Comment: Frye and Hawken


Clayton Chrusch’s comment on Ian Sloan’s post about Frye and Hawken deserves to be brought forward:

I really appreciate this post because it questions how Frye can be personally and socially relevant, which is what I am concerned about.

Here is my take, based on my limited understanding of Frye.

I think one of Frye’s contributions is as an historian of the imaginaton (that’s not quite the right term, since Frye does not try to make a rigourous historical case for anything). He gives a historical-imaginative context for the kind of changes he and Paul Hawken are describing. In particular, he sees people’s imaginations as being shaped by imaginative cosmologies. By cosmology, he meant simple mental pictures, almost diagrams, that structure almost everything about how we imagine the world. There have been two cosmologies historically (Blake was the prophet of the second one but he also saw beyond it) and Frye suggested that third was on the way. All three can be traced to the Bible.

My understanding is that the first two are vertical cosmologies. The first is the authoritarian cosmology with god/father/king figure and all legitimate authority at the top and the devil/child/slave, and everything legitimately subject to authority at the bottom.

The second is the revolutionary cosmology and it is formally a parody of the first, where the figure at the top is seen as as a tyrant or a fool and the bottom is reservoir of creative (and destructive) energy. The second cosmology informed Freud’s view of the subconscious, and Marx’s view of the proletariat. Frye also mentions Nietzche here. So all the dominant worldviews of the 20th century come out of ideas developed in the 19th-early 20th century, having their origin in this major cosmological shift heralded by Blake at the end of the 18th.

Frye saw the third cosmology as interpenetrative, an Indra’s net where connectedness, identity, and equality within the context of incredible diversity replace the dominance, alienation, inequality, and uniformity of the first two cosmologies. It is a non-ideological cosmology because it is not hierarchical. Because it is non-ideological, it can make primary concerns truly primary.

If I had to make a judgement on the interpenetrative cosmology, I would say that we haven’t discovered its full potential yet, but it is hard for me to believe it is a new mold in which all of our imaginative structures from now on can be formed. I think we still need the first two cosmologies as well as the third. But because the third is new, it will be the source of real and good imaginative innovations that we have not yet seen.

I haven’t read the book by Paul Hawken, but perhaps he is one of these innovators.

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2 thoughts on “Comment: Frye and Hawken

  1. Robert D. Denham

    Would that we knew how to realize Frye’s Utopian vision of an “individualized movement reaching out to social concerns.” In my country the primary concern appears to be greed, and one rather despairs of achieving such a vision: presently right wing thugs are disrupting political gatherings, the propaganda of talk radio hosts is taken as truth, lobbyists control politicians, proposals for universal health care are said to be socialist plots, those who profess to foster “family values” seem to have none, global warming is said to be a left wing fabrication, money managers on Wall Street turn out to be crooks. I think the problem is our failure to educate the imaginations of our citizens––a necessary step toward achieving the non ideological cosmology about which Clayton Chrusch so articulately speaks. But we must fight on and we must hope. As Frye says, “Whatever we do will fall short of what we hope for, but the important thing is not to lose the hope, or the clarity of the vision that hope produces.”


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