Frye and Homosexuality, Cont’d

Rembrandt's David and Jonathan

Rembrandt's David and Jonathan

 Further to my earlier post:

I’m not altogether sure what Frye intends by what he calls the homosexual or androgynous Jesus, but I suspect it’s related to his notion of the original form of humanity––the adam––before the creation of Eve.  That, in any event, is what emerges from Words with Power (127, 189).  There, as in most of Frye’s references to homosexuality and androgyny, the thrust is less sexual than metaphorical.  But perhaps one could begin to figure out Frye’s views on the issue from those passages where he mentions homosexuality.  Some of these are:

I write you some funny letters, don’t I, for a lover? All convention and all tradition is against me. Everybody thought, up to the last century, and most beyond it, that, as women had brains but no disposition to use them, and resented anything but an emotional reaction, that any kind of love that went beyond the caresses and endearments of a union based frankly and brutally on mutual possession of bodies, had something unnatural about it. But, oh, Lord, how dead, smelly, worn-out, stale that kind of love is! All men, all women, only react in one way to physical intimacy, which was why people had to be so frightfully monogamous. And so prudish too, because if there were no taboos on sex the race would die out. And it’s so hard to get away from that. When D.H. Lawrence started writing, everybody thought he’d be the Messiah of a new, fresh, vigorous kind of loving. Well, he did, until the war got him, or Oedipus, or something: anyway he betrayed his trust and slipped back into all the nineteenth-century drivel with Lady Chatterley. A sensitive, intelligent person in love today is a kind of pioneer. The Greeks started the antithesis between cultured, intellectual love and emotional physical love by making the first homosexual and the second heterosexual—or at least the Christian Church completed the antithesis. I think we might resolve that antithesis today, but with economic conditions as primitive and barbaric as they are, it would only work in isolated cases, of which you and I, thank God, are one. A lot of people, including yourself, squawk and squirm and giggle occasionally when talked to like this—but, while I may sound silly in my manner of expression, or pompous or what not—I know all the automatic reactions—to be educated intellectually is so easy, and to be educated emotionally so difficult—I despise a Philistine so much in the arts, that I can’t be satisfied to be one in love.  (Frye/Kemp Correspondence, 28 June 1935)

Jesus is a Son, but the Son & the Bridegroom are different: that’s why the gospel Jesus is presented as a homosexual (actually androgynous).  The difference comes out in the wedding at Cana [John 2:1–11], which I have no doubt means a wedding where Christ himself was the bridegroom.  But that wedding was not a biographical event in Jesus’ life: it’s a parable of the Second Coming.  Whenever there’s a son there’s a mother, and Jesus declares his independence of his mother here.  The Bridegroom is the sexual Jesus: the Bride is the people, of course, but Jerusalem is the Second Coming of the Virgin individual carrying the Word. (Late Notebooks, 1:277.  See also Words with Power, 202–3.)

I am about to write the world’s profoundest poem, with apologies to William James, the only one who has touched my level of genius:

Hogamus, higamus,

God is polygynous.

Higamus, hogamus,

Christ was androgynous.

(Late Notebooks 1: 274)

[James is said to have awakened one day with this jingle ringing in his head: “Hogamus, higamus, / Men are polygamous. / Higamus, hogamus, / Women monogamous.”]

The virgin is the garden; the bride is the city.  The spirit-virgin cluster goes with the homosexual or asexual Christ.  One could take the state of innocence as pre-sexual, the way the fuckless fathers take it, but when God created Eve as a mate for Adam she was clearly a sexual mate, and God took the opportunity to institute the state of matrimony.  But the second Eve, like the second Adam, had to be celibate because she’s already identified with the sealed-off garden of Paradise.  Hence, as I’ve said [pars. 10, 91], the association of virginity with a magical control of animal & plant worlds (they’re herbalists too). [Late Notebooks, 1:284. See also Words with Power, 195.]

