Monthly Archives: January 2011

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative


“The Great Canadian Flag Debate”  (From the CBC archives but not posted by the CBC, and so viewable by non-Canadians.)

Years ago The New Republic initiated a “most boring headline” competition inspired by a column with the title, “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.”  It’s still funny, except when it’s not, like when the issue is sound banking regulation and the delivery of high quality universal health care.  See, for example, Fareed Zakaria’s article in Newsweek two years ago, “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative,” where he really means it.

On this date in 1965, after long and often rancorous debate, Parliament approved the design for what is now the Canadian flag.  As often happens here, we were united in our divisions and eventually came through with a unanimous choice, but only by way of fiercely partisan in-committee flanking maneuvers.  In other words, we tricked ourselves into it.  For spite.  This is what Frye otherwise calls our genius for compromise.

From “National Consciousness in Canadian Culture”:

And today, when not only Quebec but Western and Eastern Canada have strong separatist sentiments, separatism is neutralized by a feeling, affecting separatists and federalists alike, that the issue is not really important enough to go beyond the stage of symbolism.  Even symbolism has had a curiously muted life in Canada.  Older cultural nationalists, for example, warned us against the dangers of “flag-waving,” disregarding the fact that Canada at the time had no flag to wave.  (CW 12, 499)

Quote of the Day

Following the trail left by Orwell last week, here’s an entry from Frye’s unpublished, newly posted Notebook 51, paragraph 15:

Orwell’s doublethink is the soul-body civil war where the consciousness hypnotizes itself into thinking it believes what the repressed consciousness knows to be nonsense.  Fear of external authority creates internal repression.  All genuine imgn. [imagination] is doublethink as Orwell defines it.

Mordecai Richler: Reposted


Because the CBC doesn’t see fit to allow non-Canadians to watch material they post on YouTube, for crying out loud, I’ve moved the CBC clip I posted earlier after the jump.  Replacing it above is an excerpt from an upcoming documentary on Richler, “The Last of the Wild Jews,” premiering on Bravo! in March.  For good measure, I’ve added another clip after the jump in which Richler takes a swipe at Canada for being so Canadian (we’re nice and all, but, sheesh, he’s got a point).  Sadly, because it too is a CBC clip, it cannot be viewed by non-Canadians.

Today is Mordecai Richler‘s birthday (1931-2001).

Here’s a little anecdote from Richler’s On Snooker:

When Northrop Frye discovered that my friend Bob Weaver golfed, he was appalled.  “I had no idea you engaged in executive sports, Bob,” he said.  (83)

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Quote of the Day: Keith Richards on Open Tuning


Rolling Stones performing “Honky Tonk Women” on Top of the Pops in 1969 with Mick Taylor on second guitar — their best lineup ever.  The open G tuning drives the song’s roots very deep into the Delta blues upon which rock ‘n’ roll is based.

I’m reading Keith Richards’s surprisingly good autobiography, Life. Here he is describing his discovery of open tuning, which freed him as a composer and set him apart as a performer:

The beauty, the majesty of the five-string open G tuning for an electric guitar is that you’ve only got three notes — the other two are repetitions of each other an octave apart.  It’s tuned GDGBD.  Certain strings run through the whole song, so you get a drone going all the time, and because it’s electric they reverberate.  Only three notes, but because of the different octaves, it fills the whole gap between bass and top notes with sound.  It gives you this beautiful resonance and ring.  I found working with open tunings that there’s a million places you don’t need to put your fingers.  The notes are there already.  You can leave strings wide open.  It’s finding the spaces in between that makes open tuning work.  And if you’re working on the right chord, you can hear this other chord going on behind it, which you’re actually not playing.  It’s there.  It defies logic.  And it’s just lying there saying, “Fuck me.”  And it’s a matter of the same old cliche in that respect.  It’s what you leave out that counts.  Let it go so that one note harmonizes off the other.  And so even though you’ve now changed your fingers to another position, that note is still ringing.  And you can even let it hang there.  It’s called the drone note.  Or at least that’s what I call it.  The sitar works along similar lines — sympathetic ringing, or what they call the sympathetic strings.  Logically it shouldn’t work, but when you play it, and that note keeps ringing even though you’ve now changed to another chord, you realize that that is the root note of the whole thing you’re trying to do.  It’s the drone. (243)

No doubt some will think this is a laughable reach, but Richards is obviously expressing the excitement of finding something in music that is in the potential of music itself and independent of his intention, and about that Frye, of course, has something to say:

Often creative people begin with the sense of a small school to which they belong and they write manifestos defending that school.  However, as they get more authority, they tend to break away from the school and speak more and more with their own voice.  As the maturing process goes on, the voice becomes steadily more impersonal.  If it’s a great creative mind, it moves in the direction of speaking with the authority of the art behind it.  I’ve often drawn the distinction between listening to music, say, on the level of Tchaikowsky, where you feel that this is a very skillful, ingenious, and interesting composer, and music on the level of Mozart or Bach, where you feel that this is the voice of music.  And that’s not to say that the music is impersonal because it obviously couldn’t be anyone but Mozart of Bach.  Nevertheless, the feeling is one of having transcended the ego which is no longer opaque but completely transparent for revealing the authority of the art itself.  (CW 24, 488-9)

After the jump, Son House performing the open G tuned “Death Letter Blues,” demonstrating Frye’s principle that “originality” is really a return to origins.

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Stephane Grappelli


Grappelli and Django Reinhardt perform Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” in what may be one of the sweetest, most lingering instrumental covers of the song.

Today is jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli‘s birthday (1908-1997).  That’s reason enough to celebrate this day.

An earlier post on Django Reinhardt — including precious and rare footage of Reinhardt and Grappelli performing — here.

Virginia Woolf


The only surviving recording of Woolf: a talk delivered on the BBC in April 1937 under the title “Craftsmanship.”  It was part of a series called “Words Fail Me.”

Today is Virginia Woolf‘s birthday (1882-1941).

Frye in his 1948 Canadian Forum review of Woolf’s posthumously published The Moment and Other Essays :

Like its predecessors, it makes very agreeable reading, but indicates that Virginia Woolf was as minor a figure in criticism as she was a major one in the novel.  She was a great novelist, with a consciousness about form and structure more Continental than English.  For the English novel, as she occasionally complains, has usually been rather like one of the county houses it so often describes: rambling in structure, provincial in setting, showing a good deal of improvising in the building, full of drafts caused by loose ends of plot and loopholes in motivation, and with the less mentionable aspects of existence difficult to access yet marked by a pervasive smell.  Virginia Woolf’s novels looked “experimental,” not because she was trying stunts but because she went all out for whatever novel she was writing, determined not to let it go until every detail had been hammered into the right shape and place.  So although words like “subtlety” and “delicacy” spring to mind first in connection with her, these qualities are, as they should be, the results of great imaginative energy and vigorous craftsmanship. (CW 26, 80)



From the British television adaptation of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius: Caligula (now incarnated as Jove) addresses the Senate after winning his “battle against Neptune”

On this date in 41 the emperor Caligula was assassinated (born 12).

Frye in The Double Vision:

In religion, too, we must keep a critical attitude that never unconditionally accepts any socially established form of revelation.  Otherwise, we are back to idolatry again, this time a self-idolatry rather than an idolatry of nature, where devotion to God is replaced by the deifying of our own present understanding of God.  Paul tells us that we are God’s temples [1 Corinthians 3:16]: if so, we should be able to see the folly of what was proposed by the emperor Caligula for the Jerusalem temple, of putting a statue of ourselves in its holy place.  (CW 4, 197)

Frye’s Previously Unpublished Notebook 51

Cross-posted in the library here

This small holograph notebook, discovered in the bedside table of Elizabeth Eedy Frye following her death in May of 1997, is a Double Vision notebook.  It was not included in Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, Collected Works, vol. 6.  The numbers in square brackets at the end of some entries refer to the paragraph numbers in the typescript for Notes 53, where there is a similar or parallel entry.  Parallel passages in Notes 54‑1 are also noted in square brackets. This is one of the few examples of Frye’s using a holography notebook as the basis for his typed notes.  Transcribed by Robert D. Denham.

