Frye’s 100 Chapter Book


Several weeks back Michael Happy asked me if it would be possible to reconstruct a three‑dimensional diagram of Frye’s Great Doodle, the intricate and grand schematic of the alphabet of forms that figured so importantly in his design for his aborted “third book.”  I replied that I didn’t think so because it would be too complex.  What is the Great Doodle?

Frye writes at one point that he’s not revealing what the Great Doodle is because he does not really know (CW 23, 76–77), but his frequent references to it reveal that it is primarily his symbolic shorthand for the monomyth.  Originally he conceived of the Great Doodle as “the cyclical quest of the hero” (CW 9, 214) or “the underlying form of all epics” (CW 9, 241).  But as he began to move away from strictly literary terms toward both religious language and the language of Greek myth and philosophy, another pattern developed, one with an east-west axis of Nous-Nomos and a north-south axis of Logos-Thanatos.  At this point the Great Doodle took on an added significance, becoming a symbolic shorthand for what he called the narrative form of the Logos vision: “the circular journey of the Logos from Father to Spirit” (CW 9, 260) or “the total cyclical journey of the incarnate Logos” (CW 9, 201).  But the Great Doodle is never merely a cycle.  Its shape requires also the vertical axis mundi and the horizontal axis separating the world of innocence and experience.  These axes, with their numerous variations, produce the four quadrants that are omnipresent in Frye’s diagrammatic way of thinking.  In Notebook 7 he refers to the quadrants as part of the Lesser Doodle (CW 23, 76), meaning only that the quadrants themselves are insufficient to establish the larger geometric design of the Great Doodle.

But the Great Doodle has still further elaborations.  In the extensive notes he made for his Norton Lectures at Harvard (The Secular Scripture) Frye remarks self-referentially that in book 14 of Longfellow’s Hiawatha the heroine “invents picture-writing, including the Great Doodle of Frye’s celebrated masterpieces.”  The reference is to Hiawatha’s painting on birch bark a series of symbolic and mystic images: the egg of the Great Spirit, the serpent of the Spirit of Evil, the circle of life and death, the straight line of the earth, and other ancestral totems in the great chain of being. Frye elaborates his Great Doodle in a similar way, the Hiawathan “shapes and figures” becoming for him points of epiphany at the circumference of the circle––what he twice refers to as beads on a string (CW 9, 241, 245).  The beads are various topoi and loci along the circumferential string. They can be seen as stations where the questing hero stops in his journey or as the cardinal points of a circle.  Frye even overlays one form of the Logos diagram with the eight trigrams of the I Ching, saying that they “can be connected with my Great Doodle” (CW 9, 209), and one version of the Great Doodle recapitulates what he refers to throughout his notebooks as “the Revelation diagram,” the intricately designed chart that he passed out in his course “Symbolism in the Bible.”

The Great Doodle, then, is a representation, though a hypothetical one, that contains the large schematic patterns in Frye’s memory theater: the cyclical quest with its quadrants, cardinal points, and epiphanic sites; and the vertical ascent and descent movements along the chain of being or the axis mundi.  It contains as well all the lesser doodles that Frye creates to represent the diagrammatic structure of myth and metaphor and that he frames in the geometric language of gyre and vortex, center and circumference.  (See Michael Dolzani’s exposition of the Great Doodle in his introduction to The “Third Book” Notebooks.)

Frye drew scores of diagrams in his notebooks but never one for the Great Doodle.  And, as I say, it seems practically impossible to in include all the features of Great Doodle in a single diagram, even a two‑dimensional one.  But Michael Happy’s question got me to thinking about Notebook 11f, which dates from 1969–70, where Frye toys with the idea of constructing a book of one hundred sections, which are clearly a part of the Great Doodle.  Here are his initial musings about this scheme:

Oh, God, I could be ecstatically happy for years if I could work out the scheme of a 100-section book so that I could work on the total scheme in my head.  In fact it would make me so happy that I’ve simply got to have one.  Question: will it be a real or simply a mnemonic one?  Never mind that now.

