Bob Denham: “Pity the Northrop Frye Scholar”? Anatomy of Criticism Fifty Years After


Bob Denham’s talk to the Frye Festival in April 2007 has been added to the Festival Archive in the journal.  It can be linked directly here.

A sample:

In his foreword to the reissue of the Anatomy in 2000 Harold Bloom remarks that he is “not so fond of the Anatomy now” as he was when he reviewed it forty‑three years earlier (vii).  Bloom’s ambivalence springs from his conviction that there is no place in Frye’s myth of concern for a theory of the anxiety of influence, Frye’s view of influence being a matter of “temperament and circumstances” (vii)  Bloom’s foreword, however, is devoted chiefly, not to the Anatomy, but to his own anxieties about Frye’s influence, presented in the context of his well-known disquiet about what he calls the School of Resentment––the various forms of “cultural criticism” that take their cues from identity politics.  In the 1950s, Bloom says, Frye provided an alternative to the New Criticism, especially Eliot’s High Church variety, but today he is powerless to free us from the critical wilderness.  Because Frye saw literature as a “benignly cooperative enterprise,” he is of little help with its agonistic traditions.  His schematisms will fall away: what will remain is the rhapsodic quality of his criticism.  In the extraordinary proliferation of texts today, according to Bloom, Frye will provide “little comfort and assistance”: if he is to afford any sustenance, it will be outside the universities.  Still, Bloom believes that Frye’s criticism will survive not because of the system outlined in the Anatomy, but “because it is serious, spiritual, and comprehensive” (xi).

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