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Symbol and the Ineffable
Many readers who believe that "Kubla Khan" is a great poem, feel that its greatness may have to do with the irruption of the irrational and of chaos into our rational and ordered world, with a force that is unprecedented in lyric poetry. This irruption, with the enormous energy that infuses this poem, generates what is frequently characterized as an "ecstatic quality". When we say that "'Kubla Khan' is an ecstatic poem", we do not report the successful arousal of an ecstatic experience in the reader, but the detection of an ecstatic quality. The ecstatic quality is, then, a perceived quality of "Kubla Khan"; it is also a "regional quality", that is, a quality that belongs to a whole, but not to any of its constituent parts. Readers who consider "Kubla Khan" a great poem, usually feel that this ecstatic quality is present in the poem; readers who tend to regard it to be less than a major poem, usually have doubts as for the presence of this ecstatic quality. Coleridge himself contributed to the controversiality of his poem, by adding the famous preface to it, in which he claimed to have composed it in an opium induced dream. Some readers believe that being in direct contact with the unconscious mind is the source of real greatness in poetry, and no poem can be credited with this virtue as much as a poem composed in an opium dream. On the other hand, Coleridge himself suggested that the poem remains "a psychological curiosity". Now notice this. When we say ecstasy, we denote a compact concept, no less conceptual than the words logic or concept themselves; whereas the state of mind "ecstasy" appears to be inaccessible to a conceptual language. Since a literary discourse can hardly escape the denotative use of language, the paradoxical conclusion seems to be, that an ecstatic poem is a contradiction in terms; which we know, it is not.
It is sometimes suggested that this poetic dilemma is
solved through the use of symbols, and that the symbol
somehow partakes in, and "conjures up", an
unspeakable reality. This is, precisely, said to be
the difference between symbol and allegory: whereas
the latter presents the reader with what can be expressed
in a clear conceptual language, the former gives us
some mysterious insight into an unspeakable spiritual
reality. Coleridge himself was one of the chief exponents
of this conception. Here I shall mention only one of
his most frequently quoted formulations of this distinction.
An allegory merely translates abstract ideas into a
"picture-language". A symbol, on the other
is characterized by a translucence of the special in the individual, or of the general in the special, or of the universal in the general; above all, by the translucence of the eternal through and in the temporal. It always partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that unity of which it is the representative.
In a paper abounding in wise formulations, Peter Berek
(1978:121) makes the following observation, giving
Coleridge's distinction a special twist:
Symbolism is a literary resource based on a metaphysical assumption: the assumption that there exists an order of being inaccessible to the analytic mind and inexpressible in discursive logical language. [...] Indeed, for the symbolist the imagination is a synecdoche for the Transcendent.And later, again,
Symbolism is perhaps a yearning after allegory in the absence of positive ideas to allegorize, and as such it is a particularly valuable allegorical resource for romantic and modernist writers whose intellectual subject is the difficulty of the process of search, not the clarity of the thing found (ibid).Coming back now to Coleridge's passage, it emphasizes the revelation "of the special in the individual, or of the general in the special, or of the universal in the general; above all, of the eternal through and in the temporal". Now, how can we distinguish a piece of literature which "merely translates abstract ideas into a picture-language", from one which reveals the special through the individual, etc., and above all the eternal through and in the temporal? In many cases, I believe, it will be impossible; unless we consider the latter as a special case of the former: symbols translate abstract ideas into a picture-language, where the picture itself "is always a part of that, of the whole of which it is the representative". But even this restriction is quite frequently applicable to allegories. Allegoric images most typically have metonymic relationships to the thing represented (the allegoric image of Summer bears flowers; the allegoric image of death is a skeleton, and so forth).
It will be noted that I have misquoted Coleridge's passage
in the preceding paragraph, substituting revelation
fortranslucence. The key to the distinction between
symbol and allegory is to be found in the meaning of
translucence. The American College Dictionary compares
the adjectives transparent and translucent. They "agree
in describing material that light rays can pass through.
That which is transparent allows objects to be seen
clearly through it. That which is translucent allows
light to pass through, diffusing it, however, so that
objects beyond are not distinctly seen". One important
feature that distinguishes symbol from allegory is,
that the spiritual reality presented in and through
the "picture-language" is perceived as more
diffuse and less distinct in the former than in the
This, precisely, seems to explain, why the realities
represented by symbols cannot be expressed in conceptual
discourse, in "ordinary language". Words
refer to concepts, to categories, not to occurrences
out there, in the external world, or even to subjective
mental events; the word ecstasy refers to the concept
"ecstasy" and not to the mental event ecstasy.
The resulting problem can be explained by reference
to "lateralization", to the specializations
of the two hemispheres of the brain. Language, logic,
mathematics are "linear" activities, and
are typically associated with the left hemisphere of
If the left hemisphere is specialized for analysis, the right hemisphere [...] seems specialized for holistic mentation. Its language ability is quite limited. This hemisphere is primarily responsible for our orientation in space, artistic endeavor, crafts, body image, recognition of faces. It processes information more diffusely than does the left hemisphere, and its responsibilities demand a ready integration of many inputs at once. If the left hemisphere can be termed predominantly analytic and sequential in operation, then the right hemisphere is more holistic and relational, and more simultaneous in its mode of operation (Ornstein, 1975: 67-68).
The right and the left hemispheres do not necessarily differ, then, in the kind of information processed, but rather in the mode of processing. Words refer to compact entities accessible to the analytic mind: categories or concepts; the experiences associated with the right hemisphere, on the other hand, are typically diffuse and global, accessible to "holistic mentation". Consequently, words may capture the information associated with the right hemisphere. What they cannot capture, is its diffuse mode of processing. That is why it is so often felt that information given about certain human experiences may be all true, and still, the experience itself may be "unspeakable". States of consciousness associated with mystic and ecstatic experiences are typically such experiences related to the right hemisphere. In some poetic styles at least, among them in romantic poetry, poetic language typically has recourse to poetic devices that tend to render information as diffuse as possible; and, at the same time, to integrate diffuse inputs through simultaneous processing (cf. Ornstein, 1975: 95). Some of these devices, at least, achieve this by activating the right hemisphere at the time when the left hemisphere is involved in the processing of the linguistic input.
The Implied Critic's Decision Style
When in a piece of criticism, or in the output of a critic, certain cognitive devices are consistently deployed in a way that is characteristic of a certain cognitive style, I call it "the implied critic's decision style". Paraphrasing Booth (1961: 71-76) on "the implied author", the implied critic can be defined as the person whose decisons are reflected in a given piece of criticism. "We infer him as an ideal, literary, created version of the real man; he is the sum of his choices" (74-75). In a paper devoted to the critic's possible decision styles (Tsur, 1975), I have elaborated on two critical attitudes. They can be defined relative to each other as ranking higher or lower on a scale, one extreme of which may be marked as what Keats used to call negative capability; the other extreme as positivism or factualism. Various works of literature may be ranked as demanding various degrees of Negative Capability (ecstatic and mystic poetry, for instance, require, conspicuously, a higher degree than Pope's An Essay on Man). Moreover, various readings of one and the same work may rank higher or lower in Negative Capability (the demonstration of this will be one of the main objects of the present paper).
One extreme of the spectrum may be characterized, then,
by Keats's description of the quality
Which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.In that paper I attempted to show that in the mid-area of that spectrum of attitudes, within the boundaries of more or less legitimate literary criticism, there are pieces of criticism that exhibit the capability of "being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts", an "ability to make up one's mind about nothing - to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts", and some other pieces of criticism with some "irritable reaching after fact and reason [...] from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge". 1 Symbol, then, characterized above by Berek as "a yearning after allegory in the absence of positive ideas to allegorize", seems to require a considerable degree of Negative Capability. And we may expect critics craving for certitude "irritably to reach after some positive ideas to allegorize".
This dichotomy, of Negative Capability and Quest for
Certitude, based on "literary" formulations
in Keats's letters, is astonishingly similar to dichotomies
familiar with psychologists about 80-100 years later,
such as: liberal vs. authoritarian personality; open
vs. closed mind; flexibility vs. rigidity; tolerance
vs. intolerance of ambiguity; abstract vs. concrete
personality; "leveler" vs. "sharpener",
and so forth. I have preferred not to resort to any
of these pairs of terms familiar with the psychologists
- in spite of my frequent recourse to their findings
- for two reasons. First, these dichotomies are similar
to one another, but are not synonymous; thus, for instance,
the attitude of the Quest for Certitude (supposed to
be akin to the "leveler"), has sometimes
recourse to "sharpening" tactics in cases
where "leveling" would cause too coarse distortion,
or when "sharpening" is an effective means
for dispelling uncertainty (cf., below, when Yarlott
"sharpens" an unevaluated situation into
an ambivalent situation which, in turn, he "disambiguates",
by settling on an unambiguous negative evaluation).
Second, the present paper is concerned with the implied
crtic's attitudes as they are manifest in his choices
in critical works; I don't pretend to know anything
about the flesh-and-blood critic's psychology, in extra-literary
reality. The above mentioned dichotomies, as treated
by psychologists, reveal a series of specific tactics
that can be detected in critical writings. They seem
to be in the service of the dichotomy offered here
(Negative Capability and Quest for Certitude), which
may be regarded as "general strategies".
At the end of the afore-mentioned paper I suggested
that the attitudes of the flesh-and-blood critic may
relate to those of the implied critic like "competence"
and "performance". But as long as we have
no further knowledge about this relationship, I shall
continue to consider only the latter's attitudes; and
for this, it is advisable to use terms that may prevent
mixing up these two notions.
"For art comes to you proposing frankly to give
nothing but the highest quality to your moments as
they pass, and simply for those moments' sake"
says Walter Pater (1951: 897). The poets, says
the great Hebrew poet Bialik, are chasing all the time
those aspects of things that make them unique, the
fleeting moment that will never again return. These
are precisely the least tolerable things for an attitude
of the quest for certitude.
The leveler is more anxious to categorize sensations and less willing to give up a category once he has established it. Red is red, and there's an end on't. He levels (suppresses) differences and emphasizes similarities in the interest of perceptual stability. For him the unique, unclassifiable sensation is particularly offensive, while the sharpener at least tolerates such anomalies, and may actually seek out ambiguity and variability of classification (Ohmann, 1970: 231).
As we shall see in this and the next paper, some of
the most notorious effects of "Kubla Khan"
are derived from an undermining of "perceptual
stability"; and a considerable part of "Kubla
Khan" criticism is directed toward the elimination
of "unique, unclassifiable sensations", and
establishing in the poem some "positive ideas
I have said, then, that when in a piece of criticism,
or in the output of a critic, certain cognitive devices
are consistently deployed in a way that is characteristic
of a certain cognitive style, I call it "the implied
critic's decision style". Let us consider briefly
a short instance in which several such devices are
deployed in the service of one possible cognitive style.
Brooke-Rose (1958: 32) quotes the following adverse
comment on 19th century French Symbolism, by Jules
Lemaître, back in 1888:
Un symbole est, en somme, une comparaison prolongée dont on ne nous donne que le second terme, un système de métaphores suivies. Bref, le symbole, c'est la vieille 'allégorie' de nos pères.
I don't pretend to know anything about Lemaître's
cognitive style or, in fact, anything beyond what is
said in the above quotation. But, what he is doing
here, in the first place, is to level the difference
between symbol and allegory. Furthermore, in the second
place, he not only levels the differences and emphasizes
the similarities between allegory and symbol, but he
does this for a very obvious purpose: to deny the existence
of the unique, unclassifiable sensation. One feature
that impressionism has in common with nineteenth century
French Symbolism is, that they both desired, in Weisstein's
(1974) phrase "to capture the fleeting impression
at the very moment in which sensations are transformed
into feelings". When Lemaître resorts to
the strategy of debunking, stating that the poetic
symbol is nothing but good old allegory of our fathers,
he denies in fact that "the fleeting impression
at the very moment in which sensations are transformed
into feelings" can be captured by poetry, or that
such an experience may exist at all. I have suggested
above, that the difference between symbol and allegory
does not necessarily reside in the kind of information,
but in that information in the former is more diffusely
organized than in the latter. It is precisely this
diffuse quality that is intolerable for rigid persons,
characterized by an "intolerance of ambiguity".
To end this section of my paper, I wish to dwell, briefly,
on the dichotomy concrete vs. abstract personality.
Of the several ways in which Harvey and his colleagues
have found greater concreteness to be manifested in
contrast to greater abstractness, I wish to point out
* A simpler cognitive structure, comprised of fewer differentiations and more incomplete integrations within more central and ego-involving domains but not within domains of low involvement.
* A greater tendency toward more extreme and more polarized evaluations, namely, good-bad, right-wrong, black-white.
* A greater intolerance of ambiguity expressed in higher scores on such measures as the F-scale and Dogmatism Scale and in the tendency to form judgments of novel situations more quickly.2
* A greater inability to change set and hence greater stereotypy in the solution of more complex and changing problems.
* A greater insensitivity to subtle and minimal cues and hence a greater susceptibility to false but obtrusive cues.
(Harvey, 1970: 316).
A word must be said about the use of the terms concrete
~abstract. Readers familiar with Piaget's work on the
concrete stage of child development, or with Goldstein's
work on the concrete thinking of brain-damaged patients,
may consider it inappropriate to apply the term concrete
to the intellectual functioning of Professors of Literature,
or even of university students. When a psychologist
who read the present paper made an objection to this
effect, at first I intended to handle the problem by
saying: I am using the term concrete in Harvey's sense,
and not in Goldstein's or Piaget's sense. Harvey gives
a detailed description of a psychological syndrome
which can be transferred verbatim to the description
of the critical behaviour of a large number of literary
critics, scholars and students. Such a transference
may yield considerable insight into critical theory
and practice, irrespective of whether the term is used
in a different sense by other researchers. One only
should make it clear in what sense he uses the terms.
On second thoughts, however, it seemed quite plausible
that the phenomena described by Goldstein in brain-damaged
persons and by the present paper in the critical behaviour
of some literary critics and scholars are instances
of the same principle. Consider the following classical
description of the flexible personality, tolerant of
The categorical or conceptual attitude is characterized by ability or readiness to assume a mental set voluntarily, to shift from one aspect of the situation to another, to keep in mind, simultaneously, various aspects, to grasp the essentials of a given whole, to break up a given whole into parts and to isolate them voluntarily, to abstract common properties, to plan ideationally, to assume an attitude toward "the merely possible", to think and perform symbolically, and finally to detach our ego from the outer world (Frenkel-Brunswick, 1968: 136).
