Daily Archives: May 8, 2010

Frye on Reagan, the Pope, and the Illusion of Television


Further to the previous post, here is some cultural studies avant la lettre: Frye on Reagan, the Pope, and “the prison of television.”

[282] Television brings a theatricalizing of the social contract. Reagan may be a cipher as President, but as an actor acting the role of a decisive President in a Grade B movie he’s I suppose acceptable to people who think life is a Grade B movie. The Pope, whose background is also partly theatrical, is on a higher level but the general principle still holds. It goes with reaction, identifying the reality with the facade. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, just for once, it could be true that Father knows best? Emotional debauch of father-figuring.  (Notebook 27)

[492] American civilization has to de-theatricalize itself, I think, from the prison of television. They can’t understand themselves why they admire Reagan and would vote for him again, and yet know that he’s a silly old man with no understanding even of his own policies. They’re really in that Platonic position of staring at the shadows on the wall of a cave. The Pope, again, is another old fool greatly admired because he’s an ex-actor who looks like a holy old man.

[493] Watching a television panel of journalistic experts discussing the (Bush-Dukakis) election, it seemed to me Plato’s cave again and Plato’s eikasia, or illusion at two removes–show business about show business. All one needs to know about such horseshit is how to circumvent whatever power it has. I’m trying to dredge up something more complex and far-reaching than just the cliché that elections today are decided by images rather than issues–they always were. It’s really an aspect of the icon-idol issue: imagination is the faculty of participation in society, but it should remain in charge, not passively responding to what’s in front of it. Where does idolatry go in my argument? End of Three?  (Notebook 44)

[85] Why do Americans continue to cherish Reagan, including millions of Americans who know he’s an ass? I think they’re bored by their own indifference to the world, but can only focus their minds on a boob-tube leader.  (Notebook 50)

Oswald Spengler

Bild 183-R06610

On this date Oswald Spengler died (1880 – 1936).

Frye’s “Spengler Revisted” can be found here.

Frye in one of the late notebooks:

Spengler: I never did buy his “decline” thesis, which I realized from the beginning was Teutonic horseshit, closely related to the Nazi hatred for all forms of human culture.  (Well, not just Nazi; Stalin had just as much of it.)  No, as I’ve said, what struck me was, first, the sense of the interpenetration of historical phenomena, a conception of history in which every phenomenon symbolizes every other phenomenon.

Along with that came the conception of a culture in which works of culture show a progressively aging process.  You have pure tradition in primitive societies, where conventions just repeat over and over, and you have a culture in which tradition accruse a self-consciousness in regard to itself, so that it must be where it is: i.e. Beethoven could only have come between Mozart and Wagner.  This growth of self-awareness in tradition is recapitulated in the life of the poet or artist, which gives biography a genuine function in criticism. (CW, 6, 649)