Friday, April 22, 2011

Frye IV


In The Bible and Literature: The Great Code, Chapter Four is entitled typology. This was a great discovery for me; in large part it unlocked the secret of Blake's use of the Bible (and of every other poet's use of it for that matter). Once you outgrow the naive notion of 'Biblical inerrancy' and the idea that every word of it is historically true, you are to some degree on your own. I long ago settled on the awareness that
1. 'every word of the Bible is poetry' (you may certainly debate that if you wish)
2 'poetry is the highest form of truth."

Truth is in the mind of the believer. Our belief is a function of our psyche, and everyone's psyche is unique (unless you believe that we're all lemmings). So what does the Bible mean? Not history! History is subjective; everyone has his own history. Poetry is subjective in a more creative way; to a large degree it's a function of your experience (and mine: very different). What it boils down to is that one man's truth may (appear to) be another man's lie.

Poetry doesn't claim to be the whole complete exclusive truth; it's not rigid; it's allusive. One of the most important truths about the Bible (and all subsequent literature) is that it uses typology.

In a few words the type is the earliest occurrence (of an idea); psychologists may call it an archetype. Subsequent occurrences Frye calls antitypes:

Type: Moses delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
Antitype: Jesus delivered human beings from slavery to sin.
Antitype: Lincoln delivered black people from slaves of their southern 'owners'.
Antitype: Pope John delivered Catholics from outmoded legalities like the Latin Mass.

The type and all subsequent antitypes are incomplete. Hence there must and will be more.

Type: Elijah used a stony altar, flooded with water, and then fire, to finish off the 450 propets of Baal (1st Kings, 18).
Antitype: Jesus used stone jars, full of water, which became wine to bring Spirit to a wedding party (John 2).

Many events in the Bible have multiple occurrences. Many Old Testament events recur in the New Testament; some of them reoccur later in the Old Testament.

The New Testament writers found O.T. types for many events in the O.T.: Psalm 22 practically describes the Crucifixion. N.T. writers often quoted O.T. sources: "What happens in the N.T. , a realized form of something foreshadowed in the O.T., Christian baptism, is called the antitypos of the saving of mankind from the flood of Noah.

In Romans 1:17 Paul wrote "the just shall live by faith", quoting Habbakuk 2:4.

Blake adopted this kind of typology for his own verbal creations; he frequently quoted Holy Scripture, and more often used it allusively. All this boils down to the simple fact that his poetry found its main source in the Bible. As for Blake, so for Milton, so for Shakespeare and for the other handful of sources that he mentioned in his letter to Flaxman.

Letters, to Flaxman, (E 707) 
Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton lovd me in childhood &
    shewd me his face
Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years
     gave me his hand
Paracelsus & Behmen appeard to me. terrors appeard in the Heavens

Here's an assignment for a Blake student:
You need these two resources: Complete Works and a Complete Bible.
Now read Blake (wherever you're interested, pick out a key word, go to your Bible, select Search and put your 'Blake word' in the search window. You may find 'a Blake type' and a 'Bible antitype' or vice verse. You may also find types and antitypes by searching the Complete Works with a word from the Bible.

Frye devoted two chapters of The Great Code to typology. An advanced Blake student might do well to absorb them as well as he can.

This may be hard to believe, but someone said that in Western culture all discourse, religious, secular, atheist, a foul-mouthed sailor are using antitypes to the King James Bible. That's worth thinking about.

Welcome to Blake Studies.


Susan J. said...

Hi Larry -- I've been thinking about this post ever since I read it early Friday morning. I've only encountered typology as a literary phenomenon confined to the old testament's explicit fulfilment in the new testament -- the Greek word typos, often translated as pattern or example or figure - as in Romans 5:14 ... Adam, who was a typos of the one to come [Jesus Christ].

That famous George Fox quote clearly has in mind the kind of open-ended typology you describe, linking from the Bible to his own writings (and Blakes) and on into the life and spirit of everyone who turns to the light:

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."

Susan J. said...

And also, your method of using concordances was very important to me when I started reading George Fox lo these many years ago... It's a valuable approach for anyone trying to understand a Bible-soaked writer from days gone by...

As always -- THANKS!!


Larry said...

Thanks, Susan.
Your comments are worth a great deal to me. Come back!