[1]  Fiction.  Cena form.  Characters meet in a house with mind-bending characteristics.  Paradoxes of time‑space (bilocation) and life‑death involved.  Characters as Jungian archetypes: house is unity of social and individual body.

[2]  Romantic archetypal characters: enough realism for a novel: cena form but an individual as well as group enlightenment.  Some things take on a curious importance; Charles Williams, Mary Johnston’s Sweet Rocket [1920], things in other contexts I’d call second rate.

[3]  Something to think about: not necessarily something to write.

[4]  Myth absorbing history: prophecy and the sense of the “historical[.]”   Not absorption but confrontation.  Extreme of Egypt; extreme of pan-historical view now, when there’s a terrific itch for the “historical” Jesus. [194]

[5]  Domination of history by myth: Egypt.  In that nothing happens.  Wonder if I should take the Byron epigram seriously,[1] & interpret my whole 8th ch. complex as history. [195]

[6]  Two levels of history: aggressive and cultural.  The aggressive is imperialistic & seeks the reconciliation of the pax Romana: agreement or the linguistically aggressive dogma.  Cultural history interpenetrates: variety & unity, but no uniformity. [196]

[7]  If so, then why “go into the world & preach the gospel”?  Because the gospel was primarily aimed at Rome (Acts) & so, eventually, at the taking over of the Roman Empire, the Beast & Whore of Revelation.  Of course this initiated what Blake calls the ages of Constantine & Charlemagne.  (Blake’s 27th church is Luther; it should be Loyola.)

[8]  Joachim: age of the Son or dividing Word up to 2000: age of the Spirit after that. [197]

[9]  Logos from Heraclitus to Philo doesn’t mean word: it means a human consciousness linked to some principle of divine origin immanent in nature.[2] So the John logos, which returns to the Hebrew DBR,[3] is an extension. [198]

[10]  Two: go on to Keats, G.U. [Ode on a Grecian Urn] (Wedgwood).  In Blake it’s the trdnl. [traditional] spiritual–physical duality.  Anyway an impersonal-objective vs. a personally-involving world.  Connected by puns on law.  Personal world imports a creator God––unless it’s the other way round.  Yes, the disengagement of personal from impersonal worlds affects [effects?] purifying of religion.  Providence. [199]

[11]  Spengler’s “decline” applies to the empires who conclude the cultural process: as they decline they move towards a confrontation, or historical judgment.  Three. [200]

[12]  The Islamic revelation was a counter-apocalypse, which arose as a part of the Christian failure to separate the two worlds.  They failed because science hadn’t developed far enough.  Three. [201]

[13]  Trace dialectic of the two worlds from the beautiful-true to the spiritual-physical. [202]

[14]  One is the dialectic from “I believe that that really happened (in the past),” the red herring of discursive language, to “I see that that’s the way it has to be.”  Study of poetry of course is training for us.  All three form a larger dialectic running through language, space and time. [202]

[15]  Orwell’s doublethink is the soul-body civil war where the consciousness hypnotizes itself into thinking it believes what the repressed consciousness knows to be nonsense.  Fear of external authority creates internal repression.  All genuine imgn. [imagination] is doublethink as Orwell defines it. [203]

[16]  I suppose Blake’s distrust of memory is linked to the red herring of the past. [202]

[17]  Red herrings: (1) it really means (2) it’s really there (3) it really happened.  From metaphor to spiritual reality. [204]

[18]  Imperial monuments follow the law of Ozymandias: they crumble.  Genuine culture is tribal & regional. [205]

[19]  Literature is the art of inscribing verbal patterns within a mythological cosmos.  It starts as rhetoric, or the figuring of speech: as rhetoric passes into ideology it becomes kerygmatic or spiritual language. [206]

[20]  Myth is the abstract form of narrative; later, in historical writing, it becomes the continuing form of narrative (“decline & fall” stage).  Then it’s Weltgeschichte, & moves on to its confrontation in Heilsgeschichte. [207]

[21]  Esse est percipi; but we know the world keeps on existing whether we see it or not: hence, for Berkeley, we trust that God keeps on watching it, as, to be consistent, the world must be an idea in God’s mind.  It’s a good thing that, as the Psalmist says, God neither slumbers nor sleeps. [208]

