Frye Scoop! An Unpublished Talk by Northrop Frye

Communication and the Arts: A Humanist Looks at Science and Technology

Northrop Frye

A talk Frye gave at the Philips Series of Science Lectures at the Ontario Science Centre, Don Mills, Ontario, 12 December 1969.  He was introduced by Ted Rogers, founder and CEO of Rogers Communications.  Transcribed by Robert Denham from a tape produced by the Media Centre, University of Toronto.


Thank you very much, Mr. Rogers.  The reason why I am here is that I got a letter from the director of the Science Centre, Mr. [Douglas N.] Omand, saying that while most of the people in this series were scientists and technologists he would like to include a humanist.  This of course is a familiar procedure, which is known in other circles as tokenism.  He went on to say that what he wanted was not on humanism but a talk on science and technology from a humanistic frame of reference.  This seemed to be a very reasonable and sensible proposal, except that I cannot quite manage the separation between the two things.  I’m not sure that I can talk about the sciences from a humanistic frame of reference without explaining what humanism is and what, if any, its importance in society may be.  Perhaps we have to go back all the way to the Middle Ages when the original and oldest universities of our culture were established––Oxford, the Sorbonne, and the great Italian and Spanish universities.  In those universities there was of course the training of the professional faculties––theology and law and and medicine––and there was also liberal education based on the conception of seven liberal arts.  The principle behind this conception of seven liberal arts was that there are two great tools that man has evolved in his mastery of his environment, those two tools being words and numbers.  So the seven liberal arts were divided into two groups.  There was a group of three, called the trivium, which were concerned with the arts of words, and they were called grammar and rhetoric and logic.  Rhetoric was extremely important, because the two key professions, theology and the law, were both rhetorical ones.  Grammar meant, of course, the study of the inflected language of Latin, and the word “gramarye” acquired the meaning of magic or something mysterious.

After mastering the three arts of words, the student went on to the quadrivium, the four arts of numbers, and those in the middle ages were geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music.  We can see how that has left its legacy in the culture of our own world.  The sciences have developed very largely in the order of their closeness to mathematics.  The most deductive, the most amenable to mathematical treatment evolved first.  Astronomy in the sixteenth century with Copernicus, and later Galileo and Kepler; physics in the seventeenth century; chemistry, with Lavoisier, in the later eighteenth; the biological and geological sciences in the nineteenth; the social sciences in the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth century.  In all this it became gradually clear that mathematics was the central informing language of the sciences, particularly, of course, of the physical sciences, but in some degree of all the sciences. Mathematics itself is not so much a science as a study of the possibilities of scientific formulation.

The arts of words, in the meantime, developed very differently.  With the Renaissance, with Copernicus and Galileo developing the new astronomy, the humanists took shape as a group of people who were studying the languages which related to man as distinct from theology, which related to God, and the sciences, which related to nature.  The humanists were concerned mainly with reviving the Greek and Latin texts.  The printing press had just been invented, and it provided a means of producing accurate and mechanical copies of Greek and Latin authors.  Unlike the sciences, which were founded on experiment and observation, the humanists were concerned very largely with a cult of authority.  They traveled around Europe digging the manuscripts of Greek and Latin literature out of the monasteries, where they had often lain abandoned for centuries, and they wrote formal epistles to each other in Latin, reinforcing each other and keeping their spirits up in the course of visiting such barbaric countries as England and shivering in the cold climate for the sake of discovering whatever manuscripts might turn up.

Their general social influence was to regard the Greek and Latin writers as having produced the definitive statements on practically everything.  The great classical poets––Homer and Virgil––were the models of poetry and would be forever.  The great orators––Demosthenes and Cicero––were still the schools to which one should go for oratory, and the same cult of authority extended even into architecture and into the sciences themselves.  Along with this went an attack on technical language of all kinds, especially the language of philosophy.  There had been a considerable development of philosophy in the Middle Ages but the humanists said that a technical language of philosophy was not the way that people ordinarily talked.  In other words, the humanists were concerned to defend the social importance of the use of words.  Their ideals revolved around the idea of the gifted amateur or more specifically the orator.  The technical philosophers were ridiculed and attacked as people who talked a kind of jargon which nobody could understand.  Of course, the great philosopher of the Middle Ages, Saint Thomas Aquinas, still held some of his authority, but his great critic, the nominalist philosopher, John Duns, called Duns Scotus, who taught at Oxford, became a synonym for the old obsolete way of thinking and writing, the old jargon way.  And the people who held by him were called the “duns men” or the “dunces,” and so the name of one of the greatest critical intellects in the history of thought became a byword for stupidity.

At the same time, while there was much that was reactionary in humanism, there was also something that had an intense social concern for the proper use of words.  Roger Ascham, who was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, said, “You know not what hurt you due to learning when you separate words from matter.  For if you look at the history of all nations, you shall find that social manners began to decline as soon as the use of words became vague and imprecise.”  Almost exactly the same words were being used in our own day by the American poet Ezra Pound, who claims to have derived them from a Chinese origin.  So this sense of the social importance of the precise, accurate, and powerful use of words was the mainspring which was the impetus of the humanist movement.  It has left on our day and our modern universities the term “humanities,” which means the subjects of the literatures and philosophy and history.  In general, it is a term favored by university administrators to designate the low‑budget departments.  All through the nineteenth century the courses which the serious student took were courses in the two essential tools of knowledge, that is, words and numbers, which until about 1900 were interpreted as a course in the classics and a course in mathematics.  In my own college, Victoria College, when it began in the nineteenth century in Cobourg, there was the course for intellectuals, which consisted of the classics and the mathematics, and another course for the people who made money and endowed the college, which was called the English course and was essentially a business training.  It was not until the turn of the century, when the classics began to be replaced by the modern languages, that the same general set‑up and formulation of university curricula still was retained.

So we still have in our universities, then, a group of subjects which are concerned very largely with the use of words.  In such a subject as history it is difficult to see how history can ever become a science in the narrow sense of being informed by mathematics or depending on repeatable experiments or leading to any kind of prediction.  At the same time, in history there is obviously a scientific element in the historian’s treatment of evidence, and it is what distinguishes genuine history from legend or from folklore and which prevents, for example, a historian of Great Britain from including King Lear and King Arthur and Merlin and the story of Atlantis in his survey––all of which, of course, have had very conspicuous roles in the more legendary part of British history.  There is a general principle, then, that every subject must be as scientific as its subject matter will allow it to be, or else it must abandon all claim to be taken seriously.  At the same time, there remains the fact that words also have to be used with the same kind of precision and power that mathematical equations do.

True, there are many aspects of humanism which are now out of date.  Humanism, as I tried to indicate, had a great deal to do with the amateur, with producing the social type of a gentleman, with dramatizing and setting forth in front of other people certain social standards––standards of clarity and lucidity in speech, standards of an informed interest in the arts, standards which would enable the gentleman to be an advisor to those in power.  This is still true in the nineteenth century, and that aspect of humanism has, of course, vanished with the social situation and the social system which produced it.  But the same interest is still very much alive in the arts of our day which are concerned with words, and that therefore means that the humanist in the twentieth century has to be particularly concerned with the art and the science and the technology of communication.

This distinction between words and numbers, between the subjects like history and philosophy, which are informed by words and the sciences, which are increasingly informed by mathematics, points to the fact that there are in human civilization two worlds, two areas of truth and of reality.  The first thing that man does is to form a society, and the first thing that he tries to do is to make his society hold together.  His chief interest in words is to hold his society together so far as words can enable him to do that.  Later on, the drive to hold society together relaxes somewhat, and man becomes aware of himself as an individual, and as soon as he becomes an individual he thinks of himself as confronting an objective order of nature which surrounds him.  And so another kind of truth and of reality developed––a kind of truth which is presented by the objective world, by the order of nature, a truth which is studied and which has to depend on logic, on reason, on evidence, on experiment––on all the operations which we associate not only with science but with any kind of systematic study.

In the meantime, however, there is another kind of truth and reality altogether.  This is the kind that does not exist at all to begin with but is brought into being through a certain kind of human creative power.  This is the truth and the reality which we find in religion, which we find in political theory, and which we find in literature and the arts––a truth and reality produced by creativity and held according to belief.  For religion, what is true is not what can be demonstrated, what can be proved, what can be founded on evidence or experiment.  In religion what is true is what is believed, and what is believed is what is accepted by society on a basis of authority derived from revelation.  The truth of the painter’s vision of his landscape is not there to begin with.  It is manifested by the picture that he paints and does not exist until that picture appears.  These two kinds of truth and of reality––the kinds which are created by human civilization and the kinds which are studied from an objective nature––are, in their turn, derived from still larger and more fundamental fact that man lives in two worlds, the world which is around him, his environment, or what we call nature, and the world that he wants to live in, the world which his culture and civilization tries to produce.  One affords us a truth and a reality of evidence and experience.  The other is concerned with the fundamental questions about man’s nature and his destiny, his whence and his whither, why he is in the world, what he is trying to do in it, what he is trying to make out of it.

The patterns of religion, of political theory, of social ritual, of the arts, are the patterns that we call myths.  We find these myths, these fundamental axioms of belief, which are usually expressed in stories or in some kind of large conceptions, in a great variety of subjects.  They make up in their totality a society’s mythology, that is, the number of things which a society believes, accepts on sufficient authority, and holds to as a part of its social vision.  The really great thinkers who have changed our whole pattern of existence––such people as Rousseau or Freud or Marx or Darwin or Einstein––are people who have changed our mythology.  I suggest that these mythological patterns are found in our deepest convictions about our relations to God or our relations to our own society or to other men, and they have many parallels among themselves.  In the Christian religion, for example, we begin with the alienation myth of the fall of man: that one time God placed man in a paradise but man fell out of it into the world in which he now inhabits.  But he is to be restored to his original world in the last day when he enters the city of God and gets his paradise back.  These religious myths have their exact counterpart in our political myths, according to which there is a social contract, which defines the state of society in which we have found ourselves.  But there is also an ideal vision of society expressed in Utopians and other types of ideal social formulations, which represents what we are moving to and what we’ll eventually be restored to.

In this situation I suggest that literature has a relation to these mythological subjects corresponding to the relation of mathematics to the sciences.  That is, literature studies these essential imaginative patterns which man uses in trying to articulate his feelings about his own destiny and his own place in the world.  Literature expounds the essential imaginative and mythical relationships of mankind, just as mathematics investigates the possibilities of numerical relationships and a scientific formulation.

Some time ago we had a famous lecture by Sir Charles Snow on the two cultures in which he said that the humanities and the sciences were growing unintelligible to each other and that they really ought to get together, they ought to make gestures of mutual amity.  That is, the scientist ought to be compelled to memorize a speech from Macbeth and the humanist ought to be compelled to memorize the second law of thermodynamics.  Now, of course, the situation to which this points is an utterly inescapable one.  There are not two cultures in scholarship: there are at least a hundred and two.  Every scholar is completely unintelligible, even to his next door neighbor.  I myself would hardly find a solid‑state physicist less intelligible than a specialist in medieval Portuguese.  There is no way out of that.  Scholarship is going to become more specialized in the future, and not less so.  The thing that unites all scholars, as well as everybody else in the community, is a common sense of social concern.  That is the point at which people meet together, and no mutual concessions among scholars are going to accomplish this.

So there is, therefore, a contrast in perspective between the scholar who is pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in an extremely specialized way, which only a handful of people can follow.  At the same time, there is the fact that he is a citizen of his own society, and because he is a citizen, he is linked with all other citizens of that society in a common social interest.  I call them the centrifugal and centripetal aspects of knowledge, one going out to the frontiers where one is a lonely explorer; the other coming back into the general community.

One thing that Sir Charles Snow says about humanists, while it’s very annoying to humanists, is at the same time I think, very largely true.  He says that science evolves and improves and progresses as it goes on, that every scientist can stand on the shoulders of his predecessors, that the body of science keeps on increasing and growing from age to age, whereas the arts never improve.  They produce their classics, and they revolve around them forever, just as religion keeps revolving around its sacred books or its authentic revelation.  Therefore, says Snow, humanists are really what he calls Luddites.  The Luddites were the people in the eighteenth century who broke up machines because they were afraid that they would be put out of work by them.  And he regards the humanists as having a similar attitude to machinery.  I think that may be true of individual humanists.  Certainly whenever I pick up anything in the nature of a machine, it immediately comes apart in my hands, and I suspect that my professional temperament has something to do with that.  At the same time, this connects with the thing which I mentioned earlier that humanism as it developed in the Renaissance was a cult of authority, that it tended to revolve around the great classics which it accepted from the Greek and the Latin world.  It tended to think of the production of literature as something that on the whole did not improve or progress as it went on.

What we are faced with in our own time, I think––this world of the 1960s––is a kind of social protest, which is often called a radical one, because all protests are usually thought of as radical, but which is actually a deeply conservative protest and which has very many points in common with this humanist attitude.  This is the protest against the tendency in mankind expressed by the romance written by Shelley’s wife, Mary Shelley, when she was a girl of eighteen, the famous romance of Frankenstein, which indicates how man has a tendency to enslave himself to what he creates.  That is, man invents the wheel and he uses the wheel to spin garments and propel vehicles, but before long he is talking about a wheel of fate or a wheel of fortune, in other words making one of his own inventions a symbol for something alienating, something he regards as dominating his life.  This tendency on the part of scientific development to become, as it were, autonomous, to run away from the human will and start developing by itself, has produced in popular fiction the stereotype of a mad scientist.  Of course, it is true that the human use of a science is a matter of very considerable importance.  Science has to be studied in detachment, but there is a point at which the detachment becomes indifference, as when the sense of human value disappears from it.  Psychology, for example, is a science, and it has to be studied with detachment.  But it is surely not a matter of indifference whether psychology is used as a healing art or for motivational research designed to force people to buy what their neither want nor need, or for propaganda in a police state.  Perhaps, after all, there is such a thing as mad science.  We went through the nightmare of the late forties and fifties in which we suspected that nuclear physics might exterminate the human race.  Then we went through the DNA molecule and the development of genetics in which we are faced with an even worse prospect that science might try to improve it.  The general feeling, on the whole, is that this is a fate worse than death.  It’s better to be dead than lead is something that enters into the mood of our time very strongly.  So we get rather foolish statements, like a cry for a moratorium on science: we should stop science until we catch up with it.  Science in this context, of course, always means technology.  When the first landing on the moon was made, there were many people who said that if they’d spent that money in ending poverty they would have shown a greater sense of human priorities.

Now this last remark opens up, I think, some rather interesting questions.  The first question is the fact that the most complicated technological problem is still a lot easier than the simplest human problem.  If you try to wage a war on poverty, what you do is to stir up the various social pressure groups that are interested in the subject, and if you wage your war to the tune of 30 or 40 billion dollars, you will wind up with a civil war on your hands, and the poor just as poor and just as numerous.  You might just as well land on the moon.  That, at any rate, you can do.  Then when we look into this question of poverty, we find that it is not a question that can be treated in a scientific way.  You may, for example, try to define in quantitatively.  You may pick a figure out of a hat and say that the poor are those who make less than $2000 a year.  But the one thing that is absolutely certain is that whatever you do, those who make just over $2000 a year are going to get a very raw deal.  Further, we can understand what disease is, we can give a definition of disease, we know that health is the opposite of disease and that it is a good thing and disease a bad thing.  But what is the opposite of poverty?  It is obviously not riches.  We cannot say that that is a good thing against which poverty is bad.  We go into the underdeveloped areas of the world in Asia and Africa or South America, and we find a great deal of poverty there.  It is wrong to be complacent about it, to feel that this is what these people want or are used to.  And yet at the same time that we see the poverty, we also see many beautiful people there, and we see people with the kind of serenity and wisdom which we do not see in our supermarkets.  So we come back to our own society and we wonder about the overtones of this word “poverty.”  We approach the outskirts of a large city, the ribbon development with its hot‑dog stands and used‑car lots.  We look at the bleak hideousness of this, and we wonder if there is not perhaps another type of poverty, a poverty of imagination, a poverty of creativity, and whether by those standards our own civilization is not a miserably squalid civilization.  In other words, as soon as we look into the question of poverty, we are raising the question of the use and meaning of words, and we are coming very close to the principle that the real meaning of important words, like “poverty,” is really rooted in our vision of society.

Let me remind you of the structure of most towns in Europe and in fact in our own world down to the mid‑nineteenth century.  The town which has a market square at its center and a church in the middle of that market square, or if it’s a large town, a cathedral.  People come to do their shopping in that market square, they talk and gossip with each other, and they drop into the church and out again.  Here in this kind of town we see three things going on, which have very similar names and which are interrelated ideas.  Those three things are communication, community, and


First of all, communication is of course normally by way of words or later images, and in simple societies communication is a two‑way street.  It means A talking to B and B listening to A just long enough so that he can get his own speech in as soon as A finishes.  But as communication becomes more mechanical, we tend to think of it more as a one‑way street.  We think if it as a message from a mouth A to an ear B––from an active to a passive end.  A very good friend of mine, Marshall McLuhan, who is also a literary critic who has become interested in the theory of communication, tells us that the medium is the message.  But we are faced with the fact that in our society, or in fact in any society, whether it’s North American capitalism or Russian socialism, all the media present pretty well the same message, and therefore if this axiom is true they must all be pretty well the same medium.  It would be simpler, I think, to assume that the real media of communications are not the electronic gadgets, whether television or radio or newsreel cameras, but that the real media of communications are words and images, and that the differences among the gadgets, between the high‑ and low‑definition media, are of relatively trivial importance.  In any case, all our media seem to be building up economically towards an active distribution to a passive listener.  One of the most conspicuous features of our time is a growing resistance to being on the passive end of communication.  The sponsor whose advertising helps to maintain a television program is of course delighted when he finds that a great many black families in the United States have television sets.  He feels that this is the American way of life and that this extends the market that he can reach.  He forgets, however, that a TV set is also the viewer’s way of looking at the sponsor, and that a TV set in a black home is the black family’s way of looking at a white society gorging itself in privilege and luxury products.  So we are apt to become bewildered when their reaction to television becomes so catastrophically violent.  But this is natural enough if you remember that this kind of communication, mechanical as it is, is still a one‑way street.  It has often been observed that during student demonstrations many hundreds of students suddenly discovered that they had political convictions as soon as the CBS cameras arrived.  In other words, they assert their aggressiveness by getting on the other side of the tube.

We have then in our society a natural economic development towards greater and greater centralization, in which everything seems to be distributed from certain centres.  Everything in local stations in Canada––and certain economic transfer followed––would soon start coming out of Toronto and Montreal, and Toronto and Montreal in their turn would become distributing centres for New York and Hollywood.  While this is not the whole story by any means, still it is conspicuous enough for people to become extremely resistant to the uniformity of the kind of media and the kind of messages that they are getting.  I think perhaps that we don’t understand the significance of the drug cults as a way that people take of getting for themselves a unique form of perception which the communications media have cheated them out of.  In any case, of course, there is a growing movement––it began in radio and is spreading to television––to making this kind of communication increasingly a two‑way street.  And yet the situation at the moment is one of a pattern of social resistance, building up to a tendency to make it a mechanical distribution.  The classical form of this is the two‑tiered level, where you have on the upper level the educational programs saying to the viewer, “This is what you ought to want,” and under them the commercial programs saying, “This is what you really do want.”  In Great Britain, for example, we have a light program and we have a third program, where “third” is a euphemism for heavy.  In this structure, of course, the entertaining is by definition the opposite of the boring.

This situation, of course, is meeting increasing social resistance.  In a society in which the entertaining is increasingly becoming the boring, other things have to be done.  Because broadcasters are on the whole honest men who want to be public servants and not parasites, they are finding means for making the communications media more flexible.  At the same time, they have a certain difficulty which they share in common with political leaders.  Political leaders begin at election times with great promises of creation and innovating, but as soon as they get into office, they realize, if they have not realized it before, that what they do is inherit a situation left them by their predecessors that 99% of what they can do is already prescribed for them and that their powers for creating and innovating are almost nonexistent.  If their position is an immensely powerful one, like that of the president of the United States, they have a great power of destruction, but their power of innovation remains practically at the vanishing point.  This is true of almost any business which inherits as it goes on an increasing amount of real estate and hardware and finds that it is increasingly bound up with the activity of administering the real estate and hardware which it has acquired.

What I am saying is that the nature of communication depends really on the nature of the community.  In a free society what happens is that one economic tendency sets up an opposition tendency, and the two tendencies fight each other to a standstill and there is a compromise between them.  This is why protest groups in society can exert the most immense leverage even when they are the smallest and most insignificant of minorities.

The third element I mentioned in this small medieval town––the church at the center and the conception of communion––is the profoundest form of communication where we are in touch with the sources of our own social loyalties, with the things that hold us together and give us some kind of coherence as a society.   In the church, in a Catholic church there is the recreation in substance of the body and blood of God, which says that God is man and that we are all members of one body.  In a Protestant church the link between God and man is the Word of God and the recreation of the Word in the church service performs the same function.  In Judaism there is the contract between God and Israel, and so on.  It does not have to be a religious ritual, of course, but it does have to be something which speaks very deeply to the sense of social cohesion.  As long as people believe in this act of communion in the church they will keep going to church.  If they cease to believe in it, they will stop going and no power on earth can bring them back.  We have secular forms of the same thing.  Wherever Queen Elizabeth II turns up, crowds will follow her to look at her, and what they are really looking at, of course, is their own unity as a society as represented in her.  We have similar things at a more vulgar level.  We have the most facile kind of communion, which is sexual communion, represented either by the female strip‑teaser with the baldheaded row, or the male rock‑and‑roll singer with the crowd of screaming little female accompanists.  This kind of communion can also express a kind of social cohesion and coherence in its own way.

We have, I think, perhaps not grasped the full significance of the fact that the unrest of our time is a middle‑class unrest, rather than the kind of thing which was presented to us in the 1930s as the revolt of a different kind of social class.  But we find that the resistance to an increasingly mechanical and passive reception of communication is what produces the encounter groups, the folk singers, the sense of comradeship attained in demonstrations––though the sense of comradeship there is produced more by the sense of the enemy outside than of the comrades inside.  In many respects, society is throwing up a number of symbols and representations of social communion, some of which are obviously religious in their feeling and attitude and others are not.  But they are all part of the same social development and growth.

In this situation the television set becomes increasingly like the telescope: it looks out on the world but it makes what it sees increasingly cold and dead and remote.  We’re often told, of course, that with the development in the efficiency of communications we shall be able to get the whole world into our living room, and won’t it be nice?  At the same time, there is the reaction to this, which is founded on the principle that communities enrich themselves by what they include but they define themselves by what they exclude.  In other words, there is also the strong feeling that we don’t want all these people in our living room, and that we want to get together with the people who share our prejudices and our general attitudes and that while it might be fun to have a minority of our own to kick around, that is the only use we have for any kind of different social group.  I think that separatism in many respects is a squalid and neurotic social philosophy, but we have to recognize the fact that it is the strongest social force that has yet been thrown up in the age of television.  There is a poem of Robert Frost which turns on the theme of two farmers, of which one insists on building a fence, which the other regards as unnecessary because, as he says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Now whether or not good fences make good neighbors, the fence certainly creates the neighbor.

The rise of demand to participate in all forms of communication, therefore, is to me one of the central and most important facts of our own time.  Along with this goes the gradual decay of the spectacular, the thing that is presented to us to admire.  The first moon landing was an unforgettable experience.  The eighty‑fifth moon landing will be much less so.  In the last century the most exhilarating form of entertainment was the time when the circus came to town.  It transfigured the whole life of the town as long as it was there.  But the circus is dead now, because nothing can come to anywhere else now: it is already there.

Such things as hockey games or football games, again, are not strictly speaking spectator sports.  Anybody who watches a hockey game or a football game is likely to know how the game is played, and therefore he is really in the position of the person who sees more of what is going on than the player does.  And consequently his role is essentially a participating one.  This seems really the only answer in society, and in certain societies, like those of Mao’s China, it may destroy a good deal of what we think of as liberty, but there’s no question of the extent to which it involves people and wakes them up and makes them articulate and makes them feel they are a genuine part of their community.  In a world like ours a certain paradox begins to make itself felt.  The easier traveling becomes, the more traveling in one sense disappears, as every airport in the world resembles every other airport in the world, and one Hilton hotel is much like another, whether it is in Istanbul or Kathmandu.  Similarly, when communication forms a total environment, nothing is being communicated.  There is a mass of echoes and a number of prefabricated responses.

This new need for participation and the need for immediacy of contact have brought in a social development which interests me a good deal as a literary critic.  In primitive societies before writing develops culture is of course dependent on memory and on the oral tradition.  In such a society the poet is bound to be the teacher, because verse is the simplest way of conventionalizing verbal utterance.  When writing develops and science and history and philosophy take shape, the poet becomes increasingly bewildered about his social function.  He usually comes to terms with it by becoming a kind of secondary ornament of a leisured class.  In our own time––in the last ten years or so––there has been a quite sudden and dramatic revival of oral culture.  Poetry is once again something to be recited to a listening audience, usually with a musical background, and dealing with topical, even ephemeral themes.  This, I think, indicates the very intimate way that literature and the study of literature, which is criticism, are involved in what I have called the conservative protest of our time.  The growing efficiency of communication goes along with, of course, the growing efficiency of information, which is another example of the A to B conception: information can be retrieved, and it comes out of a source A and it comes into the mind of the recipient B.  But in my own field of literary criticism, I am aware of the limitations of this.  My own first job as a literary critic was to try to figure out some of the long, difficult, and symbolic poems of William Blake.  And at that time when I began to work there were several dozen books on Blake and several hundred articles about the prophecies, all of them pure junk.  There was one good book, and that was it.  In other words, the flow of information was really a flow of misinformation, and the trick was to get rid of it and not to absorb it   To the extent that my efforts were original, I think they demonstrated the general principle that any form of originality consists of arresting this kind of flow of information.  The original person, whether he is an original poet or an original scientist, is bound to wander by himself, to make sure that he thinks up his own ideas and is not bedeviled with the growing efficiency of information.

So I come then to the original point with which I began.  I was asked to look at the world of science and technology from a humanistic frame of reference.  I end really with very obvious statements.  Science, like everything else in civilization, is a social product.  There is no such thing as pure science.  The direction and development of every science depends on one’s social vision.  In the study of that social vision, the study of the myths of religion and political theory and philosophy and psychology and anthropology have a place.  The study of literature is in the centre of these subjects as the essential mythological patterns which the human imagination has developed, and therefore criticism, the study of literature, also has its place in the whole social complex.  This does not mean that any area of knowledge is more central or more important than any other, because every field of knowledge is the centre of all knowledge.  But there is a point at which all the specialists in knowledge as well as all men of good will, wherever they are, have to sit down at the same table.

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