Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Frye VI

Northrup Frye I This from an article in Wikipedia:
"it was in reflecting on the similarity between Blake
and Milton that Frye first stumbled upon the "principle
of the mythological framework," the recognition that
"the Bible was a mythological framework, cosmos or body
of stories, and that societies live within a mythology"
(Hart 18). Blake thus led Frye to the conviction that
the Bible provided Western societies with the mythology
which informed all of Western literature. As Hamilton
asserts, "Blake's claim that 'the Old and New
Testaments are the Great Code of Art' became the
central doctrine of all [Frye's] criticism" (39). This
'doctrine' found its fullest expression in Frye's
appropriately named The Great Code, which he described
as "a preliminary investigation of Biblical structure
and typology" whose purpose was ultimately to suggest
"how the structure of the Bible, as revealed by its
narrative and imagery, was related to the conventions
and genres of Western literature" (Words with Power

The magnitude of the significance of Fearful Symmetry
(in my mind at least) led me to wonder just who Frye
was; where did he come from? who was he? How did it
happen that he should write such a book?  Writing
Fearful Symmetry It was a thesis, I understood, and
something he took ten years writing: From biography:
" 1929. He enrolled in Victoria College of the
University of Toronto.
While still an undergraduate, he developed a deep
fascination with the complex poetic prophecies of
William Blake, particularly Milton, The Four Zoas, and
Jerusalem, considered by many scholars to be the
product of an eccentric, possibly insane, visionary. In
Frye's first year of graduate work, in which he took
concurrent training as a minister for the United Church
of Canada (primarily Methodist), Frye decided to write
a definitive book on Blake which would break Blake's
difficult symbolic code. This near obsession sustained
him through two unhappy years of graduate work at
Merton College, Oxford, where he studied with poet
Edmund Blunden in 1936-1937 and 1938-1939, after which
he taught English at Victoria College for over four
decades.  Ten-Year Labor on Blake Heavily influenced by
British scholars of myth, particularly James Frazer, he
worked diligently on the Blake book from 1934 to 1945,
finally producing Fearful Symmetry. Published in 1947,
it is still considered the definitive reading of Blake.
It shows that Blake's poetic universe was not
psychotically personal but had close affinities with
other major poetry. Basically Frye proposed that all
literature fit into a grand apocalyptic pattern of
heaven and hell. Aspects of literary expression such as
tragedy (the Fall), irony (unrelieved hell), romance
(resurrection), and comedy (communal reconciliation)
form an interconnected circular pattern analogous to
the Last Judgment or the wheel of fortune motifs common
in medieval art." Here's a study guide on Frye's The
Educated Imagination, a more elementary version of
Frye's masterpiece, an Anatomy of Criticism.  More to

Thursday, March 31, 2011
Frye II

Although Fearful Symmetry was Frye's first book, it was
not the one he was famous for; that would be The
Anatomy of Criticism. It became the preeminent textbook
for literary critics. Anatomy of Criticism was a
difficult book: for specialists. He wrote another one,
a simplification of 'Anatomy', called The Educated
Imagination. For those not up for that there's a study
guide, in essence a condensation of Frye's first
condensation. You might start with that and work your
way up -- like a scholar does.

Here are two significant things that Frye said about
Fearful Symmetry.  At one point he said that if had it
to do again, he would have written a simpler
explanatory treatment of Blake, like Percival's Circle
of Destiny.

After Fearful Symmetry was done, he said that it had
within it all he had to say with The Anatomy of

So it appears that Frye thought he had written, with
FS, a particular case of his thesis, while 'Anatomy'
was the general case. Since that time many Blakeans
have attended to Blake's poetry, pictures and ideas
exclusively, to the exclusion of other poets and
artists. They specialize in Blake, like a doctor might
specialize in Ophthamology and know little or nothing
about other fields of medicine.

A major convention of Western literature is the way in
which stories get told. In The Educated Imagination (p.
52) Frye suggests that each story represents episodes
in the story of literature itself . As he views it, all
literature tells a largely cyclical story--"the story
of the loss and regaining of identity" (p. 55). It can
be seen in the hero's quest, where the hero leaves the
safety of his society to face a monster and returns, or
in the lover's plight, where the man is attracted to a
woman, and marries her and is buried by her. But it's
most complete representation in the West is the
Biblical story of the Fall of man from his original
home and the eventual return to a promised land or a
heavenly kingdom."

Writing Fearful Symmetry Frye had perceived that
Blake's opus was a Circle of Destiny with a departure
and a return. Early in Blake's poetic development his
circle had two points, reflected in two Contraries,
Urizen and Luvah. But it soon became Fourfold: Blake's
Myth, the System that he Created (Erdman 153). It had
as its biblical source the 1st Chapter of Ezekiel, with
the 'four living creatures. If you read Ezekiel 1 you
can't help seeing their resemblance to the Four Zoas,
forming the structure of Blake's unfinished masterpiece
called The Four Zoas.

When you form the habit of recognizing the fundamental
quality of the images Blake presents, you will be able
to see the same kinds of images in the works of other
writers. And if you have some familiarity with the
Bible you may recognize the original sources of ideas,
values, images that appear throughout literature.

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