Chapter 7: Powers and Limitations

To this point my treatment of Frye has been largely analytical. To be sure, value judgments of various kinds have entered the discussion, and the entire effort is based on the value-laden premise that Frye’s work is important enough to merit the close study I have attempted to give it. But on the whole my aim has been expository and my approach disinterested. I have tried to examine Frye’s criticism on his own terms, seeking to understand what he has said and why he has said it. My commitment has been to the simple truth that understanding precedes judgment.

But there is no escaping, finally, the issue of assessment. The very nature of Frye’s work will not permit us simply “to murmur politely that it shows things in a new light and is indeed a most stimulating contribution to criticism.”1 There is hardly a page in Frye which does not invite controversy or reaction. A student of his work cannot rest content with having described the details of his method, the nature of his argument, the example of his practice, the large claims and audacious scope of his entire undertaking. Part of our task is to take stock of the entire effort, to assess its powers and limitations, and to suggest at least some of its problematic areas.

To begin with a general question, one that relates to the theoretical system as a whole: Does literary criticism need the kind of conceptual universe Frye seeks to provide? In one respect, this question lies outside the issue of critical method. It is a precritical issue, best decided in terms of the individual critic’s interests, sensibility, and predisposition. What I have in mind is R.S. Crane’s principle that critical methods themselves are “immune to theoretical questioning,” since a critic’s choice of a subject matter and his method of reasoning are, more than anything else, practical decisions, stemming from his own interests and the kinds of problems he wants to solve.2 Related to this is the distinction Crane draws, following Carnap, between internal and external questions. Internal questions pertain to the logical and conceptual aspects of a critical framework, whereas external questions are “not {192} propositions within a framework but about the justification of the framework itself.”3 From this perspective my initial question about Frye’s system as a whole is external and therefore, in Crane’s words, “immune to theoretical questioning.”4 

Certainly Frye’s concern to formulate a synoptic view of criticism will be of minimal value to critics intent primarily on explaining the unique texture of single literary works. While the conception of criticism outlined in the Second Essay is clearly broad enough to include such study, archetypal and myth criticism, by definition, precludes it. The same point could be made about a good many critical treatises, Coleridge’s Biographia, for example. His concern to marry German idealism with nineteenth-century British poetics and thereby produce a theory of the imagination is not indispensable for explaining the peculiar or unique qualities of a given work. The point is that if one is predisposed to relating literature to other literature, then he cannot be faulted for not explicating poems, which is precisely where a large number of Frye’s critics have faulted him. The implicit conflict here is between two kinds of interests, and it cannot be resolved by appealing to any universal critical principle. As Meyer Abrams puts it, “all those who, in the course of time, emerge with the reputation of major theorists of art have in fact contributed important new knowledge . . . and they have succeeded in doing so not despite their basic discrepancies, but as a direct result of these discrepancies.”5 The differences among critical purposes and methods is not something we need to lament. All we need to acknowledge at this stage is that Frye’s analogical and archetypal criticism is a completely legitimate activity and that it deserves the best theoretical principles that can be devised. The better these principles can be systematically described and classified, the better his kind of criticism will be as a body of theoretical and practical knowledge.

Scientific versus Literary Theory

If we can agree, then, that one kind of critical interest depends on a synoptic view like Frye’s, the next question is how well his own system meets the demands of such a view. This is an internal question, for it takes us inside Frye’s framework and forces us to confront the logical and conceptual aspects of his theory. We can begin with Frye’s claim that the nature of criticism is “scientific,” using the word in the second sense referred to in chapter 5. Frye often points to the similarity between the hypotheses he wants to develop and those of the natural sciences. It is not at all clear, however, that such a similarity can or does exist or, even if it does, that Frye’s understanding of the relationship {193} among hypotheses, theory, and observation is very meaningful or useful. Is he right, for example, about the role which theories play in the development of a science?

His claim that revolutions in conceptual thought fundamentally alter the method of investigation within a discipline is unobjectionable: it goes without saying that such ideas as Newton’s “forces” and “attractions” or Darwin’s theory of evolution effected major changes within their respective scientific traditions. But it is not universally agreed that such revolutions are always as progressive, empirically cumulative, and revitalizing as Frye implies. He says, for example, that “the development of [a scientifically organized criticism] would fulfil the systematic and progressive element in research by assimilating its work into a unified structure of knowledge, as other sciences do.” He speaks of a “central expanding pattern of systematic comprehension” in criticism and talks of how revolutions in theory revitalize conceptual thought (AC, 11, 12, 15, italics added).

Thomas Kuhn’s study of scientific revolutions reminds us, however, that there is more than one kind of scientific discovery. On the one hand, there are discoveries which take place within a particular scientific tradition, discoveries which are not revolutionary in themselves but which develop from a framework of concepts and principles established by some great originator, like Aristotle, Newton, or Einstein. Kuhn refers to these theories as “paradigms,” or “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.”6 His study of the history of science leads him to believe that most scientific study is paradigm-governed; that is, within a given discipline most problem-solving is largely controlled by a dominant conceptual structure which is accepted as true. Kuhn calls this activity “normal science.” Its concern is not to test the paradigm but to fit its experimental findings into the dominant conceptual model. And when discrepancies are discovered— anomalies which do not quite fit the accepted structure—normal science simply adjusts the data so as to leave the paradigm intact.

Now it is clear that Frye thinks of science as a cumulative enterprise, progressively building upon the theories and laws established by previous scientists. He conceives of all scientific activity to be like Kuhn’s “normal science.” But according to Kuhn, “Cumulative acquisition of unanticipated novelties proves to be an almost non-existent exception to the rule of scientific development. The man who takes historic fact seriously must suspect that science does not tend toward the ideal that our [empirical] image of its cumulativeness has suggested.”7 This means that most scientific activity (or all of normal science), the aim of which is to solve the remaining problems in the field {194} by using the paradigm theory which is current, tends toward a kind of dogmatism. The reason for this, according to Kuhn, is simply that most scientists are concerned not with testing the paradigm but with interpreting new data and new problems according to its principles. The paradigm, in other words, becomes entrenched. On the other hand, nonparadigmatic changes in the scientific tradition are the revolutions themselves, those periods when the dominant theory breaks apart.

There is an analogy between what Frye calls the period of naive induction and what Kuhn sees as the preparadigmatic period, the time before which a given science has fully articulated its theory. Frye says that “a new scientific discovery manifests something that was already latent in the order of nature, and at the same time is logically related to the total structure of the existing science” (AC, 97). Kuhn would say that this is certainly true for normal scientific discoveries, that is, for those within an accepted paradigm. Yet discoveries which are revolutionary, which upset the traditional paradigm, cannot be considered as “logically related to the total structure of the existing science.”

But beyond the resemblance between Frye’s period of naive induction and Kuhn’s preparadigmatic period, their understanding of the structure of scientific revolutions is not at all similar. Especially obvious is the absence in Frye of an awareness of the restrictive disadvantages implicit in paradigm theories, like the resistance to innovation which a particular style of thinking imposes. In fact, it is precisely the exclusiveness of paradigm theories, according to Kuhn, which sets certain scientific classics, like Aristotle’s Physica and Newton’s Principia, apart from the classics in other creative fields. Such classics determine not only the kinds of problems scientists are interested in but also their norms for solving those problems and their standards about the kind of fact with which their science deals. Therefore, a myopic commitment to a given paradigm, according to Kuhn, can lead simply to a “striving both for neater formulations of that paradigm and for an articulation that would bring it into closer agreement with observations of nature.”8 The necessary result is that scientists then move farther and farther away from any concern to test the principles of the paradigm. This being the case, Frye’s effort to establish a structure of critical thought upon a central hypothesis analogous to that of a pure science might well be an enterprise fraught with the dangers of dogmatic exclusivism. Without showing any concern to test his own paradigm, he and his disciples may be inclined simply to further articulate the theory and bring it into closer and closer agreement with observations from literature.

If Kuhn is right, then the relationship between hypothesis and evidence in revolutionary science might well differ from their {195} relationship in normal science; even normal sciences operating within separate paradigms may not view theory and observation in the same terms.9 This raises large questions of the nature and function of theories, questions by no means settled by philosophers of science. But let us use the tentative definition of a theory as a set of hypotheses consistent with the facts of any given subject matter.

What procedures are involved in relating hypothesis to fact in order to arrive at a theory? For Frye it is both an inductive and a deductive procedure. “If criticism exists, it must be,” he says, “an examination of literature in terms of a conceptual framework derivable from an inductive survey of the literary field” (AC, 7). There are two important claims here. One is that a thorough study of literary works is the critic’s initial duty. The “first thing” he must do, Frye says, “is to read literature, to make an inductive survey of his own field and let his critical principles shape themselves solely out of his knowledge of that field” (AC, 6–7). The second important claim is that theory is arrived at by inference from observations about literature. “The word ‘inductive,’” Frye adds, “suggests some sort of scientific procedure” (AC, 7). He does not specify what sort of procedure is involved, but the assertion that theory is derivable by inductive inference is clearly problematic. It flies in the face of the so-called hypothetico-deductive view defended vigorously by philosophers of science like Karl Popper and C.G. Hempel. Popper argues that theories are “free creations of our own minds, the result of an almost poetic intuition.”10 Similarly, Hempel maintains that “the transition from data to theory requires creative imagination. Scientific hypotheses are not derived from observed facts, but invented in order to account for them. They constitute guesses at the connections that might obtain between the phenomena under study, at uniformities and patterns that might underlie their occurrence.”11 These are philosophers of natural science speaking, and, of course, criticism, as Frye recognizes (AC, 7), is not a “pure” or “exact” science. The point, however, is that Frye’s claim that the theoretical framework of criticism is “derivable” by inference from literature itself is not a universally accepted solution to how theories originate. While the hypothetico-deductive view itself has been questioned, a philosopher like Popper would certainly respond to Frye’s position by saying that although there might be some causal explanation of how a critic derived his ideas, the kind of inference involved in scientific theory is always from the theory rather than to it. Observations from literature, that is, provide the basis for testing hypotheses rather than deriving them. We shall turn to the issue of confirmation shortly. For the moment we need only observe that Frye’s proposal about how critical theory is derived is problematic.

{196} But Frye also conceives of critical theory as deductive. In “The Archetypes of Literature” he says that the inductive and deductive methods work to “correct” each other:

We may . . . proceed inductively from structural analysis, associating the data we collect and trying to see larger patterns in them. Or we may proceed deductively, with the consequences that follow from postulating the unity of criticism. It is clear, of course, that neither procedure will work indefinitely without correction from the other. Pure induction will get us lost in haphazard guessing; pure deduction will lead to inflexible and over-simplified pigeonholing. (FI, 10)

In the Anatomy Frye announces forthrightly which of these paths he has followed. “I have proceeded deductively, and been rigorously selective in examples and illustrations,” he says. “The deductiveness does not extend further than tactical method, and so far as I know there is no principle in the book which is claimed as a perfect major premise, without exceptions or negative instances. Such expressions as ‘normally,’ ‘usually,’ ‘regularly,’ or ‘as a rule’ are thickly strewn throughout” (AC, 29). This confession clearly indicates that critical hypotheses cannot be like the laws and principles of the natural sciences, which might seem an unnecessary point to make, except that Frye invites the equation by comparing criticism to such disciplines as physics, astronomy, and biology. Does this mean then that critical theory, lacking the strict requirements of a pure science because it can admit occasional exceptions to its fundamental laws, is more like that of a social science? The idea that criticism is a body of inductive knowledge presented deductively from premises which are generally but not universally true suggests that it might be. At one point, in fact, Frye says explicitly that it is (AC, 16).

The Question of Confirmation

But what does it mean for Frye to say that he has proceeded deductively? Deductive reasoning raises the issue of confirmation, and a second question we must therefore ask is whether or not Frye’s conclusions can be tested as true. Let us consider these two issues in turn. We can assume, first of all, that Frye accepts the ordinary definition of deduction: a process of reasoning by which an unexceptionable conclusion is drawn from a universally accepted premise. We do not move far into the Anatomy, however, before realizing that Frye’s method of inference is not deductive at all—or at least that it is not deductive in any rigorous way. To illustrate: on the first page of the First Essay, Frye asserts four ways a fictional hero may be classified. A hero, we recall may be either superior or inferior both to other men and to his environment, or he may be equal to either (“roughly the same” [AC, 33]). Moreover, except when these relationships involve equality, there may be differences of either degree or kind. These statements constitute Frye’s premises. And there seems to be no reason for finding them objectionable, since an inductive study of literature shows that such distinctions can be made. But whereas Frye’s conclusion from these premises is that there are five basic modes of fiction, a truly deductive argument would necessarily infer that there are twenty-five.12 Frye gives no reason why there cannot be a mode, say, in which the hero is superior in degree to other men and in kind to his environment. But such a mode would surely follow from Frye’s principles. We are left then with the question as to why he arrives at only five modes, when there are other combinations which should result from his perfectly sensible premises. John Holloway, who has specifically challenged Frye on this point, asks why it is that Frye can discover five modes, five parallel levels of meaning, four basic myths, six phases, eighteen lyric conventions, and so forth.13 “If we were to ask,” Holloway says,

why these numbers, why these correspondences, an inductive answer would show that these and no others are what turn up if we marshall all the items of evidence and look them over. Arguing deductively would show that these and no others followed from first principles. That’s what Kant did in his first Critik, and as far as patterns go, Mr Frye’s book looks very like that one. But Kant started from what he thought could be assumed without question, the basic forms of Aristotle’s logic, and then he tried to show rigorously that we find, in consequence of what Aristotle’s logic lays down, certain corresponding forms of perception, understanding, knowledge, natural law, error and so on. Contrast Mr Frye at what I think is the most momentous point in his book: “a somewhat forbidding piece of symmetry turns up in our argument at this point, which seems to have some literary analogy to the circle of fifths. I recognize six phases of each mythos, three being parallel to the phases of a neighbouring mythos”! In fact, the book is neither inductive nor deductive. It is a series of dogmatic assertions; with illustrations to show that the kind of thing in question turns up somewhere in the whole range of written works good or bad.14 

Holloway overstates his case, for it is clear that Frye’s principles could not have been formulated without an inductive study of literature. It is {198} no less clear that his theory results from deducing consequences, even if incomplete ones, from his principles. However, the more important issue—one implicit in Holloway’s remarks—is whether or not Frye’s theory can be confirmed.

A theory is overthrown when it is shown to be inadequate by some process of testing. If we operate with the classical view of testing, it is not easy to see how Frye’s theory can be refuted. Such a view requires us merely to locate instances in literature of, say, Frye’s Proserpine archetype. If we find a sufficiently large number of these, then there is good reason for concluding that such an archetype may be a structurally important principle in some literary works. Using this kind of confirmation procedure makes Frye’s position theoretically invincible. But, as David Hume observed, no matter how many tests confirm a theory, it may still be wrong.

A more recent solution to the problem of confirmation has been advanced by Karl Popper, who has sought to discover a “criterion of demarcation” to distinguish the genuine from the false.15 He concludes that falsifiability is the proper standard for separating the scientific from the pseudo-scientific: only those theories offering conclusions which stand an honest chance of being refuted can be called scientific. In other words, theories are never confirmed or proven true; they are only disconfirmed or proven false.16 

From this perspective, as John Casey observed, it is easy to see how Frye’s theories can continually be confirmed but difficult to see how they can be decisively refuted.17 Meyer Abrams’s review of the Anatomy makes the same point:

The odd thing about evidence for an archetype is not that you cannot prove that it is present, but that you cannot help proving it, and that there is no way of disproving it. Any extended and complex literary work can, by the omission of unsuitable elements, be made to resemble almost any archetypal shape. Since there is no firm possibility of negative observations, archetypal statements are empirically incorrigible, and incorrigible statements are not good grounds for a science of criticism.18 

To apply the falsifiability criterion to Frye’s work leads to the conclusion that scientific confirmation seems impossible and that criticism is not a systematic body of knowledge in the way an empirical science is.

Perhaps Frye would respond by saying that criticism is not literally a science but only analogically so; that just as the scientist inquires into the order of nature, so the critic inquires into the order of words. But even the analogy may be misleading. Here is what Frye actually says:

{199} It is clear that criticism cannot be a systematic study unless there is a quality in literature which enables it to be so. We have to adopt the hypothesis, then, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is not a piled aggregate of “works,” but an order of words. A belief in an order of nature, however, is an inference from the intelligibility of the natural sciences; and if the natural sciences ever completely demonstrated the order of nature they would presumably exhaust their subject. Similarly, criticism, if a science, must be totally intelligible, but literature, as the order of words which makes the science possible, is, so far as we know, an inexhaustible source of new critical discoveries, and would be even if new works of literature ceased to be written. (AC, 17)

I am not concerned here with the difference Frye sees between science and criticism (science could conceivably exhaust its subject, criticism could not) but with the similarity, for it is the analogy of “order” which may lead us astray. That all scientists possess some monolithic conception of an “order of nature” is dubious, and certainly it cannot be inferred from the fact, as Frye claims, that the natural sciences are intelligible. Perhaps a given science can, at one point in its history, be shown to possess a common body of assumptions about the physical world. But these assumptions are always changing as new discoveries are made, and, as Thomas Kuhn demonstrated, most sciences, especially in their early stages, are characterized by a continual competition among a variety of distinct views of nature.19 An order of nature, in fact, is precisely what the sciences do not assume. What is revolutionary for one science is not necessarily revolutionary for another. “Though quantum mechanics (or Newtonian dynamics, or electromagnetic (theory),” Kuhn says, “is a paradigm for many scientific groups, it is not the same paradigm for them all. Therefore, it can simultaneously determine several traditions of normal science that overlap without being coextensive. A revolution produced within one of these traditions will not necessarily extend to the others as well.”20 Frye is apparently influenced by the textbook tradition which represents scientists as having worked on the same set of problems with the same set of fixed canons and as contributing to a cumulative understanding of the order of nature. But this is a chimera, according to Kuhn.21 Competing paradigms, he says, are incommensurate; scientists practice their trades in different worlds,22 the effect of which is a series of discontinuous orders of nature rather than a singular ordered model of unity and consistency. The sciences, in short, do not appear to rest upon an assumption of implicit unity in some order of nature, as Frye seems to {200} think. Anyway, the characteristics that Frye ascribes to science—progressive accumulation, coherence, and inclusiveness—are, as Meyer Abrams points out, attributes that also characterize such pseudo-sciences as astrology, physiognomy, and the theory of humours.23 

There are two problems, then, with Frye’s saying that literature is an “order of words” analogous to the “order of nature.” First, it derives from a questionable assumption about the natural order which sciences actually make. And second, even if the analogy were based upon a proper understanding of scientific theory, it would suggest only in the vaguest kind of way that literature can be looked at as a whole. But we do not need the analogy between science and criticism to tell us this. The analogy, in short, is both misleading and unnecessary.

But let us return to the issue of confirmation by asking whether, if we abandon Frye’s analogy between criticism and science, his theory and his conclusions can be confirmed in some other, “nonscientific” way. We can begin by assuming a hypothetical case. Suppose, after having read the classics, the Bible, and The Golden Bough, we are able to discover in a particular novel no less than a dozen original archetypes. Since Frye’s system is based on analogy and since we are able to show similarities between our novel and each of the archetypal figures, then either Frye has to admit all twelve as legitimate descriptions, in which case the knowledge gained by systematic classification seems to dissipate, or else we must determine which of the twelve represents the “real” archetype.

The latter possibility seems to be ruled out by Frye’s assumptions about the nature of criticism, for his approach is always to begin with structure in the largest sense.

Whenever we read anything there are two mental operations we perform, which succeed one another in time. First we follow the narrative movement in the act of reading, turning over the pages and pursuing the trail from top left to bottom right. Afterwards, we can look at the work as a simultaneous unity and study its structure. This latter act is the critical response properly speaking: the ordinary reader seldom needs to bother with it. The chief material of rhetorical analysis consists of a study of the poetic “texture,” and such a study plunges one into a complicated labyrinth of ambiguities, multiple meanings, recurring images, and echoes of both sound and sense. A full explication of a long and complex work which was based on the reading process could well become much longer, and more difficult to read, than the work itself. . . . It is more practicable to start with the second stage. This involves attaching the rhetorical analysis to a {201} deductive framework derived from a study of the structure, and the context of that structure is what shows us where we should begin to look for our central images and ambiguities. (CP, 25–26)

The context of that structure, as we have seen time and again, is, first, the complete body of a writer’s work and, finally, all other literature—which means that the question of how an archetype might function in a particular work is not a question Frye’s method permits us easily to ask.

One conceivable way to solve the problem of confirmation would be to reduce the scope of Frye’s structuralism from the context of all literature, life, and natural cycles to a context in which a work’s individual structure can be examined. In other words we have to ask whether or not an archetypal pattern, a thematic mode, or a generic form can be said to serve an essential function in defining the formal nature of a particular work. And one possible way of answering this question is to determine what the intention of a work is. Archetypal themes may turn out to play an important role in such a study; yet they would be important not as they relate to other works of literature but only as they either serve the final cause of a work or are themselves the final cause. Using the intended meaning of a literary work as the problem to be solved, we can develop a method for testing the genuineness and relevance of archetypes.

To speak about a poem’s intention is to deal with its emotional and structural meaning; and to discover a poem’s intention is to analyze the rhetorical aspects, both affective and intellectual, which the writer uses to shape our response. This kind of analysis need not violate the autonomy of a work at all. Intentionalism does not necessarily have to refer to the motives or the psychological history of the poet, which is what Wimsatt and Beardsley have in mind in their unmasking of the “intentional fallacy.” There are other meaningful ways of talking about artistic intention. Erwin Panofsky, for example, has said that an artistic work demands to be responded to in a particular way and that this demand is a function of the way in which the work solves an artistic problem. In this context, intention refers to rhetorical, stylistic, and structural patterns which we as readers can recognize, not as examples of archetypal categories, but as parts of a whole fitted together to achieve a certain effect—in Panofsky’s words “as specific solutions of generic ‘artistic problems.’”24 In a similar manner, R.S. Crane has argued that a work of literature possesses a synthesizing idea or cause which directs whatever a poet does with his materials. This cause determines what kind of work a poet will create and what its emotional quality will be. By reasoning backward from the effect of the poem, Crane maintains, we can discover the causes that produced it. These {202} causes would include every rhetorical and stylistic choice the author made in the process of composition.25 And the combination of all the choices results in what we can call the intended effect, those intellectual and emotional qualities which the work “demands” that we respond to. By a careful analysis of the “causes” of individual poems, following the kind of inductive procedure Crane outlines, we can arrive at a position for making sound judgments about artistic intention. This means, of course, that we will have to abandon Frye’s sharp disjunction between knowledge and experience. But it also means that we will have a method for talking about the meaning of dying-god myths and the meaning of Lear. And if we can show that the two intended meanings differ, then we have a falsifiability criterion which can be used to deny archetypal equations.26 

Meyer Abrams approaches the issue of confirmation by calling for an appeal to facts. How do we know, he asks, whether archetypal patterns are actually in a work of literature? What is the evidence for their existence? His answer is that a genuine science of criticism “sets out from and terminates in an appeal to facts which enforce agreement from all sane, knowledgeable, and disinterested witnesses, in independent observations. It is relevant to inquire whether Frye’s literary data do enforce agreement from all qualified readers. Are they discoverable by independent observations? Could even an initiate predict, in advance of publication, that Frye would discover ‘displaced’ forms of the dragon-killing myth in the cave episode in Tom Sawyer and in the hero’s release from the labyrinth in Henry James’s The Sense of the Past?” Abrams’s answer is that Frye’s archetypal statements are not “significant empirical propositions.”27 

Wayne Booth displays a similar skepticism. “One good way to test my misgivings,” he says, “would be to take the five most respected readers of the Anatomy and give them a work not mentioned by Mr. Frye and ask them to decide whether it is comedy, romance, tragedy, or irony or some combination, and then to describe the archetypes they detect. The chaotic results can be predicted.” “I’d like to have charge of a controlled experiment,” he adds, to test the claim “that different readers working independently with Frye’s categories produce identical results on a given work of art.”28 Both of these critics are appealing to literary fact. Abrams’s appeal is specific; Booth’s is in the context of a discussion about how critical theory relates, or should relate, to literary fact. Both critics, furthermore, want to establish a means of confirmation by appealing to independent observers.29 

If we attend to Popper’s view of confirmation, however, are not the questions raised by Abrams and Booth insufficient? On the one hand, the ability of an independent observer to locate an archetype {203} which Frye himself has located does not confirm the theory. Nor, on the other hand, would their failure to locate it disconfirm the theory. Just because an independent observer is unable to see the relation between Newton’s falling apples and the movement of the stars is no reason to conclude that the theory of gravity is not—to use Abrams’s phrase—a significant empirical proposition.30 Abrams, especially, is trying to confront Frye on his own terms by calling into question Frye’s idea of a scientific criticism. But at least part of his critique rests upon an un-Popperian idea of confirmation and thus will no,t yield very satisfactory results if in fact Frye’s theory is taken to be a scientific one. One might reply to Abrams that in science itself chaotic results could be predicted from independent observers who have not been taught to see the relation between falling apples and moving stars, but that once they are taught, they can understand the theory of gravity. Similarly, Frye might reply to his critics that an archetype can be recognized by independent observers once they have been taught what it is.

But even this point rests upon the assumption that scientific and critical theory are somehow the same. Would not a more fruitful approach to evaluation result from abandoning all talk of scientific and empirical confirmation? I have been trying to suggest that Frye’s criticism is not “scientific” in Popper’s sense of the term, but this conclusion should not in itself constitute a damaging blow to Frye’s position. After all, as John Casey says, “his work could be ‘unscientific’ but, nevertheless of great value,”31 which is implicit in Abrams’s conclusion that in the final analysis Frye’s theory is a metaphysical theory. And the important question about metaphysical theories is not whether they can be scientifically verified but whether they are meaningful and whether they produce useful knowledge. We will return to this matter below.

No literal-minded critic can read Frye without confronting a host of additional problems. Many readers have found him overly ingenious, confusing, and rhetorically high-handed. Some have claimed that his categories are badly drawn and that he distorts literary works to fit his system. Others have observed that his terms shift in meaning, that his language is imprecise, and that his propositions are not truly arguable. Many have been frustrated on being presented with some controversial premise or conclusion with little or no indication of how it was reached. There are grounds for legitimate complaint in all of these reactions. On the other hand, much of the criticism directed against Frye is senseless; it appears to stem from an unwillingness or inability to understand.

This latter, of course, varies greatly in quality. At one extreme are {2} the willful distortions, like Pauline Kogan’s mindless diatribe, Northrop Frye: The High Priest of Clerical Obscurantism.32 At the other extreme are studies by serious and sophisticated critics who sometimes go wrong. Many of their anxieties about Frye, however, could be relieved by a closer attention to his work. Consider William Wimsatt’s “Criticism as Myth,” for example.33 

Diagrammatic Consistency

At one point in his essay Wimsatt devotes several pages to complaining about the lack of consistency in the diagrammatic structure of the Third Essay. “Diagrammatic descriptions,” he says, “ought at least to be capable of diagram. If they were not, there would seem to be a grave question as to what they are saying. Frye is really, in the long run, not very careful with his diagramming.”34 There are three parts to Wimsatt’s complaint. First he is disturbed that in “The Archetypes of Literature,” written a half-dozen years before the Anatomy and incorporated into it, the analogies between spring and comedy and between summer and romance are reversed. “Much,” Wimsatt says, “turns on this analogy.” Second, he is troubled by the misalignment resulting from the fact “that Frye moves from the descending sequence of his first essay . . . to the embarrassment of a very different sequence of ‘broader categories’ in the third essay.” Wimsatt believes this has got “something to do with the complexities that emerge from the asserted correspondence of the first and second three of the six phases of each season with its adjacent seasons.” Third, he believes the structure of Frye’s framework is so confused and inconsistent that Frye himself gets lost in it:

By a proper attention to the terminally climactic structure of the spring and autumn seasons and the medially climactic structure of the winter and summer seasons, Frye might have worked out his diagram and might have succeeded in whirling his twenty-four literary subcategories at least consistently around the seasonal cycle. But even that would not have paralleled the pattern of his first essay, and furthermore it would not have helped the supposedly primordial and archetypal notion of the Spenglerian four-season cycle.35 

But in all of this is Wimsatt being fair? Has he not distorted or misunderstood Frye? The fact that the first and third essays are based on different sequences should not be disturbing if we pause long enough to realize that one essay treats the historical sequence of modes and the other, the cyclical sequence of mythoi. Why should we expect the two sequences to be parallel? Why should it be an “embarrassment” {205} to have two different sequences? There is no reason for us to expect that the two essays should be based on similar sequences, disregarding altogether Wimsatt’s failure to observe that the modal paradigm is also cyclical (he calls it “descending”). Furthermore, Frye explicitly points out (AC, 136–37) that a category like romance is used to mean one thing in the First Essay and another in the Third. Whether much does turn on the analogy between the seasons and the mythoi, as Wimsatt claims, is open to question. Frye’s argument at this point seems simple enough. He wants to show that just as cyclical patterns can be observed in nature, so some of the imagery of literature—that which is not undisplaced and partakes therefore of the order of nature—can also be seen as embodying cyclic patterns. That comedy, however, is called the mythos of spring, romance the mythos of summer, and so on, is incidental to the argument. We remove these terms from the subsection titles and nothing whatsoever is lost. In brief, Frye’s argument for pregeneric elements of literature does not depend on their analogy to the seasons. And although his theory of phases is complex, as we have seen, it is not inconsistent. He does not attempt to relate the phases to the seasonal cycle: Wimsatt seems to think that he should have and that everything would be cleared up if Frye had only paid attention to the terminal and medial climactic structure of the seasons—whatever that might mean. Although there are significant problems which the schematic nature of Frye’s criticism raises, Wimsatt’s example is not one of them.36 

Semantic, Doctrinal, and Methodological Problems

Let us look at some of the genuine difficulties which Frye’s criticism presents. For purposes of analysis I will divide these into three areas: semantic, doctrinal, and methodological. In practice the three areas are integrally related.

The semantic problem is chiefly a terminological one, having to do with the meaning Frye gives his various categories. Certainly a large part of his effort has been directed toward naming the objects of the literary world. “We find ourselves,” he says, “in the cultural situation of savages who have words for ash and willow and no word for tree” (AC, 13). Or again: “The very word ‘genre’ sticks out in an English sentence as the unpronounceable and alien thing it is. Most critical efforts to handle such generic terms as ‘epic’ and ‘novel’ are chiefly interesting as examples of the psychology of rumor” (AC, 13). But the value of a new and expanded vocabulary for criticism would seem to rest on the precision of meaning which can be given its terms. This is not an expectation Frye always fulfills. Many of his terms lack precision because of their tremendous breadth of reference. Many of them are loosely defined.

{206} Consider, for example, his use of the word “myth,” a word which, it should be apparent by this point, has a myriad of meanings. T his in itself need not cause concern. As Richard McKeon demonstrated, some of the best philosophers of art employ a method in which their terms undergo an almost indefinite series of gradations in meaning. Although some philosophers tend to use words univocally and take things to be variable, others see words themselves as variable in meaning and see things to be constant. McKeon cites Aristotle and Plato as classic exemplars of these differing methods, which he calls respectively the literal and the analogical forms of discourse.37 But if one follows the analogical tradition and uses words equivocally, as Frye does, the meaning of a given term should be clear at any one point in his criticism, regardless of the meaning it might have at another point. Let us see if this is the case with regard to Frye’s use of the word “myth.”

In the Anatomy “myth” is used in three principal ways. In the First Essay it means a particular kind of story, a narrative in which some of the characters are gods whose actions have not been adjusted to the canons of plausibility or realism. In the Second Essay it refers to a verbal form of ritual and dream; it is the means for uniting and communicating those desires and aversions which exist either outside or below the level of articulation. Myth, Frye says in one of his more enigmatic statements, “gives meaning to ritual and narrative to dream: it is the identification of ritual and dream, in which the former is seen to be the latter in movement” (AC, 107). Much depends here on what Frye means by dream, ritual, and identity; in chapter 3 I attempted to specify what he means. However successful this attempt was, it should be clear at least that the word has a meaning different from that in the First Essay. There it means a kind of story, and the framework of its meaning is Frye’s theory of the historical sequence of modes; but in the Second Essay it means a form of communication, and the framework of its meaning is his theory of symbolic phases, especially the last phase of this theory (see AC, 116-18). That there are two separate meanings need cause no problem, so long as we are conscious of the fact; Frye himself is careful to point out the different usages (AC, 106).

But in the Third Essay, which Frye calls his Theory of Myths, the word has still another meaning: the abstract or stylized aspect of art. This meaning is related to that of the First Essay, insofar as abstract design is most easily seen at the furthest remove from realism, namely, in stories about gods. But in the Third Essay “myth” is a much more inclusive term, for abstract structural design is to be found, according to Frye, in both dianoia, imagery, or theme, on the one hand, and in mythos or narrative, on the other. Myth, in other words, is a structural principle of literature in the widest possible sense.

{207} This is where the real difficulty comes. Myth can mean mythos, and mythos itself has a variety of meanings. It can refer to a type of archetypal story (comic, romantic, tragic, ironic), or it can refer even more generally to narrative per se. Furthermore, when mythos is considered simply as the narrative of a work of literature, we are asked to keep straight five separate definitions of mythos, depending on the level of criticism we are engaged in: mythos as the grammar or order of words (at the literal level), as plot or “argument” (at the descriptive level), as imitation of generic and recurrent action or ritual (at the archetypal level), and as the total conceivable action (at the anagogic level). If even the most attentive of Frye’s readers is able always to keep these distinctions clearly in mind, how will he respond to a statement like the following? “In literary criticism myth means ultimately mythos, a structural organizing principle of literary form” (AC, 341). At first glance this might seem a reasonable way for Frye to sum up his view of myth (it comes in the Conclusion), since it throws the emphasis on form rather than content; however, when we begin to substitute his definitions of myth and mythos into the statement, some strange combinations result. Such a substitution would yield—to take one example—this curious result: A story about a god (myth, sense number one) means ultimately grammar (mythos as narrative at the literal level). Or again: The identification of ritual and dream (myth, sense number two) means ultimately the imitation of ritual (mythos as narrative at the archetypal level). This is the kind of confusion that can result if we apply literally what Frye says. Usually, of course, the context comes to our aid. But the serious question remains whether or not the word “myth” can function properly when used in so many ways. Certainly precision of meaning tends to dissipate in the proliferation of definitions he sets forth, and we have not even considered the additional meanings which accumulate around it, like myth as a particular dramatic kind, discussed in the Fourth Essay;38 or myth as a synonym for attitude, belief, and ideology—the kind of usage we find in an expression like “myth of concern.”

There are two problems then with saying “myth means ultimately mythos.” First, the statement tends to obliterate the distinction between them, a distinction Frye has exerted no little effort to establish. Second, the statement can mean so many different things that its value as a definition is lost. Frye remarks in the Tentative Conclusion that the term myth obviously does have “different meanings in different subjects,” but, he suggests, in literary criticism it should have one meaning (AC, 341). It is not clear, however, that he establishes finally what this one definition is. Too often his use of the word “myth” relies on innuendo, vague association, and multiple reference.

A similar kind of confusion sometimes surrounds Frye’s use of the {208} word “archetype.” In his Glossary to the Anatomy it is defined as “a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one’s literary experience as a whole” (AC, 365). Elsewhere he remarks that “the symbol in [the mythical] phase is the communicable unit, to which I give the name archetype: that is, a typical or recurring image. I mean by an archetype a symbol which connects one poem with another and thereby helps to unify and integrate our literary experience” (AC, 99). Does this broad definition, however, do justice to the special and value-laden import which Frye really wants his term to carry? “If archetypes do connect one poem with another,” says John Holloway, “it’s not a mere connection, it’s a connection of some especially deep and significant kind.”39 Despite Frye’s disclaimers about value judgments, one has the feeling that he would want to separate archetypes from the thousands of other things, many of which would be trifling, which connect one poem with another. But Frye’s definition does not permit this distinction. It is a definition which continues to expand outward. Archetype is a term, once again, possessing multiple reference: “By an archetype I mean,” he says in an essay on Blake, “an element in a work of literature, whether a character, an image, a narrative formula, or an idea, which can be assimilated to a larger unifying category.”40 But if an archetype can be a narrative formula, what are we to make of Frye’s statement that the tradition of Ulysses “is an archetype in the only sense in which the literary critic needs the term: a theme which carries centuries of literary development with it, and yet in each age is as fresh as ever, and as infinitely suggestive of new modes of treatment”?41 

And what sense are we to make of the following statement? “If archetypes are communicable symbols, and there is a center of archetypes, we should expect to find, at that center, a group of universal symbols. . . . I mean that some symbols are images of things common to all men, and therefore have a communicable power which is potentially unlimited. Such symbols include those of food and drink, of the quest or journey, of light and darkness, and of sexual fulfillment” (AC, 118). Surely this definition embraces too much. As John Holloway says, “There are hundreds of things (like toenails, sweat-glands, sensations of discomfort from very bright lights) which are common to all men. Most of them clearly have nothing whatever to do with central archetypes or universal symbols.”42 Now obviously Frye does not conceive of such things as archetypes, but his definition is not precise enough to exclude them. Even his observation that all men understand what food and drink are hardly defines and clearly does not delimit the nature of an archetype. “Noises, noses, and excretion,” remarks Robert M. Adams, “are universal too.”43 

{209} These are the kinds of semantic problems we find throughout Frye’s work. In many cases he is simply not clear about the meaning of the terms he takes to be centrally important. It is not difficult to say what he means generally by most of his terms, but it is often exceedingly difficult to say what he means specifically. The acceptance of his claim, for example, that the anagogic level of both literature and criticism does in fact exist is contingent on his defining what anagogy means. But in attempting to do so, he cannot point to any kind of evidence in the nature of things which will make anagogy a universally meaningful concept. What he does do, as I have attempted to show, is to rely on a visionary language derived from the most intense moments of poetic insight. To be sure, Frye conceives of the imaginative world as a projection of man’s desire, which is something rooted in the ordinary world. But the literal-minded critic is apt to respond that such expressions as the “human form divine” are meaningful only to those initiates who are already on Frye’s wavelength, those who can identify with his ideal, apocalyptic reality.

This is to say that the issues of meaning and doctrine are closely aligned. When Walter Sutton protests that Frye’s discussion of the symbol as monad merges into meaningless nonsense, he appears to be objecting not merely to the fuzzy definition of the doctrine but also to the doctrine itself.44 For him the problem of meaning, however shored up by quotations from Blake and Hooker, is likely to remain a problem simply because he cannot assent to the doctrine. His position is like that of Thomas Vance, who suggests that Frye’s “more imaginative flights are to be taken with a sprinkling of salt.”45 Or take this comment by Robert M. Adams:

What does it mean to say that “Nature is now inside the mind of an infinite man who builds his cities out of the Milky Way” [AC, 119]? As an explanation of literature, this . . . seems to demand some pretty elaborate explanations of its own. I do not, by any means, think it wrong to believe in “the whole of nature as the content of an infinite and eternal living body which, if not human, is closer to being human than to being inanimate” [AC, 119]; 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.46 

Adams is saying three things: (1) he doesn’t know what Frye’s doctrine of anagogy means (a semantic issue); (2) he wouldn’t believe it if he did know (a metaphysical issue); and (3) even if he did believe it, it’s {210} irrelevant to criticism (a methodological issue). Oppositions such as these we will simply have to let crash head-on, because they spring from a set of interests and assumptions different from Frye’s. Some of Frye’s doctrines, however, are much more susceptible to analysis than an idea like anagogy, and yet they are no less problematic. His controversial pronouncements on value judgments constitute one such doctrine.

For critics to remark how confused Frye is about literary evaluation has become almost a conditioned response.47 Some have responded indignantly. John Fraser, in an article devoted ostensibly to Frye’s position on value judgments, concludes that he “is probably doing more to bring discredit upon literary studies than anyone else now writing.”48 Most of Fraser’s article fails to deal with what Frye has said, and thus he can slide easily into ad hominem diatribe by ignoring the issues. This is not to suggest that Frye has a corner on truth. But it is to suggest that Frye will not be refuted by a dogmatist who is content to twist the terms of Frye’s discourse to fit his own preconceptions, proceeding thereby to dismiss the former’s claims as stupid or irrelevant. The problematic nature of Frye’s ideas about value judgments is more fruitfully discussed if he is met on his own terms. I shall make such an attempt by looking at one aspect of his doctrine, namely, what he says about “positive evaluations,” discussed in chapter 6. My critique will suggest that there are alternative views to Frye’s position.49 

One possible alternative would be to argue that a study of formal intentions need not rely on matters of taste. What I have in mind is the kind of formal study recommended by R.S. Crane. Crane defines form by way of an analogy between the “synthesizing idea” which underlies the writing of his own essays and the essential cause of poetic structure. What actually directs him in composing an essay, he says, is a shaping cause involving the simultaneous correlation of his subject, his mode of argument or rhetoric, and his purpose. Similarly, he argues, “In the artist’s intuition of a form capable of directing whatever he does with his materials in a particular work—is an essential cause of poetic structure, the most decisive, indeed, of all the causes of structure in poetry because it controls in an immediate way the act of construction itself. Without it no poetic whole; with it, a poetic whole of a certain kind and emotional quality.”50 Crane argues that if form in this sense is a necessary first principle for writers, it should be a useful principle in the analysis of their works. The mode of reasoning he recommends is a literal, a posteriori kind. And his starting point for analyzing poetic structure is always an individual poem, never poetry in general. We should begin, he urges, with our experience of the poem. Since the poetic effect corresponds to the formal principle of the whole—that intuition which enabled the writer to synthesize his materials—the critic {211} begins with this effect as his hypothesis about the form of the whole and reasons backward to the causes that produced it.

Crane is aware that one can never escape from using general concepts in explaining the causes of poetic forms. But he is convinced that these concepts can be arrived at inductively. Questions about the relationship between the material and formal nature of a poem are, he says, questions of fact, the answers to which “must depend on inquiries of an a posteriori type which move inductively (in Aristotle’s sense of induction) from the particulars to the universals they embody and from ends or forms thus defined, by hypothetical necessity to the essential conditions of their realization in poetic matter.”51 It is apparent that this process of critical reasoning moves back and forth between the particular and the universal, between the achieved formal nature of a poem and the material nature necessary to achieve the form, or between the final cause and the efficient, formal, and material causes. Crane puts it another way by saying that a critic’s hypotheses “both imply and are implied by the observable traits of a work.”52 And he claims that, except analytically, there can be no separation between a hypothesis and its application, “the latter being possible only if the former already exists at least up to a certain point and the former being constantly refined as we proceed with the latter.”53 

Crane sees the process of critical reasoning, applied to mimetic works, as follows: The particulars of a work, things like a series of moral actions, lead us to an assumption about the universal or generic principle which the particulars must embody—say, a tragic or comic form. These universals are hypothetical, specific powers which in our experience of a work are apprehended through the way a writer shapes our expectations and desires. On the other hand, the uniqueness of a given poem’s form, as compared to its generic quality, derives from the synthesizing principle, or from what Aristotle calls dynamis. Crane, like Aristotle, is most interested in discovering the synthesizing principles of various poetic species.

Now this kind of procedure would seem to offer a reasonably sound basis for making judgments about the “goodness” of a poem (or what Frye calls “positive evaluation”), provided we have done a careful analysis. In other words, we should be able to determine whether or not a given work has fulfilled the necessities demanded by its “intention,” using this word in Crane’s sense of final cause. Crane, in fact, says that “a kind of judgment of value will . . . emerge in the very process of our analysis: if a writer has indeed done, somehow, all the essential things he would need to do on the assumption that he is actually writing the kind of work we have defined [in our description of the work’s form], then to that extent the work is good or at least not {212} artistically bad.”54 This, we might say, is the criterion of the necessary. A second standard is the criterion of the possible. Here the question becomes, in Crane’s words, “What is it that the writer might have done, over and above the minimum requirements of his task, which he has not done, or what is it we have not expected him to do which he has yet triumphantly accomplished?”55 Answers to these questions will, of course, depend on relative rather than absolute criteria, since they would be different for each literary work. And such criteria would not be infallible, since human reason can err. But they need not depend on matters of social, moral, or political taste.

How might Frye respond to this proposal? His method, of course, is ill-equipped to handle the kind of formal analysis Crane recommends. Moreover, he is not really interested in looking at specific literary works in this way. He would probably reject all talk of intention and affective response, saying that one is external to the critic’s true function and that the other has to do with direct experience rather than knowledge. In fact, the absolute disjunction between knowledge and taste Frye makes in the Polemical Introduction would seem to rule out the kind of judgment I am suggesting: he does clearly equate positive evaluations—those that treat the goodness of a poem—with taste, and taste is always suspect. But perhaps Frye’s disjunction is too absolute, since there does seem to be at least one method which can give us knowledge about how well literary works are made.56 

A second alternative might begin by asking what kind of reasons can be given for the adequacy of evaluative criteria. Frye rejects all such reasons out of hand, seeing them as rationalizations for subjective preferences. To escape from this relativism we could maintain that some reasons, although neither necessary nor sufficient properties for literary greatness, are valid justifications for the criteria used in making value judgments. This is the position Morris Weitz takes in his book on Hamlet criticism.

Weitz argues that “some evaluative utterances can be supported by good reasons,” that is, by criteria or principles which cannot be sensibly questioned. “If this contention is correct,” he says, “it refutes two opposing views: The traditional one, shared by evaluative critics of Shakespeare and many philosophers, that all critical evaluative utterances can be supported by reasons which can be defended by further reasons about necessary or sufficient properties of dramatic greatness; as well as the contemporary view that no critical evaluative utterance can be supported by good reasons.”57 Weitz believes that these opposing views misconstrue the nature of evaluative statements by equating them with descriptive utterances. In other words, both views have assumed that value judgments describe how a given work meets a criterion which has {213} been posited as the major premise of a deductive argument. If one claims, for example, that The Sound and the Fury is a great novel because it possesses a given property, then evaluation, according to Weitz, is essentially a procedure for showing how the novel possesses that property. But Weitz contends that to consider the conclusions of such evaluative arguments as either true or false statements drawn from either true or false premises is to misconceive the nature of critical evaluation

“Hamlet is great” and “Hamlet is great because it has P” are not true (or false) statements. Dramatic greatness is not a property because if it were[,] praising (or condemning) Hamlet would be describing Hamlet. How, then, can the perennial critical disagreement about whether Hamlet is great be resolved by a true answer? It cannot. There is nothing in this disagreement—no self-evident intuition, metaphysical essence, or empirical property—about which an answer could be true (or false).58 

Instead of being a statement of fact, “Hamlet is a great drama because it has P” is rather an “expression of praise that is joined by a reason in support of the praise.” And Weitz believes that such reasons can be made more or less satisfactory. Several tests for their adequacy he suggests are clarity, concrete application, consistency, unchallengeability. I n sum, Weitz believes that good reasons for evaluative criteria can be given, once the truth or falsity of evaluative statements is rejected.

How might this position be an important corrective to Frye’s idea of positive evaluations? He gives a number of examples of evaluative criteria based on critical taste. But following Weitz’s view, we could consider these criteria not as statements about the necessary or sufficient properties of greatness but rather as reasons for expressions of praise. Whether we could convince Frye of our reasons is open to question. But at least we would not get caught up in the dilemma of empirically proving premises about greatness, because we would not have reduced, as Frye implicitly does, all statements to the same level. Statements of praise, he says, are either infallible or else they are meaningless. This seems to be too simple a disjunction and too easy an escape from questions which many critics feel are worth asking. It is too simple a disjunction because it does not account for the wide variety of reasons which can be given for how well a poem is made. It is too easy an escape because it equates all reasons for poetic greatness with subjective taste.

This is not intended to be a refutation of Frye’s position. I have not even confronted some of the central claims about knowledge and value which he makes and which were documented in chapter 5. My {214} aim has been simply to suggest that some aspects of Frye’s thought—I have called this one doctrinal—are limited. The limitations pertain both to his assumptions and to the conclusions he draws from them. His doctrine of “positive evaluation” is problematic since reasonable alternative solutions can be proposed.59 

Frye’s method of argument constitutes a third problematic area. Sometimes his arguments progress by what can only be taken as arbitrary assertion. Since we have considered his book on Milton, let us turn to it for several examples. We recall that in the first chapter of that book Frye divides Paradise Lost into a sequence of twelve sections, the first four of which represent the four main events in Raphael’s speech and the last four, the main events in Michael’s (RE, 18–19). Now some readers of Milton would be concerned to know whether he actually used, intentionally or not, this twelvefold symmetrical pattern. In his first reference to the duodecimal schema, Frye says, in anticipation of some readers’ objections, “we shall try to suggest in a moment that the association of Milton’s epic with this sacred and zodiacal number may be less arbitrary than it looks” (RE, 13). But when he gets to the point of showing that it is less than arbitrary, his argument depends more on assertion than on demonstration. The skeptical reader will require more evidence than Frye provides. Consider this statement: “Some of the [twelve] divisions take up several books and others only a few lines, but that is of no importance. Most of the shorter ones are from the Bible, and Milton expected his reader to be able to give them their due importance” (RE, 18). But if Milton did depend upon the symmetrical model to the degree Frye suggests, it is certainly not clear why it is “of no importance” that he devotes several books to some phases and only several lines to others. How are we to know that what Milton presents in a few lines is structurally as important as what he presents in several books? Frye says that Milton expects us to see the importance. If so, it seems that this expectation would appear somewhere, either internally or externally. Some Miltonists think that it appears nowhere, that Paradise Lost simply does not possess the kind of formal symmetry Frye attributes to it.60 Frye assumes that poetic thinking is by definition schematic. But this assumption, coupled with the fact that epics have traditionally been divided into twelve parts, provides little reason for Frye’s own outline. To be convincing, he needs more particular evidence than he provides.

Part of his argument for the symmetrical design depends on our seeing the events of Raphael’s speech as corresponding in reverse order to those of Michael’s. This is by no means a clinching argument, {215} but it would appear to be a more than accidental kind of correspondence. A close inspection of Frye’s twelve phases (RE, 20–21), however, will show that they are not in reverse order after all. For Milton’s plan to be symmetrical, phase 8 should parallel phase 3 rather than phase 4, and 9 should parallel 4 rather than 3 (see p. 163 above). Frye qualifies this by saying that the two groups are “roughly” in reverse order. But if half of the events do not fit the pattern, they cannot be in reverse order, roughly or otherwise. It is this kind of argument which leads us to suspect that Frye’s symmetrical scheme is his own creation, imposed upon rather than derived from Paradise Lost. The pattern, to be sure, is ingeniously constructed, and no one, after having read Frye’s book, is likely to read Milton again without this pattern influencing the way he sees the poem. Undoubtedly it can provide insights. But Frye does not demonstrate that Milton intended such a pattern, which is a crucial point in interpretation. We must conclude, then, that if the principles of criticism do, as Frye claims, shape themselves out of the literature we read, this example is not an adequate demonstration of the claim.

If the method of Frye’s argument proceeds sometimes by assertion, at other times it progresses by analogy. In fact, there is no single methodological principle so important in Frye’s work as analogical association. We have already seen dozens of instances of the method at work. The method itself is a logical consequence of one of Frye’s chief aims, the relating of literature to other literature. The discovery of similarities permeates everything he has written simply because, we might say, of the way his mind operates. It is a precritical aspect of his method.

Richard McKeon draws a useful distinction between literal and analogical methods. Philosophical critics like Aristotle, Bacon, and Horace, while basing their views of art on different philosophic principles, nevertheless agree methodologically, according to McKeon, since they are concerned to discover the peculiar causes of art viewed as a human product. Plato, Kant, and Tolstoy, on the other hand, agree methodologically insofar as they seek their principles in something which conditions all things (Plato), or all imaginations (Kant), or all actions (Tolstoy). They aim not to isolate poetry in its essential nature but to analogize it to something else.61 Despite some obvious differences between Frye and this latter group of critics, we can include him in their company on two counts. He is concerned ultimately with the imagination, something outside the specifically human product of art. He is not concerned with a causal analysis which defines the unique qualities and character of individual works of art. In these respects he is an analogical, rather than a literal, critic.

The analogical method manifests itself in Frye’s system in two chief {216} ways. One, he analogizes literature to other literature by way of myth and archetype, convention and genre. Two, the categories he uses to do this are frequently themselves derived by analogy. As a method of criticism, analogy itself is “immune to theoretical questioning,” to use Crane’s phrase’ again. We cannot fault Plato for not having used a literal method, nor Aristotle for not having used an analogical one. But the application of the method is not immune to such questioning. We can require of a critic that his method be sound, sensible, tactfully applied, consistent with commonsense apprehension, and the like. And it is in this respect that Frye’s analogizing does not always measure up to what we can rightfully require of critical theory. Let us take three examples to illustrate how the method can sometimes issue in arbitrary and facile principles.

In the Second Essay Frye devotes a number of pages to expounding what the meaning (or dianoia) and the narrative (or mythos) are for each of his phases of symbolism. T hese broad concepts shape his discussion at a number of points, but the way he uses them here is to analogize them to a dialectical pair of opposites for each symbolic level. At the literal level, for example, he understands mythos to be the rhythm or movement of words and dianoia to be the structural unity formed by a pattern of words. At the descriptive level mythos is the imitation of real events and dianoia the imitation of objects or propositions—and so on, through each of the five phases. In each case there is a broad analogy established, on the one hand, between mythos and some aspect of time, movement, or recurrence, and on the other hand, between dianoia and some aspect of space, stasis, or simultaneity.

A close look at these analogies will reveal the kinds of problems they create. In the fourth phase Frye’s dialectical opposites are recurrence and desire, and ritual and myth. The question is, how do these terms derive from mythos and dianoia. Here is the passage where the analogical leap takes place: “The narrative aspect of literature is a recurrent act of symbolic communication: in other words a ritual. . . . [And] the significant content is the conflict of desire and reality which has for its passage the work of the dream. Ritual and dream, therefore, are the narrative [mythos] and significant content [dianoia] respectively of literature in its archetypal aspect,” that is, in the fourth phase of symbolism (AC, 104–5). What lies behind the “therefore” in this last sentence? That ritual is the mythos of the archetypal phase follows only because Frye defines ritual as a recurrent act of symbolic communication. That is, the analogy between narrative and ritual—or what they have in common—is the quality of recurrence. In a vague way, this quality is present in Frye’s initial definition of narrative (in the literal phase) as rhythm, the recurring movement of words. Now it is clear {217} that Frye wants to maintain “recurrence” as a principle of narrative throughout his analysis of each of the phases. But it disappears altogether in his discussion of the formal phase, where the typical event and the typical precept are his dialectical opposites. Thus, to keep his categories consistent, he must find a way of introducing it into the formal phase, for then he can make an easy transition to the category of ritual. And he does this simply by asserting that in “the exemplary event there is an element of recurrence” (AC, 104). Similarly, he moves from the precept of the formal phase to the dream of the mythical phase, simply by asserting that there is a strong element of desire associated with precept.62 

Stating these relations in a simpler form, we get the following kinds of argument. Recurrence is related to event; the typical event is the mythos of formal criticism. Recurrence is related to ritual; ritual is the mythos of archetypal criticism. Or to take the second series of analogies: Desire is related to precept; the typical precept is the dianoia of formal criticism. Desire is related to dream; dream is the dianoia of archetypal criticism.

Now in all of this the analogies are tenuous and somewhat arbitrary. It is perhaps true that there is an element of recurrence in the exemplary event, insofar as we desire it to be repeated again and again. But there are many aspects of a typical event which are not exemplary; it appears, then, that Frye arbitrarily arrives at recurrence as the principle for defining the mythos of the formal phase. Or take the second example, where the middle term is desire. In what way is desire related to precept? It is related only by associating precept with dream and by then associating dream with desire. But there are countless other aspects of desire and countless other mediating categories which one could select as a middle term. What if we wanted to argue, for example, that the dianoia of the mythical phase is a moral imperative of some sort? Within Frye’s analogical framework the solution would be simply to assert that in the precept there is a strong element of the commandment or the law; and that the archetypal content in this phase is therefore always morally significant. Or what if Frye were a Freudian? It would be easy for him to assert that poetic content always contains a latent expression of sexual desire or aversion and that archetypal dianoia is therefore always sexually significant.

John Holloway remarks that the word “recurrence” functions like a grappling hook. “With it,” he says, “Mr Frye straightway hooks the ‘cyclical process’ of nature: sun and moon and all. Then he flips his hook deftly back again, and catches art as ritual. It’s brilliant in a way, and exciting, but—laying the foundations for criticism as a science? It’s got nothing to do with that.”63 This is precisely the point. Frye’s method {218} of analogy shows only the possible, rather than the necessary, relations among things. His categories in this case are not a logical inference from his principles but a consequence of what he has already determined to find, things like dream and ritual. While the complex relations he establishes are creative and ingenious, the literal-minded critic will see them as too facile, for what Frye does is first to decide a priori what his categories for the third and fourth phases are going to be, and then to search for a middle term which will relate them to his principles of mythos and dianoia. This means, of course, that the content of words like “narrative” and “meaning” constantly changes, which is one of the reasons it is so difficult sometimes to follow the intricacies of Frye’s arguments. The difficulty can be traced back to the kind of freewheeling analogical process just outlined.

Because the method of analogy does not sharply differentiate among things, it also leads to problems when Frye actually begins to classify literary works. The categorizing of the First Essay has been criticized on the grounds that it tells us very little about individual poetic species and provides no easy way for preventing (say) a given novel from falling into a number of different categories.64 Since the orientation of the First Essay is “ethical” rather than “specific,” this criticism is largely irrelevant to Frye’s purpose: he is classifying character types and relationships, not novels. But the critique does point up a difficulty regarding the descriptive value of the categories, for it is true that tragic fictional characters can—and in Frye’s treatment do— find their way into more than one mode. Hardy’s Tess, for example, is seen by Frye both as a pharmakos of tragic irony and as a heroine of low-mimetic tragedy (AC, 38, 41). T ess can serve two roles, of course, because she is similar in some respects to one kind of mode and similar in some respects to another. The problem here is not so much that a given hero cannot be characterized by attributes belonging to two different modes. The problem relates rather to Frye’s method of definition, which relies heavily on specific examples. If the example of Tess is used to help define a given mode, the fact that she is an “ethical” type for two of the modes does less than adequate service as a means for differentiating them. It is a difficulty which can be traced back to Frye’s penchant for locating similarities.

A final example of the arbitrariness which can result from this method comes from that section of the Fourth Essay which treats the thematic forms of the lyric. I have provided a fairly complete account of this section already, along with a diagram of the chief lyric forms or conventions Frye is able to locate; and my critique of this section is implicit in what I have already said, especially in the analysis of the method he uses to arrive at the cycle of forms. {219} In this sequence a Hopkins-type lyric is followed by the public religious lyric, the thing they have in common being their religious content. This latter form is related to the hymn, which, because it is a lyric of praise, is related in turn to the panegyric. Panegyrics, subsequently, are related to poems of community, like patriotic verse, because they both invite the reader to gaze at “something else”—and so on around the cycle, through about two dozen different forms. This kind of schema clearly rests on analogy, but it is somewhat arbitrary since the basis of similarity changes with each succeeding form. If a bioligist classifying forms of animal life were to follow the same procedure, he would be able to rationalize a schema like the following: Men are related to birds because they both have eyes; birds are related to bats because they both fly; bats are similar to giraffes because they are both warm-blooded; and so on.65This is perhaps too much of a caricature of Frye’s method, but it does illustrate how, with only a little ingenuity, one can establish two cardinal points and locate any number of forms between them on the basis of analogies. The only rule to be followed is that the basis of comparison can never remain constant.

The point is that Frye’s sequence of lyric forms represents no necessary schema of classification. To be sure, it follows in a general way from his cyclical model and his selection of four cardinal points. It is likewise dependent on his innocence-experience and his melos-opsis dichotomies and on his fourfold division of the pregeneric literary elements. But if one were to start with four different cardinal points he would arrive at an altogether different sequence. And even if he were to start with the same points, there are no principles which would guarantee his arriving at the same sequence of conventions as Frye. This is not to deny that Frye’s categories can be usefully applied to illuminate the lyric. It is rather to suggest that his particular lyric conventions are not necessary inferences from his principles. In this case there is a certain arbitrariness in the method of analogy which works against the rational and systematic theory he wants to establish.

My discussion has been focusing on several aspects of Frye’s thought which are problematic. He himself has always insisted on critics being coherent and consistent; and the study of the humanities in general, he says, requires “accuracy of statement, objectivity and dispassionate weighing of evidence, including the weighing of negative evidence” (SS, 42). If Frye does not always completely satisfy these demands, neither does any other critic who has dared to ask so main large questions about so much. But while Frye’s criticism does raise legitimate problems, pointing them out and suggesting alternative solutions does not constitute a refutation of his views. Genuine critical theories cannot be refilled anyway, in the sense of bring proven wrong. {220} They may be dismissed, ignored, questioned, and rejected, but not refuted. Aristotle does not prove Plato wrong; nor Kant, Aristotle— though the critic can, I think, provide good reasons for preferring one system over another.

Instrumental and Final Values in Frye’s Criticism

The spirit in which Frye’s work should be assessed is suggested in his own “Letter to the English Institute,” written on the occasion of the conference devoted to his work.

I should want the discussion, in particular, to be as uninhibited as possible. . . . I have no itch to demonstrate that my views are “right” and that those who disagree with me are “wrong.” . . . Nor do I wish to correct others for “misunderstanding my position”: I dislike and distrust what is generally implied by the word “position.” Language is the dwelling-house of being, according to Heidegger, but no writer who is not completely paranoid wants his house to be either a fortress or a prison.66 

This is more than a politeness demanded by the occasion, for in the house that Frye has built there is indeed room for all manner of critical views. I have spoken of his reconciliatory aim, an aim which assumes that critical systems are judged neither right nor wrong but complementary. They interpenetrate, to use a spatial metaphor from the letter just quoted. “Literature itself is not a field of conflicting arguments,” he says, “but of interpenetrating visions. I suspect that this is true even of philosophy, where the place of argument seems more functional. The irrefutable philosopher is not the one who cannot be refuted, but the one who is still there after he has been refuted.”67 

What Frye says here about literature and philosophy can be applied to criticism as well. His own work “is still there” after all the objections have been raised. The farther back from the whole of his work we stand, the less important these objections tend to become. Standing back also reveals the continuous vision that informs everything that Frye has written. “The decline in the admiration for continuity,” he remarks, “is one of the most striking differences between the Romantic and the modern feeling” (MC, 65), and in one of the few places where he reflects on the sources and development of his intellectual life, he says that “the sense of continuity in memory” was necessary for the growth of his own creative and critical work. Like his preceptor Blake, Frye observes, he unconsciously arranged his life to be without incident, adding that “no biographer could possibly take the smallest interest in me” (SM, 16). While some future biographer might look {221} upon Frye’s life differently, no one can dispute the sense of continuity that pervades his work. It is especially apparent in what he has written since Fearful Symmetry. But even in his earliest essays, which were on music, opera, ballet, and film, we discover the roots of many ideas which were to be developed in the Anatomy and in the fifteen books which followed.

In his first published essay Frye refers to the opposition between realism and convention, the two poles which were to figure importantly in many of his later mental diagrams. He speaks here also of the mythological framework of Wagner, thus using the word which points toward what was to become a central interest.68 In his second published work we discover in a discussion of music—the structural principles of which were to provide some of Frye’s chief metaphors for explaining literary structure—an analysis of melody and harmony, rhythm and pattern. Tucked away here unobtrusively, then, are the two principles which, translated into mythos and dianoia almost twenty years later, were to stand as the backbone of the Anatomy.69 Frye’s first piece of literary criticism was a defense of Spengler against the attacks of Wyndham Lewis.70 The formative influence of Spengler on Frye’s thought began early, and, as if imitating the rhythm of Spengler’s vision itself, he has returned to The Decline of the West at least once each decade since the publication of this defense. Many such evidences of continuity are apparent when we look at Frye’s work as a whole, placing the essays of the 1930s and 40s alongside his most recent work and considering the issues and themes which have occupied him over the years.

The continuous vision gives Frye’s work a continuous form, stretching before us like those encyclopaedic works which have captured his own imagination. In A Map of Misreading Harold Bloom remarks that Frye’s myths of freedom and concern are a Low Church version of Eliot’s Anglo-Catholic myth of tradition and the individual talent, but that such an understanding of the relation of the individual to tradition is a fiction. Bloom says:

This fiction is a noble idealization, and as a lie against time will go the way of every noble idealization. Such positive thinking served many purposes in the sixties, when continuities, of any kind, badly required to be summoned, even if they did not come to our call. Wherever we are bound, our dialectical development now seems invested in the interplay of repetition and discontinuity, and needs a very different sense of what our stance is in regard to literary tradition.71 

This remark contains more than a hint of the anxiety of influence. But regardless of whether one agrees with Bloom’s projection about what {222} our development “seems” to involve, it is mistaken to suggest that Frye has failed to observe the “interplay between repetition and discontinuity.” In words that could stand as a motto for theories of misprision, he says that “the recreating of the literary tradition often has to proceed . . . through a process of absorption followed by misunderstanding.”72 Even if Frye’s ultimate allegiances are to a continuous intellectual and imaginative universe, to order rather than chaos, to romance rather than irony, he cannot be accused of having turned his back upon the discontinuities in either literature or life. We should not let Bloom’s remark deceive us into thinking that in the 1960s Frye began suddenly to summon continuities as a bulwark against the changing social order. The central principles in Frye’s critical universe have remained constant over the years. Reflecting on his own work since the mid-fifties, he says that it

has assumed the shape of what Professor Jerome Bruner would call a spiral curriculum, circling around the same issues, though trying to keep them open-ended. . . . Emerson, as we know, deprecated what he called a foolish consistency, but there is always one form of consistency which is not foolish, and that is continuity. With some people continuity takes a revolutionary and metaphoric direction: a philosopher may repudiate everything he has written up to a certain time and start afresh. Even so, I doubt if he can start afresh until he discovers the real point of contact with his earlier work. With me, continuity has taken a more gradual direction, not because I insist that everything I have said earlier, in Anatomy of Criticism or elsewhere, must be “right,” but because the principles I have already formulated are still working as heuristic assumptions, and they are the only ones available to me. (SM, 100–101)

The gradual direction of Frye’s continuity can best be observed if we distance ourselves from the local complaint and the particular debatable issue.73 From this perspective we can turn back to the precritical issue raised at the beginning of this chapter, which has to do with Frye’s conception of criticism as a whole. My final assessment is made from this perspective. It rests upon three particular claims. First, Frye’s work is of practical value, a system of terms and doctrines and a method which can be used to answer one kind of critical question. Second, his criticism is a creative and aesthetic achievement in itself: it has final as well as instrumental value. And third, his writings taken together form what might be called a metacriticism, reaching far beyond literature itself in an effort to account for and defend all the products of human culture. In this respect Frye provides a {223} meaningful apology for the humanities and a way of doing criticism on a grand scale.

Practical Value To say that Frye’s criticism is practically valuable is to say that the theory can be applied to good advantage in interpreting literature. But we must recognize what his system can and cannot do. It is clearly of limited value in helping to determine all the formal relations which combine to produce particular literary works. He offers guidance in rhetorical analysis only at the median level of generality. In discussing a comic work, for example, the total form of comic action is more important for him than whether or not a given work manifests every phase of the total form. Thus his concern is not to determine what makes an individual comedy a special kind of poetic whole but to see how it relates both to other comedies and to an ideal comic form. He characteristically moves away from, rather than into, the literary work, and thus he emphasizes the thematic, narrative, and archetypal similarities among literary works rather than the explication of single texts. The question is not whether one approach is better than the other. They are simply different. And for his own kind of critical study Frye has provided a powerful set of analytical tools. T he evidence for this is not only his own work but the growing number of critics who have found his general approach, his special categories, and his method of doing criticism genuinely useful. As Meyer Abrams puts it:

The test of the validity of a theory is what it proves capable of doing when it is put to work. And each good (that is, serviceable) theory, as the history of critical theory amply demonstrates, is capable of providing insights into hitherto overlooked or neglected features and structural relations of works of art, of grouping works of art in new and interesting ways, and also of revealing new distinctions and relations between things dial (from its special point of view) are art and things that are not art.74 

Frye’s critical theory is valid on all three counts.

Those who have found Frye’s work to be the New Criticism writ large, while correctly discovering some important influences, have committed, I think, the error of misplaced emphasis.75 My own view is that Frye will be seen historically as having moved far beyond the New Critical assumptions because he is primarily interested in asking questions different from those of the New Critics. There is value in this very fact, insofar as Frye’s universalism has helped to deflect criticism from a myopic organicism to a wider view of literature. It is frequently said that the New Criticism, for all its contributions to formal analysis, {224} reduced criticism to explication or at least tended to see close analysis as the preeminent critical task. Despite a degree of caricature in this judgment, it is true, nevertheless, that Frye has helped us to see that there are other ways of talking meaningfully about literature. This is to say not only that a pluralism of critical methods should prevail but also that Frye’s work, as a healthy corrective to the New Critical emphasis, helps insure that a pluralism will prevail.

Pluralism is not the same thing as Frye’s vision of complementary critical methods. He talks too often about the archetypal approach as the one way for breaking down barriers among critics and about a syncretism of interpenetrating views for us to label him a critical pluralist. But he has attacked provincialism on many fronts and thus has helped to extend the range of critical questions that may be legitimately asked. At a time when realism and irony dominate the literary world he has reminded us that a complete “iconography of the imagination” must account for myth and romance as well, that comedy is as deserving of critical attention as tragedy. A large measure of Frye’s practical value depends finally on his opening up the critical world to questions previously slighted and to literary works frequently neglected and on his providing us with some excellent analytical tools and an extensive glossary of concepts to better accomplish one kind of critical task.

Frye’s ideas have had far-ranging consequences. An entire generation of literary critics has found his work to be useful and challenging. The practical effect of his criticism, however, extends far beyond its application to individual literary texts, having influenced the nature of the curriculum and provided models for entire educational programs in the humanities.76 Moreover, his work has helped determine the kinds of material—both literary and critical—that gets anthologized in textbooks, and his presence has even been felt by a group of Canadian writers, sometimes called the “Northrop Frye school” of poets.77 

Aesthetic Value Earlier I suggested that Frye’s criticism is an aesthetic achievement. This refers not merely to the wit and stylistic charm that grace his pages but to the fact that his oeuvre is an object for aesthetic contemplation itself. The complex conceptual structures we have looked at are as intricately designed and as resonant with allusive meaning as many literary works. George Woodcock remarks that Anatomy of Criticism is

a great and intricate edifice of theory and myth whose true purpose is its own existence; it has the same ultimate effect as buildings like the Angkor Wat or the Sainte Chapelle, which were built to exemplify religious truths and which survive, when {225} their message is forgotten or derided, as objects whose sole meaning to modern man lies in their beauty. . . . [Frye] has exemplified more effectively than Wilde himself the latter’s argument that criticism is primarily a creative process, leaving it; masterpieces to impress and move by their skill and grandeur long after their subjects have ceased to interest us.78 

Woodcock dismisses too easily the practical value which a whole generation of critics and teachers have found in Frye’s work, and he overstates his case by using such expressions as true purpose and sole meaning.79 But he is surely correct in calling attention to the creative genius in Frye, a genius we associate more closely with artistic accomplishment than with discursive judgment.

It is significant that Frye labels one of his forms of prose fiction the “anatomy.” This extroverted, intellectual, and often satiric form is born of a thematic interest, replete with catalogues and diagrams, encyclopaedic in scope and reliant on the free play of intellectual fancy; like its forerunner, the Menippean satire, it “presents us with a vision of the world in terms of a single intellectual pattern” (AC, 310). All of which seems to describe quite well Frye’s magnum opus itself, even without his title calling it to our attention. Many readers have felt that the Anatomy—with its own oracular rhythm, aphoristic manner, associational logic, with its cyclical and epicyclical designs—is, in part at least, a narrative to be unraveled or a design to be contemplated. “I should call Anatomy of Criticism,” says Frank Kermode, “a work of sixth-phase Symbolism. . . . Certainly it would be reasonable to treat this as a work of criticism that has turned into literature. . . . As literature it has, if I may be permitted to say so, great value.”80Other readers have made similar claims. Graham Hough maintains that the Anatomy is not so much a treatise providing us with usable critical tools as it is a work of literature in its own right: “Frye has written his own compendious Golden Bough. . . . It is itself poetry.” Harry Levin sees the Anatomy as a book we may set on our shelves beside Yeats’s A Vision. And Rene Wellek remarks that Frye’s work is “an elaborate fiction.”81 While each of these readers commits the fallacy of misplaced emphasis (reducing Frye’s work to something less than it is), there is nevertheless a strong aesthetic interest that radiates from all his writing.

The clearest expression of this interest is in the schematic structures Frye erects and upon which he builds his elaborate taxonomies. He says that criticism must be schematic because the nature of poetic thinking itself is schematic.82 Whether the patterns Frye observes—his five modes of fiction and five levels of symbolism, his four mythoi and twenty-four phases, and so on—actually exist in literature or whether {226} they exist in the mind of their beholder is, as we have seen, not an easy question to answer. But let us seek a tentative solution by asking another question: What is the purpose of classification anyway?

Attempts at a taxonomy of literature would seem to be pointless if the aim is merely to attach labels, but the desire to know and to name literary differences and similarities is another matter. Frye’s schematic taxonomy is in part a method for ordering recognized doctrines, the best example of which is the Second Essay. But he also sees classification as a necessary propaedeutic for inquiry. It is a method for isolating a subject of discussion so that inquiry may proceed. Moreover, there is in Frye’s taxonomies a peculiarly inventive quality which seems to spring from a rage for order that is aesthetically rather than instrumentally motivated. The words of a scientist may help us make the point. Claude Lèvi-Strauss quotes a biological taxonomist as saying:

Scientists do tolerate uncertainty and frustration, because they must. The one thing they do not and must not tolerate is disorder. The whole aim of theoretical science is to carry to the highest possible and conscious degree the perceptual reduction of chaos that began in so lowly and (in all probability) unconscious a way with the origin of life. In specific instances it can well be questioned whether the order so achieved is an objective characteristic of the phenomena or is an artifact constructed by the scientist. That question comes up time and again in animal taxonomy. . . . Nevertheless, the most basic postulate of science is that nature itself is orderly. . . . All theoretical science is ordering and, if systematics is equated with ordering, then systematics is synonymous with theoretical science. . . . Taxonomy, which is ordering par excellence, has eminent aesthetic value.83 

“Given this,” concludes Levi-Strauss, “it seems less surprising that the aesthetic sense can by itself open the way to taxonomy and even anticipate some of its results.”84 

There is a good deal of evidence that Frye’s aesthetic sense does anticipate his own results. In fact, some of his categories seem to spring directly from an urge to construct an ordered artifact. Why are there four aspects to his central unifying myth (agon, pathos, sparagmos, and anagnorisis) ? Partially, at least, because there are four mythoi by prior definition, and Frye’s sense of order demands that they be made to correspond. Why are there six phases for each mythos? Because Frye says he recognizes them (AC, 177). Or why are there four forms of prose fiction? Because Frye’s sense of order seems to require four: after defining three of the forms on the basis of the extroverted-introverted and the personal-intellectual dichotomies, he says “our next step is evidently {227} to discover a fourth form of fiction which is extroverted and intellectual’ (AC, 308). That this is Frye’s “next step” is at least partially a result of his compulsion for symmetrically ordering his categories.

In fact, sometimes Frye seems to offer literature as an explanation for his categories rather than vice versa: literary works become exemplary explanations for the schema itself. William Righter believes that Frye’s work

turns away from the traditional Anglo-Saxon commitment to interpretation. It has been an almost unchallenged presupposition of our critical thought that criticism is some sort of second-order language which comments on, explicates, or explains something quite distinct from itself: a literary work which is assumed to be an imaginative creation of the first order. Frye violates this presupposition in two important ways. First, in spite of individual insights of the greatest interest he is hardly concerned, especially in the Anatomy, with particular literary works and their interpretation. He almost reverses the process. . . . The literary work acts as the “explanation” of a symbolic scheme, making the critical work the first order language on which the example acts as a commentary. . . . Secondly, his lack of concern with particular literary works and his breadth of concern with literature as a whole have created his own intensely personal form of metacritical language, perhaps of a third order, working at a higher level of abstraction than we normally expect of critical thought.85 

Righter is correct, I think, in underlining the impression we often have that Frye’s critical order itself is an imaginative construct which needs no justification other than its own existence. Perhaps this should not be surprising, considering the fact that Frye practically equates poetry and criticism at the anagogic level. In Fearful Symmetry Blake as poet and Frye as critic tend to merge into one: it is often difficult to determine whether we have Blake’s ideas, or Blake as interpreted by Frye, or simply Frye’s ideas themselves. It is almost as if the critic has become artist, forging his own myths out of the uncreated conscience of his race.

In fact, because Frye sees criticism as creative, he has frequently emphasized the necessity of breaking down the barriers that separate the artist from the critic. He says that he learned from E.J. Pratt—his teacher and Canada’s most important English-language poet—“to become more detached from the romantic mystique that opposes creative writers to critical ones” (SM, 24). The same note is sounded on both the first and last pages of the Anatomy:

{228} The conception of the critic as a parasite or artist manque is still very popular, especially among artists. It is sometimes reinforced by a dubious analogy between the creative and the procreative functions, so that we hear about the “impotence” and “dryness” of the critic, of his hatred for genuinely creative people, and so on. The golden age of anti-critical criticism was the latter part of the nineteenth century, but some of its prejudices are still around. (AC, 3)

If I have read the last chapter of Finnegans Wake correctly, what happens there is that the dreamer, after spending the night in communion with a vast body of metaphorical identifications, wakens and goes about his business forgetting his dream, like Nebuchadnezzar, failing to use, or even to realize that he can use, the “keys to dreamland.” What he fails to do is therefore left for the reader to do, the “ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia,” as Joyce calls him, in other words the critic. Some such activity as this of reforging the broken links between creation and knowledge, art and science, myth and concept, is what I envisage for criticism. (AC, 354)

Frye does not want us to think of criticism “as somehow sub-creative, in contrast to the ‘creative’ writing of poems and novels” (SM, 105). His own work illustrates the kind of creativity Wilde describes in “The Critic as Artist.”

How are we to respond to this creative aspect of Frye’s work, to his intricate schematic designs and his rage for order, what I have labeled an aesthetic achievement? Are we to lament the fact that it obliterates the traditional distinction between the first-order language of poetry and the second-order language of criticism and thus conclude, with William Righter, that Frye’s work is a “perversity of invention,” an “eccentric episode in literary history”?86 Are we to look upon Frye with suspicion because the total form of his criticism is a source of pleasure in itself? I think not. There is no good reason why criticism cannot both instruct and delight at the same time.

This is to say that Frye’s criticism goes beyond a strict functionalism where practical and utilitarian values reign supreme. Readers like myself who find a special fascination in the creative intellectual structures Frye builds must make their appeal finally to taste and sensibility. But there is no need to apologize for the aesthetic interest or to consider Frye’s criticism less valid because of it. Meyer Abrams, though commenting on only a part of Frye’s artistry, namely, his extraordinary ability for combining dissimilars and for discovering resemblances in apparently unlike things, makes a sound assessment:

{229} When we are shown that the circumstances of Pope’s giddy and glittering Augustan belle have something in common with the ritual assault on a nature goddess, that Henry James’s most elaborate and sophisticated social novels share attributes with barbaric folk tales, and that the ritual expulsion of the pharmakos, or scapegoat, is manifested alike in Plato’s Apology, in The Mikado, and in the treatment of an umpire in a baseball game, we feel that shock of delighted surprise which is the effect and index of wit. Such criticism is animating; though only so, it should be added, when conducted with Frye’s special brio, and when it manifests a mind which, like his, is deft, resourceful, and richly stored. An intuitive perception of similars in dissimilars, Aristotle noted, is a sign of genius and cannot be learned from others. Wit-criticism, like poetic wit, is dangerous, because to fall short of the highest is to fail dismally, and to succeed, it must be managed by a Truewit and not by a Witwoud.87 

The fact that Frye is a Truewit will not provide the ultimate justification for his work. But it does provide one good reason for reading him, especially for those of us who believe that criticism need not exalt instruction at the expense of delight.

There is finally, however, more to be said of Frye’s intricate formal structure than simply that it delights: it contains a kind of truth which, although not literally corrigible in the way a philosopher such as Popper would like, is nonetheless real. The structure itself teaches us by explaining. It tells us much about the world of literature that we did not previously know and that we could not have said in any other, more literal form. To say that the formal structure itself has explanatory power is to point back to my first claim, that Frye’s criticism has instrumental value. To say that the formal structure embodies one kind of truth is to point forward to my final claim, that Frye’s critical theory is similar to metaphysics.

Metacritical Value Two of Frye’s more sensitive readers have, in fact, likened his work to metaphysics.88 The parallel has broad and ambiguous connotations, but perhaps we can explore it briefly as a final way of suggesting the nature of Frye’s achievement. It we define metaphysics as speculative (rather than empirical) inquiry, which asks questions about first principles and the nature of reality, then Frye in some respects is not unlike a metaphysician. He has his own solution to the problem of the One and the Many and to the materialist-idealist dilemma. The most crucial points of his theory depend on premises about the relation between mind and body, space and time, being and {230} becoming. He has developed his own expansive, conceptual universe in which all forms of thought, action, and passion are assigned their appropriate places. In fact, there is a parallel between Frye’s work and what Richard McKeon calls the “transcendental” form of metaphysics. This form of metaphysics, says McKeon,

seeks being and intelligibility in a reality and intelligence which transcends becoming and opinion, [and it] has always had an affinity with the assimilations of dialectic and the construction of systems based on hierarchies of value. The emphasis in transcendental or systematic traditions is appropriately (since “systema” means “a whole,” “a constitution,” “a flock,” “a company,” “a musical scale”) on organic wholes, on syntheses and systems in which wholes and parts mutually influence each other. . . . We have gained confidence in the discovery and institution of a system of communication and a system of communities by which to order what we say and do, and even what we think and know about the order of things. We hope to transform partial discussions with their divisions, oppositions, and polarizations by providing an originative principle of discussion in what we like to call “dialogue,” and to transform partial economic, social, and political communities by reordering them in the inclusive cultural community of mankind. The ordering of the new architectonic principle of culture will be an open-ended use and advancement of freedom and universality. . . . Systems of culture and communication are generative constructions used to open up meaning and values and to remove limitations to action and insight. Culture and communication depend on ordering principles and systems, and metaphysics has been, and must continue to be, a systematic ordering of parts in wholes holoscopically and systematic constructing of wholes from parts meroscopically.89 

There is an interesting affinity between McKeon’s description of transcendental metaphysics and the whole of Frye’s work, with its transcendence of becoming, its dialectical systematizing, its opposition to partial views, its emphasis on inclusiveness and dialogue, and its holoscopic and meroscopic ordering of reality. Frye, of course, is not actually constructing a metaphysical system, but what he does construct has its roots in the grandeur of conception and the subtlety of thought that distinguishes metaphysics.

The great metaphysical systems, like Plato’s or Spinoza’s, have a range and variety and power which makes them survive critique and “refutation.” The eminence of the mind behind them has something to do with resiliency and vitality. Another reason, as John Holloway {231} remarks, is “that metaphysical systems are often generated from some hitherto neglected great idea of which the writer has taken possession: some radically new point of view from which life may be seen—from which the whole of it, or great parts of it, take on a new appearance from which the lines of force, as it were, may be seen running in new directions.”90 Although Frye is not doing metaphysics, he does invite us to consider a broad point of view from which things take on a new appearance. And behind it all we see a distinguished intellect thinking and writing. With the analogy in mind, we might say that Frye constructs a “metacritical” universe.

It is a universe in which art stands at the center, flanked by history, action, and event on one side and by philosophy, thought, and idea on the other. Art for Frye is the preeminent creation of man because it figures forth the imaginative world most fully and most obviously, and the imaginative world is the locus of Frye’s ultimate values. But criticism is not restricted merely to literature and the arts. “Is it true,” Frye asks, “that the verbal structures of psychology, anthropology, theology, history, law, and everything else built out of words have been informed or constructed by the same kind of myths and metaphors that we find, in their original hypothetical form, in literature?” (AC, 352). And his answer is—indirectly in the Anatomy and directly in much of his later work—that it is true. This is the hypothesis upon which Frye builds his theory of culture and which permits him, because criticism is the unifying principle of culture, to practice his craft upon such a grand scale. One of Frye’s ardent apologists over the years, E.W. Mandel, argues that the relationship of criticism to culture is the “informing principle” of Frye’s work.91 The more Frye writes, the more accurate Mandel’s claim seems to be. Certainly a part of Frye’s power as a critic derives from the catholicity of perspective which permits him to apply to the nonliterary aspects of culture the principles he has learned from literature. Similarly, both fictional and nonfictional discourse are subjected to his centrifugal gaze, because they are both forms of imaginative projection. The keystone of Frye’s metacriticism, we keep discovering, is his doctrine of the imagination.

In The Secular Scripture Frye remarks that “not all of us will be satisfied with calling the central part of our mythological inheritance a revelation from God, and, though each chapter in this book closes on much the same cadence, I cannot claim to have found a more acceptable formulation” (SeS, 60). The context of this observation is still another of Frye’s many efforts to name the imagination’s sense of otherness, but what is perhaps most revealing about the passage is the dependent clause tucked away in the middle. To speak of the cadence of closure calls our attention to the close relationship between the {232} rhythm of Frye’s ideas and his sense of an ending. Like the reversible motto of Eliot’s “East Coker,” Frye’s endings are also his beginnings. The conclusions to many of his books, even to chapters within books, frequently return to his own sense of the fundamental—glimpses of that “third order of experience” which only the imagination can provide. The return of endings to beginnings is still another example of the continuity which characterizes Frye’s work.

The metacritic engages in a bold enterprise, and he cannot help but be haunted by the many fallen structures which lie along the road to the eternal city of man’s dreams, both intellectual and imaginative. Much is risked because much is attempted. The ambition to write on such a broad front, as Frye himself points out, makes a critic particularly vulnerable to objections.92 But in Frye’s case the risk has been worth taking: a great mind has produced a great body of knowledge which will continue to instruct and delight so long as critics ask questions and dream dreams.


1. {247} The phrase belongs to Frye, one of his ironic jibes directed toward deterministic critics.

2. See Critics and Criticism (1952), p. 9, and The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, p. 31.

3. The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, p. 26.

4. This is another way of arguing for a pluralism of critical methods. I am not suggesting, however, that there is no disputing about paradigms. The issues involved in judging whether critical theories are equally valuable is raised by Wayne C. Booth, “Meyer Abrams: Historian as Critic, Critic as Pluralist,” Critical Inquiry 2 (Spring 1976): 411–45. See also Abrams’s own essay, “What’s the Use of Theorizing about the Arts?” in In Search of Literary Theory, ed. Morton W. Bloomfield (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), pp. 1–54. For the continuing discussion about pluralism, see note 45, chapter 1.

5. “What’s the Use of Theorizing about the Arts?” p. 24.

6. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. viii.

7. Ibid., p. 96.

8. “The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research,” in Readings in the Philosophy of Science, ed. B.A. Brody (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 360–61. This essay, first published in 1963, represents a condensed form of the first third of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

9. For an evaluation of Kuhn’s ideas, see Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), a symposium devoted to his work.

10. Conjectures and Refutations (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), p. 192; see also p. 128.

11. Philosophy of Natural Science (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), p. 15.

12. See note 3, chapter 1.

13. “The Critical Zodiac of Northrop Frye,” pp. 154–55.

14. Ibid., pp. 155–56. The passage from Frye, slightly misquoted, comes from AC, 177. Emphasis is Holloway’s. Robert Scholes also analyzes the possibilities of Frye’s modal scheme, coming to a similar conclusion about the selective and unsystematic nature of the taxonomy: “There are many fictions which cannot be accurately classified according to Frye’s system. Some myths, for instance, are about animals with supernatural powers. This makes them superior to man’s environment, but are they superior to man? In kind or degree? Are demons, witches, and so forth superior to man in degree or only in kind? Frye’s use of the word “hero” has allowed him to ignore myths in which the central figure {248} is a magic animal or demon, wicked or mischievous, whose exploits are recounted with horror or pleasure” (Structuralism in Literature, pp. 119–20).

15. The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 34.

16. Ibid., pp. 41–42, 78–92.

17. The Language of Criticism (London: Methuen, 1966), pp. 141—42.

18. “Anatomy of Criticism,” University of Toronto Quarterly 27 (1959): 194–95. Although Abrams’s remark suggests an uncritical acceptance of Popper and the hypothetico-deductive model, generally he would not embrace this kind of scientism. In a recent essay he specifically separates the principles of criticism from those which depend on the models of logical calculi. See “What’s the Use of Theorizing about the Arts?” especially Part IV, where he says: “Rather than to exaggerate the commonalty of method in science and criticism, it would be more profitable to say that while criticism involves the use of logic and scientific method, it must go far beyond their capacities if it is to do its proper job” (p. 52).

19. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, especially chapter 2.

20. Ibid., p. 50.

21. Ibid., chapter 11.

22. Ibid., p. 150. Compare Kuhn’s “Postscript—1969,” pp. 174 ff., where he clarifies his idea of paradigm and qualifies his conception of the scientific community by indicating the various levels at which it exists.

23. “Anatomy of Criticism,” University of Toronto Quarterly 28 (1959): 194.

24. Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955), p. 21.

25. The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, especially section 5.

26. I believe this issue can also be fruitfully discussed in terms of E.D. Hirsch’s distinction between intended meaning and significance. “Meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by the use of a particular sign sequence; it is what the signs represent. Significance, on the other hand, names a relationship between that meaning and a person, or a conception, or a situation, or indeed anything imaginable” (Validity in Interpretation [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967], p. 8). Frye is a great adder of significances that authors never suspected.

27. “Anatomy of Criticism,” University of Toronto Quarterly 28 (1959): 194, 195.

28. “The Use of Criticism in the Teaching of Literature,” College English 27 (1965): 6.

29. Neither Abrams nor Booth would now entirely support the positions they were taking more than a decade ago. Even in Abrams’s The Mirror and the Lamp (New York: Norton, 1953), written before his review of the Anatomy, he argues that although good aesthetic theories are “empirical in method,” aesthetic facts “turn out to have the curious and scientifically reprehensible property of being conspicuously altered by the nature of the very principles which appeal to them for support. Because many critical statements of fact are thus partially relative to the perspective of the theory within which they occur, they are not ‘true,’ in the strict sense that they approach the ideal of being verifiable by any intelligent human being, no matter what his point of view” (p. 4). In “What’s the Use of Theorizing about the Arts?” Abrams discusses the difference between critical and scientific theories. See also “Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History,” Critical Inquiry 2 (Spring 1976): 447–64, where he asks rhetorically, “After reading certain books that violate calculi modeled on logic and the exact sciences, which would do more violence to my sense of what is rational and my intuition that I have learned new truths—to decide these books don’t yield knowledge, or to decide that calculi are inappropriate to the procedures of discovery and demonstration that their authors have in fact employed?” (p. 448). Booth’s recent views on dogmas about fact and truth are presented with great skill in Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).

30. The example is John Casey’s. See “A ‘Science’ of Criticism,” The Language of Criticism, pp. 17—18, 143–44. Some of my discussion here is indebted to Casey’s essay.

31. {249} “A ‘Science’ of Criticism,” p. 143.

32. Literature and Ideology Monograph, 1 (Montreal: Progressive Books and Periodicals, 1969). Equally incompetent are the review essay by J.D.S., “Northrop Frye and Reactionary Criticism,” Literature and Ideology, no. 2 (1969), pp. 104–10, and the anonymous publication entitled Objective Idealism as Fascism: A Denunciation of Northrop Frye’s “Literary Criticism,” Ideological Forum [Montreal], No. 3, n.d.

33. In Northrop Frye in Modern Criticism, pp. 75–107.

34. “Criticism as Myth,” p. 102.

35. Ibid., pp. 102–3.

36. On Wimsatt’s view of Frye, see also Angus Fletcher “Northrop Frye: The Critical Passion,” Critical Inquiry 1 (June 1975): 741–56.

37. See “The Philosophic Bases of Art and Criticism,” pp. 522–45; “Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity,” Critics and Criticism (1952), pp. 147–75; and “Imitation and Poetry,” in Thought, Action, and Passion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), pp. 102–221.

38. Frye does change the term “myth-play” to auto.

39. “The Critical Zodiac of Northrop Frye,” p. 158.

40. “Blake’s Treatment of the Archetype,” p. 15.

41. Review of W.B. Stanford, The Ulysses Theme, and Cleanth Brooks, ed., Tragic Themes in Western Literature, Comparative Literature 9 (1957): 182, emphasis mine. In SM, 118, Frye also says that myths are archetypes.

42. “The Critical Zodiac of Northrop Frye,” pp. 158–59.

43. “Dreadful Symmetry,” Hudson Review 10 (1958–59): 617.

44. Modern American Criticism (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), pp. 254–55.

45. “The Juggler,” The Nation, 17 January 1959, p. 58.

46. “Dreadful Symmetry,” p. 617.

47. See, for example, Hazard Adams, The Interests of Criticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969), pp. 122–31; Fred Inglis, “Professor Northrop Frye and the Academic Study of Literature,” Centennial Review 9 (1965): 319–31; Joseph Margolis, “Critics and Literature,” British Journal of Aesthetics 11 (1971): 378–80; Monroe K. Spears, “The Newer Criticism,” Shenandoah 21 (1970): 110–37; W.K. Wimsatt, Hateful Contraries, pp. 17–20; and Raman Selden, “Objectivity and Theory in Literary Criticism,” pp. 292–94.

48. “Mr. Frye and Evaluation,” Cambridge Quarterly 2 (1967): 116.

49. Frye is correct, I think, in maintaining that “comparative evaluations” always appeal to a priori criteria, based on subjective preferences.

50. The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, p. 143.

51. Ibid., pp. 154, 155, 166. See also Critics and Criticism (1952), pp. 15–16, where Crane says that considering poems as wholes “involves asking ourselves, first, what the specific constitution and power of the whole the writer has achieved or aimed at really is. . . . Having done this, we may then ask, in the second place, to what extent and with what degree of artistic compulsion, any of the particular things the writer has done al the various levels of his writing . . . can be seen to follow from the special requirements or opportunities which the kind of whole he is making presents to him.” The implied mode of reasoning here illustrates what Crane means by saying that “the conception and the method can hardly be separated” (The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, p. 154).

52. The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, p. 167. See also p. 174.

53. Ibid., p. 177.

54. Ibid., p. 181.

55. {250} Ibid.

56. The past several decades have witnessed a host of arguments against any kind of absolute disjunction between facts and values. For a good annotated account of some of these, see Wayne C. Booth, “Two-Score and More Witnesses against the Fact-Value Split,” Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, pp. 207–11.

57. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 277–78.

58. Ibid., p. 279.

59. For another well-reasoned alternative, see Elder Olson, “On Value Judgments in the Arts,” Critical Inquiry 1 (September 1974): 71–90, reprinted in “On Value Judgments in the Arts” and Other Essays, pp. 307–26.

60. See, for example, the following reviews of Frye’s book: J.M. Patrick, Seventeenth- Century News 24 (1966): 2; William G. Madsen, Criticism 8 (1966): 390–91; and Patrick Crutwell, “New Miltonics,” Hudson Review 19 (1966): 501.

61. “The Philosophic Bases of Art and Criticism,” especially section 2.

62. Frye’s formal phase is an attempt to remove the antithesis between delight and instruction, or between the literal phase, which tends to erase all connection with life, and the descriptive phase, which tends explicitly to make such connections. But his argument is not convincing because of the ambiguity involved in saying that poetry is typical in two ways: that it is more philosophical than history, on the one hand, and more historical than philosophy, on the other. We can see how these ideas relate generally to event and idea, to mythos and dianoia. And we can see that there is some measure of truth in the statements if taken separately. But it is difficult to see how they can both be true at the same time; and if they cannot, then the antithesis Frye hopes to avoid still remains.

63. “The Critical Zodiac of Northrop Frye,” p. 156.

64. See, for example, Robert M. Adams, “Dreadful Symmetry,” p. 615.

65. As Frye himself remarks, “To make valid comparisons you have to know what your primary categories are. If you are studying natural history, no matter how fascinated you may be by anything that has eight legs, you can’t just lump together an octopus and a spider and a string quartet” (“Sir James Frazer,” in Architects of Modern Thought, 3rd and 4th series [Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1959], p. 27, reprinted in CL, 89).

66. “Letter to the English Institute,” p. 27.

67. Ibid., p. 29.

68. “Current Opera: A Housecleaning,” Acta Victoriana 60 (October 1935): 12–14.

69. “Ballet Russe,” Acta Victoriana 60 (December 1935): 5. The same concepts appear in “Frederick Delius,” Canadian Forum 16 (August 1936): 17. See also “Music in Poetry,” University of Toronto Quarterly 11 (1942): 167–79. Edward Said is one of the few readers who have understood the centrality of music as a structural analogy in Frye’s thought. See Beginnings (New York: Basic Books, 1975), p. 376. Frye, incidentally, understood the “harmonic” (vertical) and “melodic” (horizontal) ways of visualizing literature some twenty years before Lèvi-Strauss was to speak of reading the Oedipus myth paradigmatically as well as syntagmatically.

70. “Wyndham Lewis: Anti-Spenglerian,” Canadian Forum 16 (June 1936): 21–22.

71. A Map of Misreading, p. 30. Bloom echoes Geoffrey Hartman’s remark about Frye: “What we need is a theory of recurrence (repetition) that includes a theory of discontinuity.” See “Structuralism: The Anglo-American Adventure,” in Beyond Formalism, p. 17.

72. SeS, 163. As Frye points out, these words were written before the appearance of Bloom’s A Map of Misreading (SeS, 193). On Frye’s discussion of continuity in another context, see “The University and Personal Life,” in Higher Education: Demand and Response {251} (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1970), 35–51, reprinted in SM, 27–48. This essay examines the positive and negative features resulting from the meeting of continuous and discontinuous views of the world. There can be no doubt about Frye’s indebtedness to Eliot’s ideas about the order of literature and about tradition and the individual talent, but The Modern Century, to cite another example, is an entire book about the interplay between continuity and discontinuity.

73. In response to essays by Angus Fletcher and Geoffrey Hartman, Frye says: “Both . . . emphasize the fact that my work is designed to raise questions rather than answer them, and that my aim is not to construct a Narrenschiff to keep future critics all bound in by the same presuppositions, but to point to what Mr. Fletcher calls the open vistas and Mr. Hartman the still closed doors of the subject. A critic who has been compelled by such ambitions to write on far too broad a front is particularly vulnerable to objections on points of detail” (“Reflections in a Mirror,” p. 134).

74. “What’s the Use of Theorizing about the Arts?” p. 25.

75. For example, Frank Kermode’s review of the Anatomy in Review of English Studies 10 (1959): 317–23; and Homer Goldberg, “Center and Periphery: Implications of Frye’s ‘Order of Words,’” pp. 1–12. See also chapter 2, note 4.

76. See, for example, Florence E. Bennee, “Selected Applications of Frye’s Academic Criticism in the Senior High School Years” (Ed.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1971); Robert D. Foulke and Paul Smith, “Criticism and the Curriculum,” College English 26 (1964): 23–37; Eli Mandel, Criticism: The Silent Speaking Words (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1966); Glenna Davis Sloan, The Child as Critic: Teaching Literature in the Elementary School (New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1975); W.T. Jewkes, “Mental Flight: Northrop Frye and the Teaching of Literature,” Journal of General Education 27 (Winter 1976): 281–98; W.T. Jewkes, ed., Literature: The Uses of Imagination, 11 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973). Frye’s manual for this last series of texts is On Teaching Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).

77. See George Bowering, “Why James Reany Is a Better Poet (1) Than Any Northrop Frye Poet (2) Than He Used To Be,” Canadian Literature, no. 36 (Spring 1968), pp. 40–49; Desmond Pacey, Essays in Canadian Criticism: 1938–68 (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1969), pp. 202–5, 211; James Reaney, Alphabet, no. 1 (September 1960), pp. [2]–4; Lloyd Abbey, “The Organic Aesthetic,” Canadian Literature, no. 46 (Autumn 1970), pp. 103–4; and Frank Davey, “Northrop Frye,” in From There to Here (Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1974), pp. 106–12.

78. “Criticism and Other Arts,” Canadian Literature, no. 49 (Summer 1971), p. 4.

79. “I have long ceased to view the Anatomy of Criticism,” he says, “as a handbook of real practical value to the critic.”

80. Review of English Studies 10 (1959): 323.

81. Hough, An Essay on Criticism (New York: Norton, 1966), p. 154; Levin, Why Literary Criticism Is Not an Exact Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 24; Wellek, Discriminations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), pp. 257–58.

82. “Reflections in a Mirror,” p. 136.

83. G.C. Simpson, Principles of Animal Taxonomy (New York, 1961), p. 5, as quoted in Claude Lèvi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 9–10, 13.

84. The Savage Mind, p. 13.

85. “Myth and Interpretation,” New Literary History 3 (1972): 341.

86. Ibid., p. 342.

87. “Anatomy of Criticism,” University of Toronto Quarterly 28 (1959): I96 . The analogies Abrams refers to are found in AC, 183, 190, and 46 respectively.

88. {252} Abrams, ibid., and Holloway, “The Critical Zodiac of Northrop Frye,” pp. 159–60.

89. “The Future of Metaphysics,” in The Future of Metaphysics, ed. Robert E. Wood (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), pp. 304–5.

90. “The Critical Zodiac of Northrop Frye,” p. 159.

91. “Toward a Theory of Cultural Revolution: The Criticism of Northrop Frye,” Canadian Literature, no. 1 (Summer 1959), p. 58.

92. “Reflections in a Mirror,” p. 134.