Emily Carr University maraya

Maraya | Refection: NIC talk

How we look at the city or cities, as is the case with Maraya, is fundamental to how we go about living in them. The perspectives we bring to bear are crucial to understanding our role in an ongoing urban transformation. This was a key point in my “Maraya | Reflection” talk at North Island College (Oct. 27, 2011), part of the Speakers Series connected to the Emily Carr / NIC External BFA.

The Pass
© Maraya


For background, I showed a short video introducing the Maraya project and Vancouver and Dubai nexus with which it engages. The video (linked below) features Stanley Kwok and Trevor Boddy, along with M. Simon Levin, Henry Tsang and I, and was made by grad students Alan Goldman and Ahmad Konash.

Maraya Video Promo

As this video suggests, Maraya attempts to engage (or gauge) a new form of urbanism. Architecture critic Trevor Body suggests that “Vancouverism,” as it is called, is a response to Manahattanism (Vancouver Sun article; see also Boddy’s exhibition website, which pushes noun to verb: Vancouverize).

This new urbanism, of which Vancouver’s False Creek North and the Dubai Marina are prime examples, uses urban density to attract offshore investors. In Vancouver and Dubai, and increasingly around the world, waterfront neighbourhoods are seen to provide the basis for new economic programs built on the development and marketing of luxury real estate abroad.

Capitalizing on earlier networks of transportation and trade, Vancouver and Dubai have transformed themselves from colonial outposts to global players. In these model cities, residential mega-projects are produced as nodes in international networks. Their uxury condos provide haven for well-heeled migrants, globally mobile elites, who may not be interested in settling in a new city per se, but who are keeping their options open while looking for safe places to park their money. One might think of the empty, uninhabited condos in these cities as safety deposit boxes in the sky.

© Maraya

Down Shots
Maraya began as a wager. As a research project, we wanted to assess the nature and depth of the connection between these sites in Vancouver and Dubai.

Lookinh at these cities together allowed us to think about 21st century urbanization in new and exciting ways. The problem, from an artistic or aesthetic point of view, had to do with how to represent these links and the larger patterns they signify. The branding of Vancouver and Dubai has been very successful and it is easy to get lured into certain ways of seeing.

Likewise critical response to the urban disparities underpinning both cities are important and have had significant sway internationally; it is difficult to think about the politics of Vancouver without violent images of the Downtown Eastside or of Dubai outside of photographs of exploited of migrant labourers.

© Maraya






These are important points of discussion and need careful consideration. However, there is a danger in recirculating imagery that seems to conform to a kind of stock image bank. The appropriation of particular images/ideas often accompanies a kind of knee-jerk criticality that functions to establish or sanctify the position of the artist/critic.

Understanding the these two cities are linked and that they are part of a global flow of ideas (good and bad) and capital, we felt we needed to take a different approach. Thinking about how cities are now built by flows of digital information (email, jpgs, quicktime movies, CAD drawings), and the fact that Vancouver’s Concord Pacfic Place was touted as one of the first fiber optic neighbourhoods in North American, we decided to look down and sought to glimpse the a metaphorical of flow of urban information beneath our feet.

Stopping people in their tracks as the jog, roller blade, dog walk around the seawall or marina walk was pleasing to us. Showing images of people along this global sea-walk who are all looking down was even better.

Strand and Rodchenko

Paul Strand Wall Street, 1916.

This approach allowed us to draw a connection to the photos Paul Strand and Alexander Rodchenko, the great urban image-makers of the early 20th century. Strand’s photos of Manhattan and Rodchenko’s of Moscow have helped establish a powerful urban lexicon. Their images provide a visual counterpoint to de Certeau’s wandersmanner who walk the city like ants, or letters on a page, constantly rewriting an illegible urban script (to paraphrase de Certeau’s “Walking in the City”).

Shooting Down on the city allows us to view:

  1. Resist the normative horizontal axis of view used in real estate advertising and urban branding; glass and steal towers shimmering above an urban waterfront—Dubai Marina or False Creek— are becoming  sine qua non of contemporary urban development and its affinity with leisure.
  2. The play between built environment and faceless individuals in these images creates an interesting dynamic that challenges humanistic representations of the city as the product of a rational order (human being).
  3. Otherwise invisible patterns of movement: the flow or paths of different groups suggests an energy or meshing of gears, and points to larger machinations of urban development and socio-political change.
  4. The street / seawall as a stage, and to focus on a salient feature of new developments and we believe a vital social space in the transition to new a new urban locus.
  5. Vantage point of a powerful, global elite: and to think about our relationship to  these  expensive boxes in the sky. Looking down, we get to see how we are seen from above and to think about who we might respond.

    Alexander Rodchenko, Workers, Orchestra, White Sea Canal, 1933
Paul Strand, New York, 1917
Alexander Rodchenko, “Gathering for Demonstration,” 1928

What We Want / Expect from ENGL 100?

What follows are the unedited responses from the ENGL 100 students to the question: what do you want / expect from this course? The students worked in groups and emailed their answers during class

2:30 Lecture

We would like to be able to gain a sense of clarity from both the readings, as well as being able to express our thoughts, reactions, and understanding easily.
— Nikki, Nick and Kaede

Learn/educate ourselves/be critical/look at text and understand what the author is saying/more depth understanding of lit

Write better / How to find and search/select literature / Link english and art – use english as a language to talk about art / Articulate ideas / Relate materials read in class to world issues we face today
Mia, Cadence, Xch’e’

Michelle, Ana, Nigel, Beichen
We feel that there needs to be more coherence between the lecture and the seminar in order to reiterate themes and ideas crucial in developing our analytic skill-set.

-better understand how English as a language can be articulated: being able to connect different pop culture themes
Mikhayla, Lucia, Yanki

our expectations were that we would have engaging classes and in depth explorations of readings.
RJ, Charal, Teresa, Georgia

hilary, vanessa, krissy
NAP TIME, we’re tired.

We want to learn interesting things that are relevant to our other courses in Emily Carr. We want the learning process to be more active as well.
Brandon, Christel Emily, Tom
cover a broader topic but more sociology based, and world issues that are revevant to our futures
Molly, Casey, Patrick, Darren, Debbie

Jessica McDonald, Lucy Webber, Wang yating, Simone Jarvis
A list of expectations: -What is discussed in the lecture will be tested.
-Knowledge on Current Events
-More discussion on the course pack.

Better way of understanding concepts and ideas presented in a more academic style. Also how to relate this to our future career and our everyday lives.
Brynne and Lexi
Develop more like Gregor samsa

more engaging, more structure towards assignments and during lectures, that glen makes us laugh more and sleep less
hermosa amanda
Sofia Will, Farrah, Sean
 –   We all want o be able to critically think and read deeper into literature.

Overview of literal culture from contemporary perspective
How to express ideas
How to write
More interaction among students
Syllabus on-line with lecture
Liz, Stephanie, Bridgitte, Brent, Remon, Shannon

Marcus and Jihee
To expand on the tools and tone of my writing, enjoy modern influences.

We want to read interesting literature, learn how to write and read better.?From: Arielle, Ashlee, Amanda, Bohua.
We want to improve our writing skills in responding to and writing critical analysis.
Farhad, Blake, Connor

1 pm Lecture

In our english course, we would like to gain new insight about the world and society around us through unique mediums.
-Jess, Bernard, Wendel, Avery

We would like to be able to gain a sense of clarity from both the readings, as well as being able to express our thoughts, reactions, and understanding easily.  
Nikki Nick Kaede

Our opinions split.
1) I want my vocabulary to widen. Basically improve English
2) Write better and read faster
3) I enjoy the real world scenarios that pertain to english, I want more connections to everyday life through English.
4) to analysis many readings that i can apply to life and expand my mind to all the wonders of the world
5) I expect to realize some new eye opening philosophy that will change my view of the world.
Anthia, Michelle, HAzel, Alex, Oleksiy

To improve creative thinking and formal eloquence.
Lyndsey, Oliver, Karine, & Rachel

Passing grade / It has to be in the English language / Boring writing assignments / Exciting reading / Difficult but possible / Education / Challenge / Be able to understand what I?m reading, / Connection to the real world / Interesting / Relation to art, because that is why we are actually here ?
—Maria, Yngrid, Matthew
P.S. We expect you to be interesting.

