Category Archives: Imagination

Tom Paine

Statue of Paine in Burnham Park, Morristown, New Jersey

Today is Tom Paine‘s birthday (1737-1809).  We posted on Paine’s Common Sense earlier this month.  But with events in Egypt and Tunisia still unfolding, he deserves another look in order to distinguish between revolutionary ideology and revolutionary imagination — a distinction ultimately between secondary concerns and primary ones.

From Fearful Symmetry:

For Satan is not himself a sinner but a self-righteous prig.  As Blake explains: “We do not find any where that Satan is Accused of Sin; he is only accused of Unbelief & thereby drawing Man into Sin that he may accuse him.”  As long as God is conceived as a bloodthirsty bully this priggishness takes the form of persecution and heresy-hunting as a service acceptable to him.  But we saw that under examination Old Nobodaddy soon vanishes into a mere perpetual-motion machine of causation.  And as Deism is an isolation of what is abstract and generalized in Christianity, Satan in Blake’s day has become a Deist, and has turned to subtler forms of persecution, to ridicule and shoulder-shrugging and pointing out contemptuously how little evidence there is for any kind of reality except that of natural law.

Yet Deism professed to be in part a revolutionary force.  The American and French revolutions were largely Deist-inspired, and both appeared to Blake to be genuiney imaginative upheavals.  He wrote poems warmly sympathizing with both, hoping that they were the beginning of a world-wide revolt that would begin his apocalypse.  He met and liked Tom Paine, and respected his honesty as a thinker.  Yet Paine could write in the Age of Reason: “I had some turn, and I believe some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination.”  The attitude to life implied by such a remark can have no permanent revolutionary vigour, for underlying it is the weary materialism which asserts that the deader a thing is the more trustworthy it is; that a rock is a solid reality and that the vital  spirit of a living man is a rarefied and diaphonous ghost.  It is no accident that Paine should say in the same book that God can be revealed only in mechanics, and that a mill is a microcosm of the universe.  A revolution based on such ideas is not an awakening in the spirit of man: if it kills a tyrant, it can only replace him with another, as the French Revolution swung from Bourbon to Bonaparte. . . An inadequate mental attitude to liberty can think of it only as a levelling-out.  Democracy of this sort is a placid ovine herd of self-satisfied mediocrities.  (CW 14, 71-2)

Quote of the Day

Following the trail left by Orwell last week, here’s an entry from Frye’s unpublished, newly posted Notebook 51, paragraph 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.

Frye on de Sade

Illustration from a Dutch edition of Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue

Further to yesterday’s post, here is a collection of Frye references to de Sade.

It is an elementary axiom in criticism that morally the lion lies down with the lamb. Bunyan and Rochester, Sade and Jane Austen, The Miller’s Tale and The Second Nun’s Tale, are all equally elements of a liberal education, and the only moral criterion to be applied to them is that of decorum. Similarly, the moral attitude taken by the poet in his work derives largely from the structure of that work. Thus the fact that Le Malade Imaginaire is a comedy is the only reason for making Argan’s wife a hypocrite—she must be got rid of to make the play end happily (Anatomy of Criticism, CW 22, 105-6)

Blake says that we live in, if you like, a fallen world, that is, a world of great inequities, of privi­lege, a world of ferocity. He doesn’t have an ideal­ized view of nature like Rousseau. He doesn’t believe in the noble savage. Wordsworth says that nature is our teacher, and the Marquis de Sade says that nature justifies your pleasure in inflicting pain on others. Blake would say that there is a lot more evidence for the Marquis de Sade’s view of nature than for Wordsworth’s. So for Blake what happens is that the child, who is the central figure of the Songs of Innocence, is born believing that the world is made for his benefit, that the world makes human sense. He then grows up and discovers that the world isn’t like this at all. So what happens to his childlike vision? Blake says it gets driven underground, what we would now call the subconscious. There you have the embryonic mythical shape that is worked on later by people like Schopenhauer, Marx, and Freud. (Cayley interview, CW 24, 958)

