Category Archives: Bob Denham

Palin, Frye and Blood Libel

Palin blames “pundints” [sic] for “manufacturing a blood libel” against her

Roy Peter Clark cites Frye on metaphor to make some sense of Palin’s claim to be the victim of “blood libel” after the Tuscon shootings.

A sample:

Frye provides a cautionary lesson about metaphorical language: that the differences between the compared elements are as important as the similarities. If I present myself as a “light to the world,” I am asking my audience to see my divine qualities and will not blame them for observing the dissimilarities.

To describe oneself as a victim of blood libel carries with it a certain responsibility for proportionality, that the seriousness of the metaphor must equate in some measure with the experience being described. While the football game between the Steelers and the Ravens has already been compared to a war – and the players to gladiators – we recognize that as traditional and hyperbolic. But I would not call a failed athletic performance an “abortion” or a blowout of one team by another as a “holocaust” or “a virtual Hiroshima.”

Frye on Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood home in Great Village, Nova Scotia.  The parlour in which “First Death in Nova Scotia” is set is to the right.  The skylight is over Bishop’s tiny bedroom: it was there as late as 1998 and may still be there.

Further to Michael’s earlier post: Frye does have this reference to Bishop in one of his sets of autobiographical notes:

Elizabeth Bishop and the left hand drive—roads hardly wide enough to have two sides. The red, blue and yellow roads, the last a dirt track through the bush. Still, variety of makes of cars, words like Willys-Knight can still throw me into a nostalgic trance. (CW 25, 30)

The “left-hand drive” reference is explained in one of Frye’s reminiscences in the talk he gave at Moncton’s Centennial Celebration a few months before his death:

I was at a dinner at Harvard University seated beside a poet named Elizabeth Bishop, who was a New Englander with a summer cottage in Nova Scotia. She spent half her time in Nova Scotia, so much so that one or two Americans suggested Canadians really ought to make her Canada’s national poet. I think it was a bit of a problem for her too to decide whether she was Canadian or American, and she finally solved the problem by going to live in Brazil. However, she came back to Harvard. She was a very shy person and was very chagrined at being put beside me, because she was frightened by strangers of all kinds. She said, ‘I haven’t read any of your books.” I said, “Well, I haven’t read them either. I’ve only proofread them.” Then she stared at me a while longer, and she said, “When was it that New Brunswick changed over from a left hand to a right hand drive.” “Well,” I said loudly and confidently, “September 1920.” I realized afterward that I had almost certainly got the date wrong. But what I do remember was the fact happening and my mother’s comment that they were going to have trouble with the horses, especially the milk team horses. In any case, whether I got the date right or not, it must have been around that time that the province discovered that there was a difference between the left hand and the right hand on the road.

So far as I remember in 1919 or 1920, there were no paved roads in the province, and the roads were really paths through the woods. They were not exactly blazed trails, but you followed the road by tracing the colored bands that were painted around the telephone poles. The Red Band Road went down the St. John Valley through St. John to Moncton and from there to Sackville and Cape Tormentine. The Blue Band Road started here at the corner of Main and Botsford and went up the east coast around Tracadie to Campbellton. And the Yellow Band Road started at St. Andrews and went northeasterly through Fredericton and Newcastle to Bathurst. Later on, when I acquired a bicycle, I found myself tracing other of these paths through the woods, exploring what were at the time practically nothing but trails––the McLaughlin Road, roads in Albert County––and going out to the gorge and other outlying parts of Moncton. It was a solitary exercise, but it was by no means lonely, because each road was an adventure, and it had the feeling of a kind of Hansel and Gretel exploration about it. Naturally, as a city grows, more and more of its residential areas turn into commercial areas––things like Trans Canada Highways and airports and so on make the old paths through the woods totally obsolete. (CW 25, 48-9)

(Photo via The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia)

Frye’s Previously Unpublished Notebook 51

Cross-posted in the library here

This small holograph notebook, discovered in the bedside table of Elizabeth Eedy Frye following her death in May of 1997, is a Double Vision notebook.  It was not included in Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, Collected Works, vol. 6.  The numbers in square brackets at the end of some entries refer to the paragraph numbers in the typescript for Notes 53, where there is a similar or parallel entry.  Parallel passages in Notes 54‑1 are also noted in square brackets. This is one of the few examples of Frye’s using a holography notebook as the basis for his typed notes.  Transcribed by Robert D. Denham.

[1]  Fiction.  Cena form.  Characters meet in a house with mind-bending characteristics.  Paradoxes of time‑space (bilocation) and life‑death involved.  Characters as Jungian archetypes: house is unity of social and individual body.

[2]  Romantic archetypal characters: enough realism for a novel: cena form but an individual as well as group enlightenment.  Some things take on a curious importance; Charles Williams, Mary Johnston’s Sweet Rocket [1920], things in other contexts I’d call second rate.

[3]  Something to think about: not necessarily something to write.

[4]  Myth absorbing history: prophecy and the sense of the “historical[.]”   Not absorption but confrontation.  Extreme of Egypt; extreme of pan-historical view now, when there’s a terrific itch for the “historical” Jesus. [194]

[5]  Domination of history by myth: Egypt.  In that nothing happens.  Wonder if I should take the Byron epigram seriously,[1] & interpret my whole 8th ch. complex as history. [195]

[6]  Two levels of history: aggressive and cultural.  The aggressive is imperialistic & seeks the reconciliation of the pax Romana: agreement or the linguistically aggressive dogma.  Cultural history interpenetrates: variety & unity, but no uniformity. [196]

[7]  If so, then why “go into the world & preach the gospel”?  Because the gospel was primarily aimed at Rome (Acts) & so, eventually, at the taking over of the Roman Empire, the Beast & Whore of Revelation.  Of course this initiated what Blake calls the ages of Constantine & Charlemagne.  (Blake’s 27th church is Luther; it should be Loyola.)

[8]  Joachim: age of the Son or dividing Word up to 2000: age of the Spirit after that. [197]

[9]  Logos from Heraclitus to Philo doesn’t mean word: it means a human consciousness linked to some principle of divine origin immanent in nature.[2] So the John logos, which returns to the Hebrew DBR,[3] is an extension. [198]

[10]  Two: go on to Keats, G.U. [Ode on a Grecian Urn] (Wedgwood).  In Blake it’s the trdnl. [traditional] spiritual–physical duality.  Anyway an impersonal-objective vs. a personally-involving world.  Connected by puns on law.  Personal world imports a creator God––unless it’s the other way round.  Yes, the disengagement of personal from impersonal worlds affects [effects?] purifying of religion.  Providence. [199]

[11]  Spengler’s “decline” applies to the empires who conclude the cultural process: as they decline they move towards a confrontation, or historical judgment.  Three. [200]

[12]  The Islamic revelation was a counter-apocalypse, which arose as a part of the Christian failure to separate the two worlds.  They failed because science hadn’t developed far enough.  Three. [201]

[13]  Trace dialectic of the two worlds from the beautiful-true to the spiritual-physical. [202]

[14]  One is the dialectic from “I believe that that really happened (in the past),” the red herring of discursive language, to “I see that that’s the way it has to be.”  Study of poetry of course is training for us.  All three form a larger dialectic running through language, space and time. [202]

[15]  Orwell’s doublethink is the soul-body civil war where the consciousness hypnotizes itself into thinking it believes what the repressed consciousness knows to be nonsense.  Fear of external authority creates internal repression.  All genuine imgn. [imagination] is doublethink as Orwell defines it. [203]

[16]  I suppose Blake’s distrust of memory is linked to the red herring of the past. [202]

[17]  Red herrings: (1) it really means (2) it’s really there (3) it really happened.  From metaphor to spiritual reality. [204]

[18]  Imperial monuments follow the law of Ozymandias: they crumble.  Genuine culture is tribal & regional. [205]

[19]  Literature is the art of inscribing verbal patterns within a mythological cosmos.  It starts as rhetoric, or the figuring of speech: as rhetoric passes into ideology it becomes kerygmatic or spiritual language. [206]

[20]  Myth is the abstract form of narrative; later, in historical writing, it becomes the continuing form of narrative (“decline & fall” stage).  Then it’s Weltgeschichte, & moves on to its confrontation in Heilsgeschichte. [207]

[21]  Esse est percipi; but we know the world keeps on existing whether we see it or not: hence, for Berkeley, we trust that God keeps on watching it, as, to be consistent, the world must be an idea in God’s mind.  It’s a good thing that, as the Psalmist says, God neither slumbers nor sleeps. [208]

[22]  Lewis Hyde: we instinctively speak of cultural abilities as “gifts” (i.e. of the spirit).[4] [209]

[23]  Law, besides the option of obeying it or not, may be just or unjust, logical (the original sense of logos) or arbitrary. [210]

[24]  Feminism and metaphor: man for men & women. [211]

[25]  If the Sabbath was made for man, the Church was too. [212]

[26]  The ideologue identifies truth with whatever promotes his cause: the trouble is the mortality of causes.  Truth, like the classic in literature, is whatever won’t go away, & keeps returning to confront us.  I don’t know what “the truth” is in most matters, only that it’s likely to be connected with whatever returns until we deal with it. [213]

[27]  (Logical positivism failed because it was the exact opposite of “the truth”]: only statements that make no sense have any validity.) [213]

[28]  Interpenetration of belief is unity with variety, like metaphor: reconciliation, conversion, agreement, are all forms of (imperialistic) compulsion. [214]

[29]  Truth is in the repeating pattern which forms the structure of knowledge.  Unique experience has its own kind of truth, but it has no pattern. [215]

[30]  Symmetry is the characteristic of the aesthetic-teleological world: occultism. [216]

[31]  The feminist objection to “man” for “man & woman” is part of the literal fallacy.

[32]  Conspiracy theories of history are fostered, first of all, by the paranoids in establishments. [216]

[33]  Two worlds: one way of relating them is to consider the imgve. [imaginative] or made one as the real form of the other.  Only this is usually a creation myth, where it’s God who makes both worlds. [218]

[34]  Look up The Domain of Arnheim again:[5] Eco 57. [217]

[35] Look up [E.M.] Forster’s “only connect.”[6] Eros connects. [217]

[36]  Eco’s comprehensive sendup of conspiratorial theories of history.[7] Of course, since Jacobins (and Jacobites) there have been conspiracies.  Halfway between history & myth. [216]

[37]  Three: immense importance of the imgve. [imaginative] way of life.  Interpenetration & mythical history are subordinated to that. [219]

[38]  Pagan sequence: first nature-gods reflecting the uncertain temper of nature: remote & unconcerned universal god (Lucretius later).  Animals numinous: transformations of Zeus. [Notes 54‑1, par. 62]

[39]  Transfer from nature to social gods (not a sequence).  War, “wisdom” (cunning).  Eventually some few realize that the true “god” is a Muse or Angel, an aspect of human creative power (Vita Nuova).  This true “god” is transitional from idolatry to monotheism. [Notes 54‑1, par. 63]

[40]  Only why gods of mousike rather than techne? [Notes 54‑1, par. 63]

[41]  Man turning back on a million crosses in war cemeteries to explain how aggression has profound survival value. [Notes 54‑1, par. 64]

[42]  Fraternity: aristocracy: snobbery.  Sense that a real community has to be a minority, a small group.  Link with tribal complex maybe.  Also with the difficulties of the “king” metaphor about God. [Notes 54‑1, par. 65]

[43]  The Jehovah of the O.T. is a humanized being, as violent & unpredictable as King Lear.  We read in Plato & Plutarch about the “hyponoia” & other efforts to make the gods behave themselves & be proper role-models.  The central image of man trying to make this creature into a decent God is Jacob wrestling with the angel. [Notes 54‑1, par. 66]

[44]  Aristocracy: ancestor-worship: efforts to keep a time of continuity with our ancestors as (temporal) authors of our being, nature-gods in a true sense.  Virgin Birth & pushing aside Joseph essential for the myth of the spiritual Father. [Notes 54‑1, par. 67]

[45]  China & its heaven-earth axis: also featured in the Lord’s Prayer. [Notes 54‑1, par. 69]

[47]  Essays from the valley: the pleasant valley, the Tao Te Ching valley, the valley of dry bones, of the shadow of death.  Probably a fifth.

[48]]  Who the hell is Arturus Rex?  No evidence that he was ever a god or had a cult; the British fighter of Saxons is totally irrelevant.  I mean the Arthur of Camelot, presiding over the Round Table, sending knights out on quests and collecting their defeated giants.  Nobody like him before or, really, since.

[49]  The two views of Tempest as (a) profound (b) potboiled not incompatible.

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Editing Frye

This article is cross-posted in the journal here

The odyssey of my editing Frye’s previously unpublished writing began in the summer of 1992 when I arrived at the Victoria College Library to examine the Frye papers that had been deposited there following Frye’s death in January 1991.  I had the good fortune of working with Dolores A. Signori, who had been enlisted to compile a guide to the Frye papers.  Eva Kushner, president of Victoria College, had set me up in one of her offices on the second floor of the E.J. Pratt Library.  Every day, Dolores, who was working down the hall, would bring me a cartful of documents to examine, and my more of less self‑defined job was to see if I could identify the various items.  The Frye papers comprised a substantial body of material––occupying more than twenty‑three meters of shelf space.  What I combed through initially were the “literary files,” as they came to be designated in Dolores’s Guide to the Northrop Frye Papers (Toronto: Victoria University Library, 1993), and among the “personal files,” Frye diaries.  I was also keenly interested in Frye’s correspondence with his Helen Kemp, his girlfriend and later wife, in the 1930s and in the typescripts of his student essays.  These were the four main categories of documents that I focused on.  Among the literary files were Frye’s notebooks, as well as published addresses, lectures, and essays.  I fairly quickly determined that the Frye papers contained a large amount of extraordinary material, and I was convinced that a good portion of it should be published.  Thus began my sixteen‑year odyssey.

The initial challenge was to see, for the holograph material, whether or not I could successfully decipher Frye’s handwriting.  I remember carrying a photocopy of one of the notebooks––it was on Matthew Arnold––back to my room in Burwash Hall to see if I could transcribe it.  I managed to decipher only about half of the text, and so initially I rather despaired of ever being able to reproduce with any degree of certainty what Frye had written.  But the idiosyncrasies of Frye’s script gradually became more and more distinguishable, and eventually I was able to read his handwriting with a fair amount of confidence.  Frye’s orthography remained very consistent over the years, so once I learned the features of his graphemes, it was only occasionally that I would be stumped by a word or phrase.

