- Educating the Imagination: Northrop Frye, Past, Present, and Future ed. by Alan Bewell, Neil Ten Kortenaar, and Germaine Warkentin
This volume is a selection of twelve papers from among those presented at a 2012 conference at the University of Toronto, "Educating the Imagination," marking the centenary of Frye's birth. The purpose of the conference, say the editors, was "to examine whether Frye's reputation needs to be refurbished, to assess what needs to be retrieved from his critical insights today, and to take the measure of where literary and cultural scholarship currently stand by gauging our distance from and our dependence on him."
Frye knew more about literature than almost everybody else, but he didn't know everything, and so in the first paper Robert Bringhurst suggests that the extraordinary map of the order of words that Frye has provided be supplemented by those who do know about, say, the Mongolian epic or Tlingit tales and so can redraw the map or add to it. Bringhurst makes a compelling case for the power that Frye's maps provide. Frye himself uses the metaphor in "Maps and Territories," a paper that Bringhurst does not cite but which confirms his thesis. "A map," Frye says, "is not the territory being explored but is normally the best guide to it, and maps improve in refinement and accuracy with further study." Bringhurst invites everyone to the table of literary cartographers. (The essays by Gordon Teskey and Robert J. Tally, Jr., incidentally, also draw attention to the metaphor of cartography.)
Limitation of space means I can do little more than list the other contributions. Ian Balfour's "Frye beyond Belief" probes the various contexts of Frye's understanding of belief, religious and otherwise, resurrecting the debate about poetry and belief between Eliot and Richards in the 1920s. Balfour provides a thorough analysis of a teasingly complex issue. He might have benefited from what is perhaps the central document about belief in the Frye canon, his 1985 lecture on "The Dialectic of Belief and Vision." [End Page 222]
Gordon Teskey ("Frye's Blake and Frye's Milton") argues that Frye, like Blake, was indifferent to "real history" and that "real historical change" is incompatible with "schematic design." The reason Frye never wrote the history of English literature that he wanted to write, says Teskey, is that Milton, a poet of acute historical consciousness, got in the way. A number of historiographers (e.g. Hayden White) would disagree with the idea that "real history" is a transparent concept, arguing that historians, literary and otherwise, always impose a shape on their accounts of the past. Teskey is silent about the effort Frye did make to write a history of English literature – a 184-page typescript entitled Rencontre (Collected Works, vol. 10).
Michael Dolzani's "From the Defeated," by far the most imaginatively powerful and intellectually stimulating contribution to the collection, makes a compelling case that whatever the public response to Frye might be in the future and whatever senses of defeat we experience, "the resurrection of his vision will be individual and inward." Dolzani proceeds to produce such an inward vision, beginning with Frye's early attraction to Spengler and carrying through to his religious understanding of Word and Spirit. This essay comes to us from Frye's most incisive reader: Dolzani's understanding of Frye is unparalleled and his rhetoric captivating, which is why he received a standing ovation at the conference.
Robert T. Tally, Jr., provides a perceptive study of the parallels between Frye's view of the imagination and Herbert Marcuse's, where the goal of both is to create models of what life in a consumer society could be like if the imagination of the community is educated.
In a collection like this we might expect some attention to Frye's connections to the post-structuralist moment. Garry Sherbert obliges with a study of Vico's verum factum, which rubs Frye up against Jameson, Heidegger, Derrida, Nancy, and others. One wishes...