Category Archives: Birthdays

Saturday Night at the Movies: “A Streetcar Named Desire”


It’s Tennessee Williams‘s 100th birthday.

Here’s his best-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire — but not the 1951 film version everybody’s seen, with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. This is the 1995 television adaption of the very well-received 1992 Broadway revival, with Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lang.

A previous post with a citation by Frye of Williams here.

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Today is Stendhal‘s birthday (1783-1842).

From “Towards a Theory of Cultural History”:

The chief difference between the comedy of the Renaissance and the realistic period is that the resolution of the latter more frequently involves a social promotion, and, like pathos, tends to be an individual achievement.  More sophisticated writers of low mimetic comedy often present the same success story with the moral ambiguities that we have found in Aristophanes.  In Balzac or Stendhal a clever and ruthless scoundrel may achieve the same kind of success as the virtuous heroes of Samuel Smiles and Horatio Alger.  Thus the comic counterpart of the alazon seems to be the clever, likable, unprincipled picaro of the picaresque novel.  (CW 21, 161)

Earlier posts on Frye and Alger here and here.

Johann Sebastian Bach


Glenn Gould playing Fugue of Praeludium No.22 in B flat minor (BWV 891) from “The Well-Tempered Clavier”

Today is Bach‘s birthday (1685-1750).

Frye in “The Teacher’s Source of Authority”:

It is only when we get to the point of having some sense of having the total subject in our minds that we begin to recognize a source of authority beyond that, of the poet or the creative artist whose work we are studying. If we are listening to music, let us say, on the level of Bach or Mozart, the response keeps shifting from the personal to the impersonal. On the one hand we feel this is Bach, that it couldn’t possibly be anyone else. On the other hand, there are moments when Bach disappears, and what we feel is; this is the voice of music itself; this is what music was created to say. At that level, we are not so much hearing the music as recognizing it. (CW 7, 503)

Bernardo Bertolucci


The actual last tango from Last Tango in Paris (Video not embedded; click on the above image and hit the YouTube link)

Today is Bernardo Bertolucci‘s birthday (born 1940).

Frye on violence and sexuality in Secular Scripture:

In romance violence and sexuality are used as rocket propulsions, so to speak, in an ascending movement. Violence becomes melodrama, the separating of heroes from violence, angels of light from giants of the dark.  Sexuality becomes a driving force with a great deal of sublimation in it. In the traditional romance, where the heroine is so often a virgin reaching her first sexual contact on the last page, the erotic feeling is sublimated for the action of the story. (CW 18, 120)

W.O. Mitchell


Donald Sutherland reads an excerpt from Who Has Seen the Wind?, which nicely illustrates Frye’s observation below

Today is W.O. Mitchell‘s birthday (1914-1998).

From the “Conclusion to the First Edition of Literary History of Canada“:

The sense of probing into the distance, of fixing the eyes on the skyline, is something that Canadian sensibility has inherited from the voyageurs. It comes into Canadian painting a good deal, in Thomson whose focus is often furthest back in the picture, where a river or a gorge in the hills twists elusively out of sight, in Emily Carr whose vision is always, in the title of a compatriot’s book of poems, “deeper into the forest.”  Even in the Maritimes, where the feeling of linear distance is less urgent, Roberts complements the Tantramar marshes in the same way, the refrain of “miles and miles” having clearly some incantatory power for him.  It would be interesting to know how many Canadian novels associate nobility of character with a faraway look, or base their perorations on a long-range perspective.  This might only be a cliche, except that it is often found in sharply observed and distinctively written books.  Here, as a random example, is the last sentence of W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind: “The wind turns in silent frenzy upon itself, whirling into a smoking funnel, breathing up top soil and tumbleweed skeletons to carry them on its spinning way over the prairie, out and out to the far line of the sky.” (CW 12, 348)

Irving Layton


Yes, there are better clips available, but who could resist this?  Leonard Cohen sings the Chiquita Banana song to Irving Layton.  Cohen said of Layton: “I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever.”

Today is Irving Layton‘s birthday (1912-2006).

From “Poetry,” written in 1958:

It is difficult to do justice in a sentence or two to the variety and exuberance of Layton’s best work. The sensuality which seems its most obvious characteristic is rather an intense awareness of physical and bodily reality, which imposes its own laws on the intellect even when the intellect is trying to snub and despise it. The mind continually feels betrayed by the body, and its resulting embarrassments are a rich source of ribald humour. Yet the body in the long run is closer to spirit than the intellect is: it suffers where the intellect is cruel; it experiences where the intellect excludes. Hence a poetry which at first glance looks anti-intellectual is actually trying to express a gentler and subtler kind of cultivation than the intellect alone can reach.  Thus Layton is, in the expanded sense in which the term is used in the article, an academic rather than a Romantic poet, though one of his own highly individual kind.  (CW 12, 290-1)

Luis Bunuel


A notorious sequence from 1923’s Un Chien Andalou

Today is surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel‘s birthday (1900-1983).

From “Design as a Creative Prinicple in the Arts”:

Realism is often associated with, and often rationalized as, a scientific view of the world, but the impetus behind realistic art, good or bad, is of social and not scientific origin.  There is a curious law of art, seen in Van Gogh and in some of the Surrealists, that even the attempt to reproduce the act of seeing, when carried out with sufficient energy, tends to lose its realism and take on the unnatural glittering intensity of hallucination.  (CW 27, 232)

Alfred North Whitehead

Today is Alfred North Whitehead‘s birthday (1861-1947).

Frye in conversation with David Cayley:

Cayley: Frazer and Spengler, recognizing all their liabilities, were the two people who gave you the key pieces, then.  They were not the ones you admired, but the ones who gave you something you could borrow or use?

Frye: Yes, that’s right.  It was, again, a matter of looking for what I could use, but not for something to believe in.

Cayley: What about Whitehead and the idea of interpenetration?

Frye: The conception of interpenetration, as I said, I found in Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World.  Other people have found it in Mahayana Buddhism and the Avatasaka Sutura.  It’s the way of accounting for the fact that the centre is everywhere.  Traditionally we’ve always defined God as a being whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.  But I would think of God as a being whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is everywhere too. The opposite of interpenetration, where everything exists somewhere at once, is an objective centrality, which, it seems to me, is a most tryannical conception.

Cayley: Objective centrality–what does that mean?

Frye: In political developments, for example, it’s a matter of an empire getting so big that everything gets centred in Rome or London or New York of Tokyo.  That seems to me an anti-cultural direction.  In the interpenetrating world every community would be the centre of the world.  (CW 24, 933-4)

Three examples off the top of my head: Tunisia, Egypt, and, this week (again), Iran.

Coming soon?  The overburdened middle class and the trod-under-foot working poor perhaps reassert their right to everything that has been swindled from them by corporatist greed, lies, and daylight theft  — and aided and abetted all the while by  a political class who use our votes against our interests.