Jesus isn’t really homosexual, of course, but he certainly is withdrawn from sex.  Androgynous, as I said before, recovering the original Adam before sex in the head started. Not that that really works either. (Late Notebooks 1:286)

Structures of concern can’t be rationalized: the incest taboo isn’t based on any intuitive knowledge of what inbreeding results in: and the horror of sodomy, beyond the fact that ass-fucking is a dirty business, is not because it’s “unnatural” but because it’s a parody of Jesus with his male beloved disciple, his “don’t touch me” as his last words to a woman, and his (or somebody’s) insistence that his mother was a virgin and his father not his father. (Late Notebooks 1: 107)

The second part of the book would repeat these themes, and one of its organizing conceptions is the emergence of the human fourth through the authoritarian Trinity, as part of the filling in of the rising rhythm.  The Prometheus chapter outlines the authoritarian conception of order and the revolutionary rhythm that begins to fight against it from the 18th century on, passing through Milton on liberty as part of the descending movement.  Eros deals with the earlier poetic insistence on the central importance of Eros as against the exclusive Christian emphasis on Agape.  Agape is really the shadow of Venus, metamorphosed into the Holy Spirit, and the traditionally homosexual Jesus. (Late Notebooks 2:558)

This chapter is to be called “Prometheus Unbound.”  Its model or archetype is the law-gospel dialectic of the Bible, not that I’d be ready to introduce the gospel at that point.  The fourth chapter, corresponding to wisdom, is “Eros Regained,” and it deals with the way that medieval poets insisted on Eros, thereby forcing Western culture to consider the participating role of man in nature, and hence finally achieving the Romantic overturn of the whole authoritarian construct.  My ideas on this, which run from the Romaunt of the Rose (along with the Plato-Dante sublimation of Eros, of course) to D. H. Lawrence and such things as Yeats’ perfect-fuck poem on Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, incorporates my conception of redeemable man as woman, Blake’s “lapsed Soul” as the original union of sexes, the difficulties caused by a “pure” or homosexual Jesus, and is probably the key chapter of the book—very likely the one there’ll be the most howls about. (Late Notebooks 2:573–4)

Anyway.  Eros Regained comes next, and that’s the sublimated Eros of Plato and Dante running into its gonatic opposite that eventually blows up the homosexual Christ with his mother and his beloved disciple, not as Lawrence tried to blow them up, because he was full of a lot of other crap, but as Blake did.  This is the full love that leads to wisdom because it’s the full individualizing of life, as in Yeats’s poem about the perfect fuck of Solomon [Solomon and the Witch]. (Late Notebooks 2:610)

Thanatos raises the old question of demonic analogy: here’s where my point about Jesus as a homosexual with a mother fixation goes. (The “Third Book” Notebooks, 142)

The natural way to think of the upper cycle is to think of a soul entering a body & then leaving it.  The Resurrection is of the spiritual body, the reverse movement of the Hermes descent to physical death.  The Eros ascent is rather the soul evaporating—the Greek heresy of the immortality of the soul which is in Plato & is adopted perforce by Dante.  Pound’s remark, a far more incisive one than Nietzsche’s, about the difference between those who thought fucking was good for the crops & those who thought it was bad for them, defines the contrast between the shy virginal Adonis, the women lamenting his virginity like Jephtha’s virginal daughter, Attis with his castrating priests, Jesus with his “touch me not” & his homosexual refinement—chaste, anyway—& his elusive ascension, are all in the upper sphere of the purified soul.  The syntax went off the rails: the contrast is with the improvement of sensual enjoyment. (The “Third Book” Notebooks, 229)

One of the fundamental musical patterns is the Orpheus-in-Hades one, the contrast of diatonic Apollo & chromatic Dionysus, Haydn’s representation of chaos & his cosmic chorus.  It’s often the chorus however that’s Dionysiac, & even more often the tempest figures, the basso buffo & the like, of Bach’s Aeolus cantata & Purcell’s Tempest.  In Bach’s Phoebus & Pan I greatly prefer Pan’s song to the pompous homosexual self-pityings of Phoebus, but we’re not supposed to.  Incidentally, somebody says of Gluck’s Che Tano aria that it would have done just as well for a reunion: an example of my point about the audience-as-gods perspective of opera. (The “Third Book” Notebooks, 12)

I suppose Christianity belongs primarily to the onward and upward group.  Its founder, apparently, was a homosexual with a beloved disciple and a mother fixation so intense that he even insisted that his mother was a virgin.  Or somebody did.  His point of introversion, the thing he kept dropping out of society to commune with, was his father, who of course couldn’t possibly have had an earthly or incarnate form.  Most of the points of retreat for pagan prophets were maternal—Diotima & Egeria & the Athene & Venus of the epics. (The “Third Book” Notebooks, 77)

Anyway, the mountain Satan piles up behind him as a result of his fall, an ironic Babel mountain, turns out to be the genuine Eros mountain.  Similarly, I wonder if I don’t get to some point, probably Genet, at which demonic parody becomes the perversion of perversion & so turns into a reflection of the genuine thing.  I’ve had a feeling–there may be nothing in it–that I have to go through a period of Pococurantism––Jesus was a homosexual with a mother-fixation so strong he even insisted his mother was a virgin; Plato saying that everybody’s stuck with ten thousand years except homosexual school teachers who get away with three thousand; Augustine, asked whether virgins sinned who got raped, saying no if they’re quite sure they got no fun out of it.  At some point there’s a blind world of whispering voices like a radio play. (The “Third Book” Notebooks, 119)

[The Genet reference is apparently to The Balcony (Le Balcon), trans. Bernard Frenchtman (New York: Grove Press, 1962).  In the play, customers in a brothel enact various role-playing fantasies, dressing up as those figures of conventional society whose roles have an archetypal glamour: bishop, judge, general, etc.  Such play-acting is supposed to be a “perversion,” yet when a revolution deposes the old order and forces the play-actors to take on their roles for real, everything goes on exactly as before, so that the roles are now the perversion of a perversion, the mirror-image of a mirror-image.  The implication is that the distinction between “reality” and “fantasy,” “normal” and “perverted” in social life is untenable.  Everything is a matter of role-playing and imagery, and the only distinction is that of context.  A discussion of the play is in The Modern Century, 84–5.]

The hero of FW [Finnegans Wake] is so obviously the reader that it really consolidates the third age of literature, the hero as warrior being followed by the hero as poet in Romanticism, and that in turn, with Oscar Wilde, shifts the heroic role to the reader.  (Joyce didn’t think much of Wilde, because, mainly, he had a prudish dislike for homosexuals, but Joyce almost never shows any critical ability.)  Everybody in FW is in a dream: the reader, “the ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia,” is the one person involved who’s never allowed to dream. (Northrop Frye’s Fiction and Miscellaneous Writings, 291)

The homosexual poems in the Greek Anthology are full of ploys about youth: better stick to me because I love you, and in a few years you’ll be getting hairs on your legs and will be out of the love market.  This recurs in Shakespeare’s beautiful-youth sequence, but I think it’s much rarer to talk of a female that way: the ploys are different even in the gather-ye-rosebuds-while-ye-may convention.  Wonder why.  Something to do with Eros as male child. (Northrop Frye’s Fiction and Miscellaneous Writings, 337)

I must expand the conception of dandyism as, essentially, a comic literary convention entering life around the second half of the 19th c.  The dandy develops out of the Cléante type of comic moral norm, detached from what is seen as a crowd of preoccupied attached obsessed people, all facing in the same direction.  The dandy is essentially conservative, because the facing-one-direction people make an assumption of progress, yet his impact is that of a devil’s advocate, reversing the melodramatic maxims in which society believes.  Apart from the French developments, Oscar Wilde popularized the attitude, the progenitor of which in England is really Matthew Arnold, both in his life & in his comedies.  An Ideal Husband has the dandy in one of his proper roles—that of gracioso-hero.  His attitude is comic-existential, puncturing the balloons of false idealism.  A Woman of No Importance has a far more brilliant dandy, but Wilde, partly through an effort to be “fair” to the other side, partly through a streak of masochism, & partly through sheer laziness, completely foozled the conclusion.  Anyway, the dandy attitude survives in the early (twenties) essays of Aldous Huxley, whose epigrams are mainly inverted clichés, in Yeats’ association of dandyism & heroism, in Lytton Strachey, & in the contemporary New Yorker—see its Knickerbocker figure and again the inverted melodrama clichés of its cartoons.  G.K. Chesterton is an anti-dandy; Shaw uses the dandy formula of course, but never puts much of himself behind it.  I think something of this might get into an essay on Samuel Butler, who isn’t a dandy, but uses one as a norm in WAF [The Way of All Flesh], & is in marked contrast to William Morris, who’s a tough little Cockney drudge, to use Carlyle’s opposite term.  Catholicism as an intellectual’s refuge has a lot to do with dandyism—Firbank, Waugh, etc.  The sexual fantasies of the dandy are masochistic, partly because of the strong homosexual lean of dandyism.  This has been there from its beginnings in chivalry & Courtly Love.  Its patron saint is of course the Van Dyke portrait of Charles I.  Most “longhairs” hanker for some kind of Jacobitism—in the U.S.A. it’s Confederacy.  The remarkably skilful use of dandyism by Eliot is a study in itself, especially in his criticism.  This is one of those instances in which life imitates literature. (Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, 264–5)

