Monthly Archives: March 2011



Pre-Confederation footage from the Salmonier River, along with a traditional Newfoundland reel

The Dominion of Newfoundland joined the Dominion of Canada on this date in 1949 to become the country’s tenth province:

Frye in an essay about E.J. Pratt, “Silence in the Sea”:

The attitude I have trying to trace in Pratt and associate with his Newfoundland origin is most clearly expressed, naturally, in the poem called Newfoundland which stands first in his collected poems. As the poet watched the sea beating on the Newfoundand shores, a possible ironic or fatalistic vision is dismissed and the vision of the unquenchable energy and the limitless endurance which unite the real man with real nature takes its place:

Here the tides flow,
And here they ebb;
Not with that dull, unsinewed tread of waters
Held under bonds to move
Around unpeopled shores—
Moon-driven through a timeless circuit
Of invasion and retreat;
But with a lusty stroke of life
Pounding at stubborn gates,
That they might run
Within the sluices of men’s hearts,
Leap under throb of pulse and nerve,
And teach the sea’s strong voice
To learn the harmonies of new floods,
The peal of cataract,
And the soft wash of currents
Against resilient banks,
Or the broken rhythms from old chords
Along dark passages
That once were pathways of authentic fires.

And just as the closed door separates the world of consciousness and feeling from the blind fury, so the open door unites man and his world in a common vision. (CW 12, 396-7)

I was lucky enough to live in Newfoundland for a year, and I can guarantee that Newfoundland did not join Canada, Canada joined Newfoundland.

I can also confirm that the bite of Newfoundland humor is keen. After the jump, a sketch from CODCO, now twenty years defunct and still missed.

An earlier post in which Frye cites a poignant fragment of Newfoundland verse here.

Continue reading

Yonge-University-Spadina Line

The Yonge-University-Spadina line opened on this date in 1954, the first subway in Canada.

Toronto, of course, was Frye’s hometown from 1929 on, and he regularly referred to the changes he saw there across six decades. Here he is in “Canada: New World without Revolution”:

Some time ago Eric Arthur produced a book on Toronto called No Mean City, full of photographs of its older architecture. If we count the number of buildings that have been destroyed, many of them before the book appeared, we can see that there is something else in the city which is, if not mean, at least reckless and out of control, something that needs strong organizing to resist it. According to John Stuart Mill, there is a liberal and conservative question to be asked about everything: what good is it? and why is it there? If these questions are asked about public, cultural, or historical monuments, the prevailing answer in our day to the question, what good is it? is, no good unless to the present owner of the property it stands on; and the answer to the question, why is it there? is, because it is not yet worth anyone’s while to remove it. Clearly we need more intelligible answers to both questions. (CW 12, 441)

Frye Quote of the Day: “This is liberalism”

Here’s a nice addition on the anniversary our nation was signed into law: Frye in “Trends in Modern Culture” describes liberalism as “the true faith in democracy”:

This is liberalism, the doctrine that society cannot attain freedom except by individualizing its culture. It is only when the individual is enabled to form an individual synthesis of ideas, beliefs, and tastes that a principle of freedom is established in society, and this alone distinguishes a people from a mob. A mob always has a leader, but a people is a larger human body in which there are no leaders or followers, but only individuals acting as functions of the group. Tolerance of disagreement and criticism among such individuals is necessary, not because uniform truth is nonexistent or unattainable, but because the mind is finite and passionate. (CW , 237)

Edward Greenspon in The Toronto Star today illustrates why the Harper government does not meet this standard:

For all its neglect, Liberalism actually stands for something important. It is, in the words of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, not a neutral concept but “a fighting creed.” It says: “That is not the way we do things” in the face of illiberal behaviours, whether these be misleading MPs about signatures on documents, failing to disclose the costs of fighter jets or prisons, proroguing Parliament rather than abide by rulings, attacking the legitimacy of independent watchdogs from Elections Canada to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, jamming the judiciary or weakening the channels of knowledge by which decisions can be taken on the basis of evidence rather than belief.

British North America Act

Queen Victoria gave royal assent to the British North America Act on this date in 1867, to take effect on July 1st.

Frye in “Criticism and Environment”:

The second stage of cultural development in Canada revolves around the Confederation of 1867, the union of the two Canadas, now Ontario and Quebec, with two Maritime Provinces, and eventually British Columbia. This stage is characterized by a search for a distinctively “Canadian identity,” more particularly in English Canada, and attached to this search are a number of critical fallacies that are important to diagnose. The first and most elementary of these is the fallacy of the exclusive characteristic, or nonexistent essence, the attempt to distinguish something that is, in this case, “truly Canadian,” and is not to be found in other literatures. There are no exclusive or even defining characteristics anywhere in literature: there are only degrees of emphasis, and anyone looking for such characteristics soon gets as confused as a racist looking for pure Aryans. (CW 12, 573-4)

Brian Russell Graham: “The Necessary Unity of Opposites”

Brian is a graduate of the University of Glasgow. He has written extensively on Frye and has published a number of reviews of the Collected Works. He is an assistant professor at Aalborg University in Denmark.

My monograph on Frye, The Necessary Unity of Opposites, has just been released by the University of Toronto Press. The study deals with each of the main areas of Frye’s work: Blake’s poetry, secular literature, education and work, politics and Scripture. For Frye, the history of ideas is characterized by sets of opposing values which result in repeated cyclical movements in that history. However, Frye’s thinking, I argue, can be thought of as a dialectical, “suprahistorical,” and – in the secular context – “post-partisan.”

In each area of interest, Frye deals with the fact that opposing ideas represent a unity; that is, they are “in agreement” with one another. The nature of the “agreement” is different  in each case: beauty and truth are “in agreement” because they both inhere in Blake’s poetry and, more generally, secular literature; leisure and work are “in agreement” because, complementing one another, both must be incorporated into the life of the individual in society; freedom and equality are “in agreement” because the two are simultaneously achievable in society; belief and vision are “in agreement” because the individual must manifest both in his or her own identity. But, in each case, “agreement,” and therefore unity, characterizes the opposition.

Throughout my study, I contend that it is the thinking of Blake which provides the inspiration for Frye’s dialectical thinking. More specifically, it is Blake’s conceptions of innocence and experience which provide the inspiration for Frye’s characteristic mode of thought.

In part, my study also attempts to explain the appeal of Frye through consideration of the relationship his thinking bears to what I call the ordinary history of ideas, with its political divisions. I conclude my study with a consideration of Frye’s thought in relation to “end-of-history” theses, drawing out the implications of my argument that Frye’s thinking can be described as “suprahistorical.”

A study of Frye as a dialectical thinker. An examination of Frye as a thinker whose ideas can be described as “suprahistorical.” An investigation into the notion that Frye’s thought is “post-partisan.” And a thorough exploration of the nature of Blake’s influence on Frye. In writing The Necessary Unity of Opposites I discovered that these four projects are one in the same, a much-needed fourfold study of Frye, which ideally does justice to each concern.

The C Word


Gilles Duceppe of Stephen Harper: “I don’t like people lying”

Stephen Harper is pretending out of the gate that the issue in this election is the possibility of a coalition government involving the opposition parties — as though this outcome were some form of treason, when it is in fact a threat only to the prolonged life of the Harper government, sometimes confused by the Harper government as the institution of Canadian government itself.

Above, Gilles Duceppe reminds us that Harper wasn’t always so resistant to the idea of coalition government when the coalition might have been the Harper government.  Today, Duceppe produced a 2004 letter to the Governor-General signed by the leaders of the opposition parties — including Stephen Harper — advising her that the opposition might be able to form a government if the then Liberal minority fell.  At that time, such a maneuver would have been regarded as parliamentary procedure. Now the idea that opposition parties might co-operatively command the confidence of the House is an affront to Canadian democracy — despite the fact that maintaining the confidence of the House is how parliamentary democracy works, and that such an arrangement would, unlike the Harper government, represent the majority of Canadians.

More in The Gazette.

Conservative Scandals

Conservative senator Doug Finley: charged with election law violation, along with one other Conservative senator and two Conservative operatives. The charges are serious enough that they are facing jail time.

A partial list from Lawrence Martin:

Just recently, we had the document-altering scandal featuring International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, who appears in the House of Commons for Question Period but refuses to answer questions on the matter.

Just recently, we had new revelations in regard to the government’s so-called integrity commissioner, the one who received 228 whistleblowing complaints and upheld not a single one. She left with a half-a-million-dollar severance package – and a gag order to go with it.

Just recently, we learned that the office of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney used ministerial letterhead to raise money for the Conservative Party. We’ve also seen a contempt of Parliament motion brought against the government for its refusal to disclose basic information on the costs of crime bills and on corporate profits. And we’ve seen the Conservatives release attack ads of such questionable quality that they were withdrawn.

Just recently, The Canadian Press reported that, in the tradition of l’état, c’est moi, the Prime Minister is insisting that “Government of Canada” nomenclature be changed to “the Harper government.” Some wag suggested the PM might want to change his own name – to Stephen Hubris.

Just recently, the PM appointed Tom Pentefountas as vice-chairman of the CRTC. Mr. Pentefountas comes equipped with two qualifications: his close friendship with the PM’s director of communications, and zero experience in telecommunications.

Also recently, four Conservatives, including two senators, have been charged with breaking federal election law.

There’s more.  Make your own list.

Contempt of Parliament

Stephen Harper said in an interview today the voters “don’t care” about the contempt of parliament issue, and that it is “not the substance of the election.”

We’ll see. There is polling to suggest that this is indeed an issue among older voters.

How serious is this? In the entire history of the Commonwealth, no sitting government has been found in contempt of parliament.  And this government is guilty on two counts.

The Harper government stands alone on this one. It has made parliamentary history, twice: first, in the finding of contempt, and, second, losing the confidence of the House as the result of that finding.

That sounds like a substantial election issue, and Canadians may care more about it than Harper is willing to acknowledge.