It is unfortunate that Praz’s influential book concentrates so much on the purely psychological elements of sadism, for sadism is far more important as a sardonic parody of the Rousseauist view of society. According to de Sade, nature teaches us that the greatest good of life is pleasure, and there is no keener pleasure than the inflicting (or, for masochists, who complete the theory, the suffering) of pain. A society of sadistic masters and masochistic slaves would therefore be a “natural” society. There is no evidence that Rousseau’s natural society ever did, could, or will exist: the evidence that it is natural for man to form societies that condemn the majority to misery and humiliation and give a small group the privilege of enjoying their torments is afforded by the whole of human history. The sense that ecstasy and pain are really the same thing is connected with the fact, just mentioned, that for Romantic mythology the greatest experiences of life originate in a world which is also the world of death and destruction. (A Study of English Romanticism, CW 17, 121-2)

The symbol of the artist as criminal, however, goes much deeper. I spoke of the way in which optimistic theories of progress and revolution had grown out of Rousseau’s conception of a society of nature and reason buried under the injustices of civilization and awaiting release. But, around the same time, the Marquis de Sade was expounding a very different view of the natural society. According to this, nature teaches us that pleasure is the highest good in life, and the keenest form of pleasure consists in inflicting or suffering pain. Hence the real natural society would not be the reign of equality and reason prophesied by Rousseau: it would be a society in which those who liked tormenting others were set free to do so. So far as evidence is relevant, there is more evidence for de Sade’s theory of natural society than there is for Rousseau’s.  (The Modern Century, CW 11, 46-7)

I’ve said too that de Sade is just as right about “nature” as Wordsworth is: he simply points to its predatory & parasitic side. But no animal acts with the malice that man does: that’s a product of consciousness. (Late Notebooks, CW 5, 56)

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Quote of the Day: The Imagination and the Electoral Process

From “The Vocation of Eloquence” in The Educated Imagination:

“During an election campaign, politicians project various images on us and make speeches which we know to be at best a carefully selected part of the truth.  We tend to look down on the person who responds to such appeals emotionally: we feel he’s behaving childishly and like an irresponsible citizen if he allows himself to be stampeded . . . What the responsible citizen uses is his imagination, not believing anybody literally, but voting for the man or party that corresponds most closely, or least remotely, to his vision of the society he wants to live in.  The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.” (85-6)

Leo Tolstoy

Excerpt from a documentary that includes extensive footage of Tolstoy in the last year of his life.  Trailer for the movie “The Last Station” here.

Today is Leo Tolstoy‘s birthday (1828-1910).

Frye in “Giants in Time,” The Educated Imagination:

What produces the tolerance is the power of detachment in the imagination, where things are removed just out of reach of belief and action.  Experience is nearly always commonplace; the present is not romantic in the way the past is, and ideals and great visions have a way of becoming shoddy in practical life.  Literature reverses this process.  When experience is removed from us a bit, as the experience of the Napoleonic war is in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, there’s a tremendous increase of dignity and exhileration.  I mention Tolstoy because he’d be the last writer to try to glamorize the war itself, or pretend that its horror wasn’t horrible.  There is an element of illusion even in War and Peace, but the illusion gives us a reality that isn’t in the actual experience of the war itself: the reality of proportion and perspective, of seeing what it’s all about, that only detachment can give.  Literature helps to give us that detachment, and so do history and philosophy and science and everything else worth studying.  But literature has something more to give peculiarly its own: something as absurd and impossible as the primitive magic it so closely resembles. (46-7)

More on Frye and Otherness


I wanted to respond just briefly to Michael Dolzani’s excellent “Necessary Angels” post. I have quoted the passage below in a previous post, and even though it appears in the closing paragraph of the second chapter of The Secular Scripture, a book devoted not to the Bible but to the romantic tradition, it still seems one of the most pertinent passages touching on the relationship between literature and otherness. Interestingly, Frye uses the image of the human struggle with an angelic dimension to describe this relationship, in which the mythological universe created by the human imagination is also an uncreated reality or revelation coming from elsewhere. Thanks to Sarah Tóth for the beautiful formulation of metaphor from Ricoeur, but surely the dialectic Frye points to here (and elsewhere) is just as balanced in its paradoxical formulation. Frye is contrasting the secular and the sacred scripture, the story of the creature and the story of the creator, and he casts back to his earlier evocation, in the same chapter, of none other than Wallace Stevens discussion of “imagination and reality” in The Necessary Angel:

Reality, we remember, is otherness, the sense of something not ourselves. We naturally think of the other as nature, or man’s actual environment, and in the divided world of work and ego-control it is nature. But for the imagination it is rather some kind of force of power or will that is not ourselves, an otherness of spirit. Not all of us will be satisfied with calling the central part of our mythological inheritance a revelation from God, and, though each chapter in this book closes on much the same cadence, I cannot claim to have found a more acceptable formulation. It is quite true that if there is no sense that the mythological universe is a human creation, man can never get free of servile anxieties and superstitions, never surpass himself, in Nietzsche’s phrase. But if there is no sense that it is also something uncreated, something coming from elsewhere, man remains a Narcissus staring at his own reflection, equally unable to suprass himself. Somehow or other, the created scripture and the revealed scripture, or whatever we call the latter, have to keep fighting each other like Jacob and the angel, and it is through the maintaining of this struggle, the suspension of belief between the spiritually real and the humanly imaginative, that our own mental evolution grows. Meanwhile we have on principle to go on with. The improbably, desiring, erotic, and violent world or romance reminds us that we are not awake when we have abolished the dream world: we are awake only when we have absorbed it again.

I love this baleful image of man as Narcissus, “staring at his own reflection” and unable “to surpass himself ” as long as he deprives himself of this sense of an otherness, of a revelation that transcends him even though it is also a human creation. The Narcissus image speaks volumes to the ultimate dilemma of so much of the criticism and theory of the last decades in its obsession with ideology and the incapacity of human beings ever to imagine anything that is not simply a shadow or projection of their own self-interested social constructions. God and the imagination are one, which is why we are really asleep when we have “abolished the dream world” of literature, and why we “are awake only when we have absorbed it again.”

Shakespeare, Frye & Ideology


The “Sanders portrait,” the “Canadian” Shakespeare unveiled in 2001, purportedly painted from life in 1603.

Russell’s post on Greene and Shakespeare raises a number of questions about the relation between literature and ideology — a subject that has always been at the centre of literary criticism and shows no sign of going away.

Frye, in a display of irreverence as cheeky as Greene’s, famously observed (referring both to the relatively thin biography and the posthumously published Droeshout portrait) that we have very little hard data about Shakespeare: a few signatures, a handful of addresses, “and the portrait of a man who is clearly an idiot.”  As Russell points out, Frye is always able to make a distinction between the “man” (who may possess idiotic personal qualities and even more idiotic ideological views) and the “writer.” For current critical theory and practice, this must seem an indefensible position.  How is it possible for anyone to produce work independent of their all-encompassing social conditioning and the prejudices it spawns?

For Frye, the answer begins with the fact that literature possesses both “autonomy” and an “authority” unique to it.  Literary archetypes — whose universality can be discerned by the widest possible inductive survey of literature throughout history and across cultures — are expressive of imaginative constants and primary existential concerns.  Moreover, the context is fundamentally different.  Language in its everyday social function is “work”: expressing beliefs, necessities, truths, and so on.  Literary structures, on the other hand, are, in their imaginatively recreational function, “play”: they “exist for their own sake” and provide no requirement of belief or claim to truth.   Ideology, in short, compels; literature invites.  And upon that distinction everything follows, including the fact that the writer (like, say,  T.S. Eliot, about whom Frye directly addresses this very issue) may be consciously pushing a personal ideological agenda from which the literature itself displays a stubbornly independent purpose.  This is why literature is potentially “visionary”: it provides us with a clarified sense of what we want and who we would like to be without providing any compulsory program of action or belief.  Literature as recreation merely provides the opportunity for re-creation; it does not and cannot compel it.  What we choose to do in response to the existentially concerned but still aesthetic experience of literature is always entirely up to us, including (as we know all too well) doing absolutely nothing at all.

Frye more or less takes up these issues in the opening pages of the Introduction to On Shakespeare.  In fact, here is the complete second paragraph of that Introduction:

We have to keep the historical Shakespeare always present in our minds to prevent us from trying to kidnap him into our own cultural orbit, which is different from but quite as narrow as that of Shakespeare’s first audiences.   For instance, we get obsessed by the notion of using words to manipulate people and events, of the importance of saying things. If we were Shakespeare, we may feel, we wouldn’t write an anti-Semitic play like The Merchant of Venice, or a sexist play like The Taming of the Shrew, or a knockabout farce like The Merry Wives of Windsor, or a brutal melodrama like Titus Andronicus. That is, we’d have used the drama for higher and nobler purposes. One of the first points to get clear about Shakespeare is that he didn’t use the drama for anything: he entered into its conditions as they were then, and accepted them totally. That fact has everything to do with his rank as a poet now.  (On Shakespeare, 1-2)

So what does Shakespeare’s “rank as a poet” really amount to?  It may be summed up by the fact that he does not ever subordinate the autonomy and authority of his art to any external consideration: “all the world’s a stage” is not just a clever conceit in Shakespeare, it is a radical metaphor of his imaginative worldview. As Frye puts it, “In every play Shakespeare wrote, the hero or central character is the theatre itself” (OS 4). He may reflect the beliefs, biases, anxieties and prejudices of his time in a way his audience might recognize and even approve of, but he doesn’t promote them.  The Merchant of Venice is nowhere close to reducible to the anti-Semitism it conjures; The Taming of the Shrew overturns the complacent sexism it renders; The Merry Wives of Windsor unexpectedly offers up a more egalitarian and tolerant vision of society once the knockabout farce has played itself out; and Titus Andronicus proves to be a powerful meditation upon the grisly absurdity of the human capacity for cruelty. Why? Because Shakespeare allows his plays to play without ever feeling the necessity of putting them to work in the name of some ideology, however noble or well-intentioned it may otherwise claim to be.

Fact, Imagination, Language


Responding to Michael Dolzani, Matthew Griffin and Clayton Chrusch

I think the issue of whether or not imagination and fact are incompatible in Frye has to be seen in terms of his theory of language. We get two elaborate accounts of this theory in the first chapters of both The Great Code and Words with Power. A briefer version is to be found in chapter 1 of The Double Vision, where Frye says, “The reason for basing kerygma on mythical and metaphorical language is that such a language is the only one with the power to detach us from the world of facts and demonstrations and reasonings, which are excellent things as tools, but are merely idols as objects of trust and reverence” (18) A bit earlier he has remarked, “if we encounter metaphors in poetry, we need not worry about their factual absurdity.” That’s because poetic metaphor, like myth and all other products of the imagination, belong to a phase of language different from the language of fact, reason, demonstration, historical truth, and the like.

The opposition between fact and imagination is related, I believe to Hegel’s distinction between the “for-itself” and the “in-itself,” which Frye glances at in “The Dialectic of Belief and Vision.” The distinction is to be found in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 294 ff. Hegel’s very abstract and difficult prose provides a formidable obstacle to my small brain. But if I understand what he’s getting at in describing these two opposing forces, the “for-itself has to do with thought, with the self-consciousness that comes from our being post-Enlightenment people. It’s limited. It’s related to actuality, human law, the external world of culture and civilization, faith expressed in conceptual or Enlightenment terms, truth as objective factual description. On the other hand, in-itself is a matter of getting beyond Enlightenment rationality to something above and beyond historical self-consciousness. It’s related to possibility, faith, harmony, consciousness of the Notion (Begriff), the spiritual world. It’s a matter of vision. “For-itself” belongs to the world as it is––the world of fact. “In-itself” belongs to the world as it might or should be––the world of the imagination.

Frye’s account of this distinction immediately precedes his commentary on Hebrews 11:1, the passage mentioned by Matthew Griffin that Frye continued to puzzle over, most fully in his sermon “Substance and Evidence.” For those who might be interested in following up on the passage that Griffin says is the key to his reading of Frye, I reproduce immediately following four of the chief places Frye seeks to untangle the meaning of “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” the commentaries having been written over a seventeen-year span.

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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.”

Frye and the Supernatural


I’ve been mulling over Clayton’s comment about Frye’s antisupernatruralism. There are close to a hundred places in Frye’s writings where he uses the word “supernatural,” but I don’t get the sense from these references that he’s antisupernatural. Most often Frye’s use of “supernatural” does not point to some transcendent religious realm or being. For him, the supernatural is what is fantastic (ghosts, vampires, omens, portents, oracles, magic, witchcraft, and the like) or above nature––as in the heroes of myth in the Anatomy: superior to other people (superhuman) and to their environment (supernatural). The supernatural would include the “children of nature” (“the helpful fairy, the grateful dead man, the wonderful servant who has just the abilities the hero needs in a crisis,” Anatomy 196–7) that we find in folk tales and romances. For Frye the supernatural is not a term that is opposed to unbelief. It’s simply the antithesis of the natural. In his essay on Emily Dickinson he writes, “the supernatural is only the natural disclosed: the charms of the heaven in the bush are superseded by the heaven in the hand.” Sometimes Frye speaks of the supernatural as phenomena that are difficult to explain. He reports on this episode with his mother:

She has always regarded her mind as something passive, worked on by external supernatural forces, and is very unwilling to think that anything might be a creation of her own mind—besides, it flatters her spiritual pride to think of herself as a kind of Armageddon. She told me that once she was working in her kitchen when a voice said to her “Don’t touch the stove!” So she jumped back from it, and something caught her and flung her against the table. Half an hour later the voice came again, “Don’t touch the stove!” She jumped back again and this time was thrown violently on the floor. When Dad came home for dinner he found her with a black eye and a bruised shin. I have read a story by Thomas Mann in which he tells of seeing a similar thing in a spiritualistic séance [the episode involving Ellen Brand toward the end of Mann’s Magic Mountain—the section entitled “Highly Questionable” in chapter 7]: that story was the basis of the priest’s remark to the ghost in my Acta Victoriana sketch: “If you are very lucky, you may get a chance to beat up a medium or two” [“The Ghost”]. Mother has also heard noises like tapping and so on, and was tickled to get hold of a copy of a Reader’s Digest in which a writer describes having gone through exactly similar experiences [Louis E. Bisch, “Am I Losing My Mind?” Reader’s Digest, 27 (November 1935), 10–14.] The best way to deal with mother is, I think, to get her books telling of similar things that have happened to other people: she’s not crazy, but might be excused for thinking she was if she didn’t realize that such things are more common than she imagines. She was delighted with my Acta story, and I’ll try to get her that Mann thing and C.E.M. Joad’s Guide to Modern Thought, which has a chapter on those phenomena. (Frye-Kemp Correspondence, 13 August 1936).

In Fearful Symmetry Frye speaks of the supernatural as the human creative power: “All works of civilization, all the improvements and modifications of the state of nature that man has made, prove that man’s creative power is literally supernatural. It is precisely because man is superior to nature that he is so miserable in a state of nature” (41). Frye’s reaction to natural religion, with its premise of the analogia entis [anology of being], is almost always negative. Both Word and Spirit, he declares in his Late Notebooks, can be used without any sense of the supernatural attached to them.

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