Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frye: Slams May Exams, and the impact on Can. Lit.

By Northrop Frye, from Northrop Frye, A Biography, by John Ayre, Random House, Toronto, 1989, p. 74-75
The periodic warping and twisting of life brought about by May examinations has long been accepted (but)...the sheeer magnitude of the injustice involved in asking the hopes of our civilization to stake their most valubale years on the fortunes of a few hours at the end of each is sufficiently appalling in itself to dismay the stoutest, and when this is backed up by a mob psychology of a small college (Victoria College,University of Toronto) centred in residences, in which the leaders are always on the side of panic, the result is a distorted and almost inhuman existence.
Final exams in fact sabotaged real education for both ordinary and serious students. The former "find examinations an insuperable barrier in the way of getting an education"...As for protean scholars, whose work "is necessarily careful, labored and systematic...a random and time-limited quizzing is an impertinence." Using the Spenglerian image of the seasons, Frye saw the blight:"the possessor of a really fine mind who goes to college to have it orientated is at a hopeless disadvantage. If he gets a flash of genius towards the end of April, he might just as well have an attack of measles for all the good it does him. It is probably for this reason that the fine arts, which require real talent, genuine love for the work, careful and properly balanced and regularized study, and to which examinations are consequently fatal, have been so rigidly ruled out of the 'arts' courses. Literature still remains, however, mainly for the benefit of women. As a result Canadian literature is decadent and commonplace, for the literature of a young country needs to be young too, and what is done in Canada, though it may partake of the stifling heat of summer, the cheap gaudiness of autumn, and the sterility of winter, can never reflect the awakening enthusiasm of spring which those educated here have always missed--for the average man brought up on May examinations knows as little about spring as he does about a sunrise.

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