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Sandman Issue 10: An Introduction to the Gallery

Continuing the Sandman re-read that I began here, today we get our first glimpse of the gallery; a personal, private gallery, housed in each of the Endless’s Fortresses. We’ll later learn that there are 7 Endless “siblings.” We were introduced to two of them in volume 1: Dream, of course, along with his older sister Death. Issue 10 opens with another Endless sibling, Desire, introduced by means of a visual portrait on the first page of the issue. As I discussed last time, the portrait is cold, alienlike. Portraits, of course, show us the artist’s representation of the qualities of the person. I’ve been musing on Desire’s portrait for the last 24 hours. The concept of desire, for me, evokes ideas of heat and passion, fire and colour and energy. But Desire here is cold, detached. It is perhaps a more appropriate depiction of Desire than the image in my head. Desire does not equate to passion. Passion seems to suggest a depth of feeling brought about by connection. One fuels the flames of passion by constantly feeding it, nurturing it, sustaining it. Desire here seems to indicate an intense longing for something without doing the work to achieve it. It suggests a fickle feeling that passes once one’s attention is diverted.

Given this assessment, the design of Desire’s gallery is suitable with their person. The gallery of the Endless is a personal space in each of their fortresses. But instead of being lined with famous artwork, the gallery contains “portraits” of each of the Endless siblings. When one of the Endless wish to communicate with a sibling, they stand in their gallery in front of the appropriate portrait with their sigil or symbol in hand to evoke and summon the sibling. The gallery then also operates as a portal space, where Endless can cross into each other’s realms by invitation. Desire’s gallery is.. cold. Reminiscent of a real world art gallery, in some ways… wide open spaces, large art pieces dominating the room with little context or curation. But the room is dark, threatening. Splashes of red add small marks of colour. The gallery pieces are placed in a uniform line on a nearly black wall.

Desire’s Gallery in Issue 10 of The Sandman

The image is cleverly depicted like the squares of a panel in a comic or graphic novel. But in fact this is the way the gallery is exhibited: simple but powerful images on a canvas of white hanging on black. The simplicity is stark and cutting, much like Desire themselves. This is not a space that invites its viewers to linger.

That feeling of uneasiness increases as Desire summons their sibling, their twin, Despair, and the two discuss Desire’s plots against their elder brother Dream. Given that Dream has firmly been established as the protagonist of the series at this point combined with the memories of the events of the last volume, the reader is left with a quiet foreboding that a trap has been set for Dream, one that might be just as horrifying as his last set of challenges. Hopefully he will emerge from this next trial will less collateral damages.

Sandman Issue 10: Portrait of Desire

Since I’m focusing on portraits for my Sandman re-read, we’re skipping past the rest of volume 1 (which I started here) and heading straight to issue 10. Volume 2 The Doll’s House is where the motif of portraits become interesting, especially in just the first few pages. We’ll talk about the first one today: a full page portrait of Desire on the first page of the issue:

Sandman Issue 10 page 1, portrait of Desire

How do you read a graphic novel? With full page spreads like these I take more time to examine the illustration before reading the text, let it sink into me like I’m in an art gallery. (With panels I need to read the text first for direction before I fully appreciate the image.) This image puts us into the realm of the Endless right away: the background grid of emptiness stretching into the horizon; white teeth gleaming, an uncomfortable oddity to the rest of the face and torso which is in shadows; gleaming red eyes; and a nebula of red not-stars around a planet-like heart.

The narration tells us that there is only one thing in the realm of Desire: this fortress, shaped in a giant “statue of Desire him-, her-, it-self”. An immense statue towering alone on a blanket of emptiness. The narration also identies the statue as a portrait “complete in all the details, built from the fancy of Desire out of blood, and flesh, and bone, and skin.” There is something cold about the statue, the dark blue tones echoing of cold marble or slate. The notion that it’s made of blood and flesh and bones and skins is slightly alarming. … did Desire dream it up? Is that what the text means with “fancy”? Or did Desire somehow acquire these materials to craft their self-portrait? … given the events of the last volume, perhaps it’s best not to ask.

The fortress/ self-portrait is called The Threshold. “Desire has always lived on the edge.” The text pairs nicely with the image as again we’re drawn to examine it; the background gives us a sense of that edge, an empty vastness marked off neatly with borders. The next page continues this theme as the fortress has “empty, echoing veins, like tunnels. You will walk them until you grow old and die without once retracing your steps.” Finally we’re drawn to the centre of the image, the heart itself, which seems almost to pulse. “There was only one place in the cathedral of its body to make its home. Desire lives in the heart.” While in most cases, the phrase “Desire lives in the heart” might be written off as sentimental muck appropriate for a greeting card, here the image is sublime again: something grand and terrifying. This affect is supported with the reference to a Cathedral, another large, echoing cavern which makes its audience feel humbled and awed in the face of something part divine, part alien. The first installation of volume 2 (following the prologue) thus begins with a firm reminder that the Endless are not human nor gods, but something else inexplicable. Something frightening.