This can be taken for a description of the smooth, undisturbed functioning of the system. When Else Frenkel-Brunswick speaks of the intolerance of ambiguity, or of the rigid personality, she implies that for some psychodynamic reasons this smooth functioning has been impeded. But these personality traits are very unlike the concrete functioning Goldstein found in his brain-injured patients. Frenkel-Brunswick's "rigid" persons are perfectly capable of highly sophisticated intellectual functioning, whereas Goldstein's patients were sometimes incapable of the simplest cognitive performances, as repeating certain simple sentences after the experimenter. Yet notice this: all the phrases that characterize in the above passage the categorical or conceptual attitude of the flexible personality are, actually, the headings of a paper by Goldstein and Scheerer (1941) on "Abstract and Concrete Behavior". In this paper the authors discuss concrete and abstract bahaviour in general, and they offer the behaviour of brain-injured persons as an instance of concrete functioning in general, that may throw light on the nature of abstract functioning and in what ways it may be disturbed.3 Thus, the behaviour of Goldstein's and his colleagues' patients is treated as instances or representatives of a wide range of kinds and degrees of concrete behaviours. What seems to be common to all these kinds of behaviours is, that in all of them the smooth working of the same cognitive processes has been disturbed, or impeded, to different degrees, or at different levels. What is more, Goldstein and Scheerer claim that there are various degrees of abstractness and also various degrees of concreteness. I strongly suspect, that these two scales meet somewhere in the middle and form a dichotomic spectrum. Perhaps a less controversial way of speaking of individuals of intellectual accomplishment would be to use the phrases "more abstract" and "less abstract".4 Having elucidated all this, I shall go on using Harvey's terms concrete and abstract.
If we restrict ourselves to what is 'given', appealing to the poem as a 'whole', we shall fail probably to resolve its various cruxes. Hence there is a temptation to look for 'external' influences - to consider Kubla Khan in relation to Coleridge's general reading, to relate it to his later critical theory, or to regard the whole thing as the product of an opium experience. The trouble with all these approaches is, that they lead finally away from the poem itself. Alternatively, we can examine Coleridge's handling of his acknowledged source material (Purchas), rather as we might evaluate Shakespeare's modifications of Holinshed and North, a technique which has the virtue at least of grappling with the actual raw material. Or, again, we can consider Kubla Khan in relation to the rest of Coleridge's poetry, especially in the imagery it employs, which may be a less dangerous form of influence-tracing.
I could not agree more than with the crucial statement
"The trouble with all these approaches is, that
they lead finally away from the poem itself".
However, as I shall attempt to show, the approach advocated
here by Yarlott himself can also be accused of this.
One of the serious problems with "Kubla Khan"-criticism
will become apparent precisely from Yarlott's above
comparison to Shakespearean criticism. Shakspeare critics
have realized, at long last, that if one wishes to
appreciate Shakespeare's greatness as a poet, one should
look for the differences between Holinshed and the
Shakespearean text; whereas Coleridge's critics tend
to level (suppress) such differences.
Coleridge, in his notorious preface to this poem, indicated
the exact page in Purchas his Pilgrimage he was reading
before sinking into that dream in which he claimed
to have composed "Kubla Khan". Yarlott (1967:
134), like so many critics before and after him, quotes
the relevant sentence from Purchas:
In Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull Streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, & in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be removed from place to place.Yarlott comments on this passage: "Coleridge seems to have deliberately modified the attractiveness implicit in Purchas's original description", one of his examples of modification being this:
The substitution of "bright/sinuous" for "pleasant/delightful" produces sinister, almost reptilian, associations, recalling perhaps The Ancient Mariner or this description of the "thing unblest" from Christabel, where snake joins "bright" and "green" (the only colour details found in Kubla's garden) in a cluster of positive malignancy:
When Lo! I saw a bright green snake
Coiled around its wings and neck
Green as the herbs on which it couched."
(Yarlott, 1967: 135).
I can only commend this critical technique of comparing a poem to its purported source material, and point out the differences. But Yarlott seems to have missed the point of the change in a curious way. Doubtless, Coleridge diminished the attractiveness implicit in Purchas's description of the garden; he eliminated the evaluative ingredient of the adjectives, retaining some of their descriptive contents. What Yarlott does, instead, is to smuggle back, through the back door, some evaluative ingredients, manifesting a "tendency toward more extreme and more polarized evaluations, namely, good-bad". Thus, instead of acknowledging the zero grade of evaluation, he replaces the positive evaluative terms with some negative ones. The reason for such a critical behaviour seems to be quite clear. Purchas uses adjectives in which positive evaluation is unambiguous. By eliminating the evaluative ingredient, Coleridge creates a state of uncertainty, which is hardly tolerable for people with the critical attitude of the Quest for Certitude. The unique, unclassifiable sensation is intolerable for people with such an attitude; they must know, at least, whether it is good or bad. So, Yarlott introduces the concrete image of a snake into the description, which is obviously bad (this evaluative acrobatics, by the way, does not work even on Yarlott's own ground, since the Ancient Mariner's redemption, for instance, begins precisely at the moment when he discovers the beauty of the water snakes and of the other slimy, crawling creatures, and he "blessed them unaware").
It is worthwhile to notice the strategy that guided this manipulation, in the light of Harvey's characterization of the concrete personality. Consider the technique of searching out another context in Coleridge's poetry where bright and green occur together (bright green snake). In the first place, it enables the critic to interpret the description, while its integration with the text remains "incomplete". In the second place, one characteristics of the aesthetic use of images is, that it has a great variety of meaning-potentials. These potentials are frequently exploited in a variety of ways even within one single piece of literature, sometimes yielding even conflicting meanings. This, of course, requires great sensitivity to "subtle and minimal clues". On the other hand, the ability to identify the occurrence of the words bright and green in two different contexts as the same words, and then to suggest that snakes have sinister, reptilian associations, hardly require great sensitivity. These are, typically, "false but obtrusive cues" in the present context. In the third place, the exploitation of different, or even conflicting, potentials of the same image requires frequent changes of mental sets (a mental set being the readiness to respond in a certain way). The assumption that the interpretation of an image need not be modified along a whole poem, or even across the whole poetry of a poet, enables the critic to persist in a single mental set on the one hand; on the other hand, it conflicts with the very essence of aesthetic activities. Therefore, on the next page, Yarlott returns to this issue, in a mitigated form:
Such parallels should not, however, be pressed too far. The "sunny spots of greenery", for example, must on any unprejudiced reading of the poem form an attractive feature of the garden even though, at the time the poem was written, it seemed like a deliberate echo of Coleridge's description of the gratification opium affords ("a spot of inchantment, a green spot of fountains, & flowers & trees") (136).
According to the conception suggested here, neither expression should be regarded as an echo of the other. "Spots of greenery" or "green spots" may evoke an image of a landscape that is pleasant to look at or imagine. It has nothing to do with the moral evaluation of this pleasantness, or the outcome of one's enjoying it. Whether it is morally undesirable, or whether its pleasure leads to undesirable results, one may only infer from the context; that is, whether the pleasure suggested is associated with a literal landscape, or with a landscape conceived as a metaphor for the gratification opium affords. In other words, one must be ready to change mental sets, and realize various potentials of the landscape description (i.e., real or false pleasure).
One of the psychologists' dichotomies mentioned above was flexible vs. rigid personalities. "Rigid" persons, who do not tolerate ambiguous situations, "have in effect to relieve their anxiety by having rapid closure in cognitive and perceptual reactions as well as in emotional and social spheres" (Miller, 1951: 263).
This is a way in which some organisms handle the problem of ignorance by coming to a conclusion - any conclusion - in order to avoid the anxiety that would otherwise arise (ibid).
There are some fine examples of this kind of manipulation in Yarlott's book. He points out, and rightly, some impersonal syntactic structures at the beginning of the poem, as the passive voice ("So twice five miles ... were girdled round" and "there were gardens"). From these syntactic structures, however, he jumps to the conclusion that the Khan's "relationhip with the slave force which, presumably, enacts his decree for him is utterly impersonal" (ibid, 130). This, in turn, is only a particular instance of a wider issue:
The Khan himself is peculiarly situated. Cut off from normal personal relationships he inhabits a solitude almost like that of The Dungeon prisoner or the Ancient Mariner. He hears only the ghostly voices of his menacing ancestors and (possibly) that of the wailing woman (ibid, 129-130).
Here, again, Yarlott is dispelling ignorance. The only evidence for his contentions is, that there is nothing incompatible with them in the poem. But as a matter of fact, what characterizes the poem in this respect is complete uncertainty as to the Khan's motives, relations, attitudes etc. What actually happens in the first few stanzas is, that in the first two lines we hear about the Khan's decree, and then he vanishes into the background: the foregound is occupied by a description of the landscape and of the artifices built as a result of the decree. Now if we read the poem in a continuous sequence, the impersonal passive voice for instance, in line 7, may be perceived as an indication of the prompt execution of the decree: the Khan decreed, and lo, the results are there. Or, alternatively, we have here, again, an emphasis on those aspects of the description, that seem to be unique in a sense and unclassifiable: they are detached of all statable purpose, evaluation, or the like. The unique aesthetic affect of this uncertainty as for the values and motives inherent in the description will become apparent when we discuss, toward the end of the next paper, the rhythmic organization of the poem.
With the dome-image, however, Yarlott seems to have a problem. It appears both in positive and negative contexts in Coleridge's poetry. Thus,"as associated with the religious feeling of 'deep heartfelt inward joy' the 'dome' was wholly admirable"; on the other hand, "he used 'dome'-images to suggest also moral laxity" (131). From what we have said above of the aesthetic use of images, we should expect that in different contexts Coleridge should exploit different potentials of the dome-image; one may not hope, therefore, to infer the moral attitude associated with the image in one context, from the moral attitude associated with it in other contexts. Yarlott, however, manages eventually to come to a conclusion (we might suggest with Miller, to any conclusion), in order to eliminate "ambivalence".As a matter of fact, one cannot speak here of ambivalence proper, but rather of "zero grade evaluation". Thus, Yarlott "sharpens" an unevaluated situation into an ambivalent situation. This ambivalence, in turn, he "disambiguates", by settling on an unambiguous negative evaluation. This passage exhibits an additional symptom, which we have already encountered and discussed above. That the pleasure-dome is "hyphenated" in the poem, is perfectly true, though rather trivial. From this graphic observation, however, Yarlott jumps, again, on some unexplained grounds, to the conclusion that Coleridge "may have implied strong moral disapproval".
The bald ambivalence of "did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree" scarcely permits of a positive conclusion one way or other about the desirability of the dome, but we have both Purchas's authority and the evidence of Coleridge's parallel usages to suggest that the hyphenating of "pleasure-dome" may have implied strong moral disapproval (ibid, 132).
We could, in this way, go through Yarlott's long chapter and see how he "disambiguates" image after image, and expression after expression. The details vary, but the strategy of avoiding ignorance, uncertainty or unclassifiable images is the same. Perhaps we should dwell briefly on one more, randomly picked out example. "'Incense', for instance, suggests a manufactured perfume rather than delicate, natural fragrance" says Yarlott (135), and as such it is deplorable. Now, when the poem explicitly says "Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree", incense simply does not suggest manufactured perfume. As a matter of fact, incense does not necessarily suggest "manufactured perfume" in any context. But suppose it does. Even in that case, Yarlott's handling the expression would be very telling of his decision-style. In that case, the procedure is this. Coleridge used incense, the artificial perfumes, as a "metaphor" for very strong natural perfume. The reader is supposed to abstract this component from incense and cancel all the irrelevant components (i.e., [+Artificial]), that are eliminated by blossomed and tree. One typical symptom of the concrete personality is the incapability to abstract some quality and to "forget" the irrelevant details of the original context.
Lowes' (1927) enormous study of Coleridge's imagery in "The Ancient Mariner" and in "Kubla Khan" was the first cry of a tendency that was to become most influential in Coleridge criticism. Rather than explaining the meaning of the images, he points out their alleged or proved sources, and presents a sort of psychological theory, to explain how the "unchecked subliminal flow of blending images" became poetry in Coleridge's poems. But since the publication of his book, there seems to be an increasing corpus of highly erudite studies that attempt to achieve similar aims, adding here and there more and more far-fetched putative influences on the poems, occasionally using them also to "explain" the meaning of its images. One such remarkable book is Beer's book on Coleridge the Visionary (1959), two of whose chapters are devoted to "Kubla Khan". This book acts within a psychological framework that is much more satisfactory than Lowes's. It also offers a beautiful hypothesis to explain the poem's unity (which I shall discuss later). At the same time, its main bulk is devoted to the pursuit of meaning-hunting activities very similar to those of Yarlott's study. It commits all the fallacies we have discussed in Yarlott's work, especially in considering "Kubla Khan" in relation to the rest of Coleridge's poetry. But, in addition, it indulges in an enormous quantity of erudition concerning mythology, ancient history, primeval lore, etc. Thus, for instance, following Lowes, "Alph the sacred river" is usually identified with the Alpheus, or a conflation of the Alpheus and the Nile. Beer, however, believes that the shortening to Alph is not accidental. It may have to do with the preoccupation in Coleridge's day with the history of the alphabet. Here comes a three-pages-long dissertation on the history of the alphabet, Cabbalistic speculations on its symbolic meanings, the origin of languages, etc., as understood in Coleridge's day. Thus, for instance, "If Alph the sacred river is associated with Beth, the cavern, we do not need to go to the cabbalistic writings to remind ourselves that the river and the cavern are themselves male and female symbols, and were used with this significance in such neoplatonic writings as Porphyry's exposition of the Cave of the Nymph's in Homer" (209-210). Likewise, there is a long long discussion of the sun-worship and the cities built in the sun-god's honour. One really begins to suspect a tacit assumption behind this study, that the more gods, or the more primeval lore, the better the poem. All this and much more constitute solid pieces of learning that are unlikely to change in response to fine-grained poetic textures; and they also help to establish the enduring human values of the piece of poetry. They cannot be integrated into the structure of the poem, but can be easily isolated, and contemplated without being disturbed by the ego's involvement in the poem. On the whole, they help to reduce the piece of poetry to something else, outside the poem, that is much less elusive than an ecstatic poem. At the same time, insofar as they rely on cabbala and neoplatonic mysticism, they pretend to account for the ecstatic or mystic quality.Negative Capability
and Symbolic Interpretation
One of the most illuminating studies of "Khubla Khan" is Schneider's (1975) book . Her reading is, regrettably, sketchy and suggestive. The major part of the over 360 pages of this book is devoted to refutations and the establishing of external evidence. Only its fifth chapter is devoted to a reading of the poem, and only a very negligible part of this chapter is devoted to close textual inspection. But Schneider's work gives, time and again, evidence of her high degree of negative capability, in her dynamic and "oscillating" reading as well as in her refutations of critical practices that are characteristic of the quest for certitude. She is working within an implicit theoretical framework that is grossly inadequate to account for her insights; but this makes her insights the more remarkable and the more telling about her sensitivity and negative capability. I am quoting the following passage only to state and define the issue in hand on a fairly general level; the more specific discussions will be drawn from other sources.
This air of importance without visible foundation contributes to the suggestion of mystery about the poem that is part of a charm. [...] There are moments in which this kind of charm, an air of meaning rather than meaning itself, affects the reader (Schneider, 1975: 285).
This paragraph follows a long discussion of the foregrounding of dome in the first stanza by phonetic means.6 I believe, however, that it can be extended, with the necessary changes, to the whole description of Kubla's building enterprise. The whole enterprise is presented in the poem in a way that appears to have a much greater importance than what seems to be justifed from the facts enumerated in the poem. Now, it will be noticed that it requires a considerable degree of negative capability to attribute the mysterious power of the poem to what is not in it. 7
Most critics would handle such a situation in a different manner, just like the ones we have discussed so far in this chapter. In order to account for the mysterious air of the description, you have to supply the missing information. So they are searching for positive pieces of information which the imagination may seize upon, either from ancient myth and primeval lore, or from other writings of the author. If necessary, they will follow a chain of associations until they reach a point where the motive, the word, or word-cluster is associated with some contents that might account for the mysterious effect of the passage. These pieces of information are usually unavailable to the ordinary reader, who in spite of this does feel quite frequently that "mysterious" quality in the poem. Indeed, the only purpose of this kind of information-mongering seems to be to dispel the anxiety of people incapable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, when compelled to face absence as significant evidence.
To be sure, critics before Schneider and after were alert to this kind of source of mysterious qualities. Thus, for instance, in a footnote Yarlott (1967: 134) observes: "Professor J.T. Boulton points out to me that vagueness may be an important contributory factor to the over-all effect of mystery here". This, of course, is only an external and non-integral addition to Yarlott's general source-mongering. What makes Schneider's position quite unique in this respect in "Kubla Khan"-criticism is that she does not offer this explanation in addition to, but at the expense of symbolic criticism:
Undoubtedly there are reasons why these things effect us as they do, but the reasons are not usually furnished by the relatively simple equivalences of symbolic criticism that has developed hitherto. They are probably too subtle and too complex to be traceable, at least in the present state of man's knowledge and consciousness; and they are certainly more inextricably bound up with the elements of form than we are in the habit of supposing (Schneider, 1975: 285-286).
It might be quite impossible to find a piece of criticism that would meet Schneider's maximal expectations. I wish, however, to quote from an interpretation of this poem, that does not refrain from source-mongering, nor from symbolic criticism; but time and again it ventures into that finer texture of poetry that is certainly much subtler than the one perceived by symbolic criticism, and can be quite "inextricably bound up with elements of form". I mean Maud Bodkin's interpretation in her Archetypal Patterns in Poetry. At the present stage of my argument I propose to consider at some length Bodkin's discussion of the emotional symbolism of caverns. The very notion of emotional symbolism implies that she is not so much interested in what images mean as in what images feel like. Caverns and abyss often symbolize hell; and as opposed to high mountains, they may serve in the archetype of Paradise and Hades, or Heaven and Hell. She begins her discussion of this issue, like so many critics of "Kubla Khan", with a collection of myths and geographic (or pseudo-geographic) descriptions of caves and subterranean streams and seas. But from these myths and descriptions she abstracts certain common qualities that are much subtler, and more elementary as experiences, than the usual symbolic meaning. At the same time, she indicates how the "gross" symbolic meanings may arise from those subtle, elementary abstractions.
Here is the "eternal essence" gathered from experiences of cavern and abyss - an essence of cold, darkness, and stagnant air, from which imagination may fashion a place of punishment, the home of the Evil One (Bodkin, 1963: 101).
One conspicuous thing in this passage is that it does not state merely a simple equation: cavern = Hell. It rather abstracts from them such elementary sensations as "cold, darkness, and stagnant air"; these sensations are unpleasant, and in extreme cases unfavorable to life. Such an analysis has several advantages for the literary critic. For one thing, it explains how a certain visual image may generate (in the appropriate circumstances) a "thing-free" atmosphere with a marked emotional direction. Second, as a result it can fill with specific contents, applicable in changing circumstances, one of Kenneth Burke's favourite ideas concerning "the principle whereby the scene is a fit 'container' for the act, expressing in fixed properties the same quality that the action expresses in terms of development" (Burke, 1962: 3). This is, in fact what may be meant by "a place of punishment": a place that expresses in fixed properties the same qualities that punishment expresses in action (and the Evil One in potential actions). Last but not least, it can explain a most crucial fact about readers of literature, that they can understand a poem like "Kubla Khan" without ever having heard of Plato, Purchas, Milton, Seneca, and all the rest. The only thing a reader needs, in this respect, is to know what a cavern is; from it he abstracts, creatively, the relevant features. A person who does not know what a cavern or an abyss is, cannot understand "Kubla Khan" in this respect; though a person who does not know Plato's cave or Seneca's image of the subterranean sea may understand. It is these, and one more all-important factor that make it possible for even the naive reader to appreciate the emotional significance of caverns and abysses, and for mythic imagination to fashion from them the archetypal place of Hades:
In Plato's image, as in that of Milton, the character of abysmal depth is made poignant to feeling by insistence upon headlong motion; just as when standing on some precipice edge, amongst peaks and chasms, one feels their lines overpowering and terrible through the suggested anguish of falling. That horror overcome adds a kind of emotional exultation to the sight of actual mountain chasms [...]. When Coleridge dreams of measureless caverns, when Plato tells of rivers that pour their waters even to the earth's centre, or Milton's rebel angels fall nine days through chaos down to Hell, the imagination, seeking something enormous, ultimate, to express what strove unexpressed within experience, is satisfied (Bodkin, 1963: 104).
This passage contains two items necessary for the issue in hand, namely, items that render caverns and abysses emotionally suitable places for Hades as an ultimate place of punishment, and that are beyond the coping-ability of a person incapable of being in uncertainties. In the first place, it is precisely that kind of anxiety, or anguish, aroused by the possibility of endless falling (that renders abyss so meet a place for ultimate punishment) against which the quest for certitude is defending itself by clinging to hard facts. Second, such negative concepts as measureless, infinite become, on the one hand, positive when they are presented as enormous, as exceeding the scope of perception or of imagination; on the other hand, they become emblems of what may be called "absolute size", and mediately, of "ultimate" experiences. As for the attitude of the quest for certitude, there is nothing so frustrating for it, as facing this negative entity that exceeds the scope of imagination.
In summarizing the contribution of the cavern to the archetype of Paradise and Hades, Bodkin writes:[...] the cavern depth appears as the objectification of an imaginative fear - an experience of fascination it may be, in which the pain of fear is lost in the relief of expression; in other instances the horror of loss and frustration symbolized in depth, darkness, and enclosing walls sounds its intrinsic note of pain even through the opposing gain and triumph that poetic expression achieves (114).
Before my last quotation from Bodkin on caverns, I must observe that she made negative capability an explicit and deliberate part of her method, in the sense of "to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts". And thus, though using a technique adapted from psychoanalytic practice, she uses the insight thus gained to voice what might seem a heretic view of the psychoanalytic interpretation of caverns as symbols:Examining my own response to the cavern image, as it occurs in Coleridge's poem, I find a complex of reminiscence, including memories of damp dark cellars and of a deep well, regarded with fearful interest in childhood; also, fused with these, images of caverns and underground castle-vaults, goblin-tenanted, which I gathered from an absorbed reading of fairy-tales. These memories include no recognizable reference to the womb (113-114).
Surely, her free associations were not influenced by a theoretical position which, in general, she accepts. But in the rest of the paragraph she offers a plausible explanation, that may be also illuminating of the poem's emotional symbolism:
Now consider this: the womb as the "meaning" of caverns directs attention to their enclosing (solid) walls; whereas Bodkin's foregoing discussion focussed attention on the enclosed vacuous space. Thus, her reluctance to acknowledge the womb-associations may be regarded as another piece of evidence for her negative capability. The supplemented explanation at the end of the paragraph points to the possible "psycho-physiological echoes" contributed by the birth-trauma to the unpleasant qualities associated with caverns. Now consider this too: Bodkin's foregoing argument presupposes a capability for more than usually delayed closure. Instead of making a rapid equation cavern = womb, Bodkin had to let her mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts, observe from a higher point of view this stream of consciousness, and decide that "these memories include no recognizable reference to the womb"; and consider, finally, what can the womb-association contribute, in spite of all, to the felt quality of the cavern-image. Such a stream of thought is, indeed, a fairly reliable indication of negative capability.
If, however, we accept the view that the earliest conscious apprehensions are conditioned by yet earlier responses of the organism - unconscious 'prehensions', in Witehead's phrase, inherited by later conscious 'occasions' - we have a means for conceiving how earliest experiences of the infant in relation to the mother's body, especially the violent adventure of birth, may help to determine the first conscious reactions to dark enclosed places, and may contribute psycho-physiological echoes to dreams and to the play of fancy (114).
Bodkin is working within the theoretical framework of the Jungian version of depth-psychology. We could add now, in terms of recent cognitive psychology, that she resorts both to a "top-down" and a "bottom-up" strategy. On the one hand, she does begin with a preconceived hypothesis of Jungian archetypes; on the other hand, she also begins with the minute and subtle aspects of the poem's imagery, while the two approaches control and modify each other. As a result, Bodkin's work does not make the simplicistic impression of the "relatively simple equivalences of symbolic criticism". Moreover, it may be meaningful and even convincing even for a reader who does not accept the tenets of Jungian criticism: Bodkin's "bottom-up" analysis of the imagery can be convincing for a reader of any critical persuasion. If Jung's theory of archetypes can be shown to be sound, it will suggest that certain images carry additional emotional force, beyond the appeal revealed by the "bottom-up" analysis.Concrete and Abstract Functioning
It is said that abstraction is the greatest intellectual achievement of man. It has been found, however, that primitive animals too do abstract; and so do small children and drunkards. Brown (1968: 268) tells about the male stickleback, who assumes its fighting posture when confronted with another male stickleback; and it will make the same response to wooden decoys so long as the decoy is marked with a blob of red paint resembling the red mark in the undersurface of the male stickleback. Gombrich (1961: 115) tells an old music hall joke describing a drunkard
who politely lifts his hat to every lamppost he passes.Should we say that the liquor has so increased his power of abstraction that he is now able to isolate the formal quality of uprightness from both lamppost and the human figure? Our mind, of course, works by differentiation rather than by generalization, and the child will for long call all four-footers of a certain size "gee-gee" before it learns to differentiate breeds and forms.
These abstractions were made in the absence of differentiation. The fish does not distinguish the various things that are red on their undersurface; the drunkard does not distinguish between the various upright things, and the child between the various four-footers (see Brown's illuminating discussion, 1968: 264-297). From this, two generalizations are suggested, one in the area of psychology, and one in the area of aesthetics. It has been mentioned above that psychologists distinguish abstract and concrete personalities. The latter are notorious for their quest for certitude.
[...] Different syndromes of interpretive, affective and behavioral tendencies accompany or underlie concrete and abstract functioning.
More concrete functioning is expressed at the behavioral level by high stimulus-response requiredness, the extreme of which could be illustrated by such one-to-one correspondence as that between the stimulus of a light and the taxic response of a moth. More abstract functioning, on the one hand, because of a more enriched and complex mediational system and a greater ability to transcend and depart from the immediate and perceptual characteristics of the impingements, results in less absolutism, that is, greater relativism in thought and action (Harvey, 1970: 315).
I have no claims to diagnose the empirical personality of the various critics. But one may compare their styles of cognitive functioning, with respect to their relative concreteness or abstractness. Concrete functioning is manifest, inter alia, in a difficulty to detach oneself from the concrete properties of the objects or situations from which the abstractions have been abstracted. On the other hand, a person with concrete functioning does not necessarily have difficulties in handling abstractions. But, while handling abstractions, he may have difficulties in distinguishing, at the same time, between the concrete items from which the abstraction has been abstracted; the concrete person seems to be unable to handle simultaneously the abstractions and those aspects of the objects that are irrelevant to the abstractions - especially in domains requiring high ego-involvement, such as reponse to works of literature. In the light of the foregoing discussion, it will be easy to understand, without long explanations, Wimsatt's conception of the Concrete Universal as a major principle in art in general, and in literature and poetry in particular:What distinguishes poetry from scientific or logical discourse is a degree of irrelevant concreteness in descriptive details. [...] The fact is that all concrete illustration has about it something of the irrelevant. An apple falling from a tree illustrates gravity, but apple and tree are irrelevant to the pure theory of gravity. It may be that what happens in a poem is that the apple and the tree are somehow made more than usually relevant (Wimsatt, 1954: 76).
Viewed in the present context, this conception of the Concrete Universal may be regarded as an unexpected confirmation of one of the basic assumptions of cognitive poetics: response to art in general, and to literature in particular, makes special uses of responses evolved for the purpose of adaptation to man's physical and social environment. It is a major principle both in literature and in scientific or logical thinking, and unlike in primitive abstraction, that abstraction must be accompanied by differentiation. In literature, the "irrelevant" concrete properties from which the abstraction has been made have special significance, since they may become "more than usually relevant". What is most important in criticism is that the distinction between the concrete and the abstract level must be carefully maintained. The abstract personality can examine them separately or jointly, as the requirements of circumstances may be.8 One more comment on Wimsatt's phrasing is required here. When he says "the apple and the tree are somehow made more than usually relevant", the italicised phrase is not replaceable by all irrelevant details, but by some irrelevant details, or a considerable part of irrelevant details, or the like.
Let us compare now two passages concerned with Coleridge's description of the site of the building enterprise, one by Yarlott the other by Harold Bloom.So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round.
These lines are placed in close and obvious antithesis to the caverns "measureless to man" through which the sacred river runs. This juxtaposing of infinite and finite is deliberate, intended as ironic comment surely upon the precise and mathematical details of Kubla's fussy little paradise. The "measureless" caverns of sacredness suggest mysterious eternities which the oriental despot, intent upon the mechanical trigonometry of his palisides, scarcely guesses at. One recalls Coleridge's own dislike of mathematics:
... though Reason is feasted, Imagination is starved; whilst Reason is luxuriating in its proper Paradise, Imagination is wearily travelling in a dreary desert.
Kubla's paradise, one may feel, was a paradise for reason to luxuriate in. By adding "towers" to these walls moreover (another detail superimposed upon Purchas), Coleridge seemed intent on emphasizing the garden's exclusive differentiation from the larger, spiritual life of the universe (Yarlott, 1967: 132).
Kubla picks his spot with precision. A sacred river runs into the ground at just the point where the great dome is decreed. Beneath the dome is the underground river, running in measureless caverns down to a sunless sea. The dome rises above an artificial paradise, ten miles in diameter, including both elaborate gardens and ancient forests. Amid these forests is a chasm from which a fountain suddenly bursts, part earthquake, part geyser (Bloom, 1963: 230-231).
