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The Canadian Connection: Frye/Atwood Author(s): B. A. St. Andrews Source: World Literature Today, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Winter, 1986), pp. 47-49 Published by: University of Oklahoma Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40141117 Accessed: 24/02/2010 02:27
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her lost parents. That Frye would select Atwood's Surfacing for keen praise makes good critical sense: her book employs key components of Frye's own appraisalsof literature. her transforming self-knowledge. So perhaps this encomium by Atwood can allow not a high-minded literary criticism but. .first of all because it had no footnotes . remains "essential to the spiritual health of the individual and the nation. He defined the Canadian imagination for this century. This book remains provocative not because it lacks either perception or utility but because Survival addresses itself to the common rather than to the scholarly reader. Frye has deemed the work "a most perceptive essay on an aspect of the Canadian sensibility. This is not mere nostalgia. that is. ANDREWS Second Words (1982)certifies the good news and the bad: first. most generous writers of literaryand cultural criticism around. Literature itself. Caught between "the city and the bush".a particularlyresonant phrase for the Frye follower. The writer's job is to write. according to Frye. then. the accuracyof some perceptions regarding the Canadian national character.5 Atwood suggests the complexity of Frye's "peaceable kingdom" by making the Surfacer fear nature's power to reveal identity. at the very least. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1971). Atwood's creative (and critical) writings indicate. a good-natured rumination about how the critical and the creative have overlapped in the works of Frye and Atwood? * The dean of Canadiancritics." Despite this "poaching" by Atwood. Frye's definition proves serviceable: "The heroine is isolated from her small group and finds something very archaic. ST. and such confrontationsnever prove childish or easy. Although the issue in Surfacing might arguably involve reintegrating rather than the "taking over" of identity. the return to nature involves fear of self-renewal. Frye unabashedly insists upon the spiritualcomponent in good.to positive advantageFrye's influence upon the younger generation of Canadian thinkers and writers. As she summarilyputs it: "The critic'sjob is not to tell poets what to do. most insightful. indubitably. Frye expands the notion of returning to the land to reassemble identity by clarifying the "nostalgiafor a world of peace and protection" as essential to the Canadian assessment of identity." Frye's praise is valuand he has praised not only Atwood's creative able. and second because they felt I was poaching on their territory. In an interview with Books and Arts (7 March 1980) Atwood dismissed the other major irritant in Survival: "The book upset a lot of academics. he maintains in the three-volume Literary History of Canada. Second.the Surfacerwants "to go back where there is electricity and distraction" (Surfacing. Frye notes that a certain physical setting symbolizes what he calls "the point of epiphany. contemporary literature." where "the undisplaced apocalyptic world and the cyclical world of nature come into alignment. The island is an oracular place for the Surfacer. "4 Such is the island of the Surfacer'schildhood identity against which (and upon which) she must now define her adult self. and still does (401). The bush is burning in the Canadian imagination.here she confrontsmemory. but to tell readers what they have done. 324). rather. Margaret Atwood rises again as one of the most readable. taking over her identity" (C. She then honors" Frye not with mere "influence"but with "Influence."2Frye has declared this same MargaretAtwood a nationalresource. work but also her controversial book of literary criticism. A. 59). This was an arrangement that " seemed appropriate to me. who proclaimed the merit and grandeur and existence of a vital Canadian literature. In his classic study Anatomy of Criticism (1957).and it does more. both inside and outside her. It was Northrop Frye. The wild setting selected for this coming to terms with identity proves the influence of Frye or. The tension between the wild and the domesticated is a moral tension."1 In the midst of the ongoing Canadian Renaissance."3 Still. Her celebrated novel Surfacing he has pronounced "extraordinary. . which Atwood enthusiastically has proclaimed "a literary expansion of Malthusian proportions.her article "Northrop Frye Observed" in that volume eschews any exact literary "influence" by Frye. This return to the natural world is a central motif in the Canadian novel examined in Edmund Wilson's O Canada (1964)and in Frye's Bushe Garden (1971). Even the unity which the surfacerachieves with her .and for a student of both literature and criticism this is the bad part. few readers of Frye's own considerable critical opus could register surprise at his support.COMMENTARIES The Canadian Connection: Frye/Atwood By B.

disemboweled fish. naturalresource connects water with identity in Surfacing. SUNY 1Desmond Pacey. he would be rewarded: he could conquer and enslave Nature and in practical terms. Klinck. Carl F. This vast. The belief in the spiritual connection between the human and animal world combines with the connection between the living and the dead. vol." Frye ruminates in his "Conclusion"essay for the Literary History of Canada. He notes in much of his criticism. 1976. and her responsibilities in life."9 Surfacing . of course. its scant population. the idea of Canada's formidable resources is a conscious. In composing this novel about contemporary unity. again. and its vast resources of water and naturaltreasures. "Politics and Literature in the 1960's. of a perceptive literary critic. If he won.with the idea of protean changes extant in all fairy-taleand folktale traditions. "identity only is identity when it becomes. Frye contrasts this attitude with the restraint of Canadian heroes in the wild. and that test usually involves the death of some part of the natural world. Water is resanctified as the purifying and lifegiving element without losing the recognition of its being foreign. according to Frye. man could fight and lose. that Canadianwriting condemns the subjugation at least the wanton subjugation of the naturalworld. p. consistent with the fusion of ancient and modern Canadian identity. "The Course of CanadianCriticism. The finest critical appraisalof this male and the "American" attitude toward nature appears in Atwood's Survival: "The war against Nature assumed that Nature was hostile to begin with. since the novel examines both private and national identity. Atwood cites Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel in an interview for the Chicago Review: "InAmerican literature. perhaps quintessential component in Frye's critical writings which receives a beautiful translation into Atwood's fiction is that of "vastness. This responsibility and reverence for life builds. unlike Eliot's Phlebas. University of Toronto Press.repudiates this attitude. Leslie Fiedler. you killed the animal and it was a negative achievement.and the quest for unity. Atwood. are no longer immigrants but are becoming indigenous. on the one hand. she realizes that "everything is made of water.you will see that there is more water per square mile there than in almost any other "10 country. on the critical apprehensions of Frye and the Canadian literary tradition. shamanistic section of the novel. 2nd ed. proclaims the male test in the wilderness. powerful."in Literary History of Canada. place." in Literary History of Canada. but she also reinforces the accuracy. 2 Claude Bissell. Frye's assessment of this concept of "vastness. Frye brings together the personal dimension of Surfacing and the political dimension. working formula for contemporary writers. in their imaginations. her past. whereas much American criticism celebrates this tradition in American letters. This primitive vision remains a salient component of Canadian literature. ed. you killed the animal and achieved something by doing it. 3." and she identifies her mother with the blue jays. she returns to tell all. by the Indian tradition and. As Atwood remarked in a recent American Poetry Review interview: "Ifyou look at an aerial map of Canada. in an interview for the Malahat Review. and who can take on the shape of a bird at will. In this deft phrasing. but a way of defining oneself against something else" (C." This term collectively incorporates the sense of Canada's huge land mass. This sense of nature in its Manitou power prepares the Surfacer for her holy identification with nature. Water becomes the symbolic element for the peaceful unification of the hero and the "peaceable kingdom"proclaimed by Frye. the character who repre- . exploit her resources. and general carnage in his repulsive "home movie" Random Samples. He attributes to the native Canadians the force of this idea on the Canadian imagination: "The Indians symbolize a primitive imaginationwhich is being reborn in us: in other words. Atwood advances the entire Canadian Renaissance. who ecstatically records eschatological images of mutilated heron."11 Upstate Medical School. herself admits the foreceful presence of the Indian imagination on the Canadian writer: "North American Indian legends have people who are animals in one incarnation. or he could fight and win. In the last. therefore. recreating the kind of attitudes appropriate to people who really belong here/6 The Surfacer's animism is. 321). the Surfacer is human. p. the more pacific and kindred attitude toward the natural world (which includes a respect for and even fear of its powers) suffuses Atwood's world and workers.on a nationaland personal level. clearly centers Atwood's Surfacing. the white Canadians." then. the lake is "blue and cool as " redemption (18). and vast.both in prose and in poetry. tree.48 WORLD LITERATURE TODAY sents this American attitude is the unregenerate David. The novel."7 The animism manifest by the Surfacer is distinctly marked. on the other. . that is. 15. Her novel testifies in its way to Frye's own passionate belief in "afuture in which modern man has come home from his exile in the land of unlikeness and has become something better than the ghost of an ego haunting himself. The Surfacerthinks she sees her father's "wolf eyes. therefore. Thus. not militant. in the Canadianone. Aware of both traditions. by Atwood's sustained interest." And. The final. . "Perhaps."8 In Surfacing. for example. seems as intent upon discovering and rooting out "second-hand American" influences as it is upon integrating adult identity in the heroine. particularly in The Bushe Garden. dead parents underscores the importance of Frye's critical theories on the younger Canadianwriters. Toronto.and most of Atwood'soeuvre. Frye's contention that the "nostalgia for a world of peace" and the concept of a pastoralmyth govern the Canadian imagination receives considerable evidence in Surfacing. 26. and the influence.

