Monthly Archives: December 2006

In the Wild: Brave New World and Blade Runner

This went up on my personal site on 2 May 2006.

I mentioned yesterday that I was rereading Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopia, using the Vintage Classics edition of 2004. David Bradshaw’s 1994 preface to that edition really is very good on the novel’s context and on its ambivalence: one is never sure whether Huxley is warning us about or celebrating his “Brave New World.” I really think the novel is about the search Huxley was on as much as anything else; certainly Huxley’s later career would seem to bear that out.

Also, it has to be said that Brave New World really is not a very good novel, with its crashing coincidences and its deeply unbelievable Savage and its great dollops of Cardinal Newman and others. I rather like Bradshaw’s idea that Linda is based on D H Lawrence’s wife Frieda von Richtofen.

Those studying the novel should head for, which is just about as comprehensive a set of ideas and links as you could get. One of those links is to the rather amazing A Defence Of Paradise-Engineering, whose theme really seems to be that we all need soma but just need to get the formula right. Another links to an essay by Ming Li, “The Cost of Stability in Brave New World“. I like this bit:

Homer Simpson once said, “God has no place within these walls, just as facts have no place within organized religion”.

See also, which is also excellent on the novel.

[Ming Li’s essay seems to have gone, a pity. You may instead look at Snow Crash vs. Brave New World: Visions of the Future by Eric Richardson, Columbia, South Carolina. He quotes more extensively than I did from Ming Li’s essay.]

NSW HSC students read Brave New World in conjunction with Blade Runner (2000 Director’s Cut), that quite amazing movie dystopia. My link refers you again to, which gives you just about all you need. HSC students are asked to consider both texts as part of a unit called In the Wild, the details of which you may read there. It is in fact a rather interesting unit. An alternative study of the same topic may be undertaken using David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life (a much better novel than Brave New World) and the poetry of Wordsworth. I have dealt with that one on my on another post here.

On my personal blog this generated a bit of discussion: Look here. I moderated my view of Brave New World thus: “…while I still think BNW is far from the ‘world’s greatest novel’, it is an interesting parable, and does raise issues that even the brightest students can grapple with — perhaps for the rest of their lives! I know I am still grappling with them.”

See also Watched Blade Runner (Director’s Cut) last night on my personal blog.

2009-2012 HSC

Blade Runner is now paired with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and the emphasis is different from “In the Wild”. Even so, much of the material above is useful still.


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My “Kevin Donnelly” page has moved to WordPress

This page was originally a series of rants on the late lamented Diary-X, and still is something of a rant, albeit tightened and revised. It is now Why I reject Kevin Donnelly’s educational analysis. It was on Geocities.

On my personal site there is another page that may interest readers of this blog: Remembering Neos (formerly on Angelfire) which celebrates the poetry magazine I was associated with in the early 1980s. Lots of poems to read there.

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Posted by on December 27, 2006 in Australian, for teachers, literacy, multiculturalism, pedagogy


Boxing Day not just about Shane Warne…

…even if Boxing Day 2006 is.

Reading The Weekend Australian I notice that today is the 400th anniversary of King Lear, or of its first production.

IT seems an odd Boxing Day celebration: King Lear performed at the court of James I, its devastating tragedy illuminated by candlelight that festive but wan winter in 1606. Then again, what could be more exhilarating than to see a great Lear — as Shakespeare’s friend Richard Burbage no doubt was — essaying this mountain of a role in a play where the pity and the terror (Lear over the dead body of Cordelia, the blinding of Gloucester) are all but overwhelming…

There were various contemporary resonances that might have been in the air for that Christmas audience 400 years ago. There had been a famous court case in which two daughters had sought to have their father declared incompetent on the grounds of insanity and, according to the English literary critic William Empson, all Europe had gasped in apprehension when Charles V of Spain had abdicated so he could prepare to meet his maker by retiring to a monastery…

Very few actors come within cooee of Lear but the attempt is part of the purpose of being alive for an actor of the first rank. It is an almost purely visceral role, this stubborn ox of a man who has no clue about his own heart and then has it shattered into a hundred thousand flaws.

George Orwell may have been right to say that Lear remains blind, that he never understands a thing. What we understand watching him, however, is the mystery of human pain that is embodied before our eyes.

We are confronted with the essence of the sorrow of the world in the starkest and most blazing poetry ever written.

The eyes of the courtiers would have been dazzled with tears that night in the long-ago court of the Stuart king, but they would have emerged into the night as high as kites.

They would have seen, by nightfall, a king blind, derided and destroyed. They would have seen the Brando of their time burn up the stage of the most glamorous theatre around in a royal command performance. They would also have known they were in the presence of a dramatic god. How they could not?

I wrote about the play — and about two other HSC texts, Billy Elliot and The Truman Show — on my personal blog in August 2006: see Maggie Thatcher as Goneril… There are some links there that may prove useful for HSC students.

In case sceptics are reading this, I hasten to mention that Lear and the two movies mentioned (good as they are) are not all in the same unit in the HSC, nor would I regard them as all being equal.

You may find an informal account of a performance I saw a few year ago at The Bard, a Rabbit, and Ninglun.

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Posted by on December 26, 2006 in English studies, HSC, Shakespeare, works/authors



I have a problem with tense when I use “if”. What am I doing wrong?

This is actually quite complicated, but I will give you the simplified version that is taught to people learning English as a second language. (Information adapted from A Basic English Grammar with Exercises by John Eastwood and Ronald Mackin, Oxford University Press 1988.)

