Nov 042011

The  intrepid painter/writer/naturalist Laura Von Rosk (see her paintings here on NC) has flown to Antarctica (it’s spring there) as part of a scientific team headed by Albany, NY, cell biologist Dr. Samuel Bowser (friend them on Facebook at Bravo! 043 or visit his blog). The team’s mission is to dive (under the ice) and conduct studies on the the single-celled organisms known as Foraminifera from a field camp at Explorers Cove, situated at the base of the Taylor Valley, in the Dry Valleys, west of McMurdo Station in Antarctica. It’s a great pleasure to be able to publish Laura’s early report (dated October 9) and some of her photos. There will be more.

Laura Von Rosk (normally) lives with her dog Molly on a lagoon just outside Schroon Lake, New York. She curates the Courthouse Gallery at the Lake George Arts Project, a gallery dedicated to the experimental and the avant garde. She’s an old friend and a wonderful landscape painter.


What it’s like living in Antarctica

From Laura Von Rosk


We arrived at McMurdo on Tuesday late afternoon. We have been very busy since, with training, reviewing plans for the season, etc., and just getting adjusted to the new environment. Each night I think I’ll get to email – but end up exhausted. Usually in bed by 11 PM, and up around 6 AM.

We weren’t sure we would get here on Tuesday because the night before we left Christchurch it was “Condition 1″ [1] at McMurdo.

Today, Sunday, Oct 9th, is Condition 3 – beautiful sunny day, 0 degrees F, -18F wind-chill.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I pasted the 3 main definitions for weather here:

    Condition 3 (nice weather): Winds up to 48 knots, wind chill down to -75 degrees F, and visibility over 1/4th mile. Unrestricted travel and activity are allowed.
    Condition 2 (not so nice): Winds 48 to 55 knots, wind chill -75 to -100 degrees F, or visibility 100 feet to 1/4th  mile. Restricted pedestrian traffic only between buildings is allowed. Vehicular travel is allowed in radio equipped, enclosed vehicles only, and check out is required.
    Condition 1 (crazy…) Winds over 55 knots, wind chill lower than -100 degrees F, or visibility less than 100 feet. Severe weather is in progress. All personnel must remain in buildings or the nearest shelter.

    For a sample of Condition 1 visit this link:

Nov 032011



Spencer Susser’s I Love Sarah Jane

Introduced by R. W. Gray


In this special post-Halloween edition of Numéro Cinq at the movies, we’re featuring “I Love Sarah Jane” by Spencer Susser. Viewer warning: there’s some gore here, but the originality of the story makes it worth it.

I’m not a zombie fan by trade, but have come to appreciate the genre because of its apocalyptic questioning of who we really are under our (sometimes few) civilized masks and what really matters to us when the those masks fall away.

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Nov 022011

Here’s a very smart, ever so pyrotechnical essay on my novel The Life and Times of Captain N by Cheryl Cowdy who teaches Canadian literature and children’s literature at York University in Toronto. The essay is an inspiration on several levels, not the least of which is Cheryl’s critical intuition that she could take the book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as a parallel text and let the two books illuminate one another. The result is an essay replete with brilliant reflections and intuitive leaps that says something about novels, art, the self, history and, um, the French penchant for complicated metaphors.

There is a story that goes with this essay. In 1999 the editors of Henry Street, a scholarly magazine published at Dalhousie University, got in touch with me. They had an exciting essay about Captain N, and they wanted me to enter into a dialogue by email with the author, which dialogue they would publish in conjunction with the essay.  This dialogue was a feature they had just invented called “Lines of Flight.” The first attempt hadn’t worked so well; the author got testy with the graduate student and the experience had not been sunny. The editors wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to be mean. I told them I am not a mean person (um, despite my students calling me the Shredder). They sent me the essay (which delighted me) and put me in touch with Cheryl. And then we spent a couple of lovely months shooting emails (once in a while, slightly lubricated) back and forth on novels, rhizomes, French theory, and life (camping trips and thunder storms impinged). We were strangers, but well disposed, and we were supposed to talk. I think we forgot, at times, that the result was going to be published. In any case, I am publishing the “Lines of Flight” dialogue here. It’s a sweet thing: two strangers, a bit on the spot, tentatively feeling each other out and then discovering moments of intellectual play. And, well, a dozen years later, we’re still friends.

Here is Cheryl’s self-bio note, too charming to rewrite:

I really hate writing biographies; can we just say I teach Canadian and children’s literature at York [University in Toronto]? My current obsessions have to do with play and ritual, but I’m still fascinated by the suburbs (I used a quote from “The Indonesian Client” in my dissertation on the burbs in Canned lit, did I tell you that?). Then can we tell the story of our correspondence over my Deleuzian reading of Capt N? It’s a good story, that one.

This essay and the accompanying “Lines of Flight” interchange were originally published in Henry Street, 8:1, 1999.



Becoming-masks: The Life and Times of Captain N at n – 1 Dimensions

By Cheryl Cowdy

Original Alfred A. Knopf edition.

