Category Archives: News

RCMP Spied on Frye

The Canadian Press has turned up the RCMP’s covert dossier on Frye. The only reassuring thing about it is the comical stupidity of the investigators:

Canada’s intelligence service spied on renowned literary scholar Northrop Frye, closely eyeing his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, an academic forum on China and efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.

Newly released archival records show the RCMP Security Service relied on a secret informant to help compile a 142-page file on the esteemed University of Toronto professor, who died in 1991 at age 78.

Every inch the owlish, bespectacled academic, Frye seems an unlikely counter-intelligence target.

But the Mounties, wary of anyone deemed influential among the burgeoning New Left, amassed hundreds of thousands of files during the Cold War — monitoring key institutions such as universities, the media, churches and political organizations.

The scandal-ridden RCMP spy agency was disbanded in 1984 and replaced by the civilian Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The Canadian Press obtained the intelligence dossier on Frye from Library and Archives Canada under the Access to Information Act. RCMP files on individuals can be disclosed only 20 years after the person’s death.

The material covers the years 1960 through 1972, after Frye had forged a reputation as one of the pre-eminent western intellectuals.

Several pages of the Frye file — though close to half a century old — were completely withheld from release because they contain personal information about others or material still deemed sensitive to Canada’s security.


The Mounties seemed to first take note of Frye in 1960, when he served as a sponsor of the Toronto Disarmament Committee. In 1963, the RCMP flagged Frye’s participation — along with luminaries including communications theorist Marshall McLuhan and political scientist C.B. Macpherson — in the planned Norwegian quarterly Co-existence.

A three-page March 1967 memo detailed Frye’s biographical details, relying on a secret source for information about his wife.

The investigator noted Frye “has come to our attention” on a number of occasions, including involvement in a letter questioning Canada’s complicity in the Vietnam conflict, and his role on the honourary board of an international educational forum — or “teach-in” — on China at the University of Toronto in 1966.

“Our source felt his participation gave the Teach-in a note of credibility,” says the RCMP memo.


The 1967 biographical memo, prepared by an RCMP constable, reveals that at least one thing stumped the spies.

“At the present time, we are unable to ascertain what the initial ‘H’ stands for in Frye’s name.”


Though he took a progressive stand on issues of the day, including the battle against racial segregation in South Africa, Frye expressed skepticism about the left-wing student movement flowering on campuses in the ’60s.

He told a convocation address in Wolfville, N.S., in 1969 that demonstrations would soon wither away, with little to show for the marches and placard-waving.

The next month he would write in a Toronto newspaper column, collected in his RCMP file, that many forms of social action, “on the campus and off it, are either purely symbolic or forms of private enterprise that show a touching belief in advertising and publicity stunts.”

(Photo: The Canadian Press)

Summer Hours

The Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”

Sorry. This post should have gone up last Sunday on a timer, but I set it wrong. My disappearance was just some much-needed time off. After keeping the blog every day for two years, I was in need of a break — a getaway, as it turns out.

We’ll be posting intermittently rather than daily over the next little while, and perhaps take a full two weeks off in the middle of August.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on behind the scenes. We’re giving our library and journal a major upgrade, which will make them more user-friendly. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

We will also be adding a new full-length work, a major addition to Frye scholarship. We know you’ll be pleasantly surprised by that too.

In the meantime, as we approach our second anniversary, we are asking for your feedback. This year is the lead up to the Frye centenary, and we of course are looking to make our own contribution, however modest. The first thing to do, therefore, is to find out how we might do it better. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Our readership is strong and we hope as we enter our third year it will get stronger. However, I’m assuming that a good portion of that readership has slipped into the wholesome recreations of summer. Enjoy. Peek in on us now and again, and we’ll see you fully up and running in September.

More Alice Munro

Munro’s 1979 interview with the CBC on the removal of books from school libraries, including her own Lives of Girls and Women

The New Yorker has an archived post featuring links to an interview with Munro and a number of reviews of her work, as well as a link to one of her most remarkable stories, “The Love of a Good Woman.” If this is a story you haven’t read, you’ll want to. If you haven’t read Munro at all, you couldn’t find a better place to start.

Our earlier post here.

Michio Kaku: The Truth About Alternative Energy

Solar, wind and geothermal are becoming more viable, and fusion is only twenty years away. Video from Big Think here.

Expect the corporatists to ramp up global warming denialism as all of this becomes more apparent. After all, what’s in it for Exxon-Mobil, the richest company in the world?

Or, closer to home, what’s in it for Alberta, which has 10% of the country’s population but now seems to represent 100% of the government’s priority?

Robert Kroetsch

Robert Kroetsch died in a car accident today. Below is a reposting of Matthew Griffin’s September 12th 2009 post, “Influence without Anxiety”

While much of the discussion on this blog has revolved around how Frye has been an influence on other critics, I think it also worth remembering his potent effect on novelists and poets as well. A reflection on what it is to write and to think about literature that has been formative for me is Robert Kroetsch’s essay, “Learning the Hero from Northrop Frye” (It’s perhaps easiest to find in The Lovely Treachery of Words: Essays Selected and New.  Don Mills: Oxford, 1989. 151-162.)  While we’d do well to remember an axiom from the Polemical Introduction, that the author “has a peculiar interest, but not a peculiar authority” as a critic of the author’s own work (CW 29: 7), Kroetsch writes that it was an encounter with Frye’s thought “that exhausted me into language” (151). He describes giving a seminar on Milton, using the just published Anatomy of Criticism as his “critical starting point,” only to be asked what the ideas therein were all about (154). Kroetsch describes his answer as follows:

I began, in answering that request, to talk about the hero, the nature of the hero, in literature, in the modern world, in my Canadian world, and in a way I haven’t stopped, and here, today, thirty years later, I’m still giving the report, though now Northrop Frye himself has become the hero under discussion, a peculiarly Canadian hero, in a modern world that has assigned to critics and theorists a hero’s many tasks.  We live at a time when the young critic as tram faces the uncomfortable fate of becoming the old critic as god. (154)

Kroetsch’s essay marvels at just what influence Kroetsch has had on Canadian writing in particular, before finally concluding of Frye, that in “his collected criticism, he locates the poetry of our unlocatable poem.  In talking about that poem, he becomes our epic poet. Grazie” (161).

Perhaps in this idea is fodder for our own reflections about how we might relax our own anxieties of influence, and look to see Frye’s impact upon writers beyond the sphere of criticism proper?

Major Site Tech Upgrade (Whoo hoo!)

We can now embed videos from various sources (this one, for example, from Vevo). That means video that is more current and more eclectic

We have just undergone a welcome upgrade.

First, every post on the entire website — that is, daily blog postings, articles in the journal, and all of the documents in the library — can now be downloaded in PDF format. Simply hit the link to the post you’d like to go to, like, say, Michael Dolzani’s article in the journal, “Desert Paradise: A Polemical Re-Introduction to Northrop Frye.” Just beneath the title you’ll see a live “Make a PDF” link; hit that, and you’ll get a printable version of the text; hit the PDF icon at the top of the page, and you’ll get a downloadable PDF version of the article. Better yet, it will be both paginated and searchable. This is a big leap forward for us and a boon for people who want more practical access to this material.

We are also now able to embed video from a number of sites, including:

This too is an exciting development. It means we can get more video to you directly that you can watch on site, rather than simply providing a remote link to it.

We expect there will be more innovations as the summer progresses. We’ll keep you apprised. And, of course, we are always looking for your input and suggestions.

Library and Journal: Converting to PDF

Our summer project is to convert the material in both the Robert D. Denham Library and the Journal to PDF. The reason is simple: the text is easier to read, the pages are numbered, and — this is the best part — it is searchable. It means our scholarly material will have the scholarly cast it deserves. Our daily blog, meanwhile, will remain in its present format. It will take a little while to make this conversion, but it will happen soon.

Brian Russell Graham: “The Necessary Unity of Opposites”

Brian is a graduate of the University of Glasgow. He has written extensively on Frye and has published a number of reviews of the Collected Works. He is an assistant professor at Aalborg University in Denmark.

My monograph on Frye, The Necessary Unity of Opposites, has just been released by the University of Toronto Press. The study deals with each of the main areas of Frye’s work: Blake’s poetry, secular literature, education and work, politics and Scripture. For Frye, the history of ideas is characterized by sets of opposing values which result in repeated cyclical movements in that history. However, Frye’s thinking, I argue, can be thought of as a dialectical, “suprahistorical,” and – in the secular context – “post-partisan.”

In each area of interest, Frye deals with the fact that opposing ideas represent a unity; that is, they are “in agreement” with one another. The nature of the “agreement” is different  in each case: beauty and truth are “in agreement” because they both inhere in Blake’s poetry and, more generally, secular literature; leisure and work are “in agreement” because, complementing one another, both must be incorporated into the life of the individual in society; freedom and equality are “in agreement” because the two are simultaneously achievable in society; belief and vision are “in agreement” because the individual must manifest both in his or her own identity. But, in each case, “agreement,” and therefore unity, characterizes the opposition.

Throughout my study, I contend that it is the thinking of Blake which provides the inspiration for Frye’s dialectical thinking. More specifically, it is Blake’s conceptions of innocence and experience which provide the inspiration for Frye’s characteristic mode of thought.

In part, my study also attempts to explain the appeal of Frye through consideration of the relationship his thinking bears to what I call the ordinary history of ideas, with its political divisions. I conclude my study with a consideration of Frye’s thought in relation to “end-of-history” theses, drawing out the implications of my argument that Frye’s thinking can be described as “suprahistorical.”

A study of Frye as a dialectical thinker. An examination of Frye as a thinker whose ideas can be described as “suprahistorical.” An investigation into the notion that Frye’s thought is “post-partisan.” And a thorough exploration of the nature of Blake’s influence on Frye. In writing The Necessary Unity of Opposites I discovered that these four projects are one in the same, a much-needed fourfold study of Frye, which ideally does justice to each concern.