The Great Code
Author/Artist: Northrop Frye
Publisher: Harvest Books
An examination of the influence of the Bible on Western art and literature and on the Western creative imagination in general. Frye persuasively presents the Bible as a unique text distinct from all other epics and sacred writings. "No one has set forth so clearly, so subtly, or with such cogent energy as Frye the literary aspect of our biblical heritage" (New York Times Book Review). Indices.
In Frye We Trust
"The Great Code" reflects a lifetime's thinking about the patterns and meanings of the Bible, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a page that doesn't contain some nugget of insight--my copy's covered in Papermate blue! Frye's central point is that the Bible's best read as a complex ecology of types: the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, for instance, have less to do with his actual deeds and words, however much our modern idea of history would like them to, than squaring his life with Old Testament 'anticipations.' In Frye's view, Jesus scarcely sneezes without invoking a line from the Old Testament, a fact that points to the essentally literary organization of the Bible. That's not to say the Bible's "merely" literature--on the contrary, Frye wants to show how it expands our sense of what literature and myth really mean. Meanwhile, he injects on the sly an attractive theology of his own. Literature like the Bible provides the types for us--the chain of typological anticipations doesn't culminate in Israel or Jesus or Revelation, but continues into our own lives, waking us up to our radical freedom.
My major disappointment with the book is that it grandly ignores Jacques Derrida and the deconstructionist critique of Frye's assumptions about the relationship between language and life, Word and presence. He mentions Derrida in the intro (the book appeared in 1981) and hints at a counterargument, but I would have liked to see him follow through, since their brand of criticism aims squarely at Frye's type of reading. Those with a more historical interest in the Bible will also balk at Frye's acceptance of the book as a unity, endorsing the misreading that turned the rich and varied texts of the Hebrew Torah into a vast typological waiting room for the Christian Messiah.
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