...And The Point Was?

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From "The Critical Path" by Northrop Frye in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"It often happens that interesting literature is produced by an uninteresting man, in the sense of one who disappoints us if we are looking for some kind of culture-hero" (281).

I picked this quote for two reasons.  My first reason is that I couldn't get anything else out of this essay.  I tried reading and rereading lines, thinking that I was missing the point but I'm not so sure the man really had a clear point, thus his whole article would be a muddy point for me.  Some articles that we read for class beat around the bush and are confusing but come together in the end, this one was different (for me at least).  Could someone clarify this for me?  What was "the point"?  Did anyone else heve difficulty reading this?

My second point (see I didn't forget) is that this quote in particular is what Dr. Jerz has been saying about looking at the author biography all semester.  Some authors are just plain boring and so if we want to look at them historically, we need to look at "the social situation from which [the author] springs" (281).  We could make a good approximation of what kinds of audiences the author would be writing for, what social conditions (s)he is addressing, etc by looking at this instead.  I guess that I'm starting to see the value of historical criticism in literature and I've also realized that I've even unknowingly used it.  I wrote about the social conditions during the time that Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" as a way of upholding the work's importance to culture.   

Enough of this.

2 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

Welcome back fellow blogger!

While reading, I also thought of the same thing that you did. We must look at "the social situation" of when the author was writing in order to get a better grasp of them.

When I began this course, along with everyone else, I thought that historical criticism was a form of only studying the history of the author or work, but there is more to it than that. We must look at all aspects of history which include the social and political views.

So does the culture form "The Critical Path?" (Frye's title) or does the repetition of history do it?

Ellen Einsporn said:

Hi Angela! I actually enjoyed Frye's articles the best out of all of our readings this week. To help you out, I think in "The Critical Path" Frye was simply trying to outline his own personal critical development as a way to introduce the theory of intertextuality. He transitions from one critical theory to the next, all the while arguing that he "was still not satisfied" with these approaches to literature. Finally, he arrives at intertextuality. He argues that he "wanted a historical approach to literature, but an approach that would be or include a genuine history of literature, not simply the assimilating of literature to some other kind of history." In short, he faults "doumentatry and external" critical approaches (such as author intent) for adding non-literary content to literature. Meanwhile, he faults formalists for ignoring historical contexts. In the end, he deems intertextualism as the happy medium between the two, finding that he can reference other texts to gain a sense of literary history while still focusing formally on the poetic form and language of the work itself.

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