Becoming is an antimemory. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 294

I am against the future. Hendrick “Dutch Henry” Nellis, The Scourge of Schoharie, 1779[1]


How does one write a book about Indians?  This is one of Oskar Nellis’s dilemmas in The Life and Times of Captain N.  Douglas Glover’s dilemma: How does one write a book about history?  My dilemma: How does one write an academic essay about The Life and Times of Captain N. and A Thousand Plateaus, two texts that seek liberation from linear structures of thought?  And does the problem of writing about Indians and History become part of my dilemma also?

But when one writes, the only question is which other machine the literary machine can be plugged into, must be plugged into in order to work (Deleuze and Guattari 4).


Literature is an assemblage (4).

Can I plug the Glover machine into the Deleuzo-Guattarian machine?  What kind of assemblage will this make?  Will it work?  (“Don’t ask questions you can’t answer”—My advice to undergraduates on writing research essays.  Here I am—breaking the rules.  Sometimes there are only questions . . . leading to more questions . . .)

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Douglas Glover, The Life and Times of Captain N., Epigraph ([ix]).
Nov 022011

This email dialogue took place in the summer of 1999 at the invitation of the magazine Henry Street. See the full story behind it in my introduction to Cheryl Cowdy’s gorgeous essay “Becoming-masks: The Life and Times of Captain N at n – 1 Dimensions.” Cheryl Cowdy teaches Canadian literature and children’s literature at York University in Toronto. This dialogue and the accompanying essay were originally published in Henry Street, 8:1, 1999.



Lines of Flight

An Email Dialogue on Novels, Nets, Turnips & Nomads

By Cheryl Cowdy and Douglas Glover


17 June 99

Dear Cheryl

I just realized that summer is almost upon me and I haven’t gotten in touch.  I don’t know how this is going to go. But diving in seems a good idea. I loved your essay, though my exposure to Deleuze and Guattari is pretty thin.  I read a book on masochism. And I know a little about this nomad idea because I had a graduate student at SUNY-Albany doing her dissertation on nomad women. I come at these ideas personally from a different angle—partly existential (I’m an expatriate and a wanderer) and partly philosophical (my academic background is in philosophy—I did a thesis on Kant’s ethics at Edinburgh). So part of what you and I need to do, it seems to me, is translate for each other. This was one of the things that excited me about your essay, which is itself an act of translation.

Here is an example, maybe something we could start with. What the fuck is a rhizome? Well, I know what it is. But when I was first reading your essay I had a different idea. At first, I thought a rhizome was just a root. And this fit perfectly with the general idea I have of what I am doing when I am writing a piece of fiction. My idea of image patterning comes from reading Viktor Shklovsky who uses the word “splintering” to describe certain literary effects and from Christa Wolf’s essays “The Conditions of Narrative” where she talks about “women’s writing” and the “net.” So I think of an image or an idea (e.g. the whirlwind mask) as beginning somewhere and repeating through the book (main root). But it also quickly begins to splinter off side systems (by association and juxtaposition: e.g. masks, whirl, whirlwind, face, death, split face, etc) which also repeat. At the same time as the splintering is going on, there is a contrary effort, using what I call “tie-in lines,” to bring the various root systems back together again and again. So that the system spreads everywhere in the book, creates rhythms, resonances and aesthetic action. So what is a rhizome? Maybe this is exactly what it is?  Maybe I just need to get my biology straight and make a distinction between a taproot and a rhizome. Does this sound right? But then I wonder what D and G are saying. Are they saying the rhizome structure is something new (because it isn’t)? Or are they saying something less ambitious like, certain aesthetic or mental structures are like rhizomes?


p.s. This is an attempt to start the dialogue. Let me know how it feels at your end.


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Nov 012011

Herewith a brilliant, provocative, obstreperous essay outlining ten reasons why we should burn books. Yes, yes, this seems vaguely counter-intuitive, Numéro Cinq being a literary magazine and all. But two things need to be said at the outset. First, book burning and books, together, have always been the signal marks of an emerging modernity. They co-exist as sign and substance of the new. This is why, of course, there is a book burning in Don Quixote; Cervantes had his finger on the pulse. In my book The Enamoured Knight, I make a side argument that, in fact, book burning is one of a “basket” of themes that supply the discourse of the novel as a form. And, second, inversion is perhaps the most elegant of rhetorical devices; instead of arguing (tediously and correctly) for the right, you take the opposite view and find occasions for wit, comedy, and trenchant critical thought. In this case, our author, Noah Gataveckas, uses inversion, his own wide reading, and a radical logic born of Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek to mine the contemporary chaos of our late literate age and say very smart and inflammatory things (which is the point, right?).

Noah was born in Oakville, Ontario, in 1985, and educated at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. After moving to Toronto to work as a DJ in the entertainment district, he rediscovered his love of reading and writing. He is the author of poetry (“Silence”, “The King of the River”), journalism (“Hijacked: The Posthumous Reinscription of a Socialist in Canadian Consciousness”, “Digital Theft in a Digital World”), polemic (“Why Occupy? An Approach to Finance Capital”), theatre (Five Star), and a book-in-progress entitled Symposium: A Philosophical Mash-up. He lives and works in Toronto.



