The Critical Path and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1963-1975

The Critical Path and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1963-1975

Jean O’Grady
Eva Kushner
Volume: 27
Copyright Date: 2009
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442687783
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  • Book Info
    The Critical Path and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1963-1975
    Book Description:

    This volume, which collects Northrop Frye's writings on the theory of literary criticism from the middle period of his career, includes one of Frye's own favourites,The Critical Path(1971).

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8778-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Credits
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xliii)
    Jean O’Grady and Eva Kushner

    The present volume of middle period writings on critical theory, 1963–75, shows Frye at the height of his reputation as a literary critic. By the end of this period, as the editors of the final volume of critical writings point out, his influence had begun to wane as poststructuralism, deconstruction, and the New Historicism began to dominate the field (SeSCT, xxvi). But in 1963,Anatomy of Criticism, published in 1957, had become part of the essential equipment of literary scholars throughout North America. Indeed nineteen of the twenty-eight essays in this volume were published in the United States, as...

  7. [Illustration]
    (pp. xliv-2)
  8. 1 The Critical Path: An Essay on the Social Context of Literary Criticism
    (pp. 3-117)

    This book is a farce, in the etymological sense: a fifty-minute lecture stuffed with its own implications until it swelled into the present monograph. In the spring of 1968, while visiting the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, I gave a public lecture, which in turn engendered another lecture, “MythosandLogos,” given at the School of Letters in Indiana University that summer.¹ These lectures form the basis of the present third and fourth sections, on the defence of poetry in Sidney and in Shelley. In the spring of 1969 I was visiting professor at Berkeley, under the sponsorship...

  9. 2 Literary Criticism
    (pp. 118-133)

    The previous essays in this series have dealt with the essential techniques to be learned by scholars in the humanities.¹ What is meant here by criticism is a further stage in the scholarly organization of literature. It is not necessary for a literary scholar to become a critic in this sense, but he must be conversant with one or more of the techniques dealt with in the previous part of this handbook before setting up as a critic. I have attempted criticism myself without knowing very much about some of them, and I have never found my deficiencies to be...

  10. 3 Myth and Poetry
    (pp. 134-138)

    A myth, in its simplest meaning, is a story about a god, or some being comparable to a god. Hence myths usually grow up in close association with religions, but, because they are stories, they also belong to literature, especially to narrative, fictional, and dramatic literature with internal characters. It makes no difference to its relation to literature whether a myth is believed to be true or false. Classical mythology became purely literary after the religions associated with it died, but from a literary point of view we may speak of Christian or Hindu mythology even when the attitude towards...

  11. 4 Preface to Bachelard’s The Psychoanalysis of Fire
    (pp. 139-142)

    Literary critics have been aware of the great importance of Bachelard’s work for many years, but this is the first timeThe Psychoanalysis of Firehas been available in English. Professor Ross’s lucid and eloquent translation gives an excellent sense of the original, which has a subversive wit reminding the English reader of the prose style of the nineteenth-century Samuel Butler. I speak of literary critics, because, as its conclusion makes this is the area in whichThe Psychoanalysis of Firelies, despite its title and the numerous references to its author’s earlier scientific works. Nearly a century ago Thomas...

  12. 5 After the Invocation, A Lapse into Litany
    (pp. 143-146)

    The chief difference between Eastern and Western mythology, Mr. Campbell feels, is the difference between a monistic and a theistic attitude.

    In the great Eastern religions the goal of religious experience is unconditioned; in the great Western ones it is a personal creating God, and the dialectic of a transcendent Creator and a worshipping creature allows nothing beyond it [3–4]. The Hindu or Buddhist works toward an identification of himself with the ground of his being (“Thou art That”); the Christian, Jew, or Mohammedan tries to make himself an instrument of a divine personal will.

    This distinction is theological...

