09 May 2010

H–2 / NORTHROP FRYE: ROSICRUCIAN PEST





I am my world.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus–Logico Philosophicus





I. LUTHERAN ECHOES.
Disturbed with the implications resultant from the Reformer's idea of private biblical interpretation (sola scriptura), Carl von Bodmann enunciated this presentiment in 1523:
What will be the consequences of the Reformer’s principle about the interpretation and value of Sacred Scripture? He rejects this book and that as not apostolic, as spurious, because it does not agree with his spirit. Other people will reject other books for the same reasons; and finally, they will not believe in the bible at all and will treat it like any profane book.[1]
Hence we have the theme for this analysis, appertaining to the late Herman Northrop Frye (1912-1991) - ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, literary critic of international prestige, cultural commentator, Companion of the Order of Canada, Ivory Tower dweller, biblical gnostic, vulgarian. Now let TH2 select a suite of Frye’s remarks (made some 450+ years later) to check Bodmann’s presentiments:
  • [The Bible is a] great cultural achievement.
  • [The Bible] comes to us as a linguistic event.
  • The Bible serves not as a source of doctrine, but as a source of story and vision.
  • The Gospels are all myth and bulge... [and] give us the life of Jesus in the form of a myth: what they say he is.
  • [The New Testament is] written in the language of literature, the language of myth and metaphor.
  • [The Scriptures] work for us, [they] constantly expand our horizons, we may enter a world of proclamation and pass on to others what we have found to be true for ourselves.
  • Interviewer: The Bible... doesn’t indicate anything outside the self? Frye: Oh; no. You get nothing but a body of words... You create the events yourself.[2]
Verified. Carl was right.

II. WHAT IS THE BIBLE? Some may not consider the abovementioned remarks as particularly profane. In a over-secularized age which sees the Bible to be a tool of soapbox fundamentalists, of “organized religion”, or for an agenda of ecclesiastical despotism, then necessarily will the Bible be deemed to be a tool of religious fanatics or, in the case of Frye - that reigning prince of hollow liberal Protestantism in Canada, as a “great cultural achievement”, a "linguistic event". Already, we can see where this analysis is headed...
III. PRELIMINARIES. In this essay TH2 concentrates Frye’s interpretation of the Creation account in Genesis 1 (hereafter G1). A preliminary discussion of Frye’s beliefs and literary assumptions, however, will assist in the ensuing analysis as it will be discerned how they reverberated through his variegated writings. If you wish to know the philosophy of a man, it is often best to first query his religious views, of his belief or disbelief in the transcendence and/or immanence of God. If he is a theist, like Frye was, it is also requisite to understand what he considered to be the relation between God and man. Especially, as in his case, whether or not the Bible is the revealed word of God to man (traditional belief) or not.

IV. GOD AS "OTHER". By perusing the abovementioned quotes it is easy to glean that Frye did not assent to tradition. Church dogma, doctrine and morals cannot be garnered from the Bible. Instead, the Bible must “work for us”, which is a nice-nellyism for personal preference. Frye denied objective spiritual truth: “What the ‘truth’ is, is not available to human beings in spiritual matters: the goal of our spiritual life is God, who is a spiritual Other, not a spiritual object; much less a conceptual object.[3] Now whether he wanted us to accept this view as an objective truth, TH2 does not know. Are we to say, then, that God and truth are mutually exclusive? What is the difference between God as a “spiritual object” as opposed to a “spiritual Other”? Did not Frye specify God as an object by referring to him as the “Other”? Clearly, Frye’s God was not a really Other, but a symbolic Other, hardly a basis for religious certitude. A similar contradiction is found in Frye’s epistemology: “the mirror, where a subject sees an object which is both itself and not itself, is a central metaphor of knowledge.”[4] How can an object both be and not be at the same time? Thus he violates the principle of contradiction. Aristotle 101.

V. IMAGINING THINGS. In his 1963 Massey Lectures, Frye propounded the following on literature: it “can only derive its forms from itself”, “the signposts of literature always keep pointing... to a world where nothing is outside the human imagination”.[5] In an interview near to the end of his life, he said this to David Cayley: “The criterion of literature is not the real. It’s the conceivable”.[6] Now the claim that that which is conceivable, or that which can be imagined, is fine for the novelist or the poet. Otherwise fiction would not be fiction. Still, how any fiction can be composed without at least some verism? Frye’s prevarication, obviously, was that he extrapolated this conceptualism to be truthful not just for literature, but for all subjects. This idea is extended right across the board of human intellection and its expression via language. For example, the historian cannot write a treatise on history per se, on how persons and events of the past really were, of what actually happened. This is an impossibility. The historian can only think about how history might have been. In other words, Frye espoused a non-rational, even irrational, approach to the text, regardless if it was literature or if it concerned itself with history, theology, and so forth. A.C. Hamilton said of Frye: “He seeks an active, imaginative, and therefore creative response from the reader rather than any rational agreement or disagreement.”[7] The problem with this is this: rationality is assumed whenever one reads a text. Imagination and creativeness are secondary, they come after the fact, after something has been rationally apprehended. It must be emphasized that this prioritization of the imagination over and above rationality gave Frye a platform to excuse himself from all criticism. If rationality is dispensed with, one could have fired all the criticisms desired. Accordingly, Frye and his groveling supporters can easily score them off as redundant. Why? Simply because the critic is deemed to be just imagining things. This is a standard diversionary tactic used by the pseudo-intellectual class. Frye enclosed himself within his watertight Ivory Tower, shutting himself out from the world. Old story.
VI. RELIGION REAL? This argument also applies to religion. Religion itself is not real. Frye claimed that it was an imaginative outpouring. Alternatively, he claimed, religion is based on myth and metaphor. The words in which we speak and write, be it in creed or dogma, are incapable of traversing from our minds into an extraneous objective world, neither to the really transcendent, nor can there be a real reception of a Voice therefrom (as in Biblical revelation). It is no surprise, then, that Frye maintained that liberal contempt for orthodoxy, using customary slandering techniques.[8]

VII. UTILITARIAN FAITH. Religion in its traditional acceptation cannot, figured Frye, be revealed or discovered. Analogous to the view of Tom Harpur (see my analysis here), faith must be taken as a separate, wholly distinguished unit from religion. Frye contended that faith is something achieved, a push for it must be made, a pressure is involved. Recalling the phrase made popular by Hans Vaihinger (1852-1933), we can only believe "as if" (Als-Ob) something were true, though it can never really be true.[9] Therefore “faith is the reality of hope and the reality of illusion.”[10] Yet how can hope be reality and illusion at the same time? Again he infracts the principle of contradiction. The implication? Faith is minified to pragmatism: it “is something that works... It’s a process of turning into reality what has been a matter of hope or a matter of illusion”.[11] This utilitarian approach to religion is nothing new. It can be traced back, for example, to Heinrich Heine (1797-1856): “The ultimate fate of Christianity depends on whether we still need it.”[12] There can be no objective basis for religious belief. One can only imagine.

VIII. FANTASY AND PHANTASM. Many are satisfied with this and say it is fine. TH2 says it is fantasy. If faith is an imaginative by-product, we had in Northrop Frye another case of unhooking words from spiritual realities. We can pray to God, we can cry out all kinds of supplications to our Maker in those moments of personal darkness; but in the end, according to a literary critic, we are only conjuring up phantasms. Our craniums are our jail cells. God cannot hear the words of poor humanity. He is, in effect, aloof, impersonal. Nor can man really learn about or love the Creator from revelation or by grace. We are only “imagining things”. Now such a view may be appropriate for a popular academic loved by his cohorts in the liberal intelligentsia. It may mesmerize wide-eyed university students from baby booming households. TH2 doubts, however, that it would appeal to the majority of humanity. Take the normal person - what will he or she opt for in times of crisis: Reality or imagination? The question of Colin Morris comes to mind: Is religion “simply the product of human ingenuity or does it involve a response to something or someone that transcends it?”[13] TH2 knows what would have been Frye’s answer.
IX. CONFESSIONAL INTERLUDE. Personally, TH2 has never, nor does he think he will ever, be able to profess absolute certitude in matters of faith, contrary to what the reader may presume. Many bouts with incertitude there have been. Thus I must place trust in authority; pray, even when God seems infinitely remote. I do not deny that some Catholic doctrines are difficult to assent to, let alone to act upon. To be sure, a few make me cringe and recoil. Tension enters here with these, which is the territory of the saints - it is a great mystery. But when thought through, and with reference to authoritative sources, they are so logical. Some are very hard to live by, I fail often, too often. Holiness seems a distant land. Indeed, my mind is not infrequently in the sewer, and I have no idea why the stereotype exists that orthodox Catholics are unwaveringly pious, sanguine people with their eyes perpetually directed heavenwards. But what am I supposed to do when my experience and studies supply me with rationally consistent explanations and evidences as to how strikingly singular is the Catholic worldview when compared with others, ancient and modern? Why is it that I have this instinctual stomach contraction, even before becoming a more serious Catholic, when I hear some effete academic extolling some neo-pagan system of the world? Why does my inward fury grow, as if in an autoreflex, when listening to bromides proclaiming the “greatness” of the Enlightenment philosophes? Why does the philosophy of that Prussian sleepwalker Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) - and anyone who refers to him with adulation, incite me to immediately respond with a condescending “No!”?

X. ACTION OR INACTION? Reason informs that giving free reign to doubt leads to skepticism, and then all-out cynicism. A stalwart skepticism, if unchecked, eventually steers one to a neurotic distrust, to question any or all authority just because it is an authority. If there is no Other, Really Other, or if there is nobody here on earth really representing that otherworldly power - be it via doctrine directing social activity, principles guiding intellection, or morality prohibiting certain human inclinations, I can see nothing else except a billowing black cloud of subjectivist platitudes declared by mere mortals. People with a truckload of theories who will soon be dead. Gone, not present to witness the failure of their promises for the future. How can I act upon a proposition when the very philosophy that bolsters it assumes that man is the centre of all that is, that all thought about reality and truth is merely imaginative, that I am effectively trapped within the self. Absolute inertia soonafter follows. Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is the inevitable result: “Last of all, gentlemen: it is best to do nothing.”[14] On the upbeat side, we have the pen of Cardinal Newman: “Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action: to act you must assume, and that assumption is faith.”[15] This is more percipient of the human circumstance.

XI. THE SELF AS CENTRALITY. Take two men, one who believes in the reality of faith and the other who does not; one who trusts and the other of which it is devoid; one who assumes and continues onwards with this reinforcement and the other who invariably questions and goes nowhere because he has no first ordering principle; one who avers there is one objective reality and the other who submits to the multiplicity of worlds derived from imagination; one who acts upon what he says and the other who only talks about what he will do; one who accepts faith as it is and the other who must make faith work for only himself; one who lives in the present and one who will die only for the future; one who speaks now and the other who speaks as if - which of these two men is more inclined to happiness? Which one will tend towards stoicism and self-complacency? TH2 can say with no small measure of confidence that Frye would have abided by the latter: “Wherever you are”, he spoke, “is the centre of everything”. Very depressing. All is aprioristic self-referencing. He continued:
...words are not being related to external facts so much as interrelated around argument... The essential criterion of truth is whether you described it logically, not whether your description itself is accurate.[16]
This is called “analytic philosophy” outside the field of literary criticism. Frye was conveying to his interviewer, a person outside his self, that words do not correlate to the “external”. Cayley may have thought Frye’s assertion logical, but certainly not accurate. Frye faults similarly elsewhere: “actual experience is largely unreal”.[17] Is it? Actual experience is almost, but not quite? This is a truth? The absurdity speaks for itself and requires no further comment.
XII. MORAL RELATIVISM. Since both faith and religion are subjective, no astonishment should come from Frye’s recourse to moral relativism. An answer to another of Cayley’s questions goes thus:
In ordinary life the good/evil distinctions are hopelessly tangled... So the final separation of life and death has to be in the form of an imaginative vision [!] [which] gets you beyond the relativity of all moral judgments. All good/evil judgments are tentative. You have to move, as in the title of one of Nietzsche’s books, beyond good and evil.[18]
Ordinary indeed is the case of the ordinary family living in ordinary suburbia where the ordinary husband, one day after a rather hard day at his ordinary job, comes home to his ordinary wife and children, pulls out an ordinary shotgun, and then proceeds to blow them away. There is no evil involved here. The situation is “hopelessly tangled”. No differentiation between good and evil is possible. Perhaps we might substitute “economic disparities” or a “hostile work atmosphere” as the possible inducements of the husband’s malevolent act. These solutions sound logical, to be sure. But are they accurate? Moreover, the experiences of those interred at Nazi concentration camps has been likened to the systematization of a factory plant, that there was something very regularized or “ordinary” about it. Primo Levi (1919-1987) stated the following with regard to his imprisonment at Auschwitz: “Every day according to the established rhythm... [we] go out and come in; work, sleep and eat; fall ill, get better or die.”[19] I doubt very much whether concentration camp survivors would characterize their experiences as being “largely unreal”. The accusation against TH2 of raising the case to an extreme level is without valid grounds. The judgment, if one subscribes to Frye’s relativism, is “largely unreal”. That Frye even hearkened back to Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil is, obviously, silly. The generically used dictum of a madman who wrote that “there are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena”[20] is a vacuous platitude, albeit widespread subscription to it in the twentieth century proved catastrophic. Nowadays, such offhanded references to Nietzsche belong to the realm of celebrities who, after realizing that life is not all fame and money, grow depressed, read the first few pages of The Will to Power, become automatic experts in philosophy, thereafter pontificating at gallas by attempting to impress their similarly obtuse friends with Nietzschean quotations.
XIII. MYTHOLOGY CONTRA HISTORY. Frye did not consider history in the temporally finite sense of a straight line that moves from a beginning to an ending point. Rather, he exposited that history moves in cycles, traversing in the manner of oscillating parabolic waves, “as a story that begins, rises, turns, moves downward and ends in catastrophe.”[21] But this is not the end of the “story”, of mythical repetition. “Every cycle is a failed spiral” because a “new movement begins, works itself out to exhaustion, and something of the original state then reappears, though in a quite new context presenting new conditions.”[22] Yet he will contradict himself again. Elsewhere: “Nothing that happens in history is unique. Everything is part of turning cycles or mythical repetitions.”[23] How can “new conditions” arise in his cyclical conception of things when all happenings in history are not “unique”? This error is highlighted to evidence a confusion not uncommon for those in the past who have refashioned history to conform to the pagan belief in an eternal world/universe. One example would be the Renaissance historian and jurist Jean Bodin (1530-1596). He premised that the “sacred laws of history” impel cultures to oscillate in 496-year cycles. Within the span of only a few pages he affirmed and negated both the creation and the end of the world.[24] The eternalism of Frye, no less than Bodin, only suggests bewilderment on matters relating on the finitude of time and the singularities of people and events - the traditional or Judeo-Christian view of history.
XIV. MEANINGLESS PAGAN ETERNALISM. Frye, like the typical pagan, posited an eternal world where time flows forever onwards: “Time has no beginning or end. The horizontal path doesn’t actually end. It keeps on going”.[25] As with both classical paganism and the neo-paganism of modernity, Frye adopted the notion of the “Great Year”. That he did not explicitly say this indicates ignorance, or it was an attempt to distance himself from the identification, giving his own worldview a supposed uniqueness. History to him was unreal, a myth, a personal recital of the travails of civilization. It was not, instead (properly), an explication and/or reasonable approximation of the past, based on objective evidences, facts and documentation. Myth is a “narrative in which some characters are superhuman beings, who do things that only happen in stories; hence, a conventionalized or stylized narrative not fully adapted to the plausibility of realism”. It “is not a datum but a fictum of human existence”.[27] Thus actual/objective history is made equal to subjective/symbolic mythology. Accordingly, an avenue is opened for an kind of inverted euhemerism[28], so commonplace today. Namely, the treatment and interpretation of the real events and persons of history as if they were only mythological. Frye did recognize the illogic of interweaving myth and history. His escape hatch to the quandary was as follows: “a myth is not anti-historical but counter-historical.”[29] But this predication is meaningless because all that he did here was to interchange prefix synonyms. The words “anti” and “counter” both mean to be opposed or against. No explanation or justification was provided for choosing one over the other. One reason why he ascribed myths as “counter-historical” probably related to his dislike for being “bullied and badgered by all the pan-historical fantasies” of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831 / idealist philosopher), Karl Marx (1880-1883 / Communism founder), August Comte (1798-1857 / positivist philosopher), and even John Henry Cardinal Newman! (1801-1890), “who keep on insisting that by history alone we can be saved or by putting some kind of construct on history that we can give it a specious direction or meaning.”[30] The traditional Christian view of a direction or meaning to history, which yields purpose, certainly posed a threat to Frye’s purposeless eternalism. Ironically, it is well to note that Giambattista Vico’s (1668-1774) pan-historicist treatise Nuova Scienza acted as an inspiration for one of Frye’s most popular works (on the Bible), The Great Code.[31]
XV. ENDLESS CYCLES. It was on the flimsy foundations of mythology and eternal cycles upon which Frye’s expositions were grounded. Outfitted as such, he could easily repudiate traditional Christianity - or so he thought. This is the reason why he depicted the Christian Cross as a “metaphorical shape” that did not demolish the eternally cyclical mechanism inherent to all mythology but, instead, rheotropically flowed with the current as it were. It is the reason why he called belief in Hell to be a “depravity of the human mind”. It is the reason why he referred to the Resurrection of Our Lord as a paganized symbolic act of “renewing the cycle of time”.[32] It was Frye’s Hinduistic turtles-upon-turtles routine that made his idea of religion palatable to the cultured despiser of religion, the antinomian critic, or the liberal amateur seeking out an accommodating Christianity. They relished the fact that a popular academic was so gallantly paganizing and immanentizing the Bible.

