Apocryphalibrarians

| November 15, 2012

Yet there is one point at which Frye’s literary and religious worlds do meet: both are in fact bibliocentric worlds. In his chapter [in The Anatomy of Criticism) on ‘encyclopedic forms’, Frye considers the Bible (Old and New Testaments) as a complete archetypal structure, and also as a compendium of all the modes, symbols, and myths of world literature. From the point of view of literary criticism, the objection might be raised against him that the Bible is not a book, but a library. That is, it is a selection of books placed after one another, which are given particular significance as a whole, and around which we place all other possible books.

The notion of a ‘library’ is not part of Frye’s terminology, but it might well be added to it. Literature is not composed simply of books but of libraries, systems in which the various epochs and traditions arrange their ‘canonical’ texts and their ‘apocryphal’ ones. Within these systems each work is different from what it would be in isolation or in  another library. A library can have a restricted catalogue, or it can tend to become a universal library, though it is always expanding around a core of ‘canonical’ books. This is the place where the center of gravity resides, marking off one library from another even more than the catalogue. The idea library that I would like to see is one that gravitates toward the outside, toward the ‘apocryphal’ books, in the etymological sense of the word: that is, ‘hidden’ books. Literature is a search for the book hidden in the distance that alters the value and meaning of the known books; it is the pull toward the new apocryphal text still to be rediscovered or invented.

Italo Calvino, “Literature as a Projection of Desire” in Patrick Creagh (trans.), The Uses of Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), p.60-61.