  13. 6 Criticism, Visible and Invisible
    (pp. 147-161)

    Ther is a distinction, certainly as old as Plato and possibly as old as the human mind, between two levels of understanding. I say levels, because one is nearly always regarded as superior to the other, whether in kind or in degree. Plato calls them, in his discussion of the divided line in theRepublic, the level ofnousand the level ofdianoia, knowledge of things and knowledge about things.¹ Knowledge about things preserves the split between subject and object which is the first fact in ordinary consciousness. “I” learn “that”: what I learn is an objective body of...

  14. 7 The Structure and Spirit of Comedy
    (pp. 162-169)

    This year, besides the two major Shakespeare performances, there are four non-Shakespearean productions, all of them varieties of comedy. It seemed to me that, when you had so many distinguished critics to introduce you toKing Lear, what I could most usefully do would be to speak about comedy, referring to what we are going to see this week, but keeping in mind the fact that Shakespeare is central to our interests. It seems to me that in this ironic age comedy is greatly underestimated and misunderstood, except in its ironic form, which on the whole was not Shakespeare’s form....

  15. 8 The Norms of Satire
    (pp. 170-170)

    Of course a moral norm is inherent in satire: satire presents something as grotesque: the grotesque is by definition a deviant from a norm: the norm makes the satire satiric. This is a very different thing from saying that the satirist must “put something in” to represent a moral norm. It is the reader who is responsible for “putting in” the moral norm, not the satirist. The satirist may simply be presenting something as grotesque and appealing to the reader’s sense of the norm in seeing it as such. Or the satirist may be opinionated, wrong-headed, or malicious, in which...

  16. 9 Allegory
    (pp. 171-177)

    Allegory (Greekallos, “other,” andagoreuein, “to speak”) is a term denoting a technique of literature which in turn gives rise to a method of criticism. As a technique of literature, allegory is a technique of fiction-writing, for there must be some kind of narrative basis for allegory. We have allegory when the events of a narrative obviously and continuously refer to another simultaneous structure of events or ideas, whether historical events, moral or philosophical ideas, or natural phenomena. The myth and the fable are forms closely related to, or frequently used for, allegory, and the works usually called allegories...

  17. 10 Verse and Prose
    (pp. 178-190)

    Verse and Prose. Words are used (1) for ordinary speech, (2) for discursive or logical thought, and (3) for literature.

    Discursive language makes statements of fact, is judged by standards of truth and falsehood, and is in the form of prose. Literature makes no real statements of fact, proceeds hypothetically, and is judged by its imaginative consistency. Literature includes a great deal which is written in some form of regular recurrence, whether metre, accent, vowel quantity, rhyme, alliteration, parallelism, or any combination of these, and which we may call verse. All verse is literary, and philosophical or historical works written...

  18. 11 Varieties of Literary Utopias
    (pp. 191-214)

    Ther are two social conceptions which can be expressed only in terms of myth. One is the social contract, which presents an account of the origins of society. The other is the Utopia, which presents an imaginative vision of thetelosor end at which social life aims. These two myths both begin in an analysis of the present, the society that confronts the mythmaker, and they project this analysis in time or space. The contract projects it into the past, the Utopia into the future or some distant place. To Hobbes, a contemporary of the Puritan Revolution, the most...

  19. 12 Letter to the English Institute, 1965
    (pp. 215-217)

    I am very appreciative of the great honour done me by the English Institute, and my absence is due to a proper sense of it. I should want the discussion, in particular, to be as uninhibited as possible, which it can only be if thecorpus delictiis not, like Finnegan, able to obtrude on the proceedings.² I have no itch to demonstrate that my views are “right” and that those who disagree with me are “wrong,” but my presence would almost force me into some such role, to the great detriment of free speech. Nor do I wish to...

  20. 13 Reflections in a Mirror
    (pp. 218-227)

    Reading critiques of oneself is normally a distressing pastime, ranking even below the rereading of one’s own works. What variety one has usually seems to be multiplied in a wilderness of distorting mirrors. And if reading them is confusing, writing them almost affects one’s sense of identity. Whatever has been published is grown up and has to make its own way in the world, preferably without further support from its parent. It is true that I have read these papers with an attention which at times amounts to pleasure, but their very excellence makes me wish that I could leave...

