Author Archives: Jonathan Allan

“The humanities in all of us”

Gate House, Victoria College, Frye’s undergrad residence

Here’s an article on the current state of the humanities in today’s Mail & Guardian.

A sample:

Public funding of universities, especially national research strategies, now emphasise the idea of innovation, which has become a code word for quality. As a result, in both Canada and South Africa, solid academic fields in the humanities — comparative literature is a good example — are either threatened or have already fallen away. Given this thinking, it is not surprising that students and their parents came to consider higher education as a form of private investment rather than, as it once was judged, a public good.

But the old saw remains: making things happen in a university (or elsewhere, for that matter) doesn’t mean that thinking happens. The challenge for the humanities remains not to return to some “golden age” but rather to inspire students — and, quite simply, this can happen only by encouraging them to think.

Frye in conversation with David Cayley:

The university is the source of authority in society.  It’s the only one there is that I can see.  But, of course, by authority I mean spiritual authority, the kind that doesn’t give orders. . . The university is where you go to learn about an authority that is not externally applied.  It doesn’t tell you to do this or that.  (CW 24, 989)

How Student Activism Saved the Centre for Comparative Literature

Here’s the article from

A sample:

Some key components of the students’ and faculty’s campaigns included petitions, letter-writing campaigns, protests and discussions at town hall meetings with the Dean. As time went on, the chances of the programs’ survival gradually increased.

“I think that one of the first key moments in our fight was when our story was reported on [the front page of The Globe and Mail], Stapleton says. “That was the first moment when it became clear people outside of the university cared about this situation — to see any issue on the front page really gives support to what we’re doing.”

Varsity: “Profs allege donor influence”

Further to my earlier post, here’s an article in Monday’s U of T Varsity, “Profs allege donor influence.”

The lede:

Two U of T professors say philanthropists are determining the university’s priorities, and not the faculty and students. Professors Paul Hamel and John Valleau believe there is a possibility that university benefactors could even shape academic work.

“We’re finding that philanthropy is driving the priorities of the university,” said Hamel. “They’re being set by administration, independent of what the faculty or the academy determines should be the priorities.”

Intellectual Segregation and the University of Toronto

I have previously written about the University of Toronto’s commitment to academic freedom and the influence of benefactors.  According to the Memorandum of Agreement between the Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation and the University of Toronto, there will be a policy of implicit segregation at the University of Toronto.  The agreement reads, in part:

The main entrance of the Heritage Mansion will be a formal entrance reserved only for senior staff and visitors to the School and the CIC. Usual and customary traffic for any occupants of any future developments adjoining the Heritage Mansion will be through one or more entrances on Devonshire Place.

In other words, the main entrance will be reserved for dignitaries and visitors to the school, as well as “senior staff.”  Undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral students, regular faculty, sessional lecturers, administrative assistants, custodial staff, the general public, and taxpayers (who have contributed some 16 million of the 35 million dollar donation by the Munk Charitable Foundation) will all be required to use the back door to the Munk School of Global Affairs.  This is not in the spirit of intellectual progress and public engagement.

The requirement of the Memorandum of Agreement also contradicts the University of Toronto’s Statement on Prohibited Discrimination and Harassment.  Point 3 of the Statement reads: “In its Statement of Institutional Purpose the University affirms its dedication ‘to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principle of equal opportunity, equity and justice.’”  It seems therefore that the Memorandum violates the Statement of Institutional Purpose insofar as not all members of the university community are afforded the same “opportunity” to enter through the “formal entrance reserved only for senior staff and visitors to the School and the CIC.”

Likewise, the Memorandum violates the university’s Human Rights Code, which “requires that employees of the University be accorded equal treatment without discrimination.”  This “formal entrance” requires that all employees not be treated equally.  Instead, the Memorandum states: “only senior staff and visitors to the School and CIC” will be permitted to enter this “formal entrance”; the rest of the academic community will have to use “one or more entrances on Devonshire Place.”

Will the university choose to violate the Statement of Institutional Purpose, the Human Rights Code, and the Statement on Prohibited Discrimination and Harassment, or will it revisit this part of the agreement?  Whatever else the university hopes to accomplish here, it cannot allow blatant discrimination that amounts to segregation.

Call for Papers


A Call For Proposals 
 The Third Annual International Conference on Popular Romance: “Can’t Buy Me Love? Sex, Money, Power, and Romance,” New York City,
 June 26-28, 2011

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) [] is seeking proposals for innovative panels, papers, roundtables, discussion groups, and multi-media presentations that contribute to a sustained conversation about romantic love and its representations in global popular media. We welcome analyses of individual books, films, television series, websites, songs, etc., as well as broader inquiries into the reception of popular romance and into the creative industries that produce and market it worldwide.

This conference has four main goals:

  • To explore the relationships between the conference’s key thematic terms (sex, money, power, and romantic love) in the texts and contexts of popular romance, in all forms and media, from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives
  • To foster comparative and intercultural analyses of these recurring themes, by documenting and/or theorizing the ways that different nations, cultures, and communities think about love and sex, love and money, love and power, and so on, in the various media of popular romance
  • To explore how ideas and images of romantic love—especially love as shaped by issues of sex, money, or power—circulate between elite and popular culture, between different media (e.g., from novel to film), and between cultural representations and the lived experience of readers, viewers, listeners, and lovers
  • To explore the popular romance industry–publishing, marketing, film, television, music, gaming, etc.—and the roles played by sex, money, power, and love in the discourse of (and about) the business side of romance

After the conference, proceedings will be subjected to peer-review and published.

Please submit proposals by January 1, 2011 and direct questions to: <>.

We are currently pursuing funds to help defray the cost of travel to New York City for the conference. If these funds become available, we will notify those accepted how to apply for support from IASPR.

Teaching with “The Secular Scripture”

Many readers of Frye have admitted they have a “preferred” book, or one that influenced them more than any other.  If I recall correctly, Michael Dolzani was most influenced by Fearful Symmetry; Bob Denham by Anatomy of Criticism; Michael Happy by The Educated Imagination; Joe Adamson by The Secular Scripture; and Eva Kushner by The Critical Path.  Indeed, we all appear to have that one moment in reading Frye when suddenly it all made sense.  In my own case, I had always thought it was Anatomy of Criticism, but recently I have been thinking more and more about The Secular Scripture.

Over this past term I have had the great pleasure of teaching with Frye’s The Secular Scripture, and my students have, for the most part I think, enjoyed engaging with it.  However, we have also taken Frye out of his comfort zone.  The course I teach considers “Race and Ethnicity in Latin American Narrative” (this is the official course title).  But I tailored the course to address one of my own preferred area of study, romance novels.  Frye, not surprisingly, seems most comfortable when dealing with romance in its European context, but Latin American romance novels appear to be beyond his purview.

When I began to speak about romance, I went for the obvious question: How many of you have read Twilight or Harlequin romances? — which, of course, many of them had.  I then got them to read theoretical writings on the romance, particularly The Secular Scripture, which became our guide to romance.  They also read articles or chapters by other theorists writing on romance, including writing on Latin America: Pamela Regis, Lois Parkinson Zamora, Doris Sommer, Jean Franco, and others (all of whom, interestingly enough, engage with Frye).

Doris Sommer, for instance, remarked in her book Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America, that:

The Latin American elite wanted to modernize and to prosper, yes; but it wanted at the same time to retain the practically feudal privilege it had inherited from colonial times. Logically, a functioning aristocracy by any name might prefer to represent itself in the incorruptibly ideal terms that Northrop Frye finds characteristic of romance, ‘the structural core of all fiction.’ In Latin America’s newly won bourgeois excess, Frye’s heroic heroes, villainous villains, and beautiful heroines of romance are dislodged, unfixed. They cross class, gender, and racial stereotypes in ways unspeakable for European romance. Yet Frye’s observations about masculine and feminine ideals here are to the point; they point backward to medieval quest-romances where victory meant restored fertility, the union of male and female heroes. (48-49)

I will admit here that I spent many pages of a now-discarded dissertation arguing against Doris Sommer’s understanding of Frye.  It is my belief that we can still work with Frye’s theories of romance, and this is precisely what I have endeavoured to show in the course I am teaching.  Frye did not read Latin American romances, but his theory if applicable to the study of world literature should translate to any given context.

My students and I will have worked through four novels in our course when we conclude at the end of the month.  We have found that Frye’s archetypes do fit well into the study of romance in its canonical and popular senses.  Could Frye have predicted some of the specifics of Latin American romance?  No, he couldn’t, not any more than he could address the latest manifestations of the genre in the twenty-first century.  But, his model still holds true for the bulk of these romances.

Frye’s The Secular Scripture is, as with most of his books, very teachable and very user-friendly to the student of genre.  My students are now preparing to write term papers, which must attend to The Secular Scripture, and I eagarly wait to read their ideas and their approaches to the Latin American Romance with the assistance of Frye.