Introduction: Polemical Introduction
Northrop Frye starts his book with the introduction in which he wants to tell us that it his attempt to deal with the expansive and wide subject literary criticism which is broad in scope. Why Frye gives this introduction the title of ‘Polemical Introduction’ is evident because the field of criticism is rather a typical and controversial topic of discussion from which many theories and perspectives have evolved.Northrop Frye says that, ‘My approach is based on Matthew Arnold's precept of letting the mind play freely around a subject in which there has been much endeavor and little attempt at perspective. All the essays deal with criticism, but by criticism I mean the whole work of scholarship and taste concerned with literature which is a part of what is variously called liberal education, culture, or the study of the humanities. I start from the principle that criticism is not simply a part of this larger activity, but an essential part of it’. Frye says that criticism is an art and it is sorrowful that creativity in criticism has vanished; hence he wrote the book to present a general theory of literature thought his concept of archetypal criticism. He also believes that art without criticism defies creativity. Taking his words, ‘However, the fate of art that tries to do without criticism is instructive. The attempt to reach the public directly through "popular" art assumes that criticism is artificial and public taste natural. Behind this is a further assumption about natural taste which goes back through Tolstoy to Romantic theories of a spontaneously creative "folk." These theories have had a fair trial; they have not stood up very well to the facts of literary history and experience, and it is perhaps time to move beyond them. An extreme reaction against the primitive view, at one time associated with the "art for art's sake" catchword, thinks of art in precisely the opposite terms, as a mystery, an initiation into an esoterically civilized community.’
He says that criticism plays an important role in literature. It is due to criticism that Shakespeare and Keats have revived and their popularity is enduring and sustaining. Frye says, ‘There is another reason why criticism has to exist. Criticism can talk, and all the arts are dumb. In painting, sculpture, or music it is easy enough to see that the art shows forth, but cannot say anything. And, whatever it sounds like to call the poet inarticulate or speechless, there is a most important sense in which poems are as silent as statues’. To him, criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge existing in its own right, with some measure of independence from the art it deals. According to Northrop Frye, literature is a language, and a language itself represents no truth, but it does provide means to express the truth in its own right.
Chapter One: Theory of Modes
Theory of Modes is Frye’s first essay in Anatomy of Criticism. In this essay, Frye articulates a theory of literature in terms of its level of realism, noting that this can exist in several degrees, which Frye expresses in terms of characters' relation of power to ordinary people and to the world. On the one extreme, we have myth, with gods who are nearly omnipotent, and on the other irony, with characters that are helpless and ineffectual; born to suffer. The first mode that Frye discusses is fictional modes. Frye starts with the reference to Aristotle, In the second paragraph of the Poetics Aristotle speaks of the difference in works of fiction which are caused by the different elevations of the characters in them; but this reference has not received much attention from the critics.
Then he takes us to the concept of Five Heroes. The first one is divine personality and has omnipotent powers and is superior to all humanity. So to related the story about him must be a myth and it will have an important place in the world of literature. The man should also be superior in rank to other man in the environment and be marvelous in actions so that he can command attention and produce awe in other characters. But still be identified with other human beings. Frye states, ‘If superior in degree to other men but not to his natural environment, the hero is a leader. He has authority, passions, and powers of expression far greater than ours, but what he does is subject both to social criticism and to the order of nature. This is the hero of the high mimetic mode, of most epic and tragedy, and is primarily the kind of hero that Aristotle had in mind’. This superiority of the hero is important because if he is inferior, he will remind of bondage and absurdity which is not becoming of a human being.
Although, previously such considerations were supreme; but much of European fiction has lost this quality. There is also some romanticism in the hero and in the words of Northrop Frye, ‘thus Romanticism is a "sentimental" form of romance, and the fairy tale, for the most part, a "sentimental" form of folk tale. Also there is a general distinction between fictions in which the hero becomes isolated from his society, and fictions in which he is incorporated into it. This distinction is expressed by the words "tragic" and "comic" when they refer to aspects of plot in general and not simply to forms of drama’.
Furthermore; he discusses tragic fictional modes. According to him, stories may be called dionysiac; these are usually the stories of dying gods in which hero-like figures such Hercules and Orpheus are shown to be dying at the hands of various conditions. He even says that Christ dying on the cross and marking with the words "Why hast thou forsaken me?" a sense of his exclusion, as a divine being, from the society of the Trinity, all make up stories.
After tragic fictional modes, Frye discuss comic fictional modes. Frye says that the theme of comic fictional mode is integration of society which incorporates the central character. About mythical comedy, he says., ‘The mythical comedy corresponding to the death of the Dionysiac god is Apollonian, the story of how a hero is accepted by a society of gods. In classical literature the theme of acceptance forms part of the stories of Hercules, Mercury, and other deities who had a probation to go through, and in Christian literature it is the theme of salvation, or, in a more concentrated form, of assumption: the comedy that stands just at the end of Dante's Commedia.’ Northrop Frye discusses that the manner of romantic comedy corresponding to the elegiac situation can best be painted as idyllic and the best possible mode of narration is pastoral. In the words of Frye, ‘because of the social interest of comedy, the idyllic cannot equal the introversion of the elegiac, but it preserves the theme of escape from society to the extent of idealizing a simplified life in the country or on the frontier [the pastoral of popular modern literature is the Western story].’ The association with animal and vegetable world that we note in elegiac occurs in pleasant pastures and such imagery can be used for the theme of salvation.
Aristotle has previously discussed thematic modes much in his Poetics and elsewhere. Aristotle lists six aspects of poetry: three of them, melody, diction, and spectacle, form a group by themselves. The other three are mythos or plot, ethos, which includes both characters and setting, and dianoia or "thought.” Frye so far has been discussing fictional modes; of which Aristotle considers plot the soul of fiction or the shaping principle; even characters exist as functions of plot. Northrop Frye further says, ‘besides the internal fiction of the hero and his society, there is an external fiction which is a relation between the writer and the writer's society. Poetry may be as completely absorbed in its internal characters as it is in Shakespeare, or in Homer, where the poet himself simply points to his story and disappears, the second word of the Odyssey, moi, being all we get of him in that poem. But as soon as the poet's personality appears on the horizon, a relation with the reader is established which cuts across the story, and which may increase until there is no story at all apart from what the poet is conveying to his reader.’
Frye considers, in these cases, the internal fiction of primary interest. Thematic mode or actually ‘the thought’ are really important for the conceptual presentation of literature. Frye gives the example, ‘when a reader of a novel asks, "How is this story going to turn out?" he is asking a question about the plot, specifically about that crucial aspect of the plot which Aristotle calls discovery or anagnorisis. But he is equally likely to ask, "What's the point of this story?" This question relates to thought, and indicates that themes have their elements of discovery just as plots do.’
It is arguable that some works of literature are fictional and others are thematic in their point of view or literary perspective. But it is not so, works of literature constitute many elements as Frye contends, “there is no such thing as a fictional or a thematic work of literature, for all four ethical elements [ethical in the sense of relating to character], the hero, the hero's society, the poet and the poet's readers, are always at least potentially present. There can hardly be a work of literature without some kind of relation, implied or expressed, between its creator and its auditors.”
So it is established that every work of art has both the fictional and thematic mode and many more relative elements. Frye gives the example of few works of English classics and compares them to the modern novels and in terms of fictional and thematic modes. He says, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, is a novel named after its plot; Sense and Sensibility is named after its theme. But Fielding has as strong a thematic interest [revealed chiefly in the introductory chapters to the different books] as Jane Austen has in telling a good story. Both novels are strongly fictional in emphasis compared to Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Grapes of Wrath, where the plot exists primarily to illustrate the themes of slavery and migratory labor respectively. They in their turn are fictional in emphasis compared to The Pilgrim's Progress, and The Pilgrim's Progress is fictional in emphasis compared to an essay of Montaigne. We note that as we move from fictional to thematic emphasis, the element represented by the term mythos tends to mean increasingly "narrative" rather than "plot."
Concluding this chapter, Frye attains two important principles from his argument. One is that work of literature is a conception of a total body of vision that poets as a whole class are gifted with, a total body trying to include itself in a single encyclopedic form, which can be attempted by one poet if he is sufficiently learned or ambitious, or by a poetic school or tradition if the culture is sufficiently similar. The second principle is that there may be many types of episodic forms in any mode. In each mode, we attach a special prominence to the particular episodic form that seems to be the germ out of which the encyclopedia forms develop.
Chapter Two: Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols
Frye again begins the chapter with Aristotle’s Poetics and says that there is lack of technical vocabulary in Poetics. There has to be some difference between prose and poetry and this is what baffles Frye. He says, “one may discuss the question whether great works of prose deserve to be called poetry in some more extended sense, but the answer can only be a matter of taste in definitions. The attempt to introduce a value-judgment into a definition of poetry [e.g., "What, after all, do we mean by a poem--that is, something worthy of the name of poem?"] only adds to the confusion. So of course does the antique snobbery about the superiority of metre which has given "prosy" the meaning of tedious and "prosaic" the meaning of pedestrian. As often as I can, I use "poem" and its relatives by synecdoche, because they are short words; but where synecdoche would be confusing, the reader will have to put up with such cacophonous jargon as "hypothetical verbal structure" and the like”. The other issues lies in symbol which is a word which has been used in this essay to mean
any unit of any literary structure that can be isolated for critical attention. A word, a phrase, or an image used with some kind of special reference [which is what a symbol is usually taken to mean] are all symbols when they are distinguishable elements in critical analysis.
any unit of any literary structure that can be isolated for critical attention. A word, a phrase, or an image used with some kind of special reference [which is what a symbol is usually taken to mean] are all symbols when they are distinguishable elements in critical analysis.
In this sense, even letters and spelling of a writer forms part of symbolism. Criticism, by and large, is the work to identify, define and classify these symbols and that is what makes the definition of criticism itself. Since, there are different types of symbols, the art and job of a critic is not an easy one. There are many different levels at which symbols are to be studied. Northrop Fry says, “the conclusion that a work of literary art contains a variety or sequence of meanings seems inescapable. It has seldom, however, been squarely faced in criticism since the Middle Ages, when a precise scheme of literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogic meanings was taken over from theology and applied to literature. Today there is more of a tendency to consider the problem of literary meaning as subsidiary to the problems of symbolic logic and semantics. In what follows I try to work as independently of the latter subjects as I can, on the ground that the obvious place to start looking for a theory of literary meaning is in literature”.
The symbols too become polysemous i.e. of multiple meanings. It is a principle that works in meaning as Dante calls it. Due to multiplicity of meaning, critics are faced by troubles. Northrop Fry, “the modern student of critical theory is faced with a body of rhetoricians who speak of texture and frontal assaults, with students of history who deal with traditions and sources, with critics using material from psychology and anthropology, with Aristotelians, Coleridgians, Thomists, Freudians, Jungians, Marxists, with students of myths, rituals, archetypes, metaphors, ambiguities, and significant forms”. After we have found a number of meanings in symbols; as a result, we can either stop with a purely relative stance or a pluralistic attitude; or still go on and think that there is a finite number of critical methods to be adopted which means that all levels of meanings can be arranged and a hierarchical sequence be established. Northrop Fry contends in respect of the word ‘level’, the term "level" is used here only for convenience, and should not be taken as indicating any belief on my part in a series of degrees of critical initiation. Again, there is a general reservation to be made about the conception of polysemous meaning: the meaning of a literary work forms a part of a larger whole. In the previous essay we saw that meaning or dianoia was one of three elements, the other two being mythos or narrative and ethos or characterization. It is better to think, therefore, not simply of a sequence of meanings, but of a sequence of contexts or relationships in which the whole work of literary art can be placed, each context having its characteristic mythos and ethos as well as its dianoia or meaning. I call these contexts or relationships "phases."
He, at the end of the essay, gives the types of phases in symbols as Literal and Descriptive Phases which make up Symbol as Motif and as Sign. Formal Phase which works for Symbol as Image, Mythical Phase serving Symbol as Archetype and Anagogic Phase which means Symbol as Monad.
Essay Three: Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths
The third essay is what presents a complete theory of archetypal criticism. Frye presents his thesis with the example of a picture or a painting and says that a picture is about thing i.e. it depicts something; but at the same time; it is made up of a number of structural elements which are organized in a certain manner. These may be called the design elements which make up a picture apart from the things the picture represents. What Frye discusses is Content and Form. Northrop Frye says, “The words "content" and "form" are often employed to describe these complementary aspects of painting. "Realism" connotes an emphasis on what the picture represents; stylization, whether primitive or sophisticated, connotes an emphasis on pictorial structure. Extreme realism or the illusive or trompe l'oeil type is about as far as the painter can go in one kind of emphasis; abstract, or, more strictly, non-objective painting is about as far as he can go in the other direction. 'The phrase "non-representational painting" seems to me illogical, a painting being itself a representation.' The illusive painter however cannot escape from pictorial conventions, and non-objective painting is still an imitative art in Aristotle's sense, and so we may say without much fear of effective contradiction that the whole art of painting lies within a combination of pictorial "form" or structure and pictorial "content" or subject.”
