Leave a reply [William Hogarth, The Tempest, ca. When they discovered that I had an interest in Frye, they began to pepper me with questions about his having been a Mason. I naturally asked what evidence they had for this claim, but none was forthcoming, their assumption being that this was common knowledge. The rumor, apparently, was initiated by Marshall McLuhan, or at least perpetuated by him. These critics, like Bishop Warburton before them, are far from being crackpots and flakes.
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What good is the study of literature? Does it help us to think more clearly, or feel more sensitively, or live a better life than we could without it? What is the function of the teacher and scholar, or of the person who calls himself, as I do, a literary critic?
What difference does the study of literature make in our social or political or religious attitude? In my early days I thought very little about such questions, not because I had any of the answers, but because I assumed that anybody who asked them was naive. Whether my answers are any good or not, they represent a fair amount of thinking about the questions.
English means, in the first place, the mother tongue. The native language takes precedence over every other subject of study: nothing else can compare with it in usefulness.
But then you find that every mother tongue, in any developed or civilized society, turns into something called literature. Every child realizes that literature is taking him in a different direction from the immediately useful, and a good many children complain loudly about this. Two questions I want to deal with, then, are, first: what is the relation of English as the mother tongue to English as a literature? Second: what is the social value of the study of literature, and what is the place of the imagination that literature addresses itself to, in the learning process?
The first thing you do is to take a long look at the world around you, a world of sky and sea and earth and stars and trees and hills. You see this world as objective, as something set over against you and not yourself or related to you in any way.
And you notice two things about this objective world. You have an intellect that feels curious about it and wants to study it, and you have feelings or emotions that see it as beautiful or austere or terrible. You know that both these attitudes have some reality, at least for you. They alternate, and keep you divided between them.
The sciences begin by accepting the facts and the evidence about an outside world without trying to alter them. Science proceeds by accurate measurement and description, and follows the demands of the reason rather than the emotions. What it deals with is there, whether we like it or not. Further, you go to work because you feel you have to, and because you want something at the end of the work.
That means that the important categories of your life are no longer the subject and the object, the watcher and the things being watched: the important categories are what you have to do and what you want to do — in other words, necessity and freedom. This human society after a while will transform the island into something with a human shape.
What that human shape is, is revealed in the shape of the work you do: the buildings, such as they are, the paths through the woods, the planted crops fenced off against whatever animals want to eat them. These things, these rudiments of city, highway, garden and farm, are the human form of nature, or the form of human nature, whichever you like.
This is the area of the applied arts and sciences, and it appears in our society as engineering and agriculture and medicine and architecture. In this area we can never say clearly where the art stops and the science begins, or vice versa. The practical world, however, is a world where actions speak louder than words. The animals have a good many of our practical skills: some insects make pretty fair architects, and beavers know quite a lot about engineering.
What makes our practical life really human is a third level of the mind, a level where consciousness and practical skill come together. The actions of man are prompted by desire, and some of these desires are needs, like food and warmth and shelter.
One of these needs is sexual, the desire to reproduce and bring more human beings into existence. Many animals and insects have this social form too, but man knows that he has it: he can compare what he does with what he can imagine being done. So we begin to see where the imagination belongs in the scheme of human affairs. If it did happen, it would move out of the world of imagination into the world of action. We can call it the language of self-expression. Science begins with the world we have to live in, accepting its data and trying to explain its laws.
From there, it moves towards the imagination: it becomes a mental construct, a model of a possible way of interpreting experience. The further it goes in this direction, the more it tends to speak the language of mathematics, which is really one of the languages of the imagination, along with literature and music. Art, on the other hand, begins with the world we construct, not with the world we see. It starts with the imagination, and then works towards ordinary experience: that is, it tries to make itself as convincing and recognizable as it can.
You can see why we tend to think of the sciences as intellectual and the arts as emotional: one starts with the world as it is, the other with the world we want to have. Up to a point it is true that science gives an intellectual view of reality, and that the arts try to make the emotions as precise and disciplined as sciences do the intellect. A highly developed science and a highly developed art are very close together, psychologically and otherwise.
Science learns more and more about the world as it goes on: it evolves and improves. But literature begins with the possible model of experience, and what it produces is the literary model we call the classic.
King Lear is it, as far as drama is concerned; so is Oedipus Rex, written two thousand years earlier than that, and both will be models of dramatic writing as long as the human race endures. So we find that everything that does improve, including science, leaves the literary artist out in the cold.
Or to Yeats, with his spiritualism and fairies and astrology. Or to D. Or to T. When Communists talk about the decadence of bourgeois culture, this is the kind of thing they always bring up. So the real question is a bigger one. Is it possible that literature, especially poetry, is something that a scientific civilization like ours will eventually outgrow? Man has always wanted to fly, and thousands of years ago he was making sculptures of winged bulls and telling stories about people who flew so high on artificial wings that the sun melted them off.
Interesting that the writer had so much imagination, but do we need such stories now that we have private aeroplanes? He wrote an essay called Four Ages of Poetry, with his tongue of course in his cheek, in which he said that poetry was the mental rattle that awakened the imagination of mankind in its infancy, but that now, in an age of science and technology, the poet has outlived his social function.
