“. . . one may live all one’s life without being concerned about God”, said Northrop Frye, a Canadian who was one of the best literary critics and  theorists of the twentieth century. He was a professor of English at Victoria College and also an ordained but very progressive minister of the United Church of Canada. Frye was my professor for three years and I have plucked these quotes from Myth & Metaphor: Selected Essays: 1974-88  Northrop Frye; edited by Robert D. Denham. Frye’s views could help us cope with the mess we’re in today. His legacy has been preserved by Denham, retired professor of English at Roanoke College who has compiled some 30 books of Frye’s works.

Statue of Professor Northrop Frye on the grounds of Victoria College, University of Toronto  where he used to teach invites passersby to sit and have a chat with him.

A bronze bench statue of Professor Northrop Frye on the grounds of Victoria College, University of Toronto is there for passersby to sit and have a chat with him.

Literary criticism trains the imagination just as systematically and efficiently as sciences train the reason, says Northrop Frye. He believed in critical thinking and the power of literature to create a tolerant and civil society. His dictae explain things the sciences don’t:

  1. MYTH “The word ‘myth’ is used in a bewildering variety of contexts. To me it means primarily ‘mythos’, story, plot, narrative. It lies along an axis of extremes from true history to fantasy.”
  2. “The myth does to time what the metaphor does to space.”
  3. METAPHOR “Metaphor suggests a state of things in which there is no sharp and consistent distinction between subject and object.”
  4. “A typical metaphor takes the form of the statement A is B e.g. ‘Joseph is a fruitful bough.” An undercurrent of significance tells us that A is not B and nobody but a fool could imagine that he was.”
  5. IMAGINATION “Imagination is a constructive, unifying, and fully conscious faculty that excludes no aspect of consciousness, whether rational or emotional.”
  6. “What imagination, attending to the similitude of things, gets from the past is not history but myth — the same thing it gets from the future.”
  7. IDOLATRY “Man invented the wheel thousands of years ago, and promptly turned it into an idol of external fate or fortune.”
  8. GOD or GODS “Gods are invaluable to poets because they are traditional and recognized metaphors.”
  9. “Such a god as Neptune is a prefabricated metaphor. It unites a personality and a natural object, and is the entering wedge of that union between subjective and objective worlds that all creative activity depends on.”
  10. THE BIBLE “The Bible’s narratives range from legend to partisan history, but historical fact as fact is nowhere marked off in it.”
  11. “Efforts to demythologize the Gospels would soon end by obliterating them.”
  12. CREATIONISM “The account of creation in the Bible does not describe the origin of nature and was probably never intended to. If it were, it would have been a little cleverer, and not had the trees created the day before the sun was.”
  13. FUNDAMENTALISM “A body of words can never be literally anything but a body of words.”
  14. POLITICAL INFERENCES from the BIBLE “The obvious political inference from original sin is democratic. There is no point in giving unlimited authority to others who by definition cannot be any better than we are.”
  15. “Resurrection, where the power bringing the new sense of time comes from below, is most naturally a revolutionary myth, just as incarnation, which visualizes that power as descending from a higher world of greater order, is most naturally an authoritarian one.” sleeping baby
  16. PRIMARY CONCERNS “One cannot live a day without being concerned about food but one may live all one’s life without being concerned about God.”
  17. “Primary concern is based on the conviction that life is better than death, happiness better than misery, and freedom better than bondage.”
  18. “All the ideologies presented by political, economic, and religious bodies fall short of a genuine mythology of primary concern.”
  19. DESTRUCTION of HUMANITY & the PLANET “Any form of intensified ideology is pernicious if it leads to another excuse for war or for exploiting either other men or nature.”
  20. “If the human race were to destroy both itself and the planet it lives on, that would be the final triumph of illusion.”
  21. IDEOLOGY “Ideology is a secondary and derivative structure; what human societies do first is make up stories. An ideology is always derived from a mythology.”
  22. SUPERSTITION “Superstition is a frozen ideology, a pathological social condition that obstructs the developments in the arts and sciences, and so frustrates the central aim of education.”
  23. SOCIAL VISION “There would clearly be some point in trying to develop a technique of making ourselves aware of our mythological conditioning, of removing the ideological cataracts from our social vision.”
  24. ANTICHRIST “A human leader who claims a more than human authority is one of the things the New Testament means by Antichrist.”
  25. LITERATURE “Literature reflects the concerns of a community but is detached from immediate action, so that the community remains a community and does not turn into a mob.”
  26. “When society comes close to the level of bare subsistence … the literary arts leap into the foreground among the essentials for survival.”
  27. “The Canon is the idea of a collection of books unified, not by consistency of argument or doctrine … but of vision and imagery”
  28. WRITERS “Ideology is primarily an anxiety to a writer and not a guide to the form of what he should write.”
  29. “Ideologies enter literature as elements of content, not as forms or shaping principles.”
  30. “A writer may have to persist in his loyalty to the demands of what he writes even when threatened with censorship or personal persecution.”
  31. CENSORSHIP “The most serious writers are almost always censorship’s chief object of attack, whereas the serious writer ought to be considered the ally of social concern, not its enemy.”
  32. LANGUAGE, FREEDOM & CRITICISM “A deliberate debasing of language can wipe out all genuine freedom and culture in a society.”
  33. “It is in their doctrines or conceptual language that religions disagree.”
  34. “The literary critic ought to occupy a central place in everything that has to do with words.”
  35. GOOD FAITH “What a man’s religion is may be gathered from what he wants to identify him with.”
  36. “There is a current of love flowing from God to man, and it is man’s duty to accept that love and communicate it to his neighbor.”
  37. REDEMPTION & a PRESENT MOMENT “Redemption requires a God, but a God within time is no better off than we are, and a God wholly free of time is of no use to us. Fortunately we have the Incarnation, the descent of something outside time into time, and this creates in time the possibility of a genuine present moment.”

Thank you for spending some of your time reading this post. Please browse around top and bottom and, if you like, leave a comment. 

This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is passed on by word and example. To find out more about the books I have written, please click here.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

http://www.cozybookbasics.wordpress.com,  www.margaretvirany.com, e-mail: margaret@kell.ca