  21. 14 Design as a Creative Principle in the Arts
    (pp. 228-237)

    There is a time-honoured distinction which divides the arts into a major and a minor group, the fine and the useful, but this distinction is rapidly losing all its fineness and most of its usefulness, and is now practically vestigial. It was never in any case a distinction among artists, only among the arts themselves. In reading Cellini’s autobiography we can see how the well-trained artist of that day was ready to switch from a commission in the “major” arts to one in the “minor” ones and back again, with no loss of status or feeling of incongruity. We think...

  22. 15 Literature and Myth
    (pp. 238-255)

    A myth, in its simplest and most normal significance, is a certain kind of story, generally about a god or other divine being. Myths in this sense are associated with primitive cultures or with archaic stages of developed ones, and when we describe certain features of our own time as myths, we tend to imply that they are fixations or survivals. A myth may be studied in regard to its content or in regard to its form. The content of a myth relates it to specific social functions. Seen as content, it becomes at once obvious that myths are not...

  23. 16 Welcoming Remarks to Conference on Editorial Problems, 1967
    (pp. 256-257)

    It is a privilege, and a genuine pleasure, to be able to speak in the name of the University of Toronto and welcome you, most cordially, to this on editorial problems. A conference of editors seems to me a central part of the conception of a community of scholars. I am thinking of what a late colleague of mine once told me about a teacher of his, a Biblical scholar who had been invited by the headmistress of a girls’ school to address her young ladies, mostly aged eleven to fourteen. He spoke for an hour on “Recent Developments in...

  24. 17 On Value Judgments
    (pp. 258-265)

    I should warn you at once that I have nothing new to say on this question, nor can I discuss it on Mr. Krieger’s level. I must bring it down to the context of our own professional routine, and though I might rationalize this context as being existential, committed, and the like, even here all I can offer¹ is an analogy that seems to me pedagogically instructive. The pursuit of values in criticism is like the pursuit of happiness in the American Constitution: one may have some sympathy with the stated aim, but one deplores the grammar. One cannot pursue...

  25. 18 Literature and Society
    (pp. 266-279)

    I have become accustomed to being asked for titles of lectures long before I have started to think about the lectures themselves. Consequently I have developed a technique of inventing titles so broad and vague that they will enable me to put almost any kind of lecture underneath them. I thought, however, that tonight I would make an exception, and actually talk about literature and society, so far as I understand their relationship. The function of literature and its social relevance, the function of the poet as a social being, are interests of mine which reach back into my early...

  26. 19 Mythos and Logos
    (pp. 280-281)

    In June 1968 Frye delivered a lecture entitled “Mythos and Logos” at the summer session of the Indiana School of Letters, Bloomington. It was published in the bookletSchool of Letters: Twentieth Anniversary, 1948–1968(Bloomington: n.p., 1968), 27–40, and reprinted inYearbook of Contemporary Literature,18 (1969): 5–18, and in Italian translation as “Mito e logos,”Strumenti Critica ,3 (1969): 122–43. Since this address is identical, except for the opening paragraph and a few sentences, to that delivered as “The Social Context of Literary Criticism” at Cornell University, 18 April 1968, and already published in...

  27. 20 The Myth of Light
    (pp. 282-284)

    The first phase of the myth of light begins with God, as the maker of things visible and invisible. The primary senses of consciousness are sight and hearing, and the creation is usually thought of as starting with them. In the Bible the myth of creation begins, “God said, Let there be light.” First there is an articulate sound in the darkness of chaos, then light appears, before the sun or any agent of light is in existence. Later religion drew the inference that God himself was a word and a light shining in darkness, and that light is “Of...

