Adamson and Chrusch: “Both/And”


This exchange in the Comments between Clayton Chrusch and Joe Adamson regarding Joe’s Jacob and the Angel post deserves highlighting.

Clayton Chrusch Says:
September 11th, 2009 at 5:40 pm e

I’ve been following along the podcast of Calvin’s Institutes made available by Princeton Theological Seminary, and though Calvin has little to do with Frye, I’m struck by his use of both/and formulations. Especially in his idea that in any human action, there is a double cause – human will and God’s will.

It’s hard not to see this kind of formulation as sinister and intellectually illegitimate when it’s being used to to justify the ways of a rather sinister god who decides before any sin and before the foundation of the world who would be saved and who would be damned.

Frye was certainly consistent in his both/and approach. Fearful Symmetry describes a kind of human freedom that is both free and a working out of an innate pattern (not that different from Calvin, come to think of it). Are these paradoxes illegitimate, or are they just “fudge factors” awaiting further conceptual clarification, or are they actually the most precise way of articulating some realities?

Joe Adamson Says:
September 12th, 2009 at 10:44 am e

Ouch, Calvin? Well, the paradox in Frye seems very different from Calvin’s. Frye describes it paradoxically and in different ways because perhaps there is no other way of talking about it, so I don’t see how a book on logic is going to help you out here. Frye is talking about the relationship between human creativity and an otherness of consciousness or spirit, Reality, Nature, something uncreated, something coming from elsewhere, the Logos, the Word, or the “order of words” that is our literary and cultural heritage . . . It is perhaps a paradox like Eliot’s originality/individual talent vs. tradition. How else do you describe the relationship between the individual and the greater Reality he keeps running up against, whatever that reality is? “The Word and Spirit chapter” in Words with Power addresses the issue, where it is described in more interpenetrative terms: since the word and spirit go in both directions: the spirit that descends in Acts, when the Word ascends, allows for a human spiritual response to the Word, and there is the necessity of a similar spiritual response to a secular scripture, that is, literature, a human initiative, man’s revelation to man.

Oscar Wilde Says, June 20th, 1890:

The way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test Reality we must see it on the tight-rope. When the Verities become acrobats we can judge them.

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7 thoughts on “Adamson and Chrusch: “Both/And”

  1. Matthew

    Wilde is cribbing, and making more pronounced, a point Coleridge makes in the _Biographia Literaria_–itself a neat book for Frygians–that any meaningful truth can only be expressed in paradox.

  2. Clayton Chrusch

    Logic (at least classical logic) assumes things have identities that are distinct, unitary, and exclusive. You can have a compounding or conjunction of things, but compound things can be separated into their constituent simple things.

    However you can at least imagine a nonclassical logic that can make sense of interpenetrative language like the Biblical I am in the Father, and the Father in me where one identity includes a different identity but is neither conjoined with it nor compounded of it.

    Frye said, The authority of the logical argument, the repeatable experiment, the compelling imagination, is the final authority in society, and it is an authority that demands no submission, no subordination, no lessening of dignity.

    Frye is positing three real sources of authority that ought not be subordinated to each other or to anything else. What I am suggesting is that the inductive and deductive sciences can use interpenetration in a rigorous way (see for instance David Bohm) in the same way that the imagination can use it in an imaginative way (using paradox and the like).

    On the other hand, if there is no way to make logical sense of interpenetrative statements, perhaps both/and formulations should be suspected even in purely imaginative language.

  3. Joe Adamson

    I am a bit confused here. You point out the three sources of authority, which Frye describes elsewhere as law, science, and the arts, three sources that “ought not to be subordinated to each other or to anything else.” And then you suggest that perhaps purely imaginative language should be subordinated to logic. Moreover, there is nothing inherently paradoxical in both/and formulations, unless the two aspects that you are trying to conjoin, as you suggest, cannot in any way coexist. Which is not the case in the argument that Frye is making at the end of chapter two of The Secular Scripture. The real logical fallacy is usually not both/and, but the commonly used either/or argument, the assumption that two things are in conflict with each other when they are in fact complementary aspects of the same thing.

    This issue keeps coming up in different ways: for example, Frye is a both a bourgeois liberal and a revolutionary thinker. The fallacy would seem to be to argue that he is simply one or the other, when in fact they are complementary aspects of the same thing called Northrop Frye.

  4. Michael Happy Post author

    Anatomy, “Theory of Genres,” 331-2: “There seems to be no evidence whatever that man learned to speak primarily because he wanted to speak logically.”

  5. Clayton Chrusch

    I don’t think I’m saying that imaginative language should be subordinated to logic, but rather I’m claiming that imaginative language would be _subordinating_ logic if it usurped the kind of authority logic has in establishing truth claims without also accepting the discipline and restrictions of logic (such as non-contradiction). Imaginative language can make something compelling, but it can’t establish its truth. If a paradox is illogical then, no matter how compelling, it cannot be true. That said, I am suggesting that we might be able to find a way to logically deal with paradox.

    Also I’m not concerned here about superficial paradoxes that can be resolved with a bit of explanation, but deep paradoxes like the co-existence of freedom and necessity.

    Here is Frye on freedom and necessity in _Fearful Symmetry_. “Such freedom is extravagant only if there is no inner unity to the character of the perceiver. Perceptions form part of a logically unfolding organic unit, and just as an acorn with develop only into an oak, and not just any oak but the particular oak implicit in it, so the human being starts at birth to perceive in a characteristic and consistent way, relating his perception to his unique imaginative pattern.” (Ch 1, section 6)

    Frye is saying that our actions have two causes, just as Calvin says our actions have two causes. For Calvin, it is human will and divine will. For Frye (or at least for Blake) it is human freedom and an innate imaginative pattern.

    There are many ways you can dismiss or explain away the logical difficulty here. For instance, you can say that the two causes are two separate entities contending (or cooperating or constraining each other), or you can say the two causes are just different names for the same thing.

    One way to attempt to make logical sense of what Frye is saying is that our innate imaginative pattern determines what we desire, and what we desire determines our action. Because we are acting according to our own desires, we can be said to be acting freely. But it is hard to imagine Frye thought of freedom as just doing whatever desire presents to us. In _On Education_ he writes,

    “Freedom, we think, must still be for us what it was at the age of four, freedom to do as we like, without realizing that what we like to do may be as compulsive as anything the most obsessed parent could think up to prevent it.”

    Desire is great, but it is a tyrant if we give up our freedom to it.

    Another way to attempt to make logical sense of what Frye is saying is that our innate imaginative pattern is one of many things that determines what we desire and that our freedom consists in either doing or not doing what we want according to whether we feel it to be an authentic expression of our innate pattern. But then you have a conception of freedom which is just a veto, a censor, a bureaucrat that sorts through desires and filters out the improperly filled out forms. Again, not a Frygean conception of freedom.

    I claim that any classically logical interpretation of what Frye is saying will turn out to be a misinterpretation. However, if you accept the paradox, that is, if you interpret Frye as postulating the _interpenetration_ of freedom and necessity, then you are making a truth claim that defies logical expression as far as I understand logic.

    Let’s be clear on how it defies logical expression (assuming you accept this as a true paradox).

    1. Our freedom is the sole determinant of imaginative action.
    2. Our innate imaginative pattern is the sole determinant of imaginative action.
    3. Our freedom is not our innate imaginative pattern.

    This, by the way, is similar to trinitarian logic:

    1. Christ is the one true God.
    2. The Holy Spirit is the one true God.
    3. Christ is not the Holy Spirit.

    Or more generally:

    1. a = x
    2. b = x
    3. not (a = b)

    But what I am suggesting is that innovations in rigorous logic might actually be able accommodate paradoxes of this kind.

    1. Joseph Adamson

      I think we have simply descended into a rather unproductive semantic argument, and are really speaking at cross purposes. It is important to emphasize that the imaginative language of literature and mythology–and this is basic to Frye’s entire work–does not pretend to make truth claims; it does not assert anything: it is about concern, human concern, primary concerns, the world we want and the world we reject. This is an area which may be much more central to human survival than the ability to make truth claims.

  6. Michael Sinding

    The question of logic in language, in literature, and in Frye’s ideas has at times bothered me also. First, we should remember that even though standards of logic and reference don’t apply directly to literature, they certainly do apply to Frye’s criticism, and I think that’s one thing Clayton is getting at. But how do you apply such standards to the use of metaphor and analogy in argument?

    I don’t think we should rush to toss logic overboard just by appealing to centripetal attention and human concern, as opposed to centrifugal attention and reference. With metaphor and literature, do we leave behind the world of either/ or for the world of both/ and, where anything goes? But then what principles of structure and order are left? How can we explain why some metaphors are sensible and powerful, and others aren’t? Do they have their own kind of logic?

    Let me suggest another way of approaching these things—one that I’ve been working with, and find persuasive. It’s closer to these topics than is formal logic.

    Frye argues that language, concepts, logic, even mathematics, have metaphorical and mythical (narrative) structure. In fact, there’s been a big movement in linguistics in the past few decades, to treat metaphor in this way, as pervasive in language and conceptual structure. In “cognitive linguistics,” a key idea is that a metaphor is a mapping of structure from one concept to another. Metaphors carry language, imagery, and inferential structure from concept A (usually well-understood, often concrete) to concept B (usually less well-understood: abstract or subjective). That transfer of inference, or logical entailments, is essential: it means metaphor is genuinely cognitive—not simply ornamental or aesthetic. So people can and do study the metaphorical structure of linguistic concepts, logical concepts, and mathematical concepts.

    For example, we can talk about our lives using expressions like “I’ve come a long way,” “I’m at a dead end,” “I’m moving on,” “I burned my bridges,” etc. This indicates an underlying mapping of Life as a Journey. Thinking with this metaphor highlights some aspects of life, and hides others. For an example from logic, categories are seen metaphorically as containers. Thing X can be “in” category A, or “out” of it. If B is a subcategory of A, then it is a smaller container inside container A. If thing X is in B, then it is necessarily also in A. So the logic of categories borrows the logic of containers.

    There’s lot of information about CL out there, and it’s been used in literary studies a fair bit. A few references:

    George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. 1980 (2nd ed., 2003). The book that started it all.
    —. Philosophy in the Flesh. 1999. Applies their theory of metaphor to basic philosophical concepts, like time, mind, causation, being, etc., then to some major philosophical systems.
    George Lakoff and Mark Turner. More Than Cool Reason. 1989. Develops the theory for poetic metaphor.

    These are all crystal clear, highly readable, and intellectually sophisticated. I find them reminiscent of some of Frye’s ideas, though I don’t find any evidence of him being an influence on them (to go back to that influence stuff). They go into more detail than Frye does about the structure of concepts, and how they get mapped in metaphor, and how metaphors can combine, etc.

    This idea, I think, also helps us be cautious about how far our language and concepts actually fit the world. Metaphors and analogies are very useful, but we should always ask just how they fit what they refer to, and how they may clash with it. Things in the world certainly don’t fit the above category logic in any simple way. So seeming contradictions may be only contradictions in terms (semantic, as Joe says), linguistic oppositions mistaken for logical ones. Frye is good at noticing and resolving these. For what it’s worth, I think interpenetration is in large part a way of perceiving or experiencing things. To what extent it’s reflected in the physical world I don’t know. But if Blake’s line ‘to see a world in a grain of sand’ expresses the idea, then the stress is on the seeing: interpenetration arises from attention. By the way, Bob Denham has a great essay in Rereading Frye about Frye’s ideas of interpenetration and where they came from.


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