Some Words from Northrop Frye

I find these particularly valuable in our current age.

It would be easy to compile a long list of […] determinisms in criticism, all of them, whether Marxist, Thomist, liberal-humanist, neo-Classical, Freudian, Jungian, or existentialist, substituting a critical attitude for criticism, all proposing, not to find a conceptual framework for criticism within literature, but to attach criticism to one of a miscellany of frameworks outside it. (6)

From there, Frye goes on to argue that the best these frameworks can provide is a sort of history of taste. (8) These days, the frameworks are overwhelmingly political in nature — and indeed, many scholars seem convinced that their particular political framework is all-encompassing, in the process transforming the metaphor to one of a Procrustean bed.

Those are not frameworks that interest me. Back to Frye:

The first step in developing a genuine poetics is to recognize and get rid of meaningless criticism […] This includes all the sonorous nonsense that we so often find in critical generalities, reflective comments, ideological perorations, and other consequences of taking a large view of an unorganized subject. It includes all lists of the “best” novels or poems or writers, whether their particular virtue is exclusiveness or inclusiveness. It includes all casual, sentimental, and prejudiced value-judgments, and all the literary chit-chat which makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange. (18)

If your interests lead you to the sort of work that relies on the kinds of frameworks Frye mentioned above, have fun — but we should always remember that what we may be doing is activism, which is not the same thing as scholarship.

Work Cited

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1990.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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