Daily Archives: May 27, 2011

TGIF: Taco Town

SNL commercial parodies are always worth seeing. This is one of the best. Taco Town is us, and it doesn’t show much sign of no longer being us.

You can watch it here.

William Blake: “It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity”

Further to Michael’s previous posts, “What Would Jesus Defund?”, here’s William Blake, the man Frye says taught him everything he knows, on the everyday indifference to the poor in The Four Zoas, “Night the Seventh,” ll. 111-29:

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun
And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven’s cry in wintry season
When the red blood is fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter house moan;
To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroys our enemies’ house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.

Then the groan and the dolor are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field
When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.

It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:
Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: ‘but it is not so with me.’

‘Compel the poor to live upon a crust of bread, by soft mild arts.
Smile when they frown, frown when they smile; and when a man looks pale
With labour and abstinence, say he looks healthy and happy;
And when his children sicken, let them die; there are enough
Born, even too many, and our earth will be overrun
Without these arts. If you would make the poor live with temper,
With pomp give every crust of bread you give; with gracious cunning
Magnify small gifts; reduce the man to want a gift, and then give with pomp.
Say he smiles if you hear him sigh. If pale, say he is ruddy.
Preach temperance: say he is overgorg’d and drowns his wit
In strong drink, though you know that bread and water are all
He can afford. Flatter his wife, pity his children, till we can
Reduce all to our will, as spaniels are taught with art.’

 

Samuel Pepys

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn6E_4g4UAw

From Peter Ackroyd’s documentary series, London: A Biography (based upon the terrific book by the same name), Pepys describes the Great Fire of London, 1666

Yesterday was the anniversary of Samuel Pepys‘s death (1603-1703). Frye, in his 1942 diary, makes some observations on perhaps the most famous diarist in the language. Bob Denham’s remarks in the Introduction to the Diaries volume offers commentary that deserves to be included:

Frye placed a high priority on privacy, and after he became a name, his secretary Jane Widdicombe did succeed in protecting him from most of the countless potential invasions of that privacy. He was fond of telling interviewers that he had unconsciously arranged his life to be without incident, the result being, he claimed, that no biographer would have the slightest interest in him as a subject. John Ayre’s biography is, of course, evidence to the contrary. And however much we might like to agree in theory with Eliot’s principle that there is a difference between the man who suffers and the mind which creates, in practice the principle is very difficult to maintain. When one becomes a public figure, there is a natural curiosity on the part of the public to learn about his or her life. Frye was also fond of insisting that his life was his published work, just as he was fond of quoting Montaigne’s remark that his life was consubstantial with his book. One can understand what he meant by that, and yet this opposition between life and work, at the deepest level, cannot finally be sustained, as Michael Dolzani has shown.[14]

Frye is aware, of course, that whatever aims the diarist might have, what will emerge from all diaries is necessarily self-revelation. The self-revelation may be minimal, but it is there. The absence of sufficient self-revelation is what worried Frye about Samuel Pepys’s Diary:

I’ve been reading in Pepys, to avoid work. I can’t understand him at all. I mean, the notion that he tells us more about himself & gives us a more intimate glimpse of the age than anyone else doesn’t strike me. I find him more elusive and baffling than anyone. He has a curious combination of apparent frankness and real reticence that masks him more than anything else could do. One could call it a “typically English” trait, but there were no typical Englishmen then and Montaigne performs a miracle of disguise in a far subtler & bigger way. Pepys is not exactly conventional: he is socially disciplined. He tells us nothing about himself except what is generic. His gaze is directed out: he tells us where he has been & what he has done, but there is no reflection, far less self-analysis. The most important problem of the Diary & of related works is whether this absence of reflection is an accident, an individual design, or simply impossible to anyone before the beginning of Rousseauist modes of interior thought. (42.67)

A few entries later Frye writes that Pepys’s ” genre, the diary, is not a branch of autobiography, as Evelyn’s is. . . . When I try to visualize Pepys I visualize clothes & a cultured life-force. I have a much clearer vision of the man who annoyed Hotspur or Juliet’s Nurse’s husband. . . . He does not observe character either: I can’t visualize his wife or my Lord. Even music he talks about as though it were simply a part of his retiring for physic” (42.69). Frye, on the other hand, engages in a great deal of character observation—the character of his colleagues, his students, his family, his wife, and, most of all, himself. His diaries provide a rich and extensive psychological portrait. He does not set out to write a confession, but by the time we have come to the end of the diaries, he has confessed more than he perhaps realized.

But the diaries are also a chronicle. We peer over Frye’s shoulder as he trudges to his office, teaches his classes, attends Canadian Forummeetings, reflects on movies, socializes with neighbours and other friends, discusses Blake with his student Peter Fisher, works on his various commissions, eyes attractive woman, records his dreams, plans his career, judges his colleagues and his university, registers his frank reactions to the hundreds of people who cross his path, travels to Chicago, Wisconsin, and Cambridge, plans his fiction projects, reflects on music, religion, and politics, shovels his sidewalk, suffers through committee meetings, describes his various physical and psychological ailments, practises the piano, visits bookstores, frequents Toronto restaurants, reflects on his reading, and records scores of additional activities, mundane and otherwise. As a chronicle, Frye’s diaries are like Virginia Woolf’s, putting the most inconsequential event, such as cutting the grass, alongside the most sober reflection, such as the nature of the contemporary church or the unspeakable uselessness of war. His speculations on a wide range of critical and social and religious issues are not unlike those in a typical notebook entry. His notebooks occasionally become quite personal and thus move in the direction of the diary. His diaries very often become quite impersonal and thus move in the direction of the notebook. The context of the speculative passages is sometimes a contemporary event, as when the Korean War triggers his prescient views on the path that Communism will take during the last half of the century. Most often, however, the contexts for Frye’s speculations are the courses he is teaching or his writing projects. (CW 8, xxiv)