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Unformatted text preview: Anatomy of Criticism W i t h a new foreword b y Harold Bloom l i H ^Simply oveqx>\vcring in the originality of its main concepts, and dazzling in the brilliance of its applications of them. Here is a book fundamental enough to be entitled Principia Critic*/* —Commonweal u An attempt to give a synoptic view of the scope* theory, princi­ ples, and techniques of Kterary criticism.. •. The book is contin­ uously informed by original and incisive thought, by fine percep­ tion, and by striking observatioas upon literature in general and upon particular works," —Modern language Review *Docs literary' criticism need a conceptual universe of its own? Professor Frve has written a brilliantly suggestive and encyctope* dicaily erudite book to prove that it does; and he has done his impressive best to provide a framework for this universe. His book is a signal achievement; it is tight, hard, paradoxical, and gen­ uinely witty.... I Professor Frye] is the most exciting critic around; I do not think he is capable of writing a page which does not offer some sort of intellectual reward" —Hudson Review "This is a brilliant but bristling book, an important though thor­ oughly controversial attempt to establish order in a disorderly field Mr. Frye has wit, style, audacity, immense learning, a gift for opening up new and unex­ pected perspectives in the study of literature.... It would be hopeless to attempt a brief summar)' of Mr. Fryes daT/Jingly counterpointed classifications.** —The Nation P. A 1 » C R < Tl C • SM Anatomy of Criticism Four Essays With a new foreword by Harold 8loom Northrop Frye Striking out at the conception of criticism as restricted to mere opinion or ritual gesture. Northrop Frye wrote this magisterial work proceed­ ing on the assumption that criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge in its own right. In four brilliant essays on historical, ethical, archetypical, and rhetorical criticism, employing examples of world literature from ancient times to the present. Frye reconceived literary criticism as a total history rather than a linear progression through time. Literature. Frye wrote, is "the place where our imaginations find the ideal that they try to pass on to belief and action, where they find the vision which is the source of both the dignity and the joy of life." And the critical study of literature provides a basic way "to produce, out of the society we have to live in. a vision of the society we want to live in.* Harold Bloom contributes a fascinating and highly personal foreword that examines Fryes mode of criticism and thought (as opposed to Fryes criti­ cism itself) as being indispensable in the modern literary world. Northrop Frye was University Professor in the University of Toronto, and also Professor of English in Victoria College. University of Toronto. His books include Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (Princeton). Cover design by Lou f wano Cover photo from the Northrop frye Collection Courtesy of Victoria Umversrty Toronto PRINCETON PAPERBACKS www pup. princeton «du ISBN 0 691-06999-9 A N A T O M Y OF CRITICISM Four Essays A n a t o m y of Criticism FOUR ESSAYS With a Foreword Harold Bloom by NORTHROP FRYE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS PRINCETON AND O X F O R D Published by Princeton University Press, 41 W i l l i a m Street, Princeton, N e w Jersey 08540 In the United K i n g d o m : Princeton University Press, 3 M a r k e t P l a c e , Woodstock, Oxfordshire O X 2 0 1 S Y C o p y r i g h t © 1957, by Princeton University Press All Rights Reserved L . C . C a r d N o . 56-8380 I S B N 0-691-06999-9 (paperback edn.) I S B N 0-691-06004-5 (hardcover edn.) Fifteenth printing, with a new F o r e w o r d , 2000 Publication of this book has b e e n aided by a grant from the C o u n c i l of the H u m a n i t i e s , Princeton University, and the C l a s s of 1932 L e c t u r e s h i p . FIRST PRINCETON PAPERBACK Edition, 1 9 7 1 T h i r d printing, 1 9 7 3 T e n t h printing, 1990 T h e paper used in this publication meets the m i n i m u m requirements of A N S I / N I S O Z39.48-1992 (R1997) {Permanence of Paper) 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 1 6 15 Printed in the United States of A m e r i c a HELENAE UXORI Foreword N O R T H R O P F R Y E IN R E T R O S P E C T The publication o f Northrop Frye's Notebooks troubled some o f his old admirers, myself included. O n e unfortunate passage gave us Frye's affirmation that he alone, o f all modern critics, possessed genius. I think o f Kenneth Burke and o f William Empson; were they less gifted than Frye? O r were George Wilson Knight or Ernst Robert Curtius less original and creative than the Canadian master? And yet I share Frye's sympathy for what our current "cultural" polemicists dismiss as the "romantic ideology o f genius." In that supposed ideology, there is a transcendental realm, but we are alienated from it. T h e genius is a person at least more open to that transcendence