Nap time
Sam, Nathalie, Holden

We would like to improve our writing, be exposed to different kinds of literature, and better our understanding of what we read…it would also be nice to pass.
Addison, Danielle, and Becca

We want and expect a higher form of english so that we may create proper analysis of ours and others works as well as understanding, reading, and writing english at a higher level.
Gina, Tony, Shelly

Improving reading, writing, research and critical analysis skills through exploring diverse, controversial content.
Naime, Chantal, Carly, Justine, Sarah

We would like to improve our writing, be exposed to different kinds of literature, and better our understanding of what we read…it would also be nice to pass.
Addison, Danielle, and Becca

From Alison Westdorp, Kathleen Gros, Geoff Campbell, Tommy Richardson
We want to develop critical thinking and to have mind-expanding experiences.

We want it to be passable and straightforward. And fun I suppose. With content that we can relate to, and that the seminars connect with the lectures, so that when students talk to each other about the seminars things are the same, because it seems that the seminar is taught so differently with the different teachers, there is no solidarity.
Yadira, Francis, Pat

English should be comfortably engaging as well as challenging outside of a conforming highschool structure that lacks personal expression.

What we want from this course: To learn more about critical analysis and how to come to our own conclusions.
From Tara Dwelsdorf, Connie Munoz, Richard Heikkilä-Sawan

“Aside from the obvious expectation/hope to pass, we are searching to pull information of value out of each seminar/lecture, while engaging in discussions, relevant to our artistic growth.”
Blake, Edwin, Cherry, and Paul

we want to form a better group discussion biased on the material we read, in Lecture!

Improving our abilities to interpret and express ideas.
By Jayden, Bernada, Watson (Jane)Kaho and Chayarop (Dol)

To gain analytical skills, through studying literature, that will inform our artistic practices.
-Reid, Robyn and Joey

Materials that can be applied to our own artwork and to be able to express ourselves more clearly through the English language.
-Madeline, Jasmine, Thalia, Johnny,Christelle

GPA high enough to get into second year WANT. Readings that we can connect to/apply to our lives and fun to read EXPECT
Nathania, Flavia, Justin

How to communicate our ideas in a more conceptual way and to better appreciate the relationship between text, artwork, artist, and audience.
Julian, Viveca, and Quinci

Our expectation of this course are to go over all the readings to better understand the themes so that we can draw back on them in our daily lives and future education.
Jamie, Lauren, Tiana

We want to learn critical thinking skills, larger vocabulary, and practical knowledge to help us in the real world
Max, Megan and Pam

Basic skills of approaching general english.
Cailyn, TJ, Isabel

We want a deeper contextual knowledge of Literature to better understand and create our own signals and improve communication.
Paula, Bob, Serene

We want and expect muffins.
Sam, Nathalie, Holden

Sam Nathalie Holden

Week 6: Reboot

Facebook = people you knew in highschool

Tumblr =  people you wished you knew in highschool

—Mimi Ito

The above is a paraphrase from a slide Cultural Anthropologist Mimi Ito (blog) presented in a panel on Learning with Mobile Media at the New School’s MobilityShifts symposium.

In her talk, Ito’s reminded us that, like youth, not all social networks are the same. Her research suggests that social networking can work well if and when you find true (creative or intellectual) affinities across a social network, especially if one learns to articulate the value of such affinities in an adult world.

In contrast to the tendency of many to passive follow their high school friends on facebook, Ito found there are others who actively search out other groups of individuals who share mutual interests—whether these are role-playing games or hobbies. She found that the student who we able to go on to link these activities meaningful experiences or skills development were able to go on and access top university programs.

Spending last week listening to educator from a variety of international context talk about the crisis in Education—or as Trebor Scholz referred to it, the fact that the university system is broken—I felt compelled to shift things back at Emily Carr.

I should say first of all how much I like being here and how much I enjoy the space of the lecture. I say this because it is not self-evident perhaps, but as Michael Wesch, who worked with his students to make the youtube video, A vision of Student’s Today, shared the opportunity to work with 100, 200, or 300 students at one time is an amazing opportunity. Especially if you approach, the university a powerful social network.

In the spirit of a reboot or recalibration of this courses social network, I thought I’d start with a course of exercises.

Engagement Assessment: A Self-Exam

The following is a simple exercise in self-grading. Choose a grade 1 to 4 where 4 is the highest to validate each of the following statements.

1. (1 / 2 / 3 / 4 ) I have done all the readings before the lectures.

2. (1 / 2 / 3 / 4 ) I have attended every lecture and seminar, taking notes in lecture and engaging in seminar discussion.

3. (1 / 2 / 3 / 4 ) Following lecture/seminar, I have gone back over my notes and reread key texts or passages, making new or extended notes.

4  (1 / 2 / 3 / 4 ) Regularly (at least once a week since the course began), I have taken the opportunity to discuss or further research ideas presented in the readings, lecture, or seminar—i.e., outside the context of the course.

Total your score out of 16, Divide by 4.


ebook: is it a book?

“It’s probably not even a book,” one Emily Carr design student shared, during last week’s briefing on the power and potential of the ebook.

As a content partner and SIM centre collaborator, I’d been invited to attend Jonathan Aitken’s upper-level design class to discuss a larger ebook research/production project.

The first meeting was about learning from the students’ research. The content people (writers, editors, curators from the different organizations attached to specific book/ebook translation projects) circulated through five working groups. Each group had looked at the technical and design aspects of ebooks, and they discussed interactivity, user-generated content, device integration, usability, translation, annotation etc.

The experience was thoroughly engaging. It left me to ponder the what, how and why of my particular e/book. Working with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (ahf.org), I am helping to facilitate the translation or recreation of their 3 Volume Truth and Reconciliation Research Series into ebook form.

As someone who helpe with the design of Volume 3: Cultivating Canada: Through the Lens of Cultural Diversity (downloadable pdf) and a subsequent redesign of Volumes 1 & 2, I have a great deal of respect for the material and for the AHF mandate to distribute the work for free—to anyone/anywhere.

The translation of these 3 Volumes into an ebook form makes a great deal of sense. Yet, I’m somewhat troubled by the potential of the technology to overwrite or override the literature. It struck me that while social media might be extremely useful in sharing dialogue and spreading the word, it needs to be carefully handled to avoid denigrating the reading experience.

Social media buzzes, tweets, bings into our lives. As it does, it is harder and harder to carve out the time for careful, quiet reading.

On the hand, the book is a machine that has the power to create spaces for quiet reflection and deep thought. The book is already an immersive technology that can transport us from the noise of everyday life.

So is an ebook a book? The jury is out and I’m looking forward to learning more from the design teams as the project develops. Secretly, I hope that the answer is a bit of yes and a bit of no.

I’m hoping my engagement with Mobility Shifts, which is billed as An International Future of Learning Summit, will be instructive and I attempt think through the transformational potentials (and pitfalls) of new digital forms.

maraya SIM

ISEA 2011: Public Art and the Sustainable City

A warm thank you to Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry for inviting me to participate in their ISEA 2011 panel, Public Art and the Sustainable City. It proved to be an absolutely vital context in which to consider and present the Maraya project—effectively shifting the way I understand the work M. Simon Levin, Henry Tsang and I are so deeply involved with.

My initial concern about not fitting with the ecological drift of a “sustainability” panel were put to rest by Elizabeth’s introductory remarks on the rationale behind the panel. She talked about how the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) is grounded in an interest in ecological sustainability, or carbon neutrality, and cultural sustainability.

The opportunity meet my fellow panelists Patricia Watts and Nacho Zamora and to learn more about their work inspired discussion about the overlap between art and design. Both curators presented images and ideas of contemporary public art that challenge us to radical transform the way we think about technologized form and function.

Watts and Zamora keep important online resources, on ecoart and solar artworks respectively, that are invaluable to artists, critics, students, bureacrats, and almost anyone else interested in explore these fields of public art practice. In the spirit of Bruno Latour’s suggestion that we need to stop “modernizing” and start “ecologizing,” these projects provide a rich (thick) description of the growing fields of concern, and complex connections between human and non-human actors and networks (following Latour’s thinking about ANT).

Listening to Robert and Elizabeth discuss the amazing responses generated by their inaugural LAGI 2010 competition, it was clear that Maraya’s multi-faceted work fits with their ideas about the transformative power of contemporary art practice. LAGI and Maraya both rest on the need to bring together diverse stakeholders, across cultural and disciplinary divides.

LAGI provides a platform with which to “aggregate competencies” (to borrow a term from Carl Skelton’s ISEA presentation on Betaville, tagged as “open source, multi-player environment for real cities”). Their work toward LAGI 2012 partnership with New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation, and drive to find work for the the Freshkills Staten Island site, a reclaimed landfill/dump site, continues to push the idea of social activation, or plugging  in.

I look forward to continuing this conversation and to seeing what type of collaborations these panelist find ourselves in over the next few years.

Carlos Campos Yamila Zynda Aiub Architects submission LAGI 2010


In Istanbul: ISEA 2011

self-portraitAs I was trying to get my bearings in Istanbul, surfing on line in my place at the Three Apples Suites (just off Taksim). I was struck by this rather beatific reflection.

I will have more to say about ISEA 2011 and the Istanbul Biennial and the panel that  Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry invited me to be on: Public Art and the Sustainable City.

In the meantime, I desperately need to track down some morning coffee and a SIM card for my phone.

For now, I’ll let the image speak louder than words.

Emily Carr University

Fall 2011 / New Year’s Greeting

ENGL 100: Introductory Lecture Notes

I’m sure others have said this, but I think the start of Fall term should be the beginning of the new year. For those of us working and studying in North American colleges and universities, the day after Labour Day, first day of classes, might be replace Jan. 1 as the marker of new beginnings, or if one prefers, new endings.

Happy New Year.

As I’m wont to do at this time of year, I’d like to take time to reflect. Not really to think back on what has happened in the past twelve months, but to think about the longer cycles of history, all many new years that have come and gone for the university.

Detail of the Gate to the University of Salamanca, founded in 1218.

In this longer mode of reflection, I’d like to frame today’s Introductory lecture by asking what is a University? What does it mean to study in or at a university? I’d like to ask you all to think about the journey, perhaps pilgrimage, that has brought you to this place. To think about who has been involved in this and the variety of expectations they are investing your journey with. When we ask what does it mean to embarque on a voyage toward a university degree in Art Media or Design, we are necessarily opening the discussion up to highly personal responses. The answers are complicated and will emerge and change with time.

When I think university, I’m thinking about an old  tradition of the European university. I’m thinking of many, many years of clerical investigation. I’m also thinking about a space for deep contemplation of complex questions—the home of Theology, Philosophy, Natural Science, Linguistics. I’m also thinking about Academic Freedom, and the difficult (historically dangerous) pursuit of unpopular ideas, critical understanding of all facets of our lives and world.

I’m thinking, thank God I/we survived high school. And I’m hoping I/we can find the strength and resources (money, time, support, health) to flourish here.

If secondary education is tasked with making us functioning citizens, capable tax payers and literate voters, post-secondary is about critical engagement—often in the form extremely specialized research. Think particle generator, electron microscope, massive telescopes, super computers etc. Think of university libraries.

Salamanca University library

It might seem a little abstract, or as we say “too meta” to talk about the meaning of the university in a initial university lecture, but I think the opportunity enter into a much larger discussion about the space and meaning of new knowledge is central the experience of post-secondary education, for students and teachers both. Your understanding of here and your relationship to is crucial to your experience and will change, for better and worse, over time.

The Essay and the Academy

There are two key modes that this course is organized around: the essay as in the drive to question, consider, and critique received knowledge, and “academic standards,” or expectations around scholarly rigour or proof.

The model of the essay that I want to draw your attention to here is that developed by French humanist Michel de Montaigne ((1533-1592) in his three volume Essays. For a good basic description of Montaigne’s life and work check out the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (link).

In the moodle site there are four examples for you to look at.

What is important is the range of Montaigne’s focus and his use of other writers. I think you’ll find that his essays is very different from the 5-paragraph essay many of us have been taught in school. The operative idea is more of an intellectual weighing of an idea or situation, or an attempt (essayer en francais) to come terms with something of human life.

Montaigne’s essays point to interesting issues or problems. They don’t really explain.


The second idea that I want to talk about is Janet Giltrow’s notion of Academic Writing as a particular, even peculiar, form of writing. According to Giltrow, the definition of genre is form + situation.

Most language and writing instruction tends to focus on form. Many teachers provide their students with templates—this is a book report, this is a summary etc. To be effective writers and readers and speakers, we need to shift our focus to the different types of situations in which we speak, read, or write.

We might be wise to ask who is listening.


Vancouver 125 / Summer Live Video Mashups

Thanks to Marlene Madison for including Maraya in the Vancouver 125 Summer Live festivities (time-based program).

Maraya mashupIt was fun to see Maraya video mashups (thanks Henry) running alongside (before, after) works by such a number of great Vancouver artists: Robert Arndt, Rebecca Belmore, John G. Boehme, Karin Bubas, Penelope Buitenhuis (Judy Radul), Shawn Chappelle, Dana Claxton, Michael de Courcey with Gregg Simpson, Digital Natives: Other Sights for Artists’ Projects, Maurice Embra (bill bissett), Julia Feyrer, Chris Gallagher, Brian Kent Gotro, Adad Hannah,  Richard Martin, Damian Moppett, Laurynas Navidauskas, David Rimmer, Marina Roy, Claire Savoie, Carol Sawyer, Kevin Schmidt, Jeremy Shaw, Althea Thauberger, Holly Ward, David Wisdom, Paul Wong. It was a  buzz to see our work on the two massive LED screens, which flanked to the two mainstage.

Juxtaposed with some of the amazing archival documents, it felt like Maraya’s images were glimpses of a future in the making. Wonder how they’ll look 25 or 125 years from now.


Maraya ramps up for New Website

Maraya is busy working with a team at Work [at] Play to develop an extremely cool online platform. Pictures and discussion to follow.

Considering Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”: AHIS 333 Lecture

For students of AHIS 333—transformation and shape-shifiting

As a point of entrance to me talked, I show a few minutes from Steven Soderbergh’s film Kafka (10:30-15:45 min).

Jery Zaslove dismisses this film, because he sees it defaulting to a portrayal of Kafka in “some end-time political Messianiac techno-fantasy” (“Kafka in the Penal Colony” West Coast LINE 66 40.2, p. 47)—i.e., Kafka a prescient political thinker capable of foretelling the rise of Hitler and the atrocities of the Holocaust.

However, despite issue with the veracity of the films depiction a historical Kafka, I show these few minutes because they help depict something of the social space out of which Kafka’s writing comes. In the good-natured derision Jeremy Iron’s character receives from his friends at the cafe, we can get a sense of the powerful laughter Kafka’s writing, particularly “Metamorphis,” is infused. Contrary to popular conceptions of Kafka as a deadly serious writer, an inevitably upshot of the his role as a prominent (canonical) modernist writer, not to mention the absorption of “Kafkaesque” into our 20th century lexicon. The more philosophical ambivalent, and I would argue socially subversive nature of his humour, is key to my thinking about this short story. As John Updike introduction to Franz Kafka: the complete stories suggests, “Kafka used to read his work aloud to friend, sometimes laughing so hard he could not continue reading” (xiii).

This laughter, self-mocking perhaps, is a key to Kafka’s writing. As much as it tends to be submerged beneath the service of Kafka’s objective narrations and the purity of his German prose, described by writer Thomas Mann as a “consceintious, curiously explicit, objective, clear, and correct style” with a “precise almost, official conservativism” (qtd.  in Updike xiii), Kafka’s (dialogic) laughter keeps the writing lively and powerful. At the same time it keeps it in a much older tradition of writings about the power and process of metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis defined

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), metamorphosis is a noun that names a process of transformation or a changing of physical state. Making link back to Ovid’s Metamorphis and his poetic stories about the god’s taking human forms, the OED etymology suggests that we might think of Kafka’s text within a specific literary context, invoked by the title.

Morpheus and Iris, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 1811

From Book XI of Ovid’s Metamorphosis we learn that Morpheus, the son of Hypnos, was the master of imitating human life.

“From a throng of a thousand sons, his father roused Morpheus, a master craftsman and simulator of human forms. No one else is as clever at expressing the movement, the features, and the sound of speech. He depicts the clothes and the usual accents. He alone imitates human beings.”

Reigning in the land of dreams, Morpheus is a key figure for this fiction, and in fact, we see elements of sleep represented through Kafka’s story: for the mother’s bed-head, to the father’s nightly habit of falling asleep fully clothed in his chair.

The Grotesque

One of the key tension in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is between the fantastic creature of Gregor transfromed and naturalistic/realistic depiction of the Samsa family.

The collision of the real and unreal creates an uncanny tension that drives the story. What makes it interesting not that Gregor’s condition and existence as a insect-like vermin is plausible. This incredible misfortune, is taken on as more or less normal part of the families life.

Interestingly, no-one including Gregor asks why the transformation has taken place. In fact, Gregor’s misgivings are relatively minor and have more to do with the strain his inability to return to work causes his family.

The unspeakable seeps into the speakable, much the same way that Gregor eventually enters the more public spaces of the home.

The rotten apple lodged in Gregor’s exoskeleton might be framed in another literary tradition. The collision of real and unreal Kafka’s figure might be connected to Rabelais’s grotesque figures of Gargantua and son Pantagruel.

There is no need of wiping one’s tail, said Gargantua, but when it is foul; foul it cannot be, unless one have been a-skiting; skite then we must before we wipe our tails. O my pretty little waggish boy, said Grangousier, what an excellent wit thou hast? I will make thee very shortly proceed doctor in the jovial quirks of gay learning, and that, by G—, for thou hast more wit than age. Now, I prithee, go on in this torcheculative, or wipe-bummatory discourse, and by my beard I swear, for one puncheon, thou shalt have threescore pipes, I mean of the good Breton wine, not that which grows in Britain, but in the good country of Verron. Afterwards I wiped my bum, said Gargantua, with a kerchief, with a pillow, with a pantoufle, with a pouch, with a pannier, but that was a wicked and unpleasant torchecul; then with a hat. Of hats, note that some are shorn, and others shaggy, some velveted, others covered with taffeties, and others with satin. The best of all these is the shaggy hat, for it makes a very neat abstersion of the fecal matter.

Afterwards I wiped my tail with a hen, with a cock, with a pullet, with a calf’s skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney’s bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer’s lure. But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains. And think not that the felicity of the heroes and demigods in the Elysian fields consisteth either in their asphodel, ambrosia, or nectar, as our old women here used to say; but in this, according to my judgment, that they wipe their tails with the neck of a goose, holding her head betwixt their legs, and such is the opinion of Master John of Scotland, alias Scotus. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1200/1200-h/p1.htm

Influence of Kafka

Despite the fact that he published very little during his own life-time, Kafka has had a dramatic impact on our social imaginary. Interestingly, when we google his name or terms associated with the text a number of figures associated with gaming and digital culture come up.

While there are numerous examples of Kafka entering popular culture and we might even say that the pervasive use of Kafkaesque is suggestive of a general absorption of Kafka’s texts into a mass consciousness, it might be useful to look at a specific example: Art Speigelman’s Maus.

Speigelman run’s with the idea of human vermin and creates a haunting narrative about the dissolution of Polish society under the boot of NAZI. It can be argued that the technical genius of Speigelman’s work rests on his choice of the figure of the mouse, or more directly his depiction of Jews as Mice and the NAZI as cats. Using these relatively benign animal figures, as opposed to dogs or rats for example, Speigelman is able to narrate the unspeakable.

Again we see the collision of the speakable and the unspeakable as a key element of the literary text.

In Kafka and in Speigelman the non-human becomes a powerful vehicle with which to think through a very human story, the dehumanizing cruetly of a modern state.

One of the interesting questions raised by Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is the source and focus of the transformation. While it is obvious that the story is about Gregor’s transformation into vermin, it is not clear that the story is about Gregor or necessarily that his is the most significant transformation under consideration.

Types/Nature of Metamorphosis

To this end, I might ask what other types of transformation we might want to think about? Family, Gender, Labour, Art, Urban Culture? In the conversation that followed my initial talk, students from the AHIS 333 class generally agreed that Gregor’s transformation was the least interesting. One student likened the final paragraph of the story to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar (Gregor) in and beatiful butterfly (Greta).

I’ve been told that some of the students have decided to write on Kafka and I’m hoping that they might share some of their comments here.