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Northrop Frye's Canadian Literary Criticism and Its Influence

Northrop Frye's Canadian Literary Criticism and Its Influence

Series: Frye Studies
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye's Canadian Literary Criticism and Its Influence
    Book Description:

    Northrop Frye's Canadian Literary Criticismexamines the impact of Frye's criticism on Canadian literary scholarship as well as the response of Frye's peers to his articulation of a 'Canadian' criticism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9757-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction Incorporating Legacies: Decolonizing the Garrison
    (pp. 3-28)

    The fact that so much has been written, in the past half-century, on Northrop Frye’s ‘Canadian’¹ criticism and on how Frye dealt with what he described as the ‘imaginative continuum’ of Canadian literary sensibility is a reminder of his far-reaching contribution to the initial mapping out of the postcolonial stages of Canadian imaginative culture. As the provocative and engaging essays in this volume show, Frye’s critics have been mirrors that both reflect and refract his critical analysis. They respond to his ascendancy as Canada’s pre-eminent literary critic and theorist, and to his dominant, almost mythical position in what some feared...

  5. PART I. The Confluence of the Mythopoeic and the Thematic:: Frye and Canada

    • 1.1 The Canadian Poet’s Predicament
      (pp. 31-43)

      Sometimes this is called the plight;situationis too mild a word, but I haveplight,situation, andpredicamentin mind when I think of the poet or indeed any artist in Canada.¹ I suppose that you can be more and also less self-conscious about this sort of thing. Part of the predicament I am about to describe is that no one seems to know, no one seems to be able to tell you, whether you should be self-conscious or unconscious about the craft of poetry, whether you should really tackle literary criticism as a help or intuitively arrive at...

    • 1.2 ‘This Northern Mouth’: Ideas of Myth and Regionalism in Modern Canadian Poetry
      (pp. 44-60)

      The investigation of myth is essentially the investigation of mystery. We clothe our traditions, our ancestry, our political genius, the icons of our daily existence in such metaphor, yet we can only vaguely grasp at its true nature. The meaning of myth is derived as much from a process of self-revelation as it is acquired through the fact of birthright. As we critically try to appraise its form, it vanishes before our eyes; we are, in the proverbial sense, like that blind naturalist who, grasping an elephant by its tail, described the animal as ‘a long, thin creature resembling a...

    • 1.3 Myth, Frye, and Canadian Writers
      (pp. 61-78)
      D.G. JONES

      When Robert Kroetsch publishedThe Words of My Roaringin 1966, I thought, the Canadian writer is finally home free. It was the first really exuberant novel to come out of the west. After those laborious novels of Frederick Philip Grove’s in which the heroes struggle to defeat or to ironic self-discovery; after the beautifully realized but wracking winter of the soul from which the hero of Sinclair Ross’sAs for Me and My Houseemerges, reborn, but barely; after the torturous journeys and almost pyrrhic victories of the women in Margaret Laurence’s novels, Kroetsch’s hero moves with a kind...

    • 1.4 Northrop Frye: Canadian Mythographer
      (pp. 79-92)

      Literary criticism involves an act of recognition in that the critic engages in a retrospective ordering of the tradition. But it is also interesting to think of the undertaking as a reconnaissance in which the critic precedes the writer, creating a particular stance or defi ning a cultural dilemma. Richard Howard inAlone with Americaspeaks of his generation of poets being ‘preceded – trained,turned loose– by a generation of great critics of poetry.’¹ There have been good Canadian critics, but most often their concern has been less with style or poetics than with the complex and necessary problems of...

    • 1.5 Frye in Place
      (pp. 93-108)

      Invited to consider the place of Northrop Frye in Canadian intellectual history, one is dumbfounded. Canadianwhat? The lesson that cries to mostly deaf ears from Donald Creighton’sEmpire of the St Lawrenceis that Canada was not until very lately a civilized nation at all, its literate orders being represented by a gaggle of drunken or teetotal traders. Carl F. Klinck’s history of Canadian literature likewise shows that we have had little to learn from each other. Again, essays in the history of Canadian philosophy have as yet brought to light, in addition to changing fashions in imports, only...

