Daily Archives: September 2, 2010

Frye on Writing Fiction


An excerpt from the screenwriting seminar scene in the brilliant Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, a wonderfully convoluted meditation on the agonizing effort to write something that is somehow beyond formula. If you haven’t seen it, make a point of renting it.  Also, Kaufman’s much deeper and darker film about writing as soul-rending existential crisis, Synecdoche, New York.

Further to comments earlier today by Ed Lemond and Jonathan Allan, here are a couple of entries from the notebooks on writing fiction, culled once again from Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned.

On the possibility of “a new fiction formula”:

I have been struggling for some time to think of a new fiction formula, and all my ideas tend to revolve around Rilke’s idea of the poet’s perceiving simultaneously the visible & the invisible world.  In practice that means a new type of ghost or supernatural story, possibly approached by way of some science-fiction development.  The idea is a vision of another life or another world so powerfully plausible as to make conventionally religious & anti-religion people shake in their shoes.  I’ve begun notes on this many times, but threw away my best notebook, written in Seattle, in a London (Ont.) hotel.  By “shake in their shoes” I don’t mean threats, but the ecstactic frisson or giggle aroused by plausibility. (92)

On the possibility of writing a “philosphical romance”:

Since the popular success of Tokien and the rise in seriousness of what is called science-fiction, I’ve been attracted to the notion of the philosphical romance.  It would have to be entirely “software,” as I don’t know anything about hardware, and I notice most of the hardware is used to transpose the characters to a remote spot in some other galaxy that turns out to be a category of something on earth.  So why not stay on earth?  The taking off point is the relativity of what the sane waking consicousness sees to other perspectives.  These are, chiefly, those of (a) dream (b) madness (c) mythopoeic imagination (d) existence following physical death.  If I never write such a book, collecting notes for it could still be a valuable experience in loosening uup the imaginative faculties.  The idea is to write what I myself would be most interested in reading.  (93)

Frye and Detective Fiction


The conclusion of the 1939 film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

Further to Professor Mondo’s earlier post, here is one of  a number of Frye’s observations in the notebooks on the detective story, via Bob Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned.

I don’t think that I have either a highbrow or a lowbrow pose about detective stories, but I don’t really quite understand why I like reading them.  I read them partly for the sake of the overtones.  I’m not a connoisseur of them: I can never guess what the hell’s up when the detective pulls out a watch and shouts: “My God, we may yet be in time!”, shoves the narrator and half the country’s police force into a taxi, dashes madly across town and finds the girl I’d placidly thought was the heroine all equipped with a blunt instrument & an animal snarl.  I’m always led by the nose up the garden path in search of a false clue, and I never notice inconsistencies.  And I always get let down when I find out who dun it.  As I say, I like overtones.  A good style, some traces of wit & characterization, a sense of atmosphere, and a lot of the professional intricacies of the game can go to hell.  Yet I want a good novel in that particular convention & no other.  The answer is, I think, that I’m naturally a slow & reflective reader, & make copious marginalia.  In the detective story I live for a moment in the pure present: I’m passively pulled along from stimulus to stimulus, and, ignorant & idle as that doubtless is, I’m fascinated by it.  Yet I seldom finish with disappointment. (67)

French Revolution: “September Massacre”


History Channel documentary on the French Revolution, above

Today in 1792 the September Massacres of the French Revolution began as part of the escalating mob violence that had increased all summer.  By the time it was done, half the prison  population of Paris had been executed.  The clergy in particular was prone to sporadic attacks, with a number of Catholic bishops murdered.

For Frye, this violent political shift represented a radical shift in the social mythology of authority:

The cosmos of authority lingered until the eighteenth century, although of its two pillars, the chain of being and the Ptolemaic universe, the latter was in ruins by Isaac Newton’s time.  The chain of being was still in place for Pope early in the eighteenth century, but Voltaire was very doubtful about the echelle de l’infiniti, which he recognized to be a facade for the authority of the status quo.  And under the hammer blows of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, the ladder as the spatial metaphor for the axis mundi, and as a cosmic vision guaranteeing the birthright of established authority, finally disappeared. (CW 4, 124)

Video of the Day: “Fuck You”


This video went crazily viral last week: 3 million YouTube hits and counting.  The New York Times produced an article about writing an article about it without using the word “fuck.”  (And that’s what’s wrong with the New York Times.)

It’s late summer and the time for this sort of thing — remember “The Thong Song“?

Except that for a seasonal novelty this really is a catchy little tune whose title just happens to be “Fuck You” (oh, and with this irresistible refrain: “Fuck you / And, uh, fuck her too”).  It’s bright and bouncy in the Motown style (like the Jackson 5’s “ABC“) only with streetwise lyrics.  By the end you may be singing along — or at least humming it under your breath sometime this afternoon.