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Showing posts with the label Northrop Frye

What Is Literature about?

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Can literature be about life?When I was teaching a course on American Literature, one of my students, a woman in her twenties, was a mother of five children. I would occasionally see her and her husband with the kids in the park where my son played soccer. One evening her husband was alone with the kids and approached my son and me as we were tossing a Frisbee. He emanated an intensity that I associated with being the young father of five. Nodding hello, he said, "My wife is in your American literature course." Honestly, I assumed I was in trouble and braced myself. "At night we sit at the kitchen table," he said, "and my wife tells me about your course." Then he told me, "I thought a literature course would be just about books, but yours is about life." He went on to express his regret that he couldn't take the course.
The Rules of postmodernism It was a supreme compliment, and I cherish it to this day. But, at the time, I remember…

Understanding Romanticism

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Romance: that form of literature where desires can be fulfilled unencumbered To understand Romanticism it is useful to begin with the traditional cliché image of a man and a woman gazing deeply into one another’s eyes over a candle-light dinner.





More pedantically, the literary theorist Northrop Frye defined romance as that mode of literature in which the laws of nature and reality are somewhat suspended and a hero can therefore perform miraculous feats. Underlying both of these notions (Frye’s mode and what the rest of us describe as “romantic”) is Frye’s idea that all culture is about giving form to human desire. Our expectations of the chivalrous knight of Arthurian Legend and the courtly-love tradition have more in common with modern notions of romantic love than is at first apparent.




Though rarely acknowledged, the knight who slays a dragon and the perfect lovers are both examples of reality and nature overwhelmed by our imaginings of human desires being fulfilled.

The word "…

Do No Harm Part II: Avoid Irony

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In Education, sometimes less is moreI used to teach a course on Public Speaking.It took me three years to figure out how to properly organize and deliver the course.I think I finally did it right in the third year.The trick was to abandon my teacher ego (a subject for a future post), get out of the way, take care of administrative and secretarial necessities of the course, and allow the students to perform and to educate each other—as much as I could (which was never easy for me).A majority of the students who took this course were from the Faculty of Education and consequently destined for careers as educators.One message I passed on to all the students, especially those planning to become teachers:avoid irony. Every Joke has a victimThis is very complicated advice because if you ask students to list the five features they appreciate in teachers, a “sense of humour” is bound to appear consistently in the list.(Here is another issue that I suspect teacher training programs never deal w…

Time to Blow the Whistle

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What does "education" mean? Teachers, past, present and future, and students, it's time to blow the whistle.  Complaints and confessions are needed.  Name any problem--crime, depression (economic and psychological), sexism, racism, drug abuse, the breakup of marriages and families, etc, etc--and someone has already proposed that "education" is the solution.  Does anybody ever stop to consider what these specialists (politicians, administrators, sociolgists, ecologists, psychologists, pedagogues and functionaries) mean by "education"?


New myths for old The world renowned literary theorist and educator, Northrop Frye, described education as the process of getting rid of old myths, in order to replace them with new ones.  Frye was a great believer in "myth," so his declaration isn't quite as cynical as it sounds.  So let me play the cynic, although as you might guess, like most cynics, I'm really just a slightly bruised idealist.


Educatio…