“The Golden Age of Frye”! How I wish it had been so. Even a froth-flecked advocate like me doesn’t believe there was ever such a time: it is a myth (which, of course, is a good thing in the long run). However, it is also true that Frye was for at least one solid and formative decade (say from the publication of Anatomy to the publication of “Structure, Sign and Play“) the most influential literary critic in the world, and he revolutionized — despite ongoing resistance — the study of literature. There was (okay, this is just me talkin’) no downside. There was, however, lots of ill will, misunderstanding and misrepresentation on the part of his critics, which only accelerated as the post-structuralist juggernaut loomed onto the scene. My attitude therefore is not “Frye or nobody,” but it is “Better Frye than just anybody.” The issue isn’t that there are no other good critics out there making genuinely valuable non-Frygian contributions to criticism, the issue is that Frye was dishonestly excluded from a discourse to which he still brings so much. Having him effectively excised from the critical canon as a scholar of enduring importance, as he very arguably was, has cost literary studies much more than it could afford to lose at the best of times. (Imagine philosophy without Aristotle. Or better yet, imagine the English disowning Shakespeare.)
So here’s the ad hominem thing coming in handy once again: the reason this happened doesn’t have to be sought very far. Is it really a secret that, as a class (and most especially when they move in packs), academics tend to be vain, self-serving, petty and duplicitous? (Present company excluded, of course!!) There’s a reason the term “trahison des clercs” has staying power. There’s a reason that David Lodge’s campus novels remain as funny as they are. Lucky Jim, anyone? I’ve always liked the fact that of all the social estates, none gets the stick more soundly in Shakespeare than “pedants,” who are uniquely loathsome creatures with, apparently, no redeeming qualities at all, and who for the most part are shuffled off the stage as quickly as possible, leaving only a somewhat discomfited sense of gleeful scorn behind.
So I don’t pine for a lost Golden Age: but I am looking forward to the eventuality, for which I am willing to work very hard with absolutely no promise of reward. That’s what all good myths inspire us to do.