Frye Fest Day 4!


Yesterday at 4pm I introduced Beth Powning, novelist, and Robert Moore, poet, and then, with about 40 others, enjoyed a lively and intimate conversation.  What sticks with me is their discussion of the false starts that each of them took in their writing career.  Beth, when she first moved to Canada from the U.S., tried writing short stories and, as she said, almost killed herself in the process.  Slowly she found her way, with a book of photographs accompanied by text, and several other kinds of writing, including a memoir Shadow Child, until she came into her own as a novelist.  Robert spent ten years writing plays until he realized he didn’t have the talent to create plots and his plays were all intended to set his characters up to speak poetically.  After the conversation 8 of us, including Beth and Robert and their spouses, went out to dinner.  Most pleasant.

At noon yesterday Guy Gavriel Kay was guest speaker at the YMCA literacy luncheon; I wasn’t there, but I heard he was brilliant.  He gave an extemporaneous speech that connected directly to the many literacy volunteers present.  I had heard him Tuesday evening, in conversation, and found him to be brilliant and witty, especially on the subject of science fiction and fantasy being genres separate and stigmatized.  There are two generations now, he said, of readers and writers for whom the stigma and the separation no longer apply.  He was heard to say that he would’ve liked to stay longer at the festival.

At noon I was at the ‘Frye Symposium’ roundtable on “Voyaging into the Unknown in Folk Tales and in Dreams.”  The four panelist (3 storytellers and folklorists, and 1 Jungian scholar and analyst) all focused on the forest as the image of the unknown where magical, unusual, transformative things happen.  Craig Stephenson talked about this in terms of Frye’s idea that “the fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.”  This vision, this transformation, this reaching for the golden dawn, only comes through the experience of loss, descent, ashes.  For all four panelists the key moment is the moment when the individual finds herself lost in the forest.  The storytellers all love this moment, because it gives them freedom to take the story off the beaten path.  In this context, then, it was instructive for a member of the audience to rise and quote Frye, to the effect that the one great story, enclosing all others, is the story of loss of identity and recovery of identity, in the form of resurrection, golden age, etc.

At 8 pm Craig Stephenson presented his talk “Reading Frye Reading Jung,” which Paul Curtis, our most enthusiastic and knowledgeable Frye advocate here, described as “magisterial.”  I will give some extended excerpts below, though I understand that Craig plans to give a very similar talk several places in Europe, including Zurich, before posting the entire paper on the festival website and on the Frye blog.  So I hope what I give below is not excessive in Craig’s eyes.  Reading from Frye’s 1942-1955 Diaries (volume 8 of the Collected Works) and from Frye’s reviews of Jung’s works, Craig first shows Frye reading Jung and notes the great influence that Jung had, as Bob Denham, Michael Dolzani, and others have also remarked.  Then Craig ‘reads’ Frye as Frye distances himself from Jung, and he (Craig) asks, What happened?  Why did Frye distance himself from Jung?  Why did he feel he had to?  Craig suggests that what was happening was something that Frye found almost impossible to articulate, beginning with the damn Blake-Jung paper that never got written.  From the diaries: “Thursday, March 3, 1949: I think there’s a jinx on my Blake and Jung paper, also on the damn course.”  Craig’s was a fascinating reading of the relation between the 2 great thinkers (genuises, possessed by daimons), and I hope it will soon appear in its entirety.  (Someone suggested we might ask Bob where best to get it published eventually.)

Today’s events are starting soon, so I’d better stop.  A roundtable at noon on “Stories, and What They Do.”  Bookclub at 2 with Steven Galloway.  Interview at 5 with Noah Richler and Jean Fugere.  Dinner at 6 with Annabel Lyon and friends.  Soirée Frye at 8, with readings, music, and awards to young people who entered a writing contest.  Night Howl at 10, where we do just that, with invited poets.

