Friday, November 16, 2018

Me on Quora: Literary Analysis Is Unavoidable

November's been the most active month on this blog all year, starting this past Sunday, in large part because of Remembrance Day monuments and exhibits in my hometown of Toronto. This blog is called Matthew Gordon Books, though, so let's talk literature for a moment.

On Quora just now, I answered the question: Why is it important to do literary analysis and how does it benefit society? I have a teacher who thinks that literature analysis is useless, and I disagree with him, but I can't find a theoretical (books, essays, articles) basis to prove my point.

The question's second sentence is superfluous. The first part of the first sentence is hopefully not lost on any universities that are cutting funding to their English departments amidst flagging enrollment numbers. "Why is it important to do literary analysis?" someone asks, so...

Here's my answer in full, with a different background so it stands out from my usual blogging:


Literary analysis is something we all do with any fiction or non-fiction source, virtually by accident.
Consider this passage I just made up:
Xenia’s broom lashed at the ice crystals on her car windshield as she cursed her lack of any better scraping tool. With each shove she gave, the broom’s wiry bristles caught and flung minuscule pieces of ice onto her driveway. Her hot white breath swept up the snowflakes that fell in front of her, while the ones behind her gently wafted down into her hair.
Now, answer the following question: Does Xenia currently feel warm or cold?
It’s clearly winter, or at least winter weather, in what likely is a cold-weather climate. That’s a good case for Xenia feeling cold.
However, this also means she’s likely wearing a warm coat, and she’s just been shown to have physically exerted herself. That’s an equally good case for Xenia feeling warm.
Maybe her face feels cold but her midsection feels warm.
Regardless of the answer you picked, you’ve just engaged in literary analysis.

Now, let’s look at intrinsic versus extrinsic analysis. In extreme shortness, intrinsic analysis looks only to the work in front of the reader, whereas extrinsic analysisinvolves everything from other literary works to the author’s life experiences to world politics at the time of the writing.
What you just did above is intrinsic analysis.
However, I, the author of the above passage, have lived in a place where it frequently reaches -40 in the winter, even without snow. Often, snowfall would occur during temperatures far warmer, but still cold at around -10.
What if you use my experience living in that place to speculate that Xenia may have finally emerged from the bitter, snow-less -40 to the comparatively “warm” -10? Remember, I only said above that she’s “likely” to be wearing a warm coat. For all we know, Xenia’s wearing a T-shirt. That snowflakes waft into her hair shows that she’s definitely not wearing a hood, and probably not wearing a hat.
Congratulations! You’ve now differentiated between intrinsic and extrinsic analysis.

This answer could go on with all different types of literary analysis but the point should be clear by now. Literary analysis is unavoidable. It only makes sense to want to be good at it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The City of Toronto Archives Commemorates the 100th Remembrance Day

This past Sunday, I blogged about the World War I memorials at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto. Now it's time to look at a more temporary, more indoor exhibit, but one that is in yet another unfairly unheralded Toronto location.

The City of Toronto Archives, on Spadina Road between Dupont Street and Davenport Road, host rotating exhibits that show off Toronto's history, culture and place in the world.

The 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I is certainly a "place in the world" time. The Archives featured a series of editions from The Daily Mail and Empire, dated October-November 1918. Here are some of the highlights (and a picture of Casa Loma):

Casa Loma, viewed from the top of the Baldwin Steps, on the way from Spadina Museum to the City of Toronto Archives.

The City of Toronto Archives shows a timeline of all the fronts of World War I.

An article calling Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany "Political Offender under International Law".

Eaton's, defunct since 1999, was a powerhouse retailer 100 years ago.

Then, as now, Canada has been a resource-driven economy. Here's an ad for bituminous coal.

While various leaders were signing the armistice, the National Hockey League was establishing rules for a five-year period.

In Continental European news, Poland assumed control of Galicia on November 11, 1918, while the Austrian Emperor's brother "vanished".

As before, here's to commemorating. As now, here's to enjoying those parts of Toronto that are surprisingly tucked into the heart of the city.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 Rams Article Mentions 1540s Prussia

As many of my most faithful readers know, I love NFL football and European history. I don't usually get to discuss both in the same blog post. notes that the fiery-hot Los Angeles Rams (9-1) are set to win the NFC West in Week 11 if the Seattle Seahawks (4-5) lose against the Green Bay Packers (4-4-1) on Thursday and then the Rams beat the Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) on Monday Night in Mexico City. This would be only the second time since the inception of the 16-game schedule in 1978 that a team has clinched a division as early as Week 11. The first team to do so was the Chicago Bears in 1985, who clinched the NFC Central in Week 11, finished the season 15-1, and then won the Super Bowl. The '85 Bears are often regarded as the greatest single-season team in the history of the sport.

What makes this Rams chance interesting is that they have a loss. The Bears' only loss in 1985 was in their thirteenth game, after they'd clinched the division. With a win and a Seattle loss, the Rams would become the only team in the history of the 16-game schedule to clinch the division in Week 11 having already lost a game.

If that wasn't thrilling enough for you, decided to post an absolutely bizarre but lovable "spoiler alert":
Spoiler Alert: Whether it happens this week or next -- or soon after -- the Rams are winning this division with ease barring an unprecedented large-group alien abduction or the entire roster being sucked through a time-travel portal that ships Sean McVay and friends back to 1540s Prussia.
In the 1540s, Prussia was relatively firmly under the control of the King of Poland. Ducal Prussia, now split between Poland and Russia, had gained quasi-autonomy in 1525 with the end of the Teutonic Order. The Order's last Grand Master, Albrecht von Hohenzollern, would lend his name to the line of kings who eventually led Prussia and then the German Empire up until World War I. I'm not entirely sure how this will be relevant to the Rams' postseason hopes but I feel that if the Rams can win in 1540s Prussia, this coming Monday's game in Mexico City shouldn't feel like too much of a road game.

Fun fact: the Bears defeated the Rams in Chicago in the 1985-1986 NFC Championship Game.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Prospect Cemetery Before Remembrance Day

First, I hope everyone is having a thoughtful Remembrance Day 2018, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. People from around the world are taking the day to honour the fallen and the veterans of various wars, including (but not limited to) World War I, World II, the Korean War and the Afghanistan conflict.

In Toronto, Prospect Cemetery at St. Clair Avenue West and Lansdowne Avenue is home to the final resting places of approximately 5,300 World War I veterans. Fittingly, it hosts the Sunrise Ceremony every year on November 11 at 8:00AM. It has done so every year since 1928, the tenth anniversary of the 1918 armistice, when World War I was a fresh memory.

Breakfast Television Toronto broadcast this morning's ceremony:


This is also a time to reflect on the fact that Prospect Cemetery's various memorials, as well as the five acres of veterans' plots, are not Remembrance Day props. They are not assembled on the night of November 10 and then disassembled every November 11 at noon.

I visited Prospect Cemetery on October 29 with my faithful canine companion, Ory. Here is a small sampling of what we saw:

The south entrance on St. Clair Avenue West.
A map of major Canadian engagements during World War I.

Background: the tank memorial.

A circle of plots at the north end of the cemetery.

The cemetery's smaller north entrance at Eglinton Avenue West.
Let us commemorate this Remembrance Day and then never forget.