A Symposium

Northrup Frye and friends. Source: ut.com

Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye

Met in symposium one day

With Bernard Lonergan, SJ

To consider a question he’d raised, and to try

To answer it once and for all here below.

“What do I do when I know?”

That is the question, and so –

“What are you doing, Marshall McLuhan,

When you know?” Bernard Lonergan asked,

“And what do I know when I do that?” said Marshall.

“And why is that knowing?” said Frye.


“By the way, I admire your Method, said Northrop,”

“And I love your Anatomy,” Bernard replied,

And, Marshall, your Classical Trivium’s a gem.”

McLuhan responded, but shyly, “Ahem.

Thank you. It’s not what creates all the fuss –

My fallacy does that – but let me suggest

That we stay with the question we’re here to discuss,

Or we’ll be here forever.” “Not I,” Frye confessed.


“Well,” Lonergan said, “I think that it’s best

To start with experience and try to attend

To that first conscious level. Then, in our quest

To know, we move up to the next, we transcend

The empirical level by asking, ‘What is it?’

‘What happened and why?’ Do you follow, my friends?”


“Yes, questions,” said Frye, “for intelligence –

To make sense, so to speak, of our common senses,

To move beyond experience,

Overcome our resistance and defences.

In my theory of myth I may have ignored

The myth that knowing is taking a look.”


“Let me repeat – I hope you’re not bored –

But in Insight  I have demythologized

That old notion. It’s all there – just read the book.”

“We’ve read it,” they said, “and we’ve now recognized

That there’s more to knowing than one might suppose.”


“I feel a conversion coming on,”

Said Marshall, “an intellectual one.”

“Hold on to that – our work isn’t quite done.

There’s still a further question to pose:

‘Is it thus? Is it true? Can it really be so?’

Understanding may be incorrect, incomplete,

Or just probably true. We really don’t know

Until we have judged it.”


They responded, “Bravo!”

Transcendent the method, resplendent the day,

With Marshall and Northrop and Bernard agreeing

That truth’s in the judgment, and insight’s the way

To dispel the old myth about knowing and seeing.

Now Dylan can know what McLuhan is doing

When he knows what he knows, and why that is knowing,

Eric Jensen, SJ, works in the Spiritual Exercises ministry at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario. He also paints and writes. He is the author of Entering Christ's Prayer (Ave Maria Press, 2007)and Ignatius Loyola and You (Novalis 2018).

  • Hilary Jenkins
    Posted at 07:54h, 15 January Reply

    Brilliant Eric! Thank you!

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 09:11h, 15 January Reply

    LOL! Thank you Eric!

  • Richard Grover
    Posted at 09:48h, 15 January Reply

    Brilliant, Eric…..although I think I better reread your words a few more times to make sure I really understand your reflection correctly. Richard

  • Jeanine Glute
    Posted at 10:33h, 15 January Reply

    Very creative…Thanks.

  • Laurence
    Posted at 13:44h, 15 January Reply

    wonderful! thanks Eric!

  • Connie SHAW
    Posted at 17:08h, 18 January Reply

    Great fun with words and insight. Thanks

  • Peter LeBlanc
    Posted at 14:10h, 31 January Reply

    Eric, in two words: awe-some. I don’t mean that in the degraded sense which that word is burdened with now. I mean rather I am still in awe of your delightful creativity and playful associations after all these years. Do you remember “Better a day in your courts” (October, 1970)? Have you looked at the recently published correspondence between Pierre Trudeau and Marshall McLuhan? Such memories. You penned that tongue-in-cheek use of Psalm 84:10 two years after Trudeau won his first majority election as Liberal leader and in the same month as Pierre Laporte’s strangled body was found in the trunk of a car at St. Lambert Airfield. These recollections from Canadian history are forever linked in my memory with individual Jesuits who pop forth from your writings. Thank you. Please keep it up. Peter

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