Daily Archives: February 22, 2010

Frye on Hockey


Gordie Howe and Denis Brodeur

Here’s Frye on pucks
For all Canucks
And others who like
Sports on ice.

Tim Horton knew
That Norrie flew
Around the rink
Not once but twice.

Watching a hockey game is not directly a spectator sport, because anyone interested enough in hockey to watch a game knows how the game is played, & through that knowledge can see much more of what is going on, with or without a commentator, than the players.  (CW 13, 95)

The difference between leisure and distraction or boredom is not so much in what one does as in the mental attitudes toward it.  It’s easiest to see this if we take extreme examples.  Our television sets and highways are crowded on weekends with people who are not looking for leisure but are running away from it.  Leisure goes to a hockey game to see a game: distraction or boredom goes to see one team trample the other into the ice.  (CW 10, 224)

Wherever we turn in this problem, we keep falling over the word “education”: but if education means trying to get people to stop going to hockey games and go to discussion groups on great books instead, education isn’t going to help much either. (ibid., 225)

We get bored because we feel that something is missing inside ourselves.  We look outside ourselves for the missing place, either aggressively, by trying to bully somebody, or by trying to forget about ourselves by throwing ourselves into some kind of illusion.  For this state of mind, illusion is a lot better than reality.  Far better to go into squealing hysterics over a rock‑and-roll singer than over a dictator: far better to fight the Russians in a hockey game than on a battlefield.  But illusion can’t fool everybody all the time.  Some people, sooner or later, have to wake up and look for the missing piece inside themselves. (ibid., 225)

The television camera, being essentially an extension of one person’s eyes, peers, squints, and pries; it is looking for a single visual focus.  The focus is “where it’s at,” and television has a great deal to do with the obsession of the last few years with this phrase.  If we ask what television does best in extending the individual’s visual range, it seems clear that it is particularly good at, for example, football and hockey games.  These are, as I suggested earlier, different from baseball in that they are specifically “where it’s at” games, where it’s at being usually where the ball or puck is.  Focussing on the ball or puck also clarifies the pattern of opposition in the game being played: that is, it illustrates the strategy of one team confronting another.  The result is that television tends to report everything as though it were some kind of football or hockey game, and the vogue for “confrontation” and polarized issues is a major social feature of society’s effort to absorb the television way of seeing.  (ibid., 296)

I wish the makers of such films would realize that no event has any meaning without its visual context and without its historical context.  This program was what André would call incestuous: it was begotten, born, and bred of the television medium.  It looks dead now, for the same reason that no one wants to hear about last year’s football games.  The assumption throughout was that a person’s “real” character is the one he would demonstrate on one side or the other of a polarized issue, and this assumption is preposterous.  The confrontation issue, including football and hockey games, is a form of social ritual.  (ibid., 298)

Continue reading

Frye and the Honour Course


In response to Joe Adamson’s post:

Frye’s earliest defense of the Honour Course is in a piece he wrote for Acta Victoriana at the end of his fourth year at Victoria College:  “The Pass Course: A Polemic.”  There he argues that one of the virtues of the Honour Course is that “the subjects are all grouped around a restricted and clearly defined area of knowledge” (CW 7, 38).  In his “Response to the Macpherson Report,” which is posted in the blog’s Library, Frye wrote “The Honour course represents a unique contribution to undergraduate teaching on the continent, and at its best it affords as good an undergraduate training as can be got anywhere.”  This was a judgment he continued to defend, repeating it, for example, in a 1973 letter to Martha England (Selected Letters, 151) and elsewhere.  Otherwise:

The General Course in arts assumes that an integrated curriculum, even in so specialized a world as ours, is, up to a point, possible at the university level. The Honour Course, on the other hand, is based on the assumption than any genuine discipline can be used as a centre of knowledge, the radius of expansion from the centre being the student’s responsibility. Either assumption is justifiable, but that of the Honour Course is perhaps closer to this age of intellectual pluralism. (“The Critical Discipline,” CW 7, 113)

I have been accused, if that is the word, of defending the Honour Course whenever I get a chance, and this is one more chance. I remain obstinately of the opinion that the Honour Course, with all its rigidity and built-in administrative absurdities, gave the best undergraduate training available on the North American continent, and the best teacher training for the instructor as well. (“The Beginning of the Word,” CW 7, 540)

Other of Frye’s judgments about the Honour Course can be found by following the entries in the index to Northrop Frye’s Writings on Education (CW 7).

Here’s the way Mary Culley described the Honours course in English during the early 1950s:

The Honours Course in English Language and Literature was arranged sequentially.  In the first year we started out with Anglo‑Saxon up to the Middle Ages (Chaucer, Malory, the miracle plays); second year, the Elizabethan Age (Shakespeare, the Reformation, Milton); third year, the Age of Reason, the classicists, early Romanticism; fourth year, later Romantics, the Victorian Age, and early twentieth century.  In each time period we took three or four English courses––novels, drama, poetry, essays, plus parallel courses of the same period from Honours History, Honours Philosophy, and Honours French (or another language).  Marvellous.  (Letter of 7 June 1994)

One of the attractions of the Honour Course for Frye was this notion of parallel courses, so that while students were studying medieval literature during their first year, they would be studying medieval history and medieval philosophy at the same time.

Quote of the Day


Ian Brown, The Globe and Mail, 22 February 2010:

“I personally think that the energy here is as good as the arena,” a tall guy named Derek said. He was standing up at the bar with a pal named Dave. Dave was shorter. They knew hockey the way Northrop Frye knew the Bible. “I don’t know if we’re gonna win the gold,” Dave said. “Russia has the best team in the World Cup, Sweden won the last hockey Olympic gold.” They were analyzing training patterns, age, everything. They could easily have been a part of the Canada Line hockey symposium. Still, he thought we’d be in the final.

Religious Knowledge, Lecture 17


“…a blend of the tragic, comic and satiric”

Lecture 17. February 10, 1948

To understand Job, you must see that the book is a blend of tragic, comic and satiric.  All great drama is a blend of these three.  The satiric tone is a blend of the moral and the humorous.  Pure humor is not satire; pure denunciation is not satire.

Satire is a detachment from evil; it brings out its wrongness and ridiculousness.  You can’t find anything more detached from evil than God; therefore, there are some aspects of the sardonic in God, or the gods.  This is inescapable in any serious religion.  Wrath is the reaction of good when confronted with evil, and wrath is the opposite of irritation.  God is incapable of irritation, which is a personal egocentric thing which desires to triumph over and score off someone.  Wrath is impersonal, detached.

God speaks in the tones of the wrath of the sardonic.  Yet these tones are different from Job’s friends who approach him with elaborate friendliness and politeness.  They talk in vague, general terms about the goodness of good and the badness of evil.

Then their approach sharpens; the reproaches come clearer to a point of open antagonism.  They are trying to hint that Job had better “‘get right” with God.  They are trying to interpret their own sense of the wrath of God, of man in an evil state.  But Job insists that he’s done nothing wrong.  The friends become irritated; they want to score him off.  Job tries to score them off, too.  All agree there must be some justice somewhere.  Only Job’s wife suggests something else: curse God and die.  At the end, God curiously enough seems of the same opinion.  Man searches for a God equal to him.  God feels the same way; he wants a man equal to him.

The dialogue breaks down into a deadlock.  If Job has done nothing wrong, then nothing makes sense.  His friends are pious Jews thinking in terms of the Hebrew law, the best of the Pharisaic mind that Jesus condemns.  They try to interpret God’s design in terms of the law.  Job comes to the discovery that rain falls on the just and unjust alike; the sun shines upon evil and good alike.

Job, his three friends, and Elihu are all under the same cloud.  The breakdown point is that there is no revelation of God to Man.  All seems to be mystery. The collapse is tragedy and satire, not comedy.

Tragedy and satire are inseparable.  There is an ironic kernel in all Shakespeare tragedies.  Hamlet’s death is a tragedy, yet it takes place after a muddled attempt at revenge.  Horatio must tell that Hamlet has been a damn fool.  In Othello’s last speech he is trying to cheer himself up and rescue some fragment of dignity.  It is not that he realized what a fool he has been, but what a fool he is.  In Antony and Cleopatra, the Antony who held the stage in Julius Caesar, the demagogue, in this play is crowded right off the stage by Cleo.  She has him killed off in Act IV and has the fifth act to herself.  She puts on a good show, but the irony is that it is a good show.  Octavius comes in at the end of her show and says, “Oh yes, I heard she was doing some research on a painless way to die.”   The hanging of Cordelia, in Lear, blasts any theory that there is a moral order in tragedy.

The point of tragedy is not punishment, but that the hero fell, whether he deserved it or not. That is the irony.

The author of the Book of Job is not trying to clear God’s name, as Milton was.  There is no self-defensive, aggressive tone as in Milton’s God.  At the end, God speaks with what seems colossal impudence. He feels he has a right to condemn Job, in a sense, for feeling that he is righteous in his own eyes.  The reader has the curious feeling that God has done something wrong, in view of the prologue.

Continue reading