography, light can emphasize some details over others, whether positively (increased light on an area) or negatively (decreased light on an area). Some lighting seems more familiar and thus natural or normal. Darkness created by shadows and dark backgrounds obscure details and create a sense of depth (complexity) or danger (lack of knowledge about the subject). 

Colours also play a role in what a photography can seem to mean. Bright colours  tend to be seen positively, but colours that are too bright for the subject at hand or are an unusual shade or tint create unease. 

My goal, then is to create a sense of unease by using colours that are unnaturally bright or tinted an unnatural colour but that are accompanied by heavy shadow. I also want to emphasize unusual details that seem off-putting or somehow "incorrect."

I chose a bright photo of a bridge in my city that crosses the North Saskatchewan River. Using photoeditng software that came with my camera, I changed the photo to emphasize the posts of the bridge rather than the span. I decided to keep the colour in the tragedy photo instead of using heavily shadowed black and white, an obvious choice for tragedy.  I chose filters that minimized contrasts and maximized shadows. The image is tinted an unnatural blue-green, the river is too bright a blue, and the sky is nearly white, as though something bright has just exploded in the sky. I wanted the shadow under the bridge to seem darker.

The result may not seem obviously "sad" but I didn't want to go with simply sad. I wanted some eeriness as well.