How Twigs Get Bent: Northrop Frye

UPDATE: Welcome, Frygians! Thanks for dropping by!

When people ask me why I’m a medievalist, I sometimes joke and say medieval studies are relatively uncontaminated by theory. Now that’s not quite true — to read is to interpret, and interpretation is an application of some sort of theory (even if the application is unconscious). But medieval studies haven’t been subjected to the same degree of poststructuralist interrogation as say, Victorian literature or contemporary poetry, possibly because it’s a bit less accessible to begin with. Its historic remoteness has made medieval literature a bit less low-hanging for theory geeks than the work of later periods.

So I’m not keen on contemporary literary theory to begin with, as some of you may remember. Actually, my approach to literature varies depending on what I notice in a given text, and I’ve been accused at different times of being the last New Critic, someone who does Marxist criticism without Marx, and other oddities. But in practice and in my teaching, I most often find my starting point in the work of Northrop Frye.

I was introduced to Frye’s work before I really got into medieval literature. As I worked on my M.A., I developed a pre-existing interest in genre fiction, especially detective novels, and particularly hard-boiled private eye fiction. One series that caught my interest was Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. I started reading about Parker, and I discovered that Parker himself wrote a doctoral dissertation on the private eye as a sort of “American Adam”, a western hero after the frontiers were paved over. He began the Spenser novels at roughly the same time.

So I read Parker’s dissertation, and discovered that he was employing Frye’s theories, with which I had previously been unaware — Frye had fallen out of fashion by the late 80s/early 90s. But as a writer myself, I realized that what Parker said about Frye made sense and explained what I liked about a lot of the stuff I enjoyed reading.

When I went back to academia in the late 90s, I decided to go to the source, and read several of Frye’s books and John Ayre’s biography of the man. Again, I found what he had to say made a great deal of sense, and I have yet to be disappointed in what I’ve read of his work.This puts me out of step with many of my peers, but that’s never bothered me much, as is evidenced by, among other things, the views I express here.

All of this is by way of explaining how happy I am to have found a new blog (new to me, anyway) dedicated to Frye and his ideas. It’s called The Educated Imagination, and I hope you check it out. It might show you a way of looking at the world that makes sense to you as well as it does to me.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Education, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How Twigs Get Bent: Northrop Frye

  1. Thanks for the plug, good Professor Mondo. We’ve put up your post and I am gratefully responding in kind.

    That’s my private email address I left with you. By all means drop me a line. Not only am I a Frygian, I’m also a former private eye. We obviously have a lot to talk about.

    If you’re doing Facebook these days, please join our brand-newly installed Facebook page, the link for which you’ll find in the upper right hand corner of our widgets menu.

  2. Pingback: A Book In the Distance | Professor Mondo

  3. Pingback: Sharing Some Linky Love | Professor Mondo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s