Intuitively, Yarlott's passage seems somehow to miss the point of the description. What is more, it does this in a way that is typical of the "quest for certitude" syndrome. To substantiate this, let us consider briefly the sentence "The 'measureless' caverns of sacredness suggest mysterious eternities which the oriental despot, intent upon the mechanical trigonometry of his palisides, scarcely guesses at", and cotrast it with Bloom's summary. If I understand Bloom correctly, he means that the sublime aspects of the "measureless caverns" do have to do with Kubla's picking precisely that spot for building his stately pleasure-dome. Let us sharpen this possible suggestion, and claim (for the argument's sake): "Kubla picked this spot precisely because the measureless caverns of sacredness suggest mysterious eternities". What arguments can one bring in support of each of these two opposite claims? Bloom could argue (and Yarlott could hardly deny it) that the measureless caverns somehow suggest sacredness and mysterious eternities (that is, the measureless in space suggests the measureless in time). Kubla's motives have been left tacit; but a considerable part of the description is devoted to the sublime aspects of the landscape. As long as there is no indication to the contrary, one must assume that he intended to choose such a spot. It is true that for the area surrounded by walls and towers exact measures are given. But as long as there is no indication to the contrary, one may assume that Kubla intended to have the sublime and measureless in conjunction with exact measures. In short, one may assume that whoever chose the spot and whoever built the walls and towers, carried out Kubla's "decree" (unless otherwise indicated). A cause and effect relationship may be even suggested by So (the question being, whether it refers only to girdled round, or to all the ensuing description). Furthermore, the sublime quality abstracted from the various items is experienced with the immediacy of perception. Kubla Khan vanishes in the background, and only the perceived quality of the landscape pervades the foreground of the poem. The oriental despot's exclusion from this perception has nothing to rely on in the poem. On the contrary rather, the lines "And 'mid this tumult, Kubla heard from far / Ancestral voices prophesying war!" suggest that the Khan did perceive some of the awe-inspiring aspect of the scene. Now, what arguments can Yarlott give against such a position, in favour of his own position? It would appear that his contention is wholly gratuitous, and relies mainly on what he knows about Tartar khan's in general. But notice the following passage by Elisabeth Schneider (1975: 250-251).
The historical Cubla was an attractive subject [...]. Though he shared the usual adventures of the successive Tartar Conquerors with their wars and prophecies of wars, he was said to be distinguished above the others by a breadth of mind and a tolerance foreign to most oriental rulers. Marco Polo, in Purchas, reported that Cubla expected persons of all religions to pray to their own gods; toward Christians especially he was well disposed. Most significant of all for a poet was his good name among authors.,
and so forth. Coleridge himself made, in 1799, a note about a recent Tartar khan with roughly similar interests who, in the year 1783 "set on foot a Translation of the Great French Encyclopaedia into the Tartar Language" (ibid, 251). I am far from suggesting that Kubla Khan of the poem is anything like an enlightened monarch. Nothing to the effect of the above information (or, for that matter, to the contrary) has entered the poem. The implication of these quotations is twofold: first, the occurrence of Khan in the poem does not warrant all the "facts" attributed by Yarlott to Kubla; there were khans of a different disposition (and Cubla happened to be one of them). Second, Yarlott supports his interpretation with reference to Coleridge's sources on the one hand, and to Coleridge's preoccupations as manifest in his works and notebooks, on the other hand. This he has done, apparently, in a rather selective manner, guided by his prejudice against khans and, eventually, by his need to "handle the problem of ignorance by coming to a conclusion - any conclusion - in order to avoid the anxiety that would otherwise arise".
Now consider another item in Yarlott's above discussion: "By adding 'towers' to these walls moreover (another detail superimposed upon Purchas), Coleridge seemed intent on emphasizing the garden's exclusive differentiation from the larger, spiritual life of the universe". It may be quite significant that towers is a detail superimposed upon Purchas. The question is what is its significance? It is a concrete detail, relevant to the concrete description of the building enterprise, but irrelevant to such abstractions as "the larger, spiritual life of the universe". Yarlott seems to have mixed up the concrete and the abstract levels of Coleridge's poem. He does not grasp a whole situation in its essentials and abstract from it one overall quality, but is seeking a one-to-one correspondence between the concrete details and their spiritual implications, much in the manner of concrete functioning. The same can be said about Yarlott's excursus on Coleridge's aversion to mathematics. The exact measures ("twice five miles") are details relevant to the concrete description, but not necessarily to the spiritual implications of the poem. They are, however, made more than usually relevant, by the contrast to "measureless to man" on the one hand, and to "But oh! that deep romantic chasm" etc. on the other hand. Now Yarlott "sharpens" this difference of immediate impression into a conceptual contrast. And this he does, again, by isolating the measures from their context, and tearing them out of their proper proportion, creating a one-to-one relationship between the isolated detail and its significance. This is another instance of failure "to transcend and depart from the immediate and perceptual characteristics" of the poetic description, to utilize again Harvey's phrase (1970: 315).
A word should be said about Yarlott's comment "This juxtaposing of infinite and finite is deliberate, intended as ironic comment surely upon the precise and mathematical details of Kubla's fussy little paradise." It is almost impossible to refute such an interpretation of the description. Furthermore, the phrase "ironic comment" seems to be defendable. Does irony not involve the juxtaposition, or balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant elements? But so does imagination too, according to Coleridge's famous definition; and so do ambivalent or conflicting emotions. How can we tell, then, whether Coleridge's poem contains irony or ambivalent emotions, or is a product of imagination? First of all one should note that irony, as used by literary critics, has two fairly distinct meanings. Both suggest the "balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant elements"; one sense is limited to acknowledging the presence of these elements in a work of literature; the other also implies such attitudes as emotional detachment, superiority, freedom and amusement. In the first sense there need be no contradiction whatever between emotion, irony and imagination. Yarlott, however, seems to imply the second sense. And "Kubla Khan" seems to be lacking in the elements that distinguish the second sense of irony. As far as the critic's attitude is concerned, the question is again, to what extent is he sensitive to the fine-grained "minimal cues", and to what extent does he respond to "obtrusive cues". Actually, as Bloom and other critics imply, the opposite elements are not merely "juxtaposed": the measured has been superimposed upon the sublime and "measureless to man" in a way that is not unlike poetic imagination; or, perhaps, the infinite is revealed in and through the finite. But, on the whole, neither the juxtaposition hypothesis, nor the superimposition hypothesis can be dismissed and both are fairly plausible. But if the juxtaposition hypothesis entails irony in the second sense, it becomes at once less plausible.
Finally, one should raise the question "What is the proper degree of abstraction from the concrete images?" This is one of the most important questions that one can raise with respect to interpretation. And it is perhaps the most difficult one to answer. This is, perhaps, the point where most responsible interpretations differ from one another. And we seem to lack a conceptual system, or even a vocabulary, to distinguish various degrees of abstraction. So, instead of attempting to define the proper measure in the abstract, let us examine a specific instance, and generalize from it. Many critics have remarked, in one way or another, that "Kubla Khan" is a poem about poetry. What I propose to investigate now is their different ways of making that remark. Let us begin with Watson's (1973: 227-228) statement:
"Kubla Khan", then, is not just about poetry: it is about two kinds of poem. One of them is there in the first thirty-six lines of the poem; and though the other is nowhere to be found, we are told what it would do to the reader and what it would do to the poet.
Watson does not offer this as a hypothesis, but as an indisputable fact:
What is "Kubla Khan" about? This is, or ought to be, an established fact of criticism: "Kubla Khan" is a poem about poetry. [...] Anyone who objects that there is not a word about poetry in it should be sent at once to the conclusion and asked, even if he has never read any Plato, what in English poetry this is like:
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew has fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
There are dozens of parallels in Renaissance English to this account of poetic inspiration, all based - though rarely at first hand - on Plato's view of poetic madness in the Ion or the Phaedrus. Shakespeare's banter about "the poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling" in A Midsummer Night's Dream is perhaps the most famous. The "flashing eyes" and "floating hair" of Coleridge's poem belong to a poet in the fury of creation. Verbal resemblances to the text of Plato itself confirm that the last paragraph of the poem is a prolonged Platonic allusion. Socrates, in the Ion, compares lyric poets to "Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when under the influence of Dionysus" and adds that poets "gather their strains from honeyed fountains out of the gardens and dells of the Muses . . ." Ion himself, describing the effects of poetic recitation, confesses that "when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end. . . ." The very phrase "holy dread" is Platonic (Laws 671 D) (Watson, 1973: 226).
The parallel between Plato and Coleridge's passage is convincing enough. But does this prove, beyond Watson's rhetoric, that "Kubla Khan" is indeed a poem about poetry? Let us have a look at Schneider's discussion of the same issue (from whom the analogy with Plato apparently has been adopted):Essentially, the picture is but the ancient conventional description of the poet with his "eye in a fine frenzy rolling". This conception was old even in Plato's day, and practically every detail used by Coleridge was a commonplace in it. The description derived a good deal from the accounts of persons possessed by the god in Dionysus worship and the Orphic cults - flashing eyes and streaming hair, as well as honey, milk, magic, holiness, and dread (Schneider, 1975: 245).
Then comes a long quotation from Ion, including the passages quoted by Watson. Then Schneider concludes:
Coleridge's Inspiration, music, holiness inspiring awe, milk and honey, are all explicitly here; and the flashing eyes and floating hair are implicit in the "Corybantian revellers" and "Bacchic maidens" (246).The differences between Schneider's and Watson's positions are very small, but rather significant. Schneider extends the poet's fine frenzy to "persons possessed by the god in Dionysus worship and the Orphic cults"; that is, she regards it as a more specific instance of ecstasy, inspiration, possession. In her concluding paragraph she mentions such abstractions as "Inspiration, music, holiness inspiring awe", but no poetic inspiration. Both Schneider and Watson go outside the text for the substantiation of their interpretation, and both go to the same texts. But Schneider, firstly, widens the scope of her external sources, and views within it Plato and Shakespeare in proportion. Secondly, from them she abstracts a higher abstraction which, by the same token, does not contain elements that conflict with what is explicitly stated in the poem. Watson, on the contrary, fails "to transcend and depart from the immediate and perceptual characteristics" of Plato's description of the poet, and insists on his presence in the last lines of the poem. This is concrete functioning. In such allusions, only the most general abstractions should be imported into the poem; from the more specific levels of abstraction, only those meaning components from the source-text (Plato) should be imported (if at all), that do not conflict with the more specific components in the target-text ("Kubla Khan").
It is most illuminating to see, what happens in Humphrey House's paper in this respect. He states "For 'Kubla Khan' is a poem about the act of poetic creation, about the 'ecstasy in imaginative fulfilment'" (House, 1973: 201). This sentence is far from achieving the precision of academic writing; by the same token, it seems to aim at a precision required for capturing evasive intuitions. It suggests one thing, and then adds, as a casual afterthought, a correction as it were, that appears to be more precise. At any rate, the phrases "poetic creation" and "the ecstasy in imaginative fulfilment" are far from being synonymous. But it is perhaps an indirect indication of House's great sensitivity to "subtle and minimal cues" and to their balance and proportion, instances of which abound in his Clark lectures on Coleridge, especially in his chapter on the "Ancient Mariner". In this context, what can be regarded as "academic ineptness" is, in fact, a means for capturing his evasive intuitions, and as such, a kind of indirect evidence of his negative capability. Two further remarks are required here. First, "ecstasy in imaginative fulfilment" is a more general term than "poetic creation", in the sense that "poetic creation" is a specific case of "imaginative fulfilment". And the more general term can, under a certain interpretation, describe Kubla Khan's building enterprise as well (what is more, certain critics speak of the creative and destructive energy of the fountain as well). Second, House's more general phrase is an acknowledged quotation from Bodkin (1963: 95), supplying another instance of her abstract functioning.
A similar strategy of self-correction (in a different matter) is followed by Knight (1960: 165): "As Kubla Khan himself, if we bring him within our scheme, he becomes God; or at least one of those 'huge and mighty forms', or other similar intuitions of gigantic mountainous power, in Wordsworth". Knight's paper abounds with elements that appear to be arbitrarily imputed upon Coleridge's poem from an external intellectual scheme; at the same time, it abounds in more or less direct indications of abstract functioning and the tolerance of uncertainty. The immediate sequel of the foregoing quotation is an instance of this:
Or we can, provisionally - not finally, as I shall show - leave him out, saying that the poet's genius, starting to describe an oriental monarch's architectural exploits, finds itself automatically creating a symbolic universal panorama of existence. This is a usual process, since the poet continually starts with an ordinary tale but universalizes as he proceeds (165-166).
Notice Knight's continual self-qualifications as well as his capability of committing himself "provisionally", as indications of his tolerance of uncertainty. Notice also his version of the Concrete Universal in this passage, as a possible indication of his abstract functioning; though one might well question his assertion about Kubla's "creating a symbolic universal panorama of existence".
Finally, I would like to return for a moment to Bodkin's discussion of caverns. In this respect, too, she appears to display an inclination for abstract functioning, by having recourse to such ultimate abstractions as cold, dark, or at least such thing-free qualities as stagnant air.
"Kubla Khan" and
This poem is a depth-psychologists' paradise. A poem purported to have been written in an opium dream (according to the 1816 preface to the poem), or in a state of Reverie (according to the more recently discovered Crewe holograph manuscript) surely bears the signs of its origin in the unconscious. Does not Coleridge himself testify in the preface, that this fragment is published, "as far as the Author's own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the ground of any supposed poetic merits"? And there are, indeed, a few depth-psychological interpretations of this poem, of which we shall consider and compare two (a Freudian and a Jungian one). As a preliminary to this discussion, we shall consider two caveats, by two critics whom we have already met. The first one is by Schneider (1975: 9-10):Supposing Freud right in finding sexual symbolism to underlie almost all human action, thought and dream - obviously, then, sexual symbolism must underlie all poetry too. That, however, tells us little about any one poem. The psychoanalytial critic's responsibility, in the interest of clarity, is to make known his assumptions and tell his readers which of several activities he is at the moment engaged in: whether he is using a work of literature as a case history to teach us psychology or whether, on the other hand, he is using his psychoanalytic theory to illumine a particular literary work or literary history as a whole. The trap difficult to avoid is that of mistaking what it is one has proved. If rounded mountains always in human experience must mean breasts and caverns always wombs, one might write an illuminating essay on infantilism and regression in romantic poets, provided one can prove that they describe more mountains and caverns than other poets do. [...] In any case, it is difficult to see how this kind of interpretation can throw light on any given poem unless it can show something special in the use of caverns and mountains that is not present in other cavern-mountain poems.
