JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

The tool: step 1

1 Aim of this module

The aim of this module is to develop a tool which is both as simple (even visually simple), but also as complete as possible. On the one hand this is self-evident (who wouldn't like to achieve as much as possible with as little effort as possible?), but on the other hand, philosophy has also given us a powerful argument for doing so. This argument appears as a paradox: it is a commonplace in critical debate that

In fiction we thus get complex and complete worlds, yet to understand them we have to reduce them. To solve this paradox we need a tool which 1. uses a limited amount of basic elements, but which 2. fulfils the critical demand of describing a whole fictional world. It is of course also better if this tool does not radically break with past approaches to literary analysis.

2 The tool and the fictional world

This tool starts from the awareness that when a literary text is created, the text presents a fictional world* which provides an alternative to our own world. This alternative world may be very different to ours as regards the details (science fiction for example often talks about physically impossible worlds), but not as regards its most basic and fundamental aspects.

The tool of analysis proposed here* is based on an insight first found* in St. Augustine, and repeated throughout the ages, according to which

there are four kinds of things that are to be loved, — first, that which is above us; second, ourselves; third, that which is on a level with us; fourth, that which is beneath us” (Christian Doctrine, 1.23.22, my emphasis)

St Augustine provides four fundamental aspects of our world, as we can see in the diagram below:

Literary world

This fourfold picture includes everything which exists in our world: there is nothing beyond the universe which is, the world we human beings make, the mysteries which surround existence, and the fact of human individuality and freedom.

  • Nature is the universe we inhabit (St Augustine's "beneath us")
  • Society is the world we create (St. Agustine's "on a level with us"). It includes physical objects, i.e. things, more abstract 'objects', such as institutions or cultural practices, and all manner of social relations.
  • Metaphysics refers to the mysteries of existence, like birth and death, the enchantment of life, evil, limitation (St Augustine's "above us").
  • Individuality refers to the fact that, although we are part of nature, although we are social beings, and although we are born and die, we are also unique and free from determination (St Augustine's "ourselves")

The total inclusion of every possible element of reality in fiction constitutes one of the most important benefits of the present tool. Click on the pictures below to see different examples of a world inside a text (If I were you, I'd start with the first one):

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A world inside a text:

Yeats's "An Irishman Foresees His Death"

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Additional example 1

Tennyson: "The Eagle"

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Additional example 2

Maupassant: "Le Horla"

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Additional example 3

Queen: "The Show Must Go On"

3 Comparing the tool with traditional approaches

I believe the present tool compares favourably with traditional approaches to analysis. It uses some of its basic elements, but in an altogether new form which will only become explicit as we move towards step 2 and step 3. For a brief comparison at this stage, click on the following picture:

Comparing the tool with traditional accounts

works cited (or referred to):

St. Augustine. Christian Doctrine. 23 November 2009. http://www.catholicbook.com/AgredaCD/Augustine/OnChristianDoctrine1-25.htm.

acknowledgments of pictures:

 

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daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann