What are some strands of prior thought which may have influenced Poulet’s thought?
--study of consciousness, as inherited from Wilhelm Dilthey’s methodology of the human sciences as rendered possible by Verstehen
--other phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl, who attempted to lay out a series of processes, logical and otherwise, by which we may examine the relationship between subjects and objects; one can see analogies in turn-of–the century studies of consciousness by Henri Bergson, whose Creative Evolution (1907) expounded the view that understanding could not be derived by logic alone but by an investigation of the life-experience.
What is the effect of the essay’s opening image of an open book on the table? (1320) How does Poulet interpret its significance, and its contrast with the perception of other objects such as a vase or a statue? (“You are inside it; it is inside you; there is no longer either outside or inside,” 1321)
Might anyone have taken issue with his claim that a vase and statue both lack an interiority?
What does it mean to say that a book is an “interior object” (1321)? (dependent on reader’s consciousness, 3121) Might such a claim apply to other forms of art/media in addition to a book?
As one reads a work of fiction or another literary work, how does the relationship between subject and object alter? (this opposition is attenuated, 1322; the literary work becomes a subjectified object)
What can it mean to say that, “I think the thoughts of another as my own” (1322)? Can this be entirely true?
What internal split or gap is caused by the process of reading?
--reading bestows a subject which is not the reader’s own, “Whenever I read, I mentally pronounce an I, and yet the I which I pronounce is not myself” (1323); “I am on loan to another, and this other thinks, feels, suffers, and acts within me” (1323).
--“a lag takes place. . . a confused awareness of delay, so that the work seems first to think by itself, and then to inform me what it has thought” (1325).
How does this view resemble the claims of reader-response theorists such as Jauss or Iser?
Why does the critic feel a sense of surprise or astonishment? (“I am a consciousness astonished by an existence which is not mine, but which I experience as though it were mine,” 1323)
According to Poulet, what happens when a reader is “possessed” by a book, such as a detective thriller”? (“a second self takes over, a self which thinks and feels for me,” 1324) Might there be other ways of interpreting this phenomenon?
What, according to Poulet, is the relationship between an author’s writings and his/her biography? What aspects of the work are not explained by the life? How can the work enable us to understand the life? (“Nothing external to the work could possibly share the extraordinary claim which the work now exerts on me,”
1324. “And it is the work, finally, which, not satisfied thus with defining the content of my consciousness, takes hold of it, appropriates it, and makes of it that I which, from one end of my reading to the other, presides over the unfolding of the work, of the single work which I am reading,” 1324) [Seems a quasi-mystical, almost theological approach]
What place does the knowledge of biography and historical circumstance hold in literary criticism? (indispensable, but prior)
What service does the reader provide for this overtaking consciousness? –“I give it not only existence, but awareness of existence” (1325) What is their relationship? –“He and I, we start having a common consciousness.”
How, by this theory, may we define a literary critic? (“the consciousness of a being who is allowed to apprehend as its own what is happening in the consciousness of another being,” 1326; a mirroring relationship, as each sees itself reflected in the other, 1326).
Yet an “identity within difference” remains; what are some of the possible varying relationships between the critic and his/her object(s)?
--critic may use senses to approach an ultimately veiled object, a form of criticism he believes is practiced by the French reviewer Jacques Riviere.
--critic may recreate or mimic “the apperceptual world of the author” by seeming to enter into its object, yet in its extreme, this form of criticism is “forever mired in its object” (1327) His example of this is the criticism of Jean-Pierre Richard, his fellow Geneva school critic.
--criticism may obliterate the object in the critical act, a stance he finds in the phenomenological criticism of Maurice Blanchot. “Everything is finally annexed by the dominion of a consciousness detached from any object, a hyper-critical consciousness, functioning all alone, somewhere in the void.”
What are the respective flaws of these two approaches, in his view?
--One achieves complicity without lucidity; the other achieves lucidity but at the expense of maintaining a separation from the work (1327); criticism thus oscillates between “a union without comprehension, and a comprehension without union.”
In what sense may the act of reading be said to deliver the reader from egocentricity? (1328)--provides for a “mysterious interrelationship.”
In what way may reading resemble a “fete champetre,” a moment in which all commune? What are some implications of this metaphor? What non-mental processes are evoked in reading? (a reading of bodies as well as minds, 1329, a form of living together, 1330; “But this farewell is exchanged by two beings who have begun by living together, and the one left behind continues to be illuminated by that critical intellect which moves on.”)
What place do an understanding of the formal qualities of a work and of the conventions of genre have in criticism? (approves of Raymond’s criticism for its effort to comprehend an inner experience and a perfected form, 1330)
How can one approach the study of a work’s organization without viewing it from an entirely structuralist point of view?
--“In short, there is no spider-web without a center which is the spider. On the other hand, it is not a question of going from the work to the psychology of the author, but of going back within the sphere of the work, from the objective elements systematically arranged, to a certain power of organization, inherent in the work itself, as it the latter showed itself to be an intentional consciousness determining its arrangements and solving its problems” (1331).
To what art historical approach does he compare this form of criticism?
--a study of the “life of forms,” both in their historical development and in their internal stabilizations and changes, 1332; i. e., a study of how genres merge and alter
--a study of “contradictory forces which are always at work in any literary writing, the will to stability and the protean impulse” (form and its shaping power), 1332
According to Poulet, criticism is concerned with the relationship between subject and object; how do the study "leading from the objects to the subject" and that leading "from the subject to the objects" come to resemble one another? (1332; the latter actually proceeds from subject to subject through the object)
What enables the critic to grasp the essence of an artist’s work, such as that of Tintoretto?
--“a essence I was not able to perceive, except when emptying my mind of all the particular images created by the artist” (1332)
What knowledge is the critic seeking in such interchanges? (a subject which reveals itself to itself . . . in its transcendence over all which is reflected in it,” 1333)
What are some distinguishing features of Poulet’s approach to literature? How does it differ from some of the other approaches we have encountered—Freudian, Saussurian, Marxist, etc.?
How might a Pouletian view of literature influence one’s choice of reading matter? One’s view toward the creation of a literary “canon” or canons?
What are some advantages and disadvantages of Poulet's views of the critical process?
Page numbers are from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001.