Category Archives: Notebooks


Frye on memory from the notebooks, courtesy of Bob Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned:

The memory selects, rejects, rearranges, condenses and displaces. In short it mythicizes our history. (LN, 1:38)

But perhaps this is what memory is for, to bring to life past moments. If so, the memory, like the sensory apparatus, is selective & exclusive. Screen memory is the only memory. Nietsczhe says that when memory says “I did that” & pride says, “I didn’t,” the memory gives way. . . But memory is the key to identity. And perhaps (as Coleridge once suggested) the key to resurrection too. (NB 11f.158)

My memory of past experiences becomes more intense all the time, yet much of it never happened, happened otherwise in a different sequence, or with a very different emotional harmonization. (It’s this last that makes the present so much less real than the past: as in art, an imaginative recreation lifts them clear of the dithering of time.) I think the real memory is the habit-energy that is, perhaps, our real selves, that is, perhaps the only thing we could take into another world. (NB 21.605)

(Photo: Rob Howard)

Islamic Republic of Iran


The Shah leaves Iran on February 11th 1979

On this date in 1979 the Iranian revolution established a theocracy under the supreme leadership of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini.

From one of the late notebooks:

History redeems: there’s a process within history that isn’t at all what Marxism calls the historical process, but relates to the cultural tradition.  People denounced or martyred as horrible heretics in the hysteria of their times later become objects of great cultural interest.  The twenty-first century will find The Satanic Verses a document of great interest to scholars and critics, but the Ayatollah will be of no interest to anybody except as one more nightmare of bigotry that history has produced in such profusion.  One would hope that eventually the stupid human race would get the point.  God doesn’t create post-mortem hells even for people devoting their lives to cruelty and tyranny, but if he did the Ayatollah would certainly be howling in one of them forever.  (CW 6, 644)

Frye’s Previously Unpublished Notebook 51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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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.

Quote of the Day: “History repeats myth”


All of the Ned scenes from Groundhog Day

I’ve been keeping my eye out for the source of this quote from Frye: “History doesn’t repeat itself; history repeats myth.”

Thanks to Bob Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned, I now have the complete quote, which comes from one of the late notebooks and appears in Collected Works 5, 164:

Why do people call me “anti-historical”?  I talk about myth, and it’s myth that’s anti-historical.  It’s the counter-historical principle, just as metaphor is the counter-logical principle.  History doesn’t repeat itself; history repeats myth.  (It’s not simple repetition, though: it’s not a da capo aria but a theme with variations.)  As I’ve often said, you never get logic in literature: what you get is what Susanne Langer would call virtual logic, a rhetorical illusion of logic.  Similarly you never get history in literature: you get virtual history, history assimilated to myth.



Helen Mirren as Elizabeth delivering her famous speech to the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish Armada approached, 19 August 1588.

Today is the birthday of Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603).

Frye in Notebook 8 reflects on the consequences of the defining moment of the Elizabethan Age upon Elizabethan culture:

Before the Armada the best brains, Spenser and Sidney, thought in terms of a Protestant United Front, hence the Duc d’Alencon business.  Spenser never really got over this stage.  The Armada itself shifted the emphasis: true, it had sailed with the Pope’s blessing to destroy a heretic kingdom, but it had banked heavily on a religious revolution in England, & it must have been difficult for the Protestants who had lived through that hideous period to forget that the Catholics had turned out to fight for England & had thereby placed their religious liberties in the hands of Elizabeth.  So it seems probable that the theatre represented a Catholic-Anglican truce against Puritans, the idea being that Protestantism had come not to destroy but to fulfill Catholicism by allegorizing its literalism, as in Spenser.  This truce, if it existed, could hardly have lasted long after the Gunpowder Plot.  Then a strong anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic middle-class nationalism comes up (Middleton, B & F [Beaumont and Fletcher]); the king-fool appears more frequently, possibly because bourgeois insistence on plain sense is breaking down the allegorical synthesis based on the King & Queen; but I think the theatre stands fundamentally for the national establishment.  Cassius, the Puritan revolutionary, love not plays & hears no music.  Aramado in L.L. is the Armada: the date means the word would irresistibly suggest that to an audience.  (CW 20, 110)

Frye on Elizabeth, the Armada and myth in The Secular Scripture:

Myths are usually assumed to be true, stories about what really happened.  But truth is not the central basis for distinguishing the mythical from the fabulous: it is a certain quality of importance or authority of the community that marks the myth, not truth as such.  The anxiety of society, when it urges the authority of a myth and the necessity of believing it, seems to be less to proclaim its truth than to prevent anyone from questioning it.  Thus the Christian myth of providence, after a battle, is often invoked by the winning side in a way which makes its truth or secondary importance.  The storm that wrecked the Spanish Armada was a providential event to the English, but a natural event to the Spaniards.  Elizabeth I issued a medal quoting the Psalms, “God breathed with his winds, and they were scattered”; Philip of Spain said to the survivors, “I sent you forth to fight with men, not with the elements.” (CW 18, 14-15)

Notebook 13: Three Lost Sections Recovered

It is a great pleasure to announce that three previously misplaced sections of Notebook 13 have been posted in the Robert D. Denham Library here.  The material includes notes for the Alexander lectures which eventually became Fools of Time, notes for Frye’s book on T.S. Eliot, as well as a miscellaneous set of reflections on the imagination, false gods, Romanticism, Poe and other topics.