I don’t know how much of this I can get into a book, but note the impressive archetype of (deuteroserkism?) the orthodox Second Coming of a Bridegroom for a Bride, which in the last century bred the feeling (Nietzsche, Lawrence, Yeats, even Swinburne) that the figure of the Saviour & Redeemer of mankind as a male virgin with a strong mother fixation & a consequent homosexual lean (“beloved disciple” [John 20:2, 21:7, 20]) was incomplete & needed a more normally sexual counterpart. (Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, 248)

I don’t know what I intended to write here, but my views of what’s to be in this chapter are changing.  I think now of three chapters on archetypes, IV, V and VI.  IV, this one, follows the Orc chapter in FS: it’s about the hero’s quest, its cycle & its stages.  V then deals, like 8 in FS, with Beulah symbols; strictly with the dialectic of the emanation, fate in Ulro (ironic), object of nature in G [Generation] (mimetic), beloved (ranging from the ordinary fuckee to Beatrice) in Beulah and absorption with the Father in the apocalypse.  The last stages are from anima to counsellor, as in the lyric wheel, with the dialectic gradually clearing through a double perversion: first the Platonic one of homosexual love, second the Christian one of a virgin as the ultimately beloved.  Blake missed the first one.  VI, then, does what I ascribe to IV up to this paragraph. (Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, 319)

It would be harsh to say that Mr. Campbell has simply not bothered to write his book, but the reader determined to read about Occidental mythology has to pick things out in bits and pieces. Many of the bits and pieces are extremely good in themselves. There is a brief but clear account of Mithraism; some sensitive and astute remarks on the homosexual cult in Plato, with its resistance to “the female system of seriousness,” some interesting comments on solar and lunar symbolism in the Odyssey and in the mythologies of Northern Europe, some good passages on the smith-and-fire symbolism of the Celtic Iron Age, and many other things that one would like to see much further developed. Perhaps in the fourth and final volume they will be. (“The Critical Path” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 146)

Similarly, a woman scholar may become interested in a woman writer because of a point of contact in the specifically feminine problems of social relationship. Or a homosexual scholar may find his contact in the particular kind of sensibility that a homosexual writer often has, or a black scholar may find his in that of a black writer, and so on. Of course, it is barbaric to say that women writers can only be fully understood by women scholars, black writers by black scholars, Catholic writers by Catholic scholars. That breaks up the community of verbal imagination into a group of exclusive cliques. What I have suggested is simply a normal starting point: as a scholar gains maturity and experience, he can branch out where he likes, at any time. There may be only one such influence on a scholar or there may be a sequence of them; a scholar may remain under such an influence all his life, or may quickly dispense with all such influences. The above principle could also work in reverse: a Jewish scholar might get interested in a writer who showed anti-Semitic tendencies, and for serious reasons. However it operates, there is always a sense in which criticism is a form of autobiography, implicitly dedicated to a guru or spiritual preceptor, even if the guru is the Anonymous who wrote the great ballads, or a cultural composite like “Augustan” or “Romantic,” or a series of writers forming a psychological “tradition.” (“The Critical Path” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 395)

Then too, the prophetic aspect of the arts is reflected in the great difficulty that society has in absorbing its creative people.  The fierce persecution of so many of the best Russian writers by the Soviet bureaucracy comes readily to mind, and there are many parallels in the democracies.  At the same time, if the prophetic voice so frequently comes from the outsider, it follows that society’s most effective defence against prophecy is toleration.  The realization of this, in our society, has helped to create an almost obsessive preoccupation with the subcultures or countercultures of various minorities, blacks, chicanos, homosexuals, terrorists, drug addicts, occultists, yogis, criminals like the holy and blessed Genet14—wherever it may still be possible to make out a case for social hostility or discrimination.  (“The Secular Scripture” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 164)

