Author Archives: Clayton Chrusch

Northrop Frye Gold Medal Cabernet Merlot

My husband Mike gave a talk last week to incoming U of T students associated with Victoria University.

The frosh cheered heartily when the Frye quotation Mike used flashed on the screen.  The quotation was, “What [the university] does stand for is the challenge of full consciousness.”

He was given a bottle of Northrop Frye wine. On the back of the bottle, it says:

“From its founding, Victoria was steadfastly dry. In 1971, a motion
to apply for a liquor license was brought to the Board of Regents,
whose chairman said he would resign if it passed. Legend has it that
members sat on their hands until Northrop Frye (Vic 3T3, Emm 3T6)
raised his in support. The Board passed the motion and the rest

This wine seems to be available for purchase through Victoria University Hospitality Services.

Gay Civil Rights Hero Living in Poverty

Frank Kameny, gay rights pioneer

Frank Kameny started his career as a Harvard-trained astronomer working for the American government, but was fired for being gay in 1957. He has been fighting back for the last 54 years.

He is responsible for many important advances in gay and lesbian rights. These include the first gay civil rights case, the first public protests for gay and lesbian civil rights, the repeal of sodomy laws in the District of Columbia, the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, and the first congressional campaign by an openly gay person. He continues his activism to this day.

Frank is also a veteran of the Second World War.

He has worked hard. As Frye writes, “There can be nothing effortless for the powerful imagination bursting its way out of a fallen world.”

His home has been designated a historical landmark, his early protest signs are now in the Smithsonian collection, and his contribution to civil rights history has been recognized by President Obama. But, at 85, having no income beyond a meagre Social Security check, Frank is now unable to pay his bills without help.

You can find out more about Frank here.

You can help him pay his bills by making a donation this month to Helping our Brothers and Sisters, a Washington D.C. micro-charity.

If the advances in civil rights that Frank has made possible have helped you or anyone you love, please give something back.

Denham Library Update


I would like to let our readers know about the work going on behind the  scenes to improve and expand the Denham Library.

As some of you already know, the initial attempt to publish the text documents in the  library was plagued by formatting problems.  We are very fortunate that Jonathan Cox has offered us his time and considerable energy, and has been working hard,  along with me, to fix the formatting problems in the existing files and to ensure that new documents are in good condition before they are published. Bob Denham himself has gone through most of the existing files and enumerated the formatting issues making our task much easier.  Many of the problems have been fixed, but there is still much to do.

As Michael has reported, we recently published many images of Frye, and in the pipes are not only more documents, but books, Frye newsletters, and audio and video recordings.

Jonathan and I have been talking about the best way to ensure that this  material, along with all the content of the blog, is preserved for the ages.  I am in discussions with McMaster Library about the possibility of their hosting a file and web server that will have a three-fold purpose:

  1. To make file sharing easier among blog administrators,
  2. To make publishing files to the web easier,
  3. And to act as a permanent archive.

We are extremely fortunate to have access to all of this Frye-related material,  thanks largely to the extraordinary efforts of Bob Denham, and so we are taking seriously the pleasant and satisfying responsibility of ensuring that  it survives and remains publicly available long into the future.

Archetype vs Convention


Responding to Jonathan Allan

Thank you so much for your post, Jonathan.

This may be tangential to your intent, but this post revealed to me why I am wrong to insist so strongly on the word convention instead of archetype. Literature and the verbal imagination develop not in a single society but in many relatively or absolutely separate societies at once. Conventions are rooted in their culture of origin and thus bound to their society and to connecting societies, but archetypes are rooted in the nature of human beings and the human verbal imagination, and therefore are not restricted by social boundaries. Archetypes certainly become conventions, but they clearly have roots that are deeper than the particularity of the society they manifest in.

I suppose the same could be said for many kinds of conventions, not just literary. It is certainly possible to have purely arbitrary conventions (like weights and measures), but human nature often plays a role in forming conventions. And so it is not just that archetypes often become literary conventions, but that even non-literary conventions are, in a sense, archetypal.

Is it possible that the claim that literature is archetypal boils down to the claim that the conventions of literature are rooted in human nature? I suppose Frye would complain that such a formulation reduces literature to something non-literary. Perhaps what you need to add is the recognition that human nature is not static but actually develops and grows in contact with civilization and culture, so that there is a symbiotic relationship that develops between human nature and the verbal imagination, both growing together. And so the archetypal nature of literature is really its permanent bilateral relationship with human nature.

In any case, I think we should actually encourage archetype spotting. Obviously such projects can’t be the end of criticism, but they are a quantum leap ahead of archetype ignoring.

What Would a Science of Literary Criticism Look Like?

detail of an automated analysis of King Lear
Bob Denham quotes Frye saying he is not himself interested in turning literary criticism into a science but thinks it will happen one day. I like to play with this idea. In particular, that there might be an intersection of my two disciplines, literary criticism and computer science, has always been tantalizing to me.

It seems that a scientific study of literature has to begin with a cataloguing of conventions, and by conventions I mean the kind that are more or less obvious to anyone familiar with an area of literature and easily communicable to an outsider. Two books I really love are The Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and John Grant, and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. Together I think they contain an excellent start and model for this kind of endeavour. Once this data is collected, we have a set of subjects that can be analyzed, compared and whose general structure can be described. This would produce an “anatomy” of conventions. Just to be clear, by “anatomy,” I do not mean what Frye meant by anatomy. I am using the word to refer strictly to the description of the structure of obvious conventions.

A science of literary criticism could be built up from works of literature to conventions and from a catalogue of conventions to a language or theory for speaking about the structure of conventions, and from this understanding of the structure of conventions to theories about higher level conventions such as genre, and from such higher level theories to a general theory of the structure of literature.

So here are the phases that I believe are needed in a scientific study of literature.

Stage   Input                       Output
first   works of literature         conventions
second  conventions                 catalogue of conventions
third   catalogue of conventions    anatomy
fourth  anatomy                     theories of higher level conventions
fifth   higher level theories       general theory

I think the really essential point is at the anatomy stage. How do we begin to talk about conventions in a structured and objective way? Several answers suggest themselves to me. It may be that we can never get past a semi-formal technical language of convention. But what is more interesting for my purpose is a formal encoding of convention which can be manipulated algebraically and computationally. Admittedly a computational literary criticism would not be a social science as Frye envisioned, but a hybrid discipline combining computer science and literary criticism.

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