Daily Archives: May 1, 2012

Jay Macpherson: Rest in Peace

Jay Macpherson, one of Frye’s closest colleagues and friends, a gifted poet and fine scholar, died this last March, on the 21st.  Sandra Martin has written an obituary in The Globe, here. Thanks to Sue Trerise for bringing this to my attention.

Frye’s great respect for his friend’s “level of perception” is evidenced in the following entry from Notebook 19, high words of esteem from someone with Frye’s own powers of apprehension:

 I wasn’t expecting this diary to turn personal, but it has.  William James’ dog in the library raises the question of different levels of perception.  I take in more of my surroundings than Aunt Lily does: she’s deafer than I, but it isn’t just perception: there’s conceptual apprehension as well.  Whenever I’m with Jay I realize that her level of perception is higher than mine: I’m more short-sighted, but it’s the mental patterns she creates out of her livelier mind that make the difference.  Let’s say that Aunt Lily takes in one per cent of what’s there, I two per cent, & Jay three per cent.  The maximum, limited by the structure of the human mind & by its biological need to select for coherence, maybe, let’s say, ten per cent.  Even above five per cent you’ll have perceptions that we call psychic or extra-sensory: ability to read others’ thoughts, awareness of the presence of the dead, & the like. (Notebook 19, paragraph 167]

The same show of respect is repeated in numerous allusions in the notebooks to Jay’s insight and judgment:

As Jay pointed out to me, the birth of the child is an important Adonis pattern.

Others will have to emerge from some extensive reading in Scott & Balzac & that Gothic stuff that Jay knows all about.

Jay was remarking recently about the difference in two treatments of the same theme–a mother murdering her illegitimate child–in Bunyan’s Badman & in Monk Lewis’s House on the Heath, & certainly something like the ethical-aesthetic difference is involved.

She was also a friend with whom he could try out out his own genius and wit:

Back to detective stories: how many hundreds of them end with a confrontation between detective & murderer, the latter’s boasting supplying the cognitio, the former eventually foiling the latter’s attempt to kill him.  Michael disputing with Satan over the body of Moses.  As I said to Jay, non omnis Moriarty.