The humanities in the university are supposed to be concerned with criticism and scholarship, not with creation as such. At the centre of literature lie the “classics,” the works that university teachers know they can respect, and the university student, qua student, is there to study them, not to write on his own. True, most writers of importance today are not only university graduates but university employees, at least in summer sessions. True, the untaught writer who sends a masterpiece to a publisher from out of nowhere is much more a figure of folklore than of actual literature. Still, the university does not try to foster the social conditions under which great literature can be produced. In the first place, we do not know what these conditions are; in the second place, we have no reason to suppose that they are good conditions. Just as doctors are busiest in an epidemic, so our dramatists and novelists may find their best subjects where decadence, brutality, or idiocy show human behaviour in its more fundamental patterns. Or the producer of literature himself may be a drunk, a homosexual, a Fascist, a philanderer; in short, he may want things that the university cannot guarantee to supply. (Northrop Frye’s Writings on Education, 78)

Many of my university friends are still in a stage I’m sure I’ve outgrown: a stage of violent attachment to art.  This begins in an assumption of the moral duty of self-expression, an egocentric notion, much more the last infirmity of noble mind than love of fame is, which I am gradually shaking off.  It’s connected too with a desire to perfect attachment by organizing the rhythms of attachment.  A woman, married, can live this way, but a man who undertakes it has really had it, as he has to unite the feats of male & female organization.  A man like Robert Finch must be very preoccupied with rhythms, & I don’t know why the strain hasn’t killed him!  Pure laziness helped me past that stage.  The life of Oscar Wilde seems to me an almost quixotically heroic saga of integrated rhythms, like John Milton’s father writing an In Nomine of 40 parts.  The homosexual streak in him was perhaps at bottom—his bottom, not his lover’s—a hermaphroditic one, a desire for completeness.  Whatever it was, calling him a pansy is like calling Mark Antony a pimp: true on one level of truth, but not a very interesting level.  (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, 63)

In VI bring in the point about Jesus as a refined homosexual celibate who had a beloved disciple, whose last words to a woman were “don’t touch me” [John 20:17], and who was so hung up on sexual intercourse & Oedipal trauma that he insisted that his mother was a virgin & his father not his real father.  Self-defensive attacks on Bulgars & the like try to cover this up, but it revives in the “pagan” Lawrence-Nietzsche-Yeats attacks. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, 174)

Ignatius: the notion of the Church as militant, a spiritual army, obsessed by obedience to superiors & the chain of command, and finding the secret of life in the willingness to die for the army (his desire for martyrdom is genuine: there’s no masochism in it).  The great enemy is Docetism, that the physical ordeal of Christ wasn’t real: the emphasis on sexual “purity” is part of the homosexual idea that the army represents.  Jesuits, & the Protestant bishops Latimer & Ridley.  Something here I haven’t got, & must think about. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, 256)

The Great Work is the production of the child, an act that not only unifies but reunites the parents.  “Our Perdita is found” [The Winter’s Tale, 5.3.121] is the formula that brings Hermione to life.  Cf. that Thracian folk play referred to at the beginning of Cornford’s book.  This is linked to the mother-bride progression and to the curious ambiguity about the real mistress of Christ, who keeps shifting from a “pure” homosexual mother-fixation to a shadowy veiled Bride.  Blake’s Ololon, vs. the “virgin Ololon,” is linked.  The sequence seems to be Father I (the bull-roarer), Father II, the sparrow-watcher, Son I, the Christ, Son II, the reader or (St. George) follower of Christ, Bride I (the Mother), Bride II (the Ewig-Weibliche), Spirit I & Spirit II, roughly Los & the awakened Albion.  Not quite right, that last.  The Father & Son stages summarize the Bible again, the Mother is Dante, the Bride Shakespearean romance, the first Spirit the second Faust.  Guesswork, but things are clearing.  The Magus figure is common to Shakespeare’s Tempest & to Faust: the homunculus is a parody of the child. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, 318–19)

In Milton’s Comus, Comus is an evil spirit who captures a virtuous lady and holds her immobile in a chair, then tries to seduce her.  His argument for seduction rests on the analogy with physical nature.  The animals, he says, don’t show the least self-consciousness or sense of sin about sexual intercourse: what’s holding you up?  And the lady tells him, in effect, that on her level of nature, chastity is what is natural to her.

On this basis, the question, What is natural to man? has a completely circular answer.  What is natural to man is natural on the level of human nature, and the level of human nature is what custom and authority have decided to be the level of human nature.  Homosexuality, for example, was often said to be condemned because it is unnatural: the animals don’t do it.  That is, it was asserted that the animals didn’t do it, and they didn’t examine animals very closely to see whether it was true or not.  But the argument doesn’t work on this upper level.  There, what is unnatural is what the voice of custom and authority has decreed to be unnatural.  There is nothing that you can define as inherently unnatural.  In the Reformation, many Protestants took the position that nothing was wrong unless the Bible forbade it.  And the Bible obligingly comes through with condemnations of most vices, but it forgets polygamy.  It never once condemns polygamy, or suggests that there’s anything wrong with that state of social organization.  As the voice of custom and authority was determined to have a monogamous society to keep the sexual instinct properly regulated, it had to fall back on a conception of natural law for that one thing.  But as I say, the argument is totally circular.  We don’t know what is natural to man as long as we are working on these two levels of nature.  What we have inherited since the eighteenth century, coming very largely from issues raised by Rousseau, is the question, Does this upper level of custom and authority represent the reality of human nature, or is it merely the facade which a structure of power has thrown up?  We’re still trying to figure out the answer to that one; but what I’m trying to get at is its origin: it is the shape of the Biblical myth that seems to imply that there are two levels of the natural. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, 536–7)

Postromanticism, an abstraction from the bourgeoisie, has nothing to do with millionaires or proletarians in themselves; they are not opposed to the bourgeoisie in the restricted sense of the middle class, but to the bourgeoisie in the larger sense of the whole of society, differentiated only by the accidental position of wealth.  Épater le bourgeois, however, is not political action; the cranks by their very nature are not an organized class.  So while many, like Baudelaire, deliberately cultivate a taste for homosexuality or something else objectionable enough to exasperate society, this political action is incorporated mainly in anarchism, which, like every other subversive approach, centres in France and descends from Proudhon to Sorel and syndicalism. (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 82–3)

Again, the sexual licence of the ritual orgies was shunned by the Yahwists as something dirty and disgusting both physically and morally.  Westermarck and Edward Carpenter have both shown that among many peoples this sexual licence and sacred prostitution is balanced by a tendency to set apart homosexuals for special offices such as the priesthood, and the extensive development of homosexuality among all people who have concentrated strongly on the purely reproductive aspect of normal intercourse is very frequent.  Moral delinquency, effeminacy, child sacrifice, whoredom, sodomy: this is a formidable indictment to bring against any religion, and the prophets of monotheism, from Elijah to Saint Paul, made the most of it. (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 132)

This last trait is amply revealed in the Orphic doctrine of election.  The development of the concept of original sin reached almost the point of Samuel Butler’s caricature of it in Erewhon with the Orphics.  The soul is indestructible and immortal, the body transient and corrupt.  The pure soul is a god: by purifying our soul we unite with the gods.  All living men are souls who have been compelled for some fault to become united to a body.  Hence, the body is the prison of the soul in a very literal sense: all our souls are convicts.  At the end of ten thousand years or thereabouts the soul has served its term, in various forms, and then returns to the other world, awaiting its final judgment.  According to Plato the only people who get their sentences shortened for good behaviour are virtuous philosophers and homosexual school teachers.  He says in the Phaedrus:

Those who have lived justly receive afterwards a better lot, those who have lived unjustly, a worse.  For to that same place from which each soul set out, it does not return for ten thousand years . . . unless it has belonged to a guileless lover of philosophy, or a philosophic lover of boys. [248e-249a; trans. J. Wright]

The soul must be a thing both uncreated and immortal. . . . All that is soul presides over all that is without soul, and patrols all heaven. . . . When it is perfect and fully feathered it roams in upper air, and regulates the entire universe; but the soul that has lost its feathers is carried down . . . and when it has settled there . . . the name of animal is given to the whole, to this compound, I mean, of soul and body, with the addition of the epithet mortal. . . . [246a‑c]

These get away with about three thousand years. (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 178-9)

Lewis is, of course, even more interested in the vulgarizing of art, for a precisely similar process goes on there.  Instead of the genuinely creative work of the rare and isolated genius, we find his techniques imitated by shrewd and clever craftsmen, who swarm together in schools, movements, tendencies, groups, and generally in what Lewis calls phalansteries.  These cliques, who are naturally on their guard to see that no real genius is given a hearing, vulgarize art into movements which become, like vulgarized science and philosophy, essentially political phenomena.  Lewis’s two novels are satires on these herd‑artists.  Tarr, its scene laid in the cultural underworld of Paris, is built around the antithetical figures of Tarr, the genuine artist, and Kreisler, the typical parasite and charlatan.  The Apes of God shifts the scene to London.  A Greek with homosexual tendencies, called Zagreus, leads a vacuous moron, Daniel Boylen, through a kind of katabasis is which he is exposed to all sides of this vast interlocking arty “public,” of the “bohemian” variety, of people with private incomes who make hobbies of art, music, literature, and revolutionary politics.  Lewis’s world is essentially that of Antic Hay and the biting London scenes of Women in Love.

The complete individualizing of society resulting from democracy, and the decay of great art, combine to provide the arty charlatan with one of his favourite shibboleths, épater le bourgeois.  Lewis makes the most of all the antimoral antics indulged in by what he calls the “revolutionary simpleton.”  There is the cultivation of homosexuality by those who have no special gift for it, but cherish it as something delightfully wicked.  There are the quixotic floutings of the taboos placed on sex by those who, in rebelling against convention, have not escaped from it.  The usual result of such revolts is merely a further preoccupation with sex.  There is the increased probing of abnormal states of mind in search of new thrills, which gives us the cult of the child, the affectation of naivety in Gertrude Stein’s prolonged babble, of the subnormal intelligence in the giants of Picasso and Epstein, of the neurotic in all the Freudian literature, and of the whole development of sadism and diabolism explored by Praz (whom Lewis claims as his disciple) in The Romantic Agony.  The entire movement, from Rousseau to D.H. Lawrence, is permeated with primitivism: the sentimental admiration, by a sterile and senile society, of the untamed, the unexplored, the uncultivated, the amorphous. (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 349)

The androgynous youth (cf. Venus in Spenser) is at the opposite pole from the union in one flesh celebrated in P.T.  But the relation of the poet & the youth isn’t overtly homosexual: 20 and 151, the only ribald ones, show that the poet is intended to have no overtly sexual feelings except for women, and to assume that the same would be true of the youth.  Cf. E.K.’s gloss to January.  Samuel Butler’s sardonic comment that the relation of Achilles & Patroclus in Homer is English, pure & free from all taint, and the relation in the sonnets Greek, is perhaps more clever than accurate.  Mann’s Death in Venice is closer to the real feeling. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Renaissance Literature, 365)

Part of the convention was that male friendships has a disinterested quality that made them morally superior to sexually-oriented love for women.  Shakespeare even represents himself as loving a beautiful youth even to the point of allowing the latter to steal his mistress (it’s not homosexual, we note:  neither man has any sexual interest except in women).  (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Renaissance Literature, 339–40)

I seem to have got off on an irrelevant track here, a line of thought connected with the sex war.  It is curious how closely the cult of the unfeminine male is connected with a protest against matriarchy.  Actually, heroism & dandyism are apt to go together, as how Cardigan charged into the mouth of hell & in corsets & rouge.  The only men who patronize beauty parlours & get permanent waves are professional hockey players: it’s people like me who are most careless of their bodies & least vain of their personal appearance, my hair being an accident.  Again, it’s sedentary & soft males who have the longest penises & the most appetite for the sex act: the athlete is much more easily celibate, & to the average sailor the tart he fucks is merely a different kind of public urinal.  His body has no affinity with percale sheets.  I am merely concerned to show here that the “tough guy” is not nearly so virile a type as a dandy who wept copiously on all occasions, used women very rarely, & was capable of great abstemiousness, might well be: it might be interesting to draw such a character.  A possible inference, that the homosexual hermaphrodite is the ripest flowering of human culture, has already been drawn by the 19th c. paradoxists.  (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Romance, 23-4)

No, William Morris, unattractive as he is in many ways, indicates the real path.  The antithetical element doesn’t necessarily project a leader or hero: what it does is recall the projection into an after-life.  Rebirth themes like those of D.H. Lawrence’s Man Who Died are equally projections.  The movement that goes against the Dove and the Virgin is, in the first place, pro-sexual.  It rejects the fussy homosexual streak in Jesus that made him team up with a male beloved disciple, say don’t touch me as his last words to a woman, and got him (or somebody) so hung up on sex that he insisted that his mother was a virgin and that his father wasn’t his father. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Romance, 187)

Butler is a creep, of course, like so many interesting writers: suppressed homosexuality may have been the root of his trouble.  His sonnets on Miss [E.M.A] Savage, who knocked herself out to fall in with his cranky notions, are beneath contempt, and his monotonous and unvarying Philistinism about everything in literature is depressing even for a satirist, because at least a satirist says something pointed about what he depreciates.  (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Romance, 339)

Rembrandt's David and Jonathan

Rembrandt's David and Jonathan

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7 thoughts on “Frye and Homosexuality, Cont’d

  1. Clayton Chrusch

    Thank you very much for this Bob. Not all of it was pleasant to read but the patterns and repetitions and ambiguities are fascinating.

    It is pretty clear throughout that Frye is working with theories of homosexuality that locate its cause in psychological and social factors. And yet his intellectual process is almost uniformly archetypal. What I mean by this is that he fixes on basic cultural sources for imagining homosexuality–the beloved disciple in John, pederasty in Plato, Freudian psychological theories, Wilde’s dandyism, the celibacy of Catholic priests–and tries to work out an imaginative unity out of them. And yet his repetition is a kind of failure. I think the key sentence in all of this is “Something here I haven’t got, & must think about.” Imaginatively, all his sources are dead ends and are not as compatible with each other as they might seem on the surface.

    His passage in _Words with Power_ quoted by Joe earlier in the thread seems to be a recognition of the lack of imaginative material about homosexuality, and a recognition of the possibility of an imaginative development starting from the seed of same-sex desire and gay sex, and working itself out in an uneasy but consistent analogy with heterosexual love. This was almost prophetic.

    To me, all of this suggests that Frye saw homosexuality as something to be included in the imaginative world, but, for most of his life, he didn’t see how to do it. I am grateful for his attempts. I expect he failed for so long because he lacked several necessary ingredients including the latter history of gay liberation and examples of same-sex marriage in literature and an in his personal life.

  2. Robert D. Denham

    I think you’re right, Clayton, about Frye’s lacking the necessary ingredients. His reading of gay writers and of the history of gay liberation, like his reading of women writers and even of American literature, was relatively slight. As for his experience with gays, there’s very little to go on. He makes a glancing reference in his letters to Helen about the “tame homosexuals” at Merton, and when he’s at the McPhee farm on the Saskatchewan mission field, he says that he bunks “with the hired man, a lumpish youth with a homosexual strain in him.” This lad, he later reports, “breezed in from a dance about three and commenced to sublimate his libido, so I braced one foot against his diaphragm and the other against his belly and straightened out my legs. He hit the floor on the other side—I had no idea he would travel so far—but was too sleepy to challenge my remark that he had fallen out of bed of his own accord.”

    Frye’s reading was wider than that of anyone else I know, and some of what he read may surprise us. Who would guess on the basis of his published work that there were 273 books on esoterica in his own library, 254 of which he annotated? But one can’t read everything, and I think we can be assured that the gaps in Frye’s reading were not the result of intolerance.

  3. Michael Happy

    There is a diary entry that I cannot find but which I vividly remember. In it, Frye expresses his impatience for intolerance toward homosexuality, adding that he doesn’t quite know how he’d account for his own affection for his male friends. He concludes by saying something to the effect that same sex love is no more a perversion than marriage is “legalized whoring.”

  4. Joe Adamson

    Yes, Michael, that is the passage I recall, but haven’t been able to find either. I will leave it to your considerable sleuthing skills to do so.

  5. Robert D. Denham

    It’s in the 1952 Diary, Jan. 2:

    I was looking at the Second Eclogue of Virgil today: the notorious Corydon-Alexis one that was enough to keep Coleridge slanging away at Virgil all his life. I have never myself felt any physical basis to my affectionate feelings for other men, but there must be one, and it seems to me as pointless to speak of all male love as buggery as it would be to speak of all marriage as legalized whoring. When Marlowe said that the beloved disciple was Christ’s Alexis, he wasn’t just being a bad boy: the sense of his remark is that Christ’s love, being human, must have had a substantial quality in it. I think—I’m just guessing—that our sentiment against the open physical expressions of love among men—embraces, for instance, and remarks about a boy’s shape—may have made “normal” male relationships needlessly abstract, and forced all the “abnormal” people to become a separate caste of fairies. However, I’m so strongly “normal” in emotion myself that I don’t really feel this.

    1. Joseph Adamson

      Yes, indeed, Aristophanes’ goofy little story, which is quite beautiful as a completely inclusive myth of love.


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