16. June 2014

The Gay World

The Underside of TorontoIn 1970, W.E. Mann edited a volume titled The Underside of Toronto (McClelland & Stewart), perhaps an early effort to dispel the Disneyfied image of Toronto the Good. In Part Four, titled “Deviant Behaviour and Deviant Groups”, he includes William Johnson’s “The Gay World”. The article had previously appeared in the Globe Magazine in 1968. The article opens with this claim: “Toronto, haven for hippies and draft dodgers, may be on its way to becoming the homosexual capital of North America.” Given that Toronto is hosting World Pride, which will soon be upon us, I thought it would be interesting to revisit The Gay World of Toronto almost 50 years ago.

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10. June 2014

Love-locks Wreck Ponts des Arts

pont des artsThe CBC reports that on Sunday evening a portion of the “Love-locks” bridge (Pont des Arts) in Paris collapsed. This is the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Seine connecting the Louvre museum to the St. Germain area. Lovers (locals? tourists? some of each? who knows?) have been inscribing their initials on locks and then fastening them to the sides of the bridge as a symbol of something-or-other. The weight of the locks has caused a portion of the bridge to buckle. Surely there is a metaphor in all of this.

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15. May 2014

Nine and a Half Weeks (Of Shopping)

Nine and A Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeillElizabeth McNeill’s erotic memoir of a love affair is celebrated for the fact that it’s told from the submissive’s perspective in an SM relationship. The unnamed man slaps, cuffs, spanks, whips, beats, humiliates the narrator who leverages the pain to a heightened desire. At least that’s how the novella-length memoir is celebrated. My take on the book is that it has less to do with sex than with shopping.

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6. May 2014

Street Photography in Paris

La rue est une galerie d'art en plein air!Not long ago, I found myself standing on the curb of the Champs Élysées being an annoying tourist. I had a big honking camera (Canon Mark III) hanging from my neck which made me the opposite of inconspicuous, and I was doing what I always do when I have a big honking camera hanging from my neck. I was looking for a shot. Actually, I was looking for THE shot. In one of the most photographed places in the world, I was looking for something different. Something that would reflect my unique personal vision. Or … [stick your favourite cliché here _______ ]. Two big black cars pulled to the curb where I was standing. A professional-looking woman got out of the first car and went to the rear door of the second car which she opened while an older gentleman got out. Meanwhile, a handler got out of the first car and came around to my side where he stood in front of me. He looked like one of those computer generated goons from The Matrix who wears an earpiece and is itching to lecture you about how you’re not really human; you’re just a virus. The handler saw my camera and waved a finger at me: no, no, no. I smiled and nodded to indicate that I understood.

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29. April 2014

Anthropologist from Mars Studies Crucified Woman

Crucified Woman in Ice StormIn 1995, Oliver Sacks published a book titled An Anthropologist On Mars. It’s a collection of “case studies” about people with neurological disorders. The virtue of Sacks’s writing is that it’s accessible to the lay reader: he presents his subjects without technical jargon while preserving the important questions which their conditions raise. If there is a common theme to these questions, it might be: what does it mean to be human? The piece that gives the book its title first appeared on December 27, 1994 in the New Yorker. Sacks attributes the phrase of the title to its subject, Temple Grandin, an autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) woman who is an expert on livestock management. She uses the phrase in her book, Thinking In Pictures: And Other Reports From My Life With Autism (1996) and it is repeated in Sacks’s introduction to the 2005 edition. However, so far as I’m aware, the phrase doesn’t appear in print before 1994, at least not from this particular quadrant of the planet.

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10. April 2014

Blogging and Andrew Keen’s Cult of the Amateur

The Cult of the AmateurWhen cultural commentary turns its gaze to online technologies, it grows dated in the blink of an eye. It’s like watching Joan Rivers and the accelerating pace of her plastic surgeries. The minute one thing gets tacked in place, something else droops. The author of the commentary either has to perform periodic updates to hold up the droopy arguments, or the author has to let go, knowing that their work will end up on a great garbage heap of theorizing and speculation which, if they’re lucky, will one day pique the curiosity of future anthropologists and historians. It’s seven years since Andrew Keen published The Cult of the Amateur and already I feel like such an anthropologist. How fast the world turns. He offered an update in 2008 with a forward and additional chapter, but, so far as I’m aware, there are no more updates; he’s moved on to other books.

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8. April 2014

Narcissism as a Strategy of Resistance

Obama_selfieThis morning, while staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, I had a thought about narcissism. I wanted to take a selfie to capture the moment but was concerned about what people (in this instance, my wife) would think of me. The last thing I want is for people to think I’m narcissistic. It’s important, you know, to, like, manage your public image. I’d hate for the media to get hold of a photo of me taking a photo of me in my skivvies staring at myself in the mirror, or, like, yukking it up at the funeral of a head of state.

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7. April 2014

Vets (animal, not military)

Kari the incontinent wonder dogI had to take my dog to the vet. I haven’t taken my dog to the vet in years. I’m afraid of vets. In the past, every time I took my dog to the vet, I emptied my wallet and went home feeling like an easy mark.

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19. February 2014

Last of the Lumbermen, by Brian Fawcett

Last of the Lumbermen, by Brian FawcettBrian Fawcett’s latest novel is weird for not being weird. I mean, this is Brian Fawcett we’re talking about—experimenter with simultaneous threads of text, genre busting mixer of fiction and non-fiction, railer against professionalizing ossifying literary academics, thorn in the flesh of big media, Cassandra of global capitalism, lamenter of waning local cultures. For ease of reference, we might throw all of this into the basket of public intellectual. So what the hell is he doing writing a hockey novel? More to the point: what the hell is he doing checking his cynicism at the door and writing a feel-good tale of people who are unashamed to be happy? Weird.

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12. February 2014

Robert Elsmere by Mrs. Humphrey Ward

Robert Elsmere by Mrs. Humphrey WardSuppose somebody told you they were reading a novel about a man who joined the ranks of the clergy, married a religious woman, found himself plagued by doubts (in university, he had moved with a crowd of mostly rationalist atheist science types), left the church, found himself in conflict with his wife and worried that the situation might destroy his marriage, poured himself into social justice causes and became a community organizer. You might say: That’s a current-sounding book that captures the mood of the times, and then you might point to The Clergy Project which, with the support of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, helps clergy who find themselves in precisely that position.

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29. January 2014

Stay, by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Stay by Jennifer Michael HechtStay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jennifer Michael Hecht (Yale University Press, 2013) is an odd book. It’s odd in that there seems to be a divide between what it claims to be and what it is. Note that I didn’t say it’s a bad book. It’s a good book. But it’s not the book it thinks it is.

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28. January 2014

When Do Writers Peak?

Statue in Notre Dame, ParisA question that people like to ask of the writing life is: at what age do writers produce their best work? What I find remarkable about the question is that people try to answer it. Most answers favour youth. Sam Tanenhaus, for example, suggests that creativity peaks early. He acknowledges late-bloomers like Nabokov and DeLillo and Roth, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule, whatever that means. Personally, I like the answer offered by an economist who finds that the creative peak comes at the 0.618 fraction of the artist’s lifespan. Granted, he was studying the output of painters, but presumably we could come up with a similar fraction for poets and novelists. Then there’s the work of UC-Davis psychologist, Dean Simonton, who says … are you sitting down? … it all depends. Poets and physicists peak young. Novelists often require time to master complexity, to experiment and make mistakes, to work through less clearly defined goals, before they can excel.

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22. January 2014

Read Everything by Brian Fawcett

Renaissance Books, Victoria, BCIs it too late for a new year’s resolution? I didn’t come up with anything until last week. Before then, my mind had been otherwise occupied. Mostly with snot. I had that interminable head cold that’s been going around. Then there was a trip to Victoria, BC to visit a new niece. Whenever I’m in Victoria, I do the rounds to various places of worship. First, there’s Munro’s Books. I didn’t buy anything there but I thought I should pay my respects to a store that bears the name of Canada’s first and (so far) only Nobel laureate for literature. Then there’s Russell Books which is arguably the best used book store in the country. Finally, there’s Renaissance Books in Bastion Square, my personal favourite for rare and used books. It was somewhere between the shelves of Renaissance Books that I came up with my new year’s resolution.

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13. December 2013

10 Reasons Why I’m Quitting Facebook

Facebook suicide is painlessOn Christmas day, I intend to commit an act of love by deleting my Facebook account. My reasons aren’t terribly mysterious. They relate to concerns that have been widely discussed by all sorts of people. You may not find all my reasons relevant to your own Facebook situation, but I’m sure you’ll identify with at least of few of them.

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12. December 2013

Authors Petition for Digital Rights

More than 500 authors from around the globe have signed a petition demanding the creation of an international bill of digital rights. This is a response to the revelations of whistleblower, Edward Snowden, about the extent to which US and UK intelligence organizations engage in online surveillance.

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