XVI. RELIGIOUS ROMANTICIZING. William Blake’s (1757-1857) poetic religion, which Frye so much loved and was influenced by, is rooted in imaginative romanticism. If religion was in essence metrical and aesthetically pleasing as quicksilver, its more harsher teachings could be swiftly pushed aside. Thus orthodox believers can easily be scored off as fanatics or implied to be morons. If the Bible is a “metanarrative”, to use the postmodernist word, if it is a “linguistic event” or a “great cultural achievement”, as Frye claimed, then, and only then, does every denouncer of orthodoxy swoop to the feet of Frye and listen in as the master tells his disciples that religion is a myth, that this is dogma, an objective truth. The farce is indeed amusing to watch. It is in many ways fascinating to watch liberal Christianity scream out its last and desperate breaths as it sinks ever deeper into the mire of modern paganism. As current events evidence, Frye’s United Church of Canada is beckoning its flock into this oblivion.
XVII. BIBLICAL IMMANENTIZING. It was Northrop Frye’s endeavor, consciously or not, to diminish and, finally, egalitarianize the matchlessness of the Bible to the level of all principal texts in the Western and Eastern canons. He expended so much energy on displacing the transcendent aspects of the Bible, dragging them down so to speak, to the immanent plane. He accomplished this by subscribing to that diehard Kantian principle manifesting itself throughout his writings: the world is but a subjective emanation from the mind. Or, in his words, a product of the imagination. Therefore, words we speak and write, coming from the mind, cannot be stationed in reality. Thus the orthodox belief that books comprising the Bible are the revealed message of God to man are, rather, mere metaphorical musings. They are stories unable to supposit extramental realities. Thus all “ex”-position must be i(n)aginative, and within this abstract mindscape, infinity is the golden rule. Copious "logical" (not accurate) associations can be concocted - cycles and symbols, codes and metaphors, are agglomerated and made to be intersected with each other into a hypercomplex mental scheme minus objective foundation outside this imaginative system. What the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) did with the myths of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas - contriving a totalistic mythology of free symbolic associations,[33] Northrop Frye did similarly with the Bible with his famous book The Great Code.

XVIII. BULTMANN "KERYGMA" REPRISE. In the aforementioned interview with David Cayley, Frye denied that his perspective on religion and language aligned itself with the kerygma theory of the German existentialist theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). Kerygma is a Greek word meaning “proclamation”, as in God’s proclaiming word to man. Although Frye refuted that words can possess a divine origin or inspiration (i.e. revelation), his stance on the Bible nevertheless concurs with Bultmann’s kerygma. Bultmann wrote that it: “can never be spoken except in a human language and formed by human thought... [It can] appear only in a form molded by an individual’s understanding of his own existence or by his interpretation of that understanding.”[34] Substitute Bultmann’s “understanding” with Frye’s “imagination” and parity is thus demonstrated.

XIX. Now to the business of Genesis 1... When the Creation account in the first book of Genesis comes to mind, what is the first thing that skeptics think? “It is a myth”, they say. Well, this is one of four views which will now be summarized.

XX. CREATIONISM/CONCORDISM. The first is the Creationist approach, namely those Protestant Christians that take literally, and as actual history, the words of the Creation account.[35] G1’s description of God’s bringing all that is into being - the universe, the earth, its animals and vegetation, Adam and Eve - happened exactly, they assert, as told in the text. Creationism follows the Protestant tradition, stemming from the belief that the Bible is the sole rule of faith (sola scriptura), morality and cosmology. With his headstrong biblical geocentrism, the heresiarch Martin Luther (1483-1546), it will be recalled, assailed the heliocentrism of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), calling him a "fool".[36]. Soonafter others utilized the Bible to pinpoint the "actual" date of Creation. Such names as James Ussher (1581-1656) and John Lightfoot (1602-1675) are most popularly remembered for giving specific dates and times. Lightfoot said that creation occurred on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC at 9 am! Ussher the same year and date, except at nightfall.[37] In modern times, Creationism is mainly found in variegated fundamentalist movements.[38]. One example would be the now defunct periodical The Plain Truth, published by "The Worldwide Church of God".[39] It upheld Creationism while incorporating the latest scientific discoveries in biology and geology to give substantiation to their claims.[40] A plethora of pseudoscientific distortions on biogeochemical processes are propounded, and then cross-correlations or analogies are “demonstrated” to illustrate that modern day science “proves” the Creation account in G1. But such pipedreaming only steers them, unknowingly, into the choking smoke of Concordism, i.e. the reading of some fantastical scientific cosmogenesis into G1. Ussher, Lightfoot and contemporary Creationists have fallen into this trap, in their futile attempts to provide a scientific explanation of biblical Creation account.
XXI. SCIENTIFIC EXEGESIS. Religious men of Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Catholic and Jewish thinkers) also succumbed to Concordism.[41] They, too, were derelict by submitting scientific-like exegeses of G1. Even SS. Augustine and Aquinas made some indirect scientific parallels with the Creation account.[42] At the turn of the twentieth century, the exegetes Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange (1855-1938 / Dominican) and Fr. Franz von Hummelauer (1842-1914 / Jesuit) made the astonishing claim that the past 1800 years of Creation exegesis was unfounded. In some way or other, explicators had indirectly introduced science, however archaic, by varying degrees into their commentaries on G1.[43] The reason for the follies of Creationism/Concordism is clear enough: the Bible does not teach science and neither did the Semites, to whom G1 was intended, know any science. The Creation account is not literal-historical, in the Creationist context, nor is it a lesson in science, as in the Concordist perspective (second approach). But neither is it mythological (third approach), which not a few today presume G1 to be.

XXII. GENESIS 1: MYTHOLOGICAL ACCEPTATION. Now when Creation in G1 is argued to be a myth, it can - in this context - also include a whole array of alternative characterizations belonging to mythology. It can also be referred to as a fable, legend, fiction, metaphor, saga, folk tale, epic, parable, narrative, song, lyric, story or poetry. These can be classified under the heading of mythology since they all exhibit one commonality, viz. the words and/or images are mainly employed to describe Creation are claimed to only be words/images as such - just symbols and signs in themselves, anthropomorphic projections unassociated to a divine reality outside, distinct and transcendent to time, space and matter. For it is easy, incredibly easy, to intercompare Creation in G1 with so-called “creation” accounts given in pagan mythologies. If you are only cross-comparing myth with myth, story for story, image with image, and so on, and if it is assumed that the signs and symbols used to describe them do not point to some transcendent reality (i.e. a Divine locus from which the totality of the universe surely originates), then it is an uncomplicated exercise to see the “similarities” and “analogies” between Creation in G1 with pagan retellings. The field is wide open and anything can be associated with everything. This is the reason why the Jungian theosophist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) could respond to an open ended question by the gullible buffoon Bill Moyers. Read the following exchange:
Moyers: Take the Creation story in Genesis, for example. How is it like other stories?
Campbell: Well, you read from Genesis, and I’ll read from creation stories in other cultures, and we’ll see.[44]
From here Campbell begins to gallivant his way through the Hindu Upanishads, a story from the Pima Indians (southwest USA/Mexico), and a legend of the Bassi tribe in West Africa. Accordant with Campbell's exercise in free association, Frye thus wrote:
The monstrous animal who swallows all the matter in the world and is teased or tricked or forced into disgorging it is a favourite of folk tales, and a Mesopotamian version lies close behind the story of creation in Genesis.[45]
Notice what is happening here: an emphasis is made on the organismic aspects of Creation, things are being hauled down, immanentized as it were. As shall soon be discovered, this is what Frye did in his reading of G1. If you can show that G1 is not really different from, but rather logically analogous to, other creation myths, one can - by inference and implication, deracinate the uniqueness of Creation in G1 and chuck it into the syncretistic soup of all other pagan renditions. Straightforwardly: Genesis 1 will be paganized, biologized, vulgarized.
XXIII. DEMYTHOLOGIZE/EPISTEMOLOGIZE. So if G1 is not Creationist, Concordist[46] nor mythical, what is it then? If it is not history or a science lecture, how is one to approach the text? Is it perhaps allegorical? Fr. Stanley Jaki (1924-2009) explained:
The allegorical sense makes sense only insofar as it rests on a clear understanding of the literal meaning of the text, which in turn makes no sense if severed from that external reality to which it refers in countless cases.[46]
The unconvinced materialist now enters and makes the call to demythologize G1. But this is preposterous. To demythologize means to peel away and remove mythological forms and associations so as to obtain the real meanings underlying a myth. This is not materialism, it is metaphysics. G1 must, as Fr. Jaki said, be approached with an eye towards epistemology, the fourth approach. The G1 Creation account must be deemed to really signify a transcendent origin, otherwise it can appear senseless. Frye, alternatively, took the mythological route, and the remainder of this exercise shall be a refutation of his commentaries thereof by reference to, and support of, the epistemological-realist approach that the author(s) of G1 intended for Hebrew readers.

