Northrop Frye: A Vision of the New World
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
Terry Goldie is an associate professor of English at York University and
author of Fear and Temptation.
This is the second in the “New World Perspectives” series, under the general editorship of Arthur and Marilouise Kroker. Like the first volume, Technology and the Canadian Mind, by Arthur Kroker, and like Kroker’s journal, the Canadian Journal of Political and Social Thought, it provides a generally left-wing, iconoclastic, and idiosyncratic view of its subject. And more than a few smatterings of brilliance.
Cook’s ostensible subject is Northrop Frye’s social and political concerns. He selects a number of Frye’s works and comments on the ideology at play within them. While many of the references are the expected ones (e.g., to the Bible and William Blake), others, such as those to various European philosophers, might be more surprising. At one point Cook makes a minor connection between Frye and Dennis Lee’s Savage Fields (Anansi, 1977). However, his comments on Spengler and Heidegger suggest to me that much more could be made of the connection between these two extraordinary Canadians, the orchestrators of garrison mentality and alligator pie, of great codes and civil elegies.
But I suspect that Cook is not the one to do the careful, scholarly Frye-Lee comparison. The main complaint that could be made about the book at hand is that the best parts are only marginally about Frye. When Cook intertwines contemporary epistemology, European philosophy, and Canadian art, the connection between his skein and Frye is sometimes weak. Still, Cook’s own observations are more than powerful. The substance is very different, but the free-wheeling approach and the impact of the statements are much like George Grant’s Lament for a Nation (McClelland and Stewart, 1965) — both are very brief books that reach for the world.
I would love to see another work by Cook, one not constrained by someone else’s oeuvre. At the risk of a bilingual pun, Cook has his own egg of genius in these few pages, and it should be allowed to grow. We have few enough high-flying birds of Cook’s ilk, so let him soar.