Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Little Rebranding


A small but telling change: We are no longer “A Weblog Dedicated to Northrop Frye” but “A Website Dedicated to Northrop Frye”.   The reason is simple.  With the journal now taking on content and the Denham Library in the capable and dedicated care of Clayton Chrusch and Jonathan Cox, we are more than just a “Weblog”.  We now possess a serious and growing permanent scholarly collection, and we will continue to add to it.

As to the blog portion of the site, we will continue to try to post daily on issues that are “Frye-related” in the broadest sense: that is, progressive and with an eye to the social context of the imagination.  We assume the engagement of Frye scholars in the big world beyond literary scholarship.  And no blog is an island.

ChatRoulette [Reposted]


ChatRoulette is the latest big thing on the Intertubes — it is to this online fashion season what Twitter was to the last one.  The ingenious little video above has only been up on YouTube for a week but already has almost 4 million views because it very sweetly captures the playful possibilities of encountering random strangers via your web cam.

You can try ChatRoulette for yourself here.

Developments on the Web are moving so quickly these days that we’ll try to update you regularly on sites of interest.  And please let us know if you’ve come across something you’d like to share.

Reposted: It is in the nature of the Internet that some things are transient: the original video has been taken down for “violation of use”.  Whatever.  But it has been reposted on another account — and we’ve linked to it.

Also, the wonderful Ben Folds did a tribute to the video the other night at a concert in North Carolina.  You can watch it after the jump.

Continue reading

TGIF: Jon Stewart Does Glenn Beck


I have already posted Jon Stewart this week, but last night he did a bit that has the blogosphere buzzing.  Here Jon channels Glenn Beck to eviscerate Glenn Beck.  The self-described “rodeo clown” should’ve known better.  Because of Jon Stewart, we can be thankful he didn’t.

In Canada, watch it here.  In the U.S. and the rest of the world, watch it here.

In case there’s any doubt about the relevance: it’s a reminder that progressives get to push back too, and that they are much better at enlightening satire than “conservatives” of the Fox News variety, who are self-satirizing at best.

Margaret Atwood: “Northrop Frye saved me from dying young and poor in a Paris garret!!”


Yes, tabloid headline writing turns out to be as exciting as it is easy — like jumping off the roof into the pool.

Here’s what Margaret Atwood actually had to say recently about Frye’s influence on her career as writer:

She decided to get a degree and teach English. After that, her plan was to run away to France, “become an absinthe drinker,” get tuberculosis and die young like Keats, having written works of staggering genius in a garret.

She was talked out of that, she said, by one of her professors, Northrop Frye, the famous literary theorist, who said, “Why don’t you go to graduate school? You would probably get more work done that way.”

He turned out to be right, she said.

Denham Library Update


I would like to let our readers know about the work going on behind the  scenes to improve and expand the Denham Library.

As some of you already know, the initial attempt to publish the text documents in the  library was plagued by formatting problems.  We are very fortunate that Jonathan Cox has offered us his time and considerable energy, and has been working hard,  along with me, to fix the formatting problems in the existing files and to ensure that new documents are in good condition before they are published. Bob Denham himself has gone through most of the existing files and enumerated the formatting issues making our task much easier.  Many of the problems have been fixed, but there is still much to do.

As Michael has reported, we recently published many images of Frye, and in the pipes are not only more documents, but books, Frye newsletters, and audio and video recordings.

Jonathan and I have been talking about the best way to ensure that this  material, along with all the content of the blog, is preserved for the ages.  I am in discussions with McMaster Library about the possibility of their hosting a file and web server that will have a three-fold purpose:

  1. To make file sharing easier among blog administrators,
  2. To make publishing files to the web easier,
  3. And to act as a permanent archive.

We are extremely fortunate to have access to all of this Frye-related material,  thanks largely to the extraordinary efforts of Bob Denham, and so we are taking seriously the pleasant and satisfying responsibility of ensuring that  it survives and remains publicly available long into the future.

Emily Dickinson and the Furnace Archetype


Frye liked to say that he intended his work to be treated as a source of isolated insights that might help others, even if one felt reluctant to swallow the rest whole. He was thinking of something as simple as assisting a reader or scholar in the business of practical criticism.

I just had the experience of that usefulness as I was working today on a reading of a poem by Emily Dickinson for today’s class. The poem is the famous “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?”

Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?
Then crouch within the door—
Red—is the Fire’s common tint—
But when the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame’s conditions,
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the light
Of unanointed Blaze.
Least Village has its Blacksmith
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs—within—
Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the Designated Light
Repudiate the Forge—

And here is the illuminating passage from Frye’s Words with Power:

The smith often represents a destructive force, as apparently in Zechariah 1:20. In this verse the AV reads “carpenters”: in Biblical Hebrew it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the worker in wood from the worker in metal except by the context. But just as there can be benevolent carpenters, like the New Testament Joseph and traditionally Jesus himself, so there can be creative smiths, like the forger of the new Jerusalem in Isaiah 54:16. This smith, who creates a new city glowing with gems and gold, represents perhaps the closest Biblical parallel to the symbolism of alchemy, and is the Biblical basis for Blake’s conception of his culture-hero, the blacksmith Los working with his furnaces.

The image of the furnace may be used for either the negative or positive aspects of the lower world. The negative or demonic world is the traditional hell which is a furnace of heat without light. The positive one is purgatorial, a crucible from which the redeemed emerge purified like metal in a smelting operation. Thus the Egypt from which Israel has been delivered is spoken of several times as a “furnace of iron,” and the purity of the spiritual body is sometimes symbolized by metal (Revelation 1:15). Images of refinement and purification in a furnace recur in connection with language (Psalm 12:6) as well as in the afflictions of life (Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 48:10). The best known of these purgatorial furnaces is the one constructed by Nebuchadnezzar for his attempted martyrdom of the three faithful Jews in the Book of Daniel. Their song in the Apocrypha is a highly concentrated praise to God for the beauty and glory of the original creation, which their purification in the furnace has evidently enabled them to see. Obviously, in this extension of furnace symbolism, we have modulated from the technological to the purgatorial, and the furnace has become the human body.

Dickinson was often focused on that moment called the transitus–the transition from this world to immortality or eternity–which she treated with awe. She  came to conceive of her life of passionate longing and loss as a crucible, which is also how she thought of her poetry: as a purgatorial process, a refining of the “impatient ores” of her intense emotional life into artistic form. Hence her persistent emphasis on the moment of transit when “the Designated Light/Repudiate the Forge.” She often thought of this process in Blakean terms: of preparing her ultimate“face” or “form” in the mirror of the human form divine.

Frye’s essay on Dickinson and his seminal essay “Charms and Riddles” are replete with startlingly useful insight about the literary conventions used by Dickinson, but this particular instance illustrates the way in which Frye’s “ear” for archetypes–in this case the biblical furnace archetype that is the focus of last chapter of Words with Power–is enormously helpful in unpacking the richest implications of the  imagery of a poem, implications that might otherwise elude us. Dickinson’s poem takes a simple New England blacksmith’s forge, which even the “least village” has, and makes it the most apposite analogy for the purgatory–as the poet conceived it–of human life and the perfecting of the human soul through poetry and art, awakening, if we have the ear for it, all the echoes and reverberations–in the Bible, in Dante, in Blake and Yeats’s Byzantium–that the conventions of a particular archetype, as Frye puts it in The Secular Scripture, “set up within our literary experience, like a shell that contains the sound of the sea.”