“In the myth-metaphor world,” Frye writes, “all truth is paradox: a Hegelian thesis where thesis contains and implies antithesis, but lives with it and doesn’t transcend it. A is/isn’t B. This did/didn’t happen. Maritain derives the person or individual from the Incarnation, which releases the Self from the idolatry of things; but the individual doesn’t come from there: he comes from society. In insisting on this Marxism had the real principle. But it’s only in the individual that paradox can exist, as only Self can enter the interpenetrating world. I was always shocked by the Marxist use of ‘the masses’” [Late Notebooks 1:245].

“Whatever one thinks of the Tertullian paradox,” Frye also writes in The Late Notebooks (1:313), “the opposite of it is that trying to reduce belief to the credible is a waste of time and desolation of spirit.” The Tertullian paradox is a version of “I believe because it is impossible.” In De Carne Christi Tertullian set down the principle, “Credibile est, quia ineptum est; certum est, quia impossible” [“It is believable because it is absurd; it is certain because it is impossible”]. See Myth and Metaphor, 97–8. Frye probably encountered the epigram in Sir Thomas Browne, who quotes the last half of it in Religio Medici. See Sir Thomas Browne: The Major Works, ed. C.A. Patrides (London: Penguin, 1977), 70 (pt. 1, sec. 9). “One doesn’t bother,” Frye continues, “to believe the credible: the credible is believed already, by definition. There’s no adventure of the mind there. (Didn’t Coleridge say that Donne was a Christian because it would have been so much easier to be an atheist?) Belief is the Wright brothers getting a heavier-than-air-machine off the ground after the most distinguished scientists had ‘proved’ that it was impossible. In short, belief is the creation that turns the illusory into the real. Being kerygmatic, it emerges on the further side of the imaginative.” For this notebook entry, see Words with Power, 129. The Coleridge reference: “Themes that rule, while they create, the moral will––this is Donne! He was an orthrodox Christian, only because he could have been an Infidel more easily, & therefore willed to be a Christian: & he was a Protestant, because it enabled him to lash about to the Right & the Left–and without a motive to say better things for the Papists than they could say for themselves” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Marginalia, ed. George Whalley, 3 vols. [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984], 2:220)

And toward the end of the first volume of his Late Notebooks, Frye writes, “Man lives in two real worlds, one spiritual, the other natural, physical, or psychic. In the spiritual world God exists in us and we in him: a paradox that only metaphorical language can begin to express. In this world nature exists in us and we in it, but here the centralizing principle, or ego, is constantly trying to isolate itself. The spirit interpenetrates with its world but never violates: our interpenetration makes war, as Heraclitus said, the centre of all activity, [ ‘It should be understood that war is the common condition, that strife is justice, and that all things come to pass through the compulsion of strife’ (Heraclitus, fragment 26).] because it’s always withdrawing to objectify.”

Other places in volume 1 of The Late Notebooks where the word “paradox” appears:

The Moebius strip paradox, as I call it, that Paul can speak of “Christ in me” because Paul is a particular whole of which Christ is a part, while Christ is a universal whole of which Paul is a part, belongs with the point above [par. 20] that wisdom cannot be predicated of “I am.” Thus “Christ in me” is the opposite of “I am Christ.” [Late Notebooks, 1:7]

The thematic stasis of metaphor is the royal metaphor; the thematic stasis of myth(ology) is the cosmology. Metaphors, I suppose, must stick together like myths: the identity-as metaphor, the class as individual, corresponds to mythology. Now if I could only figure out the relation of the Moebius paradox to that . . . [ibid., 1:17]

I seem to be shocking the local religious community with my notion that “demythologizing” is a doctrine of Antichrist—well, anyway, of W.H. Auden’s Herod.[note] Essentially it means “up with ideology,” which is why Barth is so tolerant about Bultmann. But of course it’s supposed to mean “up with fact & down with fantasy.” I have a lot of thinking to do about the paradox that in religion there’s no such thing as a fact. The fact is annihilated by the myth. It’s Theseus’ two worlds of apprehension & comprehension again:[note]fact as fact is incorporated in historical & parallel syntheses: fact that’s really experience disappears & is reborn as experience. Fact is the grain of wheat that is buried and “dies” [John 12:24]—incidentally, what a violation of fact the word “die” is! [ibid., 1:82–3]