[22]  Lewis Hyde: we instinctively speak of cultural abilities as “gifts” (i.e. of the spirit).[4] [209]

[23]  Law, besides the option of obeying it or not, may be just or unjust, logical (the original sense of logos) or arbitrary. [210]

[24]  Feminism and metaphor: man for men & women. [211]

[25]  If the Sabbath was made for man, the Church was too. [212]

[26]  The ideologue identifies truth with whatever promotes his cause: the trouble is the mortality of causes.  Truth, like the classic in literature, is whatever won’t go away, & keeps returning to confront us.  I don’t know what “the truth” is in most matters, only that it’s likely to be connected with whatever returns until we deal with it. [213]

[27]  (Logical positivism failed because it was the exact opposite of “the truth”]: only statements that make no sense have any validity.) [213]

[28]  Interpenetration of belief is unity with variety, like metaphor: reconciliation, conversion, agreement, are all forms of (imperialistic) compulsion. [214]

[29]  Truth is in the repeating pattern which forms the structure of knowledge.  Unique experience has its own kind of truth, but it has no pattern. [215]

[30]  Symmetry is the characteristic of the aesthetic-teleological world: occultism. [216]

[31]  The feminist objection to “man” for “man & woman” is part of the literal fallacy.

[32]  Conspiracy theories of history are fostered, first of all, by the paranoids in establishments. [216]

[33]  Two worlds: one way of relating them is to consider the imgve. [imaginative] or made one as the real form of the other.  Only this is usually a creation myth, where it’s God who makes both worlds. [218]

[34]  Look up The Domain of Arnheim again:[5] Eco 57. [217]

[35] Look up [E.M.] Forster’s “only connect.”[6] Eros connects. [217]

[36]  Eco’s comprehensive sendup of conspiratorial theories of history.[7] Of course, since Jacobins (and Jacobites) there have been conspiracies.  Halfway between history & myth. [216]

[37]  Three: immense importance of the imgve. [imaginative] way of life.  Interpenetration & mythical history are subordinated to that. [219]

[38]  Pagan sequence: first nature-gods reflecting the uncertain temper of nature: remote & unconcerned universal god (Lucretius later).  Animals numinous: transformations of Zeus. [Notes 54‑1, par. 62]

[39]  Transfer from nature to social gods (not a sequence).  War, “wisdom” (cunning).  Eventually some few realize that the true “god” is a Muse or Angel, an aspect of human creative power (Vita Nuova).  This true “god” is transitional from idolatry to monotheism. [Notes 54‑1, par. 63]

[40]  Only why gods of mousike rather than techne? [Notes 54‑1, par. 63]

[41]  Man turning back on a million crosses in war cemeteries to explain how aggression has profound survival value. [Notes 54‑1, par. 64]

[42]  Fraternity: aristocracy: snobbery.  Sense that a real community has to be a minority, a small group.  Link with tribal complex maybe.  Also with the difficulties of the “king” metaphor about God. [Notes 54‑1, par. 65]

[43]  The Jehovah of the O.T. is a humanized being, as violent & unpredictable as King Lear.  We read in Plato & Plutarch about the “hyponoia” & other efforts to make the gods behave themselves & be proper role-models.  The central image of man trying to make this creature into a decent God is Jacob wrestling with the angel. [Notes 54‑1, par. 66]

[44]  Aristocracy: ancestor-worship: efforts to keep a time of continuity with our ancestors as (temporal) authors of our being, nature-gods in a true sense.  Virgin Birth & pushing aside Joseph essential for the myth of the spiritual Father. [Notes 54‑1, par. 67]

[45]  China & its heaven-earth axis: also featured in the Lord’s Prayer. [Notes 54‑1, par. 69]

[47]  Essays from the valley: the pleasant valley, the Tao Te Ching valley, the valley of dry bones, of the shadow of death.  Probably a fifth.

[48]]  Who the hell is Arturus Rex?  No evidence that he was ever a god or had a cult; the British fighter of Saxons is totally irrelevant.  I mean the Arthur of Camelot, presiding over the Round Table, sending knights out on quests and collecting their defeated giants.  Nobody like him before or, really, since.

[49]  The two views of Tempest as (a) profound (b) potboiled not incompatible.

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