Monthly Archives: February 2011

Quote of the Day: “A co-operative state is necessary to preserve us from chaos”

Frye in correspondence with Helen Kemp:

“I think with the C.C.F [Co-operative Commonwealth Federation] that a co-operative state is necessary to preserve us from chaos.  I think with the Liberals that it is impossible to administer that state at present.  I think with the C.C.F. that man is unable, in a laissez faire system, to avoid running after false gods and destroying himself.  I think with Liberals that it is only by individual freedom and democratic development that any progress can be made.” (CW 1, 155-6)

Video of the Day: “The Koch brothers are out to bust unions”


Shepard Smith — apparently the only employee at Fox News who doesn’t follow Roger Ailes’s policy to lie — weighs in on the Wisconsin union busting effort and explains why it can be called that. Americans seem to have picked up on what’s really going on here: in a poll released yesterday, 61% said that they would oppose an effort in their state to deny unions collective bargaining rights. Decency trumps ideology. Maybe we can cautiously begin to expect more of that.

Canadian Conservatives: Whatever

Conservative senator Doug Finley: charged with election law violation

Four Conservatives, including two senators, have been charged with breaking federal election law on campaign spending.  Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey dismissed the charges, saying, “This is an accounting issue.”

That seems to be a pattern of behavior for conservatives everywhere these days: the law is for other people, particularly when it comes to any form of electoral malfeasance intended to gain or hold on to power.  It’s just another accounting issue.

Story here.

The History of Violets: Ready for a Frygian Reading

Jeannine Marie Pitas has recently translated a small book of poetry called The History of Violets by the Uruguyan poet Marosa di Giorgio.  Though a slim volume, the poetry is powerful and ripe for analysis.  In her introduction, Pitas writes: “For me, her poems recall the British Romantics – Wordsworth’s image of a child terrified by a jutting crag in his Prelude, or Blake’s awe before the little lamb’s innocence and the burning tiger’s power” (viii).  These poems stand out because of the imaginative power of a poet whose voice, whatever its sources, seems wholly her own.

Though I have not yet found the time to give the poems the critical attention they deserve, I can hear echoes of Frye’s Blake throughout.  As a scholar trained in Latin American Literature, I continue to believe that Frye has a great deal to teach us about a literature with which he evidently had little familiarity beyond an appreciation for Jorge Luis Borges. Just as the appeal of literature is universal, so are its archetypes and expression of prevailing human concerns.  When it comes to these two literary elements, Frye remains most relevant to the study of world literature.

You can order The History of Violets here.  Review here.

Di Giorgio reading one of her poems after the jump.

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Tennessee Williams


Blanche meets Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams died on this date in 1983 (born 1911).

Frye in The Educated Imagination cites Williams in his account of recurring archetypes in popular literature:

You notice that popular literature, the kind of stories that are read for relaxation, is always very highly conventionalized.  If you pick up a detective story, you may not know until the last page who done it, but you always know before you start reading exactly the kind of thing that’s going to happen.  If you read the fiction in women’s magazines, you read the story of Cinderella over and over again.  If you read Westerns, you’re reading a development of the pastoral convention, which turns up in writers of all ages, including Shakespeare.  It’s the same with characterization.  The tricky or boastful gods of ancient myths and primitive folk tales are characters of the same kind that turn up in Faulkner or Tennessee Williams. (CW 21, 449)

Gov. Scott Walker Prank Tells Us Exactly What We Need to Know


Scott Walker confiding in “David Koch.” (Part 2 of the conversation after the jump.  A full transcript of the conversation here.)

Koch: Bring a baseball bat. That’s what I’d do.

Walker: I have one in my office; you’d be happy with that. I have a slugger with my name on it.

Koch: Beautiful.

Walker: Union-bashing…

Koch: Beautiful.

You’ve probably heard that Wisconsin’s Tea Party governor Scott Walker got a prank call from a reporter at The Buffalo Beast (founded by Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi) in which he spoke with carefree frankness about his intention to break the public sector unions in the state. What’s crucial to the prank is the person Walker believed he was talking to: David Koch — the same David Koch to whom Walker seems eager to deliver untendered state contracts.

