Prophecy and Recognition in the Criticism of Northrop Frye

by Michael Happy

In the Introduction to Words with Power Northrop Frye mentions in passing that this last book published during his lifetime is a restatement of and successor to Anatomy of Criticism, published more than thirty years before.1 How is it a restatement and what is being succeeded? Frye of course is remarkable for the consistency of his critical vision. There are no sudden conversions to new schools of thought or radical changes of direction.  He in fact claimed that the handful of personal epiphanies informing his critical outlook occupy less than an hour altogether, and that his entire writing life was an effort to give full expression to them.2 The four major works that arguably represent the foundation of Frye’s enduring significance— Fearful Symmetry, Anatomy of Criticism, The Great Code, and Words with Power (the latter two being studies of “the Bible and literature”) therefore can and should be seen as cardinal points of that effort.  By tracing the threads that link these works, we can see why Frye would regard Words with Power as a restatement of and the successor to the work that secured his worldwide reputation.  That influence, unfortunately, has since waned in the mainstream of academic scholarship, not only to the considerable cost of literary studies but also to the wider cultural debate. It is perhaps easier for Frye scholars to imagine what that debate might look like if it were informed by his notion of primary concern rather than by the ideologically driven secondary concerns that continue to dominate critical discourse.  The scholarly world that was once revolutionized by Anatomy of Criticism may have been content to move on as intellectual fashions changed during the last quarter of the 20th century, but Frye remained true to his sense that literature has its own unique autonomy and authority, and with Words with Power he rounded out his effort to account for the singularly prophetic power of that literature possesses.

The range of the autonomy and authority of literature is probably most comprehensively accounted for in the four essays of Anatomy.  What appears to lie behind the subsequent widespread dismissal of this definitive work, which accelerated with the rise of post-structuralism in the last quarter of the twentieth century, is essay three and the alleged “master narratives” of archetypal criticism.3 However, besides the fact that literary archetypes can be found everywhere through the inductive survey of literature and therefore should not be dismissed as merely a culture-specific imposition, it can also be said that there continue to be master narratives applied to the reading of literature even after the advent of post-structuralism.  These new narratives are simply the latest institutionally approved ones and typically involve some sort of indictment of the repressive domination of an ascendant and exclusionary ideology. Furthermore, all critical approaches to literature can be fairly regarded as archetypal.  Those archetypes may be rendered as the unstable hierarchy of suppressed supplements assumed by the deconstructive criticism that flourished during the 1980s, or by the wide-ranging symptomology of patriarchy assumed by the critical approaches that followed in its wake: feminism, New Historicism, and post-colonialism, which are the direct antecedents of what appears to be the current state of flux in literary criticism.  Archetype, after all, refers primarily to an observably persistent and repeating pattern, and that is as true of literary phenomena as social and historical and ideological ones.  One of the many things that continues to set Frye apart is his appreciation that the autonomy and authority of literature means that the study of it should address the specifically trans-ideological and trans-historical archetypes that literature everywhere displays.  Such archetypes are as pertinent to the four thousand year old epic of Gilgamesh as they are to the any literary work produced today.  Frye scholars, once again, are clear enough on this, which means that a deeper exploration of the implications of his criticism should always be available to them.  And, if we are looking for the link that makes Words with Power the successor to Anatomy of Criticism, any deeper exploration of Frye’s critical vision will include the relation between the four mythoi of Anatomy (romance, comedy, tragedy, and irony-satire) and the four variations of Words with Power (the Mountain, the Garden, the Cave, and the Furnace), which appears to be the most obvious parallel between the two works.  What the mythoi of Anatomy and the variations of Words have in common is a shared reference to four archetypally-rendered primary concerns — freedom, sex, food, and property — which literature prophetically reveals in the critical recognition of them.