When you use if you are usually starting a conditional clause — also called an adverbial clause of condition or an IF-clause. You do this to show cause and effect, or what MIGHT happen if something else happens. There are three main kinds of IF-clause:

1. Type 1: IF + simple present tense, then + will, can, may/might.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on December 26, 2006 in English grammar, English language, questions asked, student help, writing


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ESL and the Art of War — from my archives

A Talk to Bilingual Parents

I gave this talk at the first NESB Parent Night at Sydney Boys High in 2000.

There are times when I am quite proud to be an Australian. One of those times was late 1998 when I made friends with a backpacker named Kyohiko Kato from Sendai, Japan. Why was I proud? It was when he said he had come to Australia to develop an open mind: “big heart” is actually what he said. He went on: “When I came out of Sydney Airport and saw so many different sorts of people I knew I had come to the right place.” He was only visiting for one year and I suspect he had an open mind already!

Many people who come here to settle do so because here is different from their country of birth. Others come because their country of birth is no longer a good place to be. Others come to make money, or to give their family a better chance in life. There are all sorts of reasons. My great great-great grandfather came because the English Courts in Ireland told him to.

Whatever the reason, settling is never easy. I have read a letter written about 160 years ago by one of my ancestors. He said, “You know I don’t want to die in this country.” He did of course. A great-grandmother solved the problem by losing her mind and believing her home in Dulwich Hill was actually in the Lakes District of England.

Changing countries is an emotional thing. A Chinese friend was surprised to find that now, when in China, he feels Australian. Chinese people have even congratulated him on how well he speaks Chinese. But in Australia he feels Chinese. Here are your boys now. Here they are in a school and a school system that may be quite similar to, or very different from, what you knew, or what your friends and relations back home know. There is an interesting question: where is home?

Your language and culture aren’t just decorations: they are part of who you are. Australian governments officially recognise that now, and I hope more and more people understand it in practice. Your son’s future in Australia will be even brighter if he can be a complete person — one who knows where he has come from and is proud of it, but who also knows where he is and can move freely.

You want your son to do well. Everyone wants that, but maybe migrants want it even harder. So what do you do? How can you guarantee he will do well?

Well, there are no guarantees.

But there are some good ideas — and I have found some in a very old book that some of you will know. The book is old, but it is studied by soldiers and business students all over the world today. It is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu says

The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.

Sun Tzu also says:

Therefore generals who know all possible adaptations to take advantage of the ground know how to use military forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it.

Jia Lin comments:

Even if you know the configuration of the land, if your mind is inflexible you will not only fail to take advantage of the ground but may even be harmed by it. It is important for generals to adapt in appropriate ways. These adaptations are made on the spot as appropriate, and cannot be fixed in advance.

I asked a student what I should tell parents tonight. He said: “Don’t say ‘Let your boys have fun and relax.’ They will just laugh at you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe you could tell them not to set goals their kids just can’t reach.” “Yes. I will tell them that,” I promised.

Well, now I’ve told you.

Don’t be afraid of setting goals. Don’t be afraid of encouraging your boys to work hard. But let us together learn the ground, and let us together — parents, students and teachers — make the right adaptations. Then we can win the battle.

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Posted by on December 24, 2006 in equity/welfare, esl for teachers, gifted education, multiculturalism


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Check the links

Do make sure you examine the links page tabbed above. The links have been carefully chosen and classified, and I will do my best to keep them working by testing them from time to time. You can help in two ways: 1) suggest any great sites you know about; 2) report dead links by emailing me at the address on the front page — neil743[at]unwired[dot]com[dot]au. (You have to write the email address with @ and . for [dot] — having a live email link invites spam and WordPress may not support javascript solutions to that.)

You will see a new category over there on Australian Culture and some additions to the Blog Roll.

Especially I recommend Edict Virtual Language Centre, just added under “ESL for Students”. This is a really good site from Hong Kong, in English of course, a Resource-Assisted eLearning website for studying English. There you will find a great guide to academic writing, discussion of common errors, and a whole range of interactive games and activities. The site is quite new, first appearing in 2004. It really is excellent, especially for students from Year 10 to Year 12, but also for teachers. There is a link there to a thorough introduction to Hallidayan Functional Grammar which could be of interest to some. I have linked that separately myself under “English Grammar”.

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Posted by on December 24, 2006 in English language, English studies, esl for students, esl for teachers, student help, study skills


How can I write better short stories?

Some students shine at analytical or argumentative writing but run a mile from “creative writing”. Since creative writing is now mandatory in Paper 1 of the HSC for Advanced and Standard English, such students need to work on this area. Steven, my 2006 coachee who attained Band 6 this year, was such a student. I am sure practice in this area helped him.

See also the “Writing” tag in the side bar, and check the writing archive on John Baker’s blog. John is an English crime fiction writer. There are also many good books: for example, The Writing Book by Australian writer Kate Grenville.

Short Story Tips from the Short Story Group. You might like to check the rest of their site too.

Literature: What Makes a Good Story — Join our journey through a classic short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell. Along the way, you’ll solve the mystery of whether Minnie Wright killed her husband and explore the story’s literary elements. You will also encounter rest stops where you can read more about the structure of story and take part in activities related to “A Jury of Her Peers”.

Tips for Writing a Short Story by Jennifer Stewart.

Writing short stories that work. Writing a short story that works involves learning how to construct a foundational framework by use and development of plot, theme, characters, denouement and conclusion.

Writing, Blogging & Creative Travel Photo Prompts. Quality varies, but such exercises may lead somewhere.

The Short Of It a short story blog by Bob Tinsley of Colorado Springs. [Quality and suitability may vary.]

He’s clearly successful, but how good is he?

One of the most popular pages on the old Tripod site was my rant about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. It has reappeared on my personal blog as Pop history, pseudohistory, and The Da Vinci Code. Thoroughly revised.


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Posted by on December 23, 2006 in HSC, questions asked, student help, writing


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