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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

01/05/10

Reading Frye's Anatomy of Criticism.

The tentative system proposed by Frye involves locating a series of organizing principles within a given literary text. These he terms archetypes. Archetypes are usually fairly conventional features shared throughout world literature. An example would be representations of food throughout the world. This will have a resonance no matter where we find it displayed because of our dependency upon nutrition. It's not too much of a stretch to see these images cropping up in myths of fertility gods and the like. Symbols act in much the same way for Frye. A symbol at its core, reduces to a simple structure which he calls a monad. All of these operate as a set of coordinates whereby we may classify, categorize and file away what we read. Sounds quite taxonomic doesn't it? Well, it is. Some of us may even remember that dismal poetic scheme in the "Dead Poets Society", which Mr. Keating has his class tear up. But Frye's proposal is much more imaginative than his structuralist interpreters would have you believe.


Frye seeks to import scientific rigor to the admittedly less precise field of literary criticism. In this manner, he hopes to ensure a higher level of precision in our appraisal of literature. This is also a more objective approach to the text.

I'm only half-way through the book, so bear with me here, but one of the more interesting proposals that Frye makes is that literature should be studied as an isolated phenomenon. Literature forms its own universe and the network of texts by which it is constituted are insulated against all historic contingencies. This is a world onto itself. Importing other disciplines into the field such as anthropology, psycho-analysis and philosophy is counterproductive at best. In order to study literature, the proper study is just that, literature. Another example provided by Frye is of abstract paintings which seek to represent those geometrical shapes residing at the core of representational paintings. This is the way he views archetypes.



Fascinating thoughts...

I'll try to share some of my own when I finish.

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