In the thirty-three years separating Anatomy of Criticism and Words with Power Frye published a lot of work, but three books for our purposes here stand out.  The first is The Secular Scripture, his most extensive single study of romance; the second is The Great Code; and the third is Words with Power, which together with The Great Code explores the influence of biblical typology on Western literature.  With Secular Scripture and Great Code two key terms come into play in understanding the further reaches of Frye’s critical outlook: “de te fabula” with regard to romance, and “kerygma” with regard to biblical typology. Romance’s inherent principle of “de te fabula,” or “the story is about you,” refers to the imaginative expression of what Frye later in Words with Power calls primary concern.  Kerygma, or “proclamation,” on the other hand, is a technical term from traditional biblical exegesis which Frye radically recasts.  What he intends by the his modified meaning of kerygma is what he attempts to manifest in the typologically progressive “double-mirror” chapter structure of The Great Code, although exactly what he means by the term is elusive to many readers.  Turning to the index seems to confirm how elusive it remains: there are just three citations of the word in The Great Code. What does seem clear from the perspective of Words with Power, however, is that the prophetic quality of de te fabula may also be regarded as the literary threshold of kerygma. Literature, by way of romance, provides access to what kerygma “proclaims,” and that is the creative power of the word in the context of the primary human concerns.  These primary concerns can in turn be associated with each of the four kerygmatic variations explored in Words with Power: freedom of movement, identified with the variation of the Mountain; sex, identified with the variation of the Garden; food, with the variation of the Cave; and property, with the variation of the Furnace. Which is to say that, in the continuum of myth and metaphor that makes up Anatomy’s “verbal universe,” what Frye characterizes in The Great Code as the Bible’s “unique” typological structure, kerygmatically reveals the word as the principle of creation that it is not necessarily attached to a religious belief system.  Meanwhile, literature’s imaginative but still concerned use of words similarly manifests the primary concerns relating to freedom, sex, food, and property that all genuine acts of creation intend to fulfill:5

In order to see the kerygmatic relation between the mythoi of Anatomy of Criticism and the variations of Words with Power and their associated primary concerns, we need only trace the path from Fearful Symmetry, with its Blakean notion of the imaginative revelation of the “human-divine” through the arts, to the fully realized kerygmatic vision of primary concern through literature of Words with Power. This, again, is best done by way of The Secular Scripture and The Great Code; The Secular Scripture especially because it is there Frye demonstrates that romance is, first, the “pre-generic” mythos of which the other mythoi are phases, and, second, that it is also, thanks to the principle of de te fabula, inherently prophetic with regard to human concerns.  The mythos of romance is also extensively explored in Anatomy where Frye suggests that its central form is “dialectical.”  This dialectic is present in the romance narrative’s archetypal four-part structure of “perilous journey” (agon or conflict), “crucial struggle” (pathos or death-struggle), “disappearance and death of the hero” (sparagmos or tearing-to-pieces), and, finally, “exaltation of the hero” (anagnorisis or discovery).  Altogether, these four phases result in a separation of the “alienation” that initiates the agon of adventure from the “identity” that accompanies the anagnorisis of exaltation.

 

Frye, however, also makes a remarkable leap of insight whose significance seems to have been largely overlooked.  Once we appreciate the character and relation of the four mythoi, he says, we may then also regard them “as four aspects of a central unifying myth” which is itself a comprehensive romance narrative:

Agon or conflict is the basis or archetypal theme of romance, the radical of romance being a sequence of marvellous adventures.  Pathos or catastrophe, whether in triumph or defeat, is the archetypal theme of tragedy.  Sparagmos, or the sense that heroism and effective action are absent, disorganized or fore-doomed to defeat, and that confusion and anarchy reign over this world, is the archetypal theme of irony and satire.  Anagnorisis, or recognition of a newborn society rising in triumph around a still somewhat mysterious hero and his bride, is the archetypal theme of comedy. (AC 192)

In other words, romance is not only the pre-generic literary mythos of which the other mythoi are distinct but related phases, but those mythoi also possess romance’s dialectical structure separating “alienation” from “identity.”  All literary narratives, therefore, are romances inasmuch as the complete romance narrative and its core dialectic are implicit in them. In a very real sense, comedy suggests tragedy, and vice versa. What is apparent in both is the complete romance narrative of which they are phases.

The importance of appreciating this becomes obvious with The Secular Scripture because it is here that Frye demonstrates how the pre-generic literary narrative of romance is also prophetic in relation to primary concern.  He does not explicitly begin to address the specifically prophetic quality of romance until the last chapter, “The Recovery of Myth,” but he allows the issue to surface briefly at different crucial moments, and, like any good writer of poetry or fiction, he resolves what has been mostly submerged throughout with a satisfying moment of recognition.  Like Paulina in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale who brings what is supposedly the statue of Hermione to life, Frye reveals what has been hidden in plain sight the entire time but for which his audience must be adequately prepared to see.

According to Frye, the “secular scripture” of literature is always subordinated to the “sacred scripture” of religion and other forms of socially cohesive ideology.  But the distinction between secular and sacred also suggests a dialectical relation between them.  On the one hand, there is “the verbal aspect of man’s own creation,” or literature’s worldly vision of fulfilled desire and realized identity; and, on the other, there is the “otherness of spirit” presumed to be external to all human endeavour, “a revelation traditionally given to man by God” in what is everywhere regarded as “scripture” in its more conventionally sacred sense (SeS 60). The divinely revealed “otherness” of sacred scripture is in turn recognizable as the projected authority of ideology in all its variations, which was for a long time the singular obsession of a whole generation of literary scholars who first deconstructed it and then set the deconstructed elements into ongoing discourse with one another.  Following Frye’s argument, however, to look no further than this projected authority is to give priority to a presumed “reality” over a presumptive “imagination.”  The resulting critical indifference to the trans-ideological nature of literary archetype is a more or less predictable consequence.  If we cannot recognize the universal nature of the primary human concerns which constitute the imaginative context of all literature, then we will find ourselves lost in a maze of relative relationships, all possessing only contingent value.  Recognizing literature’s imaginative context also restores what Frye calls literature’s re-creative power, and the best access to the power of recreation is the prophetic dimension of recognition so readily apparent in romance.6

The unapologetically anti-realistic, wish-fulfilling, “once upon a time” and “happily ever after” aspect of romance narrative has the notable effect of drawing attention to its formulaic story-telling conventions, which are so obvious that children can recognize and even parody them.  And this, Frye’s argument suggests, is effectively the first access to literature’s prophetic character.  The primitive element of wish-fulfillment in romance simultaneously draws attention to the “artificiality” of the literary conventions involved, and to the fundamental human desires that motivate and shape them.  This in turn produces the beginnings of a prophetic state that Frye once again refers to as “de te fabula“—the awareness that “the story is about you,” a condition readily discernible in the characteristic “identification with” the heroes and heroines of romance which this fundamental imaginative impulse relentlessly encourages.

With the gradual cultural shift in priority from the hero of literature to the author of literature in the late 18th century, and then from the author to the reader (culminating in the fully developed postmodernist perspective of the late 20th century), the de te fabula principle of self-recognition has evolved from a naive state of a primal “identification with” the protagonist to the much more advanced state of “identification as” the protagonist.  That “identification as” emerges because of our gradual critical recognition that the protagonist’s concerns and desires are also inextricably ours as part of our shared humanity and the imaginative shape we give to it.  As the significance of this awareness increases, the reader’s passive state of wish-fulfillment (that is, the escapist entertainment literature traditionally provides) becomes an active state of recognition of the creative potential such wishes express.  What we typically think of as the “recreation” of reading for pleasure becomes the recreation of the broad spectrum of existential concern in its primary state.  At such a level of apprehension the projected authority we assign almost by default to verbal structures as some form of a compulsive “Thou shalt / Thou shalt not” ideological formulation may be regarded as an authority we ourselves possess without needing to project it.  In this state of what Words with Power characterizes as “intensified consciousness,” we might even say that what were once referred to as the transcendental signifieds of conflicting ideologies can be set aside for a principle of immanent signification originating in universally shared human concerns and manifested by universally expressive literary archetypes.  From such a perspective primary concerns are recognized to be primary, while the secondary concerns of ideology are properly subordinated as secondary.  This is a social condition that is much desired but has never been fully realized.  It is, however, also something that literary scholars should be in a unique position to facilitate.  If the primacy of primary concern were to be realized, the distinction between the secular scripture of literature and the sacred scriptures of ideology would break down.  Frye characterizes the trend this way:

In most modern writers, from Blake on, it is the creative power in man that is returning to its original awareness. The secular scripture tells us that we are the creators; other scriptures tell us that we are actors in a drama of divine creation and redemption… Identity and self-recognition begin when we realize that this is not an either-or question, when the great twins of divine and human recognition have merged into one, and we can see the same shape of both. (SeS 157)

