Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Rita Leistner: Pictures of the Day


Two photographs featured at the recent “Crucified Woman Reborn” conference at Emmanuel College, May 14th and 15th

Women do not have equal rights to pray in either the Orthodox Islamic or the Orthodox Jewish centres in Jerusalem and Diyarbakir.

April 4th, 2003, Diyarbakir, Turkey.  In the photo above taken by me, a woman begs outside the great Ulu Mosque in eastern Turkey. Eastern Turkey is more religious than the more secular west, hence the gap between men’s and women’s rights and privileges is more pronounced. Women are not permitted to pray in the main mosque.


Februrary 15, 2010, Jerusalem, Israel.  In this photo taken by Tara Todras-Whitehill, Ultra Orthodox Jewish women protest against a group of Jewish women who call themselves the “Women of the Wall.” The Women of the Wall are fighting for the right to pray aloud at the wailing wall — one of the holiest sites in Judaism — a privilege only permitted men.

Nella Cotrupi: “Crucified Woman Reborn” Conference Roundup

Triptych of the crucified woman 5

Tryptich by Sophie Jungries

A few personal responses to the talks I attended at the “Crucified Woman Reborn” conference, Emmanuel College, May 14 and 15, 2010

Doris Jean Dyke was the opening keynote speaker at the conference. Doris was the first woman professor at Emmanuel College, and the author of the book, Crucified Woman. This book tells the story of how Almuth Lutkenhaus’ sculpture came to Emmanuel College, and the theological debates it set off.

In her viola-timbred voice, Doris gave a moving talk that included many examples of women associated with the cross, including an eye-opening reference to Hagar of the old testament, as one of the earliest examples of domestic abuse.  Another reference that I found intriguing was to Chaim Potok’s novel, My Name is Asher Lev.  Here the young orthodox Jewish artist paints his mother as crucified and captive, the very ground of the “war” between himself and his father. Asher, an observant Jew, created this painting of a crucifixion because, he says, “there was no aesthetic mold in his own religion into which he could pour a painting of ultimate anguish.”

Photojournalist Rita Leistner later took us through haunting, disturbing photographic images, some of them taken by her and some by other women photojournalists. These photos included images of abandoned mental patients and self-immolated child brides in Iraq, as well as images of Jewish women protesting their exclusion from prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I thought again about the many ways that women continue to be crucified in our world today.

I take comfort in looking back to the opening ceremony in the sculpture garden, with the wind moving the branches of the silver birches so that they formed a swaying shawl around Lutkenhaus’s statue. Marjory Noganosh and Dorothy Peters opened the conference and gave thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, symbolized by of a bowl of water and a bowl of red, heart-shaped berries. I realize, once again, that we are learning many lessons about living in peace, not just with each other, but with the entire cosmos, from the gentle teachings and wisdom of this country’s first people.

Second Day of the “Crucified Woman Reborn” conference, May 15, 2010

The dance in the garden – humor and satire; rhythm and colour. In the final act, a many coloured prayer shawl is placed on the shoulders of the lady statue.

Marjory’s opening talk: It’s not about throwing everything away from our own traditions – keep, safeguard what works. This resonated with Pat Capponi’s comments about her advice to her activist apprentices that they need not scrape the bottom of their emotional well of painful life experiences to find the resources for the activist work they are being trained to do on poverty and mental health issues. Just skim the surface of the deep well – that is enough. Measure and moderation as a response in the face of extreme need for social action – this is very interesting.

Sophie Jungreis: I note the very visceral nature of the paintings and the sculpture – like Rita’s photos, not pretty. Here we go into the deep recesses of the psyche to explore the roots of pain, and of healing. See Sophie’s reference to the lines in the blessings of Jacob to Joseph: (Gen. 49:25): “Blessing of the deep that couches beneath / blessings of the breast and of the womb.”

