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March 10, 2007

Literature: Its Own History

Frye, ''The Critical Path'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

"Instead of fitting literature into a prefabricated scheme of history, the critic should see literature as a coherent structure, historically conditioned but shaping its own history, responding to but not determined in its form by an external historical process" (284).

I do see the logic in this part of Frye's argument and yet I struggle with the ideas at the same time. Can you really separate literary history and cultural/social history? Aren't they interrelated more than Frye admits? I just can't really explain how literature can be considered as "responding to...an external historical process" without being "determined" by that same process at least to some extent. Wouldn't responding to it be a way in which literature is determined by it? You have to have the "external historical process" for the literature to respond to - so it does determine it at least in content (which I think is what Frye is saying). But, he says that "in form" literature is separate and is only relational to its own history in terms of the conventions that it employs with regard to genre, style etc. So that does make sense to me, but it also seems to argue that the form of literature is the only thing that critics should be concerned with - that content doesn't matter, an idea with which I disagree strongly.

Ok, that whole paragraph is me just thinking out loud so hopefully it made sense and you all get something out of it that makes sense to you.

Posted by LorinSchumacher at March 10, 2007 7:39 PM


I completely agree. You would have to look at the content in order to understand perhaps why the type of form is used. The author may use a certain form in one context and totally abandon that form in another context.

Posted by: Erin at March 12, 2007 12:46 PM

This is a tough one for me because I agreed with most of what Frye said. I think that he is suggesting that an intertextual approach will automatically include the social forces at work in the author's world during the time of writing. I think Frye believes that history is inherent in intertextual criticism so there is no need to acknowledge it as its own factor.

Posted by: Dave Moio at March 14, 2007 8:23 AM

There is nothing wrong with thinking out loud. Sometimes that is the best way to come to the answers of your own questions. That said I think that you make very valid observations from the standpoint of studying literature. On the other hand I also agree with David. If you are looking at an intertextual approach to literature you will be able to pick up the historicism of that piece in some way. That way could be through comparisons or even through similarities. This is why I think I question whether intertextuality can be used between periods or if it must remain within the same time period.

Posted by: Tiffany at March 14, 2007 6:59 PM

Yeah, David does have a good point that historical contexts being implied already by intertextuality. I didn't really think of it that way before because I felt like Frye was dismissing it. But, that does make sense, too.

Posted by: Lorin at March 15, 2007 2:39 PM

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