  28. 21 Old and New Comedy
    (pp. 285-292)

    The Old and New Comedy forms in Greek literature are highly stylized and conventionalized forms, each the product of very specific cultural and historical conditions that can never recur. Each may be of course imitated in later ages:The Comedy of Errorsadapts Plautus, and there is some imitation of Aristophanes inThe Knight of the Burning Pestle. But more important than the possibility of imitation is the fact that the two Greek forms are species of larger dramatic genera. Thekindof comedy they represent may and inevitably will recur, when a larger pattern of cultural and historical factors...

  29. 22 Sign and Significance
    (pp. 293-300)

    I begin with a very simple distinction, and one which I have used elsewhere. Whenever we read anything, we find our attention moving in two directions at once. One direction is centripetal, trying to form a context out of what we are reading. The other is centrifugal, where we keep going outside what we are reading to our memory of the conventional meaning of the words used. We become aware of the continuity of this latter movement when we read something in a language we imperfectly know, and have to keep consulting a dictionary. In myAnatomy Of CriticismI...

  30. 23 Literature and the Law
    (pp. 301-309)

    I am very pleased to be here, not only because of the great honour you have done me by asking me to speak at so special an event, but because the topic suggested to me by the chairman, “Literature and the Law,” was one which immediately interested me. The associations between the two go very deep and a long way. Of course leisure long ago disappeared from the academic profession, but there was a time when it did have leisure, and I think a good deal of at least the British part of our cultural inheritance has been produced by...

  31. 24 The Search for Acceptable Words
    (pp. 310-330)

    I had grave doubts about my fitness to discuss the question of research in the humanities, because I have been deflected from everything that could conventionally be described as research, in the sense of reading material that other people have not read, or have read for a different purpose. The reason why I take an autobiographical line in what follows, even at the risk of sounding egocentric, is that my experiences as a scholar have seemed to me, for a long time, to be atypical, and that more recently I have begun to think that they may be more typical...

  32. 25 The Times of the Signs
    (pp. 331-357)

    The seventy years of the life of Copernicus were, as we all know, the time when the Middle Ages ended and the modern world came into being. Educated men had known for many centuries that the earth was a sphere, and that one could get to the east by sailing to the west. Perhaps a jealous God would see to it that one got to hell instead, as he did Ulysses in Dante: when there is no reason for crossing the Atlantic, there are any number of reasons for not doing so. But with the voyages of Columbus, da Gama,...

  33. 26 The Rhythms of Time
    (pp. 358-368)

    I am not a scholar in the Romantic period, except by fits and starts, so it seems to me that what I can most usefully do is to provide some sort of context for the theme of “Time and the Poetic Self.” The great difficulty about time, of course, has always been that it is the primary category of experience, the most important and fundamental aspect of life, and yet apparently it does not exist. Its centre seems to be in the present moment, the now, but when we try to grasp this “now,” we find ourselves pursuing an elusive...

  34. 27 Charms and Riddles
    (pp. 369-390)

    The study of genres, or the differentiating factors in literary experience, is not yet begun. Despite a book calledBeyond Genre,¹ we have not got to the subject yet, much less beyond it: we do not even know where the conception stops. But clearly there are different kinds of genres, and perhaps a botanical analogy may be helpful in approaching their variety. There are genres of imagery, the roots of literature, a vast subterranean tangle of metaphors and image clusters, attached to and drawing in sustenance from experience outside literature, yet showing typical forms of relationship to that experience. There...

  35. 28 Expanding Eyes
    (pp. 391-410)

    This article grew out of a profound disinclination to make the kind of comment that I was invited to make on Angus Fletcher’s article in a previous issue. I felt that such a writer as Mr. Fletcher, who clearly understands me and, more important, himself, ought to be allowed the last word on both subjects. Besides that, I have a rooted dislike of the “position paper” genre. In all the arts, adhering to a school and issuing group manifestos and statements of common aims is a sign of youthfulness, and to some degree of immaturity; as a painter or writer...

  36. Notes
    (pp. 411-456)
  37. Emendations
    (pp. 457-458)
  38. Index
    (pp. 459-492)