Daily Archives: September 10, 2009

Re: Perkin and Nicholson


As Russell points out in the post below, it is undeniably true that Frye regularly describes himself as a “bourgeois liberal intellectual” — and, at least once in the notebooks (I think) cheekily adds, “and therefore the flower of humanity.”

But is this an either/or situation? Frye, of course, prefers “both/and” formulations, and might prefer it here too. The self-proclaimed bourgeois liberal also concludes “The Beginning of the Word” (his Ontario Council of Teachers English Keynote Address) with this wittily apt analogy whose vintage is unmistakably the counter-culture of the 1960s (so superbly evoked earlier today by Bob Rodgers):

At his trial Socrates compared himself to a midwife, using what for that male-oriented society was a deliberately vulgar metaphor. Perhaps the teacher of today might be called a drug pusher. He hovers furtively on the outskirts of social organization, dodging possessive parents, evading drill-sergeant educators and snoopy politicians, passing over the squares, disguising himself from anyone who might get at the source of his income. If society really understood what he was doing, there would be many who make things as uncomfortable as they could for him, though luckily malice and stupidity often go together. When no one is looking, he distributes products that are guaranteed to expand the mind, and are quite capable of blowing it as well. But if Canada ever becomes as famous in cultural history as the Athens of Socrates, it will be largely because, in spite of indifference or philistinism or even contempt, he has persisted in the immortal task granted only to teachers, the task of corrupting its youth. [On Education 21]

Re: Mervyn Nicholson’s “Desire (2)”


Mervyn, we are obviously not going to agree, since I suspect we are beginning from very different points and proceeding with very different assumptions. But here are a couple of specific points in response to your post.

Freud acknowledged the role of desire in literature; indeed, it seems to be the motivating force for the creative imagination. For him the ego is “the hero of every daydream and every novel.” This is the place where unsatisfied desires can be fulfilled.

Second, I recognize that of course there are radical currents in Frye’s thinking. But he resembles Freud in his “conservative” response to the student protest movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. The “disobedience, chaos, [and] disorder” that prevailed on some campuses, encouraged by numerous faculty members, struck him as a betrayal of the true mission of the university. Ironically, Blake figured prominently in the pantheon of writers admired by student radicals (as did Freud, which, as you mention, Frye pointed out).

He sometimes described himself–perhaps to provoke his “cultured despisers”–as a “bourgeois liberal.”

Bob Rodgers: “Recovering William Blake”


A memoir of Blake, Frye and the 60s from Bob Rodgers.  Bob is a former grad student of Frye’s who became a documentary filmmaker.

When I set out for university my motives were not entirely laudable. Movies about universities made their social life look appealing and I wanted a way out of Flin Flon anyway. Also, in the 1950s,  if you managed to scrape through matriculation with a B average university was just something you did.  Tuition was cheap, summer jobs plentiful and lucrative, so why not? What friends who had gone before me said was: “Don’t take Science or Engineering. They’re hard. Take Arts”.

By second year I was having a splendid time. I played basketball for the University of Manitoba Bisons and endless hands of Bridge in the student union cafeteria. I got fake ID so I could drink at the Pembina beer parlor. I went to movie previews on Academy Road every Thursday, and to curling bees and dances on weekends, and there was a whole residence of pretty girls to date so long as you got them in by eleven. In all of these things I don’t remember being much different from anyone else I knew in Arts.

With one exception. One fellow called Lennie who sat beside me in my poetry course was unlike my basketball friends and my home town friends. He was a Ukrainian from the mysterious “North End”, a section of Winnipeg beyond the CPR tracks that was as foreign to me as Bukovina. If a professor assigned a library book and you got round to looking it up it was always gone. I’d find out later Lennie had it.

Sitting in the cafeteria one day Lennie said: “What do you make of William Blake?” I was circumspect. I remembered reading “The Tyger”, “Ah! Sunflower”,  and “The Chimney Sweep” in High School, and we had all grown up singing Blake’s “Jerusalem”on occasions of patriotic fervor for the British Empire. I wasn’t ready to admit to him that I had been trying to read Blake’s epic poem, ‘Jerusalem’, and found it impenetrable. He pushed the book he’d been reading toward me and went for coffee refills. It was The Collected Works of William Blake, the Keynes edition of 1956. He knew I fancied Milton, which he didn’t. He left a page open where I read: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” I read the lines several times, trying to figure out what Blake was saying.

My new friend returned with coffee and sat watching as I skipped through the passages he had flagged in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell section.

Exuberance is beauty. (I liked that idea. For the same reason I preferred Anthony to Octavius.)

How do you know but evr’y bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five? (That was the one I couldn’t get my head around at all.)

The cistern contains: the fountain overflows. (Same thing.)

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. (Whoa there. I was learning about excess in my extra-curricular activities, and thought it more likely they led in the opposite direction.)

What is now proved was once only imagined. (Well all right. So you don’t invent or discover anything without having imagination.)

The cut worm forgives the plough. (Is that what they meant when they said you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs? Not exactly. A worm isn’t like an egg and a plough isn’t like an omelette.)

Better murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. (That was an unsettling one. Like some Nietzsche things I’d been reading it sounded dangerous.)

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Today in the Frye Diaries, 10 September



[103] The hay fever seems to have passed meridian: maybe I’m just getting asthma & I shall regret ever having given up hay fever. Got check today, the incredible sum of $165.11: I thought with the new tax it would be far less. So went to the Eglinton, meeting Saunders on the way, who said he thinks Jenny’s job is some for of counter-espionage (he said “National Research Council” to me), to see a new Dashiel Hammett, “The Glass Key.” Beautifully paced, very well acted, directed & photographed: a swell tough and utterly amoral movie about a successful, ruthless & quite likable Tammany gangster. A curious color-cartoon, on the invasion of Holland, done in puppets.