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.

David Brooks on Trump

David Brooks writes on Trump in a way that makes some sense out of the Trump phenomenum. Trump is a joke, and I couldn't figure out why anyone would consider him a serious presidential prospect. After all, Sarah Palin only received a nomination for vice-president! If you've been wondering about this as I have, Brooks makes some sense of it. As Brooks notes in his column, Trump himself gave a shout-out to Obama a few years ago (before Trump got into the birther idiocy business). Obama, too, was a brash outsider. Come to think if it, does anyone become president without a high level (although not Trumpian level) of brashness? Probably not. What we need is a real brashness role model, and I have one: TR. Teddy Roosevelt. Almost nuts by most standards, but in a compelling and useful way. Of course, TR was an imperialist, he genuinely seemed to relish war and conflict (his Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding), etc. TR was no angel. But the energy! My, goodness, the shear Energy! A leader needs a high degree of energy to think outside the norm, and even more energy to drag followers into tow. So, of course, Trump, like Palin, is full of outrageous nonsense, an embarrassment, but I think Brooks is right about the need for brashness.

BTW, if you haven't been following Doonesberry's take on Trump over the last few days, you've missed some great laughs. Here's a sample.