So, here are a few excerpts from Craig Stephenson’s talk:

Earlier in 1949, Frye read Jung’s Psychological Types, and his diary seems to record him identifying enthusiastically with Jung’s argument about dreams, identifying himself as individuating, as living out Jung’s psychological process of individuation. Almost paraphrasing Jung, Frye distinguishes between Freudian sex-dreams or Adlerian power-dreams which indicate unconscious regressive tendencies, and other dreams which work differently, which seem to center the personality with images of self. He writes:

Tuesday, January 4, 1949: Everyone admits that the dream comments on the previous day, & everyone knows that the problems of that day are sometimes solved by sleep alone. Does not this imply that the dreaming consciousness rearranges material from waking consciousness in a wish-fulfilment form, & that this material, now dramatized, is assimilated to the archetypes below it, from whence it reemerges to consciousness? This would explain how dreams hook themselves onto the key experiences of childhood, as I’m convinced that impressions taken in the first few years of life recreate for the individual all the primary archetypes.Thus the dream assimilates the haphazard and involuntary experiences of waking life, the becoming world, into the archetypal world of being where everything is a wish-fulfilment comedy. Each dream is a personal episode of a universal comedy of the human collective unconscious, a drama broken off from the one great epic. If the individual is not progressing, then his dreams will be Freudian sex-dreams or Adlerian power-dreams, concerned only with an antithesis between reality and desire. These fall into the childhood archetypes & reemerge autonomously in life: the whole process is involuntary, sterile, & regressive – or rather, it follows the organic curve of life, & becomes regressive from 35 on, in the dismal poverty of ideas one sees in age. If he is progressing, his individuality, Jung’s self, takes form at the centre of the wheel, instead of being one of the foci of an ellipse, the other being a point in the dark. (8, p. 61)


So when Frye characterizes Freudian and Adlerian dreams as regressive, he’s very explicitly identifying himself with Jung’s psychology and with Jung’s perspective in Psychological Types. Frye makes this even more explicit in an entry he writes on Saturday, July 8, 1950:

The rush of adolescent memories continues: I’m just at the “change of life” period in Jung’s psychology, I suppose. They now take the form of wishing I’d spent my youth practising writing fiction; it’s silly, of course, but it’s part of a general recognition of the damage I did my future life in my earlier years. A certain amount of daydreaming is normal, I suppose, but I daydreamed to excess, and hesitated to start any real work on fulfilling my ambitions because I was so afraid my first efforts wouldn’t show true genius. I worried a lot about genius. I think too that my present excess of embarrassment over various failures to achieve perfect life rhythm in social behaviour is largely due to an exaggerated picture of myself built up in reverie during adolescence. I suppose that repentance… consists first of all in determining the conditions under which your life must henceforth operate. The irrelevant emotion of regret thereby built up is remorse. (8, p. 401)

Here Frye is mapping his life in terms of Jung’s stages of development, contrasting a dreamy adolescent first half of life with a socially awkward adulthood shadowed by limitation and regret. He’s also being very hard on himself. Jung described the first half of life more compassionately as the attempt by the young adult to reconcile desire and reality often by compromising with family and society, by throwing one’s lot with a dominant or superior function of the personality rather than experiencing consciously all the contradictions of the whole personality, and so muscling forward with what appears to have worked best in adolescence in order to make one’s way out into the world. Of course, Jung does says that in the second half of life, there’s often hell to pay from the rest of the personality for this psychological one-sidedness. And sure enough, Frye seems to have identified with this and is writing from within just such a blue funk of second-stage remorse.


Four years later, in 1954, Frye writes a very long review, entitled ‘Forming Fours’, in which he declares the importance of Jung’s work. First, he describes Jung’s concept of individuation as shifting psychotherapeutic treatment out of a medical analogy of diagnosis, treatment and cure, into something more akin to creating a therapeutic alliance with the biological and teleological forces of the personality, forces that push the personality towards its own peculiar maturity. That is to say, he  affirms  here the way Jung is practising psychotherapy. He goes on to say that Jung’s notion of individuation includes a collective component; he writes, ‘the dreams and fantasies of the individual should not be interpreted solely in relation to his personal life; they are also individual manifestations of a mythopoeic activity found in everyone.’ This movingly suggest that the suffering experienced by an individual has a collective meaning, that the healing of an individual carries import for a society. Frye is a little worried about Jung’s attitude toward Christian doctrine (he sniffs a negative complex at work – which indeed was the case – Jung’s father was a Protestant preacher who suffered a crisis of faith and died in middle age), and he’s even more suspicious about possible charges circulating of anti-Semitism in Jung’s references to racial psychologies. Still, what intrigues Frye is that while Jung’s work of collecting images of a single dream type ‘may be largely meaningless to most therapeutic psychologists, [it] places [his work] squarely within the orbit of literary criticism”; Frye writes, “Jung seems to be leading Freud’s great discoveries in the direction of a first hand study of literature, whereas Freudian criticism itself, even Freud’s brilliant essay on Leonardo, tends to take us away from the works of art into the biography of the artist.”

And only now in his review does Frye come to Jung’s new book, entitled Psychology and Alchemy. He’s a bit hard on Jung, saying that Jung is wrong to claim that historically alchemy was heretical or that alchemy carried shadowy projections of ‘bad taste’ for Christian orthodoxy. More important, Frye says that what Jung charts in alchemy and maps out in the romantic argument of the individuation process, he could just as easily have found in biblical typology. The problem was that Jung was too influenced and mislead by the idiocyncracies of Goethe who in his treatment of symbolism is ‘brilliant, varied and ingenious’, whereas Dante, Spenser and Blake are ‘scholarly’. Frye’s use of the term ‘scholarly’ is intriguing, since in many ways, Goethe’s is precisely that – learned, but ultimately unbelieving (personal correspondence, Paul Bishop, 28/03/2010). Still, the review closes with a generous and excited concluding sentence: “We can see that Jung’s book is not a mere specious paralleling of a defunct science and one of several Viennese schools of psychology, but a grammar of literary symbolism which for all serious students of literature is as important as it is endlessly fascinating”.

And now we arrive at a kind of turning point in reading Frye reading Jung. Frye begins to distance himself from Jung: not because a Jungian interpretation reduces literature to biography – as he pointed it, it doesn’t; not because animas, shadows and wise old men and crones are essentialist – Frye knows how to refute a post-modernist objection to archetypal images. Outwardly he distances himself from the Jung who is being read as anti-Semitic, although Professor Thomas Willard has described how he corrected Frye in this regard, and Frye said “Then I have no problem with Jung” (See “Archetypes of the Imagination”, in The Legacy of Northrop Frye).

So what happened?

Just in case you may think this is a question coming from a grumpy Jungian fundamentalist, let me quote a letter from Professor Robert Denham, who edited the diaries (and many other volumes of the collected works): “Like you, I’ve been fascinated by the Frye-Jung connections for some time. Frye always wanted to distance himself from Jung, I think, but he was much more influenced by Jung than he let on” (Denham, personal correspondence, 16/08/2001). Also Professor Michael Dolzani writes in his introduction to the Romance Notebooks: “Possibly the most significant figure in this area is C. G. Jung, whose influence on Frye was greater than he was willing to admit. Frye objected to Jung’s deification of the void, and to his reduction of all symbolism to an allegory of the psychological process of individuation. But he also speaks of ‘the articulation of symbolism in modern thought, which begins in Jung’ (NB 32.79)… and he says that ‘Jung is the most comprehensive guide to the romance, and the romance is the clearest illustration of his archetypes‘ (NB 32.79)”. And Professor Thomas Willard writes: ‘It seems likely that Frye’s legacy as an archetypal critic will remain linked with Jung’s. If anything, they will probably get linked more closely” (See “Archetypes of the Imagination”).

So what did happen?

I would like to propose a hypothesis.  Frye was interested in Jung’s psychological typology.

(End of excerpts from Craig’s talk.)

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