Frye on Islam and the Koran from the Collected Works, II (CW)

Compiled by Bob Denham

Some months ago I submitted a collection of passages on the Koran, Islam, and Moslems culled from Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, indicating that additional references would be forthcomingHere is the promised collection of the additional passages from the Collected Works, the volumes of which are listed at the end:

The poet’s visionary function, his proper work as a poet, is on this plane to reveal the god for whom he speaks. This usually means that he reveals the god’s will in connection with a specific occasion, when he is consulted as an oracle in a state of “enthusiasm” or divine possession. But in time the god in him reveals his nature and history as well as his will, and so a larger pattern of myth and ritual is built up out of a series of oracular pronouncements. We can see this very clearly in the emergence of the Messiah myth from the oracles of the Hebrew prophets. The Koran is one clear historical instance at the beginning of the Western period of the mythical mode in action. Authentic examples of oracular poetry are so largely pre- and extra-literary that they are difficult to isolate. For more recent examples, such as the ecstatic oracles which are said to be an important aspect of the culture of the Plains Indians, we have to depend on anthropologists. (CW 22:52)


In the mythical mode this central or typical episodic product is the oracle. The oracle develops a number of subsidiary forms, notably the commandment, the parable, the aphorism, and the prophecy. Out of these, whether strung loosely together as they are in the Koran or carefully edited and arranged as they are in the Bible, the scripture or sacred book takes shape. The Book of Isaiah, for example, can be analysed into a mass of separate oracles, with three major foci, so to speak, one mainly pre-exilic, one exilic and one postexilic. (CW 22:53)


We notice that a good deal of sacred literature is written in a style full of puns and verbal echoes, in which the distinction in rhythm between verse and prose is often hard to feel consistently. The English translations of the Bible, especially the 1611, preserve this oracular prose-verse rhythm admirably; the Hebrew puns of course are another matter. The curious sing-song chant of the Koran is a very pure example of oracular style, and the poetic ambiguities of the Classical oracles are in the same convention. (CW 22:275)


As my approach to “philosophy” is so purely linguistic, I don’t see what a separate study of literature & language would reveal.  The only thing I find in my notes is a note on the attempt of a new American language to burst out from under the dead weight of conservatism made by the organization of written language; and the social effects of this in producing a humanist élite instead of really indigenous speech.  But the real follow-up of the Cratylus lead is in the direction of the Semitic sacred book.  I suppose the Koran is just an interlocking set of triliteral roots, & even the Old Testament has a lot of that in it.  This neo-cabbalism, as I call it somewhere, would require Greek & Hebrew: I don’t know any Arabic, & I’m damned if I’d learn any just to make this point.  Anyway, it’s a follow-up of the vision of verbal ambiguity which FS ended with [FS, 428]. (CW 23:114)


Definition of the sacred book as the revelation through a human oracle of a divine will, hence usually a law book.  How myths evolve from this, if I find out.  Relation to literature depends on its structure.  My point about the shapelessness of the Koran, & the consequent lack of a direct literary connexion, vs. the Bible. (CW 23:155)


Whenever the east-west context of the Canadian outlook begins to weaken, separatism, which is always there, emerges as a political force. Every part of Canada has strong separatist feelings: there is a separatism of the Pacific Coast, of the Prairies, of the Maritimes, of Newfoundland, as well as of Quebec. Ontario, of course, began with a separatist movement from the American Revolution. But since the rise of the great ideological revolutionary movements of our time, whether Communist, fascist, imperialist, Islamic or what not, separatism has been an almost wholly destructive force. (CW 12:415)


New France and New England were colonized in the Baroque phase of European development. Certain religious and philosophical assumptions that they brought with them explain a good many features of that colonization. Let us take the religious ones first. Christianity is a revolutionary and urban religion, and, like Marxism in our day, it started with all the revolutionary characteristics: the belief in a specific historical revelation, a canon of sacred texts, an obsession with the dangers of heresy, and, above all, a dialectical habit of mind, a tendency to polarize everything into the for and the against. Such an attitude is by no means essential to a religion. When Buddhism came to Japan it collided with the indigenous Shinto cult, and after a good deal of tension, a Buddhist theologian suggested that the kami, the gods and nature-spirits of Shinto, could be thought of as emanations of the Buddha: in short, that Shintoism could be regarded as a positive analogy of Buddhism. As a result the two religions have co‑existed in Japan ever since. But for Christianity, as for Islam and Marxism later, nothing will go right until the entire world is united in the right creed, and whatever place there may be in Christian thought for natural religion, no non‑Christian faith can ever be anything but a negative analogy, a demonic parody, of Christianity. (CW 12:524–5)


It is still true that Ontario gives too much authority to censors, originally out of panic, though the real reason now is probably that censoring is a genuinely popular sport, with many votes to be got out of it. Even so, prudery in Ontario at its worst is mild enough compared to what one would find in Islamic or most Communist countries today. (CW 12:618–19)


The archetype of the father handing on the wisdom of his generation to his son, in the form of proverbs or maxims of conduct, has run through literature from the wisdom books of the Old Testament (themselves based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian models which are many centuries older) to Polonius haranguing Laertes and Lord Chesterfield instructing his heir in a way of life that according to Samuel Johnson combined the morals of a whore with the manners of a dancing‑master. In stories based on this archetype (such as the story of Ahikar, which has left its traces in the Apocrypha, the New Testament, the fables of Aesop, and the Koran), the son is frequently ungrateful, scatterbrained, or determined to do his own thing. This assimilates the archetype to an even larger and more significant pattern. (CW 27:24)


Whether or not good fences make good neighbours, the fence creates the neighbour. In A Passage to India E.M. Forster shows us how three great cultural complexes, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, each accept ideals of universal brotherhood; their better and more sensitive members believe in these ideals and struggle to achieve them. And yet in the long run they all define themselves by exclusion, and those who do not wish to exclude anything run the risk of losing their identity and having their total inclusiveness turn into its terrible opposite, the sense of a totally meaningless universe, the ironic vision of the absurd, which comes to Mrs. Moore in the cave. (CW 27:71–2)


The practice of reserving special teachings for a smaller group of initiates has run through philosophy from Pythagoras to Wittgenstein. Similar esoteric movements make their way, sometimes in the form of philosophical heresies, into the great religions, producing various Gnostic developments in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, and what eventually became the Mahayana form of Buddhism. A secret tradition, believed to be authentically derived from the same source as the exoteric one, but possessing qualities that the latter would fear and distrust, may serve as a kind of back door or fire escape for a myth of freedom in persecuting times. (CW 27:83)


Let us take translation in its customary sense of changing a structure from one language to another, as a special case of recreation. The question of translation is peculiarly important in the Christian tradition, which has had a close connection with translation from the beginning. Moslem and Jewish scholarship are, inevitably, bound up with the linguistic features of the Arabic of the Koran and the Hebrew of the Old Testament respectively. (CW 4:76)


If it is true that, as Sir Thomas Browne said, “Nature is the Art of God”; if the models of human creation, the city and the garden, were created by God before man existed, the human artist seems to be in a hopeless position of competing with God. This is particularly true of painters and sculptors, who have often been regarded with suspicion as potentially makers of idols, dead images set up in rivalry with the maker of living ones. In Islamic culture this prejudice has gone to the point of banning representational art altogether, and similar tendencies have appeared in both Jewish and Christian traditions. (CW 4:60)


[375]  Finished 2b exams & in the afternoon I slobbered another bibful of deathless prose for the benefit of Here & Now on criticism & book-reviewing.  Then on an impulse I bought two Everymans, the Koran & George Macdonald’s Phantastes, & a rather dubious Jungian book.  The Koran still baffles me: I can’t figure out why the hell anybody went for that book.  It probably makes a lot more sense in Arabic as a prose-poetry synthesis of the Word in which rhetorical & dialectic aspects are indistinguishable. (CW 8:207)


I am, of course, isolating only one element in Christianity, but cruelty, terror, intolerance, and hatred within any religion always mean that God has been replaced by the devil, and such things are always accompanied by a false kind of literalism. At present some other religions, notably Islam, are even less reassuring than our own. As Marxist and American imperialisms decline, the Moslem world is emerging as the chief threat to world peace, and the spark-plug of its intransigence, so to speak, is its fundamentalism or false literalism of belief.  The same principle of demonic perversion applies here: when Khomeini gave the order to have Salman Rushdie murdered, he was turning the whole of the Koran into Satanic verses. In our own culture, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a future New England in which a reactionary religious movement has brought back the hysteria, bigotry, and sexual sadism of seventeenth-century Puritanism. Such a development may seem unlikely just now, but the potential is all there. (CW 4:178)


The vice of concern, on the other hand, is anxiety. We have anxiety when a society seizes on one myth and attempts to pound the whole of knowledge and truth into a structure conforming to it. The simplest statement of this kind of anxiety is the remark attributed to the Caliph Omar, when about to burn the Alexandrian Library, that all the books in it either agreed or disagreed with the Koran, and were therefore either superfluous or blasphemous. (CW 7:277)


At present the theological faculties of Emmanuel, Trinity, Wycliffe, and Knox are co-operating in a unified graduate programme leading to the Th.D. The theological faculty of St. Michael’s College has recently proposed to take part in this programme. Such a group of scholars could well form the nucleus of a regular M.A. and Ph.D. programme in religious studies in the graduate school. To this could be added, as President Kelly of St. Michael’s College suggested to the committee, scholars in Judaism, Islam, Oriental religions, or in such departments as anthropology, philosophy, or psychology. Such a group would probably operate as a centre or institute rather than as a single department. It would be broad enough to encompass comparative religion, but it would be unfortunate to set it up in a way that would discourage a student from finding his subject of research, if he wished, in the academic fields now included in the Th.D. programme. (CW 7:226)


One of the most popular stories in the later Biblical period is the story of Ahiqar (the spelling varies), an elderly man who was betrayed by his wicked young nephew but was subsequently brought back into favour by his king. He then took his revenge on his nephew by reciting to him several hundred proverbs, largely connected with the undesirability of ingratitude to one’s elders. The nephew began to say he thought he had got the point, but Ahiqar kept on placidly reciting more proverbs until, so the text says, the nephew blew up and burst. This was an immensely popular tale echoed in the fables of Aesop, in the Bible and the Apocrypha, in the Koran. With a story like that you can’t miss, from the point of view of conservative wisdom, because the senior man is the hero and we have a sense of the customary thing being upheld and re-established. (CW 7:531)


It is not hard to see this authority within science. It is much harder to see that literature and the arts also have their own authority, that a writer may have to persist in his loyalty to the demands of what he writes even when threatened with censorship or personal persecution. Marxism, for example, when it comes to power in society, simply denies, as a point of dogma, that literature has any authority of its own at all. Literature in a socialist country, it says, should reflect and follow the demands of socialist concern, otherwise it will turn into the neurotic, introverted, decadent, etc., kind of literature produced in bourgeois countries. Christianity said much the same kind of thing in the past, and the Islamic religion repeats it in the present. The United States has no actual dogmas on the subject, but there have been startling outbreaks of hysteria, from Anthony Comstock in the 1880s to his descendants in our day. (CW 7:573–4)


Friday I had tea with another Oxford Martyr, which is what I call the people who make a profession of inviting overseas students. Mrs. Haldane—J.S. Haldane’s wife and J.B.S. Haldane’s mother—super old lady, I should imagine. Miss Thorneycroft was there—I talked to her a bit, and then my former martyr, Mrs. Boyd, got into a corner with me and opened up on India. She was swell. Her husband is somebody very big and important in India, and she had gone with him when he went to administer a Mohammedan Native State. The ruler or Nawab had married three times, having an heir by his first wife and an eight‑year‑old boy by his third. The said third wife was precious but cunning, and was determined that her boy would be made heir. So she pretended friendship to the real heir, encouraged him to drink and go with women a bit, and then went to the Nawab with the most horrible stories about the vices he’d been engaging in. The Nawab, who was a senile old fool, listened to her, disinherited the heir and sent him to a small village, where he took to drink and strange women in great earnest. The British government heard of it and sent an officer into the village to straighten the boy out. The boy impressed the officer as an extraordinarily decent kid, so he persuaded the Nawab to reinstate him. So he came back and inside of a week was dead, undoubtedly poisoned by the old girl. Then the Nawab died too, which left the eight‑year‑old the ruler, and at this point Boyd took charge. He had the most frightful time with the old girl, who simply raised hell all the time, filled the youngster up with horrible stories about Europeans till he got so scared he didn’t open his mouth for six weeks or thereabouts, and insisted on two servants’ guarding him all the time. The point was, of course, that they wanted to give the youngster some education. At that he nearly died on their hands, as he developed enteric fever—he was very delicate, being carried everywhere, so that at the age of eight he could hardly walk across a room. The night nurse saw one of the attendant servants putting something into the boy’s mouth, and she dashed over to extract it, and found it to be a wad of paper with a passage from the Koran written on it—a priest had given it to the mother to smuggle in. And so on. It was fascinating, this Oriental melodrama suddenly appearing in the middle of a respectable Oxford drawing‑room. (CW 2:636)


A sacred book is normally written with at least the concentration of poetry, so that, like poetry, it is closely involved with the conditions of its language. The Koran, for instance, is so interwoven with the special characteristics of the Arabic language that in practice Arabic has had to go everywhere the Islamic religion has gone. (CW19:21)


Ahikar has left his mark on at least the Apocrypha (Tobit is said to be Ahikar’s uncle); on Greek literature, where he is identified with Aesop; and on the Koran (Sura 10), which as a rule has even less interest in secular literature than other sacred books. (CW 19:143)


The names Mary and Joseph recall the Miriam who was the sister of Moses and the Joseph who led the family of Israel into Egypt. The third Sura of the Koran appears to be identifying Miriam and Mary; Christian commentators on the Koran naturally say that this is ridiculous, but from the purely typological point of view from which the Koran is speaking, the identification makes good sense. (CW 19:193)


The emphasis on narrative, and the fact that the entire Bible is enclosed in a narrative framework, distinguishes the Bible from a good many other sacred books. The Buddhist sutras employ relatively little narrative, and the Koran consists of revelations gathered up after Mohammed’s death and arranged in order of length, with no discernible narrative principle in their sequence. (CW 19:219)


Certainly such aids to faith as the conception of inspiration are easier if we have an identifiable author, such as we have in the Koran. The Koran, like most sacred books, has its origin in dictation and secretarial recording, but there is only one intermediary: nothing would ever be added to the Koran that had not come from (or, theologically, through) Mohammed. But the Koran is both a later and a vastly more homogeneous book than the Bible. (CW 19:226–7)


