Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Northrop Frye, The Double Vision: Language & Meaning in Religion

My note says I purchased this book in 1992. Unlike some books, it has not simply gathered dust on the shelf while it waited its turn to gather my attention. Instead, this book is full of highlights & pencil notes. I just read it again. In just 85 pages, Frye, in his last published work, provides a grand sense of his vision, his double vision of religion, language, and culture. The title is pulled from Blake, of whom Frye wrote a lengthy book early in his career (and which is well worth reading). Frye takes off from Blake and St. Paul, among others, to give a sense of what the religious books are saying. Not in the literal sense (of only limited importance) but in the moral, allegorical, and analogical senses. (Shades of Dante, here, too.) Religion, like literature, depends on the language of myth and metaphor, while every day language is descriptive of the natural world in what we refer to as a literal sense. The literal, Frye argues, is passive, while the mythical/metaphorical is active. Religion, as opposed to literature, asks "What is to be done?" (using a quote from a less savory character to make the point here).

I don't know if I can think of a book that packs so much perspective, insight, and wisdom into 85 pages. Reading Frye is like reading by lightening flashes, the insights come quickly, almost suddenly, and leave you wondering what you've just seen by this amazing illumination. If the highest compliment that you can pay a book is to re-read it and get something new out of it, well then this book receives very high praise indeed.

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