Daily Archives: March 30, 2010

Michael Dolzani: “The View from the Northern Farm”


Michael Dolzani’s 2004 talk to the Frye Festival, “The View From the Northern Farm: Northrop Frye and Nature”, is now posted in the Frye Festival archive in the journal.  You can link to it directly here.

A sample:

My title is inspired, if that is the word, from the fact that the name “Northrop” apparently means “northern farm.”  In fact, the name-book whence the information derives lists Northrop Frye as the most famous instance of the name.  When I first learned of this, I thought it was a bit ironic.  Northrop Frye’s sensibility is urban; he belongs to Moncton and Toronto, and does not have much to do with farms.  He is, however, northern, and the etymology got itself linked in my mind with the lyrics to a song called “Farmhouse,” from an album of the same title by the rock group Phish.  In the song, the speaker begins by saying, “Welcome, this is a farmhouse.”  But he quickly goes on to apologize that “We have cluster-flies, alas / And this time of year is bad. / We are so very sorry, / There is little we can do / But swat them.”  The failure of nature seems linked to the failure of human relationships, and the failure of relationships in turn to the failure of community, as the speaker drifts from alluding to a lover who walked out on him to the observation that “Each betrayal begins with trust, / Every man returns to dust.”  Then, unexpectedly, an anthem-like refrain erupts with a complete reversal of the meaning of this melancholic farmhouse:  “I never saw the stars so bright, / In the farmhouse things will be all right.”  This reversal, or, to use Frye’s term, recreation of the vision of inhospitable nature and selfish human nature is the subject of my talk.  The direction of the reversal is from a “realistic” perspective allied with both common sense and scientific materialism to what Shakespeare in Twelfth Night calls “A natural perspective, that is and is not.”  The latter is the perspective that we call imaginative and spiritual.  It both is and is not because it begins as a fiction, and yet, unlike mere wish-fulfillment fantasies, has the potential to transform what the poet Wallace Stevens called “things as they are.” The fact that Frye, like Stevens, with various qualifications, grants authority to both perspectives gives him the title of his last book, The Double Vision.

Phish’s “Farmhouse” after the jump.

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Frye Alert


A reader’s response to a Frank Rich editorial, “The Rage Is Not about Health Care,” in the New York Times cites Frye on the hero:

The fact that the McConnells, Boehners, Cantors, and even McCains fear the wrath of unhinged, racist, screaming Teabaggers is the clearest indication possible that none of them are leaders. They are sheep. Abject figures who might be pitied for their impotence if they were not positioned to affect the direction of this country so negatively.

Literary critic Northrop Frye described the true leader as a hero, one who stands apart from the crowd, whose power stems from being able to adopt a position from strength rather than from weakness. Does this description call to mind anyone from the Republican party?

Historian and philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in his essay “From Hope and Fear Set Free” outlines the features that distinguish a rational person from an unfree, fearful person. Berlin states that the rational man is one who can act freely, not mechanically, who acts upon sound motives. The fearful man “is like someone who is drugged or hypnotised.”

Do the current crop of Republican “heroes” sound like either of these archetypes? Of course, it’s the second. They who foment fear are themselves fearful. They who are bound by ideological chains are barely able to see clearly. They who stand, not apart from the mob, in a position of strength, but hiding from it, in a fetal position of fear, cannot lead. They can only cower and whine and threaten.

There are no leaders on the right. They are led to the brink, like Lord Franklin’s doomed expedition, by addled fanatics like Limbaugh and Beck, and inanities like Palin; dragging down everyone with them, insisting that their weakness of mental acuity be recognized as some kind of sign that they are not “intellectuals” or socialists.

This country needs the balance of at least two functioning parties, both of which have leaders ready to stand up for the best America has to offer and to point her in the right direction. Unfortunately, we have only one rational party.

And if the above descriptions don’t fit any Republicans, they do seem to fit at least one Democrat.

That gentleman in the Oval Office.

Milton Acorn


Today is also “the people’s poet” Milton Acorn‘s birthday (1923 – 1986).

Here’s Acorn on Frye in what is arguably a Menippean satire, “On Not Being Banned By Nazis…” in More Poems for People:

After all, the fascist poet, Ezra Pound,

Who continues to pass off his preposterous

common and dull Cantos as very profound, also condemned

Academics. The fast-rising patriotic poet

Robin Mathews is a professor.  Pound was not.

Obviously, when I was saying academics, I meant some-

thing else.

I now realize that what I meant was “Imperial

Academics” – such as Northrop Frye, who in the past did

more than any other man to abolish everything native

and non-European in our literature.

Filmed interviews with Al Purdy and Milton Acorn on poetry and socialism after the jump.

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Paul Verlaine


Portrait of Paul Verlaine by Gustave Courbet

Today is Paul Verlaine‘s birthday (1844 – 1896).  We hate to chuckle at his expense on today of all days, but this entry from Frye’s 1942 diary is too good to pass up:

About this Rimbaud-Verlaine idea: I’d have to make something more exciting out of Verlaine than he actually was.  I get fed up with those people who act like bad little boys & finally collapse into the bosom of Mother Church, with a big floppy teat in each ear, and spend the rest of the time bragging about what bad little boys they used to be and how pneumatic the bliss is.  Rimbaud stayed tough. (Diaries, 18)