If you want to look into the representative faces of the corporate interests that have by this point more or less purchased the Republican party outright, look no further than the David and Charles Koch: they fund global warming denialism, they co-founded and fund the Tea Party, they threw millions of dollars at the Republicans during last year’s midterms and are looking to raise tens of millions more in 2012; now they intend to do a little union bustin’ in Wisconsin. These guys are not here to fool around. They’re working behind the scenes to distort public perceptions on some of the most important issues of the day and to gin up the political polarization that results. All of this effort is to advance an agenda whose only beneficiaries are themselves and the rarefied corporate cloud dwellers they associate with — as well as their bought-and-paid-for Republican flunkies in Congress.  So the first thing to do is to bring them out of the shadows to give them the exposure they shun.  That seems to be happening a little more every day.

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Patrick J. Keane: Frye in Sligo

From “Convergences: Memories Involving The Waste Land Manuscript,” an essay by Patrick J. Keane in Numéro Cinq


“. . . But to return to the summer of 1968: That August, I was in Sligo, Ireland, a student at the Yeats International Summer School. Along with my enthusiasm for Yeats, I bore greetings from one great scholar of Romanticism to another: from one of my current teachers, David Erdman, author of Blake: Prophet Against Empire, to the keynote lecturer at that year’s Yeats gathering, Northrop Frye, at the time the most celebrated literary critic in the world, and the author of an equally formidable study of Blake, Fearful Symmetry. After Frye delivered his magisterial lecture on the imagery of Yeats, entitled “The Top of the Tower,” I was one of those who flocked to the podium. But I stayed at the periphery, too shy to approach the great man. Later that evening, when Frye, followed by a small entourage, entered the dining room of the Imperial Hotel, he noticed me at a table and walked over.

“You wanted to ask me a question this afternoon,” he said. A fundamentally shy man himself, he had been sensitive enough to spot me on the fringe of the crowd after his lecture, and gracious enough to follow up. I stammered out my greeting from Professor Erdman. “How is David?” Frye asked. I assured him he was well, and was amused when Northrop Frye made a comment symmetrical to that of David Erdman. Each declared the other’s Blake study indispensable and each said he would not have been capable of writing the other’s book. Later that evening, Frye’s shyness was confirmed when I noticed him tenderly holding his wife’s hand under the table during a dramatic performance, in a pub, of Brian Merriman’s bawdy 18th-century poem, The Midnight Court. And five years later, he would confirm his graciousness by allowing me to print “The Top of the Tower,” free of any permissions charge, in a collection of criticism on Yeats I edited for a volume in McGraw-Hill’s Contemporary Studies in Literature series.”

Calls for Papers

Frye, about age 10

As the Frye centenary approaches, the calls for papers increase.  We will continue to post them as they come in, and, for good measure, we will regularly put up a tickler to remind people of them until their deadlines pass.  We also now have a separate “Call for Papers” search category which will make it easier for people to find them in a hurry.

Thomas Bowdler


The BBC Animated Shakespeare, The Tempest (part 1)

Physician and self-appointed censor of Shakespeare, Thomas Bowdler, died on this date in 1825 (born 1754).

Frye makes a point at his expense in “On Value Judgments”:

Every age, left to itself, is incredibly narrow in its cultural range, and the critic, unless he is a greater genius than the world has yet seen, shares that narrowness in proportion to his confidence in his taste.  Suppose we were to read something like this in an essay published, say, in the 1820s: “In reading Shakespeare we often feel how lofty and genuine are the touches of nature by which he refines our perceptions of the heroic and virtuous, and yet how ignobly he condescends to the grovelling passions of the lowest among his audience.  We are particularly struck with this in reading the excellent edition by Doctor Bowdler, which for the first time has enabled us to distinguish what is immortal in our great poet from what the taste of his time compelled him to acquiesce in.”  End of false quote.  We should see at once that that was not a statement about Shakespeare, but a statement about the anxieties of the 1820s. (CW 27, 260-1)