Some eight years ago I started a blog called An Ontarian in Newfoundland, on the occasion of being hired at Memorial University and moving from London, ON, to St. John’s, NL. Its purpose was to record my thoughts and impressions both of my move to Newfoundland and into the career I’d spent eight years of graduate school training for. And for some time, the blog filled its purpose, giving me a forum to record key events in my life and a place for my friends and family to read them at their leisure, without the annoyance of that intrusive (now thankfully obsolete) practice of the mass email.
Since then, two things happened to make the blog a lot less relevant: one, Facebook. Somehow, using a blog to keep one’s acquaintances apprised of major life events came to seem quaint, and even (bizarrely) a little narcissistic (perhaps because it’s so easy to post reams of minutiae about your life on Facebook with no effort, whereas writing a blog positively reeks of effort). Two, Newfoundland went from being a strange and fascinating new place to live, to becoming my home. I can’t really put my finger on when that happened … perhaps when I bought a house, or when I got tenure. Or perhaps when it just ceased being a novelty and became Where I Live. Someday I will peruse all my old posts and see if I can locate the moment of transformation.
In the interim, my posts became increasingly few and far between; and when I did post, it almost never had to do with living in Newfoundland and almost always had to do with whatever political, literary, academic, or cultural events roused me enough to sit at the keyboard. Mostly in the past few years I have been writing about books and television, with the occasional enraged response to one of Margaret Wente’s columns; and while the blog was a fine enough forum for such posts, it lacked a raison d’être.
Hence the reboot. After a lot of thought and even more procrastination, I have arrived at this new space and theme.
It’s all narrative. I mean that rather literally. I stress two things to my first-year English students (I stress these points to all my students, really, but I really try to pound it home with the ducklings): first, telling stories is how we enter the world. Or to put it another way, our principal mechanism of understanding is narrative. We tell stories to put things in comprehensible order, to grasp the nature of causality, to make meaning. These narratives are invariably incomplete and provide us with biased and selective pictures of the world. They are also frequently compelling and entertaining. This is why we need to understand how they work.
Second, all language is rhetorical. That is to say, all language is designed to persuade. There is no such thing as absolutely precise language, just better and worse ways of communicating ideas. (I say this as if it’s a broadly accepted fact, when in reality it’s one side of a bitterly contested philosophical debate. But hey, my blog, my reality). And narrative, especially compelling narrative, is perhaps the most convincing rhetorical device there is.
I am a narrative junky. I love good stories told well. This can be something of a failing at times for someone who is ostensibly a professional literary critic, as I am somewhat too easily caught up in a good story. It also means I privilege such gauche elements as plot over symbol and metaphor (another rather unfashionable thing for English professors. Good thing I have tenure).
So if this revamped blog is to have a theme, it will be just that: narrative. There will almost certainly be deviations from this theme (probably when Margaret Wente plagiarizes another screed), but we’ll mostly be preoccupied with stories of one form or another—novels, film, television. I want to talk about what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and what I’m writing about … which is to say, more or less the say as the last blog, but with more focus.