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Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye: Eastern and Western Perspectives

Jean O’Grady
Wang Ning
Series: Frye Studies
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 240
  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye
    Book Description:

    Drawn from papers given at an international symposium on Northrop Frye in Hoh-Hot, Inner Mongolia, this volume offers insights intoFrye's theoretical approaches and the new context provided by cross-cultural questions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7785-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)

    I first visited China in July 1976, two months before the end of the Cultural Revolution. The country’s universities were in a state of almost complete disarray, with faculty members sent into exile in the country or otherwise prevented from doing their academic work. For most students, sloganeering and rampaging had replaced study. The physical conditions of the campuses were squalid or worse. A generation of Chinese intellectual life had been largely squandered and an enormous task of reconstruction lay before those willing to take up the challenge. Critical consciousness, and the expression of real thought and creative imagining, had...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations of Frye’s Works
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)

    Many of the essays included in this volume were selected from among papers delivered at the International Symposium on Northrop Frye Studies held on 15–17 July 1999 at the Inner Mongolia University in Hoh-Hot, China. The other sponsors of this significant event, the second international conference on Northrop Frye held in China, were Victoria University in the University of Toronto, Beijing Language and Culture University, and Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Without their support, the conference would not have been the success it was. Although this book brings together papers selected at the invitation of Wang Tongfu, then editor-in-chief...

  8. Frye as Theorist

    • Frye and the East: Buddhist and Hindu Translations
      (pp. 3-18)

      Frye was always forthright in acknowledging the significance of the “mythological framework” he inherited. He was inescapably conditioned, he says, by the “cultural envelope” of the Classical and Christian traditions of Western culture, the Methodist heritage of his upbringing, and his white, male, middle-class identity. The antifoundationalists, along with others more interested in difference than identity, refer fashionably to this conditioning as a “social construction.” The implication has often been that Frye is unable to step outside his Western heritage to take a broader and more inclusive view of the world, rendering the structure of his thought insular, ethnocentric, and...

    • Kant and Frye on the Critical Path
      (pp. 19-28)

      Immanuel Kant and Northrop Frye shared the same over-arching desire to transform their respective disciplines of philosophy and criticism, which they regarded as contaminated by scepticism and subjectivity, into “sciences”—a word Frye used exactly as Kant did, to denote a structured body of knowledge. As a result, the most characteristic work of both thinkers is propaedeutic, both in the common sense of referring to principles that establish the grounds for a procedure or program, and in the etymological sense, from the Greekpaideutikos, pertaining to teaching. In other words, Kant was writing “metaphilosophy” and Frye “metacriticism” (or “meta-theory” as...

    • Northrop Frye on Liberal Education
      (pp. 29-41)

      Northrop Frye, many have claimed, was a liberal humanist. Whether this label is affixed as the validation of a noble lineage, or on the contrary as a sign that his time has passed,¹ it is nowhere more germane than in regard to his thoughts on education and on the role of the university. Drawing largely on a tradition of British liberal thought that runs through Milton, John Stuart Mill, and Matthew Arnold, Frye defines an ideal education as “liberal” in the sense, among others, of being “a disinterested pursuit of truth as its own end, in contrast to the attempt...

    • Beyond Anagogy: Northrop Frye’s Existential (Re)visions
      (pp. 42-53)

      One of the most contentious issues in contemporary literary theory has been the question of whether the positivist continuum of history and ideology is the sole context of human experience, or whether transhistorical states of being (to which the terms “mythic,” “mystical,” “metaphysical,” or “imaginative” variously adhere) are attainable through language. The debate is far from settled, but proponents of the former perspective clearly hold the field at the moment, and the result has been the exile of what has traditionally been called “myth criticism” to the theoretical wasteland. A major step in this expulsion has been the dismissal of...

    • On Earth as It Is in Heaven: The Problem of Wish-Fulfilment in Frye’s Visionary Criticism
      (pp. 54-68)

      Midway along the journey of our life, Dante tells us in what is perhaps the most famous opening sentence in Western literature, he woke and found that he had lost the way. “So here I am, in the middle way,” T.S. Eliot, echoing Dante, tells us in “East Coker,” “having had twenty years—/ Twenty years largely wasted …/ Trying to learn to use words.” Midway in his life’s journey, Northrop Frye had taken twenty years to write two of the greatest of all works of literary criticism,Fearful Symmetry and Anatomy of Criticism. He was in his late forties:...

    • From Escape to Irony: Frye’s “The Argument of Comedy”
      (pp. 69-81)

      At the start of September 1948, the English Institute met at Columbia University in New York. The purpose of the institute, founded in 1939, was to reorient the discipline of English in the United States from its positivist, philological bias towards a more speculative, theoretical method of inquiry. Columbia had provided early sponsorship, with distinguished faculty members past, present, and future—including James Clifford, Carl van Doren, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, and William York Tindall—supplying strong participation. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, at that time still at the State University of Louisiana, and René Wellek, then at Iowa, were...

