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Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye (original 1957; edition 1969)

by Northrop Frye

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1,249810,934 (4.01)18
Striking out at the conception of criticism as restricted to mere opinion or ritual gesture, Northrop Frye wrote this magisterial work proceeding on the assumption that criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge in its own right. In four brilliant essays on historical, ethical, archetypical, and rhetorical criticism, employing examples of world literature from ancient times to the present, Frye reconceived literary criticism as a total history rather than a linear progression through time. Literature, Frye wrote, is "the place where our imaginations find the ideal that they try to pass on to belief and action, where they find the vision which is the source of both the dignity and the joy of life." And the critical study of literature provides a basic way "to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in." Harold Bloom contributes a fascinating and highly personal preface that examines Frye's mode of criticism and thought (as opposed to Frye's criticism itself) as being indispensable in the modern literary world.… (more)
Member:asbkito
Title:Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye
Authors:Northrop Frye
Info:Atheneum (1969), Edition: College Edition. Ninth Printing, Paperback
Collections:Your library
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Tags:To read, Frye (Northrop)

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Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye (Author) (1957)

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» See also 18 mentions

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Classic. ( )
  scottcholstad | Jan 12, 2020 |
I suppose this is one of the canonical works in the genre of "lit crit": in the sense that any aspiring critique professionnelle would feel compelled to have grappled with it at one point or another in his/her ascent of Parnassus. It claims to eschew "practical criticism" and pretty much succeeds in that, except that Frye flags a little in Section 4 when he talks about genres and deigns to make some pertinent comments about specific works. The entire thing seems to be an effort to construct scaffolding that would enable the practitioner to situate any given work within a four-dimensional schema of modes, symbols,, myths and genres. All this to aspire to a "scientific" approach to the study of literature; and I suppose it is scientific in the sense of being taxonomic. Be sure to bookmark the glossary at the back of the book, because you will have frequent recourse to reminding yourself of the significance of such terms as epos, opsis, melos, anagogic, and a bunch more. ( )
  jburlinson | Jun 9, 2017 |
This is a massively well-informed, highly readable work. Frye intended to follow in the footsteps of Aristotle's Poetics and expand its coverage of tragedy to cover all the major forms of (Western) literature with a general theory of its various forms and major themes. It is a major achievement and well worth reading.

However... as a tool of a critic it's nearly useless: it may say something about a book that you can slot it in as a Fryeian Romance, but most of the interesting things to say about a work are about its particularities rather than its generalities, and the Anatomy (like many works of theory) is all about generalities, commonalities which connect works together, so at best it can provide only a context for the actual work of criticism. In this sense it (unavoidably) failed at Frye's ultimate goal, which was to establish Literary Criticism as its own independent discipline.

In many ways it's the opposite of New Historicism: the latter tends to absorb the study of the work into the study of its historical background, using the work as an illumination on social history, whereas the Fryeian project was to extract a taxonomy of works which was independent of "local" cultures but held up across the 2,800 years of western literary genres. Nor can Frye's work be considered a branch of Structuralism: it antedates by 15 years Levi-Strauss' Structuralism and Ecology and it betrays no visible influence of Saussure. ( )
1 vote jsburbidge | Dec 30, 2015 |
On trying to read Northrop Frye 30 years after European critical theory stormed the gates of the academy, leaving the humanities, which were retrospectively ripe for collapse, in a kind of fall-of-Rome state of confusion and disillusionment, I was actually reminded (again - it comes up often for me these days) of Shelley’s poem:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains – round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


The Classically-descended celestial clockwork world Frye created his magisterial critical system from and for is vanishing before our eyes, like Newton’s universe did after Einstein. Like many elaborate attempts to model some aspect of the world in a system, this one’s biggest, most ironic flaw is its failure to take the defining reality of time into account. But maybe actually a Copernican metaphor is better here – Frye, like Harold Bloom, and then a bevy of less intelligent and more reactionary late 20th century culture warriors, saw Western literature at the center of something that has been revealed to have no permanent center – human history.

There’s no bringing back the past, but Frye’s system does offer anybody who has more than a beach reader’s interest in Western literature some clever and useful ways to think about the forms it has taken and the techniques that have been applied in it from pre-history to the 20th century modernists, anyway. (Whether Frye’s project has any relevance to other literary traditions I can’t say.) Thank goodness Anatomy of Criticism has a good Wikipedia page. I'd recommend that. You get the gist of the system without every tedious example or obsolete hypothesis. That’s enough.
( )
1 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
Well, this is pretty dense in a way that books usually aren't these days. Not dense in a Frenchified theory way, and not dense in a flowery language kind of way. Just conceptually dense. Which is fine, but not all of the concepts are useful. Density aside, the first two essays - on historical criticism and 'symbols,' (which for Frye doesn't really mean, well, symbol) - are pretty good, if overly schematic. The third essay is horrific. Really, you just need a diagram for it, but we get over 100 pages instead. The fourth essay, on genres, is occasionally interesting but also too schematic and way too long. I'd stick to the introduction and first two essays, and skim the rest.

One thing that's odd is that people say this seems 'dated' thanks to Marxist or feminist or postcolonial theory, or deconstruction. Not really, though. Frye's aware of all those trends already in 1957 (not counting postco, I guess); and his work isn't dated by deconstruction. It's just the opposite side, handily summarised in Harold Bloom's (awful) foreword: for Bloom and his ilk, literature is all about indeterminacy, and more or less a brawl among self-loathing geniuses. For Frye, literature is a "cooperative enterprise," part of the attempt to make life better for ourselves. Not dated, then, but one side of an ongoing argument. Frankly, I hope Frye's side wins. Then there'll be no need to re-read this book. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frye, NorthropAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosa-Clot, PaolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stratta, SandroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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HELENAE UXORI
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Polemical Introduction
This book consists of "essays," in the word's original sense of a trial or incomplete attempt, on the possibility of a synoptic view of the scope theory, principles, and techniques of literary criticism.
First Essay
HISTORICAL CRITICISM: THEORY OF MODES
FICTIONAL MODES: INTRODUCTION
In the second paragraph of the Poetics Aristotle speaks of the differences in works of fiction which are caused by the different elevations of the characters in them.
Foreword by Harold Bloom to the 2000 edition
NORTHROP FRYE IN RETROSPECT
The publication of Northrop Frye's Notebooks troubled some of his old admirers, myself included.
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Striking out at the conception of criticism as restricted to mere opinion or ritual gesture, Northrop Frye wrote this magisterial work proceeding on the assumption that criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge in its own right. In four brilliant essays on historical, ethical, archetypical, and rhetorical criticism, employing examples of world literature from ancient times to the present, Frye reconceived literary criticism as a total history rather than a linear progression through time. Literature, Frye wrote, is "the place where our imaginations find the ideal that they try to pass on to belief and action, where they find the vision which is the source of both the dignity and the joy of life." And the critical study of literature provides a basic way "to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in." Harold Bloom contributes a fascinating and highly personal preface that examines Frye's mode of criticism and thought (as opposed to Frye's criticism itself) as being indispensable in the modern literary world.

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