For my purposes the only possible form of the Bible that I can deal with is the Christian Bible, with its polemically named “Old” and “New” Testaments. I know that Jewish and Islamic conceptions of the Bible are very different, but that is practically all that I do know about them, and it is the Christian Bible that is important for English literature and the Western cultural tradition generally. (CW 19:7)


The burning-bush contract introduces a revolutionary quality into the Biblical tradition, and its characteristics persist through Christianity, through Islam, and survive with little essential change in Marxism. Of these characteristics, the most important are, first, a belief in a specific historical revelation as a starting point. Israel’s story begins here and in this way; Christianity begins with Christ and not, say, with the Essenes; Islam begins with the Hegira of Mohammed, Communism with Marx and not, say, with Owen or Fourier. (CW 19:134)


In Japan, when Buddhism was introduced, there was a good deal of tension with the indigenous Shinto religion, until a Buddhist theologian proposed that the kami, the miscellany of gods, nature spirits, and ancestral spirits in Shinto, could all be regarded as emanations of the Buddha, after which the two religions coexisted. No such compromise was ever possible for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or (mutatis mutandis) Marxism. (CW 19:134–5)


The king of Persia is left in possession of his kingdom, as are Nebuchadnezzar and Darius in Daniel. Paul, we saw, also urged compliance with secular power. But the general feeling persists, in Christianity, in Islam, and now in Marxism, that nothing will ever go right until the entire world is united in the right beliefs. (CW 19:135)


The revolutionary tradition in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has tended to a good deal of prudery about the naked body, to iconoclasm, and to a rejection of spectacular art, especially when representational.

The second commandment prohibits the making of “graven images” to represent either the true or any false god, and in Judaic and Islamic traditions particularly this has restricted, even eliminated, many aspects of representational art. (CW 19:137)


Let’s start with the statement that myth comes to us already institutionalized. Now there are some myths that do come to us institutionalized. Those are the ideological myths, the myths that underlie official Christianity or the Church or insti­tutionalized Judaism, Islam, Marxism, and so forth. (CW 24:950)


Harron: But people are aware of the Bible even though they’ve never read it. How does that happen?

Frye: Partly through allusion and quotation. Even ballad writers, like Bob Dylan, are very uninhibited in their references to the Bible. People pick up a good deal of this out of the air in spite of themselves. It’s the same way if you were studying Islamic culture; you’d have to begin with the Koran. It would be silly if you didn’t. It’s possible that you might find people in Islamic countries who didn’t know the Koran, but they would hear so many quotations from it and so many phrases from it that it would get into their consciousness somehow.

Harron: Is there a book at the centre of every culture?

Frye: Well, there are books that are very central to the culture, but I think that the particular progression of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has a peculiar relationship to a single sacred book. (CW 24:397)


Harron: The Koran has a system of law too. Is there a connection?

Frye: There is a connection, yes, because the Koran is related to the Bible. The Koran really is a work of prophecy which incorporates a certain amount of Law—

Harron: Different laws from the Bible?

Frye: Some of them are from the Bible, some of them are peculiar to the Koran. But it’s like Christianity in regarding the Old Testament as primarily a work of prophecy. (CW 24:553)


Harron: How is that different from the treatment in Islam, or Buddhism?

Frye: I don’t know that it is essentially different. I think all religions are really concerned with the expanding of human consciousness. There are degrees of emphasis, and there has always been what seems to me an unnecessarily nervous tendency on the part of many religions to regard their sacred books as something closed off, so that the reader has to accept them, believe everything they say, but not actually absorb them into his own consciousness. (CW 24:560)


Lawton: To accept that, though, puts a level of ideology into one’s own work with a text at a point earlier than one is prepared to accept that it ought to be there. Is that a fair comment?

Frye: I suppose so, yes, and in the same way I can’t imagine what I would do with the Bible if the Koran were tacked onto it as a still more sacred text.

Lawton: When you talk about the Bible, you’re clearly talking about adherence to the Christian Bible rather than the Jewish Bible or Islamic Bible. This would mark you as a very Christian reader. Do you accept this description, and how do you think your Christianity as a reader, Christianity or not, would reflect on your definition of good criticism, which would seem to me to be highly ethical?

Frye: Well, I would be committed to Christianity in certain existential contexts. As a literary critic, I accept the Christian Bible rather than the Jewish Bible or the Koran not from religious conviction but simply because it is the Christian Bible that has actually infiltrated the literary culture that I’m interested in: Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake and so on. So I really have no choice in the matter. I simply don’t know enough about the ramifications of the Jewish Bible and Jewish literature of the imagination, or the Islamic. So that as a literary critic I am constantly aware of the fact that I grew up within a Christian church as a person, and keep trying to back away as far as I can from imposing any sort of sales pitch on the reader or trying to slip in Christian dogmas disguised as critical judgements. (CW 24:787)


Innocenti: What are you working on now?

Frye: I am trying to follow up my study of the Bible and literature, The Great Code, with a successor that will take in more critical theory and more of the Bible’s actual infiltration into Western literature. Anyone studying Islamic culture would almost certainly start with the Koran: I’d like to see if a similar procedure wouldn’t work with the Bible and Western literature. (CW 24:829)


In the Bible there is a strong polemical tendency to try and get the Israelites away from the nature cults of the peoples around them. The pre-Biblical religions were mostly cults of the mother-goddess, and the Biblical authors were afraid that as long as you have a mother-goddess representing nature at the centre of things, man will always be an embryo; he’ll never be able to get out of the womb of the mother-goddess. The tradition that started with the Bible and runs through both Judaism and Islam, too, is to find man’s salvation in human institutions, not in natural objects. (CW 24:904–5)


Speaking of FW [Finnegans Wake], I don’t see the Mallarmé or symboliste affinities: for all the disguise & distortion there’s a perfect orgy of naming in it: books of the Bible, suras of the Koran, poems of Moore, catalogues of rivers & cities, etc.  I should however think of FW occasionally as above consciousness and pointing to what comes next, not as wholly an archaeological dig, as Joyce himself often seems to do.  The dream state could be “astral.” (CW 5:12)


Of my seven stages, the wisdom one winds up the revolutionary cycle of time.  That’s the circle of law & Talmudic commentary, of gospel & canon law, of the Koran & the Ayatollah prescriptions.  Prophecy, taken seriously, is a step forward into the literary. (CW 5:68)


Four: add to kerygma: social consensus primary & literary v-j’s [value judgments] about, e.g. the Koran irrelevant.  (CW 5:223)


The Bible is a colossal literary tour de force, whatever “more” it is, and the canonical instinct is so sure, in the large view, as to suggest a direct intervention by God.  I don’t see this in the Koran, & I don’t see how anybody could see it in the Koran.  But what does this lead to?  Apparently to the reflection that God is exactly like me: in a world howling with tyranny and misery all he cares about is getting his damn book finished. (CW 5:237)


Kabbalism says the Torah contains all possible books; similar things are said about the Koran somewhere in Islamic traditions; in Christianity there’s the last verse of John. (CW 6:555)


[190]  Contemporary human standards have to be some sort of criterion, otherwise we’re back to some quixotic reshaping of the past.  The late Ayatollah of Iran, by urging the murder of Rushdie, turned the whole of the Koran into Satanic verses.  The spiritual dimension of primary concern doesn’t just include love (and the tolerance which is love at a distance), but eventually vanishes into love. (CW 6:650)


[201]  The Islamic revelation was a counter-apocalypse, which arose as a part of the Christian failure to separate the two worlds. They failed because science hadn’t developed far enough. (CW 6:651)


[259]  Islam: Islamic people are very confused about the Rushdie business, and of course we get journalists exuding the inevitable bromides about how it can’t possibly be really religious: it must be all economic or social.  It ain’t: there’s a special viciousness in religion that’s found nowhere else. (CW 6:661)


[41]  The six arts produced give us culture; the six arts applied give us civilization.  Architecture: wonder why there always has to be a prick and a cunt: I wondered this when sitting in the Skydome with the CN tower beside me.  Islam had a mosque and a minaret; Christianity a basilica and a bell-tower; even the New York fair had a trylon and a perisphere.  Something points to the sky and something contains on earth.  (CW 6:673)


[57]  Judaism went through its Father or anti-idolatry stage with Abraham, and its Messianic stage against the Pharaoh with Moses.  Its spiritual stage is symbolized by Elijah.  I suspect the Islamic religion never really escaped from the Abraham stage: there were some efforts to identify Mohammed with the Logos, but I don’t think they got anywhere, and politically they came to terms with the Commander of the Faithful, or Caliph.  Of course in Judaism Logos and Spirit stages never achieved divinity. (CW 6:676–7)


Orpheus could draw trees after him; the bards and ollaves of the Celtic world could kill their enemies with their satire; the prophets of Israel foretold the future. The spell-muttering magicians of romance represent the next age’s view of such figures. Mohammed’s Koran is the only clear historical instance, at the beginning of the Western period, of the oracular mode in action. (CW 21:165)


The Analects of Confucius, according to Arthur Waley, tell us not so much what Confucius said as what Confucians believed, and the Christian Gospels are now generally recognized to be written within the framework of the beliefs of the early church. It is often assumed that the mythical features of a religion are later accretions on what was originally a historical event, but no sacred book of any of the great religions allows us to separate the historical from the mythical. That is, we cannot with any certainty reconstruct a premythical stage in the establishment of any religion. In some religions, such as Islam or some of the nineteenth-century cults, the sacred book can be seen emerging as part of the historical process, but even there the beliefs are founded on the acceptance of the sacred book as inspired by something outside history. We notice too how often such religions (Mormonism, Anglo-Israelitism) involve a mythical reshaping of history, like the Mosaic contract in the Old Testament. (CW 27:240)


Further, if greater powers cannot be compelled, they can compel us, and hence we should expect similar techniques in sacred scriptures embodying a divine revelation. If we pick up the Koran, for instance, and try to read it as we should read any other book, we may well find its repetitiveness intolerable: surely, we feel, the God who inspired this book was not only monotheistic but monomaniacal. And even this response comes only from a translation: the original is so dependent on the interlocking sound-patterns of Arabic that in practice the Arabic language has had to go everywhere the Islamic religion has gone. Yet, for anyone brought up in the religion of Islam, hearing the Koran from infancy, and memorizing great parts of it consciously and unconsciously, the Koran does precisely the rhetorical job it is set up to do. The conception of the human will assumed is that of a puppy on a leash: it plunges about in every direction but the right one, and has to be brought back and back and back to the same controlling power.

The rhetoric of God, then, according to the Koran, is essentially the kind of rhetoric we have associated with charm. This principle is far less true of the Bible, even though much of the Hebrew text is oracular in style and contains many puns and sound-associations, invocations to God, commandments, proverbs or general maxims of prudent conduct, prophetic oracles, and, in the New Testament, the parables of Jesus which end “go thou and do likewise.” But the specific techniques of dissociative writing are still rather rare. (CW 27:379–80)


In the traditional Christian universe, as we saw, the rising movement hinges on the Resurrection, which is not renewal or rebirth in time, even when it uses such imagery, but rather the opposite of rebirth, a movement upward into a different world. However, the great religions of the West, Christianity, Islam, and Marxism, have developed from the revolutionary basis of Judaism, and as they attained social power they tended to the opposite extreme, of distrusting any kind of liberation that their institutions could not control. (CW 27:404)


In the first place, a fully developed mythology, especially one that has produced a definitive theogony or sacred book, provides the outlines of a total verbal communication. There is nothing about the duties, destiny, meaning, or context of human life, nothing at least which can be expressed in words, that is not explained or provided for in the accepted myth. This is the normal attitude of an orthodox Christian or Mohammedan to the Bible or the Koran, and it is the usual attitude of all religions to their sacred books. (CW 27:136)


The associational rhythm has always been a feature of oracular writing, as in the Koran and in many parts of the Bible, as well as a regular literary device for expressing insanity, as in some of the Tom o’ Bedlam speeches in King Lear. (CW 27:188)


Within any social order, however established, there may be improvement and development, new strategies for new occasions, social criticism, individual or mystical recreations of the original vision.  But by definition and hypothesis, nothing can transcend the revelation of the Torah or the Gospel or the Koran or the writings of Marx: whatever appears to do so is only a heresy, an old fallacy in a new disguise.  (CW 18:163)


Ezekiel in the Old Testament represents himself as being physically in Babylon with other Jewish captives, but transported to Jerusalem to see visions of its present desolation and future glory [Ezekiel 8:3].  Mohammed also had an experience, alluded to in the Koran, of a journey from Mecca to Jerusalem at night: accounts of this introduce a magic flying horse and add a further journey through the seven heavens like that of Dante. (CW 18:415)


I then thought: “What would happen if I turned this thesis inside out, starting with the Bible, and then seeing how the Bible has affected Western literature?” After all, no one would attempt a study of Islamic culture without starting with the Koran, or of Hindu culture without starting with the Vedas and Upanishads. (CW 18:440)


A rigid monotheism like that of Judaism or Christianity or Islam would have considerably narrowed the variety of culture if it were not that in the Western world, at any rate, the poets insisted on clinging to the great gods that were still immanent in the form of gigantic human powers.  (CW 18:310)


The New Testament was written in the colloquial and conversational Greek, known as koiné, which was the general linguistic medium of the Near East at the time.  Its writers were doubtless familiar to varying degrees with the Hebrew text, but when they quoted from the Old Testament they tended to use the Septuagint.  Throughout its history Christianity has been more dependent on translation than either Judaism or Islam.  (CW 18:365)


We next notice that in our cultural traditions the specifically Biblical and Hebrew influences, the ones that underlie the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have in common a reverence for the spoken word of God and a corresponding distrust in any association of deity with the eyesight.  Moses turns aside to see why the burning bush does not burn up: the visual stimulus is merely to awaken his curiosity, and it is the voice that speaks from the bush that is important [Exodus 3:2–4].  God constantly speaks in the Bible, and there seems to be no theological difficulty about hearing his voice.  But the editorial and redacting processes in the Old Testament seem to get very agitated where any suggestion of a vision of God is concerned.  We are solemnly adjured to make no image either of the true God or any of the gods concocted from nature,7 and this commandment has led to the practical extinction of representational painting in all three religions at various times, more particularly in Islam.  In Christianity, any swing back to the primitive revolutionary fervour of the first Christian age has been normally accompanied by iconoclasm, in both Western and Eastern churches. (CW 18:399–400)


The younger victims of such educators are less helpless than they were, because one of the extraordinary features of our time is a quite sudden revival of the oral tradition in literature.  This is not surprising to those of us who live in Islamic, or even in Slavic countries, where the oral traditions of literature have been so much better preserved.  But for those of us who live in the Americas or Western Europe, it is a new experience to find so much of the literature around us taking a popular form, recited to a listening audience generally with a musical background, employing once again such ancient features of oral poetry as formulaic units, ballad refrains, and topical subjects.  (CW 10:247)


Such myths of concern may be centred either in the religious or in the political area, but they always contain an element of both. Myths we call religious, like those of Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism, must operate within some political context; political myths, democratic, Marxist, or fascist, must have a religious dimension as well. (CW 28:366)


I must look at that book (Hayman?) on Joyce and Mallarme,  but Mallarme says, in effect: look at the emotional effect of the thing on the poet and reader, and avoid naming the thing.  But in FW [Finnegans Wake], for all the distortion, there’s a perfect orgy of naming: books of the Bible, suras of the koran, lyrics of Tom Moore, catalogues of rivers and cities, only for a start. (CW 25:292)


Dissociation of sensibility, so called, on the emotional side.  Special langs. of romance.

Koran dependent on Arabic. (CW 25:333)


There is always tension between the inner growth of the arts and sciences and the anxieties of a controlling mythology. The philosopher Berdyaev complains that nobody wants a disinterested philosopher: it is felt that if he is going to philosophize he should earn his keep, that is, justify or rationalize what people want to see generally believed. In the arts, everywhere we look we see the struggle of imagination against the restrictions of mythology. Islamic countries condemn representational art; the Soviet Union condemns nonrepresentational art; some Marxist regimes, notably the so called cultural revolution in China, maintain that no art is socially conscious unless it devotes itself entirely to proclaiming the dominant social faith; in our own countries censors to the right of us and censors to the left of us volley and thunder. (CW 11:323–4)


There is also the question of the mythological framework which the Bible has provided for Western literature, already mentioned, and which is part of what Blake’s phrase “Great Code of Art” means. Similar frameworks have been provided for other cultures by other sacred books: if one is attempting a serious study of Islamic literature, one has to begin with the Koran as a piece of literature. (CW 4:22)


Let us take translation in its customary sense of changing a structure from one language to another, as a special case of recreation. The question of translation is peculiarly important in the Christian tradition, which has had a close connection with translation from the beginning. Moslem and Jewish scholarship are, inevitably, bound up with the linguistic features of the Arabic of the Koran and the Hebrew of the Old Testament respectively. (CW 4:76)


The unwillingness of so many religious temperaments to try to grasp the reality of a revelation in any but doctrinal terms recurs in a number of religious communions. It accounts for the divergence in emphasis between, say, the Talmudic and Kabbalistic traditions in Judaism, the scholastic and mystical developments in medieval Catholicism, a parallel difference in Islamic thought, and the Calvinist and Anabaptist traditions in Protestantism. The Reformation was founded on the doctrine of justification through faith, but conceiving faith as something to be expressed in the language of creed or thesis minimized the visionary element in it. We notice that Calvin could make very little of the Book of Revelation in his Biblical commentaries; in spite of its dense texture of allusions to the Old Testament, the quality of its language eluded him. I have now to try to put that language into its cultural context. (CW 4:352)


The Lenten mood is the one preferred by most religious establishments, and extended periods of fasting and sexual abstinence help to keep the faithful subdued in other religions as well, as in the fast of Ramadan in Islamic countries. (CW 4:367)


We can hardly overestimate the importance, for our own cultural tradition, of the fact that Biblical monotheism, the basis of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is a revolutionary movement, totally different in social context and reference from imperial monotheism. (CW 4:11)


We notice how often, in the Christian tradition, movements of iconoclasm recur, associated with a dislike and distrust of religious painting, sculpture, and stained glass, as well as the theatre itself. Such movements are usually rationalized as a return to the primitive purity of Christian doctrine, and iconoclasm in Judaic and Islamic traditions is even more deeply entrenched. (CW 4:12)


And that fourth figure, which we call typology, is the figure dominating the Bible, where everything that happens in the Old Testament, in the Christian view, is an anticipation of what happens in the New Testament. What happens in the New Testament, moreover, recalls what is done or prophesied or seen in the Old. But of course the Old Testament keeps recreating itself, as we can see if we compare the books of Chronicles, for example, with the books of Kings. It is partly this sense of figuration in time that gives to the Biblical religions, both Judaism and Christianity as well as, to some extent, Islam, an historical dimension, which, as it is a commonplace to observe, is different from that of other forms of mythology. (CW 4:31)


If it is true that, as Sir Thomas Browne said, “Nature is the Art of God”; if the models of human creation, the city and the garden, were created by God before man existed, the human artist seems to be in a hopeless position of competing with God. This is particularly true of painters and sculptors, who have often been regarded with suspicion as potentially makers of idols, dead images set up in rivalry with the maker of living ones. In Islamic culture this prejudice has gone to the point of banning representational art altogether, and similar tendencies have appeared in both Jewish and Christian traditions. (CW 4:60)


This deductive construct, in which the commands of God, the neglect of which is sin, form the premises for social morality, or law in the context of “law and order,” is not unmatched in the ancient world: the role of sacrifice and other ritual practices in Hinduism is very similar, and there are other religion-based legal codes, like that of Islam, that develop later partly under Biblical influence. (CW 4:138)


Many of the liberal-minded people I just spoke of, who would be dissidents in a racist or dictatorial country, have strong religious commitments, and for them a criminal society derives its criminal nature from sin, from being under the judgment of God. But the experience of our century indicates that any religious ideology, Christian or Jewish or Islamic or Hindu or whatever, is a most insecure basis for a modern state. In fact, as in South Africa or Iran, a religious ideology is often a major contributing factor to an intolerable legal code. (CW 4:142)


In the Gospels, & in a different way in the teaching of Zen Buddhism, this aphoristic sequence is connected still further by being attached to a sequence of events or situations, giving us the epiphanic sequence of Mark according to [Martin] Dibelius.  This is something else again from, though still related to, the oracular or associative dream revelation full of puns, like the Koran. (CW 15:77)


Orphism is, like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, a religion with a personal founder. (CW 3:173)


The symbolism of the two lovers is said to be Mohammedan in origin; but against this must be set the fact that with the Islamic thinkers the symbolism is usually more explicitly sexual: the soul of the Lover is feminine to the spirit of the Beloved, as we have it so frequently in the female mystics, Madame Guyon and Saint Teresa. (CW 3:231)


Perhaps by the tests of the world Lull is a failure.  As a philosopher, his dialectic is not the divinely inspired instrument of truth he thought it.  As a missionary, he failed to reclaim any part of the Islamic world, even the North Africa from whence Augustine had sprung.  (CW 3:233)


Calvinism is not pantheism; it contains, potentially, the elements postulated above.  But it has never completely freed itself from the charge of Arianism; it has not clearly differentiated the three persons of the Trinity in its insistence on the unity of God.  Its doctrine of sovereignty brought it too close to the grim fighting monotheisms of Judah and Islam.  (CW 3:416)


The pattern I see in the Bible is a synchronic one; and I’m right, because all “keys” to meaning are synchronic keys.  The Koran is a completely synchronic Scripture: Mohammed has some sense of sequence, specifically a sequence of prophets, but no sense of history.  He has Jesus born under a date palm beside a stream—in other words in the p of e [point of epiphany] or h-c. [hortus conclusus], not the diachronic manger.  And Mary is evidently identical with Moses’ sister Miriam.  I know Islamic culture produced distinguished histories (Ibn Khaldun) but its typical products are mystics, mathematicians, and geometrical arts. (CW 9:217–18)


Ahikar is said to be a relative of Tobit, & either directly or through Tobit influenced the Gospels: he’s the Greek Aesop & the “Lokman” of the Koran. (CW 9:225)


Briefly, I do best by standing outside all these systems, including Protestantism, because by doing so I can chop a few holes in verbal systemization that I can see through & breathe through.  I do want to try to understand the hold that such systems have on people, & the extent to which it’s demanded of all thinkers that they keep their thoughts in verbal conformity with the Declaration of Independence or the Koran or whatever the hell it is.  (CW 9:75)


A revolutionary attitude is a deductive one, and tends to accept a sacred book as the basis of deduction.  The most profoundly disturbing aspect of the contemporary world is the Red Guard millions waving the little red book of Chairman Mao’s thought.  The Koran or the sword; the word of God as a two-edged sword: Protestant bibliolatry.  It has something to do with the voluntary limiting of the number of possible premises or principles of thought.  (CW 9:91)


There isn’t anything in the internal consistency of the Koran, the New Testament or the thoughts of Mao that accounts for their power.  There is an imaginative kernel, as I’ve said in FS, & some stylistic or rhetorical features: what there isn’t is any necessary or inherent truth.  (CW 9:93)


I’ve said earlier [par. 414] that God, in Judaism, Xy or Islam, is a conception qualitatively different from anything expressed by “a god.”  It’s also equally different from a monotheistic unity.  Any Greek or Roman intellectual would have said that all gods were manifestations of one supreme spirit.  The early Christians believe that gods, so far as they resembled their own God, were demonic parodies, but of course demonic parody is only one aspect of analogy.  So we’re back to the quagmire of analogy again. (CW 9:238)


It seemed to me that there was an epic form that tended to expand into a kind of imaginative encyclopedia, and that the limit of this encyclopedic form was the sacred book, the kind of scriptural myth that we find in the Bible, the Prose Edda, and in Hindu literature. The affinities of Finnegans Wake, for all its pervasive irony, appeared to be closest to that form, and I could see that the Bible (along with missals and prayer books, both Catholic and Anglican), the Koran, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead were much in Joyce’s mind. (CW 29:336)


In a preliterary age such thematic phrases would be magical formulas. The other technical element, which also harks back to preliterary magic, shows the poet as pre-eminently the knower of names, and, in the unconscious, calling a name can command an appearance. For all the distortion, there is a continuous orgy of naming in Finnegans Wake: books of the Bible, suras of the Koran, lyrics of Tom Moore, catalogues of rivers and cities, just for a start. (CW 29:336)


It then occurred to me that the perspective might be reversed, starting with the sacred book and working outwards to secular literature. Nobody would attempt to study Islamic culture without starting with the Koran, or Hindu culture without starting with the Vedas and Upanishads: why should not a study of Western culture working outwards from the Bible be equally rewarding? (CW 26:14)


These latter include the curious Christian Neoplatonist who gave himself a name out of the New Testament, Dionysius the Areopagite; his Latin translator [John Scotus] Erigena; and various medieval and later visionaries: Meister Eckhart, [John] Ruysbroeck, [Jakob] Boehme, and others. Their central axiom is normally something like “one becomes what one beholds,” that is, consistent and disciplined vision ends in the kind of identification we have been associating with existential metaphor. Such people normally show little interest in literature, though there are literary affinities in some religions, such as the haggadic tradition in Judaism and the Sufi use of parables in Islam, which show clearly enough how relevant literature could be to this type of experience. (CW 26:86)


Students of Dante never cease to marvel at the completeness with which Dante has grasped the entire range of the myth, and have even suggested influences through Islamic sources that might have brought him in touch with such conceptions as the Mithraic ascent already mentioned. (CW 26:145)


Clearly the hero with one divine and one human parent, even if the divinity is only an angel, has no place in a strictly monotheistic religion, such as Judaism, or, much later, Islam. (CW 26:235)


Ordinary rhetoric does not really proclaim: it gives an emotional tone to arguments and uses poetic figures to colour appeals to immediate action, but it seldom comes near the primary concern of “How do I live a more abundant life?” This latter on the other hand is the central theme of all genuine kerygmatic, whether we find it in the Sermon on the Mount, the Deer Park Sermon of Buddha, the Koran, or in a secular book that revolutionizes our consciousness. (CW 269:110)


Obviously the ordinary critical value judgments applied to literature have no relevance to the kerygmatic. For a critic to say on literary grounds that the Bible, the Koran, the Buddhist or Hindu Scriptures are repetitive, chaotic, obscure, obscurantist, illogical, inconsistent, unconvincing, or whatnot would obviously be a totally futile procedure, whatever might be true of the judgments themselves. In this area the critical faculty can only make the best of what is presented to it. (CW 26:112)


Because of social acceptance, Paul’s views on the headgear of women in Corinth or the method of appointing elders in Galatia have acquired a tremendous resonance in Christian churches, and the disagreements of Engels and Dühring, or Lenin’s advice on the tactics of a strike, have gained a similar universally authoritative quality in Communist countries. The literary form of religious revelation, such as the Mosaic law or the Koran, is also discontinuous, breaking down into specific commandments or illustrations. (CW21:378)


Here arises the dialectic (not the conflict) of faith and doubt.  Doubt is the recognition of the hypothetical, imaginative, literary aspect of the Bible.  The “fundamental” type of belief assumes a “what’s really there” quality in the text that no serious critic could accept for a moment.  If such “thereness” existed, there’d be no need for churches and all sects would be ipso facto ridiculous.  (Jews and Moslems are just as sectarian as Christians.) (CW 5:14)


Well, the dialectic of belief and vision is the path I have to go down now.  My ideas at present are as crude as a child’s mud pies.  However, the metaphorical kernels of belief and vision are hearing and sight.  As long as belief means, in practice, the acceptance of something heard as the Word of God, the church, or corresponding body of believers, is caught in a narrowing dialectic.  Any sane person can see the wisdom of separating church & state: religion, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, is the worst possible basis for a secular society.  Buddhism persecutes less, but is probably just as shaky. (CW 5:73)


The moralist, of course, wants to create as many categories of crime as he can, and reduce sin to crime wherever possible.  Hence the importance of the redeemed harlot story that’s smuggled into John 8.  Making adultery a crime is usually a part of the anxiety of male domination, as in Moslem countries, & so is part of the sado-sexual set-up.  Here I have to walk carefully and without guidance, because even Blake couldn’t get rid of dominant-male anxieties.  (CW 5:94)


According to that liturgical piece Charles Heller showed me, the Jews were always clear about the metaphorical nature of the “revealed” Jehovah.  The Christians weren’t, though they were partly protected by the New Testament, where Jesus’ Father is better behaved and far more reticent.  The Moslems, on the other hand, got stuck with a God who’s a nut and a crank, and they’re led by unscrupulous people who want to make this obscene creature a political fetish.  In the sign of a stinker-God shalt thou conquer.  I’ve got all the material for the Gods constructed on the analogy of nature or social aristocracies, but can I say anything really new with it? (CW 5:252–3)


The individual grows out of the community: an infallible communion, whether Christian or Moslem or the Holy Communist Church of China, keeps human beings in an embryonic state.  The metaphors of flock and sheepfold are very dangerous.  What is the continuous function of the church?  What chance has one to develop an individual religious consciousness if the communal body isn’t there? (CW 6:697)


[27]  Thus: we read a book about history or gardening or aeronautics.  When we try to understand it as a whole we see that it is an assertive verbal structure related to, etc.  Assertive verbal structures, that is, dialectical arguments culminating in metaphysical systems, come next.  We try to understand St. Thomas Aquinas or Leibnitz or Hegel & find that they are historically & culturally conditioned products, i.e., works of ideology.  We look at ideological structures and find them products of poetic myths and metaphors.  We look at literary structures and find them products of a totality of imaginative vision (Tao, apocalypse, various Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem terms) where the subject-object and time-space distinctions no longer exist.  Behind the “code of art” I don’t think we can go. (CW 5:261)


I’ve just reread To the Lighthouse and am now rereading A Passage to India.  The first has three sections: an exposition, an analytical or sparagmos development, and a recapitulation. Two themes: getting to the Lighthouse and the painter Lily Briscoe’s vision.  Neither comes off in Part One: in Part Three they come off simultaneously: Mrs. Ramsay holds a society of 15 people, including a husband and eight children, together in Part One: she has nothing to do with the failure to get to the lighthouse, but does seem to have something to do with frustrating Lily’s vision.  In the middle section she and two of her children die.  I’m not sure I’ve got it, but the theme of descent in the middle is essential.  In PI [Passage to India] there are three parts, the middle one again a descent.  Xn [Christian]-Moslem axis in One; Xn [Christian]-Hindu in Three: in between the descent to caves (which contain mirrors) disintegrates the society and takes them down to the bedrock of pure ego (I compared it once to the voice in Dostoievsky’s Notes from Underground) that turns Mrs. Moore from a Hindu goddess into a tired & crabby old woman (my narrative sequence doesn’t fit the book, but it doesn’t matter). (CW 5:347)


The Feuerbach principle, that man creates God in his own image, is the one that all religions apply to all other religions except themselves.  But it can of course be applied to them by others.  I haven’t the least objection to having it said that my religion is essentially my own creation.  I feel that it must be that way because my understanding of anything is finite; but I think the position I do hold is one that enables me to crawl a little farther and discover a bit more.  Faced with a Jew, a Moslem, a Catholic, an atheistic humanist, I should not deny for a second that they also have positions from which to advance.  All this is very elementary: one assumption I’ve so far left aside.  I am what I am because of certain historical events: the Protestant Reformation, the Anglican settlement, the Methodist movement, the transfer of religious energies to the New World.  Hence if I express a tolerance that grants to any position the capacity of moving nearer whatever truth is, I am also annihilating history, assuming that all religious theory and practice today begins in a kind of apocalypse in which past history has exhausted its significance as such.  The nineteenth-century obsession with conversion, mainly from Protestant to Catholic positions, was a desperate effort to keep history continuous: I think it no longer works, if it ever did. (CW 6:467)


In our day we must give up the absolutizing of ideology as “right” or “established,” as Marxism ironically enough still does, and look for the real underlying source of power in more abundant life.  Morris’s Earthly Paradise.  Vision of hope not one of finally refuting Moslem or Marxist arguments. (CW6:544)


Clarified view of what ideological man is is the crazy Oedipus.  So the worst thing we can do is to “demythologize” anything.  Only mythology in its positive form expresses the vision of hope, a hope focussed on more abundant life for all and not on the hope of silencing the arguments of Moslems or Marxists. (CW 6:600)


Smaller antitheses have appeared in Asia as well as in Europe, & perhaps the Irish Protestant (or emancipated Catholic) & the Japanese Buddhist (a resurgence there may follow) are the closest links to me & my kindred spirits.  At present Yeats & Joyce are the ne plus ultra pillars of Hercules which some Ulysses must burst through on his way to Atlantis.  Along with Russia the quarrel of Tamas-Jews & Rajas-Moslems over the tomb of Jesus may be noted. (CW 15:97)


Yeats explains in the Vision, or tries to explain, that Byzantium represents a phase of the sublunary cycle he had to idealize in order to fit his scheme.  But Byzantium has an independent relation to Yeats’s thought: it’s the world of decadence, of Huysmans & an exhausted totalitarian society afflicted by sporadic efforts of violence, which is the analogy one has to pass through.  Russian culture is still Byzantine, & the Arabic Moslem complex is its external proletariat.  The race-memory, in the British is less of a pre-Roman (Church) indigenous culture, stronger in  Ireland (Patrick) even than in England, is also a memory of provincial Byzantine, & the Anglican–Greek orthodox rapprochement finds an odd echo in Yeats.  Wonder if I’m right about Stalin. (CW 15:101–2)


Rather an aimless story [Novalis’s, Heinrich von Ofterdingen] in many ways, though interesting: meets a Persian girl who’s a Moslem and thinks the Crusades are silly, but nothing is done with her. (CW 15:315)


The next year Lull went to Africa the second time, was mobbed, imprisoned for a year, holding debates with Moslem savants the while, and banished, being shipwrecked on his way home.  He landed at Pisa, where he wrote more books and endeavored to organize a new military order, the Templars being on their last legs and Lull’s faith in the irresistible persuasion of truth having waned.  He journeyed to Avignon (the captivity had commenced) with the proposition that a crusade should be undertaken, starting with a naval attack on Mohammedan ports, in which he was, of course, entirely unsuccessful.  Then he went to Paris for the last time.

Here his lecturing proved more popular than ever before; his treatises were examined and highly commended, and his prestige began to grow into something like real fame.  Alarmed at the continued spread of the doctrines of Averroes, he put himself at the head of an intellectual crusade against them, and wrote a series of didactic treatises against them.  In 1311 a general council of the Church met at Vienne, and Lull went to it to propose for the last time his projects of missionary colleges, chairs at universities for the teaching of heathen tongues, a united military order to carry on the crusades, and the furtherance of scholastic opposition to Averroes.  The council adopted most of his suggestions, and that they came largely to nothing is hardly the fault of anything but the fact that the time was out of joint.  Lull returned to Majorca, drew up his last will and testament, and, after a visit to Sicily, arrived in Tunis for the third time.  The Christian and Moslem worlds were on fairly good terms at the time, and Lull for a while taught and wrote in safety.  But a third mob gathered, and ended his long, heroic, unhappy fight for the Christian faith by stoning him to death (1315). (CW 3:224–5)


Around us today we see a great variety of social groups—Christian, Marxist, Moslem, anarchist, liberal, conservative—all of them full of hard‑liners who simply deny, in the interests of their own dogmas, that poets have any authority except what they might derive from whatever ideology the dogmatists themselves want to advance.  Their confident and self‑hypnotized assurance has influenced many of the more timid critics to believe or assume that if there is any value in the study of literature, it cannot inhere in literature itself.  (CW 18:292)


A revolutionary habit of mind, being founded on the sense of a crucial break in time at some point, the Exodus from Egypt, the Incarnation of Christ, the flight of Mohammed, the October Revolution in Russia, has a hostility to continuous tradition built into it. In Moslem countries everything that happened before Mohammed’s time is part of the age of ignorance. (CW 12:439)


In all societies there is a built-in tendency to anti-intellectualism. Sometimes this is maintained by a state-enforced dogma, as it is in the vulgar Marxism of the Soviet Union or the still more vulgar version of the Moslem religion enforced in Iran. (CW 7:588)


It seems to be a general rule that the more “orthodox” or “fundamentalist” a religious attitude is, the more strongly it resents this separation and the more consistently it lobbies for legislation giving its formulas secular authority. Today, in Israel and in much of the Moslem and Hindu world, as well as in Northern Ireland and South Africa, we can clearly see that these religious attitudes are the worst possible basis for a secular society. (CW 4:175)


Mr. Campbell’s writing is always lucid: sometimes he quotes a good deal from readily accessible sources, including the Bible (the Passion according to Mark takes up five pages), but there are illuminating passages from the Gnostics, from Plutarch (whom he describes as a “sober Roman”), and from Spengler, whose account of “Magian” culture has clearly fascinated him. At every point he uses the right and obvious authorities: Josephus for a lively account of the Maccabean dynasty, Gibbon for the theological squabbles of Justinian’s time, and the most reputable modern scholars throughout. But one has read about all this before, probably in his sources: one would have hoped, from the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, for a much more concentrated study of the vicissitudes and modulations of the earth-goddess, the thundering sky-god, the dying god, the demonic adversary, and the rest of the divine personae as they fluctuate and change roles through their Greek, Hebrew, Roman, Christian and Moslem incarnations. (CW 27:144–5)


To extend the meanings of “word” and “spirit” into areas beyond the human seems to make them into objects of belief. But it seems to me that there are two levels of belief. There is, first, professed belief, what we say we believe, think we believe, believe we believe. Professed belief is essentially a statement of loyalty or adherence to a specific community: what we say we believe defines us as Christians or Moslems or Marxists or whatever. But then there is another level in which our belief is what our actions show that we believe. With some highly integrated people the two levels are consistent. But professed belief, in our world, is pluralistic and competitive. It is characteristic of believing communities, anxious for their solidarity, to set up elaborate structures of faith that ask too much from their adherents in the way of professed belief, forgetting that any belief which cannot become an axiom of behaviour is not merely useless but dangerous. In some respects professed belief is a solid and satisfying basis for a community, yet in our world it seems that it is the worst possible basis for a secular community. Whether the community is nominally Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Moslem or Hindu, every secular state guided by religious principles seems to turn them into a form of devil-worship. (CW 4:80–1)


In a perfectly constructed romance the series of situations should relate to one another as well as to the hero, thus forming a conspiracy of dark powers in league with his dragon or whatever it is.  Thus Spenser.  Arisoto has a group of knights, but the underlying Xn-Moslem conflict is still there.  Thus romance has much the same form as comedy, except for its narrative interest in a sequence of adventures.  The Chaucerian tale is quite different from either. (CW 23:66)


Kaufman: So you see a very strong, fundamental, and inevitable tension between prophecy and organized religion?

Frye: Yes. I think that to the extent that a social organization interprets a religion, it is going to interpret it in terms of its own social ascendancy, and so it is going to become more and more a parody of that religion, just as Khomeini in Iran is a parody of the Moslem religion. He’s worshipping the devil and so were the inquisitors and the Protestant fanatics in the history of Christianity. (CW 24:675)


Winkler: You’ve talked of the dilemma of our age being in part the loss of a sense of continuity in time.

Frye: I think that the continuity of institutions was, if you look at the nineteenth century, a very major source of support—in the Church, the state, the legal traditions, and so on. But the twentieth century has seen so many revolutionary changes that it’s becoming more and more clear that institutions are not really continuous but are part of a dissolving pageant. I pointed to the university as about the only thing that was left that seemed to preserve some semblance of continuity. The churches are putting up a gallant fight, but I think it’s obvious that religion is a very poor basis for a state anywhere. If you look at some of the Moslem states now and of Christian ones before them, it’s always been the wrong choice. The university is perhaps the most coherent institution that I can think of in society, partly because it, in a sense, pretends to less than either religion or law. (CW 24:715)


Much has been said of the paradox of the Incarnation, but the paradox of Jehovism is much less conceivable.  This is a matter of God’s naming himself, of his deliberately limiting his essence to the God worshipped by the Jews.  This is the fundamental paradox in the West.  When we say the Moslems say “There is no God but Allah,” we attribute the same paradox to them, but they’re trying to repudiate that part of it: “There is no God but God” for them.  So my “false god” idea only works when God has made himself “true” dialectically by naming himself: God is this god. (CW 9:11–12)


Collected Works of Northrop Frye

CW 1 = The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932–1939. Vol. 1.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.    Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1996.

CW 2 = The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932–1939.  Vol. 2.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  2 vols.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1996.

CW 3 =  Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 1932–1938.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1997. 

CW 4 = Northrop Frye on Religion.  Ed. Alvin A. Lee and Jean O’Grady.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2000. 

CW 5 = Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, 1982–1990: Architecture of the Spiritual World.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2000. 

CW 6 = Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, 1982–1990: Architecture of the Spiritual World.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2000.

CW 7 = Northrop Frye’s Writings on Education.  Ed. Goldwin French and Jean O’Grady.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.   

CW 8 = The Diaries of Northrop Frye, 1942–1955.  Ed. Robert D. Denham. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2001.

CW 9 = The “Third Book” Notebooks of Northrop Frye, 1964–1972: The Critical Comedy.  Ed. Michael Dolzani. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2001.   

CW 10 = Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 1936–1989.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002.

CW 11 = Northrop Frye on Modern Culture.  Ed. Jan Gorak. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002

CW 12 =  Northrop Frye on Canada.  Ed. Jean O’Grady and David Staines. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. 

CW 13 = Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts. Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2003. 

CW 14 = Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake.  Ed. Nicholas Halmi.  Intro. Ian Singer. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2004. 

CW 15 = Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Romance.  Ed. Michael Dolzani.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2004. 

CW 16 = Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake.  Ed. Angela Esterhammer.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2005. 

CW 17 = Northrop Frye’s Writings on the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  Ed. Imre Salusinszky.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2005. 

CW 18 = “The Secular Scripture” and Other Writings on Critical Theory. Ed. Joseph Adamson and Jean Wilson.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006. 

CW 19 = The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. Ed. Alvin A. Lee.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006.

CW 20 = Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Renaissance Literature. Ed. Michael Dolzani.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006. 

CW 21 = “The Educated Imagination” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1933–1963. Ed. Germaine Warkentin.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006.   

CW 22 = Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006.

CW 23 = Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for “Anatomy of Criticism.” Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2007. 

CW 24 = Interviews with Northrop Frye.  Ed. Jean O’Grady.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2008.

CW 25 = Northrop Frye’s Fiction and Miscellaneous Writings.  Ed. Robert D. Denham and Michael Dolzani.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2007. 

CW 26 = Words with Power: Being a Second Study of “The Bible and Literature. Ed. Michael Dolzani.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2008.

CW 27 = “The Critical Path” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1963–1975.  Ed. Eva Kushner and Jean O’Grady.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009.

CW 28 = Northrop Frye’s Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance.  Ed. Gary Sherbert and Troni Grande.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2010.  

CW 29 = Northrop Frye’s Writings on Twentieth-Century Literature.  Ed. Glen Robert Gill.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

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