Sandman Issue 3: “Dream a Little Dream of Me,”

Continuing my discussion of portraits in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman which I began here, in issue 3, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” we are treated to a portrait on the very first page. We see a suburban house and someone lying on the bed. The bed is in complete shadows, stark dark shading juxtaposing the lightness of the room. Only a hand is shown. The accompanying text describes decay: “Her hair comes out in clumps“; “Her skin is flaking“, “the ragged nails rip her skin when she scratches” (bold font part of original text). The narration draws the reader to assume that the text is referring to the person lying in the bed. “She’s counting to a hundred,” the narration says, alongside another text box (presented in different colours and typography) in which someone is counting. The narrative text continues: “Will she dissolve it in her mouth? Breathe it? Rub it into her skin”. The accompanying picture shows a hand reaching to bag sitting on the nightstand, open, with white power spilling from its opening. On the bedside table is a framed photo of a grinning woman, with a certificate of some sort in her hands. The woman is pretty. The picture is smashed. Lines of broken glass mar her face. And yet, the photo continues to sit on the small bedside table despite this damage.

When we turn the page, we see a shot of an alarm clock radio: “… for all of you crumblies out there, here’s one from the vaults. A real rave from the grave.” Was the narration not actually a description of the scene, but instead the DJ narrating a short section of prose before playing their next song? Our new protagonist, John Constantine, begins: “Have you ever have one of those days when something just seems to be trying to tell you somebody?” What an odd question. Flipped around like that. Instead of “somebody trying to tell you something.”  Throughout the next few panels, we see that John is haunted. By snippets of music. By dreams and nightmare. Something trying to tell him somebody. Madd Hattie, who is 247 years old, warns him that Morpheus, the Sandman, is back. John dismisses it as a fairy story.

John Constantine is another DC original with his own series, Hellblazer (although you might be more familiar with him through the film or television adaptations, especially the Keanu Reeves 2005 film and the 13 episode cancelled series produced by NBC from 2014-2015). Constantine is a sorcerer, a working-class detective, and an occultist who regularly converses with angels and demons alike.

Morpheus aka Sandman aka Dream catches up with John 3 days later, in pursuit of a leather pouch full of sand. John thinks its in storage, but after 2 hours of searching finds nothing except an old photo. It’s a picture of John with a girl. The one from the bedside table? The portrait triggers John’s memory, and so we follow the trail of crumbs (in photo form) to find Dream’s leather pouch. Again, we see the picture John has found as he and Dream are in a taxi cab: “Everyone shuts up, and Chas jolts us up the motorway. Our visitor melts into the back seat shadows. And I remember Rachel. Amazing Rachel. Junkie Rachel.” Junkie Rachel who ran out on him and stole his stuff to pawn for junkie money.

When John Constantine and Dream find Rachel, the readers are shown the same scene from the first page: a bedside table with a framed portrait, pouch on table, the rest of the room in dark impenetrable shadows. We’re shown Rachel on the next page, nearly a full spread, naked, decaying, a living corpse. At the bottom of the page John lights a cigarette, an obvious attempt to regain his balance. “Jesus. Rachel. Jesus.” Next to this panel is the photograph of the two of them again. Like with the photograph of John Dee in the last issue, the portrait here is of a past nearly forgotten, of a life and identity that can never come to be again. But while in issue 2, the new image of John Dee haunts the reader, warning of the possibilities of the future, here the haunting gives a small sense of closure. Dream gives Rachel a happy dream before she dies, of herself restored, healthy and beautiful again. “She knows he’s waiting for her,” John, the love she ran out on. By doing so, Dream restores the reality of the picture, creating a dream space that doesn’t haunt but instead allows John Constantine to move forward and walk away from this image of the past. It ends the issue on an odd optimistic note: although Dream is on his way to Hell, John walks away singing “Mister Sandman” in good cheer.

Sandman Issue 2 “Imperfect Hosts” and an Imperfect Being

Today I’m continuing my discussion of portraits in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman which I began here. There’s only one major portrait in issue 2, “Imperfect Hosts,” but it’s a good one. The first panel on that page introduces us to a building with the following placard in front: “Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.” Are your alarm bells going off? What does the Lord of Dreams have to do with Batman and the Justice League?

Next we have an old woman, Mrs Ethel Dee, looking for her son who she hasn’t seen in a decade. The son in question is John Dee – the same name of an actual historical figure, court astronomer for Elizabeth I before leaving to pursue his passions in occult scholarship. If you’ve been following along with the dramas of the Order of Ancient Mysteries from issue 1, Ruthven Sykes, the order’s second-in-command, disappeared with the Order’s treasures, money, and Ethel Cripes, the Magus’s mistress. (The text is bolded in the script as well.) Ethel Cripes walks out on Sykes 6 years later. “She took the demon’s gift with her,” an amulet that was keeping Sykes safe.

To return to the present Mrs Ethel Dee and her missing son, Mrs Dee is armed with a photograph of the son in question, a black and white portrait of a handsome man with a chiseled square jaw and a hint of a smile on his lip. “This is my son, John Dee. I believe he’s imprisoned under his “nom-de-crime” of Doctor Destiny.” Further alarm bells should be ringing by now. Even if you’re not familiar with every single super villain in the DC or Marvel Universe, you’re probably aware that any Super Villain with a “Doctor” title, followed by an abstract noun are the worst super villains of all. (… Rest assured that my own Doc Fantasy title does not mean that I’m a super villain myself…). In the DC Universe, Doctor Destiny’s super powers is the ability to manipulate dreams. Gaiman here provides a neat retcon for the source of his powers, one that becomes a defining feature of Doctor Destiny’s character.

Arkham confirms that Doctor Destiny is indeed a patient there and Mrs Dee is led down to the bowels of the Asylum where Dee is kept locked up from society; he is too dangerous to be let out of his cell for any purpose, the guide tells her, stating: “He no longer sleeps, or dreams– in the normal sense of the word… and physically, he’s quite debilitated.” The ambiguity of this comment is intriguing. How can a man who – from the sounds of it – has wasted away be so dangerous? OR, is he dangerous because he no longer sleeps, is no longer, quite normal… or human.

Finally we are shown Dee himself: gaping mouth with broken and lost teeth; his face seems to be melting away as flecks of fluid drip from his ears, his mouth, his hands; and his eyes…. his eyes are not right, seemingly at once to be bulging and also set deep within his face; the shapes are odd, angular and pointed at the apex, and rounded at the bottom; and the colour is a soft sickly yellow with a small bead for pupils and no irises. Is this the same man… the same creature as the handsome figure in Ethel’s photograph? Instead of being haunted by the past (as the portrait in the first issue), the portrait here is of an identity long dead and forgotten; it bears no resemblance at all to the living present. Instead, it is the living creature that haunts the reader: not the echoes of the past and what he once was long ago, but instead the possible dread of a future in which John Dee escapes his cell. This isn’t the last we see of the character in Sandman of course, and for those of you re-reading the series, you know where Doctor Destiny ends up. But I won’t spoil it for those of who you are reading it for the first time.

Depiction of Doctor Destiny from JLA Classified #32 (March 2007) i.e NOT from Sandman

Entering the Sandman Universe, Issue 1 – “Sleep of the Just”

I’m starting a new research project today – beginning with a re-read of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which I thought I’d blog about as a read along. I’m particularly interested in how many different forms of pictures are illustrated within the graphic novel. (And if you have any recommendations for examples of other picture-in-graphic novel depictions, please let me know.) My thesis is that these in-text pictures operate as a type of haunting on the characters, as their past or familiar relationships loom over them as a specter that prevents them from living properly. As I was reading the first volume today, it was nice to see that my thesis was confirmed so quickly within the first issue (and I look forward to see how it develops as the series continues).

“Sleep of the Just,” the first issue of Gaiman’s Sandman collected in Volume 1 Preludes and Nocturnes, begins with Roderick Burgess, a member of a secret occult society, and his attempt to capture and trap Death itself. The spell fails… sorta. The titular page presents a captured entity, sprawled in the middle of the circle with a black cloak wrapped around them in a way that suggests oozing blood and bodily fluids. The creature is alien-like and monstrous, bearing a mask in a shape that is reminiscent of Ripley Scott’s Aliens. Burgess announces that they’ve failed; they haven’t captured Death, but another entity.

But how does he know that? How does he take one look at Dream – as it is Dream that Burgess has captured, and not Death – and recognize him immediately for who he is? Is there a picture of Dream? If so, how did that picture come to be? Fastforward a decade and Burgess’s son, Alex, finds a picture in another grimoire, the Paginiarum Fulvarum, and recognizes that the captured creature is “Kinge of Dreames.” So there IS a picture – a tattered hand-drawn sketch shoved between the pages of the Paginarum. It also seems that Burgess Sr hasn’t come across the picture himself, using only Dream’s accoutrements (his helm, pouch, and ruby) to recognize him. But now we have further questions; namely who drew this picture and how did they meet Dream?

After his father passes, Alex hands over the reigns of the business to a personal assistant and dedicates all of his energies into an obsession with his father: “He wrote a memoir about his father; writes letters to newspapers defending his father’s reputation; is editing a volume of his father’s letters” (bold emphasis taken from the text). As the text suggests that his father’s life consumes Alex, the image accompanying it is of a portrait of Richard Burgess staring at the reader, overlooking Alex as he works at his study head down, face partially obscured by quill. I use the word consumption deliberately as “fulvarum” is likely derived from the Latin to burn, and the way which Alex interacts with both his father’s memory and the grimmore suggests this burning consumption. For instance, as it is now 1970, the quill he employs is not necessary, but one assumes is part of Alex’s obsession with his father’s magical activities. The next panel reveals that Alex then “slashed his father’s portrait with a knife”; the accompanying illustration only of a shadow of a man with a knife in hand, framed by the torn remains of the portrait (also in shadows). The third panel then states that “Alex will no longer read books on magic. Except for one. […] And he only reads one page of that book…” The close-up in the next panel then further draws attention to the fact that the picture of Dream is clearly not part of the original text; the colouring of the page is a lighter tan than the grimoire, the page is smaller, and shadowing suggests that the page is loose-leaf. Alex’s obsession, then, has turned from his father to Dream itself.

Given this obsession, the ending of the issue is particularly fitting. I won’t reveal it because of spoilers, but I will say this: it’s too bad that l Burgess Sr dies before he could receive his own just desserts.

The University 411: A Crash Course in Research Part 2: Evaluating Your Sources

Yesterday we talked about how to find research sources. Today we’re going to discuss evaluating the strength and value of the research you’ve found.

First consider the title and abstract/summary. Don’t download and try to read everything that’s on the topic. For instance you may be looking for research to write an English Literature essay on George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and find a lot of information about the historical inspirations for the series. Unless you were looking specifically for historical influences, that research is not likely to help you. Yes, you’ve found a critical article or book on your topic, but it’s not a piece of research that is likely to help you meet your objectives.

Whether you’re using a database or google, a full-length book or an article, you should look up information about the author and their credentials. Usually this should be supplied for you in the form of an author bionote. Why is this information important? Well first, you want to see what’s their academic background. As a fantasy literature scholar I tend to come across articles written from all areas and specialities – history, sociology, psychology, education, etc. Even if the article is written by a literature scholar, that doesn’t guarantee that contemporary fantasy is their area of speciality. Their primary area of focus may be something like medieval literature or children’s literature. By understanding their background, you can grasp some understanding of their research foundation. For example, a medieval literature scholar, might have a good grasp of historical knowledge (both in terms of actual facts as well as critical theories and methodologies in that field) but may be unaware of current literary criticism on fantasy. By understanding their foundation, you can evaluate the application of their work to your own research along with possible strengths and weaknesses of their work. Also consider the journal itself or, if it’s a book, the publisher and whether the book is part of a series. What’s their remit? I.e what is their area and speciality?

If you’re using the internet or you’ve picked up a book at a local bookstore instead of a university library, take a moment to consider the intended audience. (This goes for EVERYTHING you read and not just when you’re in research mode. Think critically.) Be aware that the website or book is aimed at the general public and not at an academic audience. That isn’t to say that the information published in these works are incorrect, but approach them with the understanding that their methodology or underlying assumptions may not be thoroughly vetted and backed by published peer-reviewed research. For example, there are a lot of parenting books out there written by popular bloggers. They may have done some “research” themselves in the form of reading other parenting books or maybe even peer-reviewed articles. But they are unlikely to have the sort of training where they can critically examine this research and evaluate their methodologies and assumptions. So look up author credentials and see if they’re speaking as a reputable researcher in the field. Don’t assume that a published book means the author and their work was thoroughly vetted by the publisher. The author might be someone who can guarantee to the publisher that their book will sell because they already have a wide audience; They could be a public figure or even just someone who can show some decent social media following.

If the author IS esteemed then the next step is to evaluate the appropriateness of the work in your field. Popular non-fiction is a tricky case. For instance, while I used the scientific theories in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time as a critical tool to investigate Fantasy literature in my first monograph, it’s probably not a book that a theoretical physicist should be basing their work on; you should find the original peer-reviewed research as it’s applicable to your field.

A snippet from The Shape of Fantasy of my own interpretation of Hawking’s Future Light Cone

Once you’ve thoroughly vetted the academic rigour of the author and publisher, the next step is to take a good look at the date of publication. If it’s an older print, then new evidence might have been published since then that refutes or challenges the article. In some cases, the author themselves might have built on and expanded the work (or retracted it!) and you should certainly be aware of these as well.

Finally, after vetting the publisher, the author, and the date of publication, we’ve reached the part where we’re sitting down to read the article or book itself. But wait! This doesn’t mean we can turn off our critical lens. You should now evaluate the author’s methodology. Are the steps they’ve taken to reach their conclusions appropriate? Are there any gaps that they fail to acknowledge? If they have acknowledged these gaps, is their justification for why they’ve left the gap in place reasonable? I.e did they properly consider these gaps and the choices they made for their methodology, or did they put it in as an afterthought once the research was already undertaken (in these cases, they’re probably responding to peer review feedback). You can still go ahead and utilise the piece in your own research. But acknowledge their gaps.

Vetting your sources doesn’t necessarily mean you’re don’t use them at all. Instead, it means you should carefully consider their weaknesses. This consideration should be part of your research notes. I.e not necessarily part of your research paper itself. But if the piece of research becomes an essential foundation to your own work, then your paper should absolutely identify these weaknesses. Make sure to keep the tone professional (i.e. no personal attacks or harsh judgment). You should also include how you’re avoiding the same pitfalls in your own work or offer your own justifications. A note of caution here: don’t go overboard with spending so much time (word count) defending your methodology that you don’t have enough space for the rest of the paper. If you’re using an outline, roughly identify how big each section should be before you start your first draft. You might spend hours or days critically examining these sources only for it to end up as 1 or 2 sentences in your work. I’m sorry to inform you but that’s what the research process looks like. 🤷🏽‍♀️

The University 411: A Crash Course in Research Part 1: How to Find Sources

It’s been about 10 years since I’ve tackled a new project (I.e where I know absolutely nothing about it) and hitting up databases makes me feel like a lost and confused first year undergrad student again. So today we’re taking a a crash course in how to start researching a paper.

You might’ve seen around the web amusing tweets or memes chiding anti-vaxxers or anti-maskers that their 20 minute of googling the internet or watching a youtube video doesn’t count as “research”. I’m also aware that a lot of university students will ignore that advice and go to google as their first step in the hopes that someone else on the internet has the answer magically prepared for them. If you know what you’re doing and are properly vetting this sources (which we’ll talk about tomorrow) then it’s okay to use the internet for research. As well, as I said when discussing seminar prep, it’s perfectly acceptable to use google or wikipedia to identify key points of a topic; you’re not using it as research in this case – so don’t cite in in your paper! – instead you’re using it as preliminary research to investigate key phrases and ideas. Once you’ve made a list of words and phrases, you can then hopefully approach your library and database searches with a more focused approach.

The first step though is identifying what database to use. Your university library webpage is likely to have done some of this work for you, so have a look if they’ve divided up databases or search engines by areas or fields of study. If they haven’t, ask your instructor for suggestions. Universities may also have subject-specific librarians; if you’re looking to access a newly released book or journal issue, they may decide to order one for the library; or if you are struggling to find an out-of-print one, they might have further resources they can offer you (for instance, arranging interlibrary loans or providing information about nearby special archives). I also recommend that you take advantage of any tutorials or workshops that your department or university library might have arranged. From the organiser’s side, I can assure you that we are absolutely ecstatic when students take advantage of these services, as we’ve put work into arranging them and we genuinely want to help students with their questions and concerns. Even if you’re a postgraduate/graduate student, you might want to pop into these services again – sometimes universities allow their masters and PhD students access to more services than they do their undergraduates, so it’s worth figuring out what are all your options. And if you’re studying at a new university make sure you’re aware of any differences between procedures and regulations. You don’t want to end up wracking up a massive overdue fine because the rules are different.

When using any search engine, try to narrow down your focus so that you’re not getting 10,000 results back. Some engines have an “advanced search” options and take advantage of that when you can. Alternatively, you can use Boolean operators:

  • + or AND
    • finds results that include both terms and not just one or the other
    • Example: Surrealism AND Paintings
  • | or OR
    • to find either word when they mean roughly the same thing.
    • Example: Seashore OR Seaside.
  • – or NOT
    • when you want to omit results.
    • Example: Fantasy NOT Football
      • will make sure your search of fantasy fiction doesn’t come back with “fantasy football”
  • Quotation marks
    • to find exact phrases.
    • Example: “fantasy football”
    • operates different from AND as it makes sure the two words will be found together
  • Use Brackets if you need to include more than one of these signs/operators.
    • Example: (oil OR water) AND painting
      • means you want to find either oil or water paintings.

As well, the following are more specific to google:

  • ..
    • to search within number ranges.
    • Example: 1990..2021 to
      • find results from that year range
  • :
    • for limiting type of search to location, website, or filetype.
    • Example: Cyborg Manifesto filetype:pdf
      • to find a pdf copy of The Cyborg Manifesto. 
    • Example 2: abortion laws location:Texas
      • to limit to your search to news articles originating from Texas (rather than being about Texas)

As an independent researcher, I completely understand that not everyone has access to a library. Maybe you access is limited if you’re not on campus or you’re doing preliminary research for a proposal for postgrad/grad school and don’t have library access yet. First see what databases are available to the general public; some sites offer a handful of free articles a month if you create a private account. Google Books and Google Scholar might also have excerpts, and the latter is a database too. Once you have access to a datebase to help you find the title of a piece, then there are a few options for acquiring that article even without university access. If you’re a postgraduate/graduate student, see if your former university offers alumni access to the library. Also don’t rule out public libraries. They may be able to acquire interlibrary loans from the university.  As well, investigate if there’s a programme that offers a regional library card rather than city library card. With a regional card, you may be able to acquire material from across the state/province/country and this may include universities in your area. And download the Libby app so you can combine ebooks and audiobooks from all these libraries in one place. Finally, if you absolutely cannot acquire a copy of the article you’re looking for, see if you can google the author; if they’re currently a student or staff member at a university, their contact details should be on the university website and you can email THEM directly to ask for a copy. In most cases, people don’t get paid for the article they’ve published (money goes to the publisher not author), so they might be willing to help you as it’s not a financial loss to them.

If you ARE using google for research, then try your best to vett the website to make sure it’s reputable. Do they have copyright information? Can you find details of the publisher and do they look authentic? If you’re using a library database rather than google, then you may still want to have a quick look at the publisher or journal. How long have they been established? Or if the article you are looking at is more than a few years old, are they still operating? If so, what are their peer review policies? (You can check out their submission guidelines to find this info.) This becomes more important if you are in graduate/postgraduate school especially if are considering publishing work yourself. As well, you will want to get a good understanding of the journals and book publishers in your field so that you can check them regularly for new publications. You may also be able to get a free copy of the book for yourself if you contact a subject-appropriate journal and ask to review the book. You will have to write up a 1000 to 2000 word critical review of the book, but you get a free (and likely expensively-priced) book in return.

Tomorrow we’ll talk further about how to vett your research once you’ve found them – i.e. how to to evaluate the academic rigour of a source. Until then, take care.

The University 411: Flash Cards are for Everyone

The benefits of flash cards is that they’re versatile. You can make them out of everything from proper full-sized index cards, to apps (yes there are apps for this!), or even torn scraps of paper. I used to keep little sandwich bags full of torn up pieces of paper. They’re also convenient. They’re not the same weight as a heavy, lar textbook that you need to carry around everywhere. Which means you can slip them out while you’re waiting for class to start or on the bus.

The age old question ever since they decided to give people grades for their education: how best to study? There are of course countless ways to study for an exam situation and we’ll talk about one of them today: Flash Cards. Flash Cards are for EVERYONE, for any field of study, and for all ages.

But how best to use flash cards? There are multiple ways to go about this but first and foremost, don’t wait until the week before exams to prepare flash cards. For one, you’ll end up spending too much time on creation and not enough time actually using them. But also, as we talked about with note-taking, you want to review the information almost immediately after you learn it so that you can start processing that short-term memory into long-term memory. So if you’re re-writing your notes, you might want to consider creating flash cards at the same time or in lieu of re-writing in a notebook. Once you’ve done that, you should review your flashcards regularly, at least once a week. This means you’ve started studying as soon as semester starts and you’re not cramming in information right before the exam.

Whenever possible, your flash cards should have two sides: One side as a prompt – or word or a concept – and the other side with the related information. This way you can test yourself by reading the face card as a prompt and supplying the answer before your turn it over to check your response. Ideally, you should be able to use both sides as a prompt. For example, if you’re taking a language class, let’s say Spanish, and you’re making flashcards based on vocabulary. When you test yourself with your flashcards, can you look at the Spanish word and recognize the English translation? How about vice versa? Can you also look at the English word and supply the Spanish translation? If you’re unable to supply the answer using either side as a prompt, then you still haven’t mastered the concept.

When you’re reviewing your flashcards, divide them into two piles: cards that you know the answer to quickly and easily, and cards that you struggle with. This latter pile is the one you should focus on with *studying*. BUT don’t discard or ignore the cards from the first pile. Remember to review them occasionally to make sure you haven’t forgotten the information. If you have, move them back into your study pile. (If you’re using an app, find one that has a feature where you can decide to ignore or disable a flashcard temporarily.)

I’m of the opinion that flashcards can be used in every field and for any age group. They’re more likely used in fact-heavy fields, where you need to memorize information for multiple choice or fill in the blank like the bones of a body. But take a moment to consider what sort of test questions you will have and how you can utilise flashcards to help you. Things like conceptual knowledge and terminology (like what the heck is the difference between negative reinforcement and positive punishment? How do you conjugate a verb?). Maybe you need to remember equations and formulas. Or do you struggle remembering key names and dates? If so Maybe, think about what names and dates appear in your notes.Maybe you need to memorize the name of a painting plus the painter and date (put name of painting on one side, and date and painter on other). I always struggled with names; I still remember – 18 years later – writing a history exam with an essay response and completely forgetting the name of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. So I used a completely different first name EVERYTIME I wrote down Archduke, from Phillipe to Fitzgerald. Learning from that lesson, when I switched majors to literature, I made sure to study the names of all the characters in the novel or play.

While these examples focus more on short and simple facts, you can also use flash cards for big concepts. So you know the name of a painting and painter, but what next? What’s important about the painting? Or your on top of Spanish vocabulary but you’re still not sure how to conjugate a verb. Think about how to use flash cards irregardless of your field of study or type of exam questions. Even if you’re expected to answer essay questions think about what knowledge you need to memorize in order to get a good grade and turn that into a flash card to help you study. Think about this early, as you review your notes, so you can start creating and carrying around flash cards well in advance of your exam. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not up all night desperately cramming.

Is there any news, Reshi? – (A Contrast of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear – Chapter 1)

I’m taking a break today from the University 411/811 blog to read some fantasy fiction. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep up a running commentary of a comparison between Book 1 and 2 of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles (which I began here), but for now it’s amusing me to see the similarities and contrasts.

“A Place for Demons”, Chapter One of The Name of the Wind, begins simply

It was Felling night, and the usual crowd had gathered at the Waystone Inn. Five wasn’t much of a crowd, but five was as many as the Waystone ever saw these days, times being what they were.

Old Cob was filling his role as storyteller and advice dispensary. The men at the bar sipped their drinks and listened. In the back room a young innkeeper stood out of sight behind the door, smiling as he listened to the details of a familiar story.

The Name of the Wind, p. 3

It’s an interesting way to introduce the hero of the story. “A young innkeeper,” no other identifying markers except age and job title. He’s not even in the scene, but standing just out of sight, listening to the events on stage – the gossip and folktales relayed by his 5 customers – and not contributing anything himself until two pages later. When he does speak, his customers evidence surprise: “The men at the bar seemed surprised to see Kote standing there. They’d been coming to the Waystone every Felling night for months and Kote have never interjected anything of his own before” (p 5). It’s almost comical, that the minor characters in this story are shocked to see the protagonist and to hear him speak. It’s also noteworthy that it takes 5 pages before the readers are even introduced to our hero’s name. Of course, as the narrative continues, Rothfuss fully puts his reader through their paces in interrogating the protagonist’s actions as heroic. Kote’s uncertain status is established just a few sentences later, as the passage continues: “Not that you could expect anything else, really. He’d only been in town for a year or so. He was still a stranger” (5). We still have no details of Kote, except his name, that he’s a stranger, and he evidently has detailed knowledge of half-completed idioms, but brushes off this knowledge as “Just something I heard once” (p. 5).

The mystery of Kote only continues in chapter 1 as a missing companion joins them, hurt and bloodied, and carrying the body of the beast that attacked him, “a spider as large as a wagon wheel, black as slate” (p. 7). Kote immediately identifies the creature as as a “scrael,” cleans and sews up Carter with fourty-eight stitches, and takes the leads in identifying the scrawl as a “demon” by pressing a piece of iron on the body. In each case, Kote attempts to hide his authority as knowledge-keeper by dismissing them: as sources of gossip (a traveller told him about the scrael); or a common saying (that demons react to iron); or by telling his student-companion Bast to spread a rumour about (in this case, that his grandfather was a caravan guard, as explanation for his stitching skills). He also confirms in his conversation with Bast that he made sure they properly disposed of the scrawl (burning it in a fire made of rowan wood and then burying in a pit that was at a suitable depth): “They took it to the priest. He did all the right things for all the wrong reasons” (p. 12). That Kote knows more than a priest, a person who holds secret, divine knowledge, suggests that Kote is at once more learnéd than a person who puts their stock in faith, while also functioning as a figure who had knowledge of deep mysteries itself. The question on hand, after all, is the presence and explanation of a *demon* and while the reader – like the minor characters – might be considering explanations for this mysterious beast, the fact that it reacted to iron in a physical way (smoke arising from burnt flesh where the iron touch), gives the reader a sense of a supernatural mystery that the novel in their hands will hopefully give some answers to. Taken together, the reader is also quick to pick up on the clues that Rothfuss lays out: that our hero is a skilled and knowledgeable person that is in hiding. Rothfuss makes this plain when he finally introduces Kote properly on page 10:

He called himself Kote. He has chosen the name carefully when he came to this place. He has taken a new name for most of the usual reasons, and for a few unusual ones as well, not the least of which was the fact that names were important to him.

The Name of the Wind, p. 10

Who then is Kote? What is his real name, and why did he take a new name? One presumes that the “usual reasons” are because he’s hiding, but hiding from what? And why are names important to him? Clearly there is something significant here, given the title of the book: The Name of the Wind.

In contrast to The Name of the Wind, Chapter One of The Wise Man’s Fear (“Apple and Elderberry”) sets a slightly different mood. As I discussed when examining both prologues, while the beginning notes in The Name of the Wind worked together as a “complement” (NotW p.1), The Wise Man’s Fear adds a “counterpoint” (WMF p.1 ), another layer to the melody. Instead of a scene set at night with a nearly-empty room (5 customers with Kote off-stage), we begin in the morning, in early dawn, with Bast standing in that same room alone and bored. The set piece stays the same, but the scene has changed. Instead of fanciful gossip of demons – “The word ‘demon’ was being spoken, but it was with smiles half-hidden behind raise hands” (NotW p. 16) – we move now to the very real and serious aftermath of a man’s death – “Bad business last night. Chances are, that would be all Graham would had to say about the death of a man he had known his whole life” (WMF p. 7-8). There are echoes between both chapters in the form of gossip of serious topics, demons and death, but while the first is treated with half-amusement and small caution as both townspeople and the reader are unable to confirm fact from fiction, the latter is treated with proper gravitas as both the townspeople and the reader are contemplating the death of a man at the end of the previous novel. The note of this somber counterpoint is reinforced in the final paragraph of chapter 1 in WMF:

The only sounds were the rhythmic creak of the wood and the slow patter of the cider as it ran into the bucket below. There was a rhythm to it, but no music, and the innkeeper’s eyes were distant and joyless, so pale a green they almost could have passed for gray.

The Wise Man’s Fear, p. 11

These final sentences of chapter one closes with a careful evocation of rhythm without music, a feeling of a joylessness, distant, grey, setting a mood similar to the one from NotW, but with a deeper resonance that conveys a forced and false normality.

The University 811: Using Outlines for Proposals and Redraftin

As I talked about in yesterday’s post, if you’re about to engage in a large project (such as a dissertation), outlines can be incredibly useful. You might already have an outline, although you might not consider it as one. If you’ve started thinking about your work in sections or chapters, you’ve technically started drafting an outline. The longer or bigger the project, the more outline drafts you will have, before you even start the project itself. I’m about to start my next big research project (a book) and I am currently on my 10th draft of the outline. As your outline might need to be reviewed and approved by another person before you even start (maybe your supervisor or the college/department that you’re applying to), you will have to revise your outline according to their feedback. That doesn’t mean you can’t move away from your outline later. Instead, your outline shows that you have some grasp of what you intend to do and can start your project immediately. You won’t be wasting crucial time trying to figure out first steps. In my case, my outline needs to be approved by the editors/publishers who are looking at my book proposal as well as the funding body for the fellowship I’m applying for. If you’re asking people to invest time and/or money into you, then you need to demonstrate that you can follow their guidance in order to create a strong product.

Draft 10 of the outline of my next book presented in outline view from Scrivener

But outlines aren’t only useful at the start of a project. If you’re engaged in a larger project, it can also be incredibly useful while revising your work. If you’ve ever received feedback that “your ideas are good, but your presentation needs re-structuring,” that means you need an outline; the person reviewing your work couldn’t follow the logical order of your thoughts. In this case, sit down with a new sheet of paper or a new document and go through your existing project. Identify the major point of each section without including any details. Just the key ideas, written up in short, simple sentences or phrases. If you have sections, then this can be just the key idea of each section, or maybe 3-4 ideas in each section. (I’m just throwing around numbers here; it depends entirely on the size of your project.)

In any case, the key ideas that you’ve extracted is your new outline. Looking at your new outline, make sure that every point leads the next logical point. Are there areas where you jump from one point to a completely different point without any connection? Are there ideas that you should move up front, in order to understand the rest of your project better? Honestly, I think almost every single editor, reviewer, or supervisor that has looked at my work had told me at some point “this needs to be moved up higher, Chuckie!” as I seem to write back to front. So it’s perfectly okay if your work needs a major overhaul. Keep in mind that, while it’s impossible to move EVERY single idea up to the front, you should gesture or foreshadow them; make a statement like “defined below,” or “see section x” or “we will come back to this in our discussion of x”. As well, your introduction or abstract (and every project regardless of the field should have one) should have a mini-outline, where you identify what you will be doing. Finally, make sure you’ve addressed all your objectives for each section and that this comes across in your new outline. If it’s not obvious from your outline of key pints and is instead buried in the details, then you might need to put more work into addressing your objectives.

If you’re getting close to submitting your dissertation – or are post-submission and are now preparing for publication, you might want to consider an outline taken at a paragraph level. Each paragraph should start with a sentence that introduces the topic of that paragraph. Ideally, if you look at just your first sentence of each paragraph, you should be able to identify if your thoughts are following a logical order. (See my example below.) Again, Scrivener is fantastic for this. You can split up the document paragraph by paragraph easily using the highlighted selection (the first sentence) with each split.

Screenshot of Scrivener

You can then go to outline view and drag and drop the paragraphs around if they seem out of place. A simple compile function will reintegrate all the paragraphs back into one document. (You should then go through and make sure that if you moved paragraphs, you’ve smoothed any awkward transitions.) Here in the example below, I’ve taken apart the introduction of my draft for chapter 5. Right away, I could see that a point is missing, that I’ve made a jump or buried a point that should be presented as its own paragraph/topic. I’ll go back and re-examine those paragraphs to see if I should split a large paragraph into two or if I need another new paragraph entirely. The objective of this exercise is by taking the first sentence of each paragraph, I’ve formed a mini-paragraph, one that’s comprehensible even without extraneous detail.

Outline of Draft Chapter 5 (i.e. just the first sentence of each paragraph)

Of course, there are other ways to ensure that your project follows a logical format. You don’t have to go to the sentence/paragraph-level that I have done. And if you have any tips or advice for how to (re)-structure your work, please do share! I’d love to hear more ideas for how you restructure and revise later stages of work.