Daily Archives: July 14, 2010

Gifts that Keep on Giving


This has been a tumultuous Fryeday.  Here then is some welcome news.

First, Ken Paradis of Wilfred Laurier University has posted a paper with us.  Ken’s “Romance Narrative in Conservative Evangelical Homiletic” can be found in the journal here.

Second, The Educated Imagination is now on Facebook.  That’s the link you see at the top of our widgets column to the right.  Just click on it and you’re there.  Give us a little time and we’ll soon be making full use of it as a resource.  By fall we may even be tweeting.

Happy Fryeday, everyone.

Dawn Arnold: Tips on Voting for the Frye Sculpture


The Festival continues to be ranked 6th in the $25,000 category. We obviously want to win this competition and create a beautiful tribute to Northrop Frye, so every vote is important! You can vote daily here: http://www.refresheverything.ca/fryefestival

Please note that when voting you MUST BE LOGGED IN FIRST for your vote to count. If you simply go to “vote” and then log-in, you have not actually voted. So, log-in first and then vote.

We are also putting together a “voting” team. This is a group of individuals who will be willing to vote daily for anyone who doesn’t have the time or who is away from technology for vacation. Simply send e-mail addresses to me at: dawn@frye.ca and we will take care of the rest!  Thank you!

The Incomparable Centre for Comparative Literature


Today is Frye’s birthday, and it has been just about two weeks since we heard the news that the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Meric Gertler, and the Strategic Planning Committee had recommended the closure of the Centre for Comparative Literature which Frye founded 40 years ago.  The news was a complete shock.  The director of the Centre, Neil ten Kortenaar, in his letter to the dean begins with this very admission:

My initial shock at the news of the proposed disestablishment of the Centre for Comparative Literature has become absolute dismay as the meaning of this proposal has become clear to me.  The news comes at a time when Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto was being thoroughly reinvigorated and we were looking forward with excitement to our future.

I can only agree with these sentiments.  I was initially shocked by the recommendation and then slowly but surely began to realise the ramifications of such a decision.  Ten Kortenaar cites a number of these in his letter.

But, on a much more personal level, the type of research that I do simply cannot be done elsewhere.  I chose to attend the University of Toronto, and more precisely the Centre for Comparative Literature, because of its connections to Northrop Frye.  When I arrived at the University, I told the faculty of the Centre that my project would focus on Frye’s influence, especially with respect to Harold Bloom.  Indeed, in October, I submitted to the Centre a SSHRC proposal called, “Anxieties of Criticism, Anatomies of Influence: A Study of Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom.”  In April, I found out that I had been awarded a SSHRC.  Since then I have written an article with a very similar title that recently appeared in the Canadian Review for Comparative Literature. It may appear that I could have completed this research anywhere.  But that is not the case, I very much needed the University of Toronto and the Centre for Comparative Literature because it provided the archives and the intellectual guidance of people like Linda Hutcheon, J. Edward Chamberlin, and Eva Kushner.

My current research continues with ideas stemming from Northrop Frye’s theories of literature, particularly romance.  My dissertation considers literatures written in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  This dissertation simply could not happen elsewhere.  The study follows Frye’s dictum that “popular literature […] is neither better nor worse than elite literature, nor is it really a different kind of literature” (CW XVIII:23); and thus, my study includes everything from George Eliot and Marcel Proust to Twilight and Harlequin romances.  Only the Centre for Comparative Literature could provide a home for such research and only the Centre would encourage such research.  The Centre has afforded me many opportunities to explore romance and present these ideas at international conferences.  In April, I was at the American Comparative Literature Association’s meeting in New Orleans and NeMLA meeting in Montreal; in May at Congress in Montreal where I presented at the Canadian Comparative Literature Association’s meeting as well as the Canadian Association of Hispanists, in August I will be at the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance’s conference, and in September at a conference on monsters at Oxford.

I look around now at the Centre for Comparative Literature and realise that this Centre is, even in its darkest hours, a powerhouse for intellectual inquiry.  Today, the Centre found itself on the front page of the Globe and Mail receiving national exposure.  I think I can say that for many of my colleagues this was a huge – and much needed – surprise.

I urge readers of this blog to consider the future of Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.  We have a series of ways you can follow our story and I provide to you a series of links:

www.savecomplit.ca — Main Resource and Information Page; if you send letters to the Dean, Provost, and President, we will happily publish them here.  All media stories will be included on this webpage.

www.PetitionOnline.com/complit/petition.html — Petition to Save Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.  Major figures in Comparative Literature have already signed (as have many Frye Scholars): Ian Balfour, Svetlana Boym, Rey Chow, Jonathan Culler, Jonathan Hart, Nicholas Halmi, Linda Hutcheon, Andreas Huyssen, Ania Loomba, Franco Moretti, Tilottama Rajan, Germaine Warkentin.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Comp-Lit-at-U-of-T/128346170533811 — A Facebook page with information as it becomes available.

http://twitter.com/SaveComplit — Our Twitter account which will post links to news stories.

And, of course, we will continue to update the Frye community here at The Educated Imagination.

Northrop Frye: “There are bigger fools in the world”


Frye and Helen: the expression on his face is sweetly suggestive of his impassioned letters to her during the 1930s

Today is Frye’s birthday (1912-1991) and an opportune moment to hear what Frye has to say about himself.

His intermittent diaries between 1942 and 1955 contain just two birthday entries.

