The Canadian Boat Song and Scottish spirit in exile

Emanuela Militello| November 27, 2017
Fair these broad meads – these hoary woods are grand;

But we are exiles from our fathers’ land.

While flicking through some traditional Scottish songs, I came across one that got my attention. The lines quoted above are part of the “Canadian Boat Song”, a poem that first appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine (Edinburgh) in 1829. Being an enthusiast of Scottish culture, I am always interested in every expression of “Scottishness” – be it in literature, film or folklore. Learning about Scots in exile and the ways in which they coped with the loss of their motherland, and tried to keep their culture alive, is a subject that really fascinates me. So naturally, this song instantly grabbed my attention.

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Storytelling: Finding Humanity in Difference, and Difference as Humanity

Madison Pollack | November 6, 2017
The cartoonist Liana Finck recently published an article online called “Love Song,” where she worked through the issue of whether or not to post sketches about her relationship publically. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Finck has garnered a following on Instagram by posting autobiographical cartoons of her interpretations of moments on the subway, in coffee shops, and, often, in love. In “Love Song,” Finck writes that her cartoons are her “way of taking my story back from strangers on the street—and men I’d met on dating apps—who saw me as a minor character, if they saw me at all.” Finck’s Instagram is not merely a view into the artist’s inner life: it is her desperate and universal plea to be recognized as having one at all. By giving her inner workings a public platform, Finck enables herself to reclaim subjecthood in a world that is constantly taking it away from her.

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Two Words Where One Won’t Do: Against Conciseness

Dylan Taylor | 25 July 2017.

The dawning supremacy of M.F.A. writing is well observed and disparaged by many. Arguably, this ‘homogenized, over-workshopped writing’ has become increasingly content to follow prevailing literary models, making much contemporary English literature unambitious and conservative. Rather than push boundaries, many modern writers seem content to contribute their own version of a story that has been told a thousand times before: a story typically of love, of coming-of-age, of examining identity, in middle-class London or New York. Overwhelmingly, the stylistic cornerstone of such a story is prose that is polished and clear: all unjustified adjectives must go.

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Fogging Lit Crit: Tale of Two Critics

Kate Lewis Hood and Niki Holzapfel | 3 April 2017.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

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Reading As If To Live

Tess Goodman | 6 March 2017

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel describes learning the word “lesbian” from the dictionary at age thirteen (74). As she ages, she finds one book after another that explore this word, leading eventually to two realizations: one, that she “could actually look up homosexuality in the card catalog,” and two, that she herself is a lesbian (75). For her, the former discovery is the catalyst for the latter, which she calls a “revelation not of the flesh, but of the mind” (74). Her reading reveals a larger world, bringing her into touch with herself.

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The Problem of the Alive Author

14th November 2016 | Margaret Graton.

The reader can only exist once the author dies – this is an idea famously explained by Roland Barthes. Traditionally, once a book was published, it seemed complete, reprints and subsequent editions aside; it was out of the author’s hands and straight into the reader’s. Authors today simultaneously have more and less control over their works than ever thanks to the utilization of digital spaces like blogs, news outlets, and social media. As an example, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe has grown in many ways, and Rowling has faced both support and backlash from fans due to the frequent and very public additions and changes she’s made. Meanwhile, J.R.R. Tolkien’s texts, published both as books and letters, have quietly become canon with approving readers. This leads me to wonder…is there a problem with the alive author?

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Authors, Readers and the Ethics of Imagination

May 16, 2016 | Sarah Stewart.

Roland Barthes’ influential essay ‘The Death of the Author’ presents a compelling argument against prevailing attitudes about literature that Barthes sees as ‘tyrannically centred on the author’ (260). Instead of attributing definitive meaning to what the author intended, Barthes advocates for the unity of a text being what any given reader makes of it. This reader brings their own experience and identity (whatever that might be) to author their own interpretation of the words on the page. Barthes’ liberation of text and reader by locating the ‘true place of writing’ (262) solely in the latter opens up the possibilities of meaning in texts which, he argues, should not be fixedly possessed by the person of the author.

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You are what you read? Why reading is a fundamental threat to identity

May 2, 2016 | Louise Adams.

In a moving passage of Dickens’ novel, the ill-treated David Copperfield remembers ‘sitting on my bed, reading as if for life’.[1] His words capture an experience of reading that will be familiar to many – one of freedom and fulfilment. By engaging with books we escape our immediate circumstances, broaden our horizons, and discover ourselves more fully.

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The Strange Case of Fanny Stevenson and Literary Partnership

March 21, 2016 | Robyn Pritzker.

Amongst the most misunderstood literary partnerships to date is that of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson. The two coauthored several volumes, to wide critical disapproval, and Fanny was her husband’s amanuensis and editor for many years through his bouts of ill health. Fanny was an artist in her own right, a trained painter and an author who penned several short stories and captivating travel diaries during her family’s extensive travels across Europe, North America, and the Pacific Islands. Robert Louis Stevenson frequently mentioned their collaboration in his letters, referencing the two of them hard at work together on his latest pieces[1], but nonetheless critics and biographers like Frank McLynn and T.C. Livingstone have long asserted that Fanny’s influence was minimal if not actually detrimental.

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