than most o f us are. Historicists assert that genius is only an eighteenth-century idea, in which the saint and the hero were replaced, as they were by Goethe, widely renowned as "the genius o f happiness and astonish­ ment." T h e r e had been at least three earlier meanings o f genius: one's attendant spirit or natural endowment or aspiration. Frye's declaration o f genius prompts m e to an impish archaism: was this Magus o f the North attended by a spirit? It seems likelier that Frye, a formidable ironist, would refer to his aspiration, more even than to his natural endowment. I fell in love with Frye's Fearful Symmetry, his study o f William Blake, when it was published in 1947, my freshman year at Cornell. I purchased the book and read it to pieces, until it was a part o f me. A decade later, when Anatomy of Criticism was published, I b e c a m e one o f its first reviewers. I am not so fond o f the Anatomy now, as I was more than forty years ago, but I probably absorbed it in ways I no longer can apprehend. In later years, whenever I lectured at Toronto, Frye would introduce m e with considerable polemical fer­ vor, making clear that his Methodist Platonism was very different from my Jewish Gnosticism. I place this upon record, since I have come to praise Frye in this foreword, though with a certain ambiva­ lence. Frye disliked the idea o f an anxiety o f influence, and told me that whether a later writer experienced such an affect was due en­ tirely to temperament and circumstances. W h e n I replied that influ­ ence anxiety was not an affect in a person, but the relation o f one literary work to another, and so the result, rather than the cause, o f a strong misreading, my heroic precursor stopped listening. He had vii FOREWORD formulated a Myth o f C o n c e r n , his version o f Shelley's notion that imaginative literature was one vast poem with many authors, and so the matter was settled. Borges, going beyond Shelley, suggested that all authors were one author anyway, named Shakespeare. As extreme literary Idealism, that is extravagant enough for me to accept (some­ times) more readily than I can entertain Frye's Myth o f C o n c e r n . Frye began as a rebel against the Formalist schools o f criticism that dominated Anglo-American academies in the 1940s and 1950s: the Aristotle-influenced theorists o f Chicago, and the more practical New Critics o f T . S. Eliot's various persuasions, including his High C h u r c h Neo-Christianity. As a young scholar starting to teach at Yale in the mid-fifties, I welcomed Frye as a sage who, unlike most of the Yale faculty in literary study, did not believe that T . S. Eliot was Christ's vicar upon earth. All this is now quaint: Frye and his opponents have been folded together, as antique Modernists inun­ dated by the counter-cultural flood o f feminists, queer theorists, subMarxists, semioticians, and the ambitious disciples o f Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, and other Parisian prophets. Aesthetic and other cognitive values doubtless still exist, but not in the universities, where the new multiculturalists denounce the aesthetic as a colo­ nialist and patriarchal mask. Poetry, demystified, has been leveled. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is taught more frequently than Robert Browning, and Charlotte Armstrong has obscured William Words­ worth. As we turn into the new century, I wonder if I should sum­ mon up Frye at a séance, to ask him if he still feels that overt value judgments have no place in criticism? What would he say when told that Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, and Lady Mary Chudleigh have usurped the eminence o f John Milton and Andrew Marvell? His high sense o f irony doubtless would sustain him, even when informed that Shakespeare's plays were shaped, not by a highly individual imagination, but by the same "social ener­ gies" that molded the dramas o f George Chapman and Philip Massinger. All this will pass (not soon enough) and the study o f genius will return, though doubtless in modes unknown to Frye, or to me. Anatomy of Criticism, in this year 2000, is not much o f a guide to our current wilderness; yet, what is? Frye, setting aside the question o f his genius, moves me still be­ cause his blend o f Protestant Dissent and Platonism is securely al­ lied to what remains strongest in our poetic tradition. I am well viii FOREWORD aware that "our" is a very vulnerable term, when all difficult poets, who require mediation, are in considerable jeopardy. Blake's Jerusa­ lem, like Paradise Lost and King Lear, is regarded as "sexist" by feminist sectaries. Frye, expounding on Blake's vision o f the F e m a l e Will, is no longer an acceptable exegete to many who call them­ selves apostles o f that Will. T h e "good old days," in fact, were not so good: universities, in my youth, were staffed mostly by an assemblage o f know-nothing bigots, academic impostors, inchoate rhapsodes, and time-serving trim­ mers, while Neo-Christian ideologues were no wiser than the cur­ rent commissars o f Cultural Studies. And yet literary study, in what I am prepared to call the Age o f Frye, nevertheless flourished. Stu­ dents were taught to read closely, and what they read indeed was the best that had been written. I fretted that Paradise Lost frequently was reduced to the Mere Christianity o f C . S. Lewis, and I was even more annoyed that T . S. Eliot first exiled Milton (and the Roman­ tics, and Victorians) and later reinstated Paradise Lost and its de­ scendants. Frye, reviewing the Eliotic Allen Tate, charmed m e by calling Eliot's critical vision the Great Western Butterslide, in which a large blob o f Christian, Classical, and Royalist butter melted down and congealed at last into The Waste Land. I enjoyed also Frye's observation that Eliot and Pound had emerged from Missouri and Idaho to announce that the true tradition o f English poetry proceeded from origins in medieval Provence and Italy through later developments in France. O n e learned from Frye to be wary o f extra-poetic persuasions, particularly those that founded their Modernism upon a rather shal­ low rejection o f Romanticism. And yet Frye had essentially irenic tendencies; when I first met him, in London in 1 9 5 8 , I urged him on to fiercer battles against High C h u r c h Modernists, but to no avail. As a Low Church minister (United C h u r c h o f Canada) he shared the Blakean belief that Error would expose itself, and then self-destruct. Since I was, in his explicit view, a Judaizer o f Blake, he assured me that Blake's symmetries counted for more than the Blakean Apocalypse. I do not wish to over-emphasize Frye's pieties: when I asked what he did as a minister, he dryly answered that he married and buried his students. Symmetries abound in Anatomy of Criticism, and mount into ob­ sessive patterns in his large Biblical studies The Great Code and ix FOREWORD Words with Power. Fonder than Frye was o f Hermetic tradition, I once compared him in print to the neo-Platonists Proclus and Iamblichus. Though my comparison was amiable enough, he thun­ dered down from Toronto that those worthies were neither Chris­ tians nor first-raters. Belatedly, I revise the similitude now to Plotinus, distinctly not a Christian but certainly not second-rate. Frye's precursors were the poets rather than Plato: Milton and Blake had found him, and would not let him go. Yet, he b e c a m e a literary critic and not a poet, perhaps in the conviction that an Age of Criti­ cism could produce a Milton o f exegesis. Such figures exist in the great scholars o f esotericism: Hans Jonas, Gershom S c h o l e m , Henry Corbin, and Moshe Idel. I suspect, though, that the relation be­ tween imaginative literature and its best critics is rather different. I do not agree wholly with the contention o f the learned Christopher Ricks, that the English critics who matter most are the poet-critics: Ben Jonson, Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, Arnold, T . S. E l ­ iot. W h e r e are William Hazlitt, John Ruskin, Walter Pater, George Saintsbury and the neglected Churton Collins? WTiere, in our time and out o f England, are Kenneth Burke and E . R. Curtius? And yet I find Ricks's argument suggestive in regard to the stance o f North­ rop Frye. Perhaps in response to Eliot, Frye tended to write as if he were a poet-critic. But so did Ruskin, and lesser Victorian prophets, Carlyle included. Frye, more devout though oddly less Biblical than Ruskin, is probably best thought o f as Ruskin a century later, though centered, unlike Ruskin, wholly upon literary study. Anat­ omy of Criticism some day may seem rather like Ruskin's The Queen of the Air, another work less categorical than rhapsodic, though Frye's pitch is more subdued than Ruskin's. In my gathering old age, the Frye I like best is the Romantic essayist o f Fables of Identity, rather than the grand homogenizer o f literature in The Secular Scripture, one o f the Anatomy's ultimate offshoots. Systematic approaches to literary works were congenial to Frye's aspiring genius, but transmit poorly to his partisans. Since his Myth of C o n c e r n saw literature as a benignly cooperative enter­ prise, Frye blinded himself to the agonistic element in Western tra­ dition that has been chronicled from Longinus through Jakob Burckhardt and Nietzsche down to the present. Frye really saw Blake as attempting to "correct" Milton, rather than to overgo him, which is to repeat Blake's idealistic self-deception. You could not x FOREWORD know from reading Anatomy of Criticism that the struggle for sub­ limity can be savage, and then takes no prisoners. I am moved, despite myself, when Frye writes as if we had all eternity to absorb the Great Code of Art. And yet, following Emerson and Kenneth Burke, I feel obliged to be pragmatic. W h a t shall I reread? Quite aside from the School o f Resentment's canonizings o f all those, past and present, who cannot write their way out o f a paper bag, I am confronted daily by a tidal wave of books, proofs, manuscripts, and letters that vary from no to considerable literary value. Overpopula­ tion in literature has gone beyond Malthusian dimensions, and soon the world's computers will enhance a Noah's flood of produc­ tivity. I f I live long enough, I fully expect individual computers themselves to declare their possession o f personality and genius, and to bombard m e with the epics and romances o f artificial intel­ ligence. In all this proliferation, I hardly will turn to Frye for com­ fort and assistance. But, where shall I turn? Frye's criticism will survive because it is serious, spiritual, and comprehensive, but not because it is systematic or a manifestation of genius. I f Anatomy of Criticism begins to seem a period piece, so does The Sacred Wood o f T . S. Eliot. Literary criticism, to survive, must abandon the universities, where "cultural criticism" is a trium­ phant beast not to be expelled. T h e anatomies issuing from the academies concern themselves with the intricate secrets o f Victo­ rian women's underwear and the narrative histories o f the female bosom. Critical reading, the discipline o f how to read and why, will survive in those solitary scholars, out in society, whose single can­ dles Emerson prophesied and Wallace Stevens celebrated. S u c h scholars, turning Frye's pages, will find copious precepts and exam­ ples to help sustain them in their solitude. HAROLD BLOOM xi PREFATORY STATEMENTS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS THIS book forced itself on me while I was trying to write some­ thing else, and it probably still bears the marks of the reluctance with which a great part of it was composed. After completing a study of William Blake (Fearful Symmetry, 1947), I determined to apply the principles of literary symbolism and Biblical typology which I had learned from Blake to another poet, preferably one who had taken these principles from the critical theories of his own day, instead of working them out by himself as Blake did. I therefore began a study of Spenser's Faerie Queene, only to dis­ cover that in my beginning was my end. The introduction to Spenser became an introduction to the theory of allegory, and that theory obstinately adhered to a much larger theoretical structure. The basis of argument became more and more discursive, and less and less historical and Spenserian. I soon found myself entangled in those parts of criticism that have to do with such words as "myth," "symbol," "ritual," and "archetype," and my efforts to make sense of these words in various published articles met with enough interest to encourage me to proceed further along these lines. Eventually the theoretical and the practical aspects of the task I had begun completely separated. What is here offered is pure critical theory, and the omission of all specific criticism, even, in three of the four essays, of quotation, is deliberate. The present book seems to me, so far as I can judge at present, to need a com­ plementary volume concerned with practical criticism, a sort of morphology of literary symbolism. I am grateful to the J . S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for a Fellowship (1950-1951) which gave me leisure and freedom to deal with my Protean subject at the time when it stood in the greatest need of both. I am also grateful to the Class of 1932 of Princeton University, and to the Committee of the Special Program in the Humanities at Princeton, for providing me with a most stimulating term of work, in the course of which a good deal of the present book took its final shape. This book contains the substance of the four public lectures delivered in Princeton in March 1954. The "Polemical Introduction" is a revised version of "The Xlll PREFATORY STATEMENTS Function of Criticism at the Present Time," University of Toronto Quarterly, October 1949, also reprinted in Our Sense of Identity, ed. Malcolm Ross, Toronto, 1954. The first essay is a revised and expanded version of "Towards a Theory of Cultural History," University of Toronto Quarterly, July 1953. The second essay incorporates the material of "Levels of Meaning in Literature," Kenyon Review, Spring 1950; of "Three Meanings of Symbolism," Yale French Studies No. 9 (1952); of "The Language of Poetry," Explorations 4 (Toronto, 1955); and of "The Archetypes of Litera­ ture," Kenyon Review, Winter 1951. The third essay contains the material of "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute Essays 1948, Columbia University Press, 1949; of "Characterization in Shakespearean Comedy," Shakespeare Quarterly, July 1953; of "Comic Myth in Shakespeare," Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada (Section I I ) , June 1952; and of "The Nature of Satire," University of Toronto Quarterly, October 1944. The fourth essay contains the material of "Music in Poetry," University of Toronto Quarterly, January 1942; of "A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres," Kenyon Review, Autumn 1951; of "The Four Forms of Prose Fiction," Hudson Review, Winter 1950; and of "Myth as Informa­ tion," Hudson Revi...
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