Poetics of Imagination – Northrop Frye


Frye stumbles on the idea of archetypal structure in literature. It resonates with Jungian thought, Gaston Bachelard, James Hillman and others in that poetics comes before philosophy or psychology. It seems to me that there is biological, deep structure, integration of the image and poetics, a structure that cannot be deconstructed but is elemental to human nature. – rlw

homer_and_the_ancient_poets_blake

illustration – William Blake – Dante’s Inferno, Canto IV: Homer and the Ancient Poets

Archetypal criticism as “a new poetics”

For Frye, this “new poetics” is to be found in the principle of the mythological framework, which has come to be known as ‘archetypal criticism’. It is through the lens of this framework, which is essentially a centrifugal movement of backing up from the text towards the archetype, that the social function of literary criticism becomes apparent. Essentially, “what criticism can do,” according to Frye, “is awaken students to successive levels of awareness of the mythology that lies behind the ideology in which their society indoctrinates them” (Stingle 4). That is, the study of recurring structural patterns grants students an emancipatory distance from their own society, and gives them a vision of a higher human state — the Longinian sublime — that is not accessible directly through their own experience, but ultimately transforms and expands their experience, so that the poetic model becomes a model to live by. In what he terms a “kerygmatic mode,” myths become “myths to live by” and metaphors “metaphors to live in,” which “. . . not only work for us but constantly expand our horizons, [so that] we may enter the world of [kerygma or transformative power] and pass on to others what we have found to be true for ourselves” (Double Vision 18).

Because of its important social function, Frye felt that literary criticism was an essential part of a liberal education, and worked tirelessly to communicate his ideas to a wider audience. “For many years now,” he wrote in 1987, “I have been addressing myself primarily, not to other critics, but to students and a nonspecialist public, realizing that whatever new directions can come to my discipline will come from their needs and their intense if unfocused vision” (Auguries 7). It is therefore fitting that his last book, published posthumously, should be one that he describes as being “something of a shorter and more accessible version of the longer books, The Great Code andWords with Power,” which he asks his readers to read sympathetically, not “as proceeding from a judgment seat of final conviction, but from a rest stop on a pilgrimage, however near the pilgrimage may now be to its close” (Double Vision Preface).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Frye

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