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Frye and the Word

Frye and the Word: Religious Contexts in the Writings of Northrop Frye

Series: Frye Studies
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Frye and the Word
    Book Description:

    The religious context of Northrop Frye's criticism is virtually inexhaustible in its reach and implication.Frye and the Worddraws together leading scholars in the fields of literary studies and hermeneutics, religious studies, and philosophy to construe and debate the late thought and writings of Northrop Frye in their spiritual dimension. The volume provides the first full account and evaluation of the legacy of Frye's works on the Bible and literature, in relation to Frye's work as a whole and to current trends in literary criticism and religious studies.

    Frye's trilogy,The Great Code,Words with Power, andThe Double Vision, both showed him to be a radical Blakean visionary and carried him forward into an urgent engagement with the imaginative and spiritual dimension as expressed in language, myth and metaphor, tools of recognition, and revelation. Frye struggled to understand and articulate how the Bible enjoyed - for reasons still to be fully appreciated in their literary context - an apparently unequalled spiritual and cultural authority, and what this authority could tell us about our primary concerns as human beings and our still unrealized potential for fulfillment. This collection, then, is about Frye's own engagement with words and the Word, with secular and sacred scripture -- about a unifying principle that lies often unrecognized, if everywhere manifest, in the spiritual and imaginative dimensions of language.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7511-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    J.D. and A.M.
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    InAnatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye defines theeironfigure, the selfdeprecator, as either the hero who is ′neutral and unformed in character′ or the ′tricky slave′ who is ′entrusted with hatching the schemes which bring about the hero′s victory′ (AC, 173). Frye goes on to claim in theAnatomythat theeiron′is in fact the spirit of comedy, and the two clearest examples of the type in Shakespeare, Puck and Ariel, are both spiritual beings′ (AC, 174). Frye does not go so far as to suggest that theeironreaches its apotheosis, or fullest potential, in such spiritual...


    • Sacred and Secular Scripture(s) in the Thought of Northrop Frye
      (pp. 23-42)
      ALVIN A. LEE

      Why were experienced readers of Frye′s writings surprised byThe Double Vision? Why were we unprepared for the identification of the imaginative (the metaphorical) and the spiritual that runs through this last, posthumous book? Why did Frye, the critic who characterized literature as mankind′s revelation to man, who followed William Blake in identifying God and humanity, and who was at pains, especially inThe Great Code, to identify the ubiquitous marks of fallible human involvement in the writing, editing, and compiling of the Bible, continue to speak and write of sacred literature or scripture as something distinguishable from secular literature?...

    • ʹIn the Climates of the Mindʹ: Fryeʹs Career as a Spiral Curriculum
      (pp. 43-56)

      The most impressive achievements in conceptual writing, says Frye inWords with Power, are the ′great metaphysical systems, the structures that seek to present the world to the conscious mind.′ (The word ′system,′ he adds, ′is a spatial metaphor.′) ′Sometimes,′ he remarks a little later, ′we may ... wonder whether an entire metaphysical system may not be growing out of a personal metaphor′ (WP, 10,12). One of the current directions of Frye studies, which seem more vibrant than ever as we enter the second decade after Frye′s death, is the implicit taking up of the broad hints contained in these...


    • Fryeʹs Double Vision: Metaphor and the Two Sources of Religion
      (pp. 59-80)

      FromAnatomy of Criticism(1957) toThe Double Vision(1991) Northrop Frye has written about the experience of literature and the experience of religion as the experience of metaphor. Frye is always careful to distinguish between religion and literature, but he adds, ′Between religion′s ″this is″ and poetry′s ″but supposethisis″ there must always be some kind of tension, until the possible and the actual meet at infinity′ (AC, 127-8). The tension to which Frye refers stems mainly from the power of possibility to interrupt a focus on the actual that tends to collapse into ′presentism,′ or what one...

    • The Reality of the Created: From Deconstruction to Recreation
      (pp. 81-96)

      Looking back on the extraordinary development of literary criticism over the past century, we probably have good reason to regard Northrop Frye and Jacques Derrida as two leading, if very different, theorists who for a time dominated the practice of criticism. If this is the case, then Derrida′s influence appears to be the one that most conspicuously continues to prevail. The rise of the criticism of culture, gender, class, and race, which seems to have reached its peak in the last decade or so, is hardly conceivable without the Derridian notions of absence, difference, marginality, privileging, and totalization. Meanwhile, the...

    • The Metaphysical Foundation of Fryeʹs Monadology
      (pp. 97-104)

      In the fourth chapter ofThe Great CodeFrye distinguishes three kinds of metaphors: the first consisting in identification of one thingwithanother, as in the statement ′Joseph is a fruitful bough,′ the second consisting in identification of one thingasanother, as in the recognition of a brown and green object outside one′s window as a tree. The third kind combines the first two into what Frye rightly describes as ′an extremely powerful and subtle form of metaphor,′ in which identification of an individual object as a member of a class of objects is conflated with identification of...

    • Word, Flesh, Metaphor, and ʹSomethingʹ of a Mystery in Words with Power
      (pp. 105-120)

      The third chapter ofWords with Power, ′Identity and Metaphor,′ mediates the apparently secular ′Concern and Myth′ that precedes it and the apparently sacred ′Spirit and Symbol′ that follows. It is thus the ideal place for Northrop Frye to reveal his view of the intermediary nature of metaphor as the meeting point between word and flesh. As he notes in his introduction, the chapter serves as a pivot between the explicitly literary and the explicitly biblical aspects of the book (WP, xi), a pivot that both allows a link between the Bible and Western literature and permits their distinction as...


    • The Flesh Made Word: Body and Spirit in the New Archetypology of Northrop Frye
      (pp. 123-136)

      The usual pattern of an intellectual life is one that sees the idealism and radicalism of youth gradually replaced by the pragmatism and conservatism of maturity, a process Northrop Frye in his studies of William Blake called the Ore cycle, in reference to the subservience of that poet′s youthful character Orc to the aging Urizen. Having studied the dangers of this cycle, Frye ensured that his own career inverted this pattern. During the last ten years of his life, Frye wrote and spoke more radically about the nature and potential of myth and metaphor than at any point in his...

    • Northrop Frye between Archetype and Typology
      (pp. 137-150)

      The Great Codemay well be the most deeply instructive of Northrop Frye′s books, though the object of instruction is less the Bible itself than the nature and source of Frye′s enterprise as a critic. His uncompromising conception of mythology as the very heart of literature is grounded here in an account of the Bible as the origin of what he repeatedly calls the ′mythological universe′ of Western literature. It is myth, he argues, that marks the contours of a culture: ′A mythology rooted in a specific society transmits a heritage of shared allusion and verbal experience in time, and...

    • Northrop Frye: Typology and Gnosticism
      (pp. 151-163)

      During an interview conducted in 1985, Northrop Frye was asked: ′How did the Second World War affect the composition ofFearful Symmetry?′ ′Well,′ he answered, ′I think if you look carefully at the book, and even more at the footnotes, you′ll see it′s a very anxious, troubled book. It′s written with the horror of Nazism just directly in front of it all the time.′² One of the horrors of Nazism is neo-Gnosticism, as Frye knew. Outlining inThe Great Code′the typological structure and shape′ of the two-part Christian Bible, he alludes to ′the Gnostic tendency to think of Christianity...

    • A Note on Frye and Philo: Philosophy and the Revealed Word
      (pp. 164-172)

      In his numerous notebooks, Northrop Frye refers to Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE-c. 40 CE) fifteen times, more than any Neoplatonist and more than Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen combined. Philo even gets more attention than Pseudo-Dionysius, whose direct influence on Dante and whose visions of celestial hierarchies could have been grist for Frye′s mill. The sheer number of references to Philo intimates that Frye may have seen in Philo a kindred spirit. As I hope to show, there are suggestive parallels between these two thinkers. What immediately comes to mind are similarities in their use...


    • Frye and the Church
      (pp. 175-186)

      The student of Frye′s thought on the church is confronted with two contradictory sets of indicators. On the one hand is the fact that Frye remained throughout his life an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. His duties were in practice restricted to marrying and burying his students and friends and officiating at college events. But when, late in his life, an official of the Toronto Presbytery suggested that he might wish to surrender his ordination in view of his lack of active parish work, he replied with a touch of asperity, ′I regard it as permanent and...

    • Northrop Frye and Catholicism
      (pp. 187-202)

      The centrality of Northrop Frye′s radical religious vision to his criticism did not really become apparent until the publication ofThe Great CodeandWords with Power, followed by their coda,The Double Vision, although Louis Dudek argued in 1963 that ′mythopoeic criticism pointed to ″a veiled Christianity.″′¹ Frye′s reserve about his religious views has been attributed to his ′insistence on the importance of teaching under the rubrics of academic freedom and professional ethics and his extreme reticence in the face of any direct discussion of his personal beliefs.′² Since Frye′s death, access to his unpublished works has permitted a...