XXIV. BEGINNINGS/"BARA". Let us begin from the beginning. Thus the first line of Genesis 1:
In the beginning God created heaven and earth.
Now the Hebrew word for “created” is bara. When this word is used in a human context, it means “to split” or “to slash”. However, when used in the context of God, the Creator of all that is, bara means “to make (shape) with a flourish”. In its anthropological mode, bara implies a kind of struggle and strain in the process of creating. When man makes, he must first break apart, tear away, and subsequently examine the particulars thereafter (this, incidentally, is not creation). With God, to the absolute contrary, bara infers effortlessness. He is in no fashion limited by matter and time. When God created “heaven and earth”, the sense does not mean “heaven” and “earth” as particulars, that which is disconnected. Rather the sense “heaven and earth” means everything, the totality of material reality, and this stuff brought into being without exertion. Why should exertion be involved when God is omnipotent? “Alas, alas, alas, O Lord God, behold you have made heaven and earth by your great power”.[47] God is the Creator of all things and He creates all things out of nothing (ex nihilo). God was before materiality came into being. St. Thomas: “God is prior to the world by priority of duration. But the word prior signifies priority not in time, but of eternity.”[48] Creation of the totality of material reality was instantaneous: "Creation is not change, except according to a mode of understanding. For change means that the same something should be different now from what it was previously... But in creation, by which the whole substance of a thing is produced, the same thing can be taken as different now and before only according to our way of understanding, so that a thing is understood as first not existing at all, and afterwards existing."[49] From no-thing to some-thing, the totality of material reality comes into being suddenly, at once. God says “it is”… and so it is. Period. And Northrop Frye did not like this explanation at all, thus he had to temporalize Creation.[50]
XXV. TEMPORALIZATION OF CREATION. When a temporal factor is made inherent to the Creation account, automatically, then, can God be figured to be limited, straining (so to speak) over a duration, gradually bringing things separately and sequentially into existence. The first sign of the temporalization of Creation appears in John Calvin's (1509-1564) literalist exegesis. The damage is done in one simple sentence (echoing to the present day): “the work of creation was not accomplished in one moment, but in six days.”[51] Now jump forward in time and read Frye’s reply to the implicit traditional belief in a suddenness (so to speak) of Creation out of nothing:
The nearest we can get to an answer [for an absolute beginning], perhaps, is to say we experience time in such a way that we cannot imagine a beginning to it, and the reason for postulating an absolute beginning in the Bible is to make it clear that time does not represent an ultimate reality.[52]
This sentence is misleading. The beginning is not “imagined” or “postulating”. Imagination and postulation are aprioristic expressions. Traditionally, a beginning to reality is assumed. It was Frye’s postulation, or rather imagination, which set time to be eternal. If man cannot “imagine” a temporal beginning to things, why, for example, is it that just the common sense consideration of human inventions indicates an assumption to temporal starting points? Why does the x-axis on a Cartesian graph representing time, have a 0-point? Why do devices that measure time start from zero? Is this imagination at work? No. They are assumptions, they act as the first epistemological datum, not “fictum”.

XXVI. GOD AS CREATOR. On this matter, Frye wrote:
To call God as a maker implies that divine creation is a metaphor projected from something that man does, although the Hebrew word for ‘created’ (bara) is never used in a human context. There is something denigrating to God in regarding him as a maker, as preoccupied with ingenious designs, to be complimented, as he was by the natural theologians of the eighteenth century.[53]
He was again convoluting the issue. Firstly, in the Old Testament, the word bara is (as stated above) used in a human context, about five times in fact.[54] In reference to God, approximately forty times. Secondly, why or how is God debased when in reverence men have referred to Him as “Maker”? Does not Genesis state that man was made in God’s image and likeness?[55] By Maker is meant God who created all out of nothing, flourishingly. The reason why Frye accused others of incorrectly ascribing God as maker “preoccupied with ingenious designs” is because his temporalism negated the traditional implicit belief that God effortlessly created the totality of materiality at once, so to say. Or, to again quote St. Thomas: “as first not existing at all and afterwards existing”. Again, we come across the collocation of nothing/something. Something is or it is not, and both cannot be affirmed and refuted at the same time. Otherwise the principle of contradiction is infracted.
XXVII. CREATION AS MENTAL AWARENESS. If Frye maintained that “the creation myth is not any account of how the order of nature came into being”, what did he hypothesize the Creation account to be? What was going on in his imagination? What was the self-referencing exegesis only he could understand? What was his private interpretation? Our old friend Immanuel Kant looms in the background as Frye described Creation as:
...the account of how the sense of nature as an order dawns on the conscious mind. Again, creation carries little conviction when presented as an event occurring at the beginning of time, as time for the imagination really has no beginning. Creation is rather an intensely vivid image of the objective world as a spread-out picture awaiting discovery and interpretation. Traditional religion claims that creation is a product of the Word of God, an infinite source of what is intelligible to man can be responded to by him: Set the Word at the origin and put the Maker in his place.[56] (TH2 emphasis)
Phraseological trickery. These words are so expertly arranged to belittle the traditional belief, as if it really “put[s] the Maker in his place”. Frye did not consider nature (the world) as something really distinct from the human mind, it merely “dawns” on the mind, as in the way one becomes aware of existence and the self upon waking from sleep. Carrying on with this logic, are we then to say that for those who are long dead, or for those that are sleeping, or for those yet to be born, that nature does not exist? That nature “exists only for me”? That it is “my reality”? Obviously, he misconstrued the situation by making the event of Creation seem to be part of mental awareness, i.e. mind dependent. Nature is not something as it is, extraneous and distinct from man. In truth, it was Frye’s self-projection (disguised so well), like a miner with a flashlight on a helmet in a dark cave, which “put the Maker in his place”. This Kantian epistemology is active, dictatorial in a way. In effect it says that “nature only exists if my mind is aware of it, otherwise there is nothing”. Contrariwise, the traditional (specifically Catholic) epistemology is passive, the mind is set to be open to the world. It is theocentric and affirms that nature is really distinct from the self. Therefore, it was Northrop Frye who humanized Creation, putting the Creator “in his place”.

XXVIII. CREATION AS HUMAN BIRTH. Now consider Frye's position on God’s Word in G1, the “In the beginning...”, where “forms of life are spoken into existence”, and how he refashioned Creation into a birth event, as in pagan accounts: “we should not oversimplify the antithesis between making and bringing into birth. Another antithesis is more important.” This antithesis relates to the sexual character of pagan “creation” myths: birth, growth, death, and rebirth moving in perpetual cycles. “Human life is a continuum that we join at birth and drop off at death.” Thus God’s creation = human birth. Creation to Frye did not mean bara in its theological mode. He used its anthropogenic sense. Thus by modifying the situation to be one resembling endless cycles of birth, death and rebirth, he could easily follow the pagan view of an eternal world where all is eventually renewed in time. There can be no beginning or end, and for hundreds of years Catholics who upheld a creation in the beginning “gained little by that emphasis.” Creation is, rather, an expression of “waking from sleep, when one world disappears and another comes into being.” In the phase of being awake, “there is a sense of self-transcendence, of a consciousness getting ‘up’ from an unreal to a real, or at least more real world.”[57] Thus spake Deepak Chopra.

