Daily Archives: October 27, 2009

More on Frye and Victoria College, Including the Question of Whether To Stay or Not


Responding to Russell Perkin:

In the Prologue to his 1949 diary, Frye writes, “I’m beginning to feel a bit restless—impatient with Victoria’s corniness, & wondering if it is really the best place in the world to work” (Diaries, 53) Then there are these entries:

The English department [at Michigan State] however lives in a squalor that reminded me of Victoria College. (Diaries, 193––26 April 1949)

Well, well.  On the way back Woodhouse told me Don Cameron Allen of Johns Hopkins had written him asking him if he thought anyone in Canada was capable of filling a full professorship there: 19th c. preferred, but failing that, history of criticism & general problems.  At the end of his letter he said “What about Frye?”  I said “please don’t slam that door.”  Salary $7000, leading (they don’t say how soon) to $8000. (Diaries, 231––16 January 1950)

At the moment, of course, I feel dreadfully bored because two things dangling in front of me all month like the apples of Tantalus haven’t moved any closer.  One is the Johns Hopkins offer, the other the English invitation [NF had been invited by Bonamy Dobrée to lecture in England].  I’ve more or less written off the former, & the latter is fading.  Then again, by not applying for the Nuffield I’ve stuck my neck out on the Guggenheim, & if I miss it I’ve really had it.  Oh, well, I suppose I should set all this down, as I have at least another month of it to go through.  More important is my recurring restlessness about Victoria, wondering if they’ll really adopt [Walter T.] Brown’s policy of running it at a third-rate level.  If so, I must make up my mind to leave, & that won’t be easy.  As I’ve said, I don’t think much of Joe as the next head, but he couldn’t be much worse than Robins has been lately.  Well, that’s enough ego-squalling for the present.  Light—I mean Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom.  I don’t care about choosing my path, but I’d like to get a glimpse of it occasionally. (Diaries, 242––27 January 1950)

After the usual buggering I went into lunch with the males in the English department, Cecil Bald, & Bennett.  I had mildly suggested moving the party to Chez Paris [Paree], in view of the fact that Bald has a special interest in Coleridge & it was silly to leave Kay Coburn out.  Robins said he couldn’t make the switch because Bennett didn’t want to take the party “off the campus.” [NF had suggested that the group have lunch “off the campus” so that Kathleen Coburn could be included in the party.  Women were excluded from eating in the Senior Common Room until 1968]  That’s the kind of thing that makes me restless about staying at Victoria.  (Diaries, 248–9––3 February 1950)

Continue reading

Frye on Archetype


Responding to Clayton Chrusch:

Here’s Frye’s extended definition of “Archetype” from the Harper Handbook to Literature:

Archetype.  A term that has come down from Neo-Platonic times, and has usually meant a standard, pattern, or model.  It has been sporadically employed in this sense in literary criticism down to at least the eighteenth century.  An archetype differs from a prototype (even though the two words have often been used interchangeably) in that prototype refers primarily to a genetic and temporal pattern of relationship.  In modern literary criticism archetype means a recurring or repeating unit, normally an image, which indicates that a poet is following a certain convention or working in a certain GENRE.  For example, the PASTORAL ELEGY is a convention, descending from ritual laments over dying gods, and hence when Milton contributes Lycidas to a volume of memorial poems to an acquaintance who was drowned in the Irish Sea, the poem is written as a pastoral elegy, and consequently employs a number of conventional images that had been used earlier by Theocritus, Virgil, and many RENAISSANCE poets.  The conventions include imagery of the solar and seasonal cycles, in which autumn frost, the image of premature death, and sunset in the western ocean are prominent; the idea that the subject of the elegy was a shepherd with a recognized pastoral name and an intimate friend of the poet; a satirical passage on the state of the church, with implied puns on pastor and flock (naturally a post-Virgilian feature); and death and rebirth imagery attached to the cycle of water, symbolized by the legend of Alpheus, the river and river god that went underground in Greece and surfaced again in Sicily in order to join the fountain and fountain nymph Arethusa.

One of the conventional images employed in the pastoral elegy is that of the red or purple flower that is said to have obtained its colour from the shed blood of the dying god.  Lycidas contains a reference to “that sanguine flower inscrib’d with woe” [l.  106], the hyacinth, thought to have obtained red markings resembling the Greek word ai (“alas”), when Hyacinthus was accidentally killed by Apollo.  Milton could of course just as easily have left out this line: the fact that he included it emphasizes the conventionalizing element in the poem, but criticism that takes account of archetypes is not mere “spotting” of such an image.  The critical question concerns the context: what does such an image mean by being where it is? The convention of pastoral elegy continues past Milton to Shelley [Adonais], Arnold [The Scholar Gypsy], and Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloom’d.  Here again are many of the conventional pastoral images, including the purple lilacs: this fact is all the more interesting in that Whitman regarded himself as an antiarchetypal poet, interested in new themes as more appropriate to a new world.  In any case the gathering or clustering of pastoral archetypes in his poem indicates to the critic the context within literature that the poem belongs to.

The archetype, as a critical term, has no Platonic associations with a form or idea that embodies itself imperfectly in actual poems: it owes its importance to the fact that in literature everything is new and unique from one point of view, and to the reappearance of what has always been there, from another.  The former aspect compels the reader to focus on the distinctive context of each particular poem; the latter indicates that it is recognizable as literature.  In other genres there are other types of archetypes: a certain type of character, for example, may run through all drama, like the braggart soldier, who with variations has been a comic figure since Aristophanes’ Acharnians, the first extant comedy.  The appearance of a braggart soldier in a comedy by Shakespeare or Molière or O’Casey is quite different each time, but the archetypal basis of the character is as essential as a skeleton is to the performing actor.  Thus the archetype is a manifestation of the extraordinary allusiveness of literature: the fact, for example, that all wars in literature gain poetic resonance by being associated with the Trojan War.

In JUNGIAN CRITICISM the term archetype is used mainly to describe certain characters and images that appear in the dreams of patients but have their counterparts in literature, in the symbolism of alchemy, in various religious myths.  The difference between psychological and literary treatments of archetypes is that in psychology their central context is a private dream.  Hence they tell us nothing except that they appear, once we leave the psychological field of dream interpretation.  The dream is not primarily a structure of communication: its meaning is normally unknown to the dreamer.  The literary archetype, on the other hand, is first of all a unit of communication: primitive literature, for example, is highly conventionalized, featuring formulaic units and other indications of an effort to communicate with the least possible obstruction.  In more complex literature the archetype tells the critic primarily that this kind of thing has often been done before, if never quite in this way.

Continue reading

Re: Five Questions about Archetype


Responding to Clayton Chrusch:

Thanks for the clarification and questions, Clayton. These questions deserve thoughtful and detailed answers, but I’ll just respond now off the cuff. I will try to come up with something more detailed in the next several days, but just in case you get cornered again at lunch by a hostile anti-archetypalist:

1. What did Frye actually mean by the word?

An archetype is a recurring image that links one literary work with another. The doubled heroine is a good example, popularized by Walter Scott, and omnipresent in the 19th century.

2. What are some examples other than hero and whore?

The Esau archetype, for example, which is also prevalent in the romantic period and 19th century: Vautrin in Balzac, Ishmael in Moby-Dick,  Heathcliff, and Huckleberry Finn, etc. More modern forms would be the detective archetype, as first fully crystalized in Poe, descended from the eiron or tricky servant figure or gracioso of comedy. As literature is created from literature, so archetypes are created from previous archetypes.

3. Aren’t archetypes psychological entities described by Jung?

Frye’s use is very different from Jung because archetypes are based on conventions of story-telling, not on something like the collective unconscious: more like a cultural collective consciousness picked up from our experience of literature, and unconscious only in the sense that our familiarity with archetypes is often unconscious the same way our use of language is; it involves a complex learned skill, which becomes habitual and inferentially compressed and stored in something like a zip file in our brains. There may be innate elements in archetype, a part of our brain that responds to archetypal thinking just as part our brain responds to other skills, but of course they need  to be activated and those parts of our brain presumably can atrophy without using the skill (I am in deep water here as I know next to nothing about neuroscience).

4. How can you say archetypes are universal when they are based on northern hemisphere climate imagery? Aren’t Frye’s archetypes Eurocentric?

Some archetypes are probably more universal than others: the ones that pertain directly to food, sex, freedom, and property. No archetype exists in pure form so there are always ideological elements specific to particular social histories. And some seem very specific to a given culture, such as the doubled heroine (light haired/dark haired heroine convention). However, even the latter case partakes of a doubling element that may be more universal: man torn between two women representing the social and the the dreaming aspect of human experience; or woman torn between  two men: such as Wuthering Heights; Catherine between Linton and Heathcliff. The more universal an archetype the more it pertains to the anagogic level, the level of primary concerns. One culture may be agricultural, another food-gathering, so the archetype will reveal the particular traces of the culture, but the food and drink issue, for example, is universal and the archetypal meaning will tend to overlap greatly, I would think, from one culture to another.

And of course archetypes are created that are unique to a highly advanced technological culture like ours — but every culture has arts and sciences, the primary concern of what Frye calls property, and so there would be overlap here as well: the concern with fire, with wealth, with money or treasure, with particular kinds of technical or technological knowledge–like that belonging to the smith or forger of metals.

5. How can transcendent entities have any explanatory power?

Archetypes are not transcendent in the sense you mean, but very human entities, linked to intensely experienced primary human concerns, and in this sense not transcendent, though they evolve and expand in spiritual directions: that is, they did not descend from the  heavens in a space-ship, or as ideal Platonic forms handed down by a Nobodaddy sky god; they derive from the most intense forms of human experience, social and individual, and when the concerns involved are the most essential or primary, such as food and sex, the more universal is the archetype.