Jonathan Allan: Frye and Bloom


Responding to Michael Happy’s previous post:

One wonders how Bloom and Frye would react to being positioned together as “whipping boys.” The Frye-Bloom axis, as Eleanor Cook calls it, seems to be a continuous concern for those “in theory,” insofar as there seems to be a perpetual need to rebel against them both as though they are pushing the same agenda. Of course, this is, as any reader of Frye and Bloom knows, not true. Frye rebels against Bloom and Bloom rebels against Frye — Bloom’s writing since Frye’s death seems to be one long battle with Frye: The Western Canon is Bloom’s defence of value judgments; The American Religion (1992, reprinted in 2006), Jesus and Yahweh (2005), and, to a lesser degree, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection (1996), read as though they are responses to Frye’s Bible books; and then, of course, there is Bloom’s forthcoming book The Living Labyrinth: Literature and Influence (2010) which originally boasted the title: Anatomy of Influence. All of these books seem to try to position Bloom outside the shadow of Frye and yet Frye always seems to lurk in the background — perhaps, one can read Bloom’s book on Hamlet as something of meditation of the theoretical self (or as an autobiography, like The Anxiety of Influence). Of course, it would seem that Frye rebelled against Bloom as well, especially in the later years when Frye turned to the biblical texts. Despite the concerted efforts by both Bloom and Frye to distance themselves from each other, the reality is that these two literary giants are almost always seen in relation to one another — at least in terms of the history of literary criticism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 thoughts on “Jonathan Allan: Frye and Bloom

  1. Joe Adamson

    Interesting post, Jonathan. I understand you have an article forthcoming on the subject. Is that right?

    Where, by the way, does Eleanor Cook speak of the Frye-Bloom axis?

  2. Jonathan Allan

    Yes, an article is forthcoming. Cook speaks of the Frye-Bloom axis in the following:

    Cook, Eleanor. “The Function of Riddles at the Present Time.” The Legacy of Northrop Frye. Eds. Alvin A. Lee and Robert D. Denham. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1994. 326-34.

  3. Peter StirFrye Yan

    Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence Theory in Frye’s Fearful Symmetry And the Living Labyrinth

    Before Bloom openly criticized (killed) Frye, who was his Critical Father, he followed Frye’s every critical path early in his (Bloom’s) career. Bloom claims he read Fearful Symmetry ove 100 times and memorized it…knowing that I would wager a fair amount that Bloom’s idea for the Anxiety of Influence came from this passage in Fearful Symmetry (pg. 11-12)…where Frye entertains the idea and then denounces the method.

    “Of course an attempt to outline the Blakean approach to poetry is not the same thing as a study of Blake’s sources or influence. One’s impression of Blake is that he read little, could not read any language with comfort except his own and perhaps French, and preferred marginally cursing authors he hated, like Reynolds and Bacon to discovering parallels in kindred spirits. Blake is the kind of writer who may show startling resemblances to someone he had not read, such as Traheren, and no resemblance at all to someone he had read attentively, such as Paine. Conversely, such a writer as Gerard de nerval, who had presumably not read Blake, is much closer to him than Yeats who edited him. In the study of Blake, it is the analogue that is important,not the source; and even essential sources such as the Bible and Milton are of value only as sources of analogues. Blake is warning of this when he says: “I must Create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s”.

    As for the living labyrinth, Bloom and much post-modern criticism took their choice from Frye’s critical aporia in Anatomy of Criticism (pg 118):

    “Either archetypal criticism is a will-o’-wisp, an endless labyrinth without an outlet, or we have to assume that literature is a total form, and not simply the name given to the aggregate of existing literary works.”

  4. Russell Perkin

    When your article comes out, would you be able to post a notice on the blog? I’m really interested in your topic myself, and would like to read what you have to say as soon as it’s available!

  5. Jonathan Allan

    The article, “Anatomies of Influence, Anxieties of Criticism,” should appear next year in the Canadian Review for Comparative Literature. I will send Professors Happy and Adamson a note once I have received word that it has been published.


Leave a comment

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