This brings us back around to the prophetic relation between the secular scripture humanity has produced and the spiritual “otherness” of sacred scripture that seems to be outside of and informing it, encouraging people of all cultures throughout history to regard everything that seems most profoundly human as somehow coming from outside of it: “descending from the most ancient of days in time, coming down from the remotest heights in space” (SeS 182). How does the prophetic perspective of romance rescue us from the idolatry of this projected authority while at the same time retaining the genuine creative authority that can be distilled from it?  Frye sees romance as representing the recovery of the projected authority suggested by an artificial creation myth, such as the one in Genesis where an omnipotent deity is said to have created (via the Word) the natural order humanity now inhabits.  It is for this reason that the action of romantic comedy, for example, has a very pronounced cyclical character, bringing the action around from the unhappy conditions that set it in motion to a more satisfactory conclusion that is also identified with a natural order where spring succeeds winter, youth succeeds age, birth succeeds death, and so on.  Romance, on the other hand, has an equally pronounced dialectical character in which these same binary elements are fully distinguished, and the undesirable qualities of the natural order associated with alienation and destruction are displaced to leave behind an archetypal” locus amoenus,” or “pleasant place,” where it is traditionally spring and autumn at once, and where death has been banished from the realm of the living.  What accompanies this apocalyptic vision is the complete restoration of identity in which human will and desire are no longer confronted with any impediment of a fallen nature:

Romance, the kernel of fable, begins an upward journey towards man’s recovery of what he projects as sacred myth. At the bottom of the mythological universe is a death and a rebirth process which cares nothing for the individual; at the top is the individual’s regained identity. At the bottom is a memory which can only be returned to, a closed circle of recurrence; at the top is the recreation of memory. (SeS 183)

The dialectic of this up and down imagery is significant in itself as a universally recurring cross-cultural archetype, and it extends to the four variations of Words with Power.  The top of the order is represented by the Mountain and the bottom by the ambiguous depths of the Furnace where the creative forces of the “titanic” must be distinguished from the destructive forces of the “demonic.” The Furnace reminds us that human beings remain mortal creatures in full possession of all the insults that flesh is heir to.  But our apocalyptic vision of a life everlasting expresses a prophetic concern for the human community as a whole throughout a history that, as Auden observes in his late poem “Archaeology,” merely records “the criminal in us.” Auden goes on to conclude that “goodness is timeless,” and that enduring goodness is manifested by human endeavor in which, despite the inescapable fact of individual death, life as an expression of the principle of creation itself is recognized to be both eternal and present: the ongoing recreation—here and now—of a human world suffused with the primary concerns which may also be identified with the projected concerns of what in a religious context is a just and loving God.  Such an endeavor is always “outside” the individual in the sense that it is received as part of a common cultural inheritance, but it is nevertheless expressed from within the individual as a legacy to be perpetuated through good works and duly passed from hand to hand in good faith.  It is in this sense that we can say that the best work of the greatest artists is “immortal.”  As such, that work has been transformed into a human “property” that lives on as a cultural legacy in defiance of death.  It is, as Frye says of literature in Words with Power, a “site of resurrection” where our redeemed afterlife truly begins; except, of course, that the “afterlife” is the life we are free to live after we have reclaimed our common birthright of primary concern.

When it comes to the life-perpetuating quality of the arts, therefore, it should be noted that during his survey of the archetypes of romance in Secular Scripture, Frye effectively identifies a distinct archetype of prophetic self-recognition.  In his detailed account of the theme of descent that all romances follow to the point of a threatened complete loss of identity, Frye observes that there is usually a “self-recognition scene” which is “central to romance, and is in fact what all recognition scenes point to” (SeS 152).  Crucial to this self-recognition is “the role of the letter or message” or some other form of verbal communication that reminds the protagonist of who he or she really is and reverses the downward narrative trend to become an ascent toward a state of recovered identity.  The implication is that the heroism required for the successful completion of what Frye calls humanity’s “great quest” is defined “not so much by what one does, as by virtue of what one reads” (SeS 157).  The expansion of this archetype of verbal insight outward from the text to the reader is clearly what constitutes our prophetic self-recognition in all its verbal contexts.  For the reader as much as for the heroes and heroines of romance, there is the potential to identify with what we read and, recognizing ourselves, regain our true identity, which, of course, always far exceeds the social and ideological constraints placed upon it.  Literature does not passively reflect the conditions that produce it; literature confronts and challenges those conditions in the context of primary concern for any reader willing to acknowledge them.

