Monthly Archives: July 2010

Frye Alert


Below is a post today at BlogTO:

News Flash

Amalgamation causes unrest at University of Toronto

Posted by Robyn Urback / July 27, 2010

Get this–uproar at a university that actually has something to do with the university!

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto has proposed sweeping changes to U of T’s largest faculty, which will see six humanities programs consolidated into one school.

The new School of Languages and Literatures is being considered as a way to offset the faculty’s $55 million of debt. The new school, or SLLUT (School of Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto, as to it is so affectionately referred on dissenting online forums), will merge the existing Italian, German, East Asian Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, and Slavic languages departments, as well as the Centre for Comparative Literature, which was founded by Northrop Frye.

Many students, as well as faculty at the University of Toronto, are opposed to the amalgamation, anticipating an intellectual “step backwards.”

“U of T used to have a reputation for being very conservative, and it’s about to have that reputation again,” said Linda Hucheon, professor at the Centre for Comparative Literature. “We will try to make a case for not getting rid of a major discipline within the university. “We’re not going down without a bit of a fight.”

Students have set up petitions, websites, and a Facebook group opposing the changes. Final approval for the new school will be sought in the fall.

Johann Sebastian Bach


From the Matthaeus Passion

On this date J.S. Bach died (1685-1750).

Frye on the Matthaeus Passion:

In the twenty years I’ve been listening to the Passion, I’ve changed my mind about it.  I used to feel that the narration was something to sit through, & one waited for the arias and the choruses.  Now I feel that the work is primarily narration, as the arias & choruses, with greater familiarity, fall into the background as commentaries.  This, of course, brings out its real tragic structure, as it’s like Greek tragedy, not only in its use of chorus, but in its reporting of events.  Even Christ, even though he does his own singing, is contained within the narration.  (Cited in Robert Denham, Frye Unbuttoned, 18-19)

Sylvia Maultash Warsh: Recreating Frye, Preserving a Legacy


Sylvia Maultash Warsh is the author of the recently published The Queen of Unforgetting.

When I was at the University of Toronto years ago, like many young undergrads, I didn’t know my own mind and somehow ended up in Psychology instead of English.  So though I was a student at U of T, I never had Northrop Frye for a professor. It wasn’t until I had to research the venerable critic for my new novel, The Queen of Unforgetting, that I realized just how much I had missed.

I had good reasons for making Frye a character in my story. I like to set my books in Toronto—my first three are historical mysteries that take place on and around Beverley Street, near the university.  For this book (not a mystery) I needed an academic superstar, and Frye was the obvious choice. My protagonist, a grad student more ambitious than most, needs a supervisor for her thesis. But not just any supervisor. She knows that a Frye protégé will have a good chance at an academic placement when the time comes.  To this end, she chooses a thesis topic that will interest him: E.J. Pratt’s epic poem, Brébeuf and His Brethren.  Pratt was Frye’s mentor and he is pulled in. For my research, I pored over many of Frye’s books and journals; I watched videotaped interviews in which he sits before the camera and gives dazzling little lectures in his famous deadpan.

He doesn’t look the part, but he was a mythic figure in his own time. Sometimes referred to as The Buddha, the shy brilliant scholar had assimilated vast quantities of literature, philosophy, art, and religion. It was this storehouse of knowledge that let him connect disparate ideas and themes into meaningful patterns. His omnivorous reading made it possible for him to cross borders and draw comparisons between cultures, and particularly their literatures.

Our world has shrunk almost beyond imagination since 1969 when Frye founded the Centre for Comparative Literature at U of T. Today’s global realities require, more than ever, broader understanding of the world around us. Through literature we recognize the similarity in the other, the stranger who looks nothing like us but who lives, loves and dies just the same, only defined by a different set of symbols. A centre dedicated to looking outward toward the other is in a unique position to forge cross-cultural and interdisciplinary ties. A university that doesn’t recognize the value of such an enterprise is in the wrong business.

Sign the petition in support of the Centre for Comparative Literature here.

Gertrude Stein

picasso-gertrude stein

Picasso’s famous portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1905-6.  When someone noted that the portrait did not look like her, Picasso reportedly replied, “Yes, but it will.”

On this date Gertude Stein died (1874-1946).

Frye in one of the “Third Book” notebooks:

Ultimately there is a moral conflict between the art that shocks & outrages us & the mass media that tries to accustomize us & desensitize us.  I’ve often spoken of Gertrude Stein as a practitioner of an associative style, but there’s every difference between that & the Dick & Jane readers with their phony pumped-up excitement (“Run, Jim, Run”) which educate for the reading of advertising, with its exclamatory exhortations.  The slogan is the demonic opposite of the koan or text, or formulaic pattern.  (CW 9, 120)

Frye Alert: Who is Professor Mondo?!


The little we know is intriguing.  He is, in his own words, a “dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer.”  He very reassuringly quotes Chaucer: “Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.”   Even more reassuringly, he’s a fan of Frye.  His blog’s banner rather enigmatically features this quote from the superior 80’s teen comedy Better off Dead: “Once a champion, now a study of moppishness.”  Like the movie’s protagonist, played by John Cusack, the professor may be a quasi-tragic figure, who by necessity moves furtively and unappreciated through the hushed halls of academe. Most of this, of course, is irresponsible speculation.

You can find the good professor here.  His lead post today is “How Twigs Get Bent: Northrop Frye,” which talks about his growing interest in Frye both as a medievalist and as a fan of detective fiction.  He also mentions discovering our website.  I’ve bookmarked him and intend to read him daily.  I hope you’ll do the same.

Centre for Comparative Literature: Oh, for Five Thousand Tongues to Sing!


Please sign the petition in support of the Centre for Comparative Literature here.

