Breaking the Standards; An Apology to Northrop Frye

A few weeks ago I began reading a battle manga titled Shamo and while the premise is slightly convoluted, the characters extreme beyond all reasonable compare, the violence bloody, the social commentary obvious and expected; the action sequences are astoundingly well drawn and the overall feel of the manga is brilliant. Suffice it to say, it’s interesting; though a single line has been haunting me ever since I read it a few weeks ago: “Break the standards.” I can’t remember exactly which chapter it’s said in, and I certainly can’t remember which page it’s uttered on, but ever since reading the words, I’ve been forced to reconsider every notion of the universe I’ve held since antiquity.

The line isn’t exactly the most eloquent phrase to read and there have certainly been others that hold more power and presence and those are certainly ones that make more sense when read, but the line has been on my mind for the longest time. Allow me to explain; when the line is said, the main character Ryo Narushima is losing a karate match against an opponent with more resolve, greater technique and a higher level of popularity than his own. After fighting it out for a few rounds, all the while being sent back to his corner, Narushima’s coach offers no more advice than “Break the standards.” What happens next is only paralleled by Rocky in terms of its sheer audacity and absurdity; Narushima makes a comeback that can only be described as epic (or completely unimaginable, if one is trying to be more eloquent than I) and, even though he loses the fight in the end (in a stunning way, no less), he “Break the standards” in some convoluted and roundabout manner (it’s an amazing scene, but that doesn’t make the manga any better).

Before I continue, however, I must be allowed to make a rather slight confession. Ever since writing my last article (about the movie critic and doing something with one’s life instead of just prodding along) I have found it incredibly difficult to write anything. It’s actually quite remarkable because I’ve never experienced such a resounding wall of writer’s block before and it’s incredibly annoying knowing that something is so incredibly close, but so incredibly far. I’m not lying when I say that I’ve attempted to write this article 12 times now and this (in case anyone’s wondering) will be my final attempt at doing so. Not because I’m tired, but because if I don’t write something, I might just explode in a ball of annoyance. Under any normal circumstance, it has never been this difficult to write anything and it’s not that I don’t have ideas, it’s that I have too many. Or rather, I have too many ideas to decide on just one and when I try to pinpoint a single idea worth discussing or talking about, I hit a figurative brick wall. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, I cant state that enough because I do, it’s just that whenever I try to sit down and write something, whatever comes up appears insincere and fluffy (two things that I can’t stand my writing sounding like).

Apart from that issue, however, other problems I’ve noticed are an inability to match tenses (that being said, my verbs don’t match my nouns, my nouns don’t match my verbs and everything in between sounds like it’s been tapped out on a Speak N’ Spell), an inability to find the right words to write, an overabundance of opinion, and a surprising lack of motivation. Though, when I say lack of motivation, it’s not that I’m specifically feeling under-motivated, it’s just that I’m finding it a bit troublesome to conform to generally accepted literary conventions. Though, I suppose of everything I wanted to talk about (opinion, difficult times in life, Northrop Frye, or change and adaptation) that’s the one thing that I’ve been trying my hardest to come to terms with: generally accepted literary conventions.

It feels like my entire reason for writing has been nothing more than an attempt to challenge the conventions of not only literature, but of the world around me; something of a giant middle finger to the universe in an attempt to go against the grain and do something different or , dare I say, important (brilliant or astounding really). Everyone understands the rules, but those who go far in life are those who bend or obliterate them entirely and make their own; that’s the mindset I’ve started having and, quite frankly it’s about time I raise myself from this infantile state of mind and move on. It’s not wrong that those who go far in life make their own rules, but it’s only after they’ve spent years mastering and understanding the so-called “Rules” that the universe has built itself upon and slowly, over time, building and rebuilding generally accepted principles and conventions.

Before I’m allowed to continue onto the point of today’s article, I’d like to take some more time to discuss a childish and immature thought I’ve had regarding literature and literary greats. Or rather, I’d like to take some time to apologize (before a nameless and almost nonexistent crowd) for my behaviour while reading Northrop Frye’s The Educated Imagination. I spent the majority of my time trying my best to come up with ways to disprove and disagree with Frye’s point that, for the most part, I missed the message that he was trying to convey. Worse, at times my point of view was in accordance with his own, yet I disagreed anyway, for the mere sake of argument, not because I truly disagreed but because this sense of defying convention has been in my mind for the longest possible time.

Rules, in every sense of the word, have been meant to be broken, but entering any situation with the sole purpose of breaking a rule is both dangerous and highly illogical, especially considering that I decided to make one of the greatest minds of the 20th century my opponent (in my mind of course). Perhaps it’s because I don’t truly understand the conventions I’m attempting to go against, or perhaps it truly is due to my youth and stubborn attitude, but I believe it’s about time that I come to terms with the fact that Frye is both smarter and far more educated than I will ever be. Furthermore, I believe it’s also time I come to terms with the fact that not all rules are meant to be broken and that most rules exist so people have a strong base to learn and grow from. I also completely understand how cliché and fluffy it sounds to say something like that, but frankly, that’s a matter of personal opinion.

The truth of the matter is that “Break the standards” has been haunting me not because it’s fantastic advice, but because it’s exactly the reckless, do-what-you-will-to-get-ahead, pointless babble that I’ve been following for no good reason. In the original context of the manga, the phrase was meant as pick-me up of sorts; something to allow the failing Narushima a belief that winning is actually possible and in retrospect, it’s certainly not advice that anyone should follow if they want to do anything. The truth of the matter is that “Breaking the standards” is not what the successful do; quite the contrary because following rules and accepted principles is exactly what people do to become successful. It’s only once they’ve been recognized for having talent, or a certain indescribable demeanor that they stop following generally accepted conventions and begin to change the way we think about the aforementioned conventions. It must also be pointed out that even the concept of “Success” is an entirely ludicrous one to talk about, but for the sake of this article, allow the word “Success” to be taken in it’s loosest possible sense.

I must apologize to Northrop Frye for, sadly and disappointingly, completely missing the point of his lectures and I must also be allowed one final point: breaking the standards and going against convention is a fantastic thing to do, only once you truly understand the conventions you are going against and trying to deconstruct. Until that time, I’m afraid that my writing will remain as under evolved as it has ever been; my tenses will be poorly matched, my word choices will be rudimentary and juvenile, my prose will be weak and sporadic, my themes and thesis will continue to be typical and expected, not to mention repetitive and ever-changing, and my voice will continue to sound not like true writing, but speech.

It’s also a fact that I will continue to try my hardest to learn, not only from Frye, but from everyone else brave and lucky enough to write something of their own and that is both a promise to myself, and the nameless audience.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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