A great examination of modern American folklore by one of my favorite folklorist. I was especially impressed by the humble approach she takes with Mid...moreA great examination of modern American folklore by one of my favorite folklorist. I was especially impressed by the humble approach she takes with Midwest religion movements.(less)
Northrup Frye argues that literary criticism is a way of thinking, defining it thus: "… by criticism I mean the whole work of scholarship and taste co...moreNorthrup Frye argues that literary criticism is a way of thinking, defining it thus: "… by criticism I mean the whole work of scholarship and taste concerned with literature which is a part of what is called variously liberal education, culture, or the study of the humanities. I start from the principle that criticism is not simply a part of this larger activity, but an essential part of it" (3). Literature is not taught, criticism is taught. He places criticism, and the humanities on the same level as mathematics and the sciences. He intends to rescue literary criticism from the sense that it is taste, which is entirely based on what is the current moral climate. To do this, he takes the various strands of criticism and posits a unity between them. He seeks to elucidate a structure or framework for studying literature. In my reading, the word, typology came to mind. He is setting up all the different interpretative and methodical concepts together to form a coherent whole. He suggest that criticism is like science in many ways; in introduction he suggests that like early science, criticism needs to realize that it is conceptual framework to work in (15). He argues further that criticism should not lean on theories outside literature to explain literature, but rather it should look to literature to explain literature. Criticism in his thinking is a problem of interrelationships.
He brings together all the different critical positions and concepts of literature. The first essay is concerned with modes, which refers to the hero’s power of action in relation to the audience and the environment. He sees five different modes: myth, romance, high mimetic, low mimetic and ironic, where the hero’s power is reduced from divinity to less than the reader’s. Frye appears to see some sort of historical progression through these modes, but he also suggests a cycle, where ironic leads back into myth. After these modes, he examines these modes in tragedy and then in comedy. Finally he examines the thematic mode. Thematic here is a way of saying idea; the thematic mode puts the story after or behind the organizing idea of the literature. This response paper falls into the thematic mode, as its main concern is the idea of book, though part of this is the construction. He notes the ancient Greeks saw six aspects to poetry: mythos (plot), ethos (character and setting), dianoia (idea or poetic thought). The other three (melody, diction and spectacle) he leaves for later. Dianoia is what we are concerned with when we ask what the story’s point is. (52). To discuss ethos, he defines internal fictions (hero and his society) and external fictions (the author and his society). He states that all literature has a fictional and thematic aspect. In the comic, the hero tends to integrate with his society (or creates a new society). In the tragic, the hero tends to isolate from society.
The second essay concerns symbols, which are units isolated for attention by the critic. Here the framework come from phases. Phase, in this essay, mean the context in which the narrative and meaning of a work is considered (367). There are five phases: literal, descriptive, formal, archetypal (elsewhere he calls this one central) and finally anagogic. The literal and descriptive are dicussed together; here the symbol is motif and sign. Frye is critical of the popular use of the term literal: it is used for “unimaginative illiterates” or to suggest something is free from ambiguity (76). Here he means it as the poem itself (77). The literal meaning of a poem is the interrelationship of the poems parts; the whole of the poem. In the formal phase, the symbol is image. The form of a poem remains the same whether read from beginning to end or seen as a whole; thus both pattern and narrative. Next he examines the mythical phase, where symbol is archetype, closely tied to romance. Here I felt most comfortable. Poetry here is a technique of civilization. Finally he discusses the anagogic phase: symbol as monad. Monad means unity or one; thus Frye’s sense that it is the center of an individual’s literary experience. The individual is separated from society. Anagogic means spiritual or elevated.
The next essay concern archetypal criticism, which Frye places in the center. Within archetypal criticism, there are several theories of meaning: apocalyptic imagery. Here the basic terms for the rest of the essay are set up. The imagery that are changed according to mode, imagery in the divine world, the human world, the animal world, the vegetable world and the mineral world. Here paradise dominates. The second section deals with demonic imagery, which is something of the apocalyptic imagery reverse: the waste land and hell affect imagery. Analogical imagery is the subject of the third section: the innocent world. Next he introduces the theory of mythos: which is concerned with movements. The movements are centered around spring (comedy), summer (romance), autumn (tragedy), winter (irony and satire). In each section he examines the movement, the affect on the characters and environment. These mythos are unified in an overtly Christian way: he calls them “for aspects of a central unifying myth” (192). The themes of these are: agon – conflict, the archetype of romance, pathos - catastrophe , the theme of tragedy, sparagmos – which is the sense that heroism is absent, disorganized or doomed to defeat (192), this is the theme of irony and satire. Finally there is anagnorisis – the triumphant recognition of a new born society, the theme of comedy. It was at this point in the book that I began to see the interrelationship of literature that Frye speaks of. In these sections he connects the social or real world, but I don’t feel I understand how. I wonder if he suggests that our narratives form our reality.
He notes that romance has six phases, three which are interrelated to tragedy and three to comedy. In fact, tragedy, comedy and irony are all related in this way. As I read the section on tragedy, I asked this question: what is the relationship of literature to the “real world”? Tragedy for example overlays many explanations or descriptions of the world’s state or process. For example, global warming, not in just movies (Day after Tomorrow) but in news reports, conversations and musing, human society is pitted as a tragic hero that reached too far and is now in the process of a tragedy. I also began to wonder about how Frye approaches something like the Christian bible: What is something like the Christian interpretations of Old Testament and New Testament interpretations? God forces Adam and Eve to leave the garden of Eden because they reached to high: they leave paradise and yet all their potential remains, and this is the bitter emotional (tragic) problem. This story is a tragedy. And yet, in the Christian theology, this is necessary; Christ fulfills this potential and returns them to society, or creates a new society. This story becomes a comedy, and wraps the tragedy of Adam and Eve within itself, thus is becomes something else, does it not, with an down and then upward movement. Is the garden of Eden then just a initial situation to begin the comedy?