One of my favourite hymns as a child was “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing!”  Today, I am basking in the glory of not just a thousand tongues, but more than five thousand of them singing in defence of Northrop Frye’s Centre for Comparative Literature.

We’ve had an overwhelming response to our petition: within a week of posting it, we have received over than fifty-five hundred signatures are steadily working our way now toward six thousand.  The emails continue to pour in and fill the inboxes of President David Naylor, Provost Cheryl Misak, and Dean Meric Gertler.  Both the petiton and the emails have allowed our appeal to be heard over and over again, and I ask that you to continue to write in and to encourage others  to sign the petition — and, of course, to follow developments on this wonderful blog.

The petition itself is an incredible vote of confidence.  As I said earlier this week, so far there are only twelve votes of non-confidence, represented by the officials who are overseeing the proposed closure of the Centre.  The five thousand-plus votes of confidence, meanwhile, come from some of the most important names in the field, from writers, from the international reading public, and, of course, from readers of our blog.

Here now are some of names of those who have signed the petition.  When I first posted about the petition the following prominent names quickly appeared: Ian Balfour, Svetlana Boym, Rey Chow, Jonathan Culler, Jonathan Hart, Nicholas Halmi, Linda Hutcheon, Andreas Huyssen, Ania Loomba, Franco Moretti, Tilottama Rajan, Germaine Warkentin.  In recent days, we have seen people like Margaret Atwood,  Harold Bloom, Robert D. Denham, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Darko Suvin, Judith Butler, Ngugi wa Thing’o, Avital Ronnel, Balibar Etienne, Mary Louise Pratt, Cathy Caruth, Michael Taussig, Michael Hardt, Françoise Lionnet, Angela Esterhammer, George Yudice, Shu-mei Shih, Wai Chee Dimock, Jacques Lazra, Eric Santner, Stanley Fish, Natalie Zemon Davis, Dominick LaCapra, Sander L. Gilman join the list.

If you haven’t yet signed the petition, please consider doing so to add your name to this growing chorus of supporters.  With your support, the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto will prevail.

This is not the first time that Comparative Literature at Toronto has faced a threat. Northrop Frye in an extended 1982 interview (“Towards an Oral History of the U of T) recalls: “The disadvantage is that the comparative literature department has been rather left out in the cold.  Toronto dragged its feet on comparative literature for so long that [Ernest] Sirluck finally – I won’t say got around to organizing it because it was one of his priorities from the beginning – but when he did start to organize it, the medieval and Renaissance fields were preempted by those institutes, so that all the comparative literature department could take was Romantics and moderns and the theory of criticism” (CW 24,623).

Now, in 2010, U of T is once again dragging its feet, and now is the time to join us in protesting the ill-advised recommendations of the Strategic Planning Committee at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science.  So, as always, please sign the petition and please forward this information to your colleagues, friends, and family.  Together we can save Northrop Frye’s Centre for Comparative Literature and, together, in two years, we can celebrate the centenary of Northrop Frye birth at the very Centre he created.

Carl Jung


Today is Carl Jung‘s birthday (1875-1961).

Frye in conversation with David Cayley:

Cayley: How does your use of the term archetype relate to the way, say, Carl Jung uses it?

Frye: I used the term archetype because it was a traditional term in criticism, though not many people had run across it.  But I didn’t realize at the time that Jung had monopolized the term and that everyone would think I was a Jungian critic because I used it.  I’m dealing with a world that is intermediate between the subjective psychological world and the social world, the objective or natural world.  That is, I don’t think in terms of subject contemplating an object.  I think of a world of metaphor, where the subject and object have fused, the world of myth and metaphor.  The old-fashioned term for it was beauty.  It’s the world where emotion is relevant, where the categories of beauty and ugliness are relevant, where you don’t look for objective truth and you don’t look for subjective turmoil.  What I don’t want to do is to reduce criticism to something subjective and psychological.  Jung’s archetypes are powerful within the soul, and they have very intimate and very fascinating analogies to some of the conventional characters of literature, but Jung’s treatment of literature, I think, is barbaric, and most of the Jungians don’t seem to be much better.  (77)

Video of the Day: Andy Warhol Eats a Hamburger


But is it art?


And if you have any doubt about that, go to YouTube and have a look at the outraged comments of some of the viewers.  If they’re this angry over something so innocuous and mundane — and a number of them are very angry — then something meaningfully disturbing is happening here.  A sample: “I mean WTF?!?” and “This is the ugliest thing I have ever seen” (which is not, of course, beside the point).

Frye makes just a couple of references to Andy Warhol, and they are made, interestingly enough, to illustrate a larger and more important point he is trying to get across to his readers.

Here he is in Words with Power, for example, with reference to ecstatic metaphor:

This is an intensification of the imagery that imitates the descriptive mode, an emphasis on the “thingness” of the objective world, which we find in, for example, Beckett’s Watt and Robbe-Grillet’s Les Gommes, and in William Carlos Williams’s insistence on “not ideas about things but the thing itself,” also the title of a poem by Wallace Stevens.  In various forms of painting, such as the pop art of Andy Warhol and in the popularity of Zen Buddhism, with its technique of training one to see, not another world but the same world with a new intensity, there are parallel developments.

And with that in mind, here’s one more comment from a viewer at YouTube:

Honestly, sometimes I think these artistic so-called geniuses just do whatever the fuck passes through their heads and then try to pass it off as hip and edgy. But at the end of the day, kids, it’s just a guy eating a hamburger.

Well, the “end of the day” could also just be the darkness before the dawn, if we insist upon resorting to those kinds of cliches.  For example, after the jump you’ll find six minutes of Warhol’s eight hour film Empire.  (And, by a remarkable coincidence, tonight is the 46th anniversary of its filming.)

Continue reading