He lives in the days that are past. His ideas, thoughts, feelings, associations, are all with barbarous manners, obsolete customs, and exploded superstitions. The march of his intellect is like that of a crab, backwards. I shall be spending a good deal of my time on this question of the relevance of literature in the world of today, and I can only indicate the general lines my answer will take. There are two points I can make now, one simple, the other more difficult.
The poet uses images and objects and sensations much more than he uses abstract ideas; the novelist is concerned with telling stories, not with working out arguments. The world of literature is human in shape, a world where the sun rises in the east and sets in the west over the edge of a flat earth in three dimensions, where the primary realities are not atoms or electrons but bodies, and the primary forces not energy or gravitation but love and death and passion and joy.
The first, we said, was a state of identity, a feeling that everything around us was part of us, and the second is the ordinary state of consciousness, or separation, where art and science begin.
We notice in passing that the creative and the neurotic minds have a lot in common. But in the imagination anything goes that can be imagined, and the limit of the imagination is a totally human world. Here we recapture, in full consciousness, that original lost sense of identity with our surroundings, where there is nothing outside the mind of man, or something identical with the mind of man.
Religions present us with visions of eternal and infinite heavens or paradises which have the form of the cities and gardens of human civilization, like the Jerusalem and Eden of the Bible, completely separated from the state of frustration and misery that bulks so large in ordinary life. They indicate too that in the human world the imagination has no limits, if you follow me.
We said that the desire to fly produced the aeroplane. The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves And repeats words without meaning. In the same way, you were happy in spring, With the half colors of quarter-things, The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds, The single bird, the obscure moon — The obscure moon lighting an obscure world Of things that would never be quite expressed, Where you yourself were never quite yourself And did not want nor have to be, Desiring the exhilarations of changes: The motive for metaphor, shrinking from The weight of primary noon, The A B C of being, The ruddy temper, the hammer Of red and blue, the hard sound — Steel against intimation — the sharp flash, The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.
What Stevens calls the weight of primary noon, the A B C of being, and the dominant X is the objective world, the world set over against us. Outside literature, the main motive for writing is to describe this world. But literature itself uses language in a way which associates our minds with it. As soon as you use associative language, you begin using figures of speech.
There are two main kinds of association, analogy and identity, two things that are like each other and two things that are each other. One produces the figure of speech called the simile; the other produces the figure called metaphor. The poet, however, uses these two crude, primitive, archaic forms of thought in the most uninhibited way, because his job is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.
The motive for metaphor, according to Wallace Stevens, is a desire to associate, and finally to identify, the human mind with what goes on outside it, because the only genuine joy you can have is in those rare moments when you feel that although we may know in part, as Paul says, we are also a part of what we know.
The Educated Imagination
An exercise in explaining not only what literature should do for you, but what you should look for as reader. I know it is probably ar I only had two problems with this brilliantly insightful book. Want to Read saving…. This book is a must read though for anyone who has formally studied literature and wondered why as we all haveanyone who writes seriously, or anyone who reads to be enlightened or to expand the intellect, not just to pass the time. One enters the ethical dimension, mentioned in the previous chapter, and rises finally to an overview that Frye describes in semi-religious language:. Northrop Frye, who northrol away inwas one of the great minds of literary criticism and theory. And imagination helps us take what is happening in front of us and apply it in other situations and areas of our lives.
EDUCATED IMAGINATION NORTHROP FRYE PDF
What good is the study of literature? Does it help us to think more clearly, or feel more sensitively, or live a better life than we could without it? What is the function of the teacher and scholar, or of the person who calls himself, as I do, a literary critic? What difference does the study of literature make in our social or political or religious attitude? In my early days I thought very little about such questions, not because I had any of the answers, but because I assumed that anybody who asked them was naive. Whether my answers are any good or not, they represent a fair amount of thinking about the questions. English means, in the first place, the mother tongue.
Northrop Frye - The Educated Imagination
Frye does so by discussing concepts such as the desire of humans to connect to nature, the conformity to conventions and deviation from reality in literature, and the ideal manner in which literature should be taught. In his essay, the three levels are broken down in a detailed manner, which links it directly its thesis. Is it the imaginary setting, the violent thoughts, or the manipulative conversations? According to Frye there are no differences between literature and reality.
The Educated Imagination Quotes
Shelves: non-fiction , essays , , critical-theory Northrop Frye is a famous Canadian English literature professor who wrote quite a few books on literary theory, among other achievements. Frye tackles many questions which revolve around the importance of studying literature and an analysis of literature, studying it, and having an imagination. He posits three kinds of language within a language - that of ordinary conversation and self-expression; of conveying information in a practical sense; and of the imagination, i. Naturally, arguments build one upon the other, and I would be setting myself a horrendous task to try to describe them in brief. Of all the lectures, I appreciated the last one the most, probably because it spoke to me the most. At one point he discusses freedom, and says "Nobody is capable of free speech unless he knows how to use language, and such knowledge is not a gift: it has to be learned and worked at.