Monthly Archives: June 2011

“God-is-Dead Syndrome”

Jacques Derrida responding to questions on God and Logos

Continuing with the “God is dead” thread in our Frye on God series, here he is in “The Double Mirror” associating the idea with developments in literary criticism:

What I want initially to talk about is my present preoccupation with the Bible, which I am trying to study in relation to secular literature and criticism. This involves relating it to issues in critical theory, so far as I understand them. I get a strong impression that many contemporary critics are talking about the Bible even when they avoid mentioning it. Many critical issues originated in the hermeneutic study of the Bible; many critical theories are obscurely motivated by a God-is-dead syndrome that also arose from Biblical criticism; many of the principles advanced by such theorists often seem to me more defensible when applied to the Bible than they are applied elsewhere. (CW 4, 83)

This God is dead stuff I think clears the way for what is to come. Once we have some idea why God can be said to be dead, we’re getting a better sense of what God is “not.”

You’ll notice that there’s a live “Frye on God” link in the Categories directly beneath this post. You can hit that link at any time to see the entries so far.

The Globe Theatre

A panoramic view of the interior of the reconstructed Globe

The Globe Theatre, of which Shakespeare was part owner, burned to the ground on this date in 1613.

Frye in “The Stage is All the World” considers the theatre as an analogy of the cosmos.

The theatre as a metaphor for the universe was extremely common in Shakespeare’s day, and one reason was that the universe was assumed to have been intelligently designed by its Creator, and intelligent meant having some relation to human life. . . Similarly, the stars are not just up there: they have been put there to influence the character of living things. . . In so designed a cosmos all facts and all ideas are linked together, potentially in the human mind, actually in God’s. The image of a totally participating theatre begins to take shape. All facts and principles have their assigned and ticketed places, and step forward on the stage when needed. Courses in the training of memory were taught in which you constructed a theatre-shaped encyclopedia in your mind, and remembered something by pulling it out of its numbered place in your auditorium. The scholar who did most work on these memory theatres, the late Dame Frances Yates, was convinced that the design of the Globe was influenced by them. (CW 28, 448)

Frye on the Homosexual Jesus

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

It’s Gay Pride Week, which makes it an especially good time to bring bailing buckets to the leaky boat of fear and intolerance.

Frye many times uses the term “homosexual” to describe the Jesus of the gospels, which makes sense archetypally because he is the second Adam who must redeem our fallen sexuality, including the always problematical subordination of women. He therefore consorts with men and has a “beloved disciple.” This is part of the “Eros Regained” aspect of salvation, the return to innocence of our sexuality (that is, sexuality without shame rather than suffused with it), the pinnacle of which is the restoration of the female. Frye in Notes 52:

Eros Regained starts with the homosexual refined Jesus lying on the bosom of a male beloved disciple, trying to get away from his mother but still so hung up sexually that he insisted his father was not his father and that his mother was a virgin, rescuing a bride symbolically but saying “don’t touch me” as his last words to a woman. This is the first phase of [Robert] Graves’ sequel: the mother-son one, where the son has to be “pure” to stay away from the Oedipal situation . . . I think the refined pure youthful Christ who’s been such a pain in the ass to later ages goes with the perversion of his teachings into a Mother Church. If I’m right about the Virgin as (this also seems to be Jung’s view) the glorified creature, or Man as the fourth person in the Trinity (except that it’s Woman), the Catholic cult of the Virgin is really a kind of narcissism.

What this ultimately means is that the restoration of Eros completes the resurrection of love where even the sexes become interchangeable, and, as with the Angels in Milton’s Paradise Lost, sex itself becomes interpenetration where “obstacle” they “find none / Of membrane, joint or limb” (8: 625-6). Moreover, if Christ is the bridegroom and the Church his bride, then all of humanity is female at the moment of salvation.

So maybe we can throw in transvestism as also doing God’s work.

God and “Misplaced Concreteness”

“God is dead,” Kids in the Hall

Literature, metaphor, God. From Creation and Recreation:

The recreation of poetry and its metaphorical use of language leads to two principles, one specific, the other universal. First, it reveals the narrowness of our ordinary descriptive use of language. Nietzsche’s statement “God is dead,” which has been so widely accepted, even in theological circles, is primarily a linguistic statement, or, more precisely, a statement about the limitations of language. The word “God” is a noun, which within our present descriptive framework of language means that God has to belong to the category of things and objects. We may agree that God is dead as the subject or object of a human predicate. But perhaps using the word “God” as a noun in this way is merely a fallacy of the type that Whitehead calls misplaced concreteness. We note that in the burning bush story in Exodus, God, though he also gives himself a name, defines himself as “I am that I am” [3:14], which scholars say would be better rendered as “I will be what I will be.” Buckminster Fuller wrote a book called I Seem to be a Verb, and perhaps God is a verb too, not simply a verb of asserted existence but a verb expressing a process fulfilling itself. Such a use of language revives an archaic mode of language, and yet is oddly contemporary with, for example, the language of nuclear physicists, who no longer think of their atoms and electrons as things but as something more like traces of processes. (CW 4, 79)

“Man and the Sabbath”

Footage of Toronto in the 1950s, a city Frye called “a good place to mind your own damn business”

We’ll be continuing with our Frye on God series next week. But Sunday’s a good day to take a look at his attitude toward the Sabbath, which we’ll do over the next few weeks.

In late 1949, the city of Toronto held a plebiscite on allowing Sunday sports. Frye in a February 1950 editorial in the Canadian Forum rather sardonically assesses the widely peddled conventional wisdom of the self-interested push for a no vote; noting, for example, that the Toronto Star “remained firm in its conviction that the Toronto Sunday should never be profaned by anything more secular than the Toronto Weekly Star.”

He concludes with this observation regarding the role of the churches:

Toronto municipal voters are largely a middle-class tax-paying group, and it is extremely unlikely that all or even the great majority of “yes” voters were entirely outside all Christian communions. If the vote means anything, it surely means something like this: people are increasingly unable to believe in the disinterestedness of the churches, or in their ability to distinguish a moral issue from one that merely appears to threaten their social and economic position. That the churches are spending far too much of their energies in an inglorious rearguard action against the incidental vices of society; that they cannot distinguish from cause and effect in social evil; that they have not only tended to retreat into the propertied middle class, but are no longer coming to grips with the real needs even of that class. This is clearly the attitude, or something like the attitude, implied in the Toronto vote. It may be utterly wrong; but an institution committed to humility and self-examination cannot afford to underestimate or disregard the good faith of its critics. (CW 4, 269)

Saturday Night Video: The Jacksons

“ABC” on American Bandstand

Michael Jackson died two years ago today.

His solo work is so saturated into the culture that there’s little point in representing it here. However, the work with The Jackson 5, even though it’s enjoyed classic status for decades, can still startle with its freshness. If this isn’t Motown at its best, it’s close. I don’t know if it’s possible to hear “ABC” and not feel joy — it’s involuntary, like a heart beat. If you’ve seen how the song is featured in Kevin Smith’s Clerks 2 — here you know just how exuberantly that joy can be rendered. (Thanks also to Rosario Dawson who reminds us what it’s like to fall in love during the course of a single song.)

More after the jump.

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Quote of the Day

From The Tudors, Lord Surrey reads his translation of an epigram by Martial to Charles Brandon

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was “sincere in all his doings. If he was alive today, he’d be Canadian.” — Nicola Shulman, Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy (via TLS)

Frye on Wyatt and Surrey:

Wyatt and Surrey, at the court of Henry VIII, were the pioneers of a new conservatism, though this has to be qualified for Wyatt, as we shall see. Surrey in particular established for the sixteenth century a new pentameter line, based on the contemporary pronunciation of the language, heavier than Chaucer’s line though lighter than the post-Miltonic ones. The two poets introduced the sonnet into English from Italian and French sources, mainly Petrarch. Petrarch is earlier than Chaucer, but in English (this does not apply to Italian) the sonnet has a rounded, epigrammatic, almost three-dimensional quality: like perspective painting, it belongs in the Renaissance, not to the flat narratives or the delicate pastel lyrics of medieval poetry. Wyatt followed the five-rhyme Petrarchan form, but Surrey introduced the freer structure, of three quatrains and a couplet, which is more suitable to English, and which Shakespeare alsoused. Surrey also brought in the major invention of blank verse, and both poets experimented with other forms, such as the so-called “poulterer’s measure” of alternating six and seven-foot lines. (CW 10, 16-17)

Michel Foucault and the Invisible God


Foucault on the disciplinary society (part 2 after the jump)

Michel Foucault died on this date in 1984 (born 1926).

This observation from one of Frye’s late notebooks stemming from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish dovetails with our ongoing consideration of Frye on God:

Michel Foucault has written about the control of a space of visibility as the central idea of the 19th c. hospitals and the like, and cites in particular Bentham’s invention invention of a Panopticon. Ramifications include 1984 and its “telescreen.” The idea of a watching God, developed partly to inspire children with guilt feelings about masturbation, is closely bound up with the sense of shame about sex, the need for covering the body which Adam felt when he realized that God was looking for him and wanted to see him. The etymology of dragon means the all-seer. The God who watches is a demonic God; as I’ve said, the true God is invisible because he does the seeing. But what does he see? Something to do with seeing to recreate and not to judge, much less to punish. The taboo about seeing God is of course the reverse side of this. (CW 6, 559)

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TGIF: Doubling Down

The seasonal return of KFC’s Double Down recalls this sequence from The Simpsons: Krusty the Klown’s The Clogger.

How bad is the Double Down? This earlier posting of the SNL commercial parody, “Taco Town,” seems to be in the same neighborhood, at least for the purposes of satire.

Why “Double Down”? Maybe because if you eat it you’re doubling down on the chance of a massive coronary. At least it doesn’t have a bun: fewer fattening carbs.

A commercial for this wonder of suicidal consumerism after the jump.

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Quote of the Day: “Health care that is absurdly inefficient”

Life, death and “managed care” from Michael Moore’s Sicko

As we move more deeply into an exploration of Frye’s notion of God, just about all current events dealing with policies that rationalize needless human suffering in a world that is in every way familiar to us appear particularly relevant.

Over at the The Dish, for example, health care is regularly debated. It is informative for Canadians to have a look at this latest post reproduced below: “Emergency Health Care Isn’t Health Care.” The Americans are still struggling with issues regarding health care that were more or less settled everywhere else decades ago. And it’s still a secret to many of them that they’ve bumbled into the worst — not the best, the worst — system when it comes to delivery. American health care, like much else in the American socio-economic contract, seems designed to deliver misery to the many for the profit of a few.

Canadians need to keep this in mind when the Harper Conservatives turn their attention to health care. Because, having spent tens of billions of dollars in public funds to reassure the necessary handful of wary Ontario voters to grant Stephen Harper’s wish for a majority government with 39.6% of the vote, “austerity” will soon be the watch word. Meanwhile, there are supermax prisons to build to accommodate our falling crime rate, as well as jets to purchase to sustain our position as a military superpower. In other words, American priorities. The more money that is spent ginning up fear and resentment, the less money there is for the maintenance of social justice.

The fact that emergency room care is guaranteed by the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act does not mean that everyone has access to effective healthcare. But 1986 does seem to me to be the real moment when America socialized medicine – under Reagan! In a real Ron-Paul style free market in healthcare, where everyone has to buy their own insurance or not and deal with the consequences, chronically sick poor people must, in principle, be left, at some point, to suffer and die alone or bankrupted. Something in the American psyche does not want that to be America. Whatever part of the psyche that is, it sure isn’t inspired by Ayn Rand. It wants to put a floor under human suffering and sickness, to have a minimal baseline for care. We don’t want to see people dying in the streets.

But once you have done that, you have socialized medicine.

You have socialized medicine because most of the people visiting the emergency room will not have sufficient coverage and will be unable to pay. So the costs are shifted to everyone else. Worse, the costs of treatment at this level of emergency are far higher than pre-emptive care. And so we are all in this together already. The question is: does it make any sense to construct a socialized system in this absurdly inefficient way that may actually cost much more and provide much less healthcare than a more coherent system?

This is one reason why America’s relatively free market in healthcare has become so costly and inefficient. I mean, here’s a question worth asking. In what field of human activity is a free market system consistently far less efficient than a socialized one? Why are those decadent Europeans actually more efficient in providing healthcare than we are?