Why do we burn books? or,

The burning question of our movement

 By Noah R. Gataveckas



 The “we” in question refers specifically to the Angry Young Readers Anonymous (AYRA) book club. You know who you are; you know what’s at stake. In order to commemorate our one-year anniversary of successful self-pedagogy, we have dared to consider the inconsiderate: a quaint little book burning, with drinks and snacks being served around 8. This has – understandably – unnerved some of us. After all, Hitler. Enough said. So, to help us understand why we are doing this, I have prepared a list of ten possible reasons why one might justifiably “commit it then to the flames”, as David Hume once put it.[1] Be aware that they are inconsistent: that is, at least one reason presumes some form of spirituality (3), while others are specifically atheistic (4 and 7), and so on. We don’t need to have the same reasons; de gustibus non est disputandum. This is just a compendium of some of the answers that have been given over the years to explain why some books got fired.

(1)   Kill what you love.

We bookclubers—we love books. Do we not? Why oh why are we setting (some of) them on fire when they’re what we’re about?

After all, we more than most people should see their value: think of the many excellent texts that we’ve had a chance to read and discuss this past year, and how these readings and conversations have enriched our lives. Starting with Findley’s The Wars, including Horkheimer and Adorno, Žižek, “Junkspace”, Reality Hunger, Chinua Achebe, To the Lighthouse, Baudrillard, Ondaatje, “The World as Phantom and as Matrix”, Serge Guilbaut, “Politics and the English Language”, The Wretched of the Earth, Melville, The Master and Margarita, Chekhov, Dylan Thomas, Octavio Paz, McLuhan, and so many other texts that I can’t even remember, we’ve learned a hell of a lot this year from books.

Furthermore, they have provided us with the grounds for having excellent conversations. We have applied Marxist, Freudian, Lacanian, Žižekian, etc., theories to them in our efforts to maximize our minds. Note that theories apply to their texts like bees to blossoms: once pollinated, they bloom with mucho meanings, full of information and insight. This literary entomophily has rewarded us, nudging us ever closer to Enlightenment.

So how can we turn our backs on them now? They’ve been so generous to us in the past. Why oh why burn books?

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Commons), ch. XII.
Oct 312011


Here’s a lovely, sad Childhood essay by Eric Foley. It’s a meditation on presence and absence, the presence of his sister growing up in Toronto and her sudden death, at the age of 14. It’s a meditation on photography and the strange way photographs carry the mark of absence, of love and loss, even as they record (in snapshots, sometimes double-exposed or damaged) the apparent trivia of family life. What’s the difference between life and a photograph? And what is the meaning of those ghostly images of loved ones now gone? Eric Foley has been a finalist for the Random House Creative Writing Award, the Hart House Literary Contest, and winner of Geist Magazine and the White Wall Review’s postcard story contests. Eric currently attends Guelph University’s Creative Writing MFA program (last summer, he was a student of mine in Guelph’s mentorship program), where he is at work on his first novel, and a memoir about living in Morocco. His poetry and criticism can be found online at




In photography, exhibition value begins to displace cult value all along the line. But cult value does not give way without resistance. It retires into an ultimate retrenchment: the human countenance. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuse for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty. But as man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of [the photographer Eugène] Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way. At the same time picture magazines begin to put up signposts for him, right ones or wrong ones, no matter. For the first time, captions have become obligatory.

The above quotation is from Walter Benjamin’s famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” By cult value, Benjamin is referring to the private, ceremonial, spiritual status of the art object, where what matters most is the object’s existence, rather than it being constantly on view. The photograph in the family album or the musty cardboard box in the attic, rather than the framed print on the (facebook) wall. Writing in the 1930’s, Benjamin saw photography and film as “the most serviceable exemplifications” of a new function of art where “absolute emphasis” was placed on the exhibition value of the work. I’m interested in the tension that exists between cult value and exhibition value in relation to photographs taken prior to the existence of the digital realm for essentially private family albums. What happens to these images when they are scanned and disseminated online, for all to see? Who today would allow a picture of themselves to be taken (or to remain undeleted on a camera), without imagining its appearance on Facebook?

As I came to try and make a narrative out of a series of the most resonant photographs from my childhood, perhaps it is no surprise that I kept returning Benjamin, who, in the end, inspired me to use this narrative not only to narrate but also to essay, to attempt to think about the nature of photographs and their use within a family. Here then are a series of the pictures that still obsess me, an album of images for which I “have not yet found the law,” with obligatory captions (right ones or wrong ones, no matter).

November 16, 1979

An image is not a permanent referent for those complexities of life which are revealed through it; its purpose is not to make us perceive meaning, but to create a special perception of the object – it creates a vision of the object instead of serving as a means of knowing it. – Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique”

By a chance double exposure, the first picture taken of me, less than one hour old in my mother’s arms, also contains the last picture taken of her before she became a mother. In the ghosted image snapped one day earlier, she sits with her hands on her lap, hands that push through time to rest on my newborn head. Of course, I’m also in her stomach in that fainter image, more than a week overdue.

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