  6. PART II. Frye’s Influence on the Canadian Literary and Critical Imagination:: Challenging the Legacy

    • 2.1 Why James Reaney Is a Better Poet (1) than any Northrop Frye poet (2) than he used to be
      (pp. 111-121)

      By now it is apparent that the mainstream of today’s Canadian poetry (in English) flows in the same river-system as the chief American one – that (to change figures of speech in mid-stream) nurtured first-hand or second-hand by followers of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. TheContactpeople in Toronto of the fifties, and theTishpeople in Vancouver of the sixties are in the middle of what has been happening in Canadian poetry, mid-wars.

      But there is a small group of poets in Ontario who arose after World War II, and who remain outside the contemporary mainstream. They may...

    • 2.2 Butterfly in the Bush Garden: ‘Mythopoeic’ Criticism of Contemporary Poetry Written in Canada
      (pp. 122-132)

      A numerically representative sampling of poetry written in Canada in the last fifteen years, from Alden Nowlan in the Maritimes to bill bissett on the west coast, yields a variety of poetic subjects and styles. This variety would seem to contradict the claims of recent literary criticism to a ‘national’ literature, definable by a number of dominant archetypes contributing to a coherent mythic evolution in a search for cultural identity.

      There are two major difficulties to be encountered in positing a Canadian national literature. Firstly, there is confusion over which national identity is in question: for English-speaking writers, it is...

    • 2.3 Surviving the Paraphrase
      (pp. 133-143)

      It is a testimony to the limitations of Canadian literary criticism that thematic criticism should have become the dominant approach to English-Canadian literature. In its brief lifetime, Canadian criticism has acquired a history of being reluctant to focus on the literary work – to deal with matters of form, language, style, structure, and consciousness as these arise from the work as a unique construct. It has seldom had enough confidence in the work of Canadian writers to do what the criticism of other national literatures has done: explain and illuminate the work on its own terms, without recourse to any cultural...

    • 2.4 Mandatory Subversive Manifesto: Canadian Criticism versus Literary Criticism
      (pp. 144-154)

      Observers from Mars, or someone equally alien (Americans, say), seeking to comprehend the meaning of ‘Canadian Literature’ might reasonably expect a difficult task, especially if they had some experience with apparently similar rubrics where the first term is ‘American,’ ‘English,’ ‘French,’ or ‘classical.’ Imagine their surprised delight at discovering, on consulting the best available authorities, that the entire phenomenon consists simply of theme – and a single theme at that, ‘survival in a garrison’ – having only two connotations: sociological and/or autobiographical. ‘What a paradise for writers!’ they would conclude, ‘no problems of thematic invention; no worries about prosody, structure, genre, style,...

    • 2.5 Bushed in the Sacred Wood
      (pp. 155-168)

      The resources of English Canadian literary criticism are no longer adequate to the achievement of the literature. The boom years of Canadian self-consciousness have passed and sales of Canadian books are down, critical commentary is in a state of exhaustion. Responses that were apparently valid only a short time ago now seem inappropriate and often at odds with the function of good criticism. Access to the literature is threatened; appreciation is on increasingly tenuous grounds. In order to discover why, and then perhaps what may be done, we must consider the characteristics common to so-called thematic criticism of the early...

  7. PART III. Frye’s Canadian Criticism and the Making of Canadian Literary and Critical Culture

    • 3.1 Northrop Frye and the Canadian Literary Tradition
      (pp. 171-183)

      Northrop Frye’s writing on Canadian literature has been extraordinarily influential in both criticism and poetry but, despite widespread admiration for his achievement, the nature of his influence and the character of his work continue to be controversial and unclear in certain aspects. It is by no means surprising that his achievement is paradoxical: peripheral to his major critical work, his Canadian writing nonetheless remains, or so he tells us, oddly central to his writing career, ‘always ... rooted in Canada and drawing its essential characteristics from there.’ Cogent and powerful, it still is puzzling, widely misunderstood. Misreadings of it form...

    • 3.2 Retrieving the Canadian Critical Tradition as Poetry: Eli Mandel and Northrop Frye
      (pp. 184-202)

      Eli Mandel is indeed ‘as shifty as a halfback in the open field’ (MacLulich, 119). Tackling him isn’t easy; in fact, some would say it’s impossible even to tell what team he’s playing for. Nonetheless, despite his own unabashed declarations of duplicity, he has taken a more consistent theoretical position on the nature of English-Canadian literature than he is often given credit for. We are best able to locate him by tracing his long intellectual relationship with Northrop Frye, whose theories have, in a sense, pinned the otherwise mercurial Mandel down. On the good days, Mandel’s struggle with Frye is...

