restricted access The Bible as Fugue: Theme and Variations
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128 LOUIS DUDEK The Bible as Fugue: Theme and Variations LOUIS DUDEK Despite his outspoken lucidity ('the fear of heresy ... the deadliest social psychosis in history,' P 11), his academic humility ('what I briefly attempted myself in the Anatomy of Criticism,' p 224), and his colloquial casualness at times ('It makes good sense to call the Bible and the person of Christ by the same name,' p 77), there is a powerful aura of something covert and withheld in the writing of Northrop Frye, a cioud of awesome implication that remains forever on the horizon and which leads to much misunderstanding of his meaning. Scholars and critics who were impressed by his mythic approach to literature were hardly aware, for example, that the college library which he had redecorated and reorganized was gradually becoming a cloister, and that the architectural extensions of this structure were taking the form of a church. Moreover, it was not merely a church among the other churches, but one that was to replace the rest as the one 'definitive' structure (p 226). That mythopoeic criticism pointed to 'a veiled Christianity ' - that it was in fact 'the myth of the Christian religion' in a unique Protestant form - I argued in an obscure essay in 1963, to the dismay of some literati.' Now here is Frye in The Great Code to tell us that 'in a sense all my critical work, beginning with the study of Blake published in 1947, and formulated ten years later in Anatomy of Criticism, has revolved around the Bible' (p xiv). I should say here that when the implications concerned mainly the teaching and interpretation of literature I was highly critical of the theory. Now that they concern mainly the reading and understanding of the Bible I feel much less so. The Bible to me is a collection ofarchaeological texts of great interest, on the same shelf with Greek philosophical writings, with 'waggon loads of Egyptian papyrus' and 'mountains of cuneiform tablets," with the Upanishads and Vedas, the Chinese classics, the Talmud and the Koran. It is only one among the world's sacred and philosophical archives, illuminating various cultures and periods of human thought, but not a privileged text nor a central revelation. I have an enormous admiration for Frye's critical genius, his gift for theoretical interpretation, and his scholarship, and yet I can only approach him as I would a master chess-player: I must analyse his game. Not to do so would be to resign from the start, or to fail to test his particular strength. As with myth criticism in general, the implications of The Great Code loom far in the background and most readers are likely to avoid looking in that direction. For there are some dark and menacing shadows. What are we to make, for example, of the off-hand definition of human beings, on UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME .52, NUMBER 2 , WINTER 198213 0042'"247/83/0200-01.28-0135$01_5°/0 C> UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS NORTHROP FRYE AND THE BIBLE 129 page 211, as 'psychotic apes who want to kill'? Or the statement on page 37 that mythology is not a direct response to the natural environment; 'itis part of the imaginative insulation that separates us from that environment '? Is mythology then a kind of delusion? What is Frye's view of objective nature, of the natural world we live in? Deeper still, in matters of faith Frye stands far outside any traditional view as regards God. Following Blake, he sees gods as 'representative metaphors' (p 31). In this view God does notexist inan objective senseas a being outside ourselves. He is really part of the verbal and mythical structure which is Frye's exclusive concern: an idea in a pattern. Frye says that 'even the existence of God is an inference from the existence of the Bible: in the beginning was the Word' (p 61). Or stronger still: 'God condemns himself to death' when he 'transforms himself into a Word of God' (p 111). (Both these statements are conditional, preceded by 'we could almost say' and 'we come to the possibility,' but they point to the central issue. It is...