The last essay is concerned with the theory of genres. He posits that literature could be described as rhetorical organization of grammar and logic (in the sense of the medieval trivium). Here he considers the other three aspects of poetry: melos (rhythm), lexis (verbal texture) and opsis (spectacle). The sections examine different “rhythms,” that is the movement of the words. Epos (oral narrative – face to face) has a rhythm of recurrence; prose of continuity; drama of decorum, lyric of association.
I feel like it might be helpful to map out all the interrelationships he posits along with definitions: something like a webpage with popout boxes with the definitions and lines drawn between each concept and its subcategories and interrelationships. His argument and subject suggest the interrelationship of various genres, modes and phases; these interrelationships are overwhelming to comprehend. I categorize his efforts as a typology of literature. Like mathematics, Frye sees literature as a language, thus the interrelationships take on importance as a way of knowing; he posits metaphor as an equivalent of equations, suggesting that both are tautologies (350). Metaphors also form an important part of Frye’s conception of criticism as a way of knowing, seen especially in the second essay. Metaphors define a relation between two symbols, whether abstract or concrete. The relation between symbols can be read through the phases that Frye sees in literature. Literal metaphors simply juxtapose two symbols. Descriptive metaphor makes a statement of likeness. Formal metaphors provide an analogy. Archetypal metaphor provides identity of a individual with a larger set. Anagogic metaphor states a hypothetical identity (366). If I were to teach the material from this book, I would create a visual representation of the ideas and have students read selections that would help to make the ideas concrete. The material is rather overwhelming, but creates a sense of unity of literature and a starting point for looking at literature, both methodically (this book fits this mode, this phase, this genre, etc.) and theoretically (conceptions of literature). I also find interesting his use of the term, conceiving in his tentative conclusions: “The mathematical and the verbal universe are doubtless different ways of conceiving the same universe” (354). The word conceive has suggesting of creation. Frye wants literature, or criticism of literature, to have central place in the humanities and in liberal education; he says that it creates the universe in a way, not in the sense of a god, but creates an order of the universe, that is not different from the universe that mathematics or natural science does. (less)
Arvid August Afzelius' rather delightful biographical memories of his early years, as he told them to his daughters. He was instrument in the publicat...moreArvid August Afzelius' rather delightful biographical memories of his early years, as he told them to his daughters. He was instrument in the publication and editing of Svenska folk-visor från forntiden (1814-1818), one of the first publications of Swedish ballads. He was an important part of the Romantic movement in Sweden and the development of what we today might call folklore. The prose is fun to read, though I find myself suspecting him of romanticizing his early life for his children and grandchildren's sake. I take what he says with a grain of salt. Oh, and I must not forget to mention that he was the composer of several psalms in the Swedish psalmbok as well as the composer of the folk-song style poem, Näcken (I insert this point in a way that is reminiscent of Afzelius' own narrative).(less)
Awesome - one of the more interesting revisionist takes on nationalism. Challenges Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner; posit that nations...moreAwesome - one of the more interesting revisionist takes on nationalism. Challenges Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner; posit that nations began to form much earlier than they believe to be so; mainly focuses on England and the role of literature and religion in forming the idea of nation before 1780.(less)
Ruth Finnegan calls into question the idea that oral poetry is necessarily composed in performance and questions many of the assumptions that are made...moreRuth Finnegan calls into question the idea that oral poetry is necessarily composed in performance and questions many of the assumptions that are made by scholars dealing with orality. She outlines the implicit and explicit assumptions that many scholars carry: from romanticism, historical-geographic methods, and sociological theories. I find her questions concerning the nature of orality to be especially thoughtful: she wonders if there clear divisions between oral and written forms. She questions the oral-formulaic theory on its insistence of composition in performance. There are many brief examples, but she does not truly expand on them. Her work is thought provoking, especially in her questioning of received tradition on orality. I also find her discussion in chapter 4 thoughtful – she demonstrates that different cultures/traditions have different poetic styles, casting doubt on the validity of one single model of defining oral poetry by features. I find Finnegan’s understanding or even misrepresentation of Lord’s work disturbing (cf. 53). Notably, she discusses terms like “word for word, and line for line” as if Lord was saying that rather than it being the understanding of the poet himself. I feel horrible saying this but I begin to wonder if she truly read Lord’s work (it becomes evident later that she did). Maybe she is correct in her assessment of romantic views of oral composition, but such a misrepresentation makes it difficult for me to buy her arguments, especially where she uses the work of others – is she representing their views correctly? I feel like she occasionally takes such a scattered approach and strings together examples not unlike armchair anthropologists. It should be noted that the book was researched and written in the late 1960s and early 1970s: it is dated, especially from a modern folklore perspective, but it is a reaction to the rigid and all encompassing application of Albert Lord’s oral-formulaic theory to all poetry without concern for context and genre. (less)
A range of essays (recent and some older) on vampires from a folklore perspective. Alan Dundes ends the book with his universal Freudian interpretatio...moreA range of essays (recent and some older) on vampires from a folklore perspective. Alan Dundes ends the book with his universal Freudian interpretation of the vampire. It has a great bibliography and the essays have much food for thought.(less)
Exciting story of psychological terror set in 16th century Sweden where the reader is never sure what is happening is in the characters' heads or if i...moreExciting story of psychological terror set in 16th century Sweden where the reader is never sure what is happening is in the characters' heads or if it is real. (less)