The Significance of “Beyond” in Frye’s Visionary Poetics

Robert D. Denham
Delivered at Victoria College, 20 January 2005

One should always say what goes without saying, as Frye was fond of remarking, so I shall say at once how pleased I am to be back at Victoria. It has been some time since I was on campus. In the 1990s I spent many an hour in the Pratt Library snooping around in the Frye papers and photocopying thousands of pages of Frye’s unpublished things. But once I got my nose stuck into this Collected Works project, it became something of an obsession, displacing the trips to Canada I used to take several times a year, and other things as well. In any event, I’m happy to be back and I thank Sandy Johnson and David Cook for inviting me—and Margaret and Jean and Alvin for the hand they had it. And I thank all of you of course for coming out.

Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism of course occupies a large space in his career. It is the book that made his career and, if we look at the large number of things that continue to be written about Frye, continues to guarantee his influence. It’s a bit presumptuous to say that the Anatomy will guarantee Frye’s status as a major critical voice, but I’ve been struck recently by just how many people in literary studies and beyond continue to take their cues from that book. In graduate study, an increasing number of doctoral students are writing their dissertations on Frye. There have been 185 altogether—63 in the 1980s, 67 in the 1990s, and in the first three years of the present decade, 23. In fact the largest number of dissertations about Frye or in which he figured importantly in a given year was twelve in 2003. Of these, eight address topics that Frye explored in the Anatomy—Menippean satire, romance, myth, genre theory, typological imagery, and the like. A similar point can be made about those who continue to write on Frye. The 1987 bibliography on Frye listed 588 essays or parts of books devoted to his work. In the seventeen intervening years more than 900 have been added to this list, which should give some pause to those who have announced that after the 1970s Frye was dead and buried. By far the large majority of the recently written things spring from the Anatomy. So that’s a book that is still very much with us, and not just in North America. Of the fifteen translations of the Anatomy, eight have appeared since 1980, the year following the reports that it was the most frequently cited book in the arts and humanities by a writer born in the twentieth century. My guess is that without the Anatomy there would be no Northrop Frye Hall, no Northrop Frye Centre, no Northrop Frye Literary Festival, no streets named Northrop Frye in Sherbrooke and Moncton. And without the Anatomy, a book that captured my imagination forty years ago, I certainly wouldn’t be talking with you about Frye here today.

But Frye is much larger than the Anatomy, and my remarks today spring from an intuition that has been with me for the past dozen or so years. It began with the feeling that there was something more basic to Frye than all the formal structures he built, than all of his Aristotelian anatomizing, his catalogues of literary conventions, and his ingenious schema. I recently spent almost a year and a half exploring this intuition and what resulted was, I think, if not a revisionary view of Frye’s grand achievement at least an expanded one. My thesis is that his entire career takes the shape of a spiritual quest and that the base of the massive superstructure he built was religious. It’s not simply that Frye was interested in religion. It’s rather that religion was central to practically everything he wrote. Advancing the stronger claim has been made easier by my having had access to the remarkable notebooks that Frye kept for more than fifty years. This is a substantial body of material—amounting to well over a million words and representing approximately one-fourth of all of Frye’s writing. Five of the eight volumes of notebook material have now made their way into print. My aim—the final cause of my study—was the rather modest one of trying to understand what Frye meant when he said in one of his late notebooks that he was “an architect of the spiritual world,.” a phrase that I used as the subtitle of my book.

Frye’s religious quest became more insistent as he advanced in years. The Late Notebooks, for example, written during the last decade of his life, have very little to say about literature but are packed with religious speculations. One of the advantages of living in the electronic age is that we now have all of Frye’s texts, published and unpublished, on disk. This means that within a very brief time, one can search his texts for every occurrence of a given word or phrase. Frye often uses different words to mean the same thing and the same word to mean different things, so that drawing out all instances of his use of a given word and putting in them in a single file enables one to get a better sense of what precisely he wants to convey by using a particular word. Frye said repeatedly that his goal was to try to find the right verbal formulation for the insights that came to him as epiphanies. “I am not interested in belief,” he writes in one of his notebooks for The Great Code,” but only with trying to understand a language” (RT, 303).

Frye was naturally aware of the widespread perplexity in contemporary thought about whether we use language or language uses us, and the case can be made that Frye’s language—the material cause of his work—pulls him along one critical path rather than another. His central terms tend to expand beyond ordinary usage, taking on such a variety of subtexts and overtones that they actually become the formal cause of his work, linguistic matter transformed into conceptual substance. One can hardly grasp Frye’s intent in Anatomy of Criticism without looking closely at the different meanings that cluster around such central words as “myth,” “archetype,” “displacement,” “dianoia,” “allegory,” “rhythm,” “radical of presentation,” among scores of other key words. In that book Frye refers to himself as a “terminological buccaneer” (362)—one who pirates words from here and there and adapts them for his own purposes—and he also says in the Anatomy that exploring the “range of connotations” of individual words used by philosophers can provide a key to understanding their systems (335). My study more or less follows this procedure, probing a number of key words in Frye’s poetics, and I devote separate chapters to “interpenetration,” “identity,” and “vision,” glancing along the way at what he means by “kerygma,” “imaginative literalism,” “revelation,” “recognition,” “consciousness,” “dialectic,” “Aufhebung,” “imagination,” “vortex,” and “love.” Because the meanings of these words are not transparent, representing instead what W.C. Gallie calls “essentially contested concepts,” it was important, I felt, to examine the range of their connotations. In this respect my study is not unlike R. B. Onians’s examination of Homer’s vocabulary in The Origins of European Thought and Owen Barfield’s of Coleridge’s in What Coleridge Thought, both studies that Frye himself admired.

Some of the terms just mentioned, such as “kerygma” and “revelation,” are explicitly religious. Some are not. Many of the terms often turn out to be practically synonymous—”recognition” and “revelation,” for example, or “vision” and “expanded consciousness,” or “interpenetration,” which is for Frye fundamentally a religious category,” and “identity,” the underlying principle of both metaphor and “myths to live by.” Let me try to indicate how the various uses of a single word can be revealing, choosing not one of the expansive terms just mentioned but a lowly little preposition.


Frye noted that most prepositions imply spatial relationships. When words like “up” and “down,” “inside” and “outside,” “ahead of” and” behind,” “over” and “under” are used metaphorically, they express, or at least imply, concepts and diagrammatic structures of thought.[1] His most extended application of this observation is in A Study of English Romanticism, where he illustrates that the difference between the Pre-Romantic and Romantic mythological structures is a difference, among other things, in the spatial diagrams embodied in prepositions. Here’s what he says:

For the quest of the soul, the attaining of man’s ultimate identity, the traditional metaphors were upward ones, following the movement of the ascension of Christ, though they were there even before the Psalmist lifted up his eyes to the hills. In Romanticism the main direction of the quest of identity tends increasingly to be downward and inward, toward a hidden basis or ground of identity between man and nature. . . . Romanticism brought in a new mythological construction. We can still think of it as a four-tiered structure, but it is much less concretely related to the physical world as we ordinarily perceive it. What corresponds to heaven and hell is still there, the worlds of identity and of alienation, but the imagery associated with them, being based on the opposition of “within” and “without” rather than of “up” and “down,” is almost reversed. The identity “within,” being not purely subjective but a communion, whether with nature or God, is often expressed in imagery of depth or descent. (SER, 33, 46–7)

The power that prepositions have to reveal a structure of thought can be telling, as in the difference between “within” and “among” as translations for entos in Luke 17:21. Did the gospel writer mean to emphasize that the kingdom of God is individual and psychological (within you, as in the AV) or social and communal (among you, as in the New English Bible)? Or was he rather a punster, intending for the little preposition to carry the weight of both meanings? Frye believed that it was both/and.

Turning Frye’s principle back upon his own writing uncovers prepositional metaphors everywhere, such as this typically Romantic one: “The function of art is to awaken faith by making us aware of the imaginative world concealed within us” (RT, 246). But the most revealing preposition in Frye’s religious quest is, I think, “beyond,” a preposition that takes on special significance only late in his career. During the last decade of his life he uses the word repeatedly as both a spatial and a temporal metaphor. Having arrived at a particular point in his speculative journey, over and over he reaches for something that lies beyond. Notebook 27 (1985) begins with a series of speculations about getting to a plane of both myth and metaphor beyond the poetic, and Frye even confesses that there is no reason at all to write Words with Power unless he can get to that plane (LN, 1:67). The Bible implies, he writes in one notebook, that there is a structure beyond the hypothetical (LN, 1:8, 14). In the notebooks, many things are said to be beyond words: icons, certain experiences, the identity of participation mystique (LN, 1:15, 16).

Frye would have been aware of Susanne Langer’s contention that “[a]ll mythology requires the notion of a ‘Beyond.'”[2] “Faith,” he writes, “is the recurring sense of revelation, i.e., an existential reality beyond the hypothetical. This revelation is the vision of a ‘new’ creation—new to us, that is. Such a faith, if attained, redeems and justifies all literature” (LN, 1:14). Or again, “On one side of the metaphor is ecstatic identification, the mob frenzies of the Bacchanals, the self-hypnotism of the shaman, the hysteria of the sorcerer. Then comes the ironic distancing of the hypothetical poetic metaphor. On this level art is possessed: it doesn’t take possession. But beyond this is the counter-ironic aspect of metaphor, the sense of revelation recaptured by a (spiritual) community which is what the word ‘gospel’ is all about.”[3] The kerygmatic announces a world that is beyond speech and beyond the duality of experience and understanding (LN, 2:715). In a half-dozen passages in The Great Code Frye uses “beyond” in the sense of something (God, eternity, verbal revelation, dialectic, levels of vision) that is out of reach or far from being comprehensible in our ordinary temporal and spatial existence.[4] Similarly in Words with Power Frye writes in another half-dozen places of going beyond the imagination, beyond time, beyond myth, beyond ordinary common sense, beyond the creative process.[5] In The Double Vision he uses the word only once in this sense: “we may speak of ‘inspiration,’ a word that can hardly mean anything except the coming or breaking through of the spirit from a world beyond time” (55).

The notebooks, however, are filled with expressions of Frye’s desire to reach a world that lies beyond, as in this sampler:

[L]iterature is the obvious guide to whatever passes beyond language, just as Dante’s obvious guide to states of being beyond life in 13th c. Italy was Virgil. (LN, 2:717)

The kerygmatic, whether the Vico-Joyce thunderclap or the Blakean “Awake, ye dead, and come to Judgment!,” is presented as verbal, but it’s really announcing a world beyond speech. (LN, 2:715)

Where religion & science can still get together is on [David Bohm’s] conception of the objective world as an “unfolding” of an “enfolded” or unborn order, which is beyond time and space as we experience them. (LN, 1:105)

The perspective of prophecy as seeing the direct challenge of what lies beyond (one’s own) death. (LN, 2:474)

Theseus’ lunatic & lover are behind the poet, suggesting an existential identity beyond the literary kind. (LN, 1:107)

The quest as question is of course future-directed, & its ultimate answer, which goes beyond any origin or first-cause answer (as in Job), is resurrection in the present. (TBN, 223)

There’s a good beyond good-and-evil, a life beyond life-and-death, and a heaven or presence beyond heaven-and-hell. (RT, 213)

The risen Christ as one with the Spirit in man, leading us into a world beyond the natural world of time and place. (LN, 2:667)

The third chapter [of Words with Power] goes beyond space into the conception of interpenetration, the fourth one beyond time into the conception of “mystical dance,” or time as interiorly possessed contrapuntal movement. (LN, 2:558).

Altogether, there are some seventy-six notebook entries, all but fourteen of them in the Late Notebooks, that contain the word “beyond” as a signal of what in The Critical Path Frye calls the “third order of experience,” an order beyond the dialectic of freedom and concern (170). Like Tennyson’s Ulysses, who wants “To follow knowledge like a sinking star, / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought,” Frye keeps struggling to reach beyond the limits of imaginative desire. In The Educated Imagination he writes, “Religions present us with visions of eternal and infinite heavens or paradises which have the form of the cities and gardens of human civilization, like the Jerusalem and Eden of the Bible, completely separated from the state of frustration and misery that bulks so large in ordinary life. We’re not concerned with these visions as religion” (29–30). But that was written in 1962, and Frye is clearly concerned with such visions as religion in his notebooks and in much else that he published.

For Frye there seems always one more rung on the ladder to be climbed. The process of going beyond is one of the countless examples in Frye of the Hegelian Aufhebung. Hegel was a contemporary of Blake, as curious as that might at first seem. He is clearly Frye’s favorite modern philosopher, or was at least in the last half of his career. For Hegel Spirit can know itself as Spirit only when comes to embrace both the in itself and the for itself. If I understand these phrases, the for itself represents the world of external reality, where things are temporally contingent and historically determinate. The in itself represents timeless, unchanging, universality—the imaginative world upon which vision focuses. The knowledge that comes from embracing both is, for Hegel, Absolute Knowledge, the point at which he arrives after five-hundred pages of torturously opaque prose, having moved from self-consciousness through reason and spirit until he reaches the end of his quest.[6] For Frye, the goal of the ascent up the axis mundi is Absolute Vision. “Perhaps,” writes Frye, “we can eventually get past [Blake’s tiger] to some vision of creation which will include his glowing and sinister splendour. But such a vision of creation would have to be at the end of a long journey to somewhere on the far side of the tiger” (NFR, 70). Still, this “far side” is neither a space nor a place. Although Frye keeps saying that the ultimate vision is beyond language and beyond speech, he nevertheless doggedly persists in tying to name and to give content to that which lies beyond. The name ordinarily turns out to be one of his familiar single-word designations: kerygma, revelation, enlightenment, apocalypse, interpenetration. The content is all of the meanings associated with these terms, such as those linked with “interpenetration” or anagnorisis. Such language is the language of Heilsgeschichte, which offers a perspective “beyond imagination” (NFR, 21).

The persistent effort to move beyond is, as I’ve tried briefly to indicate, is typical of Frye’s late work. Moving beyond is an example of the Hegelian Aufhebung, just mentioned. Frye says if Hegel had written his Phenomenology of Spirit in mythos language rather than logos language, his job would have been done for him. I find reading Hegel to be extraordinarily demanding, but as he is clearly Frye’s favorite philosopher, I have tried to get a handle on the Aufhebung. This is all very abstract, but I’ll try to illustrate it with concrete examples in a moment. I wonder, incidentally, whether Frye, in his own copy of Hegel’s Phenomenology, underlined the word “ladder” in Hegel’s extensive preface because he had finally come upon a concrete word

The verb aufheben has a triple meaning: “to lift or raise,” “to abolish or cancel,” and “to keep or preserve.” At the end of chapter 1 of his Logic Hegel explicitly calls attention to at least the dual meaning: The verb signifies, he says, “to keep or to preserve and also to make to cease, to finish.” There is no evidence that Frye read the Logic, but aufheben and its cognates are scattered throughout Phenomenology of Spirit, where Aufhebung is usually translated as “sublation,” “sublimation,” or “supercession,” and where we get the third part of the pun, “to lift up.” It was this three-fold meaning of Aufheben—canceling, preserving, and lifting up—that Frye appropriated for his own ends.

In one of his Great Code notebooks, where Frye is trying to work out the structure of the second part of the book, he says, “Unity is a (relatively static) thesis; its negation is not so much the decentralized Bible as the recreation in which it becomes a historical process, and interpenetration, the real decentralized Bible, is the Aufhebung which follows.”[7] (By uses the word “decentered” in a somewhat idiosyncratic way. He means not that the whole is formed by the parts but that every part mirrors the whole.) Here the Aufhebung is interpenetration. It emerges from the recreation (the process) that negates unity (the stasis). The place where Frye most clearly discloses his understanding of the triple reference of Aufhebung is in The Great Code. I’ll read the entire passage:

Polysemous meaning, then, is the development of a single dialectical process, like the process described in Hegel’s Phenomenology. I mention the Phenomenology because it seems to me that the ladder Hegel climbs in that book contains a theory of polysemous meaning as well, and that a new formulation of the old medieval four-level sequence can be discerned in it. The hero of Hegel’s philosophical quest is the concept (Begriff), which, like Odysseus in the Odyssey, appears first in an unrecognized and almost invisible guise as the intermediary between subject and object, and ends by taking over the whole show, undisputed master of the house of being. But this “concept” can hardly exist apart from its own verbal formulation: that is, it is something verbal that expands in this way, so that the Phenomenology is, among other things, a general theory of how verbal meaning takes shape. Even the old metaphor of “levels” is preserved in Hegel’s term Aufhebung. What Hegel means by dialectic is not anything reducible to a patented formula, like the “thesis–antithesis–synthesis” one so often attached to him, nor can it be anything predictive. It is a much more complex operation of a form of understanding combining with its own otherness or opposite, in a way that negates itself and yet passes through that negation into a new stage, preserving its essence in a broader context, and abandoning the one just completed like the chrysalis of a butterfly or a crustacean’s outgrown shell. (GC, 222)

Aufhebung (or one of its related forms) does not make an appearance in Frye’s writing until the time of the two Bible books–-four instances in the notebooks for The Great Code and seven in the notebooks for Words with Power.[8] In the published work Aufhebung appears only in The Great Code, once in the passage just quoted and shortly after that where Frye suggests that the disinterested and engaged approaches to reading the Bible might just be transcended and preserved by an Aufhebung (GC, 223). But even when the word itself is not present, the dialectical transition it represents is omnipresent in Frye’s thought. Only the object of what is superseded changes. “Unity,” Frye writes, “has to be negated to achieve its Aufhebung of interpenetration” (RT, 298), which is one example of supercession.

How, then, does Aufhebung enter Frye’s work late work explicitly? We can see it at work, for example, in the first half of Words with Power, the four chapters of which have dialectical pairs in their title: sequence and mode, concern and myth, identity and metaphor, and spirit and symbol. At the end of each of these chapters Frye advocates going beyond the dialectic that he has established. At the end of chapter 1 he speaks of the need for “wider verbal contexts,” of finding “an open gate to something else” beyond the limitation of language (27, 29). This something else turns out to be the “intensifying of consciousness,” the Aufhebung that takes the theory of language with its four modes and the sequence of what he calls their “excluded initiatives” to another level.

Similarly, at the end of chapter 2, what emerges from the dialectic of concern and myth is the entry of the “personal” into myth and into “history’s dream of revelation,” and the Aufhebung carries Frye to the “principle of going beyond myth” (62). Chapter 3 concludes with a gloss on Tom o’ Bedlam’s song, where Frye urges “a further stage of response”: after the mythos-dianoia dialectic “something like a journeying movement is resumed, a movement [ Aufhebung] that may take us far beyond the world’s end, and yet is still no journey” (96). Finally, the end of chapter 4 resolves the antithesis between the human subject and divine object, between the creation of Genesis and the new creation of Revelation by the Aufhebung of the Incarnation, “which presents God and man indissolubly locked in a common enterprise” (135). The Incarnation, we might note in passing, is the ultimate metaphor for Frye. In each of these cases we are lifted to a level beyond the terms of the dialectic, the terms themselves being preserved while their opposition is canceled. And in each of these cases the end, in the sense of both the termination and the goal, is an expanded vision.

This business of the Aufhebung seems to me to be crucial to understanding the often slippery processes of Frye’s thinking, and Frye’s thinking is really what I have been trying to understand. I did not come to this discovery, if it can be called that, until quite late in my study. Once I realized the centrality of the process, things began to come together. Anyone who reads Frye is aware that he is a schematic thinker (he thinks diagrammatically) and a dialectical one (he thinks in terms of opposing categories). The Aufhebung is a part of his dialectical mode of thought.

In The Double Vision Frye writes that from the “appalling historical record of Christianity” with its long list of heresy-hunts, militancy, intolerance, and demonic perversions, there is a genuine element that has survived. This genuine element is based on charity, “and charity is invariably linked to an imaginative conception of language, whether consciously or unconsciously. Paul makes it clear that the language of charity is spiritual language, and that spiritual language is metaphorical, founded on the metaphorical paradox that we live in Christ and that Christ lives in us” (17). Frye is referring here to Paul’s use of the word pneumatikos (spiritually), and for whatever else the word means, as Frye says elsewhere (RT, 435) it means” metaphorically.”[9] He then goes on to say,

I am not trying to deny or belittle the validity of a credal, even a dogmatic, approach to Christianity: I am saying that the literal basis of faith in Christianity is a mythical and metaphorical basis, not one founded on historical facts or logical propositions. Once we accept an imaginative literalism, everything else falls into place: without that, creeds and dogmas quickly turn malignant. The literary language of the New Testament is not intended, like literature itself, simply to suspend judgment, but to convey a vision of spiritual life that continues to transform and expand our own. That is, its myths become, as purely literary myths cannot, myths to live by; its metaphors become, as purely literary metaphors cannot, metaphors to live in. This transforming power is sometimes called kerygma or proclamation. Kerygma in this sense is again a rhetoric, but a rhetoric coming the other way and coming from the other side of mythical and metaphorical language. (DV, 17)

Some might call this a theological statement. If it is, it represents a theology founded not on history or argument but on the language of myth and metaphor.

The passage I read about the human passage in the Biblical mythos from an original state of nature through the incarnation to the peace of the apocalypse is a condensed version of the romance quest come full circle. It comes full circle as well in Frye’s final two books. To repeat, the Aufhebung with which Frye ends the first four chapters of Words with Power is a process that moves beyond the oppositions of time (myth) and space (metaphor) to the level intense consciousness or the identity represented by the Incarnation–-to refer again to two of Frye’s examples. We see the same process at work at the conclusions of the last four chapters, which I think is some of the most powerfully suggestive prose Frye ever wrote. The context of the conclusion of chapter 5 (the mountain archetype) is the primary concern of free movement, which is expressed in the images of dance, music, and play. But the ultimate source of exuberant, unfettered movement is spiritual freedom, located at the top of the ladder of wisdom (in the axis mundi complex of images) and in the collapsing distinction between center and circumference (in the circle complex of images). The paradox is captured for Frye in Paul’s “all in all” phrase from1 Corinthians (15:28), which takes us beyond the predication of metaphor. Frye calls this Aufhebung both interpenetration and the higher unity of spiritual vision, the point at which “the dance of liberated movement begins.”[10] The unity that emerges from the Aufhebung cancels while preserving the bottom and top of the ladder, the center and the circumference, the two halves of metaphor joined by the copula.

Similarly, at the end of chapter 6 (the garden archetype) the oppositions of art and nature, and of Bridegroom (love) and Bride (beauty) are resolved into Kant’s “purposiveness without purpose,” in which “the union symbolized by the one flesh of the married state (Genesis 2:24) has expanded into the interpenetration of spirit” (WP, 224). Chapter 7 (the cave archetype) concludes with the theme of the double, for which Frye, in a breathless catalogue, provides more than thirty examples. The last of these is the mirror reflection in the Narcissus myth, the reflection of the “I” which is really a reflecting image of an imprisoning natural and social world that Martin Buber calls the “It.” The Aufhebung that releases us “into the world of sunlight and freedom” is Buber’s “Thou,” who is “both another person and the identity of ourselves” (WP, 271). At the end of chapter 8 (the furnace archetype) Frye comes around again to the epitome of the Bible for him, the Book of Job. In the Job story, the “Biblical perspective of divine initiative and human response passes into its opposite, where the initiative is human, and where a divine response, symbolized by the answer to Job, is guaranteed” (WP, 312–13). The Aufhebung then lifts this initiative-and-response dialectic to a decentered and interpenetrating union, at which point “the terrifying and welcome voice may begin, annihilating everything we thought we knew, and restoring everything we have never lost” (WP, 313).

We need four more examples of the Aufhebung of interpenetration to complete the Frygean ogdoad, and these are provided, as we might expect from a book entitled The Double Vision, at the conclusions of the four chapters of Frye’s final and posthumously published book. Frye uses the phrase “double vision” in several senses. In the Blake quatrain from which the phrase comes, the double vision refers to the natural versus the spiritual ways of viewing the world. But Blake’s vision was really a four-fold one (material, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual) and the aufgehoben thrust at the end of each chapter of The Double Vision moves to a fourth level of vision. In “The Double Vision of Language” the Aufhebung moves beyond the dialectic of the plausible and credible, belief and agnosticism, history and logic, and the language of faith and hope, reaching toward the agape vision with its language of love.

The dialectical pairs at the end of chapter 2, “The Double Vision of Nature,” are making and creating, the fine and the useful arts, beauty and truth. These oppositions are the lifted to the next level by a sabbatical vision that becomes “the model for an expanding human consciousness” (DV, 39). The Aufhebung of chapter 3, “The Double Vision of Time” leads to the Spirit, the power that emerges from the dialectic of the Father (or the source of being) and the Son (the Word who has overcome the world). This represents the last act in Frye’s version of the three ages of Joachim of Floris, who prophesied that the age of Spirit would follow the age of the Old Testament Father and the age of the New Testament Logos.[11] It is the “Spirit who speaks with all the tongues of men and angels and still speaks with charity.” Frye adds that the “Spirit of creation who brought life out of chaos brought death out of it too, for death is all that makes sense of life in time. The Spirit that broods on the chaos of our psyches brings to birth a body that is in time and history but not enclosed by them, and is in death only because it is in the midst of life as well” (DV, 58). This purely spiritual vision of Christianity was for Frye the Everlasting Gospel (LN, 1:202).

Finally, to complete the ogdoad, the Aufhebung of “The Double Vision of God,” chapter four, preserves the purgatorial virtues of faith and hope and lifts them to “the paradisal vision of love” (DV, 81). This is the world of “interpenetrating energies,” where “the spirit of man and the spirit of God inhabit the same world” (DV, 84).

In Words with Power Frye notes that the Word-Spirit dialogue takes the form of a double ascent and descent movement along the axis mundi. In the New Testament account of the Incarnation the Word descends and the Spirit ascends. But in the first two chapters of Acts the movement is reversed: the Spirit descends at Pentecost and the Word ascends. The withdrawal of the Word (the Ascension) is, as Frye points out, the antitype of the withdrawal of God on the seventh day in Genesis 1. This is the Sabbath vision, provided, Frye says, by a creating God so that we can “escape . . . from natural into spiritual vision” (DV, 39). It is a matter of pure coincidence, but perhaps one of Jung’s meaningful coincidences nevertheless, that Frye’s Late Notebooks begin with an entry on original sin and 3684 entries later end with one on the Sabbath vision, suggesting that Frye’s quest as it is played out in that extraordinary record of his imaginative life had come full circle.

This is but one feature of Frye’s richly stored religious quest. The other features I find no less fascinating, including the extensive reflections we have in the notebooks on esoteric traditions of all sorts—alchemy, astrology, the tarot, astral projection, channeling, Gnosticism, the Kabbalah, new age science and religion, numerology, synchronicity, and the like. My guess is that when Frye gathered here at Vic with his classmates for the reunions of 3T3, they had little idea that he had 271 books in his library devoted to esoterica—252 of them annotated. But that a story for another day—or if you can’t wait for another day, then you can read all about Frye’s “kook books,” as he called some of them, in two chapters of the book.

Thanks for your kind attention. I’m happy to entertain questions.


[1]. AC, 335. Cf. “Nearly every time we use a preposition we are using a spatial myth or an unconscious diagram” (“Myth as Information,” in NFCL, 70). A similar statement appears in “The Transferability of Literary Concepts,” The Association of the Princeton Graduate Alumni (Report of the Fifth Conference held at the Graduate College, Princeton University, 30–1 December 1955), 59. In his 1949 diary Frye says that someday he may write a book “on the geometry of vision, which will analyze the diagrammatic patterns present in thought which emerge unconsciously in the metaphors of speech, particularly prepositions (up, down, beside & the like)” (D, 78).

[2]. Susanne Langer, The Practice of Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt, 1930), 190. Frye records his debt to Langer’s idea of “naïve induction” in AC, 357.

[3]. LN, 1:16. Cf. this passage in Tillich’s Systematic Theology, which Frye read and annotated: “Ecstasy is not a negation of reason; it is a state of mind in which reason is beyond itself, that is, beyond its subject-object structure. In being beyond itself reason does not deny itself. ‘Ecstatic reason’ remains reason; it does not receive anything irrational or antirational—which it could not do without self-destruction—but it transcends the basic conditions of finite rationality, the subject-object structure” (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press 1956], 1:112). I am indebted to Richard Outram for pointing me to this passage.

[4]. For the mystics “no word, such as ‘Being,’ is strictly applicable to God, because words are finite and God is not: the real God is ‘hidden,’ beyond all thought, and a fortiori beyond words” (GC, 12). Deuteronomy 30:19 presents the life-death dilemma “from a perspective that only God is assumed to be able to attain: a concern for the continuation of human life in time that goes far beyond the purely imaginative, together with a view of the human situation that goes equally far beyond the purely historical” (GC, 52). Metaphors for the “eternal” such as peace, rest, and repose “are metaphors drawn from death, and seem hardly definitive for a conception of something genuinely beyond life” (GC, 73). “The real world is beyond time” (GC, 76). “[T]o call the Bible and the person of Christ by the same name . . . is a conception of identity that goes far beyond ‘juxtaposition,’ because there are no longer two things, but one thing in two aspects” (GC, 98). “[I]t is only through the study of works of human imagination that we can make any real contact with the level of vision beyond faith” (GC, 231–2).

[5]. The references are from WP, 116–17, 130, 62, 71, and 76.

[6]. For Spirit knowing itself as Spirit, see Phenomenology of Spirit, 483.

[7]. RT, 296. In the decentered Bible every verse is a microcosm of the entire structure, which is the opposite of the whole formed by the parts.

[8]. See LN, 1:195, 258, 259, 363, 2:683, 686; RT, 296, 298, 313.

[9]. Paul’s distinction between the soma psychikon and soma pneumatikon was an important one for Frye in his later writing. See GC, 20, 56; WP, 124–5; DV, 14; and “Lacan et la parole dans sa plénitude,” Ornicar 33 (April–June 1985): 12. His fullest exposition of the difference is in one of his Bible lectures: “Paul, in speaking of how to read the Bible, in 1 Corinthians, 2:14–15, says: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Verse 15: ‘But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.’ He’s discriminating there between the spiritual man, the spiritual body, the pneumatikos, and what the King James Version translates as the ‘natural man.’ But the King James Version is struggling with the fact that there is no adjective in English for ‘soul’ corresponding to ‘spiritual.’ Because what Paul says is the soma psychikos for ‘natural man,’ the man with the soul; in other words, Paul is drawing the essential line not between the physical body and the soul, but between the soul and the spirit. And the soma psychikos, the soul-body complex, seems to be a part of what he means elsewhere by ‘flesh and blood’ as distinct from ‘spirit,’ which is of course a metaphor from ‘breath’ and expresses the sense of a life which includes the bodily life” (RT, 502). Frye had little patience with conceptions of the soul, whatever their source, and even less if the soul were divorced from the body. The word “spirit” for him did not imply such a disjunction. Spirit is incarnational: it transforms the body.

[10]. WP, 187. Cf. “The Bible turns on a social consciousness moving from centre to circumference & back again, a paradox resolved by interpenetration” (RT, 216). Cf. also: “That God may be all in one: that’s the text for interpenetration. I notice that Jung misquotes it as one in all, because he thinks of unity and reconciliation as the end” (RT, 339). The reference is to C.G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, trans. R.F.C. Hull, 2nd ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1970), 471.

[11]. Joachim of Floris’s (or Fiore’s) doctrine of the three ages–-of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–-was developed in his Liber Figurarum and Expositio in Apocalypism. See Delno C. West and Sandra Zindars-Swartz Joachim of Fiore (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1983), 10–29. References to Joachim are scattered through Frye’s work: LN, 1:47, 63, 202, 223; 2:630, 640, 651, 714, 720; TBN, 101, 198, 202; RT, 17, 276, 323, 404; 32.102; D, 86, 234, 250–1, 276; GC, 85; DV, 66; NFR, 262; SE, 210, 211, 223. An earlier holograph version of the passage about Joachim in The Double Vision (58) is on a small card in the 1991 accession, box 28, file 3.

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