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Northrop Frye – The myth of concern and the society of neighbors

April 1, 2015

“In our society, the structure of initiatory education is a loose mixture of ideas, beliefs and assumptions, different in composition for each person, but not so different as to preclude communication on its own primarily social level. It forms a body of opinion which I call the mythology of concern. By a myth, in this context, I mean a body of knowledge assimilated to or informed by a general view of the human situation. …

One’s neighbor is the person with whom one has been linked by some kind of creative human act, whether of mercy or charity, as in the parable [of the Good Samaritan] itself; or by the intellect or the imagination, as with the teacher, scholar, or artist; or by love, whether spiritual or sexual. The society of neighbors, in this sense, is our real society; the society of all men, for whom we feel tolerance and good will rather than love, is in its background. …

In an ideal community there would be no alienation, in the sense used in Marx’s early writings: that is, one’s contribution to one’s community would not be embezzled, used by others at one’s expense. In such a community perhaps we could understand more clearly why even the tragic heroes of literature attempt to identify themselves with what they are remembered for having done. In the society that the mythology of concern ultimately visualizes, a man’s real self would consist primarily of what he creates and of what he offers. The scholar as man has all the moral dilemmas and confusions of other men, perhaps intensified by the particular kind of awareness that his calling give him. But qua scholar what he is is what he offers to his society, which is his scholarship. If he understands both the worth of the gift and the worth of what it is given for, he needs, so far as he is a scholar, no other moral guide.”

(from
The Morality of Scholarship, edited by Max Black [1967])

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