This is unpublished material, so that makes it especially remarkable.

Great Fire of London


From Peter Ackroyd‘s London

On this day in 1666 the Great Fire of London ended.

From Samuel Pepys‘ diary for that day:

I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. Pen’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner. Here I met with Mr. Young and Whistler; and having removed all my things, and received good hopes that the fire at our end; is stopped, they and I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete; and Lumbard-streete all in dust. The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner.

Walked into Moorefields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the towne among the hot coles), and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their good there, and every body keeping his goods together by themselves (and a great blessing it is to them that it is fair weathe for them to keep abroad night and day); drank there, and paid two-pence for a plain penny loaf. Thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce’s House in fire. And took up (which I keep by me) a piece of glasse of Mercers’ Chappell in the streete, where much more was, so melted and buckled with the heat of the fire like parchment. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney, joyning to the wall of the Exchange; with, the hair all burned off the body, and yet alive.

Frye on Pepys’ diary and the writing of history in the Late Notebooks:

I question whether it is possible to write diachronic history — that is, apart from things like Pepys’ Diary.  To write about history you must stand outside it, in a synchronic ambience.  That means that all history has to have some mythical underpropping, “decline and fall” or whatever.  (CW 5, 37)

Notebook 13: Three Lost Sections Recovered

I am working on three sections from Notebook 13 which I glossed over when Michael Dolzani was editing the Renaissance Notebooks and which then disappeared between the cracks.  These include notes on the Alexander lectures, notes for T.S. Eliot, and a series of entries on the imagination.  They should have gone into the Miscellany volume.

Here’s one passage I could have used in my various efforts to explain interpenetration:

The conceptual elements of irony include myths of cyclical return, of “entropy,” of the all too human, of the inferno & the “dystopia,” of the assimilation of the human (i.e. the social) to the natural, & of historical myths like those of Vico & Spengler.  Comedy has progress & evolution, metamorphosis, providential design, salvation & enlightenment in religion, victorious identifying dialectic in philosophy.  Romance, besides the quest, pilgrimage & treasure finding myths in its structure & its conceptual identity by interpenetration, destroys the antithesis of subject & object, time & space, creator & creature.  The hunch that the Avatamasaka doctrine of interpenetration is the meaning of romance is just a hunch, but a hunch that is going to work out all right.  No hunch that’s been in my mind for twenty years can be wrong.  I suppose I might reconsider my idea of calling the lectures the [“Information”?] of Tragedy, etc.  Or Spirit – sounds vague and sentimental.  Or perhaps just plain “theme.”

We’ll be posting all three recovered sections from Notebook 13 in the library shortly.

Frye on Hegel


Hegel is the central philosophical figure in Words with Power.  In one of his late notebooks, Frye writes, “If Hegel had written his Phenomenology in mythos-language instead of in logos-language a lot of my work would be done for me.  The identification of Substance with Subject-Spirit in the Preface is mythically the central issue of the Reformation, overthrowing the sacramental ‘spiritual substance’ of the Eucharist & replacing it with the growing Spirit that takes over the Subject.”  (Late Notebooks, CW 5, 192).  Later he writes, “The rush of ideas I get from Hegel’s Phenomenology is so tremendous I can hardly keep up with it.” (Late Notebooks, CW 6, 631)


The extent to which Hegel enters into Frye’s thinking as he was writing Words with Power and The Double Vision can be seen in the following selections from the Late Notebooks:

I suppose the whole book turns on the thesis that the spirit is substantial: it’s the realizing of primary concern out of the language (Word) of primary mythology.  Only the total Word can make the spirit substantial.  Everything else, including Marx’s critique of Hegel, is ideological.  I don’t want to become a conservative Hegelian, and my goal is not absolute knowledge, whatever that is, but the Word & Spirit set free by each other and united in one substance with the Other detached from Nature and identified as the Father.  This doesn’t subordinate the female: it wakens and emancipates her, Eros Regained in short.  Jesus’ establishing of the identity of the other as Father is what makes him the definitive prophet. (CW 5, 9)

Perhaps I’ve been overlooking the narrative of, first, heaven and earth locked together in a sexual union, second, an Oedipal Son or Logos pushing them apart to form the world of consciousness-creation, third, this Logos growing, like the Begriff in Hegel, until Heaven and Earth reach the Tao balance as Father and Spirit. (ibid., 10)

If I’m right about the Word growing like the Begriff in Hegel [previous entry], the Phenomenology is an Odyssey as well as a Purgatorio climb.  The Odyssey is the cycle redeemed, beginning & ending at home; the Purgatorio is the climb to polarization. (ibid., 11)

Hegel himself calls the Ph. [Phenomenology] a ladder (II.2.5). (ibid., 18)

Forms of spiritual growth: the father-soul and the mother-body (dying to) bring forth the spirit-child.  I think this is alchemic.  Odyssey pattern: the old beggar, least likely to succeed, growing in reverse of ordinary aging until he becomes not just master of the house but the body of the house.  Hegel’s Begriff, the infant exposed and abandoned by the common-sense world, turning out to be the Prospero of the whole show. (ibid., 18)

I’ve often said that Hegel’s Ph G [Phänomenologie des Geistes] interests me deeply in itself, but not as a preface to Hegel’s system.  This is linked on my part with my feeling that Moses was the only person who ever saw the Promised Land.  The system is only a Prussian Canaan. (ibid., 19)

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