Daily Archives: February 10, 2011


Cairo, today

Probably anybody who’s interested at all is fully up to date on developments in Egypt — Mubarak may be out tonight, and there’s talk of a quiet, behind the scenes military coup sympathetic to the will of the people.  It’s very gratifying that this popular uprising was not extinguished like the one in Iran.  But, of course, it does raise the issue of what comes next, and here perhaps is where our real fretting begins.  We hope for the best for the Egyptian people, whose courage this last week especially has seemed almost superhuman.  And this kind of thing is certainly consistent with Frye’s vision of revolution informed by primary concern.  We can, occasionally, do what needs to be done in the name of the things that are otherwise least likely to be named.  But, as Frye wryly notes in The Double Vision, “Hope springs eternal, unfortunately it usually springs prematurely.”  Vigilance matters now.  From this point on, merely hoping won’t make it so.

(Photo from The Hindu)

Carol Mavor at the Centre for Comparative Literature

The Centre for Comparative Literature is proud to present two lectures by Northrop Frye Professor in Comparative Literature for 2010-2011, Carol Mavor: Wednesday March 9 and Thursday March 10, 5:30, Jackman Humanities 100.

Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester, England. Mavor is the author of four books: Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott (Duke UP, 2007), Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess, Hawarden (Duke UP, 1999), and Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs (Duke UP, 1995) and Black and Blue: The Bruising of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil and Hiroshima mon amour, is forthcoming from Duke UP (2011). Her essays have appeared in Cabinet Magazine, Art History, Photography and Culture, Photographies, as well as edited volumes, including Geoffrey Batchen’s Photography Degree Zero and Mary Sheriff’s Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art. Her most recent published essay is on the French child-poet Minou Drouet.

Mavor’s writing has been widely reviewed in publications in the U.S. and U.K., including the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Times, and The Village Voice. She has lectured broadly in the US and the UK, including The Photographers’ Gallery (London), University of Cambridge, Duke University and the Royal College of Art.  For 2010-2011, Mavor was named the Northrop Frye Chair in Literary Theory at University of Toronto. Currently, Mavor is completing Blue Mythologies: A Study of the Hue of Blue (forthcoming from Reaktion in 2012).

Blue Mythologies is a visual, literary and cultural study of the color blue. Blue is a particularly duplicitous colour. For example, blue is often associated with opposites or near opposites: like joy and depression; or the sea and the sky; or infinite life and death. Mavor’s approach is semiological, as prescribed by Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (1953). “Mythology,” because it is truth disguised as fiction and fiction disguised as truth, is, by definition, as duplicitous as blue. The subjects are mostly Anglo-European and include a full range of blues: Chantal Akerman’s 2000 film  La Captive; the Aran islands off the coast of Western Ireland; cyanotypes and blue Polaroids; the Australian Satin Bowerbrid; Agnes Varda’s 1965 film  Le Bonheur; Roger Hiorns Seizure, the 2006 installation of copper-sulfite crystals grown to cover an entire London bed-sit; Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1993 film Blue;  Werther’s Goethe (1774), Novalis’s Henry von Ofterdingen (ca. 1799-80) and Bernardin’s Paul et Virginia (1787). Nevertheless, the research includes blue in non-Western contexts: for example, Krishna’s blue skin in eighteenth-century Jodhpur painting or the powder-blue burqas in Samira Makhmalbaf’s 2003 film, At Five in the Afternoon.

Frye Alert

Lynn Beavis, the director of the Richmond Art Gallery, cites Frye’s “Academy Without Walls” in a recent column in the Richmond News.

An excerpt:

On my office wall I keep a quote from the great literary theorist Northrop Frye. It reads in part: “…the arts have something to teach beyond themselves, a way of seeing and hearing that nothing else can give, a way of living in society in which the imagination takes its proper central place.

“Just as the sciences show us the physical world of nature, so the arts show us the human world that man is trying to build out of nature. And, without moralizing, the arts gradually lead us to separate the vision of the world we want to live in from the world that we hate and reject…”

I always return to this quote when I feel dispirited about the work I do, as it reminds me of the broader principle and the experiential wealth I have inherited through my exposure to the arts. Arts, culture and heritage are often viewed in terms of the “nice to have, but not essential” category, particularly when it comes to the matter of funding, but as Frye reminds us, the arts have a much more significant and intrinsic meaning that is often overlooked in the bottom-line mentality.

Because the arts engage us on both an emotion and intellectual level, we learn more about ourselves — our motivations, prejudices, assumptions — and through the self-examination it provokes, we learn to take a new view on the world.

Boris Pasternak


The conclusion of Pasternak’s translation of King Lear (with English subtitles).  Lear’s “howl” speech begins at the six minute mark.

Today is Boris Pasternak‘s birthday (1890-1960).

Frye cites Pasternak in The Modern Century to distinguish between an ideologically enforced “stupid realism” and a fully liberated “revolutionary realism”:

It seems clear that an officially approved realism cannot carry on the revolutionary tradition of Goya and Daumier.  It is not anti-Communism that makes us feel that the disapproved writers, Daniel and Babel and Pasternak, have most to say to us: on the contrary, it is precisely such writers who best convey the sense of Russians as fellow human beings, caught in the same dilemma that we are.  Revolutionary realism is a questioning, exploring, searching, disturbing force: it cannot go over to established authority and defend the fictions which may be essential to authority, but are never real. (CW 11, 33-4)