Saturday, January 05, 2008

Talking books

I have just started reading The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye, and I can tell already that I am going to like this book a great deal.

The first chapter, entitled "The Motive for Metaphor" has already led me down familiar paths. I'm a huge fan of metaphor and analogy, and Frye is already very good at using word pictures to make abstract ideas clear. He sets the scenario of an individual shipwrecked on an uninhabited island to articulate the relationships that exists between the individual and the world around him. He divides the reactions toward the situation into intellectual ("There are some some banana trees! I wonder where the source of that stream is?") and emotional ("This is a beautiful place! How terrible that I've been shipwrecked all alone!") Both kinds of thinking, are, of course, valid, and Frye makes the further interesting observation that if your ship was a Western ship, you would have more faith in your intellectual observations, but if your ship (and consequently, you) were from the East, you would be more likely to trust your emotional perceptions of the world.

At the level of mere observation, emotions and intellect may alternate, but they are not combined. At this level, Science begins by accepting the facts, and, without trying to alter them, attempts to measure and describe what is observable. At the same level, Art begins by introducing the factor of "I want" or "I like" and does not entirely accept what is, but begins to imagine something more desirable.

At this point, action enters the scene, and you begin to build a shelter or plant a garden, and intellect and emotion are working together. What is important about life is no longer observer and subject, but what you do and what you want to do--necessity and freedom.

And this is where the conversation begins in my head, between Northrop Frye, David Hicks, Charlotte Mason, James Taylor, James Sire, Jacques Barzun, James Erskine and many others. I haven't even quite finished the first chapter, but I am already delighted that my reading has once again stepped into the circle of what Mortimer Adler called The Great Conversation. I am reminded of why it is a mistake to limit reading and study to current books on any given topic. It's like walking into a room where a conversation has been going on for several hours. No matter how much you think you understand, you are missing so much of what has gone before.

And THAT metaphor came from Jacques Barzun's Dawn to Decadance.

The books are talking...and I'm taking notes.


At 6:04 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

Yay, Frye! That was my favourite book in Grade 13.

At 8:44 PM , Blogger Melanie said...

I've just started The Educated Imagination as well - the first bit has been very intriguing. I'm enjoying his discussion of how literature raises the kinds of problems you don't solve!


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