I convinced myself early on that the notebooks, diaries, student essays, and Frye–Kemp correspondence should be published.  But there was a problem with half of the correspondence––Kemp’s letters to Frye could not be located.  John Ayre had used some of Frye’s letters to Kemp in writing his biography of Frye and he knew of the existence of Kemp’s letters to Frye, but I could not find these letters, nor could Jane Widdicombe, Frye’s secretary and the executrix of the Frye Estate, locate them at the Fryes’ Clifton Road home.  So during that first summer I called Frye’s second wife, Elizabeth, to see if she would permit me to search for the papers in the attic.  She graciously consented.  But shortly after that I learned that she was not well.  Although I knew Elizabeth and had spent some time with her and Frye in Toronto and Washington DC, I decided it would not be proper for me to be rummaging around in the home of one who was showing signs of dementia.  At that point I contacted Ian Morrison, Elizabeth’s son-in-law, who agreed to look through the papers in the attic.  Within several days he drove to the Vic campus, and, as in a scene from a James Bond movie, opened the trunk of his sleek sedan and delivered to me an attaché case and several dusty shopping bags filled with files, photographs, sketch books, postcards, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous documents.  Rummaging through this material, I was almost ready to conclude that Kemp’s letters to Frye had not been preserved, but at the bottom of the last shopping bag I finally uncovered them.  Helen Kemp has very carefully clipped the envelopes to the letters and had made notes on some of them, presumably for John Ayre’s benefit.  In any event, I now had 266 letters, cards, and telegrams that passed between Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp from the winter of 1931–32 until 17 June 1939, and I decided that the first project I would tackle would be the transcription of the Frye–Kemp correspondence.

The size of the entire project was almost overwhelming, but I set out to photocopy whatever I thought was worthy of eventual publication.  This was, in addition to the correspondence, chiefly the seventy-seven notebooks that turned up, the seven diaries, and a number of typescripts of Frye’s talks, student papers, and essays.  The Victoria library staff had been gracious in accommodating my needs, but the photocopying proved to be something of a frustration as the machines in the library produced such poor copies.  Robert Brandeis, the chief librarian, has provided me with a key to the library so that I could get in and out of my temporary office at night (the library was not open in the evening during the summer).  So for several weeks I would fill my book bag with notebooks and diaries, haul them across campus to one of the photocopiers in the Robarts Library, and stand there for hours feeding dimes in to the machine.  This was doubtless against library policy (I was afraid to ask for fear I would not be permitted to take the manuscripts from the library), but I was eager to take back to Virginia copies I could read, and the chance that I would be hit by a truck, scattering the Frye manuscripts along St. George Street, seemed fairly remote.  I have no idea how many pages I copied altogether, but the thirteen volumes of previously unpublished material that eventually made their way into the Collected Works amount to almost 7,000 pages.

Word of this treasure trove of began to seep out, and some of those attending the conference on the Legacy of Northrop Frye, held at Victoria during the fall of 1992, began to examine the material in the Frye “fonds,” a word, new to me, that archivists use to refer to a body of material in special collections.  I began to get the sense from some quarters that as a foreigner I was usurping an editing project that properly belonged to Canadians.  The Frye material, it was suggested, was of sufficient scope to keep an army of Toronto graduate students busy for years.  So what business did I have hauling copies of these treasures back to Virginia?  It was at this point that I asked for permission from Jane Widdicombe and Roger Ball, executors of the Frye estate, to edit and publish all of Frye’s previously unpublished manuscripts and documents.  The permission was granted with the proviso that the executors would have final approval of the publisher.  I had been Frye’s unofficial bibliographer for a number of years, and in the late 1980s he had permitted me to edit three volumes of his essays and a collection of interviews.  The executors had earlier granted permission for me and Michael Dolzani to edit Frye’s professional correspondence, which had been coming to the Victoria University library in instalments over a period of years.  But with the excitement generated by the notebooks, diaries, and other papers, I decided to put the professional correspondence on the back burner.  I asked Michael Dolzani, who had been Frye’s research assistant for twelve years and was more knowledgeable about Frye’s work than anyone else, to help me edit the unpublished material.  He agreed, and we set about the painstaking process of transcribing and annotating the photocopied documents.  In 1995–96 I received a year‑long NEH fellowship, which meant that for an entire year I could devote full time to the project.  Five years later Michael and I had a large portion of the manuscripts in electronic form.  Once we had most of the transcription completed we began assigning the material to particular volumes.  I elected to begin with Frye’s late notebooks, written mostly during the 1980s, and Michael initially tackled what came to be known as The “Third Book” Notebooks, Frye’s free‑wheeling speculations about the book he intended to write after Anatomy of Criticism but never did.

In the meantime, a proposal had emanated from Victoria College, spurred by the leadership of President Eva Kushner, to produce a collected edition of Frye’s works.  The issue now was whether or not the previously unpublished documents would become a part of this project.  By 1994, I had completed the transcription of the Frye–Kemp correspondence, a document of more than 400,000 words.  At a meeting at Victoria College of President Kushner, the executors, Ron Schoeffel of the University of Toronto Press, and myself, I agreed that the best course was to join my efforts with the Collected Works project.  I had not had a very happy experience with the publication of my Frye bibliography with the U of T Press, and so I sought some assurance that there wouldn’t be the kind of foot‑dragging with this project that there had been with the bibliography.  I was promised that the manuscript would be published within a year.  It took two years.  I was naturally eager to have the unpublished material in the hands of readers as soon as possible, but I came to realize there was little I could do to advance the process at the Press, which tended to move slower than a wounded turtle.  In any case, the two‑volume Frye–Kemp correspondence was published in 1996 under the general editorship of John M. Robson.  And then, sixteen years after I began making a census of the material in the Frye fonds, I completed my commitment to make available to the reading public the previously unpublished manuscripts of Northrop Frye.  I ended up editing nine of the thirteen volumes, Michael Dolzani edited three, and we shared the editorial duties for the final volume.  Whatever insights we felt were worth reporting appear in our introductions to the several volumes.  Each of us took on an additional volume in the series: Michael edited Words with Power and I, Anatomy of Criticism.

There were eureka moments on practically every page of Frye’s manuscripts, and there were larger epiphanies, such as the discovery, when we were well along in the process, of a set to typed notes called “Work in Progress,” which suddenly clarified the history and organizing pattern of Frye’s ogdoad project and its symbolic shorthand––the eight‑book project that motivated so much of his writing career.  Then there was the discovery when I was almost finished with the late notebooks of still another notebook, which turned up on the bedside table of in Elizabeth Frye’s nursing home.  These notes were the workshop for Frye’s 1990 “double vision” lectures at Emmanuel College.  Transcribing and annotating can often become rather mindless operations, but what justified the tedium was watching Frye’s fertile, nimble, and well‑stocked mind at work.  It is trite to say that every day uncovered new insights, but it is nevertheless true.

The success of the Collected Works project is due to the devoted labors of many people, including Jean O’Grady and Margaret Burgess at the Northrop Frye Centre, but no one has been so important in insuring success as Alvin A. Lee, who assumed the role of general editor after the untimely death of Jack Robson.  Anyone interested in the history of the project should consult Lee’s “The Collected Works of Northrop Frye: The Project and the Edition,” in Northrop Frye: New Directions from Old, ed. David Rampton (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2009), 1–14.  All of us owe an enormous debt to Lee.

The volumes of previously unpublished material:

The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932–1939. 2 vols. (Denham)

Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 1932–1938 (Denham)

Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, 1982–1990: Architecture of the Spiritual World. 2 vols. (Denham)

The Diaries of Northrop Frye, 1942–1955 (Denham)

The “Third Book” Notebooks of Northrop Frye, 1964–1972: The Critical Comedy (Dolzani)

Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 1936–1989 (Denham)

Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts (Denham)

Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Romance (Dolzani)

Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Renaissance Literature (Dolzani)

Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for “Anatomy of Criticism” (Denham)

Northrop Frye’s Fiction and Miscellaneous Writings (Denham and Dolzani)

Frye’s Musings on Death

From the Notebooks

The creation is not in the past; the Last Judgement is not in the future; we must get a proper view of creation that isn’t a projected sexual or artefact myth: when we get it the Last Judgement conception will clear up, & when that clears up there shall be a way open for a conception of life without birth & death that isn’t either before birth or after death. (11f.29)

Death is a process, not a condition.  A stone is not dead: when did it die? (11f.66; see Great Code, 157)

It’s only in nature’s Heraclitean fire that time is irreversible.  Hopkins is impressionist, he likes “dappled” things, because that preserves the sense of identical particulars while coming to terms with the dissolution of all form.  But the resurrection isn’t just a comfort, or even what makes the particular adamant or immortal diamond: it’s something that stops the irreversibility of time.  What is immortal is not the life we are going to live after death, but the life we have lived.  The Resurrection must be retrospective. (11f.98)

Death is not the opposite of life; death is the opposite of birth.  The new birth that Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus is also a release from death.  Matthew & Luke have infancy narratives about a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes; Mark & John start with the symbol of the second birth through water & the spirit.  Coming out of the water with the redeemed from the dragon. (11f.144)

I come back to the feeling that one’s eternal existence is to be connected, not with where one is going after death, but with where one is at death.  (21.30)

The total similitude of death turns into the particular point of light that turns similitude into the universal identity.  That is what resurrection means now. (21.473)

Birth means death & consciousness means nothingness.  Between birth & death you can help produce other bodily lives: between consciousness & nothingness you can help produce creative activity.  Hence maybe the two poles of the Atman, Thou & That, can produce the new child-spirit who is also ourselves. (11e.7)

The business of life is to make a path for the incarnation: the business of death is to make a path for the resurrection. (11b.31)

My hunch is that grief of survivors, being so largely self-pity, distresses, perhaps even impedes, progress to a world that makes more sense.  I know that she [Helen] would forgive me my sins of indolence and selfishness in regard to her, and therefore God will.  I hope only that she knows now that I genuinely loved her very dearly, so far as human frailty permits.  God bless, protect, and keep her among his own.  I hope to see her again; but perhaps that is a weak hope.  Faith is the hypostasis of what is hoped for, the elenchos of the unseen. The one thing truly unseen, the world across death, may, according to my principle, be what enables us to see what is visible. (44.170)

From Notebook 3

[15]  The Tibetans say that when you die you get a flash of reality (Chih-kai [Chik-hai] Bardo) that for everyone except a yogi saint is bewildering & unrecognizable, whereupon you pass into a plane of hallucination (Chon-yid Bardo) & then seek a womb of rebirth (Sidpa Bardo).  I don’t know about after death, but it’s an excellent account of all other crises of the spirit, & so may be true of that one.  So often it happens in meeting someone who needs help & can be helped (or encouraged) there comes a sudden flash of the right thing to do, the courteous & beautiful act, instantly smothered under a swarm of spawning Selfhood illusions of timidity, laziness, selfishness & the rest, whereupon the moment of what we rightly call inspiration passes, and we return to the ordinary level of existence.  It’s only rarely that we even recall having such a moment, & perhaps the capacity for having them could be destroyed.  One of the major efforts of all discipline is to unbury the consciousness of the moment that Satan can’t find, as Blake calls it.  Hence the importance of achieving spontaneity, Butler’s unconsidered control.  In social relationships we always admire the person who acts, to quote Blake again, from impulse & not from rules, and we assume, however unconsciously, that such impulses can be trained to achieve adequate & accurate expression.  That is perhaps why Jesus stresses the unconsidered life—I’m not thinking of the lily passage [Matthew 6:28] so much as the instructions to the apostles not to rehearse their speeches [Matthew 10:19–20].  It is true, however, that the way of achieving such development is to concentrate on the present moment, which implies that all idealization or brooding over the past, and all idealization or worry over the future, are diseases of the soul—hence the lily passage.

[45]  . . .  The mystics also think in terms of an ascent, a ladder of development, usually to be completed after death—well, that’s the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which seems to me an effort to adapt the doctrine of rebirth to Christianity.  If I had to believe in either, I’d choose rebirth, as purgatory as a set plane of existence different from this doesn’t make sense—Dante’s purgatory is in this world, by the way.  The Protestants identify the initial conversion with the final vortex, & I wonder if this Lankavatara Sutra I’m reading, in spite of its traditional guff about a stock of merit accumulated for God knows how long, doesn’t point in the same direction.

[71]  We speak of fruitful & sterile ideas, & it is perfectly true that ideas beget & reproduce like everything else alive, but it isn’t just a linear Orc-reproduction: we want novelty, but we want too a consolidating form, a family appearing as a single Man.  And while one shouldn’t be a Thel, & should haul our ideas out into Generation & write books & take the bushels off our lights, still what really happens is simply a growth in our minds, a turning from a centre to a circumference.  Hence, really, all ideas are unborn.  If there is no death there is no birth either, and of course no life.

[95]  When a man of eighty says he never felt better in his life everyone knows he has never been so near his death, but the statement may be true for all that.  I used to think of people who never believed anything except on evidence or reasonable deduction therefrom as materialistically minded.  Now I just think of them as stupid.  That looks from outside as though I were getting bigoted & provincial, but I know I’m not, or if I am it doesn’t matter.  Peace, it’s wonderful.

[119]  Here is a speculation which probably makes no sense whatever: Christians & Buddhists have the same sense of escape from time, but the Westerner says we never die because he thinks of immortality as continuity of energy, & the Easterner says we have never been born because he thinks of immortality as release from karma or causation.  But both are equally true, or untrue, whichever you like.  When the Westerner tries to absorb the idea of unbornness, he tumbles into the “predestination” pitfall; when the Easterner tries to get clear about deathlessness, he gets into the “reincarnation” one.  There are forms of these doctrines which make sense, of course: the ones that don’t, the babies slated for hell & the there’s-that-man (or beast)-again superstitions, illustrate the difficulty.

[139]  The Delphic oracle urged man to know himself, meaning not an increase of introspective knowledge, but the struggling of consciousness which at the same time apprehends the world more accurately.  Dreams are subjective, but maybe a dream fully interpreted would become a vision.  There must be a point at which it ceases to be true that it’s a subjective experience.  Dreams aren’t Ulro nightmares: in general, man lives in G [Generation] during the day & B [Beulah] at night, as, perhaps he lives in G from life to death & in B from death to life.

[146]  The past is hell, the eternally fixed state where the ghosts of dead sins & errors are forever imprisoned.  The future begins in childhood as a world of infinite potentiality.  As life goes on, the future becomes steadily more predictable, & the life consequently less interesting.  Children fascinate us; old men bore us because they conceal no surprises.  At death the future finally merges with & joins the past—in Dante’s hell the future but not the present is known.  Life reaches its crisis nel mezzo del cammina, the sun at its highest in the sky, realizing with a shudder that it is bound to a cycle & must now descend.  Hence the importance Jung attaches to the 35–40 period: its timing may depend partly on the length of the life, which of course the unconscious always knows.  I think one has to be reborn now & start in fancy all over again in relation to a new kind of life, as though the sun at zenith were to think of itself as at the bottom of reality & start rising & straight up.  That way, the imgn. [imagination] may grow stronger as the foolish body decays.  The optimism I have inherited from my father, the feeling that next year things may be quite different & much better, should be conserved, though some of it is dodging.  I have inherited another feeling, of wanting to get rid of things that are lost, or spoiled, or a bother, as quickly as possible instead of trying to recover or patch them up, & there is a certain danger of applying this to my own life & going off the deep end over reincarnation.  This conception of hell as the past may be useful.  Dante was psychoanalyzing himself, & straightening out the kinks in his character by analytic reduction, in going into hell.  In connection with that, I suppose the psychological value of the doctrine of original depravity is in upsetting the smugness of the egocentric consciousness.  The consciousness is transitory, and we derive our idea of the present from it.  Each dimension of time breeds fear: the past, despair & hopelessness & the sense of an irrevocable too late: the present, panic & sense of a clock steadily ticking; the future, an unknown mystery gradually assuming the lineaments of the consequences of our own acts.  Hope is the virtue of the past, the eternal sense that maybe next time we’ll do better.  The projection of this into the future is faith, the substance of things hoped for.  Love belongs to the present, & is the only force able to cast out fear.  If a thing loves it is infinite, Blake said, & the act of love is itself a vision of a timeless world.  Oh, God, how well I talk.  Deteriora sequor.  Or do I just say that because of an obscure feeling that such statements are somehow approved of by some atavistic God in my infantile shadow world?

[149]  Evidently the superego transforms the Ego-Id relation into an Ego-Tu one.  The ego swallows its parents and puts them to guard the door of the Id.  As obstacles, they’re Satan & Rahab; as transparent, Los & Jerusalem.  The ego, the reality-principle, deals with conflicts of truth & error; the id, the pleasure principle, with conflicts of good & evil.  As opaque, the parents are narcissistic, reflecting the ego on itself, & also presenting the pleasure-pain values of the id in terms of a moral law of good & evil.  Freud says that the id is inherited & the ego isn’t; the superego, being the boundary, is a memory which may be a revived inherited memory, Jung’s archetype.  Anyway, what the ego has to do is swallow its parents a second time, in their second or permanent death, & occupy their place.  When it does so it is, in Jungian terms, the Self, between the ego & the id.

[161]  One should think of truth, not only statically as the correct formulation of propositions, but dynamically, as the normal current of the energy of the soul.  These correspond to the allegorical & moral levels in Dante.  A lie is to the intellect what a neurosis is to the emotions, a blocking point which dams up the current; a stone around which it forms whirlpools.  Hence imaginative people who keep spinning spider-webs in their minds make the best liars, as they make the best use of neuroses.  For vigorous extroverted people “living a lie” is an intolerable burden, & confession for them has the quality of a physical compulsion.  A great deal is said about the psychological rightness of Catholic auricular confession: as usual, the priest absorbs both the indwelling Christ & the social community.  The point about “know thyself” is to pervert self-deception, so that the lies one is obliged to tell in the interests of the persona won’t stay in the mind—thus Johnson’s “clear your mind of cant.”  Probably one has to lie to men—certainly to women—but not to know that one is lying is to lie to God.  Honesty with oneself carries off social lies in a private excretion.  Honesty with others follows: you can’t interpret James’s “confess your sins to one another” [James 5:16] as the Oxford Group does, because shitting in a group is a perversion, or rather a fixation of childish curiosity.  One has always to remember the dynamic nature of truth, and hence of reasoning.  “My father has money; I shall have it when he dies; I need money now; he must die now.”  Depending on the extent of one’s capacity for parricide, that sequence may be anything from irrefutably logical to unthinkable.



Frye in 1957, the year he published Anatomy of Criticism

Abbate, Gay.  “Frye’s Legacy: Scholarship, Loyalty, Humanity: Lighting a Path for Those Who Follow.”  University of Toronto Bulletin 4 February 1991: 6–7.

Abley, Mark.  “One of Canada’s Foremost Intellectuals Dead at 78.”  Whig‑Standard (24 January 1991): 3.

“Anatomising Literature”  The Guardian [London and Manchester] (25 January 1991): 39.

Atwood, Margaret.  Canadian Literature 129 (Summer 1991): 242–3.

________University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 4–5. Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 7.

________.  “The Great Communicator.”  Globe and Mail (24 January 1991): C1; rpt. in Journal of Canadian Poetry 6 (1991): 1–3.

________.  [Tribute].  Brick 40 (1991): 3.

Barber, David.  “The Formidable Scholar.”  The Whig-Standard Magazine (2 February 1991): 5. [Based on an interview with A.C. Hamilton.]

Barnes, Bart.  “Canadian Literary Critic Northrop Frye Dies at 78.”  Washington Post (24 January) 1991: D6.

Barilli, Renato.  “Frye, corsi e ricorsi della letteratura.”  Corriere della Sera (27 January 1991).

Bemrose, John.  “The Great Decoder: Northrop Frye Explored Culture’s Myths.”  Maclean’s 104 (4 February 1991): 51–2.

Bevington, David.  “Northrop Frye.”  American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 137, no.1 (March 1993): 125.

Bissell, Claude T.  The Independent [London] (26 January 1991): 12.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 10.

________.  “Northrop Frye Remembered.”  University of Toronto Magazine 18 (Spring 1991): 10.

________University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 8–9.

Brown, Gord.  “Norrie’s Wisdom Lives on in His Writings and Students.”  the newspaper [University of Toronto] (30 January 1991): 5.

Buckley, Jerome. “Northrop Frye Remembered by His Students.”  Journal of Canadian Poetry 6 (1991): 4.

C., G.  “Northrop Frye, dalla Bibbia alla civiltà della parola.”  La Stampa (25 January 1991).

C., R.  “É morto Frye l’innovatore.”  La Nazione (25 January 1991).

Chamberlain, Ted.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 9–10.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 11.

Christian Century 108 (20–27 March 1991):  321.

Cook, Eleanor.  “Northrop Frye as Colleague.”  Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 18.

Cooley, Dennis.  “The Educated Imaginer: Northrop Frye (1912–1991).  Border Crossings 2 (April 1991): 78.

Cosway, John.  “Changes.” The Sunday Sun [Toronto] (27 January 1991): 109.

“Critic Northrop Frye Dead at 78.”  Toronto Star (23 January 1991): 28.

Dahlin, Karina.  “ U of T Remembers Its Greatest Humanist.”  University of Toronto Bulletin (4 February 1991): 1–2.

Denham, Robert D.  “Northrop Frye: 1912–1991.”  Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly 24 (Spring 1991): 158–9.

Downey, Donn.  “Literary Scholar Regarded as Great Cultural Figure.”  Globe and Mail (24 January 1991): D6.

Fabiny, Tibor.  “Érdekeltség és szabadság” [“Concern and Freedom”].  Nagyvilág (December 1991).

Fisher, Douglas.  “A Frydolator Remembers.”  Toronto Sun (25 January 1991): 11.

________.  “Frye was Right about Quebec.”  The Sunday Sun [Toronto] (27 January 1991): C3.

Fletcher, Angus.  “In Memoriam.  Northrop Frye (1912–1991).”  New Vico Studies 9 (1991): 153–4.

Flint, Peter.  “Northrop Frye, 78, Literary Critic, Theorist and Educator, Is Dead.”  New York Times (25 January 1991): B14.

Foley, Joan.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 6.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 8.

Forst, Graham.  “Remembering Norrie, Critic and Teacher.”  Vancouver Sun (26 January 1991): D24.

“Frye, Herman Northrop.”  Current Biography 52, no. 3 (March 1991): 60.

“Frye’s Genius Recalled in Tributes.”  Toronto Star (24 January 1991): D1.

Fulford, Robert.  “Frye’s Soaring Cathedral of Thought.”  Globe and Mail (26 January 1991): C16.

Garrido-Gallardo, Miguel Angel.  “Northrop Frye (1912–1991).”  Revista de Literatura 53 (January–June 1991): 175–7.

Globe and Mail (25 January 1991): D8.

Guarini, Ruggero.  “Una vita per due gemelle, bellezza e verità. . . .”  Il Messaggero (25 January 1991).

Hamilton, A. C.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 10–11.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 11.

________.  “Northrop Frye: 1912–1991.”  Quill & Quire 57 (March 1991); rpt. in Journal of Canadian Poetry 6 (1991): 5–7.

Harron, Don.  “A Memory of Frye.”  Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 19.

Hartley, Brian.  “Life in the Resurrection: Remembering Northrop Frye.”  Herald (March, 1991).

Hoffman, John.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 2.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 4.

Jensen, Bo Green.  “Kritikeren, Northrop Frye, 78 †r.”  Weekendavisen [Denmark] (1 February 1991).

Johnston, Alexandra F.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 14–15.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 15.

________.  “In Memoriam: Chancellor Northrop Frye.”  Victoria College Council, Minutes of the Meeting of 11 February 1991.  Typescript. 3 pp.

J[ohnson], P[hil].  “A Tribute to Northrop Frye.”  Pietisten 6 (April 1991): 5.

Juneau, Pierre.  “The Power of Frye’s Words.”  The Financial Post (28 January 1991): 8.

________University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 13–14.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 14.

Kenner, Hugh.  “Northrop Frye, R I P.”  National Review 43 (25 February 1991): 19.

Kushner, Eva.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 12–13.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 13.

Laux, Cameron. The Independent [London] (30 January 1991): 13.

Lee, Alvin.  “Northrop Frye: 1912–1991.”  The McMaster Courier (12 February 1991): 5.

________University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 11–12.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 12.

Lee, Hope. “Tribute to Northrop Frye.” Presented on the CBC Sunday Morning Program, 27 January 1991. Typescript, 1 p.

“Literary Critic Dies.”  Richmond Times-Dispatch (24 January 1991): B2.

“Literary Critic Rode Subway Daily to Work.”  Niagara Falls Review (24 January 1991): 7.

Lombardo, Agostino, Baldo Meo, and Piero Boitani.  “Il Pagione [A Tribute to Frye].”  Broadcast on Italian Radio—RAI, 19 February 1991, at 4:30 p.m.

McBurney, Ward.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 6–7.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 89–9.

McGibbon, Pauline.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 4.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 6.

McIntyre, John P.  “Northrop Frye (1912–91).”  America 165, no. 1 (6 July 1991): 14–15.

Marchand, Philip.  “Frye Really Believed that Literature Could Save Society.”  Toronto Star (24 January 1991): D1.

________.  “Premier, Friends Pay Tribute to Northrop Frye.”  Toronto Star (30 January 1991): E1, E6.

Meo, Baldo.  “Northrop Frye e i nuovi furori della critica letteraria.”  l’Unita 25 (January 1991): 19.

Miller, Daniel.  “Northrop Frye Remembered by U of T.”  the newspaper [University of Toronto] (30 January 1991): 10.

Moriz, Andre.  “Northrop Frye Tribute Service Draws 800.”  The Varsity [University of Toronto] (31 January 1991): 12.

“La morte in Canada di Frye: critica e società.”   Il Gazzettino [Venice] (25 January 1991).

“É morto Northrop Frye teorico della letteratura.”  Corriere della Sera (25 January 1991).

“É morto il critico Northrop Frye.”  Il Giornale (25 January 1991).

“É morto il critico Northrop Frye.”   Il Tempo (25 January 1991).

“É morto a Toronto Northrop Frye risalì al ‘profondo’ dell’opera letteraria.”  Gazzetta del Sud (25 January 1991).

“Morto critico litterario canadese Northrop Frye.”  ANSA News Agency, Rome (24 January 1991).

Mulhallen, Karen.  “In Memoriam, Northrop Frye, 1912–1991, R.I.P.”  Descant 21–22 (Winter–Spring 1990–91): 7.

Newsweek (4 February 1991): 76.

“Northrop Frye.”  St. Louis Post-Dispatch (24 January 1991): 4C.

“Northrop Frye.”  The Daily Telegraph (25 January 1991): 19.

O’Malley, Martin.  “The Ordinary Side of an Extraordinary Man.”  United Church Observer (March 1991): 16.

Nolan, Nicole, and Hilary Williams.  “Memorial for Frye.”  The Strand [Victoria University] (30 January 1991): 1.

“Northrop Frye.”  Times [London] (26 January 1991): 12.

“Northrop Frye 1912–1991.”  Toronto Star (1 November 1992): 70.

“Northrop Frye.”  Toronto Star (24 January 1991): A26.  [Editorial].

Outram, Richard.  “In Memory of Northrop Frye.”  Globe and Mail (16 February 1991): C16; rpt. in Northrop Frye Newsletter 3, no 2 (Spring 1991): 36.

Pentland, Howard.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 15–17. Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 17.

Placido, Beniamino.  “É morto Northrop Frye.”  La Repubblica (25 January 1991).

Polizoes, Elias.  “Northrop Frye’s Legacy Pivotal.”  Varsity [University of Toronto] (25 January 1991): 12

Prichard, Robert.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 2–3.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 4.

Rae, Bob.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 3–4.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 5.

Reaney, James.  “Northrop Frye: He Educated Our Imagination.”  Toronto Star (24 January 1991): A27.

“Remembering Frye.”  Globe and Mail (26 January 1991): C10.

Saddlemyer, Ann.  University of Toronto Quarterly 61, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 7–8.  Appears also in Vic Report 19 (Spring 1991): 9.

Sewell, Gregory.  “Literary Critic Northrop Frye Dead.”  Varsity [University of Toronto] (25 January 1991): 1.

Stefani, Claudio.  “Il molto reverendo Frye.”  Il Resto del Carlino (25 January 1991).

Stone, George Winchester.  “Herman Northrop Frye (14 July 1912–23 January 1991).”  PMLA 106, no. 3 (May 1991): 564, 566.

Stuewe, Paul.  “Northrop Frye, 1912–1991.”  Books in Canada 20, no. 2 (March 1991): 9.

Teskey, Gordon.  “Eulogy of Northrop Frye.”  Annual Dinner of the Milton Society, San Francisco, 28 December 1992.  Typescript. 4 pp.

Theall, Donald F.  “In Memoriam.”  Science Fiction Studies 18, no. 2 (July 1991): 288–90.

Thompson, Clive.  “Frye First and Foremost a Great Teacher.”  The Strand (30 January 1991): 5.

Time (4 February 1991): 61.

Toronto Star (26 January 1991): D7.

Tredell, Nicholas.  “Northrop Frye.”  PN Review 17 (May–June 1991): 8.

Vega, María José. “La Literatura como Orden: En la muerte de Northrop Frye.”  Revista de Extremadura (Segunda época) 9 (September–December 1992): 71–4.

Warkentin, Germaine.  “The Loss of Northrop Frye.”

Weinbrot, Howard.  “On Northrop Frye in Minneapolis, 1990.  A Memorial.” Johnsonian News Letter 50 (September & December 1991): 39–5.

Frye on Opera

The Papageno Papagena duet from Mozart’s The Magic Flute

Frye’s “Current Opera: A Housecleaning” (CW 11, 73-75), written when he was 23:

This is not a criticism of the performances of the opera company that visited Toronto recently, as the present critic succeeded in seeing only Madame Butterfly. If this was typical, they were adequate enough, if somewhat perfunctory. Of course Madame Butterfly is unfortunate in having a modern and quasi realistic setting, which throws an onus of stage “business” on the singers. The result in this case was a good deal of spasmodic cigarette-lighting and nose-blowing and uneasy and rather aimless puttering about the stage in an effort to make some gesture in the direction of drama. But the response to a melodrama of stock pathos is one thing, and the response to Puccini’s extraordinarily competent and fluent journalistic style of composition is quite another, and a general impression remained of an hermaphroditic and ill-conceived mingling of outlines.

This suggests the obvious reflection that the opera would be all the better for being completely conventionalized; surely a drama that depended on automatic movements making no pretense of holding a mirror to any kind of nature would be better suited to the declamation and rhetoric which singing involves. If Madame Butterfly depended at all on chorus work the demands of the drama would of course be less obtrusive, but when it proceeds almost entirely by aria and recitative the stage effect is bound to be stiff and awkward. The opera began as a method of incorporating Greek drama in Western art forms: two or three leading characters, a chorus, a mythological setting; all this was de rigeur throughout the seventeenth century, and in fact provides the basic form for Handel and Glück. If Handel was dissatisfied with the opera, it was not because he rebelled against the operatic convention, but simply because it was not concentrated enough for him to impose his massive designs on it. His genius expanded into the oratorio, which is not less conventionalized than the opera but far more so. After his time a century long duel was fought between the traditions of German counterpoint and of Italian melody, a conflict resolved only by Mozart, which had for its chief incidents the row between Handel and Bononcini, the Glück–Puccini opera fight in Paris, the triumph of Rossini in Vienna, the establishment of the Italian comédie larmoyante in the nineteenth century, its destruction by Wagner, and the belated attempts of Puccini and his colleagues to cling to Wagner’s coat-tails. All the energy which the great Germans bent on incorporating the opera into the tradition of systematic music did not, however, succeed in affecting the Italian model to any extent, and attempts to revitalize it now can have only an eccentric interest. The Italian operatic tradition has lived long, but it is not the less dead for having died hard. The impact of the Russian ballet annihilated what was left of it at once; a single touch of the immense strength and discipline of conventionalized art was enough to sweep the facile virtuosity of the Pattis and Carusos into limbo.

We have said that it is necessary to conventionalize the opera to avoid the absurdity and incongruity which the sensitive listener is bound to feel: every work of art asks a suspension of judgment from us, but the serious opera asks too much. But of course where the appeal is comic, where the incongruous becomes artistically valuable, this objection disappears. For if we conventionalize the opera in any direction, we immediately get something that is not an opera, however excellent an oratorio or ballet it may be. Therefore when Mozart’s unerring instinct brought the opera to its highest pitch of perfection and established it as an art form in its own right, it appeared as comedy. For high tragedy in musical drama seems difficult to reconcile with the loose and florid construction of opera: it needs massed choruses undisturbed by the broken lights of the stage. Tragedy, in short, belongs to the oratorio; the opera is comic, seldom succeeding with anything more serious than pathos. Madame Butterfly is typical of a large number of entirely unconvincing melodramas. Owing to the difficulty of getting a genuinely sympathetic audience, there is no form more easily parodied than the opera: the whole English tradition, from Gay to Dame Ethyl Smyth, has run not only to light opera but to mock opera. It will probably be impossible to convince the antiquarians of future centuries that Gounod’s Faust is not a parody of Goethe: they would simply point to Ave Maria as an instance of Gounod’s skill in parody. The association of the opera with high society and its support by wealthy women pretending to culture has also helped to make it entertainment closer in spirit to the circus than to creative art.

Whether Wagner ever succeeded in nullifying these objections is a question at present beyond our scope. His framework is mythological, of course, but not conventionalized; his gods are Dionysiac rather than Olympian, and the general effect is one of assertive antinomianism and self apotheosis carried to its fullest extent. As a master of display Wagner probably has no rival in history, but that very fact makes him anarchic and disruptive as an artist; even if he did succeed, no one else can follow him in his field. Wagner stands with Nietzsche as the joint godfather of Naziism, and until we have found out whether the swaggering and posturing of pompous heroes who do not have to pay their own way is more lasting and worthwhile, in art or in life, than a unity founded on rationality and humour, we shall be unable to put Wagner in his proper perspective. But we can hardly deny that he did his work with sufficient thoroughness; so completely did he shatter the opera that it is now in a state of decadence from which it can never be rescued. It is possible, in fact it is highly probable, that the opera, in a changing social order, is undergoing a catacomb period of which Wozzeck may furnish an example. But “grand opera” is no longer synonymous with culture, even with ermine and diamond pseudo-culture; the contemporary turn to symphonies and chamber music is a healthy and hopeful sign.

More Frye on Alger

It is of course true that a great deal of trash which passes as literature, or at least as entertaining reading, also articulates social myths with great clarity. I read many of the novels of Horatio Alger at an early age, and as I have a good verbal memory, a journey round my skull would unearth a great many pages of some of the most pedestrian prose on record. I wish very much that a surgical operation could remove it and substitute something better, but still Alger probably did me no permanent damage, as I was never inspired to adopt the virtues of his heroes, and this leads me to hope that the children of today may emerge similarly unscathed from their similar experiences. (“The Developing Imagination”)

The chief difference between the comedy of the Renaissance and of 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. (“Towards a Theory of Cultural History”; also in Anatomy of Criticism)

Many people still alive can remember Horatio Alger from their childhood. In Alger there was invariably a boy as hero who started with nothing but the industrious apprentice virtues, and wound up at the end of the story in a steady job earning five dollars a week with a good chance of a raise. Sometimes, if the not very resourceful Alger were hard up for a plot, he attained this by sheer luck, but it was understood that luck comes to the deserving, not to the lucky. Yet already in Alger we are beginning to realize that such fiction can hardly survive the class that produced it, and that that class is on its way out. The kind of entrepreneur capitalism that it helped to rationalize was dead by the First World War, and the fiction died with it. It lingered in the 1920s in the infantilism of Henry Ford and the kind of popular fiction represented by the Saturday Evening Post, and in such moral stampedes as the one that passed the Eighteenth Amendment.  But of course the fact that it survived only in such ways showed that it had disappeared into what literary critics call a pastoral myth. Even yet, whenever some people get to the point of emotional confusion at which the feeling “things are not as good as they ought to be” turns into “things are not as good as they used to be,” back comes this fictional image of thrift, hard work, simple living, manly independence, and the like, as the real values of democracy that we have lost and must recapture if, etc. the rest of the sentence depends on whatever is alarming the writer most at the moment. (Introduction to The Stepsure Letters)

In a more recent play, Amadeus, the composer Salieri pleads with God to give him the reward of genius in return for a devout life. God ignores this plea and bestows all the genius on a grubby creep named Mozart. At the bottom of Salieri’s mind was a notion that God would have bourgeois literary tastes, that the central bourgeois fable of the industrious and idle apprentice would be a favourite with him, and that he could always be counted on to enter into a dramatic situation that illustrated it. A glance at the Book of Job might have shown him that the divine mind was not confined in its choice of plots to the formulas of Horatio Alger, but such assumptions die hard, especially when they are not realized to be assumptions. (“The Stage is All the World”)

Even in Shakespearean romance distinctions of rank are rigidly maintained at the end. Bourgeois heroes tend to be on the industrious‑apprentice model, shown in its most primitive form in the boys who arrive at the last pages of Horatio Alger working for five dollars a week with a good chance of a raise. Detective stories often feature an elegant upper-class amateur who is ever so much smarter than the merely professional police; the movies and fiction magazines of two generations ago dealt a good deal with the fabulously rich, the sex novels of our day with lovers capable of prodigies of synchronized orgasm. Here again genuine realism finds its function in parody, as, for instance, The Great Gatsby parodies the “success story,” the romantic convention contemporary with it. (The Secular Scripture)

I have a feeling—probably it’s just one of those would-be profound feelings that it’s comfortable to have—that I cannot really get at the centre of a problem unless something in it goes back to childhood impressions.  Thus my New Comedy ideas, the core of everything I did after Blake, probably go back to my  [Horatio] Alger reading, and now I think the clue to this labyrinth is the sentimental romance of the l9th century, the roots of which are in Scott.  While I lived on Bathurst St. I was constantly reading ghost stories with similar patterns in mind, & Poe & Hawthorne have always been favorites.  Underground caves; the Phantom of the Opera, & the like, are all part of the Urthona penseroso pattern. (“Third Book” Notebooks)

One doesn’t realize the immense social prestige of the university until one gets a little outside it.  Speaking of them [Bobby Morrison & Beattie], I wonder if the dry rot at the basis of their lives is significant of an economic change in which the bustling, successful, money-making, super-selling young man is no longer a pure clear-eyed Alger hero but an embittered souse. (Diaries, 5 September 1942)

Doublespeak from the Palin Camp

Compare this:

An advisor to Sarah Palin, Rebecca Mansour said that the cross hairs, in fact, were not meant to be an allusion to guns, and agreed with her interviewer’s reference to them as “surveyors symbols.” (New York Times, 10 January 2011).