Identification by food expands into Eucharist symbolism, which dramatizes the whole-and-part paradox. Identification by sex leads to the mythical raptures & beatific visions of the saints as well as things like Donne’s Extasie. Identification by shelter leads to expanding the conception of shelter to include the solidarity of society. Identification by play would lead to such things as Yeats’ dancer-dance image—also to all the business about living as the body of one’s art. Even Montaigne said his book was consubstantial with himself. [ibid., 1:87–8]

The whole-part paradox goes under identity as (the individual with the whole a part of him) and with (individual as part of the greater whole). [ibid., 1:99]

A lot of things are still a haze, but the essence of the book should be the dialectic of Word and Spirit: the particular revelation in the Bible expanded and supplemented by the universal revelation of literature. I see two chapters at the beginning with relative clarity: I should, as I’ve covered the ground half a dozen times. One is on myth, ideology and concern; the other is on metaphor and identity.

Then Genesis & Exodus: creation projected as cosmology & the tribal or saving remnant revolution. This revolves around the Promethean and Urizenic concern for what I call shelter, but is really the concern for place. Then the law-wisdom concern (Urthona & Hermes) which is the concern for freedom, or what I call play. Then the prophecy-gospel sexual concern for union oscillating with independence. The Eros-Orc area, where the whole-and-part paradox comes into focus. Finally the food concern, which ends in the apocalyptic vision of a spiritual body. Tharmas-Adonis. Of course all concerns are united in the apocalypse, just as all anxieties are generated by the fall: food in the tilling of the (cursed) ground, sex in the coming of shame, shelter in the deluge myth (the wanderer with no home or place) and play in the fall of language. All of this sounds unconvincing even to me: but I hope and pray that some aspects of genuine insight are there, and that the Spirit will guide me through the Word. So on New Year’s Day, 1986, I finish the notebook I filled in the wrong direction. [ibid, 1:100–1]

The undergraduate of a university is a part of a whole; the alumnus is a whole of which his university experience is part. Closer to the Christ paradox of Paul is Adam & Eve before the fall, when they were part of Eden; for regenerate man Eden is a state of mind within him. That’s the “swallowing” business I fell over in Milton & applied to the relation of literature to experience. [ibid., 1:109]

In theory, I don’t care what a writer is like: in practice, some types put me off. It’s part of his inability to know where paradox stops, like his paradox that when it comes to intelligence, nature loves a vacuum if it’s inside the skull. [ibid., 1:122–3]

If consciousness, or the “analog I” didn’t exist before (effectively) 800-700 B.C., then the paradoxical role of a nothingness at the heart of Being goes with a separation of subject & object. Perhaps the Locke era marks the end of this transitional phase: I’ll have to get clearer the Foucault thesis that “mankind” is a 17th c. conception.
Anyway, the metaphor chapter should, after establishing the hypothetical nature of literary metaphor, go on to examine, first, the lover metaphor with all its paradoxes, and then the identity-with metaphor, starting with Theseus’ “lunatic” and Jaynes’ “hallucination.” If I could line up my GC [The Great Code] metaphor-metonymy-simile sequence with Jaynes & Foucault it would help. Not that I’d want to claim their authority for my own quite different thesis. [ibid., 1:149–50]

I’m at the stage again, I hope, at which I can use individual papers to clarify my views on this book. (It now has a working title: “Words with Power.”) My next assignment is a lecture in a series associated with the name of Thomas More. I see two frames of reference. One is the vague term “science fiction,” which means (a) technological fantasy or hardware fiction (b) software or philosophical fiction. The former descends from Bacon’s New Atlantis, the latter from More’s Utopia (which produces either the Eutopia or the Dystopia). The other referential area is that of the four early 16th c. books that define the nature of Renaissance secular society: the prince (Machiavelli’s The Prince), the courtier (Castiglione’s The Courtier), the statesman (More’s Utopia) and the fool (Erasmus’ Praise of Folly). Note how the paradox of the courtier who uses his accomplishments to advise the prince & thereby reduces him to a justice of the peace, reappears in the contrast of Hythloday and More himself. [ibid., 1:178]