I have already suggested that Schneider gives ample evidence of her negative capability, both in what she writes about the text itself, and in her criticism of preceding critics. The above passage is obviously an instance of the latter. In the first place, this is one more instance of Schneider's many (sometimes sarcastic) remarks against symbol-mongering (such as "If one proceeds upon the belief that one cannot open his mouth without being symbolic ...", 260). As I have suggested earlier, symbol-mongering may be a preferred means for dispelling ignorance and uncertainty, in the service of the Quest for Certitude. In the second place, Schneider sharply criticizes psychoanalytic (or perhaps pseudo-psychoanalytic) attempts to use false but obtrusive cues that never change; in short, she is also protesting against the refusal to change mental sets. Finally, there is here an opposition to the levelling of the difference between occurrences of caverns and mountains in various poems. This, on closer inspection, turns out to be a version of Wimsatt's Concrete Universal: if, on one level of abstraction there is a universal sexual symbolism, on a more concrete level there must be an "irrelevant texture", which is somehow made more than usually relevant to the poem, and this relevance must be acknowledged by the interpreter. We might add that if we equate mountains with breasts and caverns with wombs, we turn a very partial identity into a complete identity; though both breasts and mountains obtrude and are prehaps round, there are many conflicting components in them, which we suppress (level out).
The second caveat contains an advice too, as for the appropriate measures to be observed. Speaking of some critics' objection to "the Freudian reiterations concerning sexual origins", Bodkin (1963: 113) says:Enjoyment of the beauty of poetry is spoiled only if certain of these psycho-physiological echoes are emhasized, as though they were somehow more real than all the other elements with which in a mature mind they are fused - as though these elements that contribute to the actually experienced response were a mere evasion or disguise of those few primitive elements newly identified by the analyst.
In terms of our present inquiry, Bodkin's discussion may be regarded as a "crucial recommendation" as for the appropriate critical performance of poems. First of all, the psycho-physiological elements are to be treated as echoes rather than entities in the focus of attention, that is, as elements that give a certain tint to the poetic text rather than determine the hard core of its meaning. In other words, the psycho-physiological element is to be perceived in its proper proportion in a complex whole, rather than reduce the complex to this single element. This suggests that, separately, each one of the elements that constitute the complex is a classifiable, general norm, whereas the complex whole may have a unique, unclassifiable quality (that is especially hard on the attitude of the Quest for Certitude). The perceived ecstatic quality is, in Sibley's (l962) term, an aesthetic quality; which in turn is, in Beardsley's (1958: 83-88) term, a regional quality, that is, a quality that belongs to the whole but not to any of its parts.
In the remainder of the present section of my paper I am going to compare two depth-psychological treatments of this poem, Fruman's (1971: 396-401) Freudian reading, and Bodkin's Jungian reading. Such a comparison will enable us to have a double perspective on these pieces of criticism. On the one hand it may show to what extent, and in what conditions, they may be illuminating of the poem as an aesthetic object. On the other hand, it may illuminate some of the intricacies of inferring the implied critic's decision style from the piece of criticism discussed.
One important aspect of this comparison concerns the focus of interest of the two critics. Whereas Fruman seems to be interested in concealed meanings, Bodkin's main preoccupation is with emotional patterns. Fruman offers, then, a Freudian reading of the poem. Since Coleridge himself says his poem is a dream or reverie, one should ask, what dome-shapes are domes of pleasure in dream symbolism?
Features of this kind, appearing in reveries or dreams, easily lend themselves to interpretation as sexual symbols. But why confine the pleasure-dome to a breast symbol? [...] a pleasure-dome in the vicinity of "caverns measureless to man" suggests far more the mons veneris, especially as we hear at once of "fertile" grounds and "forests", almost classic symbols for primary sexual terrain (Fruman, 1971: 396).It should be noticed, in the first place, that vicinity is a well chosen word of Fruman's, rather than a word used in the poem. Suppose we prefer the adverb "a pleasure-dome above the caverns measureless to man", we must return to the dome-as-breasts interpretation. Now, irrespective of this, whether breasts or mons veneris, what does this indicate about the poem as a poem? Very little indeed. The upshot of the sexual ingredient in the "dream-poem" seems to be:
The poem leaves us with a nameless crime. The dreamer is tabood because he has had a forbidden experience. The arrows all point in the direction of incestuous love (401).
These arrows themselves aren't very convincing. One of them is "the woman wailing for her demon-lover is calling for an incestuous lover" (397). The other one may be somewhat more convincing, in a context of dream symbolism:A black girl in the dream of a white man may of course mean many things, depending on the dreamer's private beliefs and associations. Yet as a generalization it is true that powerful interracial fears or yearnings suggest the problem of incest (400).
Now, what does such an interpretation contribute to the poem? First and foremost, it isolates certain images and loads them with sexually "hot" meanings. These meanings are specific, and have very little indication in the poem's literal meaning. A very partial identity like the shapes of domes and female breasts or, for that matter, of mons veneris, is elaborated as a complete identity, introducing a host of ingredients that have nothing to do with the poem's theme, or with its emotional tone. In other words, one cannot defend this kind of interpretation of pleasure-dome even on the grounds that the hidden sexual symbolism may account for the emotional effect regularly associated with the poem.9 It also turns a poem that has a certain degree of unity into discrete symbols, the interpretation of which can hardly yield a coherent reading.
Apparently, the incest-theme has been introduced either in order to yield an interesting reading, or to account for the horror (or magic rites) in facing the "tabooed" person speaking in the last few lines. But the "holy dread" sounds more like a response to the numinous than to incestuous love.10 Curiously enough, Fruman himself mentions the evidence that might suggest the numinous powers attracted to the youth in the last stanza: "Against whom and what is it an offense to feed upon honey-dew and drink the milk of paradise?" (400, my italics); and again, in a negative context though, he mentions "food and drink reserved for the gods" (401). But being trapped as he is in his conception, he is looking for crimes and offenses. Now the "numinous" element at the end of the poem can account not only for the "taboo", but also for the ecstatic quality in the poem.
Now let us compare these specific meanings associated with the poem's "sexual symbolism" to the last paragraph of Bodkin's discussion of this poem:This paragraph reveals no interest in specific meanings, but rather in abstract emotional patterns expressed in abstract nouns and pairs of antonymous adjectives (e.g., "rising and sinking vitality, a forward urge and backward swing of life"). These abstract patterns of opposite emotional tendencies can be abstracted from several myths, poems and emotional states, with no need to introduce into the poem concrete elements that conflict with elements existing in the literal meaning. What is more, these abstract patterns can account for the emotional qualities regularly associated with the poems, as well as impute some degree of unity upon them, rather than divide it up into discontinuous images and meanings. This conception of Bodkin's is elaborated in the preceding essay, on the Death and Rebirth archetype in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", to which the above quotation refers:
As in the preceding essay we traced a pattern of rising and sinking vitality, a forward urge and backward swing of life, reflected in an imagery deployed in time [...] so now we find an emotional pattern of somewhat similar character presented statically, in imagery of fixed spatial relation - the mountain standing high in storm and sunlight, the cavern unchanging, dark, below, waters whose movement only emphasizes these steadfast relations of height and depth (Bodkin, 1963: 114-115).
I have compared, also, myth and the metaphor of religious confession and of psychological exposition, selecting material in accordance with similarity of imagery, especially of form or pattern. Particular words and images, such as those of wind, of storm-cloud, of slime, of red colour, have been examined for their emotional symbolism, but mainly with reference to their capacity to enter into an emotional sequence. Within the image-sequences examined the pattern appears of a movement, downward, or inward the earth's centre, or a cessation of movement - a physical change which, as we urge a metaphor closer to the impalpable forces of life and soul, appears also a transition toward severed relation with the outer world, and, it may be, toward disintegration and death. This element in the pattern is balanced by a movement upward and outward - an expansion or outburst of activity, a transition toward redintegration and life-renewal (54).
One important distinction this passage makes is between archetypal contents and archetypal patterns ("emotional symbolism" on the one hand, and "capacity to enter into an emotional sequence" on the other). It is not explicitly stated, but it appears to be the rule observed by Bodkin, that images are not checked for their emotional symbolism, unless she is satisfied with their "capacity to enter into an emotional sequence." Whatever the other merits and defects of Furman's approach, he seems to be unaware of this issue of emotional sequence. On a more specific level, Bodkin gives here a detailed account both of the sequence and of its constituting elements, in as abstract and general terms as possible. Oddly enough, Bodkin does not attempt to show, in the next chapter, how this pattern applies in its details to the description of running waters in "Kubla Khan". The "movement, downward, or inward the earth's centre, or a cessation of movement" is clearly indicated in such passages asWhere Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
orFive miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean.
The "movement upward and outward - an expansion or outburst of activity" is manifest in the passage
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift, half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rock at once and ever
It flung up momently the dancing river.
The fact that this third passage occurs in the poem between the first and second quotations, not only demonstrates the opposing movements, but also creates an indication of rhythmic alterations, which is one of the main ingredients in the Jungian conception of emotion underlying Bodkin's work.11
At the end of this comparison between Fruman's and Bodkin's depth-psychological interpretations I wish to emphasize that although the former embraces Freudian whereas the latter Jungian theory, the difference we have discovered is not the difference between the two theories, but the two critics' individual approaches. Bodkin herself emphasized the kinship between Jung's conception of the Death and Rebirth archetype, and "Freud's theory of a pair of opposite tendencies, termed by him life and death instincts" (70, my italics). Likewise she points out that "Freud and his school are also aware, naturally, of the fact of growth and readjustment attitude" (72). Moreover, in my 1975 paper I have discussed at length Eva Metman's Jungian archetypal interpretation of Waiting for Godot, and have pointed out tendencies in her work that are more similar to Fruman's than to Bodkin's; that is, she is interested in archetypal contents rather than in archetyal patterns.
Finally, I wish briefly to consider an issue related to the implied critic's decision style. I have earlier suggested, and the foregoing discussion has supported the validity of my suggestion, that a high degree of negative capability can be inferred from Bodkin's critical writing. On the other hand, the passages discussed from Fruman's work seem to be typical of the attitude of Quest for Certitude. They offer to reduce the poem to a series of unrelated specific meanings based on "false but obtrusive" rather than "subtle and minimal cues". All this appears to be meant to dispell ignorance and uncertainty. However, surprisingly enough, the paragraph that concludes this discussion appears to give ample evidence of negative capability.The dangers of analyses such as the foregoing should be self-evident. Without the dreamer's own associations to serve both as check and guide, one can easily veer off into private fantasy and association. And where association is concerned, the possibilities seem to be endless in any imaginative person, if he abandons his mind to it. The presence of pitfalls, however, need not forbid the attempt to transverse hazardous territory (401).
This passage appears to undermine the alleged certainty achieved with the typical tools of the Quest for Certitude; at the same time it appears to undermine the author's certainty in his own self-criticism. There appears, then, to be a contradiction between the cognitive strategies employed in the interpretation of symbols and in the strategies of undermining the certainties achieved. This contradiction may be handled in several ways. For one thing, it may be an evidence for what may well be the case, that cognitive style is not a unitary phenomenon: it is not an all-or-nothing choice, and rigidity in one respect may go hand in hand with flexibility in other respects. Another possiblity is that the critic is, indeed, a hard-boiled adherent of the Quest for Certitude, but his attention has been drawn in one way or other to the desirability of appending some such reservations to his interpretation. It is difficult, with our limited resources of information, to get supporting evidence for such a hypothesis. I wish, however, to opt for a third possibility. At the beginning of Furman's psychoanalytic discussion there is another passage, with similar reservations and self-refutations, that gives additional evidence of his Negative Capability, as well as suggests a possible solution to the problem:What follows might well be relegated to the comparative obscurity of a note, introduced perhaps by an ironic gaiety so as to disarm criticism, the whole suggesting extreme tentativeness. But it is doubtful that such strategies would work, or are altogether honorable. Certainly, what follows is not urged as the meaning of "Kubla Khan". Poems lend themselves - with often fatal facility - to every mannner of symbolic meaning. "Kubla Khan" is a poem embodying some ideas about the power of art. It is also about a pleasure-dome, an Oriental emperor, a wailing woman, an overflowing fountain - and much else (395).
The last three sentences contain one of the most effective arguments against reducing the poem to a series of concrete external meanings, attributed to it with the certainty of facts, so much favoured by the adherents of the Quest for Certitude. The passage as a whole admits of a multiplicity of approaches. At the same time, the critic temporarily commits himself to one possible reading, without urging that this is the meaning of "Kubla Khan". The capability of doing this is, precisely, what characterizes, according to Else Frenkel-Brunswick, the flexible personality; and it is this that the rigid personality is incapable of achieving. In short, the critic displays a high degree of flexibility, in temporarily committing himself to a reading; the reading itself is one rather typical of a rigid personality.Gating and Closure
One important activity involved in interpretation is the attempt to abstract information implicit in the text. Gating and closure are metaphors, incidentally derived from the same kind of visual image, referring to two alternative strategies for obtaining from the text the information sought. One may increase the amount of information obtained by "opening the gate as wide as possible", or by delaying "closure" for as long as possible. This latter strategy requires "a capability of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason"; people who are incapable of this, have sometimes recourse to the alternative strategy, and open the gate as wide as possible.
Gating is one of three terms I have adopted from a paper by Gombrich (together with abstractive relevance and sign limit). Gombrich borrowed from Karl Bühler the principle of "abstractive relevance". Bühler meant by this the irrelevance of certain features within sign systems. There are infinitely many ways of writing the letter a. They will signify the same as long as certain invariant relationships are observed (Gombrich, 1969: 155). From Jerome Bruner Gombrich borrows the principle of gating. We may close a book without knowing in what letter type it is printed, even if our look has scanned thousands of letters. "Where we cannot derive more information or do not need it, we shut the gates and go on to business" (ibid, 164).I suppose it could be argued that what we call the esthetic response in front of works of art involves a certain refusal to gate. The image is open, as it were, and we are free to look for further and further echoes of the sense in an indeterminate level of sound or form. But of course this refusal is only a relative one. We all can distinguish between sanity and insanity in criticism - or at least we hope we can. There are the constraints of tradition, of medium, of genre, and of culture that apply reins to the historian's and critic's fancy (Gombrich, 1969: 164).
The third restricting principle is called the principle of sign limit, which Gombrich borrowed from an unpublished dissertation of Bühler's student, Julius Klanfer. Sign limit is a crucial but rather problematic principle. All of us have rather clear intuitions as for which interpretations are beyond the proper sign limit; but we have got no unambiguous principles to determine where is the sign limit.12
We have got no rules for determining the sign limit in literature; there is, however, a fair concensus that in the literary use of language it is further away than in most other uses. Nevertheless, does "anything go" in the literary decoding of signs? Many people doubt it. Gombrich implies the solution that sane intuition may determine the sign limit. The present paper has foregrounded the difficulty facing such an assumption. It would appear that Maud Bodkin's intuition eliminates what Fruman's intuition admits; and Schneider's intuition seems to be even more "cautious". Alternatively, one might suggest that one of the tasks of cognitive poetics is to give a description of the cognitive structures that give rise to such intuitions.
One of the present paper's aims has been to make a modest contribution to the development of more precise tools for determining the "sign limit" or "abstractive relevance". It has been assumed that critical intuition is not always determined by the legitimate needs of literature. One of the factors that may affect the critic's intuition is the emotional needs of one or another personality styles. The present paper has not been concerned with the emotional needs or personality styles of critics as empirical human beings, but with the decision style of the implied critic. The implied critic is the sum of his choices, as they are reflected in the piece of criticism; thus, they are in the public domain, open to public inspection. One fundamental assumption of the present paper is that in literary discourse the relationships between linguistic and nonlinguistic signs are more complex than in nonliterary discourse. Consequently, in literary discourse longer endurance of uncertainty is required than in nonliterary discourse, before the reader may come to a conclusion following the decoding of the signs that constitute the text. The implied critic's choices are affected, to a considerable degree, by his capability of enduring uncertainty. In the course of the present paper it has been attempted to isolate a variety of tactics for achieving stability and certitude.
The cognitive mechanism underlying the critics' conflicting intuitions is, perhaps, gating strategy for obtaining information from poetic signs: one may distinguish between duration and width of gating; that is, the question is whether closure is delayed so as to enable the perception of as complex relationships as possible, between as many signs as possible, or whether closure is rapid. In the latter case, the critic may compensate with width of gating. Since ignorance too induces uncertainty, the critic is "compelled" to compensate for rapid closure (that is, for the shortening of the duration of uncertainty) by displacing the sign limit and violating the principle of "abstractive relevance". In order to dispel anxiety arising from ignorance caused by rapid closure, some critics apply their mind to those aspects of the signs that have no "abstractive relevance" (frequently referred to as "noisy attributes"). As a result, they have recourse to incomplete abstractions in interpretation, or look for as concrete and specific "symbolic meanings" as possible.
An instance of a critical approach that presupposes as delayed closure as possible we have encountered in Bodkin's conception of archetypal pattern (as contrasted to archetypal contents), in the present case, "a pattern of rising and sinking vitality, a forward urge and backward swing of life, reflected in an imagery deployed in time". Closure is further delayed, owing to the considerable number of aspects and elements in which this "imagery deployed in time" is contrasted: "the pattern appears of a movement, downward, or inward the earth's centre, or a cessation of movement - a physical change which, as we urge a metaphor closer to the impalpable forces of life and soul, appears also a transition toward severed relation with the outer world, and, it may be, toward disintegration and death. This element in the pattern is balanced by a movement upward and outward - an expansion or outburst of activity, a transition toward redintegration and life-renewal". It should be repeatedly emphasized, that "delayed closure" as such is nowhere explicitly mentioned in Bodkin's discussion; but it seems to be implicitly recognized by critics sufficiently sensitive to it, though, again, they may hesitate when trying to put their fingers on what is it they are recognizing. Let me quote a rather long passage from a critic whom we have already credited with a considerable degree of Negative Capability:If one proceeds upon the belief that a man cannot open his mouth without being symbolic, perhaps one can do no better than accept for Kubla Khan some such interpretation as Professor Knight's or, a better choice, I think, Miss Bodkin's [...] (Schneider, 1975: 260).
If we pause here for a moment, we may notice that Schneider objects to "symbolic" criticism, including Bodkin's but, at the same time, she prefers her work to other symbolic critcs'. In the rest of this paragraph, Schneider attempts to justify her distrust for symbolic criticism, as well as to justify her sympathy with Bodkin's work. As an abstract argument, this passage is not very well organized, but precisely this may give us a dim insight into the working of Schneider's abstract thinking, with its divergent trends and tolerance of discordant attitudes. Her next sentence can be understood as a discrediting of a certain critical position: "To the critic who maintains that a poem has a meaning of which the poet was unconscious there is no answer". On second thoughts, however, and from a different point of view, she cannot dismiss this kind of thinking either: "And indeed I do not doubt that this sometimes occurs". The next sentence elaborates this idea, followed by a sentence that makes reservations about it:
There is no question, I think, that unconscious and subconscious forces lurk beneath the surface of our thought and feeling and that the appeal of a work of art may derive partly from secret correspondence with these forces. But that it always does so in the sense usually supposed is far from being established; and that the conscious symbol-seeking of critics or psychoanalysts often succeeds in salting the tail of this invisible bird is a matter of very considerable doubt.
One may notice how the considerable complexity of, especially, the second of these two sentences, serves a tendency to avoid an all-inclusive or an all-exclusive statement. One may also notice, how Schneider makes, again an exception with Bodkin, as a parenthesis so to speak, further elaborated in a parentheses-within-parentheses structure:If Kubla Khan naturally conveys to a reader one or another of the meanings of sexual opposition or immortality or the life of man - or of King Oedipus and incest - perhaps they are there. But to me - except for Miss Bodkin's Paradise-Hell contrast, which very naturally come to mind though Coleridge purposely diminished it by altering "Mount Amara", a really traditional earthly Paradise, to "Mount Abora" - except for that meaning, which I think of in this poem as rather associative than symbolic, such elaborate interpretations as have been made of Kubla Khan seem more ingenious than compelling. They do not coalesce naturally with what Coleridge actually wrote; on the contrary, the thought of these meanings drives the poem itself out of one's mind (Schneider, 1975: 260-261).
It is not very clear what Schneider may have meant by "rather associative than symbolic". One possible construal of this phrase may concern Gombrich's supposition "that what we call the esthetic response in front of works of art involves a certain refusal to gate". What we are up against is not a "Symbolic meaning", but merely a small displacement of the sign limit, further away from the center, so as to admit some further information concerning Mount Amara. One remarkable (and praiseworthy) feature of this discussion is that even within her reservations, Schneider makes a significant distinction between the various degrees of the attenuation of this information as relevant to the poem ("though Coleridge purposely diminished it"). It may well be that all interpretation is symbolic (depending on how we define "symbolic"). So, what seems to be wrong with some symbolic criticism is not their being symbolic, but rather their being the result of rapid closure and a wider than acceptable opening of the "gate". It should be noticed, however, that "gating" is not an all-or-nothing process. All aesthetic response seems to involve "a certain refusal to gate". The question is, whether this refusal to gate comes to compensate for a certain refusal to delay closure.
Now, the impatient reader may object: "I don't care what are the critic's motives or cognitive mechanisms; what I care is, whether his argument is valid or not". I can only sympathize with such an objection. However, the afore-mentioned cognitive mechanisms and the refusal to apply them may be significantly correlated with certain conspicuous inadequacies in a critical conception and practice. Consider the end of Schneider's passage quoted above: "They do not coalesce naturally with what Coleridge actually wrote; on the contrary, the thought of these meanings drives the poem itself out of one's mind". In order for a meaning to coalesce naturally with what the poet actually wrote, he must "bear in mind simultaneously various aspects" (in Frenkel-Brunswick's phrase, v. infra). We have quoted above Harvey on concrete functioning that has "A simpler cognitive structure, comprised of fewer differentiations and more incomplete integrations within more central and ego-involving domains but not within domains of low involvement". The reading and criticism of poetry may require a high degree of ego-involvement. To discuss poetic meanings that do coalesce naurally with what the poet wrote, one must delay closure with respect to the whole poem (or, at least, a whole poetic passage) until all the issues concerning the symbolic meanings are weighted and weighed. This, in turn, requires "a more complex cognitive structure, comprised of more differentiations and more complete integrations". When a critic encounters some evasive poetic quality and turns to the establishing of symbolic equivalences that need not coalesce naturally with what the poet actually wrote, he is exempt of all this. He may be engaged in source-hunting, parallel-hunting or mythos-mongering in the ways we have encountered in the beginning of the present paper; at the same time he must only remember that he is looking for items related with domes (or caves, or the words bright and green, or the name Alph, or Abora). He may safely achieve rapid closure and seek his fortune in ever-widening circles. But when he returns with his golden fleece, it does not naturally coalesce with what there is explicitly in the poem; but he does not mind, moreover, most probably he cannot mind. He is not equipped with the capability of delayed closure, the touch-stone to test the purity of the gold of which the fleece is made.Psychological Models
When a critic has amassed a huge amount of facts or alleged facts in an attempt to account for some evasive quality in a poem, he sometimes faces the need to fuse those facts into one unity. One favourite way to satisfy this need is to use words to tune the reader's mind so that he performs this fusion for himself; or, at least, so that he accepts these facts as relevant to the poetic quality in question and appropriately fused. This is one reason for the fact that hard-boiled factualism is so frequently associated with what appears to be its very opposite: critical impressionism.13 A more respectable way of facing the need to fuse the facts seems to be to offer a psychological process or model to indicate how those facts are fused in the poet's or the reader's mind. One such model is offered by Lowes in the paragraph that introduces his discussion of "Kubla Khan":
Suppose a subliminal reservoir thronged, as Coleridge's was thronged, with images which had flashed on the inner eye from the pages of innumerable books. Suppose these images to be fitted, as it were, with links which render possible indefinite combination. Suppose some powerful suggestion in the field of consciousness strikes down into this mass of images thus capable of all manner of conjunctions. And suppose that this time, when in response to the summons the sleeping images flock up, with their potential associations, from the deeps - suppose that this time all conscious imaginative control is for some reason in abeyance. What, if all this were so, would happen?That hypthetical question fairly covers, I think, the case of "Kubla Khan" (Lowes, 1927: 343).
When we consider such a psychological explanation, a crucial distinction must be made. When we use, for instance, a seventeenth century psychological model to account for, say, the behaviour of a Shakespearean character, we judge it according to the consistency of the psychological model with the character's behaviour. But when we use a psychological model to account for the poetic quality of the poem with reference to the author's or the reader's psychological processes, we also expect it to be adequate with reference to the present state of the art. It should be remembered that Lowes's book is subtitled A Study in the Ways of Imagination. And Schneider, for instance, quotes the first paragraph in full, and criticizes it for being inadequate in precisely this respect. She takes up at the "hypothetical question", and answers:Psychoanalytical thought has one answer to this question: with conscious control in abeyance, the images fall under the control of the unconscious mind and become symbols of desires, fears, conflicts, expressing the will or wish of the dreamer no less purposively than if they were conscious, but at the deeper levels of unadmitted desire or conflict. Lowes's answer was not this, for the dreamer in Kubla Khan, he thought, is "merely the detached and unsolicitous spectator". And the only force determining the form and sequence of the imagery is the "subtle potency of the associative links". There is no plan, no "deliberate manipulation". It is in effect a poet's exercise of free association without any implication that free is more than chance association or than Hartley's juxtaposition of atoms; the "bewildering hooks and eyes" of the unconscious memory alone were the "irresponsible artificers of the dream". And so in the poem "the linked and interweaving images irresponsibly and gloriously stream, like the pulsing, fluctuating banners of the North. And their pageant is as aimless as magnificent" (Schneider, 1975: 240-241).
Scientific inadequacy, however, is not the only defect Schneider finds with this passage:It is evident from Lowes's language that he was too dazzled to see quite what was before him, his appreciation having outrun perception. [...] Coleridge's preface and the music of Kubla Khan have so particularly encouraged the impressionistic approach to that piece that we are apt to read it with but half-conscious attention as a kind of glorified nursery rhyme even while we call it the quintessence of poetry (ibid, 241).
Thus, Lowes's above passage turns out on closer inspection to be a piece of impressionistic criticism under a psychologistic disguise. Now, is there a logical connection between the two accusations, of relying on an insufficient psychological theory, and of impressionism? In an attempt to answer this question, let us consider another psychological model prefixed to a highly erudite discussion of Coleridge's poem (Beer's). The two discussions are opposed in almost all respects. In the first place, Beer does not credit Coleridge's images with "irresponsibility" or "aimlessness", the lack of any "deliberate manipulation". On the contrary rather, "however it was composed", he says,Kubla Khan the poem is not a meaningless reverie, but a poem so packed with meaning as to render detailed elucidation extremely difficult. It will be suggested that many of the images in the poem can be related to several patterns of meaning which run parallel and are held together not by the "story", but by a separate argument which runs through the poem, at times explicitly stated, at times implicit in the imagery (Beer, 1959: 202).
In the second place, Beer's discussion is not carried away by his enthusiastic language. His writing is plain scientific prose, with no extravagancies. In the third place, he does not embrace a vague, outdated psychological theory, that has not been effected by the Freudian revolution. He embraces the idea "that very intricate mental processes can take place in states of imperfect consciousness" and quotes at length Dalbiez's book Psychoanalytic Method and the Doctrine of Freud:[...] the dreamer passes by association from one image to another; he uses relations, but he does not isolate them; he does not understand them. On the other hand the scientist, after the action of the unconscious relation has caused the rise of a new idea, perceives the relation as a thing apart; he understands. Discovery, in fact, is made in two stages. The first is comparable to the evocation with unconsciousness of the relation in the case of the animal or the dreamer, but with this difference that concepts of a higher order of abstraction are involved. The second stage is strictly rational, the intellection of relation considered simply in itself as a thing apart. Sometimes discovery consists in the rising-up process and the intellectual appreciation of a relation between two ideas already possessed; the unconscious action of the relation is then confined to the appropriate evocation. The accounts given by Poincaré of the origin of several of his discoveries seem to show that their origins can be traced to a process of this kind. The discovery of several structural schemata by Kékulé seems to have been brought about by a process whereby relational unconsciousness has developed into the creation of the new schema. He was dozing on the top of an omnibus, and atoms were dancing before his eyes, first two and two and then in groups of three or four. He spent most of the night working out on paper the hypnagogic or oneiric images which had thus appeared to him, and in the morning he had the result (Beer, 1959: 202-203); and so forth.
This description and Beer's ensuing comments contain some very sound information and speculation concerning the "kinship between creative intellectual processes in different fields". It sounds serious, scientific and respectable. And I do believe the unconscious processes suggested underlie creative thinking in scientific discovery as well as in the writing and reading of poetry. But what does it say, with respect to the fusion of images in "Kubla Khan" into a poetic whole, beyond what is said by Lowes in "the sleeping images flock up, with their potential associations, from the deeps"? Very little, I think. In fact, in view of what follows, it does have one more implication: "Since eminent atom physicist can literally 'dream up' their epoch-making theories, whatever meanings I attribute to the poem cannot be refuted on the grounds that it is too sophisticated or intellectual for a dream". But there is no indication of how the structural properties of the psychological process suggested may shape and constrain the fusion of images in the poem. Having said this, there is a fundamental similarity between Lowes's and Beer's handling of their respective psychological theories: each one of them presents his psychological model at the beginning of his discussion, never to return to it in the course of his long discussion of "Kubla Khan". Beer, like Lowes, presents a host of information supposed to be thronged in Coleridge's subliminal reservoir, that in certain mysterious circumstances may flock up with their potential associations from the deeps, but he does not show what can we learn about their fusion from the processes discussed by Dalbiez.
The upshot of this discussion seems to be this. Theoretical models or frameworks cannot be directly applied to works of literature; they must be applied to texts via critical terms that are properly articulated and have a considerable descriptive contents. Critical terms, on the other hand, with their descriptive contents have little significance unless they are understood in relation to some theoretical framework or model. A critical statement can be true, and still trivial and devoid of interest, unless some theoretical framework or model imputes to it some significance. Let me illustrate this briefly by an oversimplified example. A critical statement like This poem contains twenty three lines may be perfectly true but trivial from the aesthetic point of view. On the other hand, a statement like This poem contains fourteen lines may be regarded rather meaningful from the poetic point of view, when viewed within the theoretical model of the sonnet form. In this simple example, fourteen lines and twenty three lines are terms with precise descriptive contents; sonnet form is a simple "theoretical model". Significant distinctions in a poem can be made only with the help of terms that have precise descriptive contents; whereas these distinctions may become significant only when they can be related to some widely accepted theoretical model. The theoretical models, in turn, can fruitfully be applied to a poem only via some term with a precise descriptive contents. We cannot know whether a poem is a sonnet, without being aware of the number of lines and their grouping by the rhyme-scheme. A good critical term is, then, one that has a well-articulated, precise descriptive contents on the one hand, and can be related to some general model or commonplace (in the rhetorical sense of the term). A good model, in turn, is one that combines with terms on more specific levels, and imputes precise descriptive meanings to them, or improves their articulation, or renders the distinctions made with them significant.14 Now, what seems to be wrong with both Lowes's and Beer's psychological models, from the critical point of view, is that these critics do not apply terms with articulate descriptive contents with which significant descriptions or distinctions can be made in "Kubla Khan".
Before proceeding with this issue, a rather long comment seems to be appropriate here, concerning Beer's psychological model adopted from Dalbiez. The processes mentioned are certainly highly relevant to both the writing and the reading of poetry. However, from the passage quoted from Dalbiez by Beer one could easily get the impression that there is some mysterious, or at least fuzzy relation between the unconscious process that goes on during sleep, and the final intellectual achievement to which it leads. There is no attempt to describe the process with some reasonably articulated descriptive terms. As a matter of fact, the gestaltists have investigated this issue since the early 'thirties, and have come up with some quite interesting results. There are quite a few cases similar to Kékulé's on record. Köhler (1972: 163) refers to the three B's, "the Bus, the Bath, and the Bed", where some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been made (remember Archimedes!). As for the various insights reached in this way,they all agree on one point. After periods during which one has actively tried to solve a problem, but has not succeeded, the sudden right organization of the situation, and with it the solution, tend to occur at moments of extreme mental passivity (ibid, 160).
The solution suddenly occurs at a time when, in Lowes's phrase, "all conscious imaginative control is for some reason in abeyance". That is precisely the time when a restructuring of the situation may take place.Those European psychologists, myself once included, sometimes went a bit too far. Very much impressed by the essential rôle of insight in productive thinking, they often said that the solution of problems is brought about by insight - as though nothing else counted. Now this statement is not entirely correct for the following reason. Insight is insight into relations that emerge when certain parts of a situation are inspected. [...] In the solution of a problem [...] we suddenly become aware of new relations, but these new relations appear only after we have mentally changed, amplified, or restructured the given material (Köhler, 1972: 152-153).
What we call usually insight, is the unique conscious quality of the sudden emergence of the restructuring of mental processes. In terms employed in cognitive poetics, it is the perceived quality of this sudden emergence. The last sentence of the above quotation exactly describes what happens in a really insightful reading of poetry. Now, from this presentation of the issue one could easily derive very useful terms with considerably well-articulated descriptive contents. One only has to describe the given material before and after the new relationships have been perceived, as well as describe the change that has taken place, as a result of amplification or restructuring. Didn't Cleanth Brooks define his key-term, irony, as "a general term for the kind of qualification which the various elements in a context receive from the context"? (quoted by Wellek, 1963: 329). Now, had Beer used these terms in dealing with "Kubla Khan", it easily may have turned out to be devastating for his critical activity. From the foregoing we should expect to find that all the material related to "Kubla Khan" discussed by him is restructured so as to make it possible to discover new relations between old items of material. Now, of the enormous amount of alleged source-material amassed by Beer, only a small percentage occurs in the poem. I seriously doubt whether the rest can be regarded in anyway relevant to the poem. But should it be regarded as relevant, it has not been restructured, and has not entered into new relationships. That is why a depth-psychological model of unconscious processes is so useful for this kind of criticism. One may claim anything one wishes to be relevant to the poem, suggesting that it is present only in the poet's unconscious mind. Köhler puts some structural constraints upon the relevance of this presence.
The best way, I think, to bring out the deficiency of Lowes's and Beer's handling of their respective psychological models is to compare them to another work (published only three years after Lowes's book). Snyder (1930) observes a contrast between two groups of poems, one that contains "some well-known spellweaving or hypnotic poems", and one that contains "some well-known intellectualistic poems" (p. 8). Regrettably for the present comparison, though he includes Kubla Khan and "much of the Ancient Mariner" in the list of poems that constitute the first group, he makes only fleeting allusions to Coleridge's poems, perhaps because they are so obvious examples for some of his generalizations. But from the close textual examination to which he submits e.g. Gray's elegy, one may get a more than fair idea of the subtle textual discriminations he does with the descriptive terms derived from the psychological model. I shall not follow him closely, only give a very brief outline of his method. Viewed from the perspective of the present theory of cognitive poetics, I should distinguish three dimensions in his theory and practice. First, there is an observation that certain poems have a pervasive "spellweaving" or "hypnotic" quality; this is what I call their perceived quality. Second, Snyder offers a psychological model (the hypnotic process) to account for the presence of this perceived quality in the text. Assuming that Snyder is not merely toying around with metaphors, but that the term hypnotic is an apt term to refer to a genuine quality perceived in these poems, one may also assume that one may discover certain conspicuously similar elements in the hypnotic process and the structure of these poems. Third, Snyder derives, with the help of these elements a set of critical terms with clearly articulated, precise descriptive contents. One should emphasize that this precision does not derive only from the psychological model, but also from the critic's keenness and readiness to face refutation. Thus, for instance, Snyder found that most of these poems have excellent versifications or lulling rhythms.I repeatedly tried the theory that these poems gain their spellweaving power because of the perfection of their versification [...]. It developed that every poem of this sort is characterized by excellent versification, and so far the explanation was satisfactory. But the flaw in the theory appears as soon as it is applied negatively to the contrasting group (Snyder, 1930: 14; my italics).
Snyder does not attempt to tune the reader's mind to a certain impression. On the contrary rather. It is he himself who is looking for counterexamples to his own generalizations. As a result, he is compelled to attend to subtle and minimal cues, and is not misled by false but obtrusive cues. Thus, the counterexamples lead him to the conclusion thatnot beautiful rhythm alone, but a certain kind of rhythm combined with other stimuli to put the listener into a light state of trance - a waking trance in which aesthetic enjoyment is heightened until it may even reach ecstasy (16-17).
The "other stimuli" too are referred to by terms that have clear-cut descriptive contents, and some of them, too, may occur both in hypnotic and intellectualist poems. Thus, only the co-occurrence of a considerable subset of the "hypnotic" techniques can induce the "spellweaving" poetic qualities. And the presence or absence of some of these elements enable us to make further distinctions within hypnotic poetry. "The particular form of trance with which we are concerned in this study of poetry is one in which the emotional sensitiveness of the subject grows more and more intense" (31). But "hypnotic" poetry may exploit this emotional sensitiveness in two different ways:Some hypnotic poems stop here: the listener is lulled by patterns of sound, his attention is fixed without arousing of his mental faculty, and he falls into whatever mood the poet "suggests". It is interesting to see how many poets are thus content to stop without taking full advantage of the grip they get on the listener's emotions. Such skillful artists as Poe, Swinburne, the youthful Tennyson, and countless others persistently fail, or refuse to galvanize the sensitive reader to action, determination, or even thought (47).
That is, they ask the reader only "to let their mind to be a thoroughfare for all thought". Of what we have seen of the interpretations of "Kubla Khan", many critics are more than willing to supply what the poet "failed" or "refused" to put into the poem, owing to the intolerance of such situations in which they are expected to respond to some unique, unclassifiable sensation, while their emotional sensitiveness grows more and more intense. In this way they "level" the differences between these and other kinds of hypnotic poems, while Snyder makes efforts precisely to bring out the difference between these hypnotic poems and those poems which "carry the parallel to hypnotism still further by 'suggesting' an impulse to action, making a parallel to the specific post-hypnotic suggestions" (47-48). These "hypnotic suggestions" draw upon the increased emotional sensitivity induced by the hypnotic techniques ("When there is not one iota of proof or argument stated or suggested in Crossing the Bar, why do certain listeners get from it the overwhelming conviction of immortality?" [13; Snyder's italics]).
Now it may be objected that such "suggestions" are also commonly found in non-hypnotic poems, and the objection, so stated, is valid. But there is discoverable a difference in the nature of the suggestion and often in the position of the suggestion [...]. Specifically, in a hypnotic poem the key sentence "suggesting" an idea comes near the end, or at least only after there has been a long preliminary soothing of the listener's senses by monotonous rhythmic "passes". So in hypnosis. Also this key sentence "suggesting" an idea carries conviction without argumentative support, or with only the simplest of obvious arguments to support it. In the non-hypnotic poem these conditions do not obtain (48).15
Finally, I propose to summarize Snyder's terms that derive their justification and descriptive contents from the hypnotic process (as expounded on pages 39-51).I have dwelt at some length on Snyder's study of hypnotic poems, of which "Kubla Khan" is one, in order to show the mutual relationship between psychological model and descriptive terms, and their usefulness in criticism. The subtlety, complexity and abstractness with which Snyder propounds and applies this model and the terms derived from it are ample evidence of his Negative Capability.16 But the main reason for introducing them here was to show the methodological deficiency of Lowes's and Beer's psychological models. Unlike Lowes and Beer, Snyder draws a set of principles from his psychological model, with which meaningful distinctions can be made between hypnotic and other poems, within the group of hypnotic poems among subgroups, and within individual poems. We can now answer a question asked above. Both Lowes and Beer make an impressionistic use of their respective psychological models. They are judged impressionistic irrespective of whether they are adequate or inadequate in view of present day psychology. This judgment depends, rather, on whether the psychological model is used merely "to tune the reader's mind", or as a "rhetorical commonplace" and as a source of clearly articulated descriptive terms. Both critics seem to resort to this kind of impressionism disguised as psychology, in order to compensate for some kind of dissatisfaction with the poetic significance of the "facts" accumulated by them to account for the intuitive greatness of the poem. Critical Theory
* Hypnotic poems in general give us heavy stresses falling regularly [...] and so ornamented that the rhythmically inclined listener has his attention drawn to the sound rather than to the sense.
* Another point in which practically all of these poems show interesting parallel to hypnotism is their freedom from any abrupt changes which would be likely to break the spell, and especially freedom from such ideas as compel mental alertness.
* A certain vagueness of imagery.
* Paradoxical though it sounds, we may yet have to accept the view that in the early stages of a hypnotic poem a foreign word, and obscure phrase, or any slight difficulty that causes fatigue from strain on the part of the listener may actually promote the ultimate aesthetic effect at which the artist aims. [The first line of our poem, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan" more than satisfies this condition - R.T.].
* The use of a refrain, or of frequent repetition.
* The use of suggestion on an entranced person.
and Negative Capability
In this last section of this paper I am going to discuss "Kubla Khan" criticism on three levels (as such, it will be representative of my conception underlying the foregoing discussion). First, I shall briefly consider the problem of incompatible or conflicting interpretations in relation to the poem. Second, I shall consider at some length the theoretical and methodological issues involved in handling such incompatibilities and offer a workable conception in view of the analytical philosophy of criticism of the 'fifties and 'sixties. Third, I shall consider the demands such a conception makes on the critic's Negative Capability, and their implications for the implied critic's decision style. During this discussion an all-important distinction must be borne in mind. When a critic refrains from resorting to a methodological solution that requires a more than usually high degree of Negative Capability, it may mean one of two things at least. On the one hand, it may mean that he cannot cope with the emotional demands posed to him by that kind of solution; on the other hand, it may mean that he simply is not acquainted with the theories of interpretation put forward by e.g. Morris Weitz or Joseph Margolis. Indeed, I believe that most or all of the critics discussed in my paper are unacquainted with their work. Thus, in some instances at least we may assume that the critic was not aware of the complexity of the issue rather than avoided its complexity on purpose, in order to defend himself against its threat. So, we must consider the negative evidence (i.e., that a critic did not assume a certain critical position) against the background of his general cognitive strategies and decision style.
When one is engaged in an overview of a considerable number of more or less legitimate interpretations offered to one literary work of art, the question inevitably arises, how can a single poem mean all those things, or even a part of them. Thus for instance, Schneider devotes the first chapter of her book to a consideration of the welter of interpretations to which Coleridge's major poems have been submitted. I shall have to confine myself to a relatively short quotation from it:
Mr. Warren, Mr. Burke, Mr. Knight, Miss Bodkin, and the others cannot all be right (which does not, certainly, prove any one of them wrong). Their various symbolic interpretations of Coleridge's poems not only are not easily reconciled with one another on the basis of "different levels", but also impute quite different moods or emotional tones to the same poem. If Christabel is felt as the Inferno, it can scarcely also be felt as the moment of balance between good and evil. If Kubla Khan is the Paradiso of Dante, it is not easy to feel it also as exhibiting the conflict of heaven and hell or Coleridge's somewhat less than heavenly domestic life. To the confusion of these is added the voice of those other critics who maintain that [...] Kubla Khan is wholly without meaning of any kind. Though variety among critics is no doubt all to the good, one cannot help wondering a trifle about the present state of criticism when we find as little common ground as this among writers all very eminent, all brilliant and persuasive in argument, and all engaged in describing the central effect of the same poems (Schneider, 1975: 16).
After having agreed with Schneider so many times, this is one point on which I disagree with her. As I have indicated more than once, I do agree completely with Schneider's objection to the extravagancies of symbolic interpretation; but I also believe that such a variety of interpretations as enumerated by Schneider, and much more, can all be right, though some of them clearly are wrong. The root of our disagreement is certainly in Schneider's phrase "all engaged in describing the central effect of the same poems", which is clearly an oversimplified position. All these critics are, indeed, "engaged in describing the central effect of the same poems"; but after an interpretation. As a matter of fact, these critics are only marginally engaged in describing the central effect of these poems; what they are doing, in the first place, is trying to elaborate interpretations.
The source of the problem is that philosophers of the analytic tradition have done exceedingly important work in the philosophy of criticism, of which only a handful of critics seem to be aware. They have formulated a long series of questions that ought to be asked, and have indicated the directions in which the answers can be found. One of the most efficient sources of confusion is that many critics believe that all critical statements are of one kind: factual statements, that are true or false. Philosophers like Beardsley, Margolis or Weitz distinguish three kinds of critical statements. Beardsley (1958: 11) speaks of description, interpretation and evaluation. Weitz (1972: 228-284) speaks of description, explanation and evaluation (I shall not go here into an explication of the difference between Beardsley's interpretation and Weitz's explanation). In disagreement with Beardsley, Margolis (1962: 116) in his discussion of the logic of interpretation suggests that "the characteristic feature of critical interpretation that is philosophically most interesting is its tolerance of alternative and seemingly contrary hypotheses". The characteristic predicate in interpretations (as in scientific hypotheses) is not true but plausible. Margolis (1962: 117) proposes a set of distinctions between the "true" and the "plausible", one of his distinctions being: "Where the statements 'P is true' and 'Q is true' are contraries, the statements 'P is plausible' and 'Q is plausible' are not contraries". Likewise, Weitz (1972: 258) suggests: "These explanations can only be adjudicated in vague terms as for their adequacy but not in precise terms as to their truth or falsity".
In his 1972 book (first published in 1964), Morris Weitz undertook a critical study on a grand scale of the enormous number of Hamlet interpretations. What I have been doing here on a very modest scale with "Kubla Khan" criticism does not pretend to compete with him, and has in fact very different aims. But Weitz's study brings out on a grand scale what made Schneider "wonder a trifle about the present state of criticism when we find as little common ground as this among writers". It manifests and argues that when a single work of literature is submitted to a great number of interpretations, they will necessarily include incompatible interpretations, though none of them need be wrong. But it is mainly his theoretical considerations and conclusions upon which we can liberally draw for our subject.
Let us consider, for instance, Schneider's misgivings: "If Kubla Khan is the Paradiso of Dante, it is not easy to feel it also as exhibiting the conflict of heaven and hell". How can two such incompatible interpretations refer to the same data in the poem? The point is that the various critics are not dealing with the same data in "Kubla Khan", just as in Hamlet they are not,where the data themselves are attributed ones, hypothesized by the critic. That Hamlet delays is given in the play, but that his delay is central or even that Hamlet is central is not; that Hamlet suffers is given in the play, but that his suffering is his central trait and that this trait is most important in the play are not given. What is central, primary, most important, or what is the theme of Hamlet is not a datum but a hypothesis, which the critic defends by further hypotheses: from a specific hypothesis about Hamlet to a general one about drama (Weitz, 1972: 256).
The data accounted for in the various readings are determined by the relative weight the critic bestows upon them within the work of literature. Consider this issue in "Kubla Khan". That the caverns are there and that they are opposed to the "sunny pleasure-dome" is given in the poem; but that they are also opposed to the mountain, or that this opposition reflects the conflict of heaven and hell, is hypothesized by the critic. What is the theme of "Kubla Khan" is not a datum but a hypothesis, which the critic defends by further hypotheses: from a specific hypothesis about "Kubla Khan" to a general one about some more general patterns, such as the archetype of Paradise and Hades, or "Coleridge's Divine Comedy", or romantic nature poetry, or the nature and structure of ecstatic poetry. Now, to what degree are the caverns considered "central, primary, most important", depends inter alia upon whether "Kubla Khan is the Paradiso of Dante", or exhibits "the conflict of heaven and hell". Under the latter pattern, all the aspects of caverns we have discussed in relation to Bodkin's analysis receive a considerable weight, as part of "a pattern of rising and sinking vitality". Now notice that both readings agree upon the centrality of Paradise in the overall pattern of the poem, but in the former reading the poem is part of a wider pattern, with two more poems, in the pattern of "Coleridge's Divine Comedy". Under this pattern, some of the aspects of caverns suggested by Bodkin are necessarily toned down, and the opposition "a sunny pleasure-dome and caves of ice" suggests an overwhelming sense of wonder in the face of "a miracle of rare device", enhancing the directly felt pleasure in the description of the Paradise. This capability of "switching" from one set of aspects to another of the opposition corresponds to the ability suggested by Wittgenstein (1976: 214e) to "understand the request to pronounce the word 'till' and to mean it as a verb" or an adverb.
We could go on quoting endlessly from Weitz's illuminating book. But I shall quote only one more passage crucial for our business.Like the director of a production of Hamlet, the critic rehearses with his readers the various possible ways of viewing the play, then invites them to see it his way [...]. This recommendation to read critical interpretations as rehearsals and performances and not as true or false statements must nevertheless submit to criteria of adequacy. Even though there is no such thing as the true or best production or performance of Hamlet, there are better or worse ones (262).
The foregoing discussion in the philosophy of criticism has significant implications for the implied critic's decision style. Thus, as I have suggested at the beginning of this paper, the Quest for Certitude is intimately associated with factualism; whereas Weitz and Margolis deprive the critic of the certainty that can be derived from a factual statement that can be, clearly, "true" or "false". Instead, they offer the critic "plausible" hypotheses, and definitions which are "perennially debatable" (Weitz, 1972: 307), what is characterized as "an honorific redefinition [...] that restricts the use of the term to a selection from its multiple criteria" (ibid, 309). In order to cope with the demands on his Negative Capability, a critic needs certain personality traits, summarized in a classical statement of the attitude of a flexible person:The categorical or conceptual attitude is characterized by ability or readiness to assume a mental set voluntarily, to shift from one aspect of the situation to another, to keep in mind, simultaneously, various aspects, to grasp the essentials of a given whole, to break up a given whole into parts and to isolate them voluntarily, to abstract common properties, to plan ideationally, to assume an attitude toward "the merely possible", to think and perform symbolically, and finally to detach our ego from the outer world (Frenkel-Brunswick, 1968: 136, quoted above in the section "The Implied Critic's Decision Style").
It should be noticed, for instance, that Margolis' conception of a critical hypothesis as what can be plausible rather than true does require "an ability to assume an attitude toward the merely possible". Likewise, our discussion of the data that are hypothesized, and the shift from one set of aspects of the caverns to another, clearly require not only this ability, but also a "readiness to assume a mental set voluntarily, to shift from one aspect of the situation to another, to keep in mind, simultaneously, various aspects"; and so forth.
I have been left with a certain debt to the reader. In one of the early sections of the present paper, I have criticized Yarlott for stating, as a fact, what the Khan's position was in relation to his slave-force, or what was his understanding of the sublime quality of the landscape he chose for his stately pleasure-dome, and the like. It might be objected that I am unfair to Yarlott. Every interpretation involves the addition of information ("myths", or "hypotheses", in Margolis' terms, which are schemata of the imagination) that is not explicitly stated in the text. Margolis gives the following account of the issue:The imaginative schema (or "myth") that the critic uses [...] may merely be a formulable conviction about life that the artist himself may be supposed to have held, which, considered without regard to its own truth or falsity, adequacy or inadequacy, may, in the hands of the critic, enable us to impute a coherent design to a work otherwise defective or puzzling in this respect (Margolis, 1962: 114).
I shall not argue that Yarlott's information concerning the Khan does not satisfy Margolis' criteria for "schema of the imagination" (though it does not), but shall rather point out that the first part of "Kubla Khan" is not "defective or puzzling" or incoherent in this respect, unless we regard uncertainty as for the value of things as defectiveness or puzzlingness.17 Moreover, this information does not help us to "impute a coherent design" to the poem. It merely helps to impute an evaluative ingredient to the otherwise unevaluated description. Or consider another issue in Yarlott's discussion. As we have seen, he finds the same two adjectives in the description of Kubla's garden and in "Christabel, where snake joins 'bright' and 'green' (the only colour details found in Kubla's garden) in a cluster of positive malignancy: [...] bright green snake". This leads him to the conclusion that the description of the garden "produces sinister, almost reptilian, associations". Now, is this not an attitude that "the artist himself may be supposed to have held"? Certainly, it is in a sense. However, two important issues arise in this connection. First, after having written "Christabel", cannot Coleridge discribe anything as bright and green without producing sinister, almost reptilian, associations? Second, what we have here, isn't exactly a formulable conviction about life. In other words, what we have here is an all too concrete, not sufficiently general or abstract hypothesis. We may even add here a third point: far from imputing a coherent design upon an otherwise defective poem, it rather atomizes a considerably coherent poem. In this way, it encourages rapid rather than delayed closure. The best way to demonstrate, again, the flaws of such a critical practice is to consider here a genuine case of imaginative schema that does, "in the hands of the critic, enable us to impute a coherent design" to "Kubla Khan".
I have throughout the present paper been judging Beer's critical practice with severity. It will be but fair, I think, to acknowledge also when I agree with him and admire his work. Many of the prominent "school-examples" of interpretations take a ready-made myth or "imaginative schema" that has a high degree of unity by its very nature, and offer it as a hypothesis to impute coherence on the whole work (one such exquisite example is Fergusson's interpretation of Oedipus Rex, based on the Dionysus ritual; another might be Bodkin's "death and rebirth archetype" in interpreting Coleridge's poems). But this need not necessarily be the case. Beer offers us a fine example of "synthesizing" an imaginative schema that is "tailor-made" for the interpretation of "Kubla Khan". From his wording it is not quite clear whether he offers it as a "true" or rather as a "plausible" interpretation, but even if he means it as a "true" one, the schema has all it needs to serve as an excellent example of Margolis' theory. On pages 226-229 Beer discusses at some length Coleridge's conception of the "absolute genius" and the "commanding genius". Here I shall reproduce only one of his quotations, concerning the latter:These in tranquil times are formed to exhibit a perfect poem in palace, or temple, or landscape-garden; or a tale of romance in canals that join sea with sea, or in walls of rock, which, shouldering back the billows, imitate the power, and supply the benevolence of nature to sheltered navies; or in aqueducts that, arching the wide vale from mountain to mountain, give Palmyra to the desert. But alas! in times of tumult they are the men destined to come forth as the shaping spirit of Ruin, to destroy the wisdom of ages in order to substitute the fancies of a day, and to change kings and kingdoms, as the wind shifts and shapes the clouds (Beer, 1959: 228).
Now, in the first place, this is doubtless "a formulable conviction about life that the artist himself may be supposed to have held". Second, some critics have held that the two lines "And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far / Ancestral voices prophesying war" are puzzling in this poem; some even claim they are defective. If we use Coleridge's conception of the "commanding genius" to impute a coherent design to this poem, the incoherent elements are revealed as the two sides of the commanding genius, the one dominant in times of peace, the other dominant "in times of tumult". It should be noticed, that such a hypothesis is highly plausible not only because the poet himself may be supposed to have held these views, but because substantial parts of the first part of the poem may be regarded as instances illustrating the acts of the commanding genius in times of peace; whereas these two "puzzling" or "defective" lines become hints at what may come of him. Later on, Beer elaborates this conception in a way that may illuminate the unity of the whole poem:Kubla Khan, to sum up, is a poem with two major themes: genius and the lost paradise. In the first stanza the man of commanding genius, the fallen but daemonic man, strives to rebuild the lost paradise in a world which is, like himself, fallen. In the second stanza, the other side of the daemonic re-asserts itself: the mighty fountain in the savage place, the wailing woman beneath the waning moon, the daemon-lover. The third stanza is a moment of miraculous harmony between the contending forces: the sunny dome and the caves of ice, the fountain and the caves, the dome and the waves all being counterpoised in one harmony. Finally, in the last stanza, there is a vision of paradise regained: of man re-visited by the absolute genius which corresponds to his original, unfallen state, of the honey-dew fountain of immortality re-established in the garden, of complete harmony between Apollo with his lyre and the damsel with the dulcimer, of the established dome, and of the multitude, reconciled by the terrible fascination of the genius into complete harmony (Beer, 1959: 266-267).
In view of this clear and illuminating imaginative schema it is hard to understand why had Beer to resort to all that erudition that directs attention away from the poem. Even in this lucid "imaginative schema", the phrase "Apollo with his lyre" gives away Beer's allegoristic temper. It is hard to tell, how can one reconcile these two kinds of critical activity of one and the same person. I have got my own guesses in this respect, but in the absence of satisfying arguments to support them, I prefer to leave the issue unresolved. The reader may attempt to weigh the possible explanations for himself, in the vein of arguments propounded in the course of the present paper.Summary
I have at great length followed "Kubla Khan" criticism on three levels. On the first level I have confronted pieces of criticism with the poetic text, and have examined their adequacy. On the second level I have attempted to generalize from observations on the preceding level to wider theoretical and methodological issues, taking into account some of the theoretical generalizations of recent analytical philosophy of criticism. On this level, our inquiry seems to have contributed to the theory of interpretation as well: it has defined some of the evasive constraints upon interpretation (such as the ones concerning the degree of abstraction). On the third level, I have discussed the implied critic's decision style. We have dwelt at length on the dichotomous pair of attitudes Negative Capability and the Quest for Certitude. The former is characterized by high tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, whereas the latter by anxiousness to avoid them. Keats claimed that Negative Capability is a prerequisite for literary accomplishment as a poet and, we might add, as a reader as well. In this respect, the critic is, in the first place, a reader some of whose responses to literature are publicly accessible. We have encountered and isolated a considerable number of critical strategies and devices in the writings of critics, that seem to reflect an effort to avoid ignorance, uncertainty and ambiguity. In this respect, we have emphasized time and again, that it is not necessarily the adequacy of critical methods or the validity of specific statements that determine the implied critic's decision style. Critical activities are determined, in the first place, by prevalent critical approaches, academic climate, and being exposed to certain critical theories rather than others. Walter Weimer has criticized the name given to Popper's classical book The Logic of Scientific Discovery; it should rather be called, he says, The Logic of the Completed Scientific Report. Scientific discovery follows its own logic, says Weimer. Our business in the present paper has been to try to recover from behind the prevailing norms of "the completed scientific report" the traces of the critic's process of discovery. Certain deviations from these prevailing norms in either direction, and consistency in these directions, may indicate the implied critic's decision style. The term "decison style" suggests some more or less homogeneous set of critical decisions. We have found, indeed, that some critics do manifest a considerable degree of consistency in their use of devices, whether in the service of the Quest for Certitude, or in the service of Negative Capability. But this cannot be taken for granted either. We have encountered instances, in which opposite tendencies occurred in the writing of the same critic. In some cases such inconsistencies can be explained. In some other instances it might be wiser to keep silent and wait for the emergence of further evidence.
Ecstatic states consist in a loosening of conscious control. As a result, ecstatic poetry may arouse a sense of uncertainty or even anxiety. That is why an ecstatic poem like "Kubla Khan" is more than usually apt to elicit interpretations that manifest the syndrome of the Quest for Certitude. In a Hