Category Archives: Audio

Charles Darwin

Richard Dawkins reads from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle

On this date in 1835 the HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin aboard, arrived at the Galapagos Islands.

Frye in “The Drunken Boat” cites Darwin among other 19th century thinkers to make sense of the revolutionary Romantic cosmos:

The major constructs which our own culture inherited from its Romantic ancestry are also of the “drunken boat” shape, but represent a later and a different conception of it from the “vehicular form” described above.  Here the boat is usually in the position of Noah’s ark, a fragile container of sensitive and imaginative values threatened by a chaotic and unconscious power below it.  In Schopenhauer, the world as idea rides precariously on top of the “world as will” which engulfs practically the whole of existence in its moral indifference.  In Darwin, who readily combines with Schopenhauer, as the later work of Hardy illustrates, consciousness and morality are accidental sports from a ruthlessly competitive evolutionary force.  In Freud, who has noted the resemblance of his mythical structure to Schopenhauer’s, the conscious ego struggles to keep afloat on a sea of libidinous impulse.  In Kierkegaard, all the “higher” impulses of fallen man pitch and roll on the surface of a huge and shapeless “dread.”  In some versions of this construct the antithesis of the symbol of consciousness and the destructive element in which it is immersed can be overcome or transcended: there is an Atlantis under the sea which becomes an Ararat for the beleaguered boat to rest on.  (CW 17, 89)

Henry Purcell

“An Evening Hymn”

Today is Henry Purcell‘s birthday (1659-1695).

Frye in his 1950 diary records listening to some Purcell on the radio and suddenly encountering something he did not expect to hear:

Stayed around indoors all day, listening to the radio, hearing some good music — a program from Halifax of recorded music featuring Purcell, Boyce & Arne.  At six I heard a most curious noise over the radio purporting to come from some Professor named Frye who was talking about books.  It’s the first time I’ve heard my voice, except for a few remarks in that Infeld programme.  I would never have recognized it as my own voice: that nasal honking grating buzz-saw of a Middle-Western corncrake.  I need a few years in England.  The reading wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but Clyde Gilmour on movies was a hell of a lot better. (CW 8, 293)

National Post: “The Overrated”

Elaine in the episode of Seinfeld where she hates The English Patient but must see it multiple times.

In case you missed it, here’s the National Post’s ten most overrated Canadian authors (yes, Michael Ondaatje is in there).

For entertainment purposes only.

To be fair, Michael Ondaatje’s lovely poem, “The Cinnamon Peeler” (with video), after the jump.

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“We must love one another or die”

German newsreel footage of the invasion of Poland (with English subtitles).

On this date in 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War in Europe.

This is one of those rare occasions where a terrible historical event inspires a major literary work that is contemporaneous with it.  In this instance, a poem with the date of the event as its title and published just 48 days later.  That makes it is a good opportunity to consider the prophetic power of literature to confront history.

Here’s W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” (after the jump a recitation of the poem with the stanzas displayed):

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash reading “I Never Even Suggested It’

Today is Ogden Nash‘s birthday (1902 – 1971).

Frye in The Well-Tempered Critic

Works of intentional doggerel are usually satire, and digression and constant change of theme and mood are structural principles of satire.  Again, we are approaching the creative process, the associative babble out of which poetry comes, but, as with euphuism, are approaching it deliberately and in reverse, as it were. What makes intentional doggerel funny is its implied parody of real doggerel, or incompetent attempts at verse: the struggle for rhythms, even to the mispronouncing of words, the dragging in of ideas for the sake of rhyme, the distorting of syntax in squeezing words into metre.  Again, as in euphuism, a normally subconscious process becomes witty by transforming it to consciousness.  [As in this poem by Nash.]

The creature fills its mouth with venom

And walks upon its duodenum

He who attempts the tease the cobra

Is soon a wiser he, and a sobra.

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord”


On this date in 1888, one of the first phonograph recordings ever made, Sir Arthur Sullivan‘s “The Lost Chord,” was revealed to the press in London.

You can hear it here. It starts out a little rough but gets better: it’s a really remarkable experience to listen to a 122 year old recording.

Frye notes of the “lost chord” in “Music and the Visual Arts,” “Like Sullivan, [Mendelsohn] thought the diminished seventh was the lost chord.”

Diminished seventh on C here.

H. G. Wells

Orson Welles in conversation with H. G. Wells

On this day in 1946 H. G. Wells (born 1866) died.

Frye in “Varieties of Literary Utopias”:

The implication seems clear that the ideal state to More, as to Plato, is not a future  ideal but a hypothetical one, an informing power and not a goal of action.  For More, as for Plato, Utopia is the kind of model of justice and common sense, which, once established in the mind, clarifies its standards and values.  It does not lead to a desire to abolish sixteenth-century Europe and replace it with Utopia, but it enables one to see Europe, and to work within it, more clearly.  As H. G. Wells says of his Utopia, it is a good discipline to enter it occasionally.  (CW 27, 202)


The last lines of Ulysses.  Molly Bloom: “Yes”

June 16th, 1904, is the day the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses occur: Bloomsday.  It is also the day that Joyce and his future wife, Nora Barnacle, had their first, well, date.  Christopher Hitchens has called Ulysses the greatest literary work ever inspired by a handjob.

Frye puts it this way:

An association is implied between Stephen and Icarus, and in some respects Ulysses is a version of the fall of Icarus.  Stephen, an intellectual of the type usually described as in the clouds or up in the air, comes back to Dublin and in his contact with Bloom meets a new kind of father, neither his spiritual nor his physical father but Everyman, the man of earth and common humanity, who is yet isolated enough from his society to be individual too, an Israel as well as an Adam.  Stephen approaches this communion with a certain amount of shuddering and distate, but the descent to the earth is clearly necessary for him.  Traditionally, however, the earth is Mother Earth, and what we are left with is a female monologue of a being at once maternal, marital, and meretricious, who enfolds a vast number of lovers, including Bloom and possibly Stephen, and yet is narcist too, in a state of self-absorption which absorbs the lover.  Marion Bloom is a Penelope who embraces all her suitors as well as her husband, and whose sexual versatility seems much the same thing as the weaving of her never-finished web–the web being also one of Blake’s symbols for female sexuality.  The drowsy spinning of the earth, absorbed in its own cyclical movement, constantly affirming but never forming, is what Marion sinks into, taking the whole book with her.  (“Quest and Cycle in Finnegans Wake,” CW 29, 110)