Dawn Arnold: Frye Festival Diary


Friday, April 16, 2010

The Frye Festival banners are up on Main Street, Moncton, which is a sure sign of spring (or that it may snow again…just one more time!). Programs have been inserted in 100,000 newspapers all over the region and giant billboards encourage everyone to visit for all the Festival details. This year all 31 authors (every single one!) will be visiting schools, which means that more than 10,000 kids will have the opportunity to meet an author in their classroom, library or auditorium. I just counted and we have 56 different non-school events this year, which must be a record. I drove to Halifax yesterday (wake-up call, 3:00 am!) for a 4 minute live interview for Breakfast TV – you try and cover 56 different events (workshops, round tables, book clubs, dialogues, lectures, readings, etc.) and 31 authors in four minutes (after driving 3 hours in the dark!). Northrop Frye is of course our inspiration and his commitment to an informed and civil society lies behind everything that we do, but it is sometimes difficult to get the message out.

We don’t want to lose Frye in all that we do and one tangible example of Frye’s continuing presence in Moncton is a project I’m just now discussing with Moncton’s mayor, George LeBlanc.  I’ve had a long-time dream of creating a bronze sculpture of Frye, sitting on a park bench, casually reading a book. He would be life-sized and hardy (I see kids climbing on him and tourists getting their photos snapped with him). The inspiration for this idea came recently when we commissioned an artist to create a prize for our inaugural “Frye Academy Award” – you should see the gold Northrop Frye bobble head that he created (he is waving and has a jaunty stance!)! If my head is not too “Frye’d” by Sunday, April 25, I will post a photo of the bobble head prize, because I know you will all want one! Anyway, once the Festival is over I hope to start work on getting an enduring tribute to Frye created. Better get back to work…still lots to be done!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Frye Festival was officially launched today at Moncton City Hall. We had lots of politicians make appearances (Premier Shawn Graham, Senator Rose-May Poirier, MP Brian Murphy, Municipal politicians, etc.) so that generated lots of media coverage (and in fact, the first time the RCMP has ever called us about protestors – we thought maybe they thought our authors might be radicals, but alas, it was about the Premier!). As always, it is tough to get the story out there, but somehow, the media is coming out in droves this year. The hook? Volcanic ash. Yep, we have had some cancellations due to the cancellation of two European authors’ flights. This is something that they can understand and then, they actually pick-up on the Festival story. Who knew? We’ve dealt with cancellations for SARS, 9/11, fog and snow, but volcanic ash is new!

While today was the official launch, we had a wonderful event on Saturday at The Bay. Sandwiched in between women’s fashions and lingerie we displayed more than 200 K-Grade 4 student creations. All the kids received an invitation to attend, pick-up a certificate, a Festival t-shirt, a pass to Magic Mountain and the opportunity to shine in front of their family and friends. I brought my son along to help out and he simply couldn’t believe how excited the kids were. He is a hockey player and gets accolades everywhere he goes (our community is truly hockey obsessed – it hasn’t changed much on that front since Northrop was here!), but this event is one of the few that gives young creators the opportunity to celebrated by their community.

Tonight I’m looking forward to Prelude: Emerging New Brunswick Authors. We have six up-and-coming authors (three English, three French) who have all just recently published their first books. I love this event. We have so much for kids (K-12) and so much for commercially successful authors, but it is nice to nurture our own local authors.

Got to go…interviews with CTV’s Alive at Five and Rogers Radio…

Bob Rodgers: My Archetypal Quest


As some of you may know, I and my partner at our production company, ARCHIVEsync, aim to produce and distribute a series of 24 DVDs based on Frye’s classic 1981/82 lectures on the Bible and Literature. As staff producers at the then U of T Media Centre, we videotaped the lectures and related seminars, and edited them into 30 half hour programs called The Bible and Literature: A Personal View by Northrop Frye. This was a video-only series using excerpts from the lectures and seminars and designed for broadcast time slots and supplementary use by teachers in the classroom. The original recordings, some 300 individual 20-minute tapes, went to Robarts archives where (excepting Robert Denham’s publication of the lecture transcripts) the original videotapes have remained unheeded  ever since.

ARCHIVEsync’s plan is to go back to the original recordings and reproduce the complete lectures, plus cogent selections from the seminars, not simply as videos but on the New Media platform of DVD-ROM and web based delivery, which includes interactive data such as lecture transcripts, explanatory notes, study guides, and bibliography. Unlike the earlier half-hour series, this series contains the complete lectures and is not designed as a teaching aid; it is a direct information tool for researchers, students, and the reading public. Sitting down to a Frye DVD will be a private experience not unlike reading a book, with the added advantage interactive navigation to various kinds of pictorial and contextual information.

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Bob Rodgers: Getting to Know Northrop Frye


Bob Rodgers is a documentary filmmaker, TV producer, and writer, currently developing a web-based series titled “The Bible and Literature with Northrop Frye.”

I am fresh from the West when I join Northrop Frye’s graduate class at the University of Toronto in 1959. I know his reputation: Fearful Symmetry is twelve years old, Anatomy of Criticism barely two. Frye is already approaching canonization in the world of literary criticism and celebrity status at the University of Toronto. What comes as a shock is his appearance. He enters the room so unobtrusively it is as though he simply materializes from behind the podium, one eye eagle sharp as it surveys the room, the other with a slightly drooping eyelid as if out of shyness. Or is it irony? Setting Blake’s Collected Works, his only prop, on the podium and gazing at us through glasses that seem to be the wrong prescription, he falls short of the glamorous figure I had anticipated.

Then moments after he begins speaking I forget where I am. I am hearing things as if in a foreign language, yet I seem to understand. As one startling idea follows another I am dazzled by the reach of his mind. At the end of class I haltingly approach him and am granted an interview to discuss my proposal for a term paper. I’m nervous. It is one thing to sit in the relative anonymity of a classroom, quite another to sit across from him face to face.

The doorway between the marble hallway and the hardwood floor of his office in old Emmanuel College has a slightly raised sill I fail to notice. I catch my toe on it and trip. In an effort to regain my balance, I lunge forward, stopping just before crashing into his desk. He looks up in alarm, rising half from his chair as if to fend off a tackle. It is an unpropitious beginning for my proposed topic: William Blake and the Dynamics of Energy and Order.

The imposing yet aloof man I met that day (once he settled back in his chair) was nothing like the man I am coming to know all these years later as I read away at U of T Press’s mammoth publishing enterprise, The Collected Works of Northrop Frye. I am especially interested in the diaries and letters and notebooks that bring out his personal side, and not just one side but many—the self-confessed physical coward, the self-confessed genius, the frustrated novelist and unfulfilled composer, the reluctant introvert and what many would call the dangerous heretic. Most of all I was surprised by his liberal use of what he playfully called dirty words, which would have shocked his orthodox Methodist family and no doubt did shock some of his Victoria College contemporaries. I remember when I was young feeling the same surprise when I learned that Roosevelt had a mistress.

The published works seem certain to establish Frye’s reputation as one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest humanists. The voice is distinctive but impersonal. Only in the previously unpublished writing do we come into contact with the inner man, by way of an unceasing self evaluation in which nothing personal is censored. How many writers would hazard a remark like this that so notoriously troubled Harold Bloom:

Statement for the Day of my Death. The twentieth century saw an amazing development of scholarship and criticism in the humanities, carried out by people who were more intelligent, better trained, had more languages, had a better sense of proportion, and were infinitely more accurate scholars and professional men than I. I had genius. No one else in the field known to me had quite that.

Could these be the words of a braggart? Given what I remember as a student and what I’m learning of the man today as I go through the notebooks, all I can do is applaud him for acknowledging his gift and having the courage to declare it. Nietzsche was right. It is impossible to be a genius and not know it.

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Griffin and Chrusch: Responding to Michael Dolzani


Bosch’s Epiphany, 1495

Michael Dolzani’s first post has drawn a couple of thoughtful responses:

Matthew Griffin:

Thanks so much for this piece. It’s proven quite helpful to me, as I try to come up with some coherent thoughts for a pair of Epiphany sermons.

Epiphany is one of the principal feasts of the Church year, and celebrates the greater spread of God’s saving work beyond just the Israelites. It’s the time of year when we read the account in the gospel of Matthew of the magi coming to see the child, led by a star–and I think that one could argue that such is the quintessential example of natural religion (and then absorbed into Christianity). After all, the magi follow a star and bring tribute, ill-understanding (in the gospel writer’s eyes, at any rate) the full import of who they were meeting.

Where I would want to offer nuance to your argument is around the assertion that “the imgaination does not ‘believe in God’: belief is concerned with the evidence for or against objects, and God is not an object.” I think my quibble stems from a passage of scripture close to Frye’s heart–”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11.1). In fact, it was a passage that kept cropping up in papers given at the Frye & the Word conference a few years back, and it’s key to my own reading of Frye: he’s sure that faith isn’t, as he quotes “believing what you know ain’t so”–but is something other than factual, other than straight subject/object dichotomy. It’s how Frye does this that makes Words with Power such an important book in my life, and I thank you for reminding me of that as I try to think about what it means to help others re-read a myth that reveals something of how God is.

Clayton Chrusch:

The passage that Matthew identifies is the same one that I think could use some clarification. God (the Father) may not be an object, but he is, according to the view I am defending anyway, a subject, and subjects (like the human mind, for example) are still facts, and their existence can be treated (more or less) in the same way the existence of objects can be treated. According to the Christian view, God, in the person of Jesus, is actually an object, in the sense of a physical entity. But perhaps you are not contrasting objects with subjects but objects with persons. Persons, though, are also facts, and we can believe in them both in the sense of acknowledging their existence and also in the sense of trusting them.

I certainly understand Blake’s rebelliousness and share his disgust with the church which contents itself with being at best a little less bad than institutions of a similar size, wealth, and power. But I see a distinction between the church and the teachings it espouses, the teachings, in fact, that it usually betrays. And I also see a distinction between the teachings of the church, in all their inadequacy and perversion, and the truth of which they are a distortion.

So I don’t see imagination and fact as incompatible. An imaginative scientist is very good at coming up with theories that articulate and explain facts. An imaginative Christian is very good at envisioning what it means to be a God whose only motive is love and also what it means to be a child of such a God. But a vision may be a vision of what is real. The imagination shows us not only what is not true, but also what is true.

I think I misspoke in my original comment by suggesting that the hope of Christians is the end of suffering. The end of suffering is only a secondary Christian hope, but the primary one is equally factual. Suffering is bearable, but what I cannot bear, what makes me want to pluck out my own eyes or throw myself off a cliff is being bad–hurting other people or behaving dishonestly. If I hate torture, it is not because it is painful but because it reaches down into a person’s will and takes possession of it for evil purposes. If I really knew that I could be good and remain good, I would not be afraid of any amount of pain. This is not something I am making up as an ideal, but something that is a part of real life to Tibetan monks, for example, being tortured in Chinese prisons.

And so I don’t see salvation as admittance into a very pleasant place, but as a renovation of the will so complete and so secure that it doesn’t matter any longer what place we are in.

Michael Dolzani: Frye and Spiritual Otherness


We are delighted to post this response by Michael Dolzani on the question of Frye’s anti-supernaturalism. Michael, editor of several of the Collected Works, will be joining us as a byline correspondent.

I think I understand why Clayton Chrusch refers to Frye’s “anti-supernaturalism,” and his entry puts its finger on one of those issues in Frye studies whose intractability proves how truly central they are.  As Bob Denham says, Frye seemed open to belief in all sorts of paranormal phenomena, both the spontaneous ones that occur in séances and the significant coincidences that Jung explained by “synchronicity” and also the deliberately evoked and controlled phenomena of magic and occultism.  However, Bob notes that Frye did not think of such phenomena as supernatural.  A Renaissance magician like Prospero—or, in real life, Marsilio Ficino—believed that he was drawing upon the hidden powers of nature.  Such “natural magic” could be white or black, good or evil, depending upon the will that summons and controls it.  Witches may claim to serve the devil, but the devil’s attributes—the cloven hooves, horns, tail—clearly indicate that this kind of devil is merely a nature spirit.  The hidden powers of nature can sometimes be imagined as a whole hidden realm, an Otherworld like the Celtic Faerie, and perhaps the Tibetan Bardo.  But this realm is not supernatural; in the early 1947 essay “Yeats and the Language of Symbolism,” as well as in the early notebooks it is closely related to, Frye calls it “hyperphysical,” meaning that it is not super-natural, above nature, but an extension of nature.  To mistake it as supernatural is an example of what the early notebooks repeatedly call “the deification of the void.”

But if the deification of the void is false supernaturalism, it is certainly a valid question whether Frye believed in a real supernaturalism.  I am not surprised that this controversy has erupted in relation to Fearful Symmetry, where Frye is closest to Blake.  Blake tended to equate “nature” with “fallen world” in a way that sometimes—misleadingly, I think—suggests that he is the kind of Gnostic who rejected the physical world altogether.  That cannot really be true:  a bird cannot be a world of delight closed to our senses five if it is merely fallen or illusory.  But Blake is pushed in that direction by his repudiation of “natural religion,” all the more so because most of the conventional Christianity of his time and ours is really natural religion in disguise.  Natural religion is what happens when the “natural man” [1 Corinthians 2:14], Paul’s term for the fallen aspect of ourselves, tries to imagine the supernatural.  The result, as Browning showed, is Caliban upon Setebos, the reason being that the natural man cannot think or imagine beyond the natural.  What is the natural?  In this context, it is the cloven fiction, the split between the subject and a world of objects alienated from the subject.  If the natural man is the subject, God must be the ultimately objectified Object, either projected into the heavens as an inscrutable sky-god (Urizen, Nobodaddy, Shelley’s Prometheus) or into the depths as the Immanent Will of Hardy and his chief influence, Schopenhauer.  This is really another kind of deification of the void.  Such a God is a Holy Terror, tormenting his followers as he tormented Job, afflicting them outwardly with boils and tragedy, inwardly with the theological nightmares of predestination, the terrors of eternal hellfire, and the intractable guilt of people like Luther.

I find that intelligent Christians of good will are puzzled and put off by the anger of people like Blake and Frye.  Such Christians are thinking in terms of a God who is, as Clayton Chrusch says,  the beautiful hope of those who are suffering.  But Frye grew up in the realm of Protestant fundamentalism, and I grew up within pre-Vatican II Catholicism, with the same rebellious result.  Frye, especially the younger Frye, refuses to suppress all the troubling questions; like Job, he stands up and cries out for answers.  And unlike Job, but like Blake, he refuses to be shouted down because God has a bigger loudspeaker.

So the natural man cannot be truly spiritual; he can only be superstitious, worshipping and trying to placate a spook conjured by his own anxieties.  But Paul’s “spiritual man” is identified by Blake with the imagination.  The imagination does not “believe in” God:  belief is concerned with the evidence for or against objects, and God is not an object.  God is not a “fact,” at least not in this sense.  The natural man thinks that, if God is not a fact, he must be a mere fiction or illusion, but it is one of the primary missions of Words with Power to get beyond that impasse.

That is why I think Sara Toth’s essay “Recovery of the Spiritual Other” (in Northrop Frye:  New Directions from Old)  is an important contribution to Frye studies.  Sara observes that, beginning as early as the 1970s, Frye increasingly speaks of a “spiritual otherness.”  To the imagination or spiritual man (or woman), God is “other” and yet not objective.  In the Preface to Spiritus Mundi, Frye writes, “For Blake and Yeats, on the other hand, there is nothing creative except what the human imagination produces.  Stevens polarizes the imagination against a ‘reality’ which is otherness, what the imagination is not and has to struggle with.  Such reality cannot ultimately be the reality of physical nature or of constituted human society, which produce only the ‘realism’ that for Stevens is something quite different.  It is rather a spiritual reality, an otherness of a creative power not ourselves; and sooner or later all theories of creative imagination have to take account of it.”  Autobiographical aside:  my first contact with Frye was in 1976.  At the age of twenty-five, I wrote him a fan letter thanking him graciously acceding to my visiting father-in-law’s request to autograph a copy of Spiritus Mundi for me.  In my letter, I specifically mentioned the “spiritual otherness” passage as seeming like a fascinating new direction for him.  He wrote back saying that he was working on a book on the Bible, and that this was one of the issues it was important to get right.

Frye is distancing himself in that Preface from Blake’s identification of the human imagination as God.  Although Blake is right in a sense, there is different aspect of God which remains other.  What is an otherness that is not objective?  It is a “spiritual” otherness.  And what does that mean?  Well, I wish I knew.  I edited Words with Power, including the chapter “Spirit and Symbol” that is Frye’s deepest exploration of this, and still feel I do not entirely understand it—though I feel that it does mean something, and though I have been trying to grasp it since I was twenty-five.  I think Frye himself was looking for clues in other writers:  Sara notes his interest in Buber’s I-Thou relationship.  I myself have been struck by how, of the two great Protestant theologians of his time, Frye seems more fascinated by the neo-orthodox Barth than the liberal Tillich.  What I think he found in Barth was the vision of a spiritual otherness smashing through the limitations of human desires, human understanding, human words:  a transcendence whose revelation or kerygma shatters the mind-forg’d manacles of the fallen world.  When David Cayley asks Frye, “Why do you take it as given that God is transcendent?” Frye responds, “I don’t know what else is transcendent.  Otherwise, you’re left with human nature and physical nature….Human nature is corrupt at the source, because it has grown out of physical nature.  It has various ideals and hopes and wishes and concerns, but its attempts to realize these things are often abominable, cruel, and psychotic.  I feel there must be something that transcends all this, or else.”  When Cayley asks, “Or else what?” Frye responds, “Or else despair.”

Jan Gorak: Frye and the Instruments of Mental Production


I’ve recently been shelving some of the volumes I inherited this summer following the death of my much-missed colleague and friend Edward Twining.  As I stacked some of them, I remembered how when we first came to Denver, Ed and his wise and witty wife Mary-Beth took us on a drive into the Rocky Mountains.  As we rose in altitude, Ed began to recollect, with all the vigor and enthusiasm he commanded so easily, the occasion of Frye’s visit to Denver about twenty years before.  Unusually, I thought then—but not now—he warmed to the memory of Frye’s unassuming and apparently capacious knowledge of the region’s geology.  (I was later to discover that Frye had been a longtime lunch partner of Charles Currelly, Professor of Geology at Toronto and had ghost-edited [ghost-written?] his volume of reminiscences We Brought the Ages Home.)   Throughout, Ed punctuated his discussion with regular, and obviously warmly felt, exclamations like “What a generous mind!  What an honest man!”  There was no reference to Frye’s various institutional and professional honors, still less any asides about cultural power or academic acclaim.  Although there were frequent reflections on admired passages from unexpected sources—the CBC broadcasts that became The Educated Imagination and The Great Code.

It was the professional Frye with whom I started to reacquaint myself as I continued in my shelving.  My own paperback edition of The Stubborn Structure is no longer stubborn—invertebrate might be a more appropriate adjective.  So a hardback copy was most welcome to me.  As I started to leaf through the book, thoughts rapidly started to form.  I became particularly interested in the essay on “The Instruments of Mental Production.”  In the rest of this entry, I shall be largely concerned with what Frye says in this piece, but I pause for a moment to note that I think the network of connections he forged with universities across the world is worth thinking about: what is the relationship between the international Frye and the Frye of the 40s and 50s, who wrote for The Canadian Forum.  How did he adjust his discourse to the different conditions of his utterances at that time?   

One answer is of course that he didn’t, unlike many contemporary academics, who are conference revolutionaries and weekend consumers of Gucci.  Instead, he brought to different audiences the fruits of what he discovered in Blake and Milton.  In so doing, he rejected the premises that liberal or humanistic knowledge was ever instrumental, or that the language of ownership and production had much to do with what we do when we teach King Lear or Emma.  He reiterated his conviction that education in “the creative arts” was intimately concerned with structured possibilities, not just with fitting bits of the curriculum together in what a faculty might be willing to accept after long processes of consultation and self-study had worn them down into demoralized exhaustion.  He emphasized how much of what was most valuable in a liberal education was not negotiable in a roundtable manner, but depended on self-identification, unconscious commitments and, memorably, the articulation of inner vision into structured communication.  “It is worth reminding ourselves,” he says, “that in Plato, who seems to have invented the conception, dialogue exists solely for the purpose of destroying false knowledge.  As soon as any genuine knowledge (or what Plato regarded as such) is present, the dialogue turns into a punctuated monologue” (SS 4).

There is no substitute for reflection in the educated imagination, not any escaping the need to translate the results of that reflection into organized utterance.  A punctuated monologue is not a dialogue, but it isn’t a withdrawal into deep silence either.  Because even if your commitments or preferred forms of identification are not with those of a humanist education, you will still need to use the humanist instruments of word and image to communicate them.  This is why a humanistic education is so seminal for Frye and for us.

I’ve been thinking about these things as I stacked some of Ed Twining’s books, and wondering if it wasn’t for reasons like these that Frye could have meant so much to a man who, for all his large reserves of play and erudition, would surely have perished in the present academic dispensation.  Not so much because this regime emphasizes constant publication—in fact many administrators are anything but concerned about publication—but because we are now so pinioned on the treadmill of constant production that Frye identified in this essay as so deeply anti-educative.  Only now the things we aim to produce are not articles and monographs but tolerance, a comfortable learning environment, the public good and God knows what else.  In this, the postmodern academy is so often only a parody of what Frye talks about in “The Instruments of Mental Production.”   Instead, it is a place best imaged in Book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels where, you will remember, Gulliver talks about the proneness to disease of the Yahoos. What strikes him as odd is that no one has: “Any more than a general Appellation for those Maladies, which is borrowed from the Name of the Beast, and called Hnea Yahoo or the Yahoo’s-Evil; and the Cure prescribed is a Mixture of their own Dung and Urine, forcibly put down the Yahoo’s Throat” (GT 4).

The perpetual administration of dubious remedies is what the postmodern academy craves and thrives on, not productive scholarship (identified as the source of rich ironies by Frye) and still less the possibilities of human life that he enjoins on us for our lifetime study in his final paragraph.  But even the impossibilities, even what you don’t want, ultimately assumes “a poetic shape” as this passage from Swift shows.

In circumstances like these, I think Frye’s international presence in the scholarly community brings him into territory contemporary readers will recognize from Adorno’s Minima Moralia. Adorno’s response, it seems to me, is much more like Gulliver’s: recalcitrant misanthropy takes over from hope and, to a degree, vision—much of his discussion in MM proceeds like a discharge of tiny pellets into his own flesh.  I’d like to say that, of course, Frye’s is the example we all should follow.  But I’m not at all sure about this: what I do think is that the global context that a particular kind of inquirer moves towards seems to produce utopian and misanthropic types in the scholarly drama it hosts.  I mean types to carry the meaning Frye has alerted us to: recurring figures in a specific structure.

Jonathan Allan: Frye and Bloom


Responding to Michael Happy’s previous post:

One wonders how Bloom and Frye would react to being positioned together as “whipping boys.” The Frye-Bloom axis, as Eleanor Cook calls it, seems to be a continuous concern for those “in theory,” insofar as there seems to be a perpetual need to rebel against them both as though they are pushing the same agenda. Of course, this is, as any reader of Frye and Bloom knows, not true. Frye rebels against Bloom and Bloom rebels against Frye — Bloom’s writing since Frye’s death seems to be one long battle with Frye: The Western Canon is Bloom’s defence of value judgments; The American Religion (1992, reprinted in 2006), Jesus and Yahweh (2005), and, to a lesser degree, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection (1996), read as though they are responses to Frye’s Bible books; and then, of course, there is Bloom’s forthcoming book The Living Labyrinth: Literature and Influence (2010) which originally boasted the title: Anatomy of Influence. All of these books seem to try to position Bloom outside the shadow of Frye and yet Frye always seems to lurk in the background — perhaps, one can read Bloom’s book on Hamlet as something of meditation of the theoretical self (or as an autobiography, like The Anxiety of Influence). Of course, it would seem that Frye rebelled against Bloom as well, especially in the later years when Frye turned to the biblical texts. Despite the concerted efforts by both Bloom and Frye to distance themselves from each other, the reality is that these two literary giants are almost always seen in relation to one another — at least in terms of the history of literary criticism.

Tom Willard’s Study Guide for The Educated Imagination


Tom Willard has generously given us permission to publish his study guide for The Educated Imagination, which he prepared for a freshman seminar back in the nineties and posted at his website; the page references are to the Indiana UP edition. Tom teaches in the department of English at the University of Arizona; you can visit his website, which features a beautiful photo of Frye taken by Tom’s wife.

Study Guide for The Educated Imagination

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) read his Massey Lectures over the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC radio) in 1962. First published by Indiana University Press in 1964, the six lectures present key concepts from Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton University Press, 1957).

Chapter One. “The Motive for Metaphor.”

Frye begins by exploring the relation of language and literature. “What is the relation of English as the mother tongue to English as a literature?” he asks (p. 16), and before he can give an answer, he has to explain why people use words. He identifies three different uses of language, which he also terms types or levels of language.

1. “The language of consciousness or awareness” is our means of “self-expression,” our means of responding to the natural environment: “the world as it is.” This language produces conversation.
2. “The language of practical sense” is our means of “social participation,” our means of taking part in our civilization. This language produces information.
3. “The language of literature” is our means of entering the world of imagination: “the world we want to have.” This language produces poetry, first of all.

Science and literature move in opposite directions. Science begins with the external world and adds imagination. (Mathematics is the imaginative language of science, Frye suggests in a later chapter.) Literature begins in the imaginative world and becomes involved in civilization.

Frye now deals with the distinctive feature of literary language. When language implies an identification of the speaker and the object, it becomes metaphoric. “The desire to associate,” and to find connections between inner experience and the external world, is what Wallace Stevens calls “The Motive for Metaphor.”

This chapter provides an introduction to the book. It raises questions that will not be answered until Frye has set out a general theory of literature. These include the question of education–“What is the place of the imagination … in the learning process?” (p. 16)–answered in chapter 5. They also include a series of questions about the social function of literature and literary education, to be answered in chapter 6:

“What good is the study of literature?” (p. 13)

“Does it help us to think more clearly, or feel more sensitively, or live a better life than we could without it?” (p. 13)

“What is the relation of English as the mother tongue to English as a literature?” (p. 16)

“What is the social value of the study of literature?” (p. 16)

What is “the relevance of literature in the world of today?” (p. 27)

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