S. considerable personal choice and individual development are encouraged and permitted. 10 Karla Hammond. in research projects. involuted. 5 Northrop Frye. if not from this culturally dominant category. must cope with deep feelings of alienation in their necessarily bicultural relationships and identity formations. p. N. In a forthcoming essay in the Journal of Indian Writing in English (Gulbarga). perhaps missing the cultural supports (access to academic creative-writingjobs. The Bushe Garden. to a relatively high degree for the karma. "Haunted by Lack of Ghosts.and dharma-dominatedIndian cultural context. they are more than "normally" contentious. ed. K. . Distinctions and subgroupings among the poets need to be made according to patterns dictated by the poet's identifications with regional language and cultural traditions. Toronto. 8 Mary Ellis Gibson. past experiences and present hopes. from which also comes most of their English-mediumeducated audience."and no usable modern Indo-English literarytraditionbrings them together. ideal and expected audiences. In a gesture I hope provocative of discussion.background for Indo-English poets. but as adapted in the work of Dr. 109. David Staines. numerous fellowships. Ramanujan in "The Emperor Has No " Clothes (Chandrabhaga. family background. like Anglo-American and international modernist writers. reading habits. 8:5 (1976). 6 Northrop Frye. to understand the poetry with culturally appropriatecriteria. correspondents. in Literary History of Canada. Cambridge. 11 Frye. 3 49 7 Linda Dandier. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton. I have outlined the areas and types of choices poets consciously or unconsciously may. whether or not they maintain traditionalfamily and social duties and embedded relationships." in The Canadian Imagination. attacking R. Subsequent references use the abbreviation C. "An Interview with Margaret Atwood. often apparentlyenvious or ignorantof each other's work. 1972. 27 (1976). audiences. it is crucial to inquire about such matters as the poet's early training. 4 Northrop Frye. Anansi. upper-class (often upper-caste) Indians. continue to complain.. 1957. 40.Though Kakar'sclients and findings are admittedly limited mostly to upper-caste traditional Hindu males. most Indo-English poets. quite understandably in view of basic problems of status and identity that need examining. sources of guidance and inspiration. Toronto. this broad personal and cultural approach depends indeed upon the American postFreudian interpersonal identity and individuation theories of Erik Erikson. Not widely accepted among Indian critics. "Conclusion. 27-29. present literary and social relationships. 9 Margaret Atwood. 45. Among themselves. pp.with a few Indian and U.sometimes must. p. and literary journals) that American poets enjoy. p.fairly successfully. initial models for poetic work. 1984) and the postmodern surrealist poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. "Haunted by Lack of Ghosts. 14.Gentleman. raises an arrayof questions or choices of identity that profoundly affect their creative lives and work. poetry centers.. The shift is toward greater selfis sufficiency and" similar to that termed "the process of indigenization in other cultural and economic activi- . As a group. ideas which I have recently been trying out." p." American Poetry Review. almost inevitably elitist and culturallyalienated. p. artists'retreats. and in easily cited essays assert themselves. The fundamental point that the approachemphasizes is exactly what most Indian poets choosing to write in English since Independence have insisted upon: namely. critics. 203. p. CurrentShiftings in Aims and Relationships among IndoEnglish Poets By JOHN OLIVER PERRY In reviews of individual poets. political." Chicago Review. 41 (January1977).J. the Indo-English poets seem. fears and delights. HarvardUniversity Press. and in other essays. Parthasarathy and A. Nevertheless. "Interview with Margaret Atwood. and literary groupings. p. "A Conversation with Margaret Atwood. that they. have mainly grown up surrounded by this authoritative community. Anansi. a considerable shift in aims and attitudes and in perceptions of their situation is now taking place among all the active participants poets. 1971.make in creating a personal and poetic identity in the Indo-English context. class. or "schools. Sudhir Kakar. I have been developing some very tentative general hypotheses about what is happening in IndoEnglish poetry today. Among English-medium-educated. Princeton University Press.PERRY " Northrop Frye. as many observers have noted. Further. Lai in Calcutta. they have usually had little interaction with each other and have established no group identity. Ma. to be very isolated." Malahat Review. Survival. 1982). p.in Indo-English poetry. and actual and perceived publication problems. communal (religious and caste). theory. family. Thus. Of this fact both the traditionalistDom Moraes (in Girija Prabhakar. philosophical. there is no accepted body of criticism. This special kind of . I would like briefly to offer them here.x Except for those few focused on Nissim Ezekiel in Bombay and on P. 239. 324. 1977. 60.