Saturday, December 16, 2006

Integral Literary Criticism, Part 1

I've been toying with the idea of an integral model of literary criticism ever since I first read Ken Wilber back in college. At the time, I had no idea how to formulate such a model and what it might entail.

With the publication of Integral Spirituality, and before that the excerpts from Volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy (especially Excerpt D), there is finally a model that feels capable of handling the task. The quadrant model on its own is unable to account for all the various approaches one may take to a text, but with the addition of zones there is now a comprehensive framework by which to include all the various critical models.

I want to say up front that this is a tentative approach to the idea -- and that I am hoping to hear from other integral thinkers on this topic. One need not be terribly familiar with literary criticism, although that would help, but more importantly I want to be sure that I am fully understanding Wilber's new model. Integral Methodological Pluralism is not merely a big phrase -- it's a complex idea that I am not sure I fully grasp.

Literary criticism has as its goal the task of making the text more available to the reader. In order to do so, many different approaches have been developed that each claims to offer the most effective entry into the meaning of a given text. As Wilber might say, each is true but partial. However, some approaches offer more to a reader than others, and this is where literary theory gets messy.

To me, and to readers such as Camille Paglia, the text itself holds primacy over all else. With this in mind, the text is the "ground" upon which we might superimpose the quadrant model. We may look at a given text through the prism of each individual quadrant, and, of course, the text exists in each quadrant.

We gain a great deal, however, by adding the inside and outside "views" to each quadrant. As a human creation, the text is a report of sorts on some aspect of human experience (the inside), but it also exists in space and time (the outside).

So, in this first exploration, I want to try to outline in broad terms the individual quadrants and how we might read a text within those "zones."

I'm using Wilber's older charts because I can't find the newer versions on the web. In the newer versions, the plural zones are numbered 5-8 rather than 1-4 as pictured here.

Beginning with the singular or individual:

Zone 1: When we approach the interior-individual of a literary work, we are looking at what the narrator tells us about his or her experience, what is revealed in the text about her or his psyche. All texts have a narrator that may or may not be the poet or novelist. [Drama may be a huge exception here, and since I know very little about drama I have no idea how it might fit, or not fit, within this model.] In this view we are examining the first-person approach to a first-person experience of reality, the inside of an I

Zone 2: We can distinguish between the narrator and the author on many occasions, and this only adds to the depth of the work. We just as well examine what the text might reveal about the author as we can what it might reveal about the narrator. From this view, we are not as concerned about what the experience of the author or narrator might be, but with how we might take a third-person approach to the first person experience presented in the text.

Zone 3: This is the story, novel, or the text of the poem. When looking at Zone 1, we are concerned with what the text says, the information presented. In a story or novel, we can outline the plot points; in a poem we can look at what it says, literally. In this view we are concerned with insides of the text as seen from the outside, what Wilber describes as a third-person approach to a first-person reality.

Zone 4: In Zone 2 we look at the language, the diction, the structure, or anything that we can analyze from the outside without being concerned with meaning. In a poem, we can look at diction, rhythm, line structure, rhyme scheme if it exists, stanzas, and so on, all of which tells us a great deal about the poem. We are taking a third-person view on a third-person reality, the outside of the text.

If we only employed these four views, we have a good deal of information about the text, but we would be lacking just as much. We also need to include the collective or plural realm in which the text exists.

I'm still puzzling out these last two quadrants, but I hope to have the next post up soon. Once I have the broad outlines in place, I hope to loot at each view or zone a little more in-depth.

In the meantime, I welcome comments and criticisms, and most of all, suggestions from anyone who sees theoretical errors in my understanding of Wilber's model.


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