Disagreeing With Northrop Frye; The Right to Speak and The Responsibility to Listen

Having first been introduced to Northrop Frye through the internet, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I actually read anything written by one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Frye’s The Educated Imagination was a piece of literature strongly recommended to me, and when I finally first began reading what was (and still is) a deconstruction of language and literature as a whole, I made it a personal habit to note every instance in which I disagreed with Frye. That being said, I maintained a “Frye is wrong” journal and I made sure to update it with each disagreeing thought. It’s specifically because of this journal that it annoys me and amuses me that Frye is slowly becoming my personal hero. To put this feat into perspective, my previous so-called heroes included Alexander III of Macedon, Louis Riel and fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

The truth of the matter, I suppose, is that Frye was (and still is) right about almost everything he wrote; not just in his point of view, but also in his analysis and deconstruction of literary conventions. Of course, to the far more educated collective, such a fact is just that: a fact. Frye is right because he was a literary icon; his knowledge extended far past his ability to merely deconstruct, submit, and publish an original book on William Blake and it’s due to this worldliness that he can be so accurately wordy. Part of my dislike for Frye was the result of a minor sense of jealousy; originality is difficult to achieve at a base level, but being original and having people agree with your originality is an even more troublesome and daunting task, and Frye accomplished such a task within his life span. Though, primary school jealousy notwithstanding, my dislike for Frye extended far past his opinion; Frye’s writing maintains a level of patronization and condescension that only a mind as gifted and praised as his can produce. Suffice it to say, the man sounds pompous and it’s because he’s so colloquially “Smart” that his arrogance can be disregarded and considered a side effect of having literary experts constantly agree with you.

Of course, an individual’s appropriate pomposity is certainly not reason enough to rank them as a personal hero. As such, Frye stands as something of a beacon of hope to me; a goal to strive for and an existence worth trying to achieve. In short, people listen to Frye. There is no possible way to avoid such a factual truth: Northrop Frye is not just a respected speaker or writer, and he certainly isn’t merely a respected Canadian. Certainly, Northrop Frye is more than a respected man, or collection of particles; he is a respected mind and, most importantly, he is listened to.

When I first read the aforementioned novel (regardless of my disagreements and opinions on Frye himself), I found that when I brought up his name and my challenges of his work, my own opinion was not as accepted as I had hoped. Obviously, the main reason was Frye’s own accuracy. If the first point that one can make about Frye is that people listen to him, the second point that one must make is that Frye is right. Having spent days analyzing and comparing different literary mediums and applying Frye’s reasoning to all manners of literary works, I can no longer deny that Frye is right.

Frye’s accuracy, however, was only one of the reasons why my opinion wasn’t as accepted. The complementary reason is the same that I find reoccurs throughout education (whether theological, mathematical, scientific, literary, or artistic) as a whole; disregarding their own opinions of the topic, individuals agreed with Frye specifically because he had history defending his reputation and intellect. In essence, many individuals were agreeing with Frye specifically because he was Northrop Frye; a literary expert, a literary critic, a genius of the English language and a mind worth respecting.

Reflecting on the events that took place, I still find it difficult that alternative points-of-view or differing opinions weren’t as accepted. Perhaps those who I spoke to didn’t enjoy my company, or perhaps they genuinely believed that Frye was right, but regardless of the reasoning, I was wrong and Frye was right, and there was no discussion about it. Of course, there were also those who agreed with Frye and had a strong opinion as to why, which also helped me discover the fallacies in my own opinion, but (as is often common) these voices were the minority.

It’s not that the minority was necessarily right (as my presence would indicate) but it’s that the minority was actually using its voice to make some sort of noise. Of course, speaking and listening are events that go hand in hand, but if there’s one so-called “Moral” that can be drawn from my experiences with Northrop Frye, it’s that humans have a right to speak, and a responsibility to listen if we wish to advance further in our collective universes. Speaking amounts to nothing more than having an opinion and discussing it, and listening amounts to nothing more than listening to the opinion of others and respecting it regardless of agreement.

Therein, incidentally, lies the ultimate point: if we wish to educate ourselves, or continue to survive and adapt, we must take it upon ourselves to challenge every conceived notion to ascertain the purpose and benefit of the defined article. This challenge, however, must not be done with hate and exclusion at the head of reasoning and must be carried out without prejudice or condemnation. Quite the contrary, the challenge of preconceived notions must be done to allow education, and intellectualism, to prevail in a world that continues to be defined by its inability to think rationally (let alone without the intervention of extreme thought with a complete disregard for logic). In essence, we have the right to challenge everything (and must do so), but, above all else, we must be responsible in insuring that prejudice and persecution do not arise in the presence of these challenges. We must speak to challenge everything, but we must listen to insure our words are accurate and, most importantly, to insure that our companions have not been deafened.

Otherwise, we will be no better than the childish mind that hoped to create an original thought merely through disagreement with Northrop Frye.

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

-EK

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