Category Archives: Pastoral Myth

Frye on “Pastoral Anarchism”

News report on Marine sergeant and Iraq war veteran Shamar Thomas facing down NYPD officers for assaulting and arresting peaceful demonstrators.

Frye in Notebook 19, c. 1967:

There were always two sides to anarchism: one a pastoral quietism, communal (Anabaptist, Brook Farm) or individual (Chaplinism). Its perfect expression, in an individual form, is Walden, in a communal form, News from Nowhere. The beats & hippies with their be-ins and love-ins, the “Dharma bums,” are the faint beginnings of a new pastoralism. The hysterical panic about organization, full employment, keeping the machines running, & the like, is now waning as it becomes possible to do other things than work. (CW 9, 99)

Henry Miller

From the 1969 film adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy

Today is Henry Miller‘s birthday (1891-1980).

Frye in The Modern Century:

In two writers who have strongly influenced the Freudian proletariat movement, Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence, pastoralism is a central theme. . . In Miller and Lawrence this pastoral theme is less sentimentalized and more closely connected with the more deeply traditional elements of the pastoral: spontaneity in human relations, especially sexual relations; the stimulus to creative power that is gained from a simpler society, less obsessed by satisfying imaginary wants; and, at least in Lawrence, a sense of identity with nature of great delicacy and precision.  (CW 11, 44-5)

Frye, Pierce, Eco, and “Abduction”


Umberto Eco

Thanks, Nicholas, for your post: this helps to clarify the connection you are making between Lonergan and Frye. I like the detective novel analogy very much: it is perhaps a useful analogy for Frye’s own process of judgment and insight.

Criticism is the act of making ourselves conscious of what is going on unconsciously when we read, and uncovering the imaginative unconscious of literature requires, to recur to another recent thread, what Frye meant by science: a combination of empirical study and deduction–and, I believe even more importantly, what the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce called abduction, a species of logic close to inspired hunch or guessing. I take the liberty of quoting from the wikipedia’s definition of the word:

Abduction is a method of logical inference introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce which comes prior to induction and deduction for which the colloquial name is to have a ‘hunch.’ Abductive reasoning starts when an inquirer considers of a set of seemingly unrelated facts, armed with an intuition that they are somehow connected. The term abduction is commonly presumed to mean the same thing as hypothesis; however, an abduction is actually the process of inference that produces a hypothesis as its end result. It is used in both philosophy and computing.

(Perhaps Clayton Chrusch will have something to say about abduction and computing.)

Abduction is also used by the great detectives of literature, like Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, and in another sense Frye was the greatest detective of literature, putting together the pieces of the great literary whodunit by a series of lesser, greater, and ultimately crowning acts of abduction. His great epiphanies, about which much as been said already on the blog (see in particular Bob Denham’s post), are in fact moments of startling abductive inference, in which a myriad of previous insights suddenly cohere into a radiant whole.

I have often wondered why semioticians, and for that matter the cognitivists (with the important exception of our erstwhile blogger Michael Sinding), have ignored Frye’s work. To repeat some observations I published years ago in an article on Frye and semiotics, Frye actually produced what semioticians like Umberto Eco merely postulated as possible: a coherent and detailed description of the encyclopedia of literary conventions and genres. Frye’s conclusions are in no way different from those laid out by Eco when he speaks of Barthes‘ sense of the code in S/Z as

the whole of the encyclopedic competence as the storage of that which is already known and already organized by a culture. It is the encyclopedia, and at the same time allows, gives the possibility of inventing beyond itself, by finding new paths, new combinations within the network.

Frye would also be in complete agreement with Eco’s statement that “A code is not only a rule which closes but also a rule which opens. It not only says ‘you must’ but says also ‘you may’ or ‘it would also be possible to do that.'” Indeed, invention in literature would not be possible without the existence of conventions and rules, which should be seen as enabling, not constricting innovation and originality.

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The Peacable Kingdom


Bob Denham writes, in response to “Frye on Lincoln“:

We might also call attention to Frye’s concluding paragraph to the Whidden Lectures, delivered at McMaster University on the occasion of the centenary of Confederation:

I referred earlier to Grove’s A Search for America, where the narrator keeps looking for the genuine America buried underneath the America of hustling capitalism which occupies the same place. This buried America is an ideal that emerges in Thoreau, Whitman, and the personality of Lincoln. All nations have such a buried or uncreated ideal, the lost world of the lamb and the child, and no nation has been more preoccupied with it than Canada. The painting of Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, and later of Riopelle and Borduas, is an exploring, probing painting, tearing apart the physical world to see what lies beyond or through it. Canadian literature even at its most articulate, in the poetry of Pratt, with its sense of the corruption at the heart of achievement, or of Nelligan with its sense of unfulfilled clarity, a reach exceeding the grasp, or in the puzzled and indignant novels of Grove, seems constantly to be trying to understand something that eludes it, frustrated by a sense that there is something to be found that has not been found, something to be heard that the world is too noisy to let us hear. One of the derivations proposed for the word “Canada” is a Portuguese phrase meaning “nobody here.” The etymology of the word “Utopia” is very similar, and perhaps the real Canada is an ideal with nobody in it. The Canada to which we really do owe loyalty is the Canada that we have failed to create. In a year bound to be full of discussions of our identity, I should like to suggest that our identity, like the real identity of all nations, is the one that we have failed to achieve. It is expressed in our culture, but not attained in our life, just as Blake’s new Jerusalem to be built in England’s green and pleasant land is no less a genuine ideal for not having been built there. What there is left of the Canadian nation may well be destroyed by the kind of sectarian bickering which is so much more interesting to many people than genuine human life. But, as we enter a second century contemplating a world where power and success express themselves so much in stentorian lying, hypnotized leadership, and panic-stricken suppression of freedom and criticism, the uncreated identity of Canada may be after all not so bad a heritage to take with us. (The Modern Century)

To which Joe replies:

Yes, thanks for this, Bob. And even more powerful perhaps in its evocation of the pastoral myth and its relation to both America’s and Canada’s “buried or uncreated ideal, the lost world of the lamb and the child,” is the passage from the Conclusion to the Literary History of Canada, where he speaks of Edward Hick’s great painting of The Peacable Kingdom [shown above].

Here, in the background, is a treaty between the Indians the the Quaker settlers under Penn. In the foreground is a group of animals, lions, tigers, bears, oxen, illustrating the rophecy of Isaiah about the recovery of innocence in nature [11:6-9]. Like the animals of the Douanier Rousseau, they stare past us with a serenity that transcends conscousness. It is a pictorial emblem of what Grove’s narrator was trying to find under the surface of America: the reconciliation of man with man and of man with nature: the mood of Thoreau’s Walden retreat. of Emily Dickinson’s garden, of Huckleberry Finn’s raft, of the elegies of Whitman. . . . This mood is closer to the haunting vision of a serenity that is both human and natural which we have been struggling to identify in the Canadian tradition. It we had to characterize a distinctive emphasis in that tradition, we might call it a quest fo the peacable kingdom (CW 12: 371)