Daily Archives: September 3, 2010

Notebook 13: Three Lost Sections Recovered

I am working on three sections from Notebook 13 which I glossed over when Michael Dolzani was editing the Renaissance Notebooks and which then disappeared between the cracks.  These include notes on the Alexander lectures, notes for T.S. Eliot, and a series of entries on the imagination.  They should have gone into the Miscellany volume.

Here’s one passage I could have used in my various efforts to explain interpenetration:

The conceptual elements of irony include myths of cyclical return, of “entropy,” of the all too human, of the inferno & the “dystopia,” of the assimilation of the human (i.e. the social) to the natural, & of historical myths like those of Vico & Spengler.  Comedy has progress & evolution, metamorphosis, providential design, salvation & enlightenment in religion, victorious identifying dialectic in philosophy.  Romance, besides the quest, pilgrimage & treasure finding myths in its structure & its conceptual identity by interpenetration, destroys the antithesis of subject & object, time & space, creator & creature.  The hunch that the Avatamasaka doctrine of interpenetration is the meaning of romance is just a hunch, but a hunch that is going to work out all right.  No hunch that’s been in my mind for twenty years can be wrong.  I suppose I might reconsider my idea of calling the lectures the [“Information”?] of Tragedy, etc.  Or Spirit – sounds vague and sentimental.  Or perhaps just plain “theme.”

We’ll be posting all three recovered sections from Notebook 13 in the library shortly.

TGIF: Al Franken


SNL alum Sen. Al Franken challenges a representative of the Hudson Institute during the recent health care reform hearings on her claim that reform will lead to more medical bankruptcies.

This is our Friday comedy slot.  But it’s also a good occasion to see what happens when a very funny man becomes a senator whose primary interest is serving his constituents rather than big business.

After the jump, Al Franken uses humor to show up someone who only thinks she is funny, Ann Coulter — although her ongoing effort to rehabilitate her “hero” Joseph McCarthy is chuckle-worthy.

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Call for Papers: “Iconoclasm”

As readers of this blog likely know, the Centre for Comparative Literature hosts an annual conference organised by the students of Comparative Literature. This year’s theme is Iconoclasm: the Breaking and Making of Images and it has thus far been sponsored by the Centre for Comparative Literature, the Jackman Humanities Institute, Latin American Studies, and the Northrop Frye Professorship in Literary Theory.  I would like to encourage readers of this blog to consider submitting an abstract to the conference (deadline September 10, 2010); the Call for Papers appears below the cut.  The conference organisers are hoping that this year’s conference will, once again, be an incredible success and highlight the continued importance of the Centre for Comparative Literature.

The 22nd annual conference of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto in March 2011 will focus on the idea of Iconoclasm, the breaking of images and the making of icons.

The word “iconoclasm” is weighted with a long history of religious significance, from the Byzantine war on religious icons of the 8th- and 9th-centuries and the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, to the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan in the 21st century. But the idea of destroying or defacing images, especially images that convey aspects of cultural dominance or, conversely, pose a threat to that dominance, is as often political as religious: think of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or graffiti moustaches. Political iconoclasm, unlike religious iconoclasm, does not object to representation as such but rather to certain images that have been granted the status of icons. However, any act of desecrating symbols of authority itself often takes on iconic status: take, for example, photos of the pulling down of statues from Romania to Iraq.

Iconoclasm need not be visual and material and can also take abstract and intellectual forms. Subversive, transgressive, blasphemous writing is also iconoclastic in inspiration and function. Moreover, the power associated with images in general and iconic images in particular has often inspired writers to subdue the power of images or to wrest it for themselves. The ekphrastic contest between literature, or verbal representation, and images, or visual representation, is very often iconoclastic in nature.

Contemporary media culture floods us with images and alters their impact, creating ever more sophisticated organized cults around them, such as celebrity, high art, advertising, the news, etc. Just as the word “icon” has acquired new meanings, ranging from signs for computer applications to logos and celebrity, so, too, iconoclasm, the urge to deface, destroy, or alter images, takes on wholly new meanings.

We wish to examine a wide range of iconoclastic moments in order to understand the political, ethical, and aesthetic stakes involved in challenging the signifying power of the iconic image. Is there a tradition of iconoclasm or is the modern icon and thus modern iconoclasm something new? Is iconoclasm even possible, or does it always participate in the forces of iconicity, creating, in effect, iconoclastic icons? Subjects that are of interest to us include but are in no way limited to:

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Frye ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Definitive Collection


Rolling Stones, “It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Top of the Pops, 1974 (It’s still the pre-video age, but this segment is famous for its production, even for a Top of the Pops feature)  Previous posts on Frye ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll here and here.

Here is a much more complete collection of Frye’s references to rock & roll.

Literature, as ordinarily conceived, is so small and specialized a part of one’s reading that we forget how much of our total verbal experience is untouched by it. For many a student in grade eight whose verbal experience is centred on television, The Lady of the Lake may be a pretty meaningless collection of words, something that those unaccountable adults, for whatever reasons of their own, think he should read. The way out of this is not to try to choose the kind of literature that can compete with the appeal of television—no such literature exists. But the teacher should understand that teaching literature means dealing with the total verbal experience of students. The points of contact between literary and subliterary experiences should be kept in mind; obviously the same forms of comedy and romance and irony that appear in literature also turn up in television drama or rock ballads. I am not saying that a teacher should be constantly pointing such resemblances out, only that they are occasionally useful. Far more important, however, is the fact that students are being steadily got at by a rival mythology determined to capture their imaginations for its own purposes, armed with far more skill, authority, and prestige than any teacher has. This is why I think students should be encouraged to become aware of the extent to which they are being conditioned by the mass media, as a central part of their literary training. Some of them have reacted with a general hatred and contempt for everything their society produces, but that, of course, is quite as dependent on conditioned reflex as anything it revolts against. Besides, it does not distinguish between genuine and false forms of social mythology. What is absurd about growing up absurd is adjustment mythology, not society itself. (On Teaching Literature, CW 7, 449)

Coming to point (crazy Oedipus) where we can’t afford supremacy of ideology any more: let’s have a war and smash that guy’s ideology.  Primary concerns must become primary.  (Leads directly to authority of poet, but not in this paper.)

Feeling that this is so led in sixties to revival of ecstatic metaphor: drugs, yoga, Zen, folk singers, rock music (Woodstock) would bring in a new conception of community.  Revitalized tribal culture in McLuhan. (CW 6, 599)

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William Wordsworth


The poem recited

On this date Wordsworth wrote the sonnet “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802“:

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Frye in Words with Power:

But what does Wordsworth’s gentle goddess who never betrayed the heart that loved her have to do with Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” with its ferocious and predatory struggle for survival?  Even more, what she have to do with the narrators in the Marquis de Sade, who, after some particularly nauseating orgy of cruelty and violence, appeal with equal confidence to nature to justify their pleasure in such things?  Are there two natures, and if so are they separable?  It is obvious that Wordsworth’s teacher-nature is an intensely humanized nature, even the Lake country and the Alps being dominated by human artifice.  And yet one feels that it would be oversimplifying to call Wordsworth’s nature a mere projection of human emotions on nature, even though there often seems to be more evidence for de Sade’s view of nature than his.  (CW 26,213)