Spirit is subjectively air because that’s the most primary of primary concerns (I mean of course breathing is): it’s objectively air because the invisible air makes the rest of the world visible. Spirit, then, is the unity, expressible only by metaphor, of subject and object in which the essential reality of the two are one. The difference between soul & spirit is that soul is anima, receptive & creaturely, and above all individual: a group of souls are still aggregates. We use “body” to mean a plurality as a higher individual: that’s why it’s only “body” that enters the resurrection by becoming spirit. That’s where the part-whole paradox begins. [ibid., 1:382]

So am I not, like the theologians and historians, simply creating one more pseudo-Bible outside the Bible?
Perhaps, but let that go for the moment. One focus here is the possession of literature as an aesthetic object-world, the Nazi-commandant-who-loves-Shakespeare paradox. I’ve taken to starting everything I write with a personal reminiscence, because I want to involve myself, as the reader I know best, with what I’m reading. I also want to distinguish the subjective possession of an object from a model in the mind around which the lifestyle is shaped. It’s linked to K’s [Kierkegaard’s] either-or dilemma, but the context is very different. [ibid., 1:187]

Eleanor’s Stevens book, commenting on the “Snowman,” has a footnote referring to Rosalie Colie on 17th c. paradoxes of nothingness. [ibid., 1:216–17]

When I started criticism I knew that there was a difference between “creation” and criticism because I myself was neither a poet nor a novelist. I knew that I was just as “creative” as though I were, but I worried then, as was appropriate for the time, that criticism was regarded as parasitic. Now the perspective has reversed, like one of those trick drawings, and now, in the phrasing above, the poet must die that the critic may live. Criticism’s paradoxical task is to indicate the boundaries of literature by obliterating them, just as one may indicate the existence of Russian literature to English readers by translating Tolstoy into English. [ibid., 1:218]

Three Maries. Mary the mother, paradoxically a virgin, which makes mythical sense. Mary the forgiven harlot, often associated maritally with Jesus, which again makes typological sense. Mary of Bethany, the Sophia daughter (which would make Lazarus Jesus’ son). [ibid., 1:250]

[U]nderthought and overthought may be in any kind of relationship to one another, from near identity to wholly ironic contrasts. Among the latter is Eliot’s paradox. Autonomy of underthought is a feature of poetics. [ibid., 1:204]

The Frazerian banquet, above, splits into the real king, who’s eaten & drunk and vanishes, and the mock king who’s driven out. Reality & illusion paradox again. [See WP, 256.] [ibid., 1:312]

I think the 19th c. fascination with St. John the Baptist’s severed head (cf. Valéry’s M. Teste) belongs here: Lawrence, of course. Also Valéry’s Zeno: the paradox of the zenith. [ibid., 1:320. In Words with Power Frye links the paradox of the zenith with Mallarmé’s Cantique de Saint-Jean (268). On Valéry’s Zeno, see Words with Power, 184.]

Mallarmé’s “Cantique de Saint-Jean” deals (among other things) with the paradox of time out of time, absorbing into human experience what Davies assigns to God. [ibid, 1:329]

My big books are like lakes or oceans, and my “parerga,” as Sparshott calls them, rivers flowing into them. [parergo = “moonlighting” works. Francis Sparshott, Frye’s colleague at Victoria College, used the word in his review of The Great Code in Philosophy and Literature, 6 (October 1982): 180.] My Shakespeare criticism didn’t flow into WP–that was mainly a Blake & Romantic book–but I think this book will be full of Shakespeare. Historical process vs. drama are the theme of the history plays; Montaigne’s Utopian paradoxes comes into T [The Tempest]. Even the two-world structure of MND [A Midsummer Night’s Dream] seems to belong. In studying Shakespeare I constantly have the illusion of a definitive comprehension of the play and a definitive rendering of it in critical language. Half my brain knows that this is nonsense; the other half knows that there’s some reality there, if we think in terms of wordless possession rather than verbal translation. [ibid., 1:410]

So Five is the Vita Contempliva; Six the Vita Activa. Five is the freedom of movement actualized in a freedom of thought, presented under the paradox of immobility [ibid., 1:412]

Valery’s cimitière [cimetière] marin is a perfect evocation of the end of 5, with all its paradoxical images of death (graveyard) “oceanic” loss of identity (sea) and Zeno’s vision of a motionless universe. [See Words with Power, 184] [ibid., 1:412]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *