Category Archives: Anagogy

Rupture (Reposted)


Bill Maher’s Armageddon weather forecast

It’s 6.30 and we’re still here. But then so probably is our pro-family values (i.e. anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion), pro-corporate and anti-NGO evangelical prime minister. But as long as we are all here and in it together, we should pay close attention to any overlap between public policy and the fundamentalist religious beliefs of Stephen Harper and those who advise him.

For example, the proposed “Office of Religious Freedom” doesn’t sound like it’s about “freedom” at all, but about imposing particular religious values upon our foreign affairs and commitments, where they have no place. Harper and his supporters in the evangelical community can believe to whatever degree they wish that Armageddon is coming and that Canada has a specific role to play. That’s their business. But they can’t make it a problem for the vast majority of Canadians who do not share it.

Update: Article 11 of the “Statement of Faith” of the Christian and Missionary Alliance based in Colorodo reads:

The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent(32) and will be personal, visible, and premillennial.(33) This is the believer’s blessed hope and is a vital truth which is an incentive to holy living and faithful service.(34)

Articles 10 and 11 of “The Statement of Faith” of the Canadian CMA, of which Harper is a member, read:

10. There shall be a bodily resurrection of the just and of the unjust; for the former, a resurrection unto life;22 for the latter, a resurrection unto judgment.23

11. The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal and visible.24 As the believer’s blessed hope, this vital truth is an incentive for holy living and sacrificial service toward the completion of Christ’s commission.25″

There appears to be a deep-seated premillennarian disposition in CMA theology which is not explicitly present in the Canadian branch of the church, but the shared theological base seems otherwise consistent. particularly with regard to the resurrection to “life” of the “just” and a resurrection to “judgment” of the “unjust.”

Furthermore, Marci McDonald’s reporting suggests that there are elements of a growing premillennarian faction in Canada, apparently encouraged by increasing American influence and the use by the PMO of American religious advisers. In any event, the shared doctrine that the second coming is “imminent, personal and visible” seems to indicate an exclusionary fundamentalism. That in turn appears to be consistent with openly proclaimed intolerance for secularly evolved priorities defined by generations of popular will and expressed by many decades of government initiatives and legislation. The hostility to women’s rights, gay rights, and rights in general has to be coming from somewhere, and its sources do not seem to be just a difference of political opinion.

We’ll be returning to the efforts pursued so far by the Conservatives to turn back these secular advances, as well as their continued efforts to do so on other fronts: such as the law and order bill promised within the next 100 days that will reportedly compel Internet Service Providers to provide the police with increased power to conduct internet surveillance of citizens without warrants.

Frye, Pierce, Eco, and “Abduction”


Umberto Eco

Thanks, Nicholas, for your post: this helps to clarify the connection you are making between Lonergan and Frye. I like the detective novel analogy very much: it is perhaps a useful analogy for Frye’s own process of judgment and insight.

Criticism is the act of making ourselves conscious of what is going on unconsciously when we read, and uncovering the imaginative unconscious of literature requires, to recur to another recent thread, what Frye meant by science: a combination of empirical study and deduction–and, I believe even more importantly, what the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce called abduction, a species of logic close to inspired hunch or guessing. I take the liberty of quoting from the wikipedia’s definition of the word:

Abduction is a method of logical inference introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce which comes prior to induction and deduction for which the colloquial name is to have a ‘hunch.’ Abductive reasoning starts when an inquirer considers of a set of seemingly unrelated facts, armed with an intuition that they are somehow connected. The term abduction is commonly presumed to mean the same thing as hypothesis; however, an abduction is actually the process of inference that produces a hypothesis as its end result. It is used in both philosophy and computing.

(Perhaps Clayton Chrusch will have something to say about abduction and computing.)

Abduction is also used by the great detectives of literature, like Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, and in another sense Frye was the greatest detective of literature, putting together the pieces of the great literary whodunit by a series of lesser, greater, and ultimately crowning acts of abduction. His great epiphanies, about which much as been said already on the blog (see in particular Bob Denham’s post), are in fact moments of startling abductive inference, in which a myriad of previous insights suddenly cohere into a radiant whole.

I have often wondered why semioticians, and for that matter the cognitivists (with the important exception of our erstwhile blogger Michael Sinding), have ignored Frye’s work. To repeat some observations I published years ago in an article on Frye and semiotics, Frye actually produced what semioticians like Umberto Eco merely postulated as possible: a coherent and detailed description of the encyclopedia of literary conventions and genres. Frye’s conclusions are in no way different from those laid out by Eco when he speaks of Barthes‘ sense of the code in S/Z as

the whole of the encyclopedic competence as the storage of that which is already known and already organized by a culture. It is the encyclopedia, and at the same time allows, gives the possibility of inventing beyond itself, by finding new paths, new combinations within the network.

Frye would also be in complete agreement with Eco’s statement that “A code is not only a rule which closes but also a rule which opens. It not only says ‘you must’ but says also ‘you may’ or ‘it would also be possible to do that.'” Indeed, invention in literature would not be possible without the existence of conventions and rules, which should be seen as enabling, not constricting innovation and originality.

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Anagogy and Kerygma


Michael Happy asks if anagogy and kerygma are the same thing, a question that’s difficult to answer in a word because both words are used in numerous contexts. They are certainly related terms. “Interpenetration” is another of those key words, especially in Frye’s late work. It appears in different contexts: historical (in relation to Spengler), philosophical (in relation to Whitehead) scientific (in relation to David Bohm), social (in relation to Frye’s liberal politics and his utopian vision of a classless society). But its primary context is religious. In this context Frye associates interpenetration with anagogy, kerygma, apocalypse, spiritual intercourse, the vision of plenitude, the everlasting gospel, the union of Word and Spirit, the new Jerusalem, atonement and the Incarnation––which are also religious terms. So just as a number of religious concepts tend to cluster around “interpenetration,” so they do around “anagogy” and “kerygma.”

Other of Frye’s key terms are not primarily religious, though are often used in a religious context––“identity,” “imaginative literalism,” “revelation,” “vision,” “recognition,” “consciousness,” “dialectic,” “Aufhebung,” “imagination,” “vortex,” “love.” All of these terms are multivalent, and they constitute part of the effort, which Frye speaks of repeatedly, to find the right verbal formula.



Frye, of course, pilfered the word “anagogy” from Dante, where it’s the highest or spiritual level of meaning. The anagogical meaning of the verse in Psalm 144, which Dante uses to illustrate his four levels, is, he says, “the leave taking of the blessed soul from the slavery of this corruption to the freedom of eternal glory.” In his notebooks for the Anatomy Frye writes that in the anagogic habit of mind “we recognize oneness rather than a unity of varieties,” which is another version of Joe’s point about radical metaphor: identification. It’s true that in writing about anagogy Frye often sounds like a shaman or a symbolist poet. At the anagogic level, he says, for example, “Nature is now inside the mind of an infinite man who builds his cities out of the Milky Way.” Such prose might tempt us to exclaim with Pound, “Anagogical? Hell’s bells, ‘nobody’ knows what THAT is.” Some of the reviewers of the Anatomy poked fun at such explanations. Robert Martin Adams wrote, “I do not, by any means, think it wrong to believe in ‘the whole of nature as the content of an infinite and eternal body which, if not human, is closer to being human than to being inanimate’; but I think it wrong to make such a belief prerequisite to the understanding of literature. My own conviction is that the world rests on the back of a very large tortoise.”

Anagogy” comes from the Greek, meaning “mystical” or “elevation” (literally “a leading up”). As a medieval level of interpretation, it signified ultimate truth, belonging outside both space and time. In the Convivio Dante refers to it as “beyond the senses” and as concerned with “higher matters belonging to eternal glory.” Aquinas had defined the “anagogical sense” in similar terms (Summa Theologica, pt. 1, Q1, art. 10).

As the final phase of symbolism, Frye introduces us to anagogy in the Second Essay of the Anatomy, but then he more or less drops it, Essays Three and Four descending from the fourth level (mythical and archetypal). The last half of Frye’s career, however, is devoted to the dialectic of Word and Spirit, which is to say, to anagogy.