XXIX. ORGANISMIC OVEREMPHASIS. Because Frye's gloss on G1 is immanentized and temporalized, animate matter (that which has life), was overemphasized. The organismic is stressed. This is why he highlighted the sexual factor. Is TH2 being puritan and prudish with this remark? Nope. Don't know about you, but it is disgusting to analogize the act of Creation with, for example, the Egyptian god Atum, the “He-She”, who created by expectoration and masturbation. This is primitive, impious and irreverent of God to which Atum incorrectly but obliquely refers. That a transcendent God outside of matter and time who created out of nothing is much more logical, much more believable, more so awesome than some attention-seeking Egyptian divinity disbursing its bodily fluids all over the place. Comparing God of the Hebrews with Atum of the Egyptians is like comparing Gregorian chant with the anarchic noise of thrash rock; like comparing the reaching-out-for-transcendence in the stories of Franz Kafka (1883-1924) with the divination of the immanent organism in the writings of Farley Mowat (b. 1921). In fact, there is no comparison. Verity always supplants vulgarity.
XXX. OF NOTHING, TIME, MATTER AND REVELATION. Irrespective of the complicated schemes, tables and graphical analogies[58] that Frye read into G1 and the Bible as a whole (The Great Code); regardless of his academic stature or the “sweep” of his argumentation, as one admirer in the Canadian Forum wrote - still, the question must be submitted: is the coming into being of all things from God as relayed in G1 a mere expression of “self-transcendence” (another Kantian perversion), or is it really a revelation by God to man - indicating the dependency of everything on God? Should I believe a literary critic (whose cultural impact will be ephemerous) that said that all thought on reality is mere imagination? Or should I subscribe to two thousand years of Catholic tradition (whose cultural influence is unprecedented) which says that what is perceived and thought about actually pertains to an external reality? In G1 when God spoke all into being... when this is asserted, does this mean that man cerebrally projects this belief outwards, or has he received it inwardly from without?[59] The fact that the Catholic Church is unwavering on Creation ex nihilo, on a beginning and end of time, on the finitude of matter, on Divine Revelation from a really transcendent source, and that these are so dissimilar from the pre-literary babblings of despair in pagan mythology, is extraordinary. It is also quite exhilarating, and the intrusion into nothing by something as relayed by G1 in the Old Testament is even more exhilarating because God’s Word which spoke all into being in G1, by its very mode of operation, ties in with God’s Word become incarnate as relayed in John 1 of the New Testament.

XXXI. There is, of course, more at work here.

XXXII. CREATION/INCARNATION RELATION. God’s speaking of all into being relates directly to the Incarnation in the Johannine Gospel. Frye recognized this, and he did not like it. So he set out not only to pervert the matter which came to be in G1, but also to pervert the Matter who is God in John 1: "the opening of John's Gospel... was intended to be the Christian antitype of the Genesis account of Creation.”[60] Notice the revisionist parlance: “intended to be” but not is, as if there was some kind of tampering involved. Christ’s incarnation as the Logos and the meaning of His death then had to be modified. The symbol of the Cross is not a victory over the hopelessness of eternal cycles. Rather, it signifies birth, death and renewal. Frye had to warp the interruption of the God-Man into human affairs and make it seem to be the foolish belief of little Christians. Both Creation and the Incarnation bespeak transcendence and to abrogate this cross-correlation he had to make sure to stress, for example, the correspondences between Christ and the Babylonian “creation” story. In other words, he had to enforce the organismic:
In the pre-Biblical Mesopotamian poem Enuma elish, we are told that mankind was formed from the blood of the god Kingu, killed as a traitor because he took the wrong side in the cosmological Marduk-Tiamat conflict. This aspect of the creation myth is omitted from the Genesis account... Though it had profound analogies to the Christian myth in which Christ had to die to redeem the world he created in the first place.[61]
Was this killing “omitted” from the G1 Creation account? In actuality, there was no preconceived omission, as if it had been part of the original account and later edited for ulterior purposes. If there is no murdering in G1, this should instead underscore the very uniqueness of the text, i.e. an emphasis on the work of God and not the actions and conflicts of men (resulting in bloodshed). The writer(s) of G1 wanted to convey to readers that God's creative act was entirely different in character from the cosmogonies of the Babylonians or Egyptians.

XXXIII. GENESIS 1 VERSUS ENUMA ELISH. Certainly, just by intercomparing the texts of G1 and the Enuma elish (hereafter EE) evidences striking discordances that make void Frye’s asseveration of so-called “profound analogies” between the two texts:
  • In G1 there is but one God and no other. In EE there are many gods. Just the contrast between monotheism and polytheism should suggest we are dealing with an entirely unique worldview.
  • In G1 God creates out of nothing. There is a beginning to materiality. In EE the cosmos is coexistent and coeternal with the divine. Matter is eternal and time undergoes endless cycles. It is a misnomer to refer to EE as a “creation” myth. How can EE be a “creation account” when the world is premised to be eternal? The “beginning” of things is chaos, swirling water vapour, and so forth. EE is not an account describing how things came to be. Rather, it is a myth of how a god, Marduk, struggled for power. A Babylonian version of Nietzsche’s “will to power” if you permit.
  • In G1 the cosmos is really distinct from God, undivinized. In EE the cosmos has its own volition. Things have a sort of naturalistic voluntarism. Nature is personified. The view of nature in EE is vitalistic, animistic.
  • In G1 all of creation - stars, moon, sky, vegetation, creatures of land, sea and air are subordinated to God. In EE sea creatures, for example, are rival gods. The gods compete with each other for power over others. In G1, however, there is an assumption that one God already possesses power over all because the totality of materiality is brought into existence from God and no other.
  • In G1 there are no military engagements or struggles. The text relays God’s indisputable and unassailable power. In EE, however, Tiamat, one of the divine parents, wars with her great grandson, Marduk, as there is no absolute power over creation. G1 says God alone. EE is expressive of an antagonistic dualism between two super humanoids. In G1 we encounter the Almighty - omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, transcendent, infinite, holy, true and faithful. We are not, as in EE, dealing with some little Mesopotamian demiurge, goofy looking, animalistic in mannerism, an arrogant bloodshed monger with an inferiority complex who is prone to temper tantrums.
  • Perhaps most revealingly, the textual structure and character of G1 clearly illustrates its superiority over EE. In G1, the writing is plain, simple, didactic. In EE, it is poetic, circumlocutive and overly intricated. G1 is orderly and systematic. God created “heaven and earth” (the totality of materiality) and the particulars described and distinguished thereafter - light and darkness, dry land and waters, vegetation, stars, sun and moon, creatures of the waters, land and air, man and woman. In EE, things are happening "all over the place". Chaos, battle, tragedy, drama, and so on and so forth. EE is disorderly and unsystematic.
XXXIV. BLOOD RED SKIES. To further evidence dissimilarities between G1 and EE, here are quotes from both texts concerning the creation of the sky. Genesis 1:6-8 reads:
And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament from those that were above the firmament, and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven; and the evening and morning were the second day.
Now the Enuma elish:

---------------------And with his unsparing club he split (her) skull
---------------------He cut the arteries of her blood...
---------------------The lord rested, examining her dead body
---------------------To divide the abortion (and) to create ingenious things (therewith)
---------------------He split her open like a mussel...
---------------------Half of her he set in place and formed the sky (therewith) as a roof.[62]

In G1, after God created He "rested" and "saw that it was good". In EE, the "lord rested" and contemplates a mutilated corpse. Let me be blunt: comparing EE with G1 is like comparing a sewer flowing with vomit and excrement contra a vast treasure of diamonds and gold in a lush green field on a fresh spring day. EE is organismic, earthy and vulgar. G1 is clear, sure and systematic. The way is fresh and free, less-biologized, yet epistemologically realist and easily comprehensible.
XXXV. SYSTEMATICS. In his exegesis of Creation in G1, Fr. Stanley Jaki wrote:
The unusually systematic character of Genesis 1 should suggest that it contains a literary device to make very explicitly the message about the total dependence of all on God. Written as Genesis 1 was in such a way as to instruct and enlighten the uneducated, that device had to such as to be instinctively grasped by them [the Hebrews].[63]
What is also very interesting about G1 is that God created material totality first, and then are the particulars within the astronomical and terrestrial realms specified. Now compare this with the epistemology of the Scholastics of the Middle Ages: man knows particular first by the individuation of matter, specifying a this and a that between things, then is the universal or general extracted therefrom, i.e. the opposite of bara when spoken in the context of God.

XXXVI. TOTALITY OF MATERIALITY. The text of G1 does not exhibit mythological-like phraseologies and imagery as one discovers in EE, or for any other pagan rendition of “creation” for that matter. G1 is not mythological in the sense that it was a mere narrative whose descriptions do not point to a real, distinct and external reality. Neither is it a literal-historical account (Creationism). Nor is it a scientific cosmogenesis (Concordism), for the plain reason, again, that the Hebrews did not know science and that Genesis 1 does not teach science. The Creation account was real for the Hebrews, however elementary the worldview may seem to us in the modern era. It was real to them in the sense that it relayed a complete dependency of all material creation on God. Genesis 1 assumes a totality of material things and never attempted to demonstrate this condition. It does not point to a “how?”, a fact which Creationists, Concordists and mystery mongering astrophysicists should take into consideration[64]. Moreover, as Fr. Jaki also indicated, the cosmologies of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Newton and Einstein all “assumed that there was a true totality instead of proving it.” And there is more:
Contrary to preconceived notions about the irremediable primitiveness of the biblical world view, it has one major advantage over all those scientific world views. It represents an all which has a dynamic character, or an all that is not at the mercy of the fallible character of precise confines, however sophisticated. For that world view is anchored in an elemental conviction about the all which rests on God’s omnipotence. Such an all is presented to man not so much as a unit to be circumnavigated easily by the mind’s eye but rather as a horizon that challenges the mind to see beyond the apparent boundaries and forces him to pursue it as it keeps escaping his grasp for one reason or another. At the same time it also assures the mind that the all is never lost while one constantly loses hold of its actual confines.[65] (TH2 italics)
To Northrop Frye this discussion would have been deemed ridiculous. To him, G1’s account of Creation was not clear and sure in an epistemological sense. It was just a regurgitation of pagan mythology. Hence he gave the text an organismic attribution, leveled it down. He vulgarized Creation.

XXXVII. MILTONIAN CONSIDERATIONS. Why he did this seems strange when G1 is examined in a different, poetic light. After Frye’s beloved William Blake was John Milton (1608-1674). It is Milton’s description of Creation in his celebrated poem Paradise Lost (from the pen of a Puritan) that should have (at least) suggested to him that his organismic exegesis of G1 was base aestheticism. According to Frye, Milton gave verse to Creation “to retell it expressly for the purpose of rationalizing it.”[66] This could be, and Hilaire Belloc (1873-1955) did mention “Milton’s attack... on the Creation, and on the omnipotence of Almighty God.”[67] Disregarding this valid observation, consider verses of the Creation in Book VII of Paradise Lost as they stand, without reference to any extrinsic criticism or commentary. Let us now look at a few of them:


----------------------His Word, the Filial Godhead, gave effect.
----------------------Immediate are the Acts of God, more swift
----------------------Than time or motion, but to human ears
----------------------Cannot with procéss of speech betold
----------------------So told as earthy notion can receive.

God, says Milton, works effortlessly, immediately, without the hindrances of movement and temporality. This verse is not suggesting an immanent divinity. God is transcendent, and when he created, He created everything in a circumscribed finitude:

----------------------In God’s Eternal Store, to circumscribe
----------------------This universe, and all created things

Neither are these “created things” repulsive in their imagery, animistic, biologically drenched - with blood, dismembered body parts, singing vegetation, dancing waters, and so on:

----------------------Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure...
----------------------The Firmament, expanse of liquid, pure
----------------------Transparent, Elemental Air, diffus’d...
----------------------Desert and bare, unsightly, unadorn’d
----------------------Brought forth the tender Grass, whose verdure clad
----------------------Her Universal Face with pleasant green

Life is involved but it is not, so to speak, obnoxious and extrusive in its elementariness. The desert is plain, it is just there in its amazing expansiveness. Grasses are pleasant and viridescent, not gaudy or ultramarine. Nature is not glorified and dramatized into a conglobulated mixture of smeared forms. Rather, the things of nature are distinguished and specified. The earth itself is sturdy and it is real because God made it so:

----------------------In Circuit to the uttermost convex
----------------------Of this great Round: partition firm and sure
----------------------The Waters underneath from those above
----------------------Dividing: for as Earth, so hee the world
----------------------Built on circumfluous Waters calm, in wide
----------------------Crystálline Ocean, and the land misrule
----------------------Of Chaos remov’d, lest fierce extremes
----------------------Contiguous might distemper the whole frame[68]

There is no chaos, no conflicts and nothing is to be overcome. God speaks and things are. Period. Alternatively, in the Enuma elish when the divinity Kingu is murdered in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat, his blood is used to form mankind. To Frye, this “had profound analogies to the Christian myth in which Christ had to die to redeem the world he created in the first place". Immanentize, biologize, paganize, vulgarize - these were the ways of Northrop Frye.

XXXVIII. NORTHOP FRYE IN HELL. Despite the acclaim Frye received in his lifetime for his “new” reading of the Bible, his thought, when considered as a whole, was in actuality expressive of an aesthete whose discourse was replete with subjectivist ambiguities. Like the structuralist chimeras of Lévi-Strauss, the mythological “analogies” and free symbolic associations Frye contrived were “a mere synthesis of qualities, as if any number of whatever abstractions would, being fused together, be equivalent to one concrete.”[69] How could have Frye been so confident in his mythological interpretations (as if there were real truths, and his disciples do take his expositions as objective truths) when the very language of myths, literature, philosophy, history and the Bible he studied and discoursed upon were presumed not to cohere to reality? How could he have been so sure of himself with the presupposition that there is no connection between the intellectual thought of pre-literary information and historical data? It would be expected that some sort of explanation would have been forthcoming. None was supplied. How could he? Instead, he got lost in imagination, in that panorama of free exegesis where all is permitted and where only the speaker can speak to himself and is the only one that can understand himself. “Wherever you are is the centre of everything.” Some call this intrepid. TH2 calls it an Ivory Tower. Theologically, it is called Hell.

XXXIX. GNOSTIC LANGUAGE LABYRINTH. One of Frye’s greatest ruses was to make it seem as if his works were not in the least expressive of unlimited symbolic free associationism. For example, he claimed that there must be a “center of the order of words” in language:
Unless there is such a center, there is nothing to prevent the analogies supplied by convention and genre from being an endless series of free associations, perhaps suggestive, perhaps even tantalizing, but never creating a real structure. The study of archetypes is the study of literary symbols as parts of a whole. If there are such things as archetypes at all, then, we have to take yet another step, and conceive the possibility of a self-contained universe. Either archetypal criticism is a will-’o-the-wisp, and endless labyrinth without an outlet, or we have to assume that literature is a total form, and not simply the name given to the aggregate of existing literary works.[70]
The crux is that Frye’s “total form” is entirely subjective, never specifically defined, and as such cannot act as a centralizing node upon which words can be given “a real structure”. Without question, he posited an infinite matrix of “free associations”, he did live in a self-contained universe”, and the ideas are an “endless labyrinth without an outlet”. Frye spoke, said Betty Bostetter, in “an eerie kind of double talk". She continued:
Mr. Frye often turns obscurity into confusion. In probing to the last meaning of a symbol, he sometimes destroys its identity by pushing it so close to another than the distinction between the two is lost.... Mr. Frye seems to find a symbol in everything... in the piling up of symbol upon symbol he bewilders and exhausts the readers... the unwary reader may get hopelessly lost”[71]
In other words, he was your typical gnostic.
XL. VULGARITY VICTORIOUS. Herman Northrop Frye was just another member of that community of Rosicrucian pests who occasionally gain limelight, and whose "legacy", of course, will remain only with obscure leftist academics as they continue to corrupt young minds with his obscurantist Kantianism. To be sure, the very title of his famous work, The Great Code, let alone his morose preoccupation with the biologic, betrays a vulgar gnosticism. His writing style had that drabby grey Masonic aura about it and TH2 sometimes wonders whether Marshall McLuhan’s (1911-1980) paranoia about Frye being a Freemason was true. Interestingly, McLuhan’s biographer, Phillip Marchand, wrote this in a newspaper article: “There always was something slightly vulgar about Northrop Frye.”[72]. Now read this depravity:
It may seem tactless to bring up the image of excretion when discussing apocalyptic visions, but excretion is part of the food concern, and I suspect that it is the metaphorical kernel of the ultimate separation of heaven and hell.[73]
Verified. Phil was right.


NOTES / REFERENCES

1. Quoted in P.F. O'Hare, The Facts About Luther (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers Incorporated, 1987), p. 209 (revised edition). Originally published in 1916.

2. H.N Frye, The Great Code, The Bible and Literature (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 233. Originally published in 1983. Hereafter referenced as TGC; H.N. Frye, The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 3, 16-18. Hereafter referenced as TDV; D. Cayley, Northrop Frye in Conversation (Toronto: House of Anasi Press Limited, 1992), pp. 177, 189, 193. Hereafter referenced as CON.

3. TDV, p. 20.

4. TDV, p. 36.

5. H.N. Frye, The Educated Imagination (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 15, 33.

6. CON, p. 188.

7. A.C. Hamilton, Northrop Frye, Anatomy of his Criticism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 209.

8. For example - in regard to the Middle Ages: “We must keep a critical attitude that never unconditionally accepts any socially established form of revelation”; “crippled by notions of heresy, infallibility or exclusiveness... that should be totally renounced”; “repressive cultures” (TDV, pp. 39, 58, 66).

9. Cf. Vaihinger's The Philosophy of 'As If': A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind, trans. C.K. Ogden (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited, 1924).

10. CON, p. 186; cf. also TDV, p. 19.

11. CON, p. 191.

12. H. Heine, Concerning the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, trans. H.H. Mustard (New York: Random House, 1973), bk. I, p. 281.

13. C. Morris, Start Your Own Religion (London: BBC Books, 1992), p. 29.

14. F. Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground / The Double, trans. J. Coulson (London: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 43.

15. J.H. Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (University Notre Dame Press, 1979), ch. 4, p. 91.

16. CON, pp. 61, 174.

17. TDV, p. 37.

18. CON, pp. 211-12.

19. Quoted in E. Wyschogrod, Spirit and Ashes: Hegel, Heidegger and Man-Made Mass Death (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 19.

20. Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1966), pt. 4, p. 85.

21. TDV, p. 44. See also graphical depiction in TGC, p. 171. This idea of history, transformed into mythology, is akin to Oswald Spengler’s (1880-1936) seasonal morphology of history - spring, summer, autumn and winter. Cf. O. Spengler, The Decline of the West, trans. C.F. Atkinson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), vol. 1, Form and Actuality, passim. including Tables I to II at end of volume. Originally published in 1918.

22. CON, p. 220; TDV, p. 3.

23. CON, p. 40.

24. See J. Bodin, Method for the Easy Comprehension of History, trans. B. Reynolds (New York: W.W. Norton Company Incorporated, 1969), pp. 9, 303-316.

25. CON, p. 200.

26. Astronomically, the "Great Year" refers to the approximate 28000 years duration for a complete precession of the Equinox. However, it is also a fake astrological notion used by pagans (e.g. Greeks, Indians) to characterize the development of their respective societies. One cycle of the Yuga (India), for example, consists of four distinct periods, each lasting one million years.

27. H.N. Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 366. Originally published in 1957 and one of Frye's most famous books, praised by the intelligentsia. Hereafter referenced as AOC. See also TGC, p. 37.

28. Euhemerus (fl. 300 BC ) was a Greek writer and hedonist (of the Cyrenaic school). Likely, he was an atheist and is most commonly known for his notion that mythological gods were deified/venerated humans with roots in actual historical events (e.g. warriors, kings, heroes, etc.). See also T.S. Brown, "Euhemerus and the Historians", The Harvard Theological Review, October 1946, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 259-274.

29. TDV, p. 17.

30. TDV, p. 56. Newman was not a historicist: “History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules”. From J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), p. 7. Originally published in 1878. Historicism is a theory maintaining that events in society are determined by abstract historical forces (never precisely defined), rather than the actions of individual persons.

31. TGC, p. 5. Frye took Vico’s three forms of language, “divine mental language”, “heroic blazonings” and “articulate speech”, ascribing them the generic names "poetic", "allegorical" and "descriptive", respectively. See The New Science of Giambattista Vico, trans. T.G. Bergin and M.H. Fisch (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), bk. 4, sec. V, p. 340. Originally published in 1797. Even more ironically, Vico did not believe in eternal time cycles. For this, see Fr. Stanley L. Jaki's, The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origin (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1978), p. 92. Frye’s poetic, allegorical and descriptive stages of language are also somewhat analogous to Auguste Comte’s much vaunted "theological", "metaphysical" and "positivistic" stages for the development of the human mind. Simply read the first couple of pages in A. Comte, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, trans. H. Martineau (London: George Bell & Sons, 1896), Bohn's Philosophical Library, vol. 1, pp. 1-2.

32. TDV, pp. 46, 79, 57.

33. The idiocy of M. Lévi-Strauss was quite apparent in this quotation: “The elementary units of mythical discourse certainly consist of words and sentences which... are, however, more in the category of phonemes: meaningless units that are opposed within a system, where they create meanings precisely because of this opposition” . This can be found in his essay “The Lessons in Linguistics”, The View from Afar, trans. J. Neugroschell and P. Hoss (University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 144-145. Originally published in 1983. If one of the oppositions is “meaningless”, how can one phoneme reference the other, its opposite, and be meaningful? You cannot have one without the other.

34. See Rudolf Bultmann, Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era, ed. R.A. Johnson (London: Collins Liturgical Publications, 1987), The Making of Modern Theology 2, 19th & 20th Century Theological Texts, pp. 42, 102-103, 158-239, 300.

35. The Catholic Church takes the Bible in "several senses", said (for example) St. Thomas Aquinas. First, there is the Literal/Historical sense (clear enough). Second, the Spiritual sense, which is subdivided into allegorical, moral and anagogical (i.e. beyond, to the future) senses. Cf. Sum. theol., i, q. 1, art. 10.

36. Pope Paul III (1468-1549) gave his support to the then new theory of heliocentrism. Let it be known that Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) was dedicated to the pontiff. From the Roman Catholic stance on an infallible Magisterium, Tradition and (not just) Scripture, never are theology and science considered antagonistic to each other. Why should they be? If God created a world to be studied scientifically by man, why would He make the laws of the natural universe contradictory to Church teaching? St. Thomas again: “No opinion or belief... is implanted in man by God which is contrary to man’s natural knowledge”, Sum. con. gent, lib. i, ch. 7 [4].

37. Ussher (1650) Annals of the Old Testament, Deduced from the First Origin of the World (Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti); Lightfoot (1642) A few and new Observations upon the Book of Genesis.

38. For a history of creationism in the twentieth century see R.L. Numbers, “The Creationists” in God and Nature, Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, eds. D.C. Lindberg and R.L. Numbers (Berkeley: University California Press, 1986), pp. 391-423.

39. Magazine started by the Protestant Millenarianist Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986) in 1934, his sect known then as The Radio Church of God. It was renamed the Worldwide Church of God in the late 1960s. Expectedly, the movement splintered after his death, pretty much faded away, now having a minor internet presence, along with the multitudinous number of Protestant "online ministries". Unfortunately, this "end times" crap has in recent years burgeoned into a super publishing industry à la the claptrap found in the "Left Behind" series of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It is just incredible that these literalist prognosticators ignore the one scripture quote that renders their whole schtick as nothing: "But of that day and hour no one knows: no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone" (Matthew 24:36).

40. Besides the creation of the universe, Creationists will also use the Bible in conjunction with scientific data to evidence the creation of life on earth. See, for example, W.H. Tier, “Theories about Life and its Origin” in Symposium on Creation III, ed. D.W. Patten (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship Incorporated, 1971), pp. 11-29.

41. For a history of Concordism from Antiquity to the present day, see Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages (London: Thomas More Press, 1992). TH2 will quote from this brilliant book in his arguments against Frye’s mythological interpretation of Creation in Genesis 1.

42. See De Civitate Dei, pt. iii, bk. xi, cc. 7, 30 (St. Augustine) and Sum. theol., i, qq. 65-74 (St. Thomas).

43. Concordism is erroneous, although this does not mean that there may be physical explanations of unusual/rare astronomical and geophysical phenomena (interplaying with miracles) in other parts of the Bible. God’s involvement and providence cannot be placed into omission. For example, a meteorological explanation might be submitted for Joshua’s stopping of the sun (Joshua 10: 10-13). See D. Camuffo, “A Meteorological Anomaly in Palestine 33 Centuries Ago: How did the Sun Stop?”, Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 1990, vol. 41, pp. 81-85. However, such analyses themselves cannot be wholly trusted. Camuffo speaks of the Bible “as belonging to the literary genre or as being some form of psychological conditioning” (p. 81). On this topic, see also Fr. Stanley Jaki’s, Bible and Science (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1996) and Miracles and Physics (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1989).

44. B. Moyers and J. Campbell, The Power of Myth, ed. B.S. Flowers (New York: Doubleday Books, 1988), p. 42.

45. AOC, p. 192.

46. S.L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages..., p. 271.

47. Jeremiah 32:17.

48. Sum. theol., i, q. 46, art. 1, ad. 8.

49. Sum. theol., i, q. 45, art. 2, ad. 2. See also Sum. con. gent., lib. ii, cap. 16 [13]: “For to create means nothing else than to bring something into being without any pre-existing matter."

50. In his approving analysis of The Great Code, Ian Balfour writes that Frye’s interpretation of Creation in Genesis 1 “begins with a paternal sky-god forming the universe ex nihilo and then inventing”. In: Northrop Frye (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988) Twayne’s World Author Series, p. 98. If the totality of material reality suddenly came into being, nothing else would require “inventing”, for this still implies God was creating after Creation, and is a form of occasionalism comparable to that advocated by William of Ockham (ca. 1288-1348). Hence a temporalistic factor is falsely added, which is also akin to John Calvin’s exegesis (see next note).

51. Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. H. Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953), bk. i, ch. XIV, para. 2 (vol. 1, p. 142).

52. TGC, p. 71.

53. TDV, p. 39.

54. See S.L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages, passim. For more a more involved discussion of the word bara see the section on "Creation" in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Arguments for Creation, 2. LINK

55. Genesis 1:26.

56. H.N. Frye, Words With Power, Being a Second Study of “The Bible and Literature” (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1992), p. 156. Originally published in 1990. Hereafter WWP. See also CON, p. 202.

57. TGC, p. 106, passim.

58. Cf. TGC, pp. 26, 57, 142, 154, 166-7, 174-5.

59. The great Catholic medieval philosopher/historian Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) sets forth similar questions with respect to the “religious experience” as explained by William James (1842-1910) and of the “mystical intuition” of Henri Bergson (1859-1941), both of whom endorsed revelation as being projections of the self, without extra-mental referents. See Gilson's Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), p. 97. Originally published in 1938.

60. TGC, p. 207. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Toronto: Thomas Allen & Son Limited, 1977), p. 1265, the definition of the word type is “a person or thing (as in the Old Testament) believed to foreshadow another (as in the New Testament).”

61. WWP, pp. 256-7.

62. A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation (University Chicago Press, 1942), IV, 129-138, p. 42.

63. Op. cit., p. 28.

64. Not realizing that science deals only with the “how?” and not the “why?” steered the Nobel laureate in physics Steven Weinberg to posit a meaningless universe: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” From his semi-popular book The First Three Minutes, A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1993), pp. 153-154 (second edition). Originally published in 1978.

65. Op. cit., pp. 284-5. See also Fr. Jaki’s commentary in his Angels, Apes and Men (Peru, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Company, 1990), pp. 199-203. Originally published in 1984.

66. H.N. Frye, Creation and Recreation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), p. 62. Originally published in 1980.

67. H. Belloc, The Great Heresies (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers Incorporated, 1991), p. 79. Originally published in 1938.

68. J. Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. VII, vv. 174-9, 226-7, 244, 264-5, 314-16, 266-73. In Milton: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, ed. C. Ricks (Markham, ON: Penguin Books Canada Limited, 1982), pp. 174-198.

69. J.H. Newman, loc. cit., p. 46. Cf. also pp. 214-5.

70. AOC, p. 118.

71. Botsetter wrote this in her review of Frye’s Fearful Symmetry (first published in 1957). Quoted in J. Ayre, Northrop Frye, A Biography (Toronto: Random House, 1989), pp. 206-207. In a review of a book on Frye’s correspondence with his wife Helen Kemp (1910-1986), Ayre - as that whole clan of Frye’s devotees must do continually, defends his obscurantist hero against the charge of gnosticism. See “The Mating Call of the Intellectual”, The Canadian Forum, April 1997, vol. LXXV, no. 858, pp. 34-35. The editors in their preface of a book of essays honouring Frye prefer to call his gnosticism “polished epigrammatic brilliance”. See Centre and Labyrinth, Essays in Honour of Northrop Frye, eds. E. Cook, C. Hosek, J. Macpherson, P. Parker and J. Patrick (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), p. viii.

72. P. Marchand, “Burning questions about the concept of hell”, The Toronto Star, October 5, 1996, cols. 1-5, p. L5. See also Marchand's contrasting article, "McLuhan, Frye and the falling towers", The Toronto Star, April 30, 2006, pp. D1, D3.

73. WWP, p. 232.

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11 comments:

Anita Moore said...

The Bible is a "linguistic event"? That has to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard in my life.

Frye: “What the ‘truth’ is, is not available to human beings in spiritual matters..."
Pontius Pilate: "What is 'truth'?"

If religion is imaginary, then so are its demands. Being cut off from the consolations of religion is part of the price to be paid to be free from its demands; but to those who want to be free to do exactly as they please, free of guilt, that price is worth paying. (Or so they think.)

P.S. Didn't this guy figure out that his whole premise that nothing is real or true deprives him of any basis for being an authority on anything?

Lola said...

Now part vii moral relativism explains so much. All someone has to do is read the first couple pages of "The Will to Power" in order to look like their philosophical?

That explaines all those "jaded" posers back in college!

(I took a few philosophy classes. I struggled. And, I hated Kant. Now I remember why. Part ix confessional interlude. I can so relate.)

TH2 said...

Thanks, ladies, for dropping in.

Anita: Didn't this guy figure out that his whole premise that nothing is real or true deprives him of any basis for being an authority on anything?

That is what was so ridiculous about him, let alone his deluded followers. Frye, it should be mentioned, is a darling up here among the leftist pseudo-intelligentsia.

Lola: I too remember those "jaded" posters all over the campus. Very depressing. Thanks also for acknowledging my thoughts in the "Confessional Interlude"

Al said...

Some thoughts as I read this (after my head stopped spinning from trying to run in circles to follow his illogical logic).

If his idea of god is that it is a "symbolic Other" why should it be denigrating to God to regard him as a maker preoccupied with ingenious designs? How can you denigrate something that doesn't really exist?

"In ordinary life the good/evil distinctions are hopelessly tangled. . . All good/evil judgments are tentative." Yet he says we have to "beyond the relativity of all moral judgments through "imaginative vision"." He says this helps get us beyond good & evil. Is it just me, or is this guy running in circles. He sounds like we need to get beyond moral relativism to WHERE? Moral relativism.

I'd ask if he was for real, except that since there is no such thing according to him then it means my mind (might) must have its "imaginative vision" screwed up. At least according to his premise. If anything can be according to his premise, according to his premise. (Do I sound sufficently sarcastic about his views?)

"Leftist pseudo-intelligentsia" indeed. These are the sort who left me turned off to philosophy for so long. What is sad is how many people buy this pre-packaged poison he (& others of his ilk) sell as if it were prime rib.

TH2, the more I see you wade through these swamps without ending up in a padded cell, the greater my respect for you.

TH2 said...

Firstly, Al - let me thank you for taking the time to go through one of my long articles. Remember, these longer posts compensate for my lack of regular posting - unlike you with your stream of postings. You're like a machine!

All your comments are right on the money. The situation with Frye is a sad state of affairs.

You also said: the more I see you wade through these swamps without ending up in a padded cell, the greater my respect for you

Thank you. I have a number of quagmires to wade through yet, but I take as my inspiration a statement spoken by the great Fr. Stanley JakI: Nothing brings me greater joy than to skewer heretics with the truth

Mary said...

Nice exposition, TH2.

Were I to subscribe to Frye's views, I could truly see no reason to keep on living.

TH2 said...

Merci.

Dishearteningly, not a few professors/students up here do find a "reason" in Frye's writings to keep perpetuating his gnostic transmogrification of literature.

Celestine said...

My goodness.

You know, Frye does seem to be right about one thing. Apparently one's own bodily waste can be used to create things. I can find no other explanation for the existence of his...unique ideology. It sure seems to be made out of, er, "waste"...

I need some Advil now...yikes...

TH2 said...

Sorry for the headache, Celestine.

There are some big time pseudo-intellectual weirdos north of the border. Worse, even, than Dan Brown... well, maybe not that worserer.

Al said...

Fr. Stanley JakI: Nothing brings me greater joy than to skewer heretics with the truth

All I can add is "Keep on skewering them!"

No said...

You guys are crazy.

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