With these items:

Tweet by Sarah Palin (4 November 2010):   “Remember months ago ‘bullseye’ icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate; T’aint bad).”

Tweet by Sarah Palin (23 March 2010):  “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!’  Pls see my Facebook page.”

From the Facebook page referred to (note words in boldface):

We’ll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington. Please go to and join me in the fight (Palin, 2010, ¶4).

Stand tall, America. Real change is coming (Palin, 2010, ¶5)!

– Sarah Palin

Please consider a one-shot $100 donation to SarahPAC – $5 for each of the 20 leftists being targeted for removal from the US House of Representatives.

Sorry, Ms. Mansour, but the metaphors here (bullseye, reloading, aiming, firing salvos, and targeting) do not come from the language of surveying.  If the crosshair logo were actually a surveyor’s symbol, one wonders why it was removed with such dispatch yesterday.

Frye on Mobs, the “Tantrum Style,” and the “Growth of Conservative Violence”

Gabrielle Griffords warns Sarah Palin about the “consequences” of putting people in “gun sights”

Clearly, the one thing that would put an end to all hope for genuine social advance in our society would be the growth of conservative violence: the effort, with the aid of a hysterical police force, to trample down all protest into that state of uneasy quiescence under terror which is what George Wallace means by law and order. As the recent Chicago fracas showed, there can be no real doubt that such counter-violence would be much more directed at radicals, even of the most peaceful kind, than at criminals. (“The Ethics of Change,” CW 7, 349)

All the social nightmares of our day seem to focus on some unending and inescapable form of mob rule. The most permanent kind of mob rule is not anarchy, nor is it the dictatorship that regularizes anarchy, nor even the imposed police state depicted by Orwell. It is rather the self–policing state, the society incapable of formulating an articulate criticism of itself and of developing a will to act in its light. This is a condition that we are closer to, on this continent, than we are to dictatorship. In such a society the conception of progress would reappear as a donkey’s carrot, as the new freedom we shall have as soon as some regrettable temporary necessity is out of the way. No one would notice that the necessities never come to an end, because the communications media would have destroyed the memory. (The Modern Century, CW 11, 24)

Once a society renounces violence as a means of resolving its differences, controversy and discussion provide the only means of social advance. Where we have two separating camps of commitment, advance through discussion is paralysed, because all arguments become personal. The argument is seen only as a rationalization of one side, and its proponent is merely identified as a radical or a reactionary, a Communist or an Uncle Tom. (I do not see much force in this last epithet, by the way: Uncle Tom, who was flogged to death for sticking by his principles, seems to me quite an impressive example of non-violent resistance.) The continuing of the paralysis of discussion, in breaking up meetings, shouting down unpopular speakers, and the like, congeals into a mood of anticipatory violence. (“The Ethics of Change,” CW 7, 351)

In all societies there is a built-in tendency to anti-intellectualism. Sometimes this is maintained by a state-enforced dogma, as it is in the vulgar Marxism of the Soviet Union or the still more vulgar version of the Moslem religion enforced in Iran. Sometimes, as in North America, it is simply part of the human resistance to maturity, and to the responsibilities that maturity brings, the instinct to stay safe and protected by the crowd, to shrink from anything that would expand and realize one’s potential. It is this element in society that makes all education, wherever carried on, what I just called a militant enterprise, a constant warfare. The really dangerous battlefront is not the one against ignorance, because ignorance is to some degree curable. It is the battlefront against prejudice and malice, the attitude of people who cannot stand the thought of a fully realized humanity, of human life without the hysteria and panic that controls every moment of their own lives. Words like “elitism” become for such people bogey words used to describe those who try to take their education seriously. At the heart of such social nihilism, this drive to mob rule and lynch law that every society has in some measure, is the resistance to authority. (“Language as the Home of Human Life,” CW 7, 588)

As long as man’s fear of life is deeper than his fear of death, there will always be a tendency for society to degenerate into a mob, moved only by prejudice and hysteria and hatred of the individual. According to Christianity God himself was a victim of such a mob. We are not in a cosy white and black melodrama: we ourselves are involved in crime and corruption. There are millions of people who admire what we have, and fully intend to get it, but don’t particularly admire what we are. Their pressures and others may increase the fears of our own society, and people are not at their best when frightened. What one “does” with a university education in the modern world is to return to one’s community and devote one’s life to trying to build up a real society out of it and to fight the mob spirit wherever it is. Creating such a society is the main meaning and purpose of human life, and your specialized preparation for it begins here. (“Speech at a Freshman Welcome,” CW 7 280)

A group of individuals, who retain the power and desire of genuine communication, forms a society or community. An aggregate of egos is a mob. A mob can only respond to reflex and cliché; it can only express itself, directly or through a spokesman, in reflex and cliché. A mob always implies some object of resentment, and political leaders who speak for the mob aspect of their society develop a special kind of tantrum style, a style constructed almost entirely out of unexamined clichés. Examples may be heard in the United Nations every day. What is disturbing about the prevalence of bad language in our society is that bad language, if it is the only idiom habitually at command, is really mob language.

What is high style? This is one of the oldest questions in rhetoric: it would almost be possible to translate the title of Longinus’ treatise, Peri Hypsous, written in the second century, by this question. As Longinus recognized, the question has two answers, one for literature and one for speech, or rhetoric. In literature it is correct to translate Longinus’ title as “On the Sublime,” and discuss the great passages in Shakespeare or Milton. In rhetoric high style is something else: something more like the voice of the individual reminding us of our real selves, and of our duty as members of a society and not of a mob. To go at once to the highest example of high style, the sentences of the Sermon on the Mount have nothing in them of the speech-maker’s art: they seem to be coming from inside ourselves, as though the soul itself were remembering what it had been told so long ago. High style in this sense is ordinary style—it can even be “low” style—but in an exceptional situation. In our society it is heard whenever a speaker, like Lincoln at Gettysburg, is honestly struggling to express what his society, as a society, is trying to be and do. It is even more unmistakably heard, as we should expect, in the voice of an individual facing a mob, or some incarnation of the mob spirit, in the death speeches of Vanzetti and Louis Riel, in the dignity with which a New Orleans mother explained her reasons for sending her white child to an unsegregated school. How, marvelled the reporters, did a woman who left school in grade six learn to talk like the Declaration of Independence? It was the authority of high style in action, moving, not on the middle level of thought, but on the higher level of imagination and social vision. The mob’s version of high style is advertising, the verbal art of prodding the reflexes of the ego, and telling it, in a voice choking with emotion, what our vision of society should inspire us to do: to go instantly down to the store and demand this product, accepting no substitutes. As long as society retains its freedom, such advertising is largely harmless, because everybody knows that it is only a kind of ironic game. As soon as society loses its freedom, mob high style becomes what is usually called propaganda, and the moral effects become much more pernicious. (The Well–Tempered Critic, CW 21, 352–3 )

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