Monthly Archives: June 2011

Videos of the Day: Ukulelemania

Amateur video of “I am the Walrus” played on a boss v-shaped ukulele with licks-o’-fire trim

The ukulele is a gift to the ungifted. Everybody can play, although not just anybody can wring magic from it. I picked it up for the first time nine days ago, and I can approximate a good number of Beatles tunes. The first time I played an F chord, I felt like Pete Townsend. It was so . . . triumphant.

It turns out there’s an extensive ukulele community and lots of video available on YouTube. There’s also one bona fide ukulele hero: Jake Shimabukuro. While his cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is justly famous, his version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is pretty wow. (Those minor chords.)

After the jump, two performances by the master — including a performance at TED 2010. The instrument deserves this kind of attention. As Jake Shimabukuro observes, “The ukulele is an instrument of peace. If everybody played, the world would be a happier place.”

Continue reading

Robert Kroetsch

Robert Kroetsch died in a car accident today. Below is a reposting of Matthew Griffin’s September 12th 2009 post, “Influence without Anxiety”

While much of the discussion on this blog has revolved around how Frye has been an influence on other critics, I think it also worth remembering his potent effect on novelists and poets as well. A reflection on what it is to write and to think about literature that has been formative for me is Robert Kroetsch’s essay, “Learning the Hero from Northrop Frye” (It’s perhaps easiest to find in The Lovely Treachery of Words: Essays Selected and New.  Don Mills: Oxford, 1989. 151-162.)  While we’d do well to remember an axiom from the Polemical Introduction, that the author “has a peculiar interest, but not a peculiar authority” as a critic of the author’s own work (CW 29: 7), Kroetsch writes that it was an encounter with Frye’s thought “that exhausted me into language” (151). He describes giving a seminar on Milton, using the just published Anatomy of Criticism as his “critical starting point,” only to be asked what the ideas therein were all about (154). Kroetsch describes his answer as follows:

I began, in answering that request, to talk about the hero, the nature of the hero, in literature, in the modern world, in my Canadian world, and in a way I haven’t stopped, and here, today, thirty years later, I’m still giving the report, though now Northrop Frye himself has become the hero under discussion, a peculiarly Canadian hero, in a modern world that has assigned to critics and theorists a hero’s many tasks.  We live at a time when the young critic as tram faces the uncomfortable fate of becoming the old critic as god. (154)

Kroetsch’s essay marvels at just what influence Kroetsch has had on Canadian writing in particular, before finally concluding of Frye, that in “his collected criticism, he locates the poetry of our unlocatable poem.  In talking about that poem, he becomes our epic poet. Grazie” (161).

Perhaps in this idea is fodder for our own reflections about how we might relax our own anxieties of influence, and look to see Frye’s impact upon writers beyond the sphere of criticism proper?

Frye on God: “The less we ‘believe’ in the ordinary sense, the better”

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, frames the issue as a matter of “blind faith” in the face of “scientific fact”

Continuing with our posts on Frye on God, here he is again in “Pistis and Mythos” on belief after “the death of God”:

I notice in my students a strong willingness to come into contact with religion, along with an equally strong reluctance to go along with “dogma.” This seems to have some relation to the fact that “God” has dried up as a conception, of no use to any form of scientific or, increasingly, philosophical construct. It looks as though, if belief is to be understood as the voluntarily credible, it cannot for much longer be regarded as a virtue. When we consider beliefs that others hold and that we do not, our feelings are increasingly those of a sense of freedom delivered from obsession. In short, the less we “believe” in the ordinary sense the better, and one comes to distrust believing in anything that has to be believed in. (CW 4, 8)

Quote of the Day

Matt Taibbi applies a welcome smackdown to Ross Douthat of The New York Times. Here he is putting a sleeper hold on Douthat’s new-found pacifism:

Look, people are entitled to have changes of heart. They are also entitled to learn from experience. And most importantly, people are entitled to be wrong. We all are, from time to time. And if people like Ross Douthat emerge from the experience of observing the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascoes finally understanding “the bluntness of war as an instrument of state” and the “difficulty of predicting” any war’s “long-term consequences,” that’s great. I applaud it.

But I don’t buy it. What happened back in ’02 and ’03 can’t be summarized as simply as a policy disagreement that Douthat, through the folly of inexperience, happened to be on the wrong side of. The mere fact that the Douthats of the world supported the war wasn’t what made them so obnoxious.

Much more important was the shameless witch-hunting of antiwar voices, and the impugning of the patriotism of people who advocated the very sort of caution Douthat now claims to endorse. Douthat, remember, contributed to the National Review’s obnoxiously-titled “Kumbaya Watch,” pitched as “the latest in anti-American commentary from the left.” In that column he hounded critics of the president and/or those who didn’t advocate immediate war against the Muslims, and wondered aloud about the political bias of organizations like ABC News (they wouldn’t let their reporters wear American flag lapel pins!).

Call for Papers, Frye Centenary Conference, October 2012

A call for papers via Neil ten Kortenaar

CFP: Educating the Imagination: A Conference in Honour of Northrop Frye on the Centenary of His Birth.

October 4,5,6, 2012, Victoria University in the University of Toronto

Twenty years after his death, Northrop Frye, the author of Fearful Symmetry and Anatomy of Criticism, continues to be one of the most read and the most quoted of literary critics.  His attention to form, specifically to genre and mode, and his understanding of literature as a totality have directly influenced two later generations of critics, including Hayden White  Fredric Jameson, and Franco Moretti.  In order to celebrate this ongoing legacy, the Department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, Frye’s home throughout his career, have organized a three-day symposium in his honour.

Keynote speakers:

Ian Balfour, York University, author of Northrop Frye (1988), The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy (2002)

Robert Bringhurst, poet, author of A Story As Sharp As a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World (1999) and Selected Poetry (2009)

J. Edward Chamberlin, University of Toronto, author of Come Back to Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies (1993) and If This Is Your Land, Where  Are Your Stories? (2003)

Michael Dolzani, Baldwin-Wallace College, editor of Frye’s Notebooks

W.J.T. Mitchell, University of Chicago, editor of Critical Inquiry and author of What Do Pictures Want? (2005) and Picture Theory (1994)

Gordon Teskey, Harvard University, author of Delirious Milton (2006); Allegory and Violence (1996)

There will be panels devoted to Frye’s specific legacy, which we are now in a better position to appreciate because of the completed publication of the Collected Works in thirty volumes.  But we also invite speakers to take inspiration from Frye and to consider literary and cultural topics such as:

1. Educating the Imagination when the Humanities are under threat

Frye and Comparative Literature

2. The place of Western Literature and theory in a global context.

The spread and the provincialization of Europe.

The limits of the Great Code

3. Contemporary manifestations of traditional literary modes:

The popular romance

Contemporary tragedy

Irony after postmodernism

4. Creative responses to the Bible in an era of fundamentalism and secularism

5. The survival of the literary imagination in a digital age

6. Canadian literature in a postnational age

7. The Great Code and Islam

8. History as Narrative

9. Nature in an era of environmental crisis

10.  Local literature, local forms

Proposals for papers or panels of papers are welcome. Abstracts of 200 words (for papers) are due January 31, 2012. Please send them by e-mail to

Organizers: Alan Bewell, Chair, Department of English (

Neil ten Kortenaar, Director, Centre for Comparative Literature (, Germaine Warkentin

Major Site Tech Upgrade (Whoo hoo!)

We can now embed videos from various sources (this one, for example, from Vevo). That means video that is more current and more eclectic

We have just undergone a welcome upgrade.

First, every post on the entire website — that is, daily blog postings, articles in the journal, and all of the documents in the library — can now be downloaded in PDF format. Simply hit the link to the post you’d like to go to, like, say, Michael Dolzani’s article in the journal, “Desert Paradise: A Polemical Re-Introduction to Northrop Frye.” Just beneath the title you’ll see a live “Make a PDF” link; hit that, and you’ll get a printable version of the text; hit the PDF icon at the top of the page, and you’ll get a downloadable PDF version of the article. Better yet, it will be both paginated and searchable. This is a big leap forward for us and a boon for people who want more practical access to this material.

We are also now able to embed video from a number of sites, including:

This too is an exciting development. It means we can get more video to you directly that you can watch on site, rather than simply providing a remote link to it.

We expect there will be more innovations as the summer progresses. We’ll keep you apprised. And, of course, we are always looking for your input and suggestions.

Todd Lawson, “Frye and the Koran: Typology, Apocalypse & Epic”

Todd Lawson is professor of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto

In several, scattered places in his later writings, Frye treats the Koran as a text that deserves to be read very carefully as both literature and “more than literature”.  For example, in The Great Code he points out that those who see in the Koran’s version of the story of Mary and the birth of Jesus a confusion of Biblical material have simply got it wrong and are deaf to the music of typological figuration.

The third Sura of the Koran appears to be identifying Miriam and Mary; Christian commentators on the Koran naturally say this is ridiculous, but from the purely typological point of view from which the Koran is speaking, the identification makes good sense. (GC 172, italics added)

Several similar instances demonstrate Frye’s characteristic perspicacity and even unto a text as foreign in cultural presuppositions, form and content as the Koran. I am studying Frye’s relationship with the Koran through both printed and unpublished works where he either explicitly refers to the text or where his remarks on other texts are equally apposite in the case of the Koran. I am also exploring, with the able and valuable assistance of Rebekah Zwanzig (who actually also discovered this blog), the Frye archive to study his marginalia and notes on related texts, such as English translations of the Koran and of Rumi’s poetry.  Results so far suggest that Frye’s faith in the “sacrament of reading” allowed him to develop a remarkably open, if critical, attitude towards the Koran, something in which he was certainly then – and may still well be – ahead of his time.

My interest in Frye’s Koran began in the early ‘80’s when I was working on a PhD thesis at McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies. My subject was a particularly challenging unpublished manuscript of an Arabic Koran commentary. In taking a break, reading the newly published Great Code, I saw that Frye had solved one of the problems that had been eluding me. His discussion of the above-mentioned typological figuration and its persuasive power and efficacy was in fact a revelation and provided a key I had not found elsewhere. When I started teaching at U of T in 1988 I secretly held the hope that I would one day be able to meet the great man and express to him my gratitude for his unbeknownst help. Of course, I also hoped of thus being able to search further the Frygian experience of the Koran. Alas, this meeting never happened. In fact, and in the context of the present research, a rather ironic signal brought the possibility to a clear, cold end . . . it was the evening of January 23, 1991. In those days I was in the habit of listening to the radio about the Gulf War while I worked in the evening in my office at Robarts Library. The bombing of Baghdad — home and scene of the great efflorescence of Arabo-Islamic learning and culture from the 8th to the 13th centuries — had begun five or six days earlier and was commencing apace.  The reports of this massive (and in retrospect perhaps phobic) attack were interrupted on the CBC to announce the passing of Northrop Frye. He had just been there, virtually across the street. Now he was gone. But, it seems, not forever.

Fifteen years later, I decided to have our conversation anyway. Having returned to the University of Toronto from McGill, and encouraged in my general research by a SSHRC award to study the Koran as an example of literary apocalypse, I decided to weave Frye’s very illuminating work into my methodology. In order to be as rigorous as possible about this, I organized two successive, year-long graduate seminars, entitled the Koranic Apocalyptic Imagination, around the above-mentioned later works of Frye, which included the Double Vision. It was as if the students recognized a long lost friend. It is amazing the way these young Islamicists became excited and encouraged by Frye’s remarks about the structure and content of the Bible because they could apply many of them to their own reading of the Koran, a text which for many of the students was certainly more than literature. And they also discovered how it was literature as well.

The current project, bringing into some kind of order the various aspects, apparent contradictions and other problems of a Frygian Koran, is meant to be background for a chapter in the eventual monograph on the Koran as apocalypse, a topic that has thus far attracted an astonishing lack of attention. Why this lack of attention? It is an interesting question, but one which I will forbear from addressing here. I look forward to hearing from scholars who may be interested in or actually working on Northrop Frye’s reading of the Koran and his understanding of Islam. I am grateful to Bob Denham for the extremely helpful postings here on Frye and the Koran and for general encouragement. And I am grateful to Michael Happy for passing along my initial note to the blog to Bob and, of course, for all of his hard work and creativity that has gone into this invaluable website.

Quote of the Day


Ayn Rand dating website video profile

“If you’ve seen the meatbot, the walking automaton, the pod-people, the dense, glazy-eyed substrate through which living organisms such as myself must escape to reach air and sunlight.” — The Randian ubermensch from the previous post who describes himself as “short, stark, and mansome,” which probably means fat, rude, and body odor.