100 sections with an occult meaning for every damn one; patterns of repetition connecting them; climactic sequences 27–33, 60–66, 90–99; prime numbers after 50 perhaps philosophical.  Odd numbers cyclical, especially 7, 11, 13 & 17; even numbers dialectic, especially 8 & 16; five & decimals mixed, that sort of thing.  It isn’t just childish, either: Dante & Joyce do it.

The scheme which is in the foreground just now is a ternary one.  Perhaps the complete compass could repeat three times (i.e. twice).  Two would be the conceptual & then the alchemic-turned-on-its-side process.  So Eros might be the hortus conclusus in 27–33, the interpenetrating-mystical Plato business in 60–66, the Bardo world in 90–99.

It probably won’t work out, but God, it would be wonderful to have a scheme one could work on as women do with knitting.  A hundred big filing cards, to be played with like a Tarot pack.  Every other piece of writing I’ve done has been a spider-string filament strung painfully from my own guts: a straight line in the work has been to keep it from becoming a web.  A pattern sufficiently discontinuous—oh, well, there’s no point going on & on about it.  Can I do it, & if I do will it be normal scholarship or specifically creative?  Or is it only one of those creative farts I’ve let from time to time?

The reason for all this silly nonsense is that I have an idea for a long book on poetic imagery on a compass scheme, and an idea for a short book on the symbolism of religion which seems to have a spiral scheme.  And I was wondering, not so much whether I could combine them, but whether they were in fact different aspects of one scheme.  A quaternary scheme, say Eros 1–25, Adonis 25–50, Hermes 50–75, Prometheus 75–100, combining with (it couldn’t in that form, of course) a ternary scheme, Thanatos 1–33, Logos 33–66, axis of Nomos & Nous 67–100.

I want to have a book to write that (without being a diary) will be more fun to write than any book will be to read.  I suspect Yeats was in this state while writing the Vision, when he could only read detective stories at night.  Also Joyce with FW [Finnegans Wake].  I’m so determined to find the formula for such a book that I may not start writing at all until I’ve either found it or become convinced it doesn’t exist.  But of course it does exist: all such things do.  (CW 13, 131–2)

A bit later Frye writes, “My scheme . . . can’t be just mnemonic: it has to correspond to something that’s there.  Dante’s three worlds aren’t there, but they’re here.” (ibid., 132–3).  Frye goes back and forth between taking his project seriously and considering his “meanderings and ditherings” nothing more than “footling” as this (ibid., 134).

Like Bacon’s Great Instauration, Frye’s grand scheme, of course, went the way of his never realized “third book,” but he did devote a good deal of energy to sketching out what would be included in each of its three books.  What follows is a reconstruction of its parts as these are found here and there in Notebook 11f.  (The numbers in parentheses refer to paragraph numbers in this notebook.)

Book 1 (1–33)

—religio and dromena (par. 259)

—loci and topoi (261)

—Rencontre sequence of loci and topoi (264)

—Liberal’s stations of the cross or place marks of the hero’s journey (264)

—epiphanic sequence ending in Logos, ends with search for the end (266) (267)

—the female cycle that never was (268)

—Druid analogy (280)

—solstitial (279)

—The Wheel (284); but a cycle that contains the cross (287)

Phoenix and Turtle analogy: assembly of fowls (286)

—fundamentally a Joyce-Yeats book (287)

—includes the apocalyptic and demonic tables and Christian four levels (289)

—Logos sky-father and Thanatos cave-mother theme (289)

1–33. Thanatos           (258)

1-8.  Birth of hero & tragedy & pastoral elegy (Lycidas, Fern Hill, etc.). Regular Adonis pattern (275)

1.  General topography (263)

2.  The Great Doodle (263), introduction to Adonis symbolism, double rhythm of Christianity (291)

8.  Absolom cluster and Nomos pattern (263)

ca. 8.  Crucifixion (292)

8.  Adonis-Lycidas premature death of the hero (293)

9.  Attis-Absolom-Crucifixion (293)

10.  Explanation of Nomos

ca.12.  Orestia conclusion and the sinking into the water (263)

16.  full Thanatos vision (263)

16–17. cyclic vision vindicated (287)

16.  justification of the cave vision (290)

24.  Easter morning (263)

25.  Resurrection, conquest of the lower world (290, 297)

26.  the alienated lover & the vita nuova. (294)

26.  conspectus of all Eros visions, with purgatorial and paradisal distinguished (296); response to Resurrection (297)

27.  the sublimated quest: Dante & the Bible: Vaughan & Eliot (294)

28.  the sexual quest (294)

29.  the earthly paradise & the hortus conclusus (294)

30.  allegro & penseroso culminations. (294)

31.  Utopian & New Comedy affiliations (294) [in 295 FN says Utopia is an East-North theme; here it’s NNW]

32.  the debate on the point of epiphany (294)

33.  the Logos vision & the returning cycle (294)

27–33.  Eros: the hortus conclusus (256)

27–33.  Upper Eros and Logos climaxes (263)

27–33.  Dante’s Purgatorio-Paradiso progression (264)

27–33.   Eros, revolving around Dante, Song of Songs, Spenser, Milton, moderns (274)

ca. 27.  NNW. Adonis and the birth of the hero (263)

33.  Heaven (264)

33 (or 34).  vision of the dead monotheistic god (266)

33.  Chien (one of the gateways of transformation in the I Ching (267)

33.  prospect of inclusive or encyclopedic vision (267)

Book 2 (34–67)

—conceptual (256)

—belief and contemplation (259), dialectical, dealing with consciousness and existence (285)

—causality of thought and plot (266)

—” the real simultaneous apprehension & the oracles of concerned prose/verse” (266)

—”my marble board, ending in the centre” (266)

—St. Clair revelation in this area (266)

—creation as identity (268)

—creating father-god and accompanying paradoxes (268)

—Perennial philosophy (280)

—solstitial (279)

—The Cross (284)

Phoenix and Turtle analogy: complaint of reason (286)

34–66. Logos  (258)

34.  “begins with the myth of creation as identity, God condemning himself to death as soon as he opens his mouth & becomes a Word” (287)

34.  “begins with the withdrawal of consciousness from existence which is projected as creation, because what it creates is the objective world.  The withdrawal creates the existential state of fear or terror, which becomes anxiety when death enters the world.  The fear is of, first, the word (Vico’s thunderclap), and second, of the glance (the evil eye).” (288)

34.  St. Thomas and linguistic purification (265)

34-ca. 41.  imperialistic philosophy of Aristotle & its attendant fiction-plots (the typical teleology of the moral in Green Henry, Proust, Old Wives’ Tale, belongs here except when twisted into New Comedy). Emphasis on Nomos. (274)

ca. 50.  Aristotle’s teleological constructs (265)

60s.  ceasing to exist (Sartre) (268)

60s.  Plato, Buddhism, ending in Avatamsaka principle, reincarnation (274)

60s.  Utopia, millennialism (274)

60–66. Interpenetration, Platonic mysticism (256)

66 or 67.  Interpenetration section (265)

Book 3 (68–100)

—action and imagination–Homer, Dante, Blake (259)

—religion as literature and history (265)

—moves from Nomos to Nous, law to resurrection (265)

—alchemic turned-on-its-side process (256)

—Bardo world (256)

—Biblical (280)

—equinoctial (279)

—The Spiral (284)

—treats the historical process vis-à-vis The Purgatorio (285)

Phoenix and Turtle analogy: apocalyptic consummation (286)

67–ca. 80.  Hermes patterns of sentimental romance (275)

67–100. Nomos-Nous axis (258)

90s.  Eros swallowed up in Prometheus and the Resurrection (274)

99-100.  Blake’s centre (the E) (266)

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