Featured Post


In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


"That Freud, Fairbairn, and Jung each reckon a different number of structures (and different structures) [of the psyche] indicates to me that they do not so much infer structures empirically as posit them theoretically... The procedure is deductive rather than inductive."-- Adams, THE FANTASY PRINCIPLE, p. 49.

"The first thing the literary critic has to do is to read literature, to make an inductive survey of his own field and let his critical principles shape themselves solely out of his knowledge of that field. Critical principles cannot be taken over ready-made from theology, philosophy, politics, science, or any combination of these."-- Northrop Frye, ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, p. 6-7.

Upon my finishing Michael Vannoy Adams' book I found some instructive, albeit rough, contrasts between the ways in which Adams and Frye use the term "inductive" as a term of approbation for their own methodologies.

Here I noted that Frye's ANATOMY was not ideal for sussing out the fine points of a genre/mythos like "adventure" because Frye's main concepts in AOC partake of the deductive method: of beginning with a generalization-- such as Aristotle's "power-of-action" concept-- and then applying that generalization to specific examples within a putative category. But in the passage from the introductory essay cited, Frye speaks of the critic's need to conduct an "inductive survey." I do not think that Frye is saying that the only logic in the ANATOMY is inductive, which it clearly is not. The word "inductive" is set up to oppose the tendency of critics then and now to deduce the meaning of a given literary work through reference to some extra-literary discipline, but is not a description of Frye's own methodology.

Immediately this reminds me of Adams' caution-- supported by copious citations from Jung's writings-- to the effect that one should not invoke such a "referential fallacy" in order to explain the individual psyche's fantasies, as (to take the obvious example) Freud does in explaining fantasies as repressed wish-dreams. So in this respect Frye and Adams are the same page: examine the phenomenon, be it a dream or a book, in terms of what it is, not what it looks like through an extrinsic lens.

Despite this common ground, however, Adams is clearly much more a one-sided champion of the inductive than Frye is, as one notices by his bracketing of "the inductive" with "the empirical" and "the deductive" with "the theoretical." Throughout THE FANTASY PRINCIPLE Adams shows himself an anti-doctrinaire Jungian, who quotes Jung in respect to Jung's valuation of fantasy but is conspicuously less approving of Jung's theoretical deductions about the general nature of the psyche. At the beginning of the chapter from which the quote is taken, Adams asks:

"Does Jungian analysis need a structural theory? Or can it do very well without one?"

I won't dwell on the reasons Adams gives for answering the questions "no" and "yes," respectively. It's clear that as a practicing psychotherapist, Adams is concerned with patients who require individualized psychological treatment, not a general theory of the psyche. Still, I believe that he is wrong to discount Jung's theoretical deductions, just as a practical engineer would be wrong to discount the disciplines of the theoretical physicist, even if the latter's theories could not be proven to have utilitarian benefit to humankind.

But although the adherents of psychology can argue that their discipline is more science than art-- whether it is or not-- literary criticism is in Frye's view both:

'The word "inductive" suggests some sort of scientific procedure. What if criticism is a science as well as an art? Not a "pure" or "exact" science, of course, but these phrases belong to a nineteenth-century cosmology which is no longer with us.'-- Frye, AOC, p. 7.

If one can assume from this that Frye would roughly agree with the associative logic of Adams' aforementioned bracketing, then Frye would probably assert that the good critic needs both inductive and deductive skills to do his job, whether the psychologist also does or not.

Adams surprises me in that he valorizes the function of fantasy as necessary to the maintenance of human life but adopts a stance that largely stops that function at the gates of the individual psyche, with only occasional references to its function with the symbolic universe that we call culture. Patently Jung hypothesized his "structures" to account for repeated patterns in culture as a whole, just as Frye calls for greater attention to repeated patterns in that part of culture we call literature. Naturally with such deductions there is always the possibility that the individual theorist may fall victim to hubris, of going beyond the bounds of what his theory may encompass. But in litcrit territory it's worth asking whether too great a concentration upon inductive methodologies amount to the critic's doing "too little" rather than "too much."

The latter state is pretty much where the formal criticism of the comics-medium resides at this historical moment, which I'll demonstrate further in another essay.

No comments: