Archive for June 24th, 2008


The Romance of Summer

June 24, 2008

Do you know how some literary theories seem to stick in your head? They do. No, not the dreaded French literary theorists, whose goofy notions keep leaking out of my mind as fast as I try to cram them in. I was thinking about one of my favorites, now receded into the distant past — Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Admittedly, I was never able to get into a lot of the book, but one section resonated and has stayed with me: Frye’s four “mythoi” or generic plots.

Frye identified these four categories of narrative literature as:

  • Comedy – the mythos of spring
  • Romance – the mythos of summer
  • Tragedy – the mythos of autumn
  • Irony and Satire – the mythos of winter

This correlation between the structure of literature and the rhythm of nature is evocative. We read the natural world as a great story, for good or ill. Then, in Frye’s view, the themes of literature echo back the cycle of the seasons.

As Jim recently noted, we are now past the solstice and into the summer. Romance, in the literary sense — which Frye defines as “a sequence of marvellous adventures” — is waiting. It might mean a movie (just saw Iron Man, liked it). It might be a festival, a journey, or even a voyage. It might be an exciting tale still in the making. You never know, and that is the romance of it.

This entry was posted by: Nancy

Online Writing

June 24, 2008

Reading a short Slate piece this morning directed me to this essay on online writing/reading by Caleb Crain. Much of this essay addresses my own concerns and mirrors some of my own reflections on the topic (and I too have a personal blog that is rarely read, but serves as the inspiration for much of these reflections).

The observation here is particularly astute (or at least accurate to my own situation):

This willingness in readers to overlook form raises a question as to whether online writing entertains, in the traditional sense of the word. I am not sure that it does. Reading online does not seem to me to be a pleasure in itself but a response to irritation. That is, it is not like eating an ice cream cone; it is like scratching an itch. I am only reporting on my own feelings here, of course, but while I am doing so, let me report a further kink in them. Between us, my boyfriend and I subscribe to more than a dozen magazines, and if I pick one up, I know instantly that I am goofing off. Online reading, however, fails to set off my leisure detection system. Part of the failure may be perceptual—online reading takes place while I’m sitting in front of my laptop, immobilized, as I am when working. But I think, too, that online writing may, even in its supposedly silly moments, be covertly work-like: there is a fair amount of tedium in its unedited prose. Many of the jokes and references are only comprehensible to regular visitors. No one, my hit counter tells me, reads blogs on the weekend. And reading online prose is not refreshing. An action movie leaves the viewer juiced; a novel may leave the reader wistful. But reading blogs, in my experience, leaves me more addled and nervous than when I began. This work-like character makes the internet particularly corrosive , by the way, to the productivity of those who work at home, such as writers. Through web browsing, the freelancer communes with the procrastinating office drone—at his peril, because the freelancer receives no weekly paycheck.

This workiness is exaggerated in those who, like me, maintain personal blogs and work blogs. It confuses the line between work-related reading/writing and funtime-related reading/writing. Work becomes more enjoyable but leisure becomes more work-like blending together into seamless tedium. This is probably a situation not too far different than lifetime readers who pursue graduate literature degrees, but perhaps more detrimental in the way Crain describes above, the PhD student, afterall, can use leisurely reading in future research.