Open Case Studies sprint


I have been working with a number of people at UBC on open education projects, and we recently held a sprint for one of them: a set of open case studies on sustainability topics.


Last year I worked with Daniel Munro and Jenna Omassi from the AMS (student government at UBC) on numerous open education projects, and Daniel had an idea: in addition to trying to raise awareness and adoption of open educational resources (OER) like open textbooks (and others), why don’t we try to create our own OER at UBC that others could use? Of course, many people here are creating OER (though more resources are just public and free than are open in the sense of having a license that allows reuse and remixing), but we wanted to start a larger project that numerous people could contribute to, including students.

Daniel was inspired by the ChemWiki project, which has now expanded to a bunch of other science wikis, and wondered if we could start creating something somewhat like that–where numerous people contribute to a resource that can be used in on-campus courses as well as beyond. We decided it might be good to create a set of case studies that both instructors and students could author and edit, and that could be used in courses (either with students adding to them, or doing assignments based on them, or writing entirely new case studies). And since we wanted the project to involve people from different disciplines, we thought sustainability and environmental ethics would be a good topic because those are approached from numerous disciplines.

We applied for and received a TLEF grant from UBC to get this project going. It paid for:

  • a 2-day sprint to start writing the case studies, plus a prep workshop beforehand to get people used to writing on the UBC Wiki (where the case studies are hosted)
    • all the support staff to help with these, plus the food! :)
  • graduate research assistants to help instructors design and implement assignments using the case studies for their courses, and to write up a toolkit for teaching with these case studies, so others can benefit from their wisdom!

We found several instructors who were interested in writing case studies and got everything going for the sprint, which happened May 19-20, 2016.

I have to say: this was mostly Daniel’s idea, and he did a great deal of the work for it, so congratulations to him!

The Sprint: May 19-20, 2016

The sprint was in this funny-looking room in the UBC Student Union Building--the Nest

The sprint was in this funny-looking room in the UBC Student Union Building–the Nest

We invited instructors who were able to come these two days to write case studies, as well as students who wanted to help as well. Many of the students worked as partners with the instructors: they were in charge of finding openly licensed images, diagrams, or other resources for the case studies and citing them correctly, as well as helping with formatting on the UBC Wiki. Thus, for part of the sprint we had instructors and students doing different things.

Facilitators for the sprint:

  • Lucas Wright and Cindy Underhill from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC
    • They were in charge of doing most of the facilitating of the activities during the two days, though Daniel Munro and I did some too
    • They are also really knowledgeable about the UBC Wiki so could help with any questions or issues with the platform


  • Erin Fields from the UBC Library
    • Erin worked mostly with the students on finding and citing openly licensed materials for the case studies, but she was also on hand to answer any questions about licensing and copyright for all of us
    • She is also expert at the UBC Wiki!


  • Daniel Munro from the AMS (student government) and me
    • We did some facilitation of activities, and then generally helped wherever needed. I did a little help with the answering Wiki questions, and I also spent a good deal of time finding images that might be used for some of the case studies


Lucas Wright on Day 1

Lucas Wright on Day 1

Day 1


We introduced ourselves and talked about the various roles of the people in the room. We also outlined the sprint process and determined what we wanted to have completed by the end of the two days, and what kind of map we would need to get there (what we’d need to have completed at various checkpoints).


Finalizing case study principles and template (instructors)

We had tried to get, before the sprint, a finalized list of principles for the case studies (what audience should one write for? what kinds of things should be emphasized in these case studies?) as well as a template (what sections should they have?). We started that process at the prep workshop, but didn’t finish it so we did so during the sprint itself.

First, we asked people to look at the draft list of guiding principles we had created together during the prep workshop–we posted these on large pieces of paper at the front of the room.


Instructors then worked in groups to see if they still agreed with these and whether they wanted to add anything. What was added were the questions off to the right.

Daniel Munro putting up the template charts

Daniel Munro putting up the template charts

Then we worked with the draft template that Daniel and I had come up with to see if people thought the headings on the template for the various sections would work for their case studies. We posted those headings on pieces of paper on the wall and then asked each person to use sticky notes to brainstorm what they would put under those headings. Through this process we asked them to consider whether anything in the template needed to be changed or added.

Student workshop

While the instructors were working on the principles and template for the case studies, the students were in a workshop in another part of the room, learning about open licenses and how to find and cite openly licensed resources for the case studies. See this student sprint guide for information about what they learned about and what their role was during the two days of the sprint.

Starting writing

Working on the case studies, day 1

Working on the case studies, day 1

Instructors then began writing their case studies, and students worked with them in various ways. Some instructors wanted students to search for openly-licensed visuals or other content for the case study.

The students then started putting those resources on a “resources” page for each case study. Here are a few of the resources pages that students and instructors added materials to:

Students also helped with the wiki; for example, one instructor ran into issues with the UBC Wiki and lost some content, so he wrote his text in Word and then a student transferred that to the UBC Wiki later.


We gave everyone a full hour break for lunch so they could leave and get some fresh air, take a walk, whatever!


Checkpoint: giving feedback

After lunch we stopped to talk about what people had been able to write so far, and what they’d like help with from others. The instructors shared with the group what they had done and whether any questions had come up for them that they wanted to talk about, or whether they wanted any particular sort of feedback from others.

IMG_2032During this time the students were reading over the drafts and putting comments on them on the “talk” section of the wiki pages where the draft case studies were. The idea here was to see if the case studies are understandable from a student perspective. You can see the questions students were addressing on the “talk” pages, in the image to the left.

The discussion amongst the instructors took longer than we had thought it might (though it was a good discussion!), and though we had hoped to have more time for writing at the end of the day, we ended up just wrapping up after this discussion.

We finished by revisiting our roadmap for the sprint, seeing what we had done out of our plan, and saying what we would start the next day with.



Day 2


We started off day 2 by revisiting some of the feedback from our discussion, and from the talk pages, from day 1. Then a good deal of time was spent working on the drafts of the case studies, with instructors writing and students doing the same sorts of things as the previous day–e.g., helping with finding and citing resources, helping with formatting on the wiki.

Students working with Erin Fields (near blue bottle), Lucas Wright (standing), and Cindy Underhill (blonde hair)

Students working with Erin Fields (near blue bottle), Lucas Wright (standing), and Cindy Underhill (blonde hair)

Fewer people could attend on day 2, so the room was a little emptier, but there was still a great deal of work going on!


IMG_2041We had some suggestions for day 2 that we put up on a sheet of paper, including reminding people of some feedback we had discussed the day before: it’s helpful to include a specific scenario or example in the case study, and to think about the student perspective when writing the case study.


We had another full hour break for lunch…

What would an X do?

After lunch we asked instructors to take a look at two other draft case studies and approach them from their own disciplinary perspective. The questions we asked them to consider are:

  • How would an XX approach responding to the problem outlined in this case study, and what are some responses they might offer?
  • What elements of the case would they be most likely to focus on and why?
  • What kinds of questions would they ask?
  • What kinds of disciplinary approaches or methodology might they use?
  • In answering these questions, draw from existing literature from this discipline where possible, considering especially how similar problems have been approached.

We assigned each instructor to answer these questions for two other draft case studies. They did so on a dedicated section of each case study. For example, see the “What would an X do?” section on the Forestry case study.

Wrap up

I had to leave early on day 2, but I think the group wrapped up by talking about next steps. They asked instructors to finish their draft case studies on their own if they weren’t done already, and talked about how we were going to hire graduate teaching assistants to work with them over the summer to incorporate the case studies into their teaching.


Finished products?

I’m not sure how many of the draft case studies are finished yet, as of mid-June 2016, as I’m still checking in with instructors (summer break means not everyone is around!). Here, though, are links to the case studies that were at least partly completed during the sprint:

There are also a few other people who are interested in the project and writing a case study or two, but who couldn’t make it to the sprint. So more will be added later!

Making the case studies look nicer

Having them on the UBC Wiki is great for collaborative authoring, but finding them and displaying them on the wiki isn’t the best. So I’m going to apply for a grant from BCcampus to set up a WordPress site where we can showcase the case studies. They will still be editable from the wiki and then the edits will just automatically show up on the website through the magic of wiki embed (at least, that’s the plan). So stay tuned!


We have posted many of our process documents on the UBC Wiki, in case they are of use to anyone. They include:



Reflections on Academic Integrity

I’m part of a group of people who are having some conversations on academic integrity, especially in first-year courses, and recently we were asked to reflect on some questions and send our thoughts to the organizers of the discussions. I thought this was a very useful thing to do for making clear to myself some of my own thoughts on this issue, and that I might as well share them with others in case they find them useful, and to possibly engage in conversations about these things here on the blog!

Note: what follows is what I think as of early June 2016, and we’ll be having more discussions in the future so my thoughts might change. Here is at least some of what I think now (it was getting so long I just stopped writing after awhile because it’s too much to read!).

What is your personal understanding of why it is important for students to conduct their coursework with academic integrity?

One of the things we are doing in the university is adding to the body of human knowledge—we faculty as well as students. And to do that well, we need to both recognize what’s out there already and what needs to be added to it or changed. This is where it gets tricky; we could just do this without acknowledging the contributions of anyone, including ourselves; we could just say that information and arguments are important, not who made them. So it wouldn’t matter what came from you and what came from others that you’re building on. What would matter is that new knowledge is created and we can all benefit from that.

I do lean to that picture of knowledge creation to some extent, but there is the other aspect of the university too, which is that we are here to teach students noun_373429_ccand evaluate their work. That’s where the value of fairness comes in: for better or worse, we have to grade some students as having achieved learning objectives of our courses better than others, and those grades matter for various opportunities in the future (scholarships, entrance to further programs of study, sometimes jobs, etc.). And it is simply unfair and unjust to give people an advantage in terms of grades (and the other opportunities those can bring) when they haven’t put in the work that others have, when they have claimed to have come up with an idea or argument themselves but this is untrue.

So while in one sense one could say that it doesn’t matter where ideas and arguments and results come from so much as that they make sense and add to our body of knowledge, there is also the reality that in our society it matters who came up with those things and there are rewards that come with being the one who did that shouldn’t be given to those who didn’t do the work. Thus in part, for me, it’s an ethical issue, and one I am very, very concerned about (being as fair as possible in students’ grading is a major worry for me, something I spend a lot of time trying to ensure).

noun_38995_ccThere’s another important reason too, though. Asking students to read/watch/hear what others have had to say and what they’ve done, and then come up with something of their own to add to that or criticize or question it is an important part of thinking well. Knowing that you yourself have something useful to say and do in response to what others have said and done, that you don’t just need to learn what they’ve said but also can add to it, is valuable for our efforts to help students develop as careful, confident thinkers and contributors to their social world. I often tell students in Arts One: I’m less interested in what others have had to say about [whatever work we’re discussing] than what you have to say. And that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and look at what others have said, but it does mean that you have to take it in, reflect, consider it critically, question, and then come up with what makes sense to you after you’ve done all that. What you produce then is your work, even though of course influenced by what others have said (including your professors and fellow students). If students don’t do this, then they are missing out on a valuable aspect of education; they are just taking what others have said and listing it as their own without doing the important work of reflecting, questioning, coming up with arguments, etc.


What are the positive consequences of doing so that you want to promote, and what are the negative consequences of committing academic dishonesty that you want to prevent? 

I think possibly I’ve already answered these in the above question to some extent. The positive consequences include getting students experience in thinking for themselves, even while being influenced by others (as we all are). I hope this is something that learners take with them beyond university.

The negative consequences of committing academic dishonesty that I want to avoid include:

  • Giving students an unfair advantage when they claim to have done work that they haven’t done, while others have done the work and got worse grades
    • I think if one doesn’t talk about academic dishonesty, or doesn’t try to find it and do something about it but just hopes it’s not happening, this can send a message to students that one isn’t that concerned about avoiding injustice. I’m not saying that’s how people actually feel when they don’t pursue it (usually it’s a matter of not having enough time), but it can send that message whether one thinks that or not. Students are well aware that this sort of thing happens in classes, and I imagine that it could be disheartening to be working hard and thinking that others are getting advantages they don’t deserve and you aren’t doing as well but are at least trying.
    • I’m not suggesting we publicize who has committed academic dishonesty in our classes so students know we’re doing something! But rather, at least talking about it, discussing why academic integrity is important, and signalling that you care and will be working to try to avoid it in your classes, I think is not only pedagogically beneficial, it could also send a message to those students who are not committing academic dishonesty that you care and are trying to foster fairness in your classes.
  • Then there are the negative consequences for those who engage in academic dishonesty, such as grade penalties, hearings, possible suspensions, etc.
    • These are bad in themselves, but what’s also bad is when they fall on some kinds of students disproportionately to others. For example, some students may be able to pay for others to write essays for them, and this gives them an unfair advantage due to wealth because it’s harder to “catch” those kinds of academic dishonesty than the student who is stressed out and has too many commitments and going through a tough time emotionally and panics in the face of a deadline but doesn’t have the money to avoid getting “caught” by doing it the way a richer student might. What I’m saying is that there is something wrong even in the consequences when they fall disproportionately on some kinds of students. That is something we need to take into consideration somehow, though I don’t have the answers right now how. At least, we can recognize the mitigating factors for why it happens (such as stress, having to work long hours in addition to school, emotional or family issues) and take those into account when considering consequences.

Please give your reactions to the following documents on academic integrity

[one of the documents I can’t find on the web and I’m not sure it’s licensed to allow re-posting so I won’t include that here]

Bill Taylor, “Academic Integrity: A Letter to my Students”

I really like how he points out that academic integrity means everyone in the class has responsibilities they need to live up to: he needs to come to class prepared, for example. I like pointing to how I, too, have commitments to them like I’m asking them to have commitments to the class and each other, but I wonder if that’s best described in terms of academic integrity? Maybe. I’d have to come up with a definition of integrity that I could use to explain why all of these things fall under it.

Overall, I like his approach here a lot. It holds the professor and the student accountable for responsibilities in the learning enterprise, and encourages students to “call [him] on it” if they think he is not fulfilling his responsibilities. And to go “above” him if his response to their calling him on it is not satisfactory. That is helpful for when he later asks them to call each other on not living up to their responsibilities (and for when he says he will call them on it if he finds instances of academic dishonesty).

Just one question. He focuses in the beginning on how integrity is important in life generally, and how if we don’t mind not having it in the small things, we might just not have it in the larger things too. I’m not sure that will be persuasive to all students—isn’t it possible to do a little lying, a little cheating here and there without thinking that one is thereby going to do it “when it really matters”? Then there are the students who would just as easily cheat when it comes to “areas where money might be at stake, or the possibility of advancement, or our esteem in the eyes of others”; indeed, they might be most likely to cheat then! So while I agree with him on what he says on this first page overall, I wonder how much the point about a kind of slippery slope of integrity will speak to students.

Gerald Nelms, “Why Plagiarism Doesn’t Bother me at All: A Research-Based Overview of Plagiarism as Educational Opportunity.”

“Not all student plagiarism rises to the level of academic dishonesty.” Definitely true, though I find myself wondering if I agree when the author says that “Does it really matter if one paragraph in a 20-page article includes enough overlap of language to be considered plagiarism? Does that amount of plagiarism really rise to the level of academic dishonesty?” I think it does. It’s still a matter of passing off someone else’s views as your own, even if it’s just one paragraph. But to me, the important question is whether it was done with the intent of trying to pretend it’s one’s own views when one knows that one is doing that, vs. doing it because one doesn’t realize how to cite or paraphrase correctly. That’s what “dishonesty” vs a “mistake” or “ignorance” means to me.

“We might also ask ourselves whether an accusation of academic dishonesty is truly warranted if there is evidence that the student writer has made an effort to adapt—that is, to integrate—the source material to fit into her writing and not mindlessly adopt that material.” This one really got me thinking. There is a difference between trying to work someone else’s view into your own and add to it but doing it not very well and changing words so that it’s harder to get caught because it looks more like your own work. The difference is, again, between dishonesty and a mistake. How do we tell the difference between these two scenarios? Same as above, I guess: talking with the student seems our best option here.

These points go along with what the author says about unintentional plagiarism and patch writing as a step along the way in developing one’s writing skills. I definitely agree there, and wouldn’t want to penalize students for honestly making mistakes rather than trying to be dishonest. I also agree that some who intentionally plagiarize are doing so because of outside pressures beyond their control, or inability to self motivate. And when those things are the case, they should be taken into account in handing out consequences for intentional academic misconduct. The trick is, of course, trying to be as fair as possible when considering mitigating circumstances for students in various situations.

“In some “real-world” contexts, plagiarism is not only acceptable but is expected,” such as when one uses a report template for creating new reports, using the same language as in previous reports. Another example is when instructors use wording on their syllabi that they’ve seen on other syllabi and liked, without citation. It’s true that sometimes this sort of “plagiarism” is accepted, but then it’s not really dishonesty at that point. The general expectation may not be that we have to have original wording in such contexts and it’s not useful to have it (it’s often more efficient, as the article points out, to re-use wording, especially when that wording says something really well). It’s different in educational contexts with things like assignments because there the work often just is to re-think, to evaluate, to come up with one’s own arguments. The expectations, and the value of the enterprise of doing this kind of work, are different than when one is writing up a quarterly report. For the latter, what matters is that you got the data right and presented it clearly, not that you came up with your own arguments or interpretations.


I welcome any comments on the above reflections, as I’m still formulating my ideas…

Survey of BC faculty on OER & open textbooks

While I was one of three Faculty Fellows with the BCcampus Open Textbook program, we conducted a survey of faculty in BC and beyond, focusing on their use of and attitudes towards Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks. We got over 70 complete responses from faculty at various institutions, most of them from teaching institutions rather than research institutions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.47.23 PMWe published a white paper about the survey, which was released in January of 2016. You can read a brief summary of the report here.

Here is a link to the PDF of the full report.



We also presented the results of this survey at two conferences before the white paper was finished:

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit, May 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.


The 2015 Open Education Conference, November 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.

Open Education Week 2016 panel at UBC

I like to keep track of various things I’ve participated in, such as giving talks, facilitating workshops, etc., and this post is part of doing that.

On March 10, 2016, I was part of an amazing panel of people talking about “Engaging Students in Open Education,” as part of Open Education Week at UBC.

Here is the description and panelists:

Open education is a hot topic on post secondary campuses these days. This year UBC saw the #textbookbroke campaign led by the Alma Mater society – advocating for the use of open textbooks and open practices in the classroom to reduce costs for students; the adoption of open textbooks and resources in large multi section physics and math courses; and the continuing development of open teaching practices with Wikipedia projects and student produced, openly published content.

How do we engage students with open educational practices that go beyond making their work public to making it re-usable or available for others to build on? Why is open education important to students and to what extent can it enrich the teaching and learning environment?

Lighting Talks: Each speaker will present for 8 minutes and respond to questions for 5 minutes. This will be followed by a broad panel discussion about open practice.


Christina Hendricks: Senior Instructor Philosophy
Jenna Omassi: VP Academic & University Affairs
Arthur Gill Green Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Geography, BC Campus Faculty Fellow
Rajiv Jhangiani, Psychology Instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Leah Keshet, Mathematics Professor
Eric Cytrynbaum, Associate Professor Department of Mathematics
Stefan Reinsberg, Physics instructor


This even was live-streamed and recorded, and I’ve been waiting for the recording to show up on YouTube. But I decided to just post the link to where it is now, in case I forget:

Link to the recording on the Ike Barber Learning Commons website.


I love doing these sorts of things because I get to learn about what interesting things others are doing on our campus and beyond!

A series of workshops on open education

One of the challenges in our "Open for Learning" challenge bank

One of the challenges in our “Open for Learning” challenge bank

I have been one of a team of facilitators for a series of workshops on open education that we’ve run at UBC from December 2015 to May 2016 (we haven’t done the last one yet!). The idea behind having this series is that we might be able to go into more depth into various topics than we could cover in a single workshop on the broad topic of open education. It has worked well for that, though of course the people that come to the later ones are not always the same as those who came to the earlier ones, so we still always have to do some intro work at the beginning. Still, I think this model works pretty well.

One thing I really like about what we’re doing is that we have used the model of the “assignment bank” from #ds106 and the challenge bank from #udgagora to create challenges that participants can do during the workshop. We were able to do this because Alan Levine kindly put some code up on Github to set one of these banks up as a WordPress theme. Now, I didn’t use that code to set up our challenge site (I only wish I could do that), but Lucas Wright of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC did.

Here’s the challenge bank we’ve been using for our workshops–super cool!

We will keep this challenge bank and have people add their answers as we do this series again in the future (and we have one more workshop to go!).

Here is a PDF with the descriptions of our workshop series for 2015-2016: Open for Learning Workshop Final Descriptions

And I wanted to embed our slides, too. Here are the slides for the first three workshops (I’ll add the fourth when it’s done, if I remember).


Workshop 1: Open for Learning: Exploring the Possibilities for your Classroom

This was an introductory, overview workshop covering a number of things in open ed.


Workshop 2: Using and Remixing Open Resources in Your Courses


Workshop 3: Teaching in the Open

Mystery and identity in City of Glass

In Arts One this week we discussed City of Glass in two versions: the original novel by Paul Auster, and a graphic novel adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. We only had one seminar discussion on these two works rather than the usual two we have in a week, due to the Easter holiday. As a result, there is a lot that we didn’t get to talk about.

Paul Auster, 2008, by David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

Paul Auster, 2008, by David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

I puzzled over many things in these works, but the one I decided to write about here started off with me asking myself the question: this is a novel about a writer of mysteries, but is it a mystery novel itself? And if so, what is the mystery and how might we solve it?

We did talk a bit about this question, as it came up when a student brought up something similar in class. But I wanted to share some of the thoughts I came up with when thinking about it before class. And perhaps, while writing them down here, I’ll come to some further clarity. Or maybe not.

I didn’t read any secondary sources on these texts before writing this, and I expect there is a great deal that has been written about these very questions. I try to challenge myself to come up with my own interpretations before reading anyone else’s. So it could very well be that what I say below is proven wrong by someone else’s more expert reading. I’ve tried to provide textual evidence to support this as a possible reading though.

What’s mysterious?

We don’t have to take this as a mystery novel, of course, and for reasons we discussed in class it might be better thought of as a novel about mystery novels. But I still find some things mysterious in it. Of course, these are not wrapped up nicely in answers as in traditional mystery novels:

  • Why are there two Peter Stillman Sr.’s?
    • In lecture a possibility was discussed that this could be an embodiment of the possibility of the story of a writer going in different directions, and which direction is chosen is somewhat arbitrary.
  • What happens to Peter Stillman Jr. and Virginia Stillman? Why do they disappear?
  • What happens to Quinn? Where does he disappear to?
  • Who is the “author”/narrator of the novel?

Now, maybe some of these questions are not meant to have answers. But I did pursue some thoughts about the last two.

What happened to Quinn at the end?

I came to an answer for this pretty quickly; the graphic novel helped me see it more clearly. None of this is to say that this is the answer, but it’s one that I think makes sense.

When Quinn goes to the room in the Stillmans’ apartment and basically fades away while writing in the red notebook, the darkness starts taking over more and more from the light, and he has less and less time to write in his notebook (Auster 199). And the notebook is running out of pages. These two things are correlated:

The period of growing darkness coincided with the dwindling of pages in the red notebook. Little by little, Quinn was coming to the end (Auster 199).

Quinn was coming to the end of the red notebook, but also to the end of himself: after he discovers that someone else is living in his apartment, that he has no more home, no more job with the Stillmans, he realizes that he has “come to the end of himself” (Auster 191).

Quinn as a character on a page

This suggests a close connection between writing in the red notebook and the existence of Quinn himself. Of course, he existed as a character before buying the red notebook, but at the end, as the notebook runs out of pages, and Quinn slowly stops writing in it, the darkness starts taking him over–he fades away, one might think. His existence at this point and the existence of pages in the notebook seem to coincide. Which in turn suggests that he is little more than a character on a page; when the pages run out, he runs out.

At least, he runs out as the person he was. Just as he had become a different person while keeping watch over the Stillmans’ apartment (Auster 183), he might become a different person when the pages of the red notebook run out. He tries to remember his life “before the story began” (Auster 195), the books he had written as William Wilson, his former agent; but it was difficult and he soon “waved good-bye” to his former life (195). As he continues to write in the notebook, he stops writing about himself: “Quinn no longer had any interest in himself” (200).

He disappears, but perhaps he just disappears as Quinn.

Quinn as a character on a page in the graphic novel version

David Mazzuchelli in 2012," by Luigi Novi on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY 3.0. © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

David Mazzuchelli in 2012, by Luigi Novi on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY 3.0. © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

The graphic novel could be said to illustrate the idea of Quinn disappearing as the pages in the notebook disappear. As one of our students talked about in class, the panels during the period that Quinn is in the room writing in the notebook start to become more chaotic. Whereas before they were regular, with even spacing between even if they were different sizes, at this point they start to have chaotic spacing until they completely fall apart towards the end. This student said that before that, there are indications that we are looking into the story and Quinn’s life as through a window, but now I can’t for the life of me remember what he was saying about this and how it changes when the panels fall apart (I hope he soon posts his argument on our blog site!).

One thing this does for me is make it feel less like we are looking in on a story that is happening as if in “real life” (at least, a sense of real life as one gets in fiction), and more like we are reading a story on a page. When the panels fall apart towards the end and become clearly like pieces of paper, it brings to mind for me the fact that these are pieces of paper we are reading, that this is a book, that the story isn’t, after all, real and Quinn is actually just a character on a page.

Of course, this really is what he is; a character on a page. But the book is foregrounding this, making us aware of it, pulling us out of the immersion in the story where we have a sense that he’s kind of real…in the story at least. I’m reminded of what we talked about with Laura Mulvey, how she discusses that film sometimes tries to keep us immersed, to make the camera disappear, as it were, or at least fade into a simulated reality so we don’t pay attention to what the camera is doing. And how film can bring the filmic medium and the camera to the forefront, such as with the 360 degree pans we watched in class from her film Riddles of the Sphinx.

In the graphic novel, in the two-page spread on 130-131, he himself depicted pictorially in a way that suggests this as well. On the bottom of 130 and on 131 he is shown diving or falling into water with a pen in his hand, the pen going first into the water and the rest of his body following. It’s as if he is writing his way into the water. But the water on the page turns into just blank white pages that fall away into the darkness on 131 and 132-133. He is disappearing into the pages; he is nothing more than the pages in the book.

Another interesting thing about this, though, is that as he himself as a character experiences darkness (the more he starts to disappear, to fade way as a character, as Quinn, the more he experiences darkness), the pages turn white. Again, this suggests he exists only on the page. As he disappears, the page becomes blank.

Who is the author/narrator?

So Quinn the character on a page disappears as he stops writing in the notebook. Who was he written by? Paul Auster the author, of course, who wrote the whole book. But what about the book within the book, as Auster the character in City of Glass talks about with Cervantes’ Don Quixote? Who is the author/narrator in Auster’s novel City of Glass, as he appears towards the end of the text (starting on p. 173)? Maybe there isn’t supposed to be a clear answer to this, and maybe I’m just making stuff up, but here are some thoughts.

The graphic novel could suggest one answer to this question, in part through different fonts. If you look closely, there are different fonts for different characters:

  • “author”/narrator: like typewriter (1, 89, 107, then at end)
  • Quinn and the voiceovers in the story (not the narrator as standing out as a narrator) have the same font
  • Peter Stillman Jr. on the phone (6, 11) and in person (starting p. 15) have different fonts than those for Quinn
  • Max Work has a strong font p. 7
  • Peter Stillman Sr has stylized capital letters (66-67, etc.) and his speech bubbles also have sharp corners
  • Daniel Auster’s speech bubbles have slightly different font (95)
  • On 102-103, the panels have a different font to show that these words are what Quinn is writing in his notebook

One thing the graphic novel suggests with font styles is that perhaps Quinn himself is the noun_159333_ccauthor/narrator who appears towards the end. The very last page starts off with the narrator speaking in the typewriter font, and then the last sentence is back in the notebook. I suppose there are a number of ways to interpret this, but one way could be to connect the typewriter narrator to the Quinn that was writing in his notebook. The same words that appear in Auster’s novel as coming from the same voice, in the graphic novel appear in two different fonts, one clearly connected to Quinn as the character who wrote in the red notebook.

Remember that “Quinn did all his writing with a pen, using a typewriter only for final drafts” (Auster 62). We might think that the notebook pages are his first drafts, and the typewriter is when he came later to write the story up in a final form.

So though Quinn as a character on a page disappears as the story winds down to a close, Quinn as an author starts to appear. The “author” as narrator starts to make conspicuous appearances as Quinn starts his vigil outside the Stillmans’ apartment (Auster 173), which is arguably when he starts to fall apart. Then, when Quinn the character disappears completely the “author” comes in and takes over.

The graphic novel suggests this reading in another way as well. The last three pages of the graphic novel are written in a different style, as we discussed in class: they don’t have clear panels, and the images seem more realistically drawn. That would connect to the fact that at this point in Auster’s novel, it is purely the “author”/narrator’s voice we are getting. But I noticed something else: the pictures on the first of those last three pages mirror pictures on p. 113, from when Quinn was doing his watch of the Stillmans’ apartment. At that point, Quinn leaves his seat and walks to try to get some more money, so it looks to me like the path away from the Stillmans’ apartment.

If this is the case, then why would the same path away from the Stillmans’ apartment be being followed by the author/narrator at the end? After all, in that part of the story the author/narrator is going towards the Stillmans’ apartment, if anything, since he and Auster go there to try to find clues about Quinn. Again, one possible reading of what the graphic novel is doing is that the author/narrator is coming out of the apartment because that is where he, Quinn the character, last was. Quinn the author/narrator emerges from the place where Quinn the character disappeared.

Authors putting themselves in books

Yes, I’ve gone pretty far in my flights of fancy here. But I think there’s a certain logic to it. And it fits with Paul Auster (the author) putting himself into his own book as a character–maybe Quinn (the author) is putting himself into his own book as a character. Maybe Quinn the author had to write himself away as the character who is in despair, who doesn’t really exist except as William Wilson or Max Work; maybe he had to get rid of that self in order to emerge as a writer again.

Since his wife and son died, and before the case with the Stillmans began, he wrote only as William Wilson. In those five years, Quinn had stopped being an author, and had already started to fade away:

Quinn was no longer that part of himself that could write books, and although in many ways Quinn continued to exist, he no longer existed for anyone but himself (Auster 9).

He had, of course, long ago stopped thinking of himself as real. If he lived now in the world at all, it was only at one remove, through the imaginary person of Max Work (Auster 16).

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 11.39.24 AMPerhaps, when he starts writing about the Stillman case in the red notebook, he starts to exist as an author again. Note that in the notebook where he starts writing about the Stillman case, and in my reading where he starts writing the story that later becomes this book with him as the author/narrator, he puts “Daniel Quinn” on the notebook: “It was the first time in more than five years that he had put his own name in one of his notebooks” (Auster 64). If the notebook is connected to this book itself, where this book is the final draft in typewriter form and the notebook is his earlier notes, then this, too, suggests to me that he is the author/narrator who appears later. He is able to become a writer again, in that case.

But he is no longer a writer as Daniel Quinn the character, though, which is a problem with my reading. The author/narrator refers to Quinn as having disappeared. And Quinn as character does. As noted above, he disappears as Quinn the character, but might emerge as someone else. Maybe Daniel Quinn the writer, or maybe an unnamed author/narrator. In either case, the author/narrator says at the end that Quinn “will be with me always.” Why? Because he is a part of the author/narrator, a former self, I’m arguing.

Don Quixote…what’s up with that?

So if this reading makes any sense, then it would be like Auster writing a novel in which he creates a character as himself, and Quinn doing the same. But I expect there’s a lot more to this idea of authors putting themselves in books than I’m getting, with the whole Don Quixote story within this novel. Don Quixote, in Auster’s (the character’s) article, doesn’t so much write his own story as orchestrate others writing his story with him as a character in it. I went down that rabbit hole, trying to connect Daniel Quinn to Don Quixote as we are invited to do with the initials being the same, but came up empty on that path.


Well, this has turned into a gigantic post (over 2500 words!). I think I’ve exhausted all the ideas I had on these topics, but would be happy to hear what others think!


Visual Language in Tezuka’s Buddha Vol. 1

In Arts One this week we read Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: Kapilavastu, which is the first volume in Tezuka’s Buddha series.

As usual for Arts One, there was so much to talk about and I wanted to raise some issues and questions that we didn’t get time to discuss. The problem is that I left my book in my office and am now trying to write a blog post over the weekend with just my notes. Not so great when you’re writing about manga, where the images matter a lot and I might not remember all aspects of them. But I’ll try.

Visual language

One thing I focused on this week while reading Buddha Vol. 1 is what Cohn & Ehly (2016) call “visual language”:

Just what is meant by ‘‘visual language’’? Humans use patterned ways of communicating in the visual-graphic form (i.e., drawing) just as they do in the verbal form (i.e., speaking). However, there is a terminological gap between these modalities with regards to the system employed in this process: we speak in a spoken language, but we draw in __?___. The answer to filling this gap is a ‘‘visual language” …. (19)

A visual language, as I understand it, is a way of communicating through images without words (because words themselves can be taken as images, as we discussed today in class–the Japanese characters seem to “fit” better in some of the images than the English letters/words because of their shape).

Cohn and Ehly (2016) go on to talk about something like words in visual language:

… graphic patterns are stored as schemas of form-meaning mappings in the long-term memory of their creators, similar to the way that verbal patterns are stored as schemas (words) in spoken languages of the world (Cohn, 2013b). To the extent that people might share the same cognitive patterns, we might say that they draw in a common visual language. (19)

So there can be image-meaning units like there are word-meaning units. Cohn and Ehly (2016) call these “visual morphemes,” and a list of some of the visual morphemes they say exist in manga, according to their research based on what Japanese researchers have said and their own study of many manga themselves, can be found here: Morphology of Japanese Visual Language.

Now, it’s worth noting that their research is not without its critics, of course (as any good research isn’t).  in this post Nicholas A. Theisen calls out Cohn for essentializing “Japanese” visual language as if we could focus all visual language in manga down to a single kind of essence. He also criticizes Cohn (and others) for making arguments based on a biased empirical sample:

In formalist Japanese manga studies discourse (e.g. Natsume, Takeuchi, or Yomota), the basic features of manga in toto are first identified in comics for men/boys and only thereafter are the stylistic conventions of many shōjo/josei manga seen as variants thereof.  An honest question: why isn’t it the other way around?  Why aren’t shōnen/seinen the variants?

So I’m not going to make any claims about a particularly “Japanese” visual language here.

What I’m interested in is just paying attention to the idea of visual language and how we can see certain images as regularly suggesting a certain meaning/range of meanings, just as words will be regularly connected with a (range of) meaning(s).

Visual language in Buddha: Kapilavastu

Where can we see in Tezuka’s text particular images/symbols that are regularly associated with a meaning that we can get just from the image itself? Of course, there are lots of things like drawings of faces, people, horses, ducks, etc., that are representative of certain entities in the “real world.” What I’m interested in are the more abstract images.

Motion lines

So, for example, movement is expressed in certain regularized ways in this book and in other comics too. Quite often, motion lines are used to show how an object is moving or has moved within a panel. Here’s a simple example:

Fast Aeroplane with Motion Lines, Derivation by Chris McKenna of a work by Carlos Latuff, Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0

Fast Aeroplane with Motion Lines, Derivation by Chris McKenna of a work by Carlos Latuff, Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0

We see these a lot in Buddha Vol. 1, and we also see a different kind of motion line in numerous places in the text as well. Instead of the lines streaking from an object, they take up more of the background of a panel but still suggest motion. This page has a good example of what I’m talking about–see the last image in the vertical series of motion lines (since the page doesn’t say one can reuse the images, I can’t re-post the image here).

One example (and here’s where I wish I had my book with me!) is when Chapra first gets on the horse that Tatta has possessed, and before he finds Budhai being attacked by crocodiles. One of those panels has a background with lots of horizontal lines and the horse is galloping (I’m pretty sure this is from p. 129, if my notes are correct). The lines aren’t going from the horse, but are behind the images in the panel. In one of the panels on p. 129 Chapra is on the horse who is rearing up (if I remember correctly) and the lines in the background are circular rather than horizontal like they are when the horse is galloping. I still get a sense of movement from the circular motion lines, even though clearly the horse and rider are not spinning around in circles. But I’m not sure what kind of motion I’m getting from it, or why the circles might make sense in that context.

What’s interesting to me is that for me, the motion lines like the ones coming from the aeroplane above just feel more natural, they feel more like they are indicating motion. The ones that are in the background of the frame feel less so. Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, argues that these latter kinds of motion lines are more common in manga than in American or European comics (112-113), and perhaps I am just more used to expressing motion with a different kind of “visual language” than the lines in the backgrounds of panels.

Other symbols
Many of the visual morphemes in Buddha Vol. 1 made sense to me, probably because they’re part of a common visual language that I understand.

For example, there are a number of places where things hit one another (swords on shields) or people hit one another, and there are stars that seem to come out of the impact point. That’s a common symbol I’ve seen a lot in cartoons and North American comics. Similarly, when Tatta is disoriented on p. 102 there are stars that look like they’re going around in a circle (is that right? again…working from notes w/o a book) and then in another panel there are those little funny circle things that look like he is disoriented, like those icons with four lines on top of this guy’s head:
It’s clear to me that Tatta is dizzy, partly by the context of what is happening, of course, but also because of those icons that just shout drunkenness or disorientation to me.

In addition, the use of musical notes on pp. 50, 232 and 240 make sense to me. The ones on p. 50 are when Chapra is about to get his cloth back after Tatta stole it, and it seems to me they are signaling him being happy about it–he is reaching out to the cloth and excited to be getting it back. Later, I think on 232, the girls who come to fawn over Chapra have both hearts and musical notes above their heads–the hearts clearly signaling love or desire and the musical notes signaling, perhaps, something like joy or excitement. Chapra has music notes near him on p. 240, but there I think he might actually be singing what the words are saying.

Symbols I am not sure about

Then there are some I find more puzzling, one of which I think I get and the other I don’t.

First, there are a lot of speech bubbles with just ellipses in them in this text. Looking at the context of those, it seems that the characters are not saying anything, and somehow the ellipses mean more than just pure silence. They are somehow a meaningful silence. As I mentioned near the end of class today, they suggest a silence that calls attention to itself. So then I did a web search on ellipses in manga, and Wikipedia says this (okay, yes, maybe those who wrote it don’t know what they’re talking about, but it resonates with how the ellipses feel to me):

In manga, the ellipsis (i.e. three dots) is also used to express silence in a much more significant way than the mere absence of bubbles. This is specially seen when a character is supposed to say something, to indicate a stunned silence or when a sarcastic comment is expected by the reader. (Wikipedia, Speech Balloon)

The one that’s still puzzling me, though, is the symbol that looks a bit like a mushroom that has been cut from the ground and still has some stem on it. It’s found on p. 94 (I think in a panel with Budhai laughing), then on 202, 210 and 216 in the scene with the snake (in two of those it is near the snake’s head when the snake is dead or dying), and again on 377 and 379 (my notes don’t tell me what is going on on those pages). I just didn’t get what that might refer to. And it occurs often enough that I don’t think it’s just a fluke; it seems to be there on purpose, for some reason.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this, and/or some particular symbols you found interesting or puzzling…

Foucault’s Discipline & Punish–outline of parts 1 and 3

cell block d, Flickr photo shared by Sean Hobson, licensed CC BY 2.0

cell block d, Flickr photo shared by Sean Hobson, licensed CC BY 2.0

In Arts One this week we are discussing Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, but just parts 1 and 3. I gave a lecture early on in the week, and realized the next day that there was something I should have done in the lecture: because this text is complex, how the parts fit together may not be clear to people reading it for the first time, and I should have tried to outline that in the lecture.

So I’m going to do so now, here, instead (and add this into the lecture next year! It’s much faster if I say it than writing it all out).

What follows isn’t an outline of the whole text, just an attempt to show how what he’s doing in Part 1 and Part 3 work together.

From the public execution to the prison

The subtitle of the book, in English, is “The Birth of the Prison” (in French it’s Naissance de la prison). And we don’t get much about the prison in parts 1 and 3; it comes in part 4. But part of what he’s doing in the text is talking about how, in Europe, punishment moved from a kind of spectacle of sovereign power, whether in public executions or other public punishments, to the enclosure of people in prisons. “I would like to write the history of [the] prison, with all the political investments of the body that it gathers together in its closed architecture,” Foucault writes at the end of the first chapter.

In the second chapter of Part 1, “The Spectacle of the Scaffold,” Foucault describes the public spectacle of punishment, and in Part 2 he describes what reforms were called for in punishment in France in the latter half of the 18th century (Part 2 was not assigned for us to read). But they didn’t call for what actually happened: most crimes ended up being punished through imprisonment. The reformers though of imprisonment as just one possible punishment among many, and only reserved for certain kinds of crimes (114). However, Foucault notes, “within a short space of time, detention became the essential form of punishment. In the penal code of 1810, between death and fines, it occupies … almost the whole field of possible punishments” (115). He then asks why that should have become the case.

The two stories that open the text, that of the execution of Damiens and the time-table for the prison for young people written up by Faucher, exemplify this shift in types of punishment. And imprisonment is not just a matter of locking people away; it also focuses on the “soul” rather than the body: much more attention is paid to the criminal and his/her “passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments …” (17). Punishment connected to the prison now considers not just the crimes someone did, but “Where did [they] originate in the author himself? Instinct, unconscious, environment, heredity”? (19). It’s not just a matter of punishing the act, but also the person themselves, and of asking how that person can be transformed: “the sentence that condemns or acquits is not simply a judgement of guilt …; it bears within it an assessment of normality and a technical prescription for a possible normalization” (21). The time-table described by Faucher (6-7) is part of  technique of attempting to reform individuals, not just punish acts.

So, again, Foucault’s question is: Why did Europe (and in particular France, which is what he is focusing on here), move from the public spectacle to the normalizing prison?

A screen shot of a new slide I added to the Prezi visuals for my lecture on this text

A screen shot of a new slide I added to the Prezi visuals for my lecture on this text

Disciplinary power

What happened in the meantime was the development of disciplinary methods. Those are what he is describing in Part 3. The partitioning of space, the observation of people to try to make sure they are acting in the most efficient manner, the breaking up of actions so as to manage them in a deep way (like the action of raising a rifle, p. 153), the attempt to get as much use out of elements of time as possible, and more are part of the “docility-utility” that disciplinary mechanisms attempt to enforce on the body. They try to make people more “docile” (compliant, submissive) and at the same time more “useful” (efficient).

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.35.09 PM

The examination–which is a practice that can range from exams in schools to exams by doctors or psychologists, to examinations of prisoners to determine if they are ready for release or parole–is an important disciplinary mechanism that Foucault talks about in the chapter entitled (“The Means of Correct Training”). It combines surveillance with normalization, with judging people against a norm, classifying and ranking them (as discussed in lecture). The examination allows for individuals to be both visible and knowable: they become described in documentation that makes of the individual a “case” that is “described, judged, measured, compared with others … [and also] trained or corrected, classified, normalized, excluded, etc.” (191).

— Did you catch that? Seeing and knowing…our course theme! —

The panopticon is both a building plan for a prison developed by Jeremy Bentham (and a design for some actual prisons) and a conceptual model for how disciplinary power works. It emphasizes the visibility of individuals for the sake of surveilling them, of examining them, and developing knowledge about them (203-204).

It also has the benefit of getting people to conform to norms on their own, to discipline themselves: “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection” (202-203). When you think at any moment you might be being watched, but you can’t be sure if you are (the “unverifiability” of the observation (201)), it’s much more likely that you will discipline yourself to act as you are supposed to: “it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation of the regulations” (202).


From disciplinary mechanisms to the prison

These disciplinary mechanisms and the panoptic model developed in many institutions and practices: in the military, schools, hospitals among other places (138). But what happened was that they were useful, and ended up spreading; Foucault refers to “the gradual extension of the mechanisms of discipline throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their spread throughout the whole social body, the formation of what might be called in general the disciplinary society” (209).

Soon they were used by the police and the legal system (213-215). And they, and the panoptic model of the prison, became embedded in punishment.

All the great movements of extension that characterize modern penality–the problematization of the criminal behind his crime, the concern with a punishment that is a correction, a therapy, a normalization, the division of the act of judgement between various authorities that are supposed to measure, assess, diagnose, cure, transform individuals–all this betrays the penetration of the disciplinary examination …” (227).

Foucault ends part 3 with a question that, hopefully, now might make more sense: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons”? (228). Because according to him, the prison developed in large part through the spread of disciplinary mechanisms that were used in these other institutions.

And Foucault, as noted in my lecture, leaves it up to us whether we want to question, and possibly resist, the disciplinary and panoptic aspects of all of them.


Mirrors, reflections in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

In Arts One this week we read Angela Carter’s collection of short stories entitled The Bloody Chamber. I really enjoyed this collection, though I found it challenging because we could have spent at least an hour on each story rather than talking about the whole book in two 80-minute seminar discussions. Each story has so much going on in it, so much complexity and symbolism, that I found myself thinking each one was as full as an entire novel itself.

One thing I wanted to talk about in seminar but didn’t get the chance to is the many references to mirrors and reflections. And, since our theme this year is Seeing and Knowing, I really wanted to at least write a blog post about this theme. Here are some of my fairly fragmented thoughts, fragmented partly because I don’t think mirrors and reflections necessarily have the same meaning across all stories.

Beauty is truth's smile ...", Flickr photo shared by Beverley Goodwin, licensed CC BY 2.0

Beauty is truth’s smile …”, Flickr photo shared by Beverley Goodwin, licensed CC BY 2.0


Seeing in mirrors others’ images of oneself

I got the sense in at least a couple of the stories that mirrors showed women seeing themselves through how they are seen by others: the reflection showed not the woman’s own view of herself, but how others view her.

The Bloody Chamber

I saw this first in “The Bloody Chamber,” the first story in the collection. On p. 11 the narrator explicitly says as much: after noticing that her husband-to-be is looking at her with lust, she saw herself in a mirror and says, “And I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me, my pale face, the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire.” But more significantly, she sees in herself “a potentiality for corruption” (11), which he also sees in her (20).

Later, she sees herself in the mirror after he undresses her, and sees the image of a pornographic etching that he had shown her (15). Given his penchant for pornography, it makes sense to say that there, too, she is seeing herself as he sees her: he is the “purchaser unwrapp[ing] his bargain,” and she a tender “lamb-chop” as in the etching.

What about the fact that their bedroom is covered with mirrors? She saw that she had “become the multitude of girls [she] saw in the mirrors, identical in their chic navy blue tailor-mades …” (14). For me, this brings up how she is one in a string of women he has treated similarly, women he has seen in the same way as he sees her. To him, the women may be somewhat identical: his ring, he says when he demands it back from her, “will serve [him] for a dozen more fiancées” (38). But I’m not sure it’s just his problem (though he is definitely a problem); Carter might be pointing to a more systemic issue, that too often this is how women are viewed and treated, as objects to be seen (he has a “gallery of beautiful women” (10)) and lusted over, and to be used, and used up. The narrator “watched a dozen husbands approach her in a dozen mirrors” (15), and as they have sex, “a dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides” (17). This suggests, I think, a more systemic problem–this happens to many husbands and wives.


I saw this theme again in “Erl-King,” even though there aren’t any literal mirrors in the story so far as I remember. But the narrator speaks of her reflection in the Erl-King’s eyes (both of the following are from p. 90):

The gelid green of your eyes fixes my reflective face. It is a preservative, like a green liquid amber; it catches me. I am afraid I will be trapped in it forever ….

Your green eye is a reducing chamber. If I look into it long enough, I will become as small as my own reflection. I will diminish to a point and vanish. … I shall become so small you can keep me in one of your osier cages and mock my loss of liberty.

Of course, much of this story is about being enclosed, being caged: “The woods enclose” (84 and also 85); she felts she was “in a house of nets” in the woods (85); he takes girls and cages them as birds. What I find interesting here is that part of the caging is through his eyes:

I know the birds don’t sing, they only cry because they can’t find their way out of the wood, have lost their flesh when they were dipped in the corrosive pools of his regard and now must live in cages (90).

Connecting this with what I said above about “The Bloody Chamber,” I thought of the narrator speaking of her reflection in his eyes as a kind of entrapment. Then I considered that perhaps, again, the reflection could be symbolic of the view of these women from the perspective of the male figure, which holds them in a particular image that they have trouble finding their way out of. The narrator, at the end, plans to find her way out, though; still, she has to ask him to turn his gaze away first before she can do so.


Seeing only oneself, one’s own reflection, when seeing others

This is related to the above–it’s more from seer’s standpoint than what I talked about above, which is more from the standpoint of the seen (being trapped in the regard of the seer).

I saw this in “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon,” though a similar theme can probably be found elsewhere too. There is an emphasis early on with the “Beauty” character on how she sees the lion as so very different from her:

She found his bewildering difference from herself almost intolerable; its presence choked her (45).

It was in her heart to drop a kiss upon his shaggy mane but, though she stretched out her hand towards him, she could not bring herself to touch him of her own free will, he was so different from herself (48).

This makes sense on a literal level of the difference between a lion and a human; she thinks, after all, “a lion is a lion and a man is a man and, though lions are more beautiful by far than we are, yet they belong to a different order of beauty …” (45). But I think that as we read further into the story, another meaning can emerge.

When she looked into his eyes, “she saw her face repeated twice,” which can suggest that when she looks in his eyes all she sees is herself (47). This idea is amplified later when she goes to London and lives a life of luxury: “she smiled at herself in mirrors a little too often, these days …” (49). The “beauty” she sees is when she looks at herself in the mirror: “she took off her earrings in front of the mirror; Beauty” (48).

But then when the spaniel comes to her at the end of winter, “[h]er trance before the mirror broke” as she remembered her promise and that she had broken it (49). And when she goes to him she sees that he has eyelids:

How was it she had never noticed before that his agate eyes were equipped with lids, like those of a man? Was it because she had only looked at her own face, reflected there? (50)

That is the quote that sent me thinking in this direction in the first place! And the ending of the story could suggest that after all him seeming to be a lion could have been because she didn’t really see him as he was: she noticed that “he had always kept his fists clenched but now, painfully, tentatively, at last began to stretch his fingers”; and she saw that his nose gave him a look of a lion (51)–perhaps he just had that resemblance and it was she who thought of him as a lion? And perhaps that is because somehow he was different from her, and she wanted, at first, only sameness, only the sort of being she saw reflected in a mirror?

The view she had that “a lion is a lion and a man is a man” is questioned in numerous stories, I think, given the transformations between humans and non-human animals that happen in many of them. And this connects back to something that was said in the lecture on this book that we had on Monday: Carter may have been trying to get beyond the binary of predator and prey, master and slave, aggressor and victim that is often apparent in fairy tales and in some depictions of sexual relations (such as with the Marquis de Sade). The “Beauty” character in this story at first thinks of Mr. Lyon as a lion and herself as “Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial” (45).

  • Actually…is this supposed to be her name, as in Mr. Lyon and Miss Lamb? Don’t know…just thought of this.

So she at first has that sort of binary view of their relationship–he will “gobble her up” as the nursemaid of the “Beauty” character in “The Tiger’s Bride” says of the tiger-man (56). But perhaps the “Beauty” of the “Mr. Lyon” story gets past this binary view to some degree when she sees that he is not a lion after all (or perhaps he really turns from a lion to a human when she pulls away from her mirror…it’s hard to tell).



Reflecting Bullmation, Flickr photo shared by 6SN7, licensed CC BY 2.0. Okay, I know a dog isn't a wolf, but you get the picture.

Reflecting Bullmation, Flickr photo shared by 6SN7, licensed CC BY 2.0. Okay, I know a dog isn’t a wolf, but you get the picture.


I am bringing up this story as a separate section because, frankly, I’m having trouble figuring out what to do with the mirrors in it.

The Duke, who appears to be a werewolf, also doesn’t have a reflection in a mirror at first (120), which, as someone pointed out in small groups in class today, suggests he also is like a vampire character. This seems partly because “he passed through the mirror and now, henceforward, lives as if upon the other side of things” (121)–you can’t have a reflection if you’ve passed through a mirror.

  • This reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: Alice goes through a looking glass one winter night and finds herself in a garden full of talking flowers and a chess queen, as well as humpty dumpty and others. But I haven’t really thought this through.

I wondered if maybe this crossing over to the other side could be related to him going over quite strongly to the “beast” side. He is an undeveloped character in the story, who is focused only on eating:

At night, those huge, inconsolable, rapacious eyes of his are eaten up by swollen, gleaming pupil. His eyes see only appetite. These eyes open to devour the world in which he sees, nowhere, a reflection of himself (120).

He doesn’t see himself in the mirror or in anyone else in the world—-the narrator says that Wolf-Alice has “as little in common with the rest of us as he does” (120). His vision is limited to devouring.

But then by the end the mirror shows the Duke’s reflection, after he has been shot and lies wounded, and Wolf-Alice licks his wounds. She brings him back through the mirror, back from the other side. Perhaps at this point there is a connection between the two so that in a way, he now has a reflection in the world, someone similar to him in some sense, namely her? Or at least, she has sympathy for him, and he can see something more in the world than just what he wants to eat? The narrator says that as he lies wounded he is “locked half-and-half between such strange states, an aborted transformation,” and that he is like “a woman in labour” (126). To me this suggests he is somewhere on the border of whatever it is that the mirror represents, the border he had crossed through and of which now he is sitting in the middle until she pulls him back over.

By this point in the story Wolf-Alice has moved from mostly animal to more human-like. And “two-legs looks, four-legs sniffs”–there is something about vision in this story that seems connected to humanity. As Alice bumps against the mirror the Duke has passed through (123) and eventually comes to see it as providing her an image of herself, she comes to be more human. She wears clothes and thereby has “put on the visible sign of her difference from them” (125). So one might think that here at the end the Duke passes back over into humanity.

And yet, with this story and this last scene ending the book, I wonder if things aren’t a bit more complex than that. By the end of the story she is still sniffing and prowling like a wolf; she has moved into the territory of humanity, but still retains some of her wolflike aspects. She is “Wolf-Alice,” a kind of in-between being, and perhaps we are to think that the Duke becomes and remains such an amalgamation as well. I see something of a progression in the three stories at the end:

  • In “The Werewolf” the people think of wolves as dangerous and the people who turn into them as evil witches who must be stoned.
  • In “In the Company of Wolves,” as discussed today in class, the Red Riding Hood character has sympathy for the wolves howling outside, because they are cold (117), and she doesn’t fear the wolf but instead has sex with him. There is some kind of closer rapport happening here, though the girl and the wolf are still clearly separate in the last line: “See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf” (118)
  • Then in “Wolf-Alice” we might see an overcoming of the binary of beast and human, with a human raised by wolves who takes on some aspects of the human, and the man who became a beast but can then move back into a middle space. But then again, I may be making that up, really; I think I just want to see that, as was questioned in lecture, she may actually have some evidence of moving beyond this binary!


That was quite a pile of thoughts, and I hope they were coherent, and that at least some might be, if not fully convincing, then at least thought-provoking!

Countess Told in Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler

In Arts One this past week we were talking about Weimar cinema:

We had great discussions on all of them, but one thing we didn’t get to, and that still puzzles me, is Countess Told’s character in Dr. Mabuse. I don’t have clear ideas on her role in the film, which is why I’m writing a blog post–sometimes I can write my way through to some ideas (and sometimes not…but I have to try in order to find out!).

Spieler, Spielerei

According to the Wikipedia entry on the movie, “der Spieler” can refer to “gambler, puppeteer, or actor.” Clearly all three meanings fit with Mabuse’s character, who manipulates others to his will, who puts on disguises as an actor, and who also gambles–but really, he is less a gambler in the traditional sense than someone who fixes games to make them come out his way. As the Count accuses him at the end of Part II, he plays falsely (cheats); this is of course ironic because Mabuse has forced the Count to cheat against the Count’s will.

According to Mabuse, everything is “Spielerei,” which the English subtitles render as “pastime” but clearly the root is the same as “Spieler” (Part 1, 2:28:26). So perhaps everything is a game, a matter of playing or gambling, according to Mabuse (see also the Collins dictionary translation of “Spielerei”).

But Countess Told is portrayed explicitly as someone who doesn’t play.

Screen shot of Countess Told at 1:01:05 of Part I

Screen shot of Countess Told at 1:01:05 of Part I

The Countess as passive observer who needs “strong sensations”

Countess Told is introduced to us in Part I of Dr. Mabuse as the “passive lady” at Schramm’s club, because she only watches and never plays. She is simply an observer, and frequently bored with what she sees: she says to Mabuse that everything you can see from a car, a window, an opera box is “partly disgusting, partly uninteresting, always boring” (Part 1, 2:02:48). While others involve themselves in gambling and séances, while her husband involves himself in collecting expressionist art, she simply watches from the sidelines.

The Countess describes herself to Wenk as having become “sluggish,” and says “to rise to life, I require strong sensations” (Part 1, 1:02:42). She claims to need “relief from the dead atmosphere” of her house with the Count, and seeks it in “night-spots and gambling dens” (Part 1, 1:17:02). But while others who play, who are directly involved in gambling, might get some degree of strong sensations from it (a sense of risk, a desire for wealth), it’s not clear how watching others could provide her with the “strong sensations” she craves. She tells Wenk that she needs “life, the strong breath of the unusual–sensations–adventures–but [she is] afraid they are extinct” (Part 1, 1:17:35).

She does seem to find something of what she seeks when she agrees to go to the jail to try to get information out of Carozza. When she discovers the depth of Carozza’s love for Mabuse, she writes to Wenk that she thought she would find “the paid tout of a notorious criminal,” but instead found “a woman full of love, before whose simple and unconditional feelings [she is] not suitable to be [Wenk’s] ally” (Part 1, 2:25:45). Later she tells Mabuse, “I have encountered something which until recently I did not believe existed–something of greater value and more deeply stirring than even the strongest sensation,” namely love (Part 1, 2:31:29). To me, this suggests that while she used to seek surface sensations, she was struck even more strongly by a deeper, somehow more real and authentic feeling than what she can get by watching others in their “night-spots and gambling-dens.” It’s clearly something she doesn’t experience with her husband, and the only other portrayal of a romantic relationship in the movie is clearly a false, surface one: Carozza and Hull. I think we are supposed to take it that Carozza really loves Mabuse, that she hasn’t just been influenced by him to love him (or he would have stopped her later, since by the time during which the narrative takes place he is clearly tired of her). This sort of deep feeling seems missing in the lives of the rest of the characters in the film, who spend their lives seeking spectacle, stuffing themselves with food and drink (the scene introducing Schramm’s has a lovely montage of food and drink, with a great image of a man sitting by himself at a table, stuffing himself greedily: Part 1, 56:00).

Mabuse lives off of the more superficial desires of people in the city: he gets rich through their greed (the stock market, gambling). He himself succumbs to those superficial desires–he himself is clearly greedy for money, he is shown frequently drinking, and though we don’t know exactly when he cast off Carozza, it could have been when she started to actually fall in love with him. He tells the Countess: “There is no love–there is only desire!” (Part 1, 2:31). And when, during the séance scene in Part 1 the Countess tells Mabuse that nothing can keep her interest for long, he says only one thing can do so: “playing with people and their destinies” (2:03:36). But she doesn’t play.

Perhaps the Countess can’t be drawn in by Mabuse because she doesn’t indulge in the more superficial pleasures he draws people in with, and she doesn’t engage in playing with them and their destinies–as noted above, she doesn’t play, she only watches. She is one of the few in the film who who resists him. Wenk resists him during his card game with Mabuse in the disguise of the old man, but later falls prey to him during the Weltmann show in Part 2. The Countess is influenced to invite him over to a party in Part 1, which we know because later she says to her husband that she’s not sure why she invited him, nor why she wants to withdraw the invitation. But in Part 2 the Countess doesn’t fall under his influence, resisting him the whole time she is captivity. It’s possible that Mabuse doesn’t try to influence her through his psychological means, because he asks her if she will come with him of her own free will or if he’ll have to force her, so perhaps he wants her to join him by choice.


I’m not sure I’ve come to much in the way of a reading of the Countess’ character in the film. I have ventured some thoughts, but I have not been able to put it all together into a coherent interpretation of her role. But sometimes that happens, and I do think I’ve gotten a bit further in my own interpretation of her character than I was when I began!