    • Crazy Love: Frye, Breton, and the Erotic Imagination
      (pp. 205-234)

      One of the principal claims that Northrop Frye makes inWords with Poweris that the imaginative structures and narrative shapes of the Western literary tradition derive their mythological unity from the Bible, this being the case even when the writers in question are indifferent or even hostile to Christianity as an organized religion. I would like to offer a demonstration of this claim by way of an exercise in practical criticism. The imaginative framework I shall be exploring is the second of Frye′s symbolic variations inWords with Power, which focuses on the second creation story in Genesis and...

    • Toni Morrison: Re-Visionary Words with Power
      (pp. 235-250)

      The impetus for this paper comes from Frye′s remarks, in letters to Helen Kemp, about religion and his own vocation. Feeling at one point in his life called to the ministry rather than to the professoriate (NFHK, 52-3), he affirms Christian doctrine as revolutionary and urges that religion not be considered ′a specialized department of life′: ′as soon as you start to worry about your soul, you′re getting away from religion, and as soon as you get to work, you′re being religious′ (NFHK, 279, 479-80). His vocational deliberations I find of great personal relevance, coming as I do from a...

    • Northrop Frye and the Poetry in Biblical Hermeneutics
      (pp. 251-264)
      JAMES M. KEE

      From the time that Northrop Frye published his first book,Fearful Symmetry, which transformed our capacity to understand the poetry of William Blake, he has been recognized as a critic for whom the Bible was an immensely important text. For most of his career the presence of the Bible in his work was implicit. During the last decade of his life, however, Frye published three books that dealt explicitly with the Bible and its relationship to literature:The Great Code, Words with Power, andThe Double Vision. While these works provide an immense range of resources for recognizing relationships between...

    • Oscar Wildeʹs De Profundis: Prison Letter as Myth
      (pp. 265-279)

      In the second essay ofCreation and Recreation, Northrop Frye defines myths as ′culturally early narratives, which come from a time when concepts and arguments and abstractions had not yet appeared in language′ (NFR, 51). Although there is nothing surprising in this definition, Frye goes on to provide a more provocative correlative. He says that ′the ″real meaning″ of a myth emerges slowly from a prolonged literary life, and then its meaning includes everything it has effectively been made to mean during that life′ (NFR, 51). By this definition, it is not missing the mark to say that in the...

    • The Seduction of Figaro: Gender and the Archetype of the ʹTricky Servantʹ
      (pp. 280-290)

      When Figaro makes his second entrance in Act One of Rossini′sIl Barbiere di Siviglia(just after Rosina′s famous ariaUna voce poco fa) he begins to chide her for her apparent acquiescence in her marriage to her guardian, the obsessively jealous Dr Bartolo. Looking at Rosina, Figaro compliments her (indirectly) on hercapello nero, herguancia porporina, and herocchio die parla, and so forth... but there′s not a hint of anything romantic occurring between them. And quite frankly, it never really occurs to anyone, although it′s a logical enough question: why exactlydoesthe insanely jealous Bartolo let Figaro...


    • Fryeʹs Fourth: ʹThe Substance of Things Hoped For, The Evidence of Things Not Seenʹ
      (pp. 293-311)

      Frye organized all his thinking, reading, and writing, much as poets do, according to schemes.Anatomy of Criticismis organized according to four-part schemes: there are four essays, four fictional modes, four phases of literary meaning, four majormythoior story patterns, and so on.² In the introduction to theAnatomy′sFourth Essay, Frye finally makes explicit the master-scheme or ′diagrammatic framework′ (AC, 243) underlying all the other schemes employed in the book. It is a traditional scheme for poetics in which Plato′s idea of ′the good′ is divided ′into three main areas′ (ibid.). The world of beauty and art...

    • The Ashes of Stars: Northrop Frye and the Trickster God
      (pp. 312-328)

      A few days before his death, Carl Jung gave the following answer to an interviewer who asked him for his definition of God: ′To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.′¹ Edward Edinger, who reports Jung′s response inEgo & Archetype, comments that ′Jung is calling God what most people call chance or accident. He experiences apparently arbitrary happenings as meaningful rather than meaningless.′² According to this...

    • Northrop Fryeʹs ʹKook Booksʹ and the Esoteric Tradition
      (pp. 329-356)

      Northrop Frye′s notebooks, which run to well over a million words, provide a record of his critical and imaginative life that in many respects is quite different from what we find in his published work, and one of the areas of this difference is, I believe, worth opening up for investigation. Frye′s notebooks were the workshop from which he fashioned his books and essays. If we consider the notebooks he wrote, say, during the last six or seven years of his life, it is possible to trace the connections between the material they contain and the form this material eventually...

  13. Index of Works by Northrop Frye
    (pp. 357-360)
  14. Index of Biblical Passages
    (pp. 361-362)
  15. Index of Names and Subjects
    (pp. 363-386)