    • Northrop Frye and Cultural Studies
      (pp. 82-92)

      As one of the most important North American literary critics of the 1950s and ’60s, Northrop Frye is closely associated with the rise of myth-archetypal criticism, which marked the demise of the New Criticism and which has always been thought of as elitist and thus confined to (elite) literary criticism proper. In the current context of cultural criticism and cultural studies, myth-archetypal criticism has been superseded—although it is still occasionally practised—and those who were active with Frye or who enthusiastically applied Frye’s theory have almost been forgotten. Frye himself is still frequently cited and even now and then...

  9. Frye and Canada

    • “Canadian Angles of Vision”: Northrop Frye, Carl Klinck, and the Literary History of Canada
      (pp. 95-109)

      Although Northrop Frye is listed as one of the six editors of theLiterary History of Canada,¹ it is not generally recognized that he was one of the two principal editors and, in the largest sense, the catalyst for the volume. Interviews conducted in the late seventies and Klinck’s reminiscences,Giving Canada a Literary History: A Memoir, indicate that the literary history came into being as a result of a chance meeting between Frye and Klinck in September 1956. Klinck’s letters on the development of theLiterary Historyfrom its origins to publication in 1965 demonstrate that Frye’s function was...

    • Gone Primitive: The Critic in Canada
      (pp. 110-120)

      When the United States celebrated its Bicentennial, in 1976, its neighbour to the north sent presents throughout the year. Many presents—for example,Among Friends/Entre Amis, a coffee table book of photographs shot along the border—emphasized their common experiences. But one of the last gifts stressed Canada–U.S. differences. A symposium on twentieth-century Canadian culture, held during the first week of February 1977 in the new Canadian embassy building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., presented a series of distinctly Canadian “voices,” English and French. The keynote speaker was Northrop Frye, of the University of Toronto, whose name was...

    • Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye: New Feminism or Old Comedy?
      (pp. 121-136)

      Northrop Frye’s profound yet sometimes neglected insight that the many genres of literature are subsumed and shaped by only four narrative forms ormythoi—romance, tragedy, irony, and comedy (AC, 43–8)—can help to explain the problematic structure of Margaret Atwood’s novelCat’s Eye. Although several critics, most of them feminist, have suggested that this fictional autobiography is the portrayal of a woman’s developing self, the complex narrative structure as well as certain other literary features indicate that it is essentially a comedy: the story of how a hero forms a desirable new society by transforming, or escaping from,...

  10. Frye and China

    • Myth-Archetypal Criticism in China
      (pp. 139-149)

      As one of the many contemporary Western critical schools introduced into China in the twentieth century, myth-archetypal criticism has played an active role in transforming China’s literary research. This important critical school, prevalent in the West in the 1950s and ’60s, originated in the Ritual School (also called the Cambridge School) which arose in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century, and culminated in Northrop Frye’sAnatomy of Criticism(1957). Mytharchetypal criticism consciously makes use of the insights ofcultural anthropology; its emergence is also closely associated with the developing use of myth and of Jung’s archetypal theory in Western...

    • Reconsidering Frye’s Critical Thinking: A Chinese Perspective
      (pp. 150-161)

      During the past two decades, Chinese critics and literary scholars have taken an immense interest in Northrop Frye’s critical thinking, regarding it as a precious heritage not only for Canadians, but also for scholars beyond North America and in China. Frye’s criticism dwells upon the most diversified aspects of human literary experience and offers discerning insights into human imagination and creation. To judge whether or not a literary theory is universally valid is to examine whether its arguments are applicable to the literature of all nations. When I read the work of Frye—an outstanding twentieth-century Western critic and thinker...

    • The Universal Significance of Frye’s Theory of Fictional Modes
      (pp. 162-176)

      In hisAnatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye proposes an influential theory of historical criticism in terms of fictional modes underlying the development of the Western literary tradition. Based on a modification of Aristotle’s scheme of the relative elevation of character in thePoeticsand an observation of Western fiction, this theory conceptualizes European fiction into five modes characterized by “the hero’s relative power of action”: (1) myth; (2) romance; (3) the high mimetic mode; (4) the low mimetic mode; and (5) the ironic mode.

      In an attempt to refute the “conception of the critic as a parasite or jackal,” and...

    • Frye Studies in China: A Selected Bibliography of Recent Works
      (pp. 177-179)

      All the following publications are in Chinese. In accordance with Chinese practice, inclusive page numbers are not given. The list, which was compiled by Ye Shuxian and Wang Ning, includes essays on Frye’s theory and applications of it to Western and Chinese literature. For earlier essays and translations, see the paper by Ye in this volume.

      Frye, Northrop.Anatomy of Criticism. Trans. Chen Hui et al. Tianjin: Baihua Literature and Art Press, 1998. Revised by Wu Chizhe and annotated by Wu Chizhe and Robert D. Denham. Tiajin: Hundred-Flower Literary and Art Press, 2000.

      The Critical Path. Trans. Wang Fengzhen et...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 180-183)

    This volume, based largely on the Chinese reception of Frye, provides a double mirror: the West and its critical theory is reflected in China, and China reflects back to the West the use it has made of it. We have preserved this shape by opening with an introduction from the Chinese perspective by Wang Ning, and closing with some reflections from my point of view as a Western scholar. If the Eastern scholars are in one sense the recipients as they learn more about Frye, in another sense the little band of Canadian scholars who arrived in Hoh-Hot were the...