Archives for posts with tag: Robert D. Denham

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The  biblical English poet William Blake didn’t believe in either God or Man as separate entities but in Divine Humanity as a union of creative effort. The divine being takes the initiative. At the point of communication the two become an identity. Man must let go of  his ego to be resurrected. The self-surpassing of human limitations is infinite.  Paradise can  be made here.

IMG_0490_1 Blake saw the American (and later French) revolutions as victories for humanity against established authority and the message of Jesus as one of social liberation. In his 1790 poem The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (where the exuberance proverb appears) left-wing and right-wing political forces are wedded when the right is converted.  The ‘left’ are the Devils and the ‘right’ are the Angels. Blake was on the left, supporting Voltaire and Thomas Paine.

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Blake is a complex poet and no one really understood him until Northrop Frye came along. In this  blog I am relying on “Blake’s Bible” which is published in Robert Denham’s Myth & Metaphor: Selected Essays by Northrop Frye 1974-88

Blake’s rules are radical but as our civilization crumbles they make more and more sense for us writers and concerned citizens:

  1. Throw away judgmental, conforming morality.  It is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ which God warned Man against in Eden
  2. Don’t be prudish about sex or nudity; this attitude came from having eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree
  3. Pursue your abilities to love and to create. Make them your highest goals. They are the center of potentially divine powers.
  4. Destroy your own grasping and clutching ego. That also will  make you more human.
  5. Realize that the old, metaphorical cosmology of the Bible is not historical or scientific. Paradise and the Apocalypse are scenarios to be enacted on earth by human creators with a spiritual partner. Hell is what we have now.

Thanks for dropping by.The roses are blooming at my home as I write. I’ve helped them a little by fertilizing them and discarding the leaves ruined by black spot and pests.  Please leave a comment below, as  exuberant as you wish.

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Margaret Kell Virany   lover of lang and lit, note-taker of Norrie Frye, journalist, editor, author, almost octogenarian

NF Northrop Frye Statue

As a writer, it’s freeing to learn that the natural habit of the human mind is to think metaphorically. Lately I  have ‘encountered’ many quotations on this subject from two men I would never have put in the same ‘boat’. Let me call them Norrie and Dan, since I’ve been ‘spending’  a lot of  time in their ‘company’. Frankly, I am sick of fruitless debates over subjects such as the literal account of ‘Creation’ and whether ‘God’ exists.

You might as well question whether we need words. Here are some quotations which ‘nail down’ answers to the wobbly question of  what a metaphor is. Of course the quotes are taken out of context, but they are exact. Take  your pick:

From Northrop Frye: Myth and Metaphor (Selected Essays 1974-88), edited by Robert D. Denham:

  • My own view is that every form of speech can be reduced to metaphor, but metaphor is primary language, and metaphor cannot be reduced to another kind of language: as long as we use words at all we can never escape metaphors, but only change them.
  • Our primary thinking…is not rational but metaphorical, an identifying of subjective and objective worlds in huge mental pictures.
  • Metaphors are statements of identity: they tell us, for instance, that the poet and the lady he loves are shadow and sun.
  • Metaphor does not evoke a world of things linked together by overstated analogies; it evokes a world of swirling currents of energy that run back and forth between subject and object.
  • (Metaphor) is also a primary structural effort of consciousness. (It) may be followed by or even translated into more continuous rational thinking.

From The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown:

  • Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.
  • Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith — acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration from the early Egyptians to modern Sunday School.
  • Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessable. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors.
  • By teaching through a metaphorical game (Tarot cards), the followers of the Grail disguised their message from the watchful eyes of the Church.
  • Magdalene’s story has been shouted from the rooftops for centuries in all kinds of metaphors and languages. Her story is everywhere once you open your eyes.

For an example of a practical application of this wisdom Frye says, “The account of creation in the Bible does not describe the origin of nature and was probably never intended to. If it were, it would have been a little cleverer and not had the trees created the day before the sun was.”

Have you written any metaphors lately you would like to brag about here? Please use the comment box to tell us!

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Remembering Northrop Frye: Recollections by His Students in the 1940’s and 1950’s edited by Robert D. Denham

This is a fascinating collection of student reminiscences about Northrop Frye, the world-renowned Canadian literary theorist. Robert D. Denham, retired English professor from Roanoke University, VA, has devoted much of his life to the criticism of Frye, faithfully preserving the work of a genius who started out as an obscure Canadian and might have remained so.
When Denham was preparing “The Diaries of Northrop Frye” for publication in 1994, he hit upon the idea of tracking down and contacting the 1200 persons named in them. The seven diaries were kept intermittently from 1947 to 1955.

One of his most famous students was Margaret Atwood, who says Frye stopped her from “dying young and poor in a Paris garret.” She is too young (class of 6T1)  to have been mentioned in the diaries.

Denham asked each person (mostly, but not all, former students) if they were the one mentioned and if they recalled the occasion. If so, would they please send him some biographical information about themselves, along with their memories of Frye as a person and teacher. This would help Denham annotate the diaries and fill in the social landscape on the campus of Victoria College, University of Toronto during those post WWII years. Denham also asked the respondents for permission to publish them and eighty-nine agreed. I was one of them since our graduating class was invited by Frye and his wife, Helen, to their home in 1955.
In the lengthy Preface, Denham sums up the most frequent of the letters’ subjects: assessments of Frye as a teacher and person, his hair, his shyness, his ‘Bible & Literature’ course and his spellbinding lectures. Then Denham winds up by quoting 24 of the most incisive expressions of Frye’s over-all significance, his power and lasting presence in their lives. I could hardly wait to get past the Preface and into the diary entries and letters, the ultimate class reunion. Of all the facts and features tightly focused on Frye, these especially grabbed my attention:
(1) The recognizable names and intimate letters not only of people I’d known but also of people who became famous media personalities, journalists, comedians, writers, actors and actresses, politicians, etc.
(2) The surprise of seeing the iconic Frye as ordinary, walking back from the grocery store trundling a cart for his wife, or managing work schedules and campus social duties without having a car.
(3)  Touching revelations of things that bothered him, like his students joking that he was ‘God’. He didn’t know what to do about it.
(4) Pondering Frye’s shyness. Everyone felt it and hung back because of it but, when it was challenged, it was found not to be real. A delegation went to his office to ask him if he believed in prayer and he had them sit down for a homey chat. An ex-student who was as shy of him as he was of her was forced into the situation of asking Frye to write a cover blurb for a book of erotica written by her husband, Steven Vizinczey,  since otherwise they would starve. Frye complied with alacrity, praise, honesty, brevity, elegance and wit.
(5) Humorous anecdotes. Two of them might be entitled ‘Norrie (Buttercup) Frye in the Bosoms of Ballroom Dancers (1933)’ and ‘The Girl Who Dared to Be Late for Professor Northrop Frye’s Class’.
(6) The excitement of his Bible course, which he called ‘The Mythological Framework of Western Civilization’. All Vic students were required to take a one-hour-a-week pass option of either Religious Knowledge or Art & Archaeology. Frye’s RK course was so stunning that students from the campus colleges founded on faiths other than Methodist also sat in on it. Thanks to Denham, notes from it are now posted on https://macblog.mcmaster.ca/fryeblog/aa/ where anyone can read them. This course does the world a great service by presenting the Bible in an informative, literary way without preaching or proselytizing.
Reading this book is like inviting a genius of the caliber of Aristotle or William Blake into your home and life — an amazing opportunity for which we can thank our host, Robert D. Denham.

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