But picture should be real and at the same time, in accordance with the conventions of the time and the tradition. In doing so, originality does not mean make an artistic different rather it makes him more and more conventional and art moulds the artist in its own way. Northrop Frye comments, “The possession of originality cannot make an artist unconventional; it drives him further into convention, obeying the law of the art itself; which seeks constantly to reshape itself from its own depths, and which works through its geniuses for metamorphosis, as it works through minor talents for mutation”
While painting drives man more into conventionality despite its originality, music plays a different role. Northrop Frye says, “Music affords a refreshing contrast to painting in its critical theory. When perspective was discovered in painting, music might well have gone in a similar direction, but in fact the development of representational or "program" music has been severely restricted. Listeners may still derive pleasure from hearing external sounds cleverly imitated in music, but no one asserts that a composer is being a decadent or a charlatan if he fails to produce such imitations. Nor is it believed that these imitations are prior in importance to the forms of music itself, still less that they constitute those forms. The result is that the structural principles of music are clearly understood, and can be taught even to children”.
Frye is in search of certain structures which make up literature and let’s see what he states about the purpose of his book, “ In this book we are attempting to outline a few of the grammatical rudiments of literary expression, and the elements of it that correspond to such musical elements as tonality, simple and compound rhythm, canonical imitation and the like. The aim is to give a rational account of some of the structural principles of Western literature in the context of its Classical and Christian heritage. We are suggesting that the resources of verbal expression are limited, if that is the word, by the literary equivalents of rhythm and key, though that does not mean, any more than it means in music that its resources are artistically exhaustible. We doubtless have objectors similar to those just imagined for music, saying that our categories are artificial, that they do not do justice to the variety of literature, or that they are not relevant to their own experiences in reading. However, the question of what the structural principles of literature actually are seems important enough to discuss; and, as literature is an art of words, it should be at least as easy to find words to describe them as to find such words as sonata or fugue in music”.
After giving a number of literary and artistic examples from classical works in search of certain archetypes. Northrop Frye says, “We begin our study of archetypes, then, with a world of myth, an abstract or purely literary world of fictional and thematic design, unaffected by canons of plausible adaptation to familiar experience. In terms of narrative, myth is the imitation of actions near or at the conceivable limits of desire. The gods enjoy beautiful women, fight one another with prodigious strength, comfort and assist man, or else watch his miseries from the height of their immortal freedom. The fact that myth operates at the top level of human desire does not mean that it necessarily presents its world as attained or attainable by human beings. In terms of meaning or dianoia, myth is the same world looked at as an area or field of activity, bearing in mind our principle that the meaning or pattern of poetry is a structure of imagery with conceptual implications. The world of mythical imagery is usually represented by the conception of heaven or
Paradise in religion, and it is apocalyptic, in the sense of that word already explained, a world of total metaphor, in which everything is potentially identical with everything else, as though it were all inside a single infinite body”.
According to Frye, myth, then, is one extreme of literary design; naturalism is the other, and in between lies the whole area of romance, using that term to mean, not the historical mode of the first essay, but the tendency, noted later in the same essay, to displace myth in a human direction and yet, in contrast to "realism," to conventionalize content in an idealized direction. The central principle of displacement is that what can be metaphorically identified in a myth can only be linked in romance by some form of simile: analogy, significant association, incidental accompanying imagery, and the like. In a myth we can have a sun-god or a tree-god; in a romance we may have a person who is significantly associated with the sun or trees. In more realistic modes the association becomes less significant and more a matter of incidental, even coincidental or accidental, imagery. In the dragon-killing legend of the St. Goerge and Perseus family, of which more hereafter, a country under an old feeble king is terrorized by a dragon who eventually demands the King's daughter, but is slain by the hero. This seems to be a romantic analogy [perhaps also, in this case, a descendant] of a myth of a waste land restored to life by a fertility god. In the myth, then, the dragon and the old king would be identified. We can in fact concentrate the myth still further into an Oedipus fantasy in which the hero is not the old king's son-in-law but his son, and the rescued damsel the hero's mother. If the story were a private dream such identifications would be made as a matter of course. But to make it a plausible, symmetrical, and morally acceptable story a good deal of displacement is necessary, and it is only after a comparative study of the story type has been made that the metaphorical structure within it begins to emerge.
This affinity between the mythical and the abstractly literary illuminates many aspects of fiction, especially the more popular fiction which is realistic enough to be plausible in its incidents and yet romantic enough to be a "good story," which means a clearly designed one. The introduction of an omen or portent, or the device of making a whole story the fulfillment of a prophecy given at the beginning, is an example. Such a device suggests, in its existential projection, a conception of ineluctable fate or hidden omnipotent will. Actually, it is a piece of pure literary design, giving the beginning some symmetrical relationship with the end, and the only ineluctable will involved is that of the author. Hence we often find it even in writers not temperamentally much in sympathy with the portentous. In Anna Karenina, for instance, the death of the railway porter in the opening book is accepted by Anna as an omen for herself. Similarly, if we find portents and omens in Sophocles, they are there primarily because they fit the structure of this type of dramatic tragedy, and prove nothing about any clear-cut beliefs in fate held by either dramatist or audience.
We have, then, three organizations of myths and archetypal symbols in literature. First, there is undisplaced myth, generally concerned with gods or demons, and which takes the form of two contrasting worlds of total metaphorical identification, one desirable and the other undesirable. These worlds are often identified with the existential heavens and hells of the religious contemporary with such literature. These two forms of metaphorical organization we call the apocalyptic and the demonic respectively. Second, we have the general tendency we have called romantic, the tendency to suggest implicit mythical patterns in a world more closely associated with human experience. Third, we have the tendency of "realism" [my distaste for this inept term is reflected in the quotation marks] to throw the emphasis on content and representation rather than on the shape of the story. Ironic literature begins with realism and tends toward myth, its mythical patterns being as a rule more suggestive of the demonic than of the apocalyptic, though sometimes it simply continues the romantic tradition of stylization. Hawthorne, Poe, Conrad, Hardy and Virginia Wolf all provide examples.
In looking at a picture, we may stand close to it and analyze the details of brush work and palette knife. This corresponds roughly to the rhetorical analysis of the new critics in literature. At a little distance back, the design comes in to clearer view, and we study rather the content represented: this is the best distance for realistic Dutch pictures, for example, where we are in a sense reading the picture. The further back we go, the more conscious we are of the organizing design. At a great distance from, say, a Madonna, we can see nothing but the archetype of the Madonna, a large centripetal blue mass with a contrasting point of interest at its center. In the criticism of literature, too, we often have to "stand back" from the poem to see its archetypal organization. If we "stand back" from Spenser's Mutabilitie Cantoes, we see a background of ordered circular light and a sinister black mass thrusting up into the lower foreground--much the same archetypal shape that we see in the opening of the book of Job. If we "stand back" from the beginning of the fifth act of Hamlet, we see a grave opening on the stage, the hero, his enemy, and the heroine descending into it, followed by a fatal struggle in the upper world. If we "stand back" from a realistic novel such as Tolstoy's Resurrection or Zola's Germinal, we can see the mythopoetic designs indicated by those titles. Other examples will be given in what follows.
We proceed to give an account first of the structure of imagery, or dianoia, of the two undisplaced worlds, the apocalyptic and the demonic, drawing heavily on the Bible, the main source for undisplaced myth in our tradition. Then we go on to the two intermediate structures of imagery, and finally to the generic narratives or mythoi which are these structures of imagery in movement.
Essay Four: Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres
Genre is the approach to divide the various branches and types of literature. It is like diagramming a complex piece of art. This diagramming is similar to the system found in Aristotle’s Poetics. This is the division of "the good" into three main areas, of which the world of art, beauty, feeling, and taste is the central one, and is flanked by two other worlds. One is the world of social action and events, the other the world of individual thought and ideas. Reading from left to right, this threefold structure divides human faculties into will, feeling, and reason. It divides the mental constructs which these faculties produce into history, art, and science and philosophy. It divides the ideals which form compulsions or obligations on these faculties into law, beauty, and truth. Poe gives his version of the diagram [right to left] as Pure Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense, "I place Taste in the middle," said Poe, "because it is just this position which in the mind it occupies." Until someone can refute this admirable explanation, we shall retain the traditional structure. True, we have hinted that there may be another way of looking at it in which the middle world is not simply one of three but a Trinity containing them all. But as yet the simpler conception has by no means exhausted its usefulness for us.
Similarly, we have portrayed the poetic symbol as intermediate between event and idea, example and precept, ritual and dream, and have finally displayed it as Aristotle's ethos, human nature and the human situation, between and made up of mythos and dianoia, which are verbal imitations of action and thought respectively. There is however still another aspect of the same diagram. The world of social action and event, the world of time and process, has a particularly close association with the ear. The ear listens, and the ear translates what it hears into practical conduct. The world of individual thought and idea has a correspondingly close association with the eye, and nearly all our expressions for thought, from the Greek theoria down, are connected with visual metaphors. Further, not only does art as a whole seem to be central to events and ideas, but literature seems in a way to be central to the arts. [p. 243] It appeals to the ear, and so partakes of the nature of music, but music is a much more concentrated art of the ear and of the imitative perception of time. Literature appeals to at least the inner eye, and so partakes of the nature of the plastic arts, but the plastic arts, especially painting, are much more concentrated on the eye and on the spatial world. We notice that Aristotle gives a list of six elements of poetry, three of which, mythos, ethos and dianoia, we have been considering. The other three, melos, lexis, and opsis [spectacle], deal with this second aspect of the same diagram. Considered as verbal structure, literature presents a lexis which combines two other elements: melos, an element analogous to or otherwise connected with music, and opsis, which has a similar connection with the plastic arts. The word lexis itself may be translated "diction" when we are thinking of it as a narrative sequence of sounds caught by the ear, and as "imagery" when we are thinking of it as forming simultaneous pattern of meaning apprehended in an act of mental "vision." This second or rhetorical aspect of literature we must now turn to examine. It is an aspect which returns us to the "literal" level of narrative and meaning, the context that Ezra Pound has in mind when he speaks of the three qualities of poetic creation as melopoeia, logopoeia, and phanopoeia. The terms musical and pictorial are often employed figuratively in literary criticism, and we shall attempt among other things to see how much genuine sense they make as critical terms.
The word "rhetoric" reminds us of yet another triad: the traditional division of studies based on words into a "trivium" of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. While grammar and logic have become the names of specific sciences, they also retain something of a more general connection with the narrative and significant aspects respectively of all verbal structure. As grammar may be called the art of ordering words, there is a sense--a literal sense--in which grammar and narrative are the same thing; as logic may be called the art of producing meaning, there is a sense in which logic and meaning are the same thing. The second part of this sentence is more traditional and hence more familiar. There is no historical justification for the first part, as the art of constructing narrative ["invention," "disposition," and the like] has traditionally formed a part of rhetoric. Let us, however, in spite of history, begin with an association between narrative and grammar, grammar being understood primarily as syntax or getting words in the right [narrative] order, and between logic and meaning, logic being understood primarily as words arranged in a pattern with significance. Grammar is the linguistic aspect of a verbal structure; logic is the "sense" which is the permanent common factor in translation.
What we have been calling assertive, descriptive, or factual writing tends to be, or attempts to be, a direct union of grammar and logic. An argument cannot be logically correct unless it is verbally correct, the right words chosen and the proper syntactical relations among them established. Nor does a verbal narrative communicate anything to a reader unless it has continuous significance. In assertive writing, therefore, there seems to be little place for any such middle term as rhetoric, and in fact we often find that among philosophers, scientists, jurists, critics, historians, and theologians, rhetoric is looked upon with some distrust.
Rhetoric has from the beginning meant two things: ornamental speech and persuasive speech. These two things seem psychologically opposed to each other, as the desire to ornament is essentially disinterested, and the desire to persuade essentially the reverse. In fact ornamental rhetoric is inseparable from literature itself, or w hat we have called the hypothetical verbal structure which exists for its own sake. Persuasive rhetoric is applied literature, or the use of literary art to reinforce the power of argument. Ornamental rhetoric acts on its hearers statically, leading them to admire its own beauty or wit; persuasive rhetoric tries to lead them kinetically toward a course of action. One articulates emotion; the other manipulates it. And whatever we decide about the ultimate literary status of oratory, there seems little doubt that ornamental rhetoric is the lexis or verbal texture of poetry. Aristotle remarks, when he comes to lexis in the Poetics, that that subject belongs more properly to rhetoric. We may, then, adopt the following tentative postulate: that if the direct union of grammar and logic is characateristic of non-literary verbal structures, literature may be described as the rhetorical organization of grammar and logic. Most of the features characteristic of literary form, such as rhyme, alliteration, metre, antithetical balance, the use of exempla, are also rhetorical schemata.
The psychology of creation is not our theme, but it must happen very rarely that a writer sits down to write without any notion of what he proposes to produce. In the poet's mind, then, some kind of controlling and coordinating power, what Coleridge called the [p. 245] "initiative," establishes itself very early, gradually assimilates everything to itself, and finally reveals itself to be the containing from of the work. This initiative is clearly not a unit but a complex of factors. The theme is one such factor; the sense of the unity of mood which makes certain images appropriate and others not is another. If what is produced is to be a poem in a regular meter, the metre will be a third: if not, some other integrating rhythm will be present. We remarked earlier, too, that the poet's intention to produce a poem normally includes the genre, the intention of producing a specific kind of verbal structure. The poet thus is incessantly deciding that certain things, whether they can be critically accounted for by himself or not, belong in his structure, and that what he cuts out in revising does not, though it may be good enough in itself to belong somewhere else. But as the structure is complex, so these decisions relate to a variety of poetic elements, or a group of initiatives. Of these, theme and the choice of images engaged our attention in the previous essay; genre and the integrating rhythm concern us here.
We complained in our introduction that the theory of genres was an undeveloped subject in criticism. We have the three generic terms drama, epic, and lyric, derived from the Greeks, but we use the latter two chiefly as jargon or trade slang for long and short [or shorter] poems respectively. The middle-sized poem does not even have a jargon term to describe it, and any long poem gets to be called an epic, especially if it is divided into a dozen or so parts, like Browning's Ring and the Book. This poem takes a dramatic structure, a triangle of jealous husband, patient wife, and chivalrous lover involved in a murder trial with courtroom and death-house scenes, and works it all out through the soliloquies of the characters. It is an astounding tour de force, but we can fully appreciate this only when we see it as generic experiment in drama, a drama turned inside out, as it were. Similarly, we call Shelley's Ode to the West Wind a lyric, perhaps because it is a lyric; if we hesitate to call Epipsychidion a lyric, and have no idea what it is, we can always call it the product of an essentially lyrical genius. It is shorter than the Iliad, and there's an end of it.
However, the origin of the words drama, epic, and lyric suggests that the central principle of genre is simple enough. The basis of generic distinctions in literature appears to be the radical of presentation. Words may be acted in front of a spectator; they may be spoken in front of a listener; they may be sung or chanted; or they may be written for a reader. Criticism, we note resignedly in passing, has no word for the individual member of an author's audience, and the word "audience" itself does not really cover all genres, as it is slightly illogical to describe the readers of a book as an audience. The basis of generic criticism in any case is rhetorical, in the sense that the genre is determined by the conditions established between the poet and his public.
We have to speak of the radical of presentation if the distinctions of acted, spoken, and written word are to mean anything in the age of the printing press. One may print a lyric or read a novel aloud, but such incidental changes are not enough in themselves to alter the genre. For all the loving care that is rightfully expended on the printed texts of Shakespeare's plays, they are still radically acting scripts, and belong to the genre of drama. If a Romantic poet gives his poem a dramatic form, he may not expect or even want any stage representation; he may think entirely in terms of print and readers; he may even believe, like many Romantics, that the stage drama is an impure form because of the limitations it puts on individual expression. Yet the poem is still being referred back to some kind of theatre, however much of a castle in the air. A novel is written, but when Conrad employs a narrator to help him tell his story, the genre of the written word is being assimilated to that of the spoken one.
The question of how we are to classify such a novel is less important than the recognition of the fact that two different radicals of presentation exist in it. It might be thought simpler, instead of using the term radical, to say that the generic distinctions are among the ways in which literary works are ideally presented, whatever the actualities are. But
, for example, seems to have no ideal of reciter and audience in mind for Paradise Lost; he seems content to leave it, in practice, a poem to be read in a book. When he uses the convention of invocation, thus bringing the poem into the genre of the spoken word, the significance of the convention is to indicate what tradition his work primarily belongs to and what its closest affinities are with. The purpose of criticism by genres is not so much to classify as to clarify such traditions and affinities, thereby bringing out a large number of literary relationships that would not be noticed as long as there were no context established for them. Milton
The genre of the spoken word and the listener is very difficult to describe in English, but part of it is what the Greeks meant by the phrase ta epe, poems intended to be recited, not necessarily epics of the conventional jumbo size. Such "epic" material does not have to be in metre, as the prose tale and the prose oration are important spoken forms. The difference between metre and prose is evidently not in itself a generic difference, as the example of drama shows, though it tends to become one. In this essay I use the word "epos" to describe works in which the radical of presentation is oral address, keeping the word epic for its customary use as the name of the form of the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, and Paradise Lost. Epos thus takes in all literature, in verse or prose, which makes some attempt to preserve the convention of recitation and a listening audience.
The Greeks gave us the names of three of our four genres: they did not give us a word for the genre that addresses a reader through a book, and naturally we have not invented one of our own. The nearest to it is "history," but this word, in spite of Tom Jones, has gone outside literature, and the Latin "scripture" is too specialized in meaning. As I have to have some word, I shall make an arbitrary choice of "fiction" to describe the genre of the printed page. I know that I used this word in the first essay in a different context, but it seems better to compromise with the present confused terminology than to increase the difficulties of this book by introducing too many new terms. The analogy of the keyboard in music may illustrate the difference between fiction and other genres which for practical purposes exist in books. A book, like a keyboard, is a mechanical device for bringing an entire artistic structure under the interpretive control of a single person. But just as it is possible to distinguish genuine piano music from the piano score of an opera or symphony, so we may distinguish genuine "book literature" from books containing the reduced textural scores of recited or acted pieces.
The connection between a speaking poet and a listening audience, which may be actual in Homer or Chaucer, soon becomes increasingly theoretical, and as it does so epos passes insensibly into fiction. One may even suggest, not quite seriously, that the legendary figure of the blind bard, which is used so effectively by
, indicates that the draft toward an unseen audience sets in very early. But whenever the same material does duty for both genres, the distinction between the genres becomes immediately apparent. The chief distinction, though not a simple one of length, is involved with the fact that epos is episodic and fiction continuous. The novels of Dickens are, as books, fiction; as serial publications in a magazine designed for family reading, they are still fundamentally fiction, though closer to epos. But when Dickens began to give readings from his own works, the genre changed wholly to epos; the emphasis was then thrown on immediacy of effect before a visible audience. Milton
In drama, the hypothetical or internal characters of the story confront the audience directly, hence the drama is marked by the concealment of the author from his audience. In very spectacular drama, such as we get in many movies, the author is of relatively little importance. Drama, like music, is an ensemble performance for an audience, and music and drama are most likely to flourish in a society with a strong consciousness of itself as a society, like Elizabethan England. When a society becomes individualized and competitive, like Victorian England, music and drama suffer accordingly, and the written word almost monopolizes literature. In epos, the author confronts his audience directly, and the hypothetical characters of his story are concealed. The author is still theoretically there when he is being represented by a rhapsode or minstrel, for the latter speaks as the poet, not as a character in the poem. In written literature both the author and his characters are concealed from the reader.
The fourth possible arrangement, the concealment of the poet's audience from the poet, is presented in the lyric. There is, as usual, no word for the audience of the lyric: what is wanted is something analogous to "chorus" which does not suggest simultaneous presence or dramatic context. The lyric is, to go back to Mill's aphorism referred to at the beginning of this book, preeminently the utterance that is overheard. The lyric poet normally pretends to be talking to himself or to someone else: a spirit of nature, a Muse [note the distinction from epos, where the Muse speaks through the poet], a personal friend, a lover, a god, a personified abstraction, or a natural object. The lyric is, as Stephen Dedalus says in Joyce's Portrait, the poet presenting the image in relation to himself: it is to epos, rhetorically, as prayer is to sermon. The radical of [p. 249] presentation in the lyric is the hypothetical form of what in religion is called the "I-Thou" relationship. The poet, so to speak, turns his back on his listeners, though he may speak for them, and though they may repeat some of his words after him.
Epos and fiction make up the central area of literature, and are flanked by the drama on one side and by the lyric on the other. Drama has a peculiarly intimate connection with ritual, and lyric with dream or vision, the individual communing with himself. We said at the beginning of this book that there is no such thing as direct address in literature, but direct address is natural communication, and literature may imitate it as it may imitate anything else in nature. In epos, where the poet faces his audience, we have a mimesis of direct address. Epos and fiction first take the form of scripture and myth, then of traditional tales, then of narrative and didactic poetry, including the epic proper, and of oratorical prose, then of novels and other written forms. As we progress historically through the five modes, fiction increasingly overshadows epos, and as it does, the mimesis of direct address changes to a mimesis of assertive writing. This in its turn, with the extremes of documentary or didactic prose, becomes actual assertion, and so passes out of literature.
The lyric is an internal mimesis of sound and imagery, and stands opposite the external mimesis, or outward representation of sound and imagery, which is drama. Both forms avoid the mimesis of direct address. The characters in a play talk to each other, and are theoretically talking to themselves in an aside or soliloquy. Even if they are conscious of an audience, they are not speaking for the poet, except in special cases like the parabasis of Old Comedy or the prologues and epilogues of the rococo theatre, where there is an actual generic change from drama to epos. In Bernard Shaw the comic parabasis is transferred from the middle of the play to a separate prose preface, which is a change from drama to fiction.
In epos some kind of comparatively regular metre tends to predominate: even oratorical prose shows many metrical features, both in its syntax and in its punctuation. In fiction prose tends to predominate, because only prose has the continuous rhythm appropriate for the continuous from of the book. Drama has no controlling rhythm peculiar to itself, but it is most closely related to epos in the earlier modes and to fiction in the later ones. In the lyric a rhythm which is poetic but not necessarily metrical tends to predominate. We proceed to examine each genre in turn with a view to discovering what its chief features are. As in what immediately follows we are largely concerned with diction and linguistic elements, we must limit our survey mainly to a specific language, which will be English: this means that a good deal of what we say will be true only of English, but it is hoped that the main principles can be adapted to other languages as well.