Category Archives: Double Vision



A footnote to Clayton Chrusch’s “The Hermeneutics of Charity,” drawn from some paragraphs on love I wrote about elsewhere.

The genuine Christianity that has survived its appalling historical record was founded on charity, and charity is invariably linked to an imaginative conception of language, whether consciously or unconsciously. Paul makes it clear that the language of charity is spiritual language, and that spiritual language is metaphorical, founded on the metaphorical paradox that we live in Christ and that Christ lives in us (The Double Vision, 17).

The various principles that are the foundation of Frye’s concept of identity (metaphor, kerygma, possession, the fourth awareness, higher consciousness) should lead us, he says, to “myths to live by.”  But what are these existential myths that come from “the other side” of the imaginative?  What are the “coherent lifestyles” that Frye’s hopes “will emerge from the infinite possibilities of myth”? (Words with Power, 143). Although he often appears hesitant to give a direct answer to these questions, preferring to assume the role of Moses on Mount Pisgah, the answer does surface in the conclusions of his last three books where the gospel of love becomes the focus of his discussion.

Frye’s speculations on love begin early.  In Notebook 3 (1946–48) he probes the meaning of love in different contexts: his own erotic and fantasy life, his attitude toward the Church, his reflections on yoga and on time.  Here are two representative reflections:

Joachim of Floris has a hint of an order of things in which the monastery takes over the church & the world.  That is the expanded secular monastery I want: I want the grace of Castiglione as well as the grace of Luther, a graceful as well as a gracious God, and I want all men & women to enter the Abbey of Theleme where instead of poverty, chastity and obedience they will find richness, love and fay ce que vouldras; for what the Bodhisattva wills to do is good. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, 17)

Each dimension of time breeds fear: the past, despair & hopelessness & the sense of an irrevocable too late: the present, panic & sense of a clock steadily ticking; the future, an unknown mystery gradually assuming the lineaments of the consequences of our own acts.  Hope is the virtue of the past, the eternal sense that maybe next time we’ll do better.  The projection of this into the future is faith, the substance of things hoped for.  Love belongs to the present, & is the only force able to cast out fear.  If a thing loves it is infinite, Blake said, & the act of love is itself a vision of a timeless world. (ibid., 59)

Frye’s speculations on love reappear some thirty-five years later in the conclusion of The Great Code, where he probes the meaning of the Word of God in the context of Biblical language.  This language, Frye says, is enduring, inclusive, welcoming, and beyond argument, and it can move us toward freedom and beyond the anxiety structures created by the human and divine antithesis (231–2).  The Great Code, however, provides little concrete guidance about the function of love in the myths we are to live by, though the notebooks for The Great Code contain numerous entries on “the rule of charity.”   But during the eight years following The Great Code Frye devoted a good deal of energy to working out the implication of the language of love.  In Notebook 46 (mid- to late 1980s) he writes, “Love is the only virtue there is, but like everything else connected with creativity and imagination, there is something decentralized about it.  We love those closest to us, Jesus’ ‘neighbors,’ people we’re specifically connected with in charity.  For those at a distance we feel rather tolerance or good will, the feeling announced at the Incarnation” (Late Notebooks, 2:696).  This “only virtue” idea gets developed in Words with Power where love, Paul’s agape or caritas is said to be “the only genuine form of human society, the spiritual kingdom of Jesus” (89).

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An Outline of Frye’s The Double Vision


For students and aficionados alike, a point-by-point outline of The Double Vision.

Preface.  Frye remarks on the incompleteness of the total argument in The Double Vision after three chapters and his decision to add a fourth.  Why only “after considerable hesitation”?

I.  The Double Vision of Language

[Autobiographical element: Methodist emphasis on experience and exposure to Biblical narrative: conditioning factors in a literary criticism that focuses on story and vision (3)]

A.  The Whirligig of Time, 1925-90:

1.  Myths = the functional units of human society.  Before the Depression years, capitalism was St. George who had triumphed over Marxism; mid-thirties, socialism (or communism) was St. George and fascism was the dragon; today, capitalism democracies are St. George and communism is the dragon.

2.  Similar whirligig in Hegelian and Marxist notions of conflict: Hegel = conflict of ideas leading to ultimate goal of freedom; Marx = class conflict and struggle over means of production.  Today, Hegelian thrust for freedom being revived.

3.  Cyclical rhythm of history produces different myths of freedom, but these are secondary myths or ideologies that don’t result in genuine freedom, which comes from primary, not secondary concern.

B.  Primitive & Mature Societies:

1.  Primary concerns = food, sex, property, freedom; secondary concerns = political & religious ideologies.  Western democracies have been better at fulfilling the needs that spring from primary concerns, but McCarthyism, American imperialism, etc. show that something is still needed, something beyond the material: the spiritual.

2.  The difference between the spiritual aspect of primary concerns and ideology or secondary concerns can be seen in the difference between primitive & mature societies:

a.  Primitive societies: hierarchical; individual subordinated to the group

b.  Mature societies: group functions to create genuine individuality (an “individualized society”); mature societies contain spiritual people: soma pneumatikon (spiritual body), rather than soma psychikon (natural body)

C.  The Crisis in Language: the difference between ideological & spiritual concern is a difference in language

1.  Descriptive or demonic literalism: descriptive accuracy, logical argument, ideological, creedal dogma

2.  Imaginative literalism: counter-historical, counter-logical language of myth, metaphor, paradox, interpenetrative, open, kerygmatic vision.  Imaginative literalism is a key point in Frye.  For whatever else it is, the New Testament is written in literary language.  “The literary language of the New Testament is not intended, like literature itself, simply to suspend judgment, but to convey a vision of spiritual life that continues to transform and expand our own.  That is, its myths become, as purely literary myths cannot, myths to live by; its metaphors become, as purely literary metaphors cannot, metaphors to live in” (17-18).  Kerygma or proclamation.

Key concept: interpenetration: here (p. 18) defined as “the free flowing of spiritual life into and out of one another that communicates but never violates.”   See also the beginning of chapter 3, where Frye, drawing on Whitehead, sees interpenetration as “spiritual vision.”

The language of spirit is the language of love.

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