    • 3.3 Against Monism: The Canadian Anatomy of Northrop Frye
      (pp. 203-215)

      ‘There are advantages, indeed, in coming from a large, flat country that nobody wants to visit.’¹ This is not myself speaking: it is T.S. Eliot, and the Flatland whereof he speaks is not Canada, but in fact Canada’s two nearest neighbours, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Those who ‘came from’ were Henry James and Ivan Turgenev, so that ‘coming from’ means not only ‘born and brought up in’ but also ‘leaving.’ Eliot ‘came from’ the United States in both senses, and he knew the twofold advantage for himself of having done so. This essay is about Northrop Frye in relation...

    • 3.4 Reading for Contradiction in the Literature of Colonial Space
      (pp. 216-232)

      I have been writing of cadence as though one merely had to hear its words and set them down. But that’s not true, at least not in my experience. There is a check on one’s pen which seems to take hold at the very moment that cadence declares itself. Words arrive, but words have also gone dead.

      To get at this complex experience we must begin from the hereness, the local nature of cadence. We never encounter cadence in the abstract; it is insistently here and now. Any man aspires to be at home where he lives, to celebrate communion...

    • 3.5 Frye Recoded: Postmodernity and the Conclusions
      (pp. 233-250)

      The last few decades appear to have witnessed every possible extreme of response to, and evaluation of, the work of Northrop Frye,¹ but few commenta tors on the cultural scene have been able to ignore it. As early as 1976, Malcolm Ross claimed that Frye ‘caught up all our national anxieties, all our moral and metaphysical concerns, all our critical and formal queries about the nature and purpose of arts, reordered them, transubstantiated them, made of them a greatSumma,made of criticism itself a totalgestalt,a substitute for religion’ (‘Critical Theory,’ 167–8). Frye’s largely occasional pieces on...

    • 3.6 Frye: Canadian Critic/Writer
      (pp. 251-259)

      Frye’s writings on Canadian painting, literature, and culture have not always met with approval. There were some, of course, who did acknowledge his singular importance. In 1976 Malcolm Ross observed that Frye, ‘more than anyone else, put into perspective and thus into a kind of hierarchical order and coherence the nagging questions that have beset our criticism’ (‘Critical Theory,’ 164). The same year Sandra Djwa noted that Frye’s early reviews and essays were ‘to provide the critical framework for much of the present writing and study of Canadian poetry’ (‘The Canadian Forum,’ 24). And three years later Clara Thomas asserted...

    • 3.7 ‘A Quest for the Peaceable Kingdom’: The Narrative in Northrop Frye’s ‘Conclusion’ to the Literary History of Canada
      (pp. 260-276)

      The publication ofLiterary History of Canada,in 1965, was a signal event that transformed the making of Canadian literary history and permanently altered the country’s critical and creative landscapes. Although several earlier studies had attempted to place Canadian writers within a distinct literary tradition and had grouped them according to various ideological and aesthetic concerns,Literary Historywas the first ‘comprehensive reference book on the (English) literary history’ of the country (Klinck, ix). As ‘a collection of essays in cultural history’ (Frye, ‘Conclusion,’ 822), it opened the field to diverse forms of literary discourse; it brought together the state-supported...

  8. Epilogue

    • The Northrop Frye Effect
      (pp. 279-302)

      The title of Branko Gorjup’s Introduction to this volume points to Northrop Frye’s role in decolonizing Canadian culture, a role documented in the first essay collected here, James Reaney’s ‘The Canadian Poet’s Predicament’ (1957). For Reaney, Frye’s attention to Canadian literature was important towritersbecause he helped them do what the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’sSurfacingdescribes as ‘clear a space’ (177). Atwood’s protagonist is undoubtedly mistaken when she says, ‘Everything from history must be eliminated’ (176), but she is responding to the anxiety that (as Reaney shows us) was felt by writers then coming of age in a...

  9. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 303-312)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 313-320)