Frye Essay, Research Paper
The renowned Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye held a series of radio broadcasts, in which he presents his beliefs of literatures place in the world. In the sixth of his lectures, Frye culminates his study of the relevance of literature in the world. He restates his theme, and expands from strict critical theory into the wider and more practical aspects of a literal training (133). He builds on his earlier talks and tries to not only conclude his earlier ideas, but also to introduce a greater understanding of the nature of literature and the imagination.
Frye begins by redefining his audience, or at least who he thinks they are. He tries to dissuade the notion of speaking to his audience as the literary elite. He says he is speaking to the audience as consumers (134). He tries to overcome the notion that the studying of literature is not a necessary part of the process of learning to read and write.
He stresses the importance of the imagination and it s appearance in our reality. He states:
The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in. (140)
He provides several examples to advance his claim. The clich receives much of his attention. He emphases that not only does Communism rely heavily on the clich to cloud the minds of it s followers, but we have our own also. He says the imagination is what allows us to realize that we can not take clich s literally, but to see beyond them. He speaks of government jargon or gobbledegook (sic) (142), the language used to avoid the actual conveyance of information. He uses as an example, anti-personnel bombs, bombs that kill men, but jargon puts it into a more poetic perspective. In every example, he shows that the imagination is used to take us beyond the literal meaning of a word or phrase.
In his final talk, Frye takes more casual stance. Instead of standing at high on the podium with 20,000 people, he talks to a class of 30. Throughout the talks he speaks to, as he calls them, a blind audience. It seems, however, his tone shifts for his final broadcast and takes a more, and dare I say, neighborly approach. Yet, he can afford to at this stage, as he is only restating ideas he has already presented. Here, all he has to do is make sure he makes his point and it is clear to the reader. His tone is significantly friendlier, which I attribute to several reasons. This is the sixth broadcast, those listening are the ones most interested in what he has to say, and having already spent five evenings (assuming they were broadcast at night) with Frye, they would be familiar with him by now. In addition, he may have became more comfortable with broadcasting to his blind audience (assuming this was his first broadcasting experience). Finally, his tone warms, as does anyone who is this far into a speech. Typically, when those giving speeches reach their conclusion, they become more animate and excited about the topic. It is the same as runners speed up on the home stretch of a marathon, they realize they are almost at the finish line, they receive their second wind. His friendlier tone better suits his position, listeners will respond positively to the more discussion-oriented tone, than the lecture-oriented tone.
Frye uses his concluding talk to finalize his ideas, but he does not always do so in a tangible fashion. The essay starts right, as he follows a simple pattern throughout the essay: He restates his ideas, follows through with evidence, then draws a conclusion, but then proceeds past the conclusion, almost as an afterthought. The rest of the lesson reads gracefully, but the Babel reference does not fit well with the rest of the text. It begins sensibly, speaking of the human imagination and a common voice that has given inspiration to great ones from all ages. It uses the tower to represent although we speak differently know, that once there was one voice, and that voice is still with us, if we listen for it. However, he ends saying, as I interpret, that we need to get our heads out of the clouds (to use a clich ) and back on earth. This seems contradictory towards the rest of the reading. He almost ends on a positive note, saying:
All originally had one language, the myth says. That language is not English or Russian or Chinese or any common ancestor, if there was one. It is the language of human nature, the language that makes both Shakespeare and Pushkin authentic poets, that gives a social vision to both Lincoln and Gandhi. It never speaks unless we take time to listen in leisure (155-6)
It seems as if he wants to end on a high note, but he crashes back down to earth stating that when we really listen, all that voice is telling us is we are not getting any nearer to heaven, and that it is time to return to earth (156). He springs an entirely new topic in the last sentence. I could be wrong, and have missed something entirely, but the end seems to contradict his earlier ideas of using the imagination to break free from the literal world. He could have been trying to say that while the imagination must be kept free, it needs to be grounded in reality, but if he wanted to make an issue of it, it would have been more poignant if he had mentioned it earlier. Though, he must have done something right, if I am taking the time to discuss it now.
Frye makes startling observations about society and the people that construct their reality from the society, and how the imagination bridges the gulf between the literal world and reading and writing and emotion and brings a common voice of humanity to us all. The universal themes he discussed early on, he retreads with notions from modern society from, clich s to the good ol days. The conclusion to his talks is concrete, and flows smoothly except for the aforementioned ending. He well argued his view of the place of the imagination in society, and did it in a way, stylistically, that allows the reader to grasp his concepts.
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