Category Archives: Frye Alert

Frye Alert: “Things I Wanna Show My Girlfriend”

One of the things the blogger at thingsiwannashowmygirlfriend is the Frye-Kemp correspondence. This paragraph from one of the letters from Frye to Helen in 1932 caught his attention:

Denied the supreme satisfaction of the bed-sheets, he sublimates himself in letter-sheets. I carried on this literary flirtation with you some years ago, in the first summer I was home and we corresponded. But since I have grown to love you so immeasurably more than I did then, or could then, the ideal lady at the other end of the postal service has become a part of myself, and when I write I am painfully conscious only of your absence. Hence these awkward, stammering, whining, almost illiterate letters.

Margaret Atwood, “In Other Worlds”

Margaret Atwood in extended conversation at Emory University last year where she delivered the Ellmann Lecture, “Science Fiction and Human Imagination.”

The Globe and Mail and The Star have articles on Margaret Atwood’s new collection, In Other Worlds, that make reference to her relationship to Frye. The Telegraph fills in a little more detail.

A previous post on Frye and Atwood here.

Frye Alert: Anatomies


Bloom interviewed by the New York Times

Here’s a review of Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence in The Brooklyn Rail.

It’s difficult to be fully comfortable with Bloom when it comes to Frye. Frye himself suggested that Bloom’s “chief anxiety of influence” related to him. The reviewer notes, for example, that Bloom says he derived his title from Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, which he claims to love. It is also, of course, an unmistakable echo of Anatomy of Criticism, which Bloom recently claimed he can no longer read.

From the review:

Bloom has carried the banner for “secular canonization” for a long time, and notes that he fought for it first with the distinguished critic Northrop Frye and later against the New Cynicism. “For more than half a century I have tried to confront greatness directly, hardly a fashionable stance,” he says, “but I see no other justification for literary criticism in the shadows of our Evening Land.”

How is this “secular canon” established?

The weapon of choice in Bloom’s arsenal is the pronouncement. The book abounds in statements that can only be accepted or denied and that are not supported by anything more than the power of his assertions and explanations.

This nicely encapsulates the fact that the subjective response at the centre of Bloom’s criticism is only on the periphery of Frye’s. It is also a reminder that while criticism may include value judgments, it cannot be based on value judgments.

Jonathan Allan’s earlier post on The Anatomy of Influence here.

Frye Alert

Lynn Beavis, the director of the Richmond Art Gallery, cites Frye’s “Academy Without Walls” in a recent column in the Richmond News.

An excerpt:

On my office wall I keep a quote from the great literary theorist Northrop Frye. It reads in part: “…the arts have something to teach beyond themselves, a way of seeing and hearing that nothing else can give, a way of living in society in which the imagination takes its proper central place.

“Just as the sciences show us the physical world of nature, so the arts show us the human world that man is trying to build out of nature. And, without moralizing, the arts gradually lead us to separate the vision of the world we want to live in from the world that we hate and reject…”

I always return to this quote when I feel dispirited about the work I do, as it reminds me of the broader principle and the experiential wealth I have inherited through my exposure to the arts. Arts, culture and heritage are often viewed in terms of the “nice to have, but not essential” category, particularly when it comes to the matter of funding, but as Frye reminds us, the arts have a much more significant and intrinsic meaning that is often overlooked in the bottom-line mentality.

Because the arts engage us on both an emotion and intellectual level, we learn more about ourselves — our motivations, prejudices, assumptions — and through the self-examination it provokes, we learn to take a new view on the world.

Frye Alert: The Archetypal Archive

Image from Neil Gaiman’sSandman 15

Gene Phillips of The Archetypal Archive has a post up today, “The Empiricist of Dreams,” that makes extensive reference to Frye.

A sample:

The battle between Freudian reductionism and Jungian amplification has been fought on other fronts, as when Northrop Frye describes the “distinction between two views of literature that has run all through the history of criticism. These two views are the aesthetic and the creative, the Aristotelian and the Longinian, the view of literature as product and the view of literature as process.”—Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p. 66.

Frye probably borrowed the terms “product and process” from the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, while his opposition of Aristotle and Longinus may remind some readers of this blog of a similar opposition by R.A. Habib, which I reprinted in The Sphere of Longinus. I frankly don’t like Frye’s terms “aesthetic” and “creative,” which Frye himself doesn’t use often, either in the Anatomy or elsewhere. I much prefer the opposition he makes in another essay, quoted here, between a story’s “narrative values” and its “significant values.” In contradistinction to what Frye writes in this section of the Anatomy, I would say that while I agree that Aristotle is indeed more aligned to the view of literature as product, this goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to see literature as a means of transmitting “significant values.” Thus literature is just one step up from rhetoric, in that its purpose is to convey those values through a fictional façade, much as Freud would’ve believed that a dream’s purpose was to convey the psychological truths of sexual repression. In contrast, though Longinus wasn’t without his own concern for “significant values,” on the whole he seems more concerned with pure “narrative values” when he speaks of how poetry’s effects bring forth the internal ecstasy he calls “the sublime.” This in turn squares up with Jung’s tendency to value dream-fantasies for their own communicative power, not as representations of something else.