Frye on “the tension between concern and freedom”

Former Florida congressman Alan Grayson pushes back against self-described “Republican reptile” P.J. O’Rourke on last week’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Here is a quote from Frye cited in Bob Denham’s essay, “Frye and Soren Kierkegaard,” in his new collection Essays on Northrop Frye, posted in our library this week. The quote is particularly relevant to the rise in the last few weeks of what is now an international “Occupy” movement.

The basis of all tolerance in society, the condition in which a plurality of concerns can coexist, is the recognition of the tension between concern and freedom. . . . Concern and  freedom both occupy the whole of the same universe: they interpenetrate, and it is no good  trying to set up boundary stones. Some, of course, meet the collision of concern and freedom from the opposite side, with a naive rationalism which expects that before long all myths of concern will be outgrown and only the appeal to reason and evidence and experiment will be  taken seriously. . . . I consider such a view entirely impossible. The growth of non-mythical  knowledge tends to eliminate the incredible from belief, and helps to shape the myth of concern according to the outlines of what experience finds possible and vision desirable. But the growth of knowledge cannot in itself provide us with the social vision which will suggest what we should do with our knowledge. (233)

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3 thoughts on “Frye on “the tension between concern and freedom”

  1. Martin

    This is a wonderful quote Michael. As a scientist I work with people who seem every bit as naive as those they criticise as religious. Some like Dawkins think the world would be a better place without religions. Let scientists give us out directions. A more horror ridden thought I cannot come up with.

    But many scientists do seem to think that once we know the facts then everything else should make sense—they seem unaware that the facts are born out of theory and that a different theory brings other facts to the fore and force reinterpretation of existing facts.

    A related idea is coming up from one of the Conservative back benchers—that university educated people be give more votes that others in elections.

    Although Frye describes the obsolescence of concern and its total replacement by reason and experiment as impossible, I’m afraid that people could well dupe themselves into such thinking. Science teaching is becoming narrower, not broader in its conceptual treatment of issues. I asked a colleague of mine about GMOs and problems associated with them which seems to relate to indenture (b/c GMOs are primarily about control of the seed supply) and genetic contamination of the diminishing commons. His response was: “these aren’t scientific issues” and so he had no interest in them. This is certainly obedient but not helpful.

  2. Joe Adamson

    Thanks, Veronica, for the CBC interview with Hedges and O’Leary. It’s about time someone gave the Don Cherry of capitalism a good sock in the nose. Better than a sock on the nose–Hedges treats him with the disgust he deserves. It is a sign of the degradation of the CBC that it subjects Canadians to the opinions of such a capitalist thug every morning, and then in the evening again, day in day out. Always surrounded too by beautiful young women, who are clearly smarter than he is, but treat him like a rich uncle, gently slapping his hand whenever he hits on them.

    Sadly, the CBC is still the best mainstream news channel we have (at least in English), and yet it give a soap-box to the likes of O’Leary. The state of the CBC today reminds me of an anecdote about Paul Eluard, the surrealist poet. He was asked by an interviewer, who is the greatest French poet of the 19th century?, and he answered: “Victor Hugo, alas.”


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