So the “restatement” and “succession” Frye refers to in the introduction of Words with Power is now apparent. Fearful Symmetry articulates the Blakean vision of the “human-form divine,” in which the divine power of creation is identified with the human recreation via the arts. Meanhwhile, the pre-generic and prophetic condition of romance and therefore of all literature is demonstrated in Anatomy and Secular Scripture.  The Great Code goes on to explore the enhanced prophetic dynamic of kerygma generated by a unique biblical typology which informs the literature of Bible-based cultures. What Frye calls our “recreated memory” available through literature includes the kerygmatic revelation of the creating power of the Word whose recreating author we are and whose apocalyptic authority can ultimately only be our own.7 Finally, Words with Power explores four kerygmatic variations associated with four trans-ideological primary concerns that are, as Frye lucidly suggests, proper to all human beings everywhere, all of the time, and without notable exception.  Because myth is metaphor in movement and metaphor is myth in stasis, it is a simple enough matter to align the metaphorical variations of Words with Power with the narrative mythoi of Anatomy of Criticism. In that case the pre-generic and prophetic mythos of romance can be identified with the kerygmatic variation of the Mountain and its primary concern of freedom; comedy with the Garden and the primary concern of sex; tragedy (whose archetype is renewal of the community through individual sacrifice) with the Cave and the primary concern of food; and irony-satire (because human endeavour recasts the natural environment to give it a human shape) with the Furnace and the primary concern of property:8

Romance          The Mountain          Primary Concern of Freedom

Comedy            The Garden               Primary Concern of Sex

Tragedy            The Cave                    Primary Concern of Food

Irony/Satire    The Furnace             Primary Concern of Property

In each instance, the prophetic motive of recognition within the mythos reveals the primary concern involved, giving it an intensified expression of who we really are and what we really want, despite the conflicting ambiguities of existence otherwise represented by way of secondary concerns.  As Frye observes in Words with Power, any work of literature “will reflect the secondary and ideological concerns of its time, but it will relate those concerns to the primary ones of making a living, making love, and struggling to stay free and alive” (WP 43).  As he also notes in The Myth of Deliverance, we read literature critically not to see more in it, but more of it.9 The “more” we are looking to see is the revelation of the creative agency of primary concern that exceeds all secondary expressions of it.

We are fortunate to have at least one comprehensive literary genius whose body of work allows us to perceive these relations almost at a glance, and that is, as might be expected, Shakespeare, whose plays embody the four mythoi Frye provides in Anatomy: romances, comedies, tragedies, and histories (which, because they are literarily rendered histories, are also effectively a form of irony-satire). Shakespeare’s romances with their idealized characterizations and fantastical elements of prophecy, dream, and magic reveal the variation of the Mountain and the primary concern of freedom; his comedies with their elaborate erotic intrigues and improbably resolved confusions reveal the variation of the Garden and the primary concern of sex; his tragedies with their besieged communities redeemed through blood sacrifice reveal the variation of the Cave and the primary concern of food; and, finally, his histories with their stereoscopic ironic-satirical perspective on the persistence of human folly reveal the variation of the Furnace and the primary concern of property.10 Because romance is the pre-generic mythos of which the other three mythoi are distinct but related phases, we can perhaps also appreciate why Shakespeare ended his career with the composition of the great romances which took him to the visionary heights of the Mountain and its unrestricted vista of human activity liberated from the taint of corruption and death, even if such a taint remains a congenital condition of human life. What had been more or less implicit in Shakespeare’s exploration of the three other mythoi becomes explicit in the romances as a comprehensive recognition of humanity’s prophetic potential.  Shakespeare’s last romance is The Tempest, which is comprehensively prophetic in the sense of being entirely a play within a play presented by Prospero, and whose real-time consequences are simultaneous with its performance.  This play was once regarded as Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre before his retirement.  But from our perspective it is not really that. The Tempest represents not just a departure but an arrival, where, as Frye says in Words with Power, “the ladder of progressive steps ends [and] the dance of liberated movement begins” (WP 187).  That liberation is represented by Prospero’s renunciation of “natural” magic in favour of the transformative and humanly-produced magic of love and redemption the play through the full and deliberate display of its imaginative conventions has unveiled as a source of freedom.

Together Shakespeare and Frye allow us to see the value of the prophetic self-recognition of literature that breaks free of all ideological reductions of it.  Anatomy of Criticism’s “Polemical Introduction” remains as stirringly relevant today as when it was first published because while the names of the various and always proliferating critical schools have changed, their outlook has not.  The problem now as it was then is that literature is still not regarded as having its own autonomy or authority.  Frye better than any critic before or since understood that literature does not need to be read ideologically so much as ideology needs to be read literarily—that is, read prophetically and in the context of the perpetual recreation and recognition of universally shared primary concerns that all ideologies conspicuously fail to realize.  Again, romance is the pre-generic mythos whose archetype is the Mountain and whose primary concern is freedom, and it therefore represents both our point of departure and our destination, the place from which we set out and to which we return renewed. As Frye puts it in Words with Power, the Mountain manifests the “concern of concerns,” which he further characterizes as “the consciousness of consciousness,” and such a state is, as he also says, a condition of “intensified consciousness” whose source and goal can only be freedom. And so it is with all literature.  Unlike ideology literature does not and cannot compel.  It invites our free participation and our free response. And like literary metaphor, the vision of literature simultaneously expresses what is and is not, and invites our recognition that it is nevertheless “real.” To make it actual is entirely up to us.

Notes

1 Words with Power xii.

2 David Cayley, Northrop Frye in Conversation. Toronto: House of Anansi 1992, 49.

3 See, for example, “The Place of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism” in Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

4 Frye refers to the “unique” typological structure of the Bible on page 80 of The Great Code.

5 It is worth noting that Frye was using the term “recreation” in his first major scholarly work, Fearful Symmetry (1947), more than twenty years before “deconstruction” (adapted from Martin Heidegger’s earlier coinage) became a widely adopted post-structuralist term.

6 The kerygmatic dimension of meaning arising from the Bible’s unique typological structure may seem to open the door to accusations of cultural bias and all the bogies that come with it. But perhaps the point should be emphasized that the prophetic perspective is proper to literature itself; it can in fact even be seen in the world’s oldest surviving work of literature, the epic of Gilgamesh, in which the hero, having been denied immortality by the gods, returns to his city and, contemplating its magnificence, realizes that creative human endeavour represents the only access to immortality available to mortal beings. Frye’s point seems to be that kerygma—the typological revelation of the human-divine first hinted at in Fearful Symmetry and then fully explored in The Great Code and Words with Power—is an intensified projection of a property that is already present in and is always a primary condition of myth and metaphor. The distinction between the typological and the non-typological is therefore a matter of degree, not kind, the typology of the Judeo-Christian Bible being an arrangement of archetypes that (beyond the ideology of compelled religious belief) includes all prophetically concerned sources of authorship, God included. See The Great Code, “Typology I” and “Typology II.”

7  The relation between the Mountain and romance and between the Garden and comedy is self-evident. I hope that the affinity of the Cave with tragedy and of the Furnace with irony-satire is also discernible, if not necessarily as obvious. The archetype of tragedy is the redemption of the community through individual sacrifice. The undisplaced archetype is therefore cannibalistic and the displaced archetype eucharistic. In any event, the primal metaphor is sustenance as a necessary means of survival of the human community, and the primary concern must therefore be food. Irony-satire, meanwhile, provides a critical vision of the world as it is (irony) with the added dimension of some sense of the world as we would like it to be (satire). As Frye points out in Anatomy, satire is “militant irony.” Such a vision—because it deals with contingent human expectations, beliefs, and institutions—relates to human endeavour, and its primary concern is therefore property, or what is “proper” to the human condition.

8 The Myth of Deliverance: Reflections on Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983.

9 To identify the primary concern and its accompanying structure of metaphor for each mythos is not, it should go without saying, to restrict any individual literary work to those considerations. Frye wrote many tens of thousands of words on Shakespeare, for example, including four full-length books (A Natural Perspective, Fools of Time, The Myth of Deliverance, and On Shakespeare), as well as a score of essays. His approach each time is expansive, not reductive. Frye wanted principally to disclose the uniquely creative authority of literature, particularly in its social context, and his exploration of imaginative archetype, social and individual concern, the influence of biblical typology on Western literature, and the fundamentally prophetic character of the romance narrative, eventually brought him to a notion of kerygma that radically informs his last two major works. The best analogy is perhaps key in music. There might be any number of pieces of music written in the key of C, but that obviously does not require them to sound alike. In the same way, we now know thanks to the human genome project that all human beings share more than 99.99% identical genetic material. Evidently an infinitesimal degree of variation can yield infinite difference. And, as Frye points out in Words with Power, “identity is love, difference is beauty.”

Works Cited

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.

The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.

Words with Power: Being a Second Study of the Bible and Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*