Daily Archives: October 2, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: “Beat the Devil”


(Not embedded: Click the image above and then hit the YouTube link.  This version is of a very high quality: excellent sound and picture.)

Frye seemed to like going to the movies, and he regularly mentions during his diary writing years (intermittently between 1942 and 1955) what he’d seen on a Saturday night at a time when double bills were still the norm.  One of the oddball classics of the era was John Huston‘s Beat the Devil (1953).  Maybe “John Huston’s Beat the Devil” doesn’t really cover it.  In point of fact, it was co-written with Huston by the very young Truman Capote, who leaves a distinctive mark upon this shaggy dog story which proceeds on the assumption that it is the journey not the arrival that matters, but then barely manages to go anywhere at all.  In point of fact, it has such a tremendous cast — Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Bernard — that it’s hard to imagine the movie having any life without them.  And, in point of fact, that’s before you even factor in Jennifer Jones, who is so wonderful that she almost steals the entire movie from this pretty formidable ensemble.  (In point of fact, she makes the phrase “in point of fact” all her own as a leitmotif for escalating delirium.)

Now it’s true that the film depicts the last gasp of Old World colonialism, when European scoundrels could still saunter into Africa and expect to make personal fortunes by foul means (and, yes, there’s a cringe-inducing amount of Orientalism at work too in the depiction of the Arab characters).  But the white mischief on display here is absurd and is foiled at every turn as though that were an inevitability.  At least one tragic historical cycle had come all the way round to farce, and the film — released just a few years after the end of the Second World War — captures that, if only on a hunch.

In a nice coincidence, Capote’s birthday was on Thursday.

Mass Extinction Event

Recently the hard drive on my primary computer seized up.  While most of my important files were backed up, my email was not, and so I lost everything, including email addresses.  So, if you know me and are seeing this message, drop me a line at my home email address.

From Brock to Oxford and Beyond: A Lesson in Mentorship

In 2006, on the advice of a professor at Queen’s University, I began a second Masters degree in Studies in Comparative Literatures and Arts at Brock University.  It was at there that I met Dr. Cristina Santos, who would become the supervisor of my research, and, although I am no longer at Brock, she has continued to mentor me.

When I left Brock, it was with scholarly skills I had developed only because Professor Santos encouraged me to push the boundaries of my research, to dig deeper into the questions I was considering, and to read texts closely, textually, hermeneutically.

Earlier this year, while I was teaching as a part-time instructor at Brock University, she encouraged me to submit an abstract for a conference at Oxford University.  Writing abstracts for this particular conference was a key part of the course she was teaching – a course I had taken three years earlier.  That course is to prepare students for an academic career: writing abstracts, writing lectures, writing articles.

Needless to say, I submitted an abstract which was later accepted by the conference committee, and, thanks to the good advice of my mentor, I travelled to Oxford University where I presented my current research.  But I didn’t travel alone.  When I arrived at Oxford, I realized that I was accompanied by several of Professor Santos’ students, and we were all participating in a conference that she had encouraged us all to attend.

The lessons of mentorship, as I have learned, extend far beyond the one or two years we spend at a university.  As Cristina Santos demonstrates by her exceptional example, mentorship extends far beyond the one or two years we study with a supervisor.  Mentorship is a continued commitment to students and their scholarship.

Wallace Stevens


One of Frye’s favorite poems, “The Snowman,” read by the author

Today is Wallace Stevens‘s birthday (1879-1955).

Frye, in various interviews, on the imperfect as paradise:

Wallace Stevens says “the imperfect is our paradise.”  And that means that any paradise you would try to reach would be an anticlimax.  The real paradise is something you can dream of but it’s no longer there.  (CW 24, 882)

When Stevens wrote that, he was writing a poem called Sunday Morning, in which a woman stays home from church and tries to rationalize the fact that she doesn’t want to go to church.  One of the things she comes up with is the feeling that you cannot imagine a complete happiness or complete beauty apart from change, and that in the world as we know it, change ends inevitably in death.  It is true that the imperfect is our paradise, but most religions, including Christianity, say that all change doesn’t have to be a change in the direction of death.  (CW 24, 561)

The same thing happens when in Wallace Stevens I discover the line “the imperfect is our paradise” — here I immediately understand that a paradox is involved between the word “imperfect” in the negative sense, in the sense of “something less than perfect,” and “imperfect” in the sense of openness, of continuity.  That kind of polysemy, I think, is imbedded in the whole conception of figurative language.  The critic cannot deal with literature unless he has at least some idea about the different viewpoints that can be gathered around any critical theme, exemplified, among other ways, by the different referential contexts of the same word. (CW 24, 1085)