From his 1942 diary:

Thirty today.  Many good resolutions, most broken already.  (CW 8, 6)

From his 1950 diary while staying at Harvard and writing his seminal “Archetypes of Literature“:

Today was my thirty-eighth birthday.  Helen & I went down to the Harvard Co-operative Store (they call & pronounce it the “Harvard Coop”) & got me a summer suit & a lot of miscellaneous things, socks & tie & so on . . . On the way back I stopped at a liquor store & asked if if there were any formalities about purchasing liquor.  He said the formality consisted only in the possession of cash…

It’s important for me to get along on a concentrated job as soon as possible, because travel, which is said to broaden the mind, only flattens mine.  The exposure of my naturally introverted mind to a whole lot of new impressions confuses me, because I’m more at home with ideas, I’m not naturally observant, and what impressions I do get are random & badly selected.  Also they’re compared with the more familiar environment back home and, as I don’t know the new environment, the comparison is all out of focus. (ibid., 406)

We get much more of this sort of autobiographical detail in his letters, written between the ages of 19 and 24, to Helen Kemp.

Postmarked 14 June 1932:

The Muse is still stubborn.  I have a good idea but no technique.  I have a conception for a really good poem, I am pretty sure, but what I put down is as flat and dry as the the Great Sahara.  I guess I’m essentially prosaic.  I can work myself up into a state of maudlin sentimentality, put down about ten lines of the most villainous doggerel imaginable, and then kick myself and tear the filthy thing up.  However, I got out the book of twentieth-century American poetry from the library and that cheered me up.  There are bigger fools in the world.  (CW 1, 19-20)

Postmarked 25 August 1932:

What I am worried about is my own personal cowardice.  I am easily disheartened by failure, badly upset by slights, retiring and sensitive — a sissy, in short.  Sissies are very harmless and usually agreeable people, but they are not leaders or fighters.  I would make a very graceful shadow boxer, but little more.  I haven’t the grit to look the Wedding Guest in the eye.  “Put on the armor of God,” said a minister unctuously to me when I told him this.  Good advice, but without wishing to seem flippant, I don’t want armour, divine or otherwise — snails and mud-turtles are encased in armour — what I want is a thick skin.  (ibid., 63)

11 October 1933:

You say I am necessary to your existence.  Does that mean:

a) That I am 135 pounds of mashed turnip; something necessary in the way of companionship — somebody to tell one’s troubles to — somebody who will pet you and spoil you and cuddle up to you when things go wrong?

b) That I am a condiment, bringing a sharp tang and new zest to existence, reminding you of the world, the flesh and the devil, and so humanizing you?

c) That I am a stimulant, helping to correlate your activities, encouraging your talents and spanking you for your weaknesses?

d) Or, that I am a narcotic, a drug, very powerful, to be taken, as you say, in small doses, temporarily relieving you, like a headache powder, from your ethereal worries by plunging you into an orgy of physical excitement which leaves you exhausted and silenced?

e) Or that I am an insufferable bore who stays too late?

f) Or a combination of the above?

You see, being a man, I’m so densely stupid.  I haven’t any sort of intuitive tact.  I am your typical male — whenever you get depressed I don’t know anything except what I personally want to do — that is, take you in my arms and strike solicitous and protective attitudes.  If there’s any crying to be done, I want it done on my shoulder.  I want to be present and look helpful whenever you are in difficulties.  (ibid., 90)

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Centre for Comparative Literature: Letter to the President


Below is a letter I sent yesterday to University of Toronto President Naylor, with copies to both Dean Gertler and the provost, regarding the proposed closing of the Centre for Comparative Literature.

Dear President Naylor,

The discussion about the fate of comparative literature at the U of T might gain some measure of clarity from what Northrop Frye always emphasized, that cultural movements flourish when they are decentralized, unlike political and economic movements, which tend to centralize.  When the study of culture is centralized, such as will occur if comparative literature is amalgamated into a unite‑and‑conquer proposal that brings the study of all languages and literatures together under one administrative umbrella, uniformity replaces unity and bondage supplants freedom.  While the centralizing tendency may work in such social sciences as, say, Geography & Planning, it never works in the humanities.  The centralizing movement erases identity.  Dean Gertler has written about how the centralizing movement we call globalization should not trump the decentralized nation­‑state, which remains a key space for organized labor (“Labour in ‘Lean’ Times: Geography, Scale, and National Trajectories of Workplace Change”).   While the parallels between internationalism and an amorphous department of languages and literature, on the one hand, and local autonomy and a separate identity of comparative literature, on the other, are not exact, to pay tribute to the former in what Gertler calls “lean” economic times is surely short‑sighted.

As Frye has written, “to distinguish what is creative in a minority from what attempts to dominate, we have to distinguish between cultural issues, which are inherently decentralizing ones, and political and economic issues, which tend to centralization and hierarchy” (“National Consciousness and Canadian Culture”).

This past year I was an external reviewer for a dissertation by a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at the U of T.   It was an exceptional piece of work, combining a number of disciplines––language, game theory, mathematics, critical theory, music, painting––into a genuine contribution to humanistic learning.  It will be a depressing state of affairs if such extraordinary and mature scholarship is no longer permitted to flourish at the U of T.  Everyone in the field, even those of us at a distance, knows what a distinguished program Comparative Literature at the U of T is.  To consign to the dustbin an exemplary program founded by Canada’s greatest man of letters would be a travesty of the highest order, and it would cause those of us who see the U of T as a flagship university in both Canada and the rest of the world to lose faith.

Yours truly,

Robert Denham

John P. Fishwick Professor of English, Emeritus, Roanoke College