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Northrop Frye (1912 – 1991)


Canadian literary critic and literary theorist, considered one of the most influential of the 20th century.
Northrop Frye
A literary critic of experience never defines anything.
Frye quotes
There is a curious law of art...that even the attempt to reproduce the act of seeing, when carried out with sufficient energy, tends to lose its realism and take on the unnatural glittering intensity of hallucination.
Frye
No matter how much experience we may gather in life, we can never in life get the dimension of experience that the imagination gives us. Only the arts and sciences can do that, and of these, only literature gives us the whole sweep and range of human imagination as it sees itself.




Frye Northrop quotes
I wrote Fearful Symmetry during the Second World War, and hideous as the time was, it provided some parallels with Blake's time which were useful for understanding Blake's attitude to the world. Today, now that reactionary and radical forces alike are once more in the grip of the nihilistic psychosis that Blake described so powerful in Jerusalem, one of the most hopeful signs is the immensely increased sense of the urgency and immediacy of what Blake had to say.
Frye Northrop
Just as a new scientific discovery manifests sometimes that was already latent in the order of nature, and at the same time is logically related to the total structure of the existing science, so the new poem manifests something that was already latent in the order of words.
Northrop Frye quotes
In our day the conventional element in literature is elaborately disguised by a law of copyright pretending that every work of art is an invention distinctive enough to be patented.
Northrop Frye
If I had been on the hills of Bethlehem in the year one, I do not think I should have heard angels singing because I do not hear them now, & there is no reason to suppose that they have stopped.
Frye Northrop quotes
Nothing is more remarkable in the Bible than the absence of argument...Argument is internal continuity. So is logical sequence in narrative: in the Bible the connectives are just "and."
Frye
Yesterday's kook book becomes tomorrow's standard text. (2:495)
Frye Northrop
The worst thing we can say about God is that he knows all. The best thing we can say of him is that, on the whole, he tends to keep his knowledge to himself. (2:568)
Northrop Frye
Finnegans Wake is not a book to read, but a book to decipher: as Joyce says, it's about a dreamer, but it's addressed to an ideal reader suffering from ideal insomnia.




Northrop Frye quotes
Nobody seriously thinks of television as a viewer's mode of perception...No matter how much he wants people to look at his product, the advertiser doesn't realize that television is [the viewer's] way of looking at him, & not his way of reaching them. (p. 95-6)
Northrop Frye
An aphorism is not a cliche: it penetrates & bites. It has wit, and consequently an affinity with satire...Christ speaks in aphorisms, not because they are alive, but because he is.
Frye quotes
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.
Frye Northrop
I have a notion that a prolonged period of solitude & fasting would produce hallucinations, & that these would be mandalas and such: they would be the essential forms in which "outer" perceptions are organized. (18.23)
Frye Northrop quotes
One doesn't bother to believe the credible: the credible is believed already, by definition. There's no adventure of the mind. (1:313)
Northrop Frye
Teaching literature is impossible; that is why it is difficult.
Northrop Frye quotes
Continuous prose suggests complete identification with the representing, observing, immersing-in-object self. Aphorisms suggest a richer & varied personality made up more of internal conflicts and decisions. An epiphanic sequence suggests the highest mystery of personality. (33.47)
Northrop Frye
Those who are concerned with the arts are often asked questions, not always sympathetic ones, about the use or value of what they are doing. It is probably impossible to answer such questions directly, or at any rate to answer the people who ask them.
Frye Northrop
Between religion's "this is" and poetry's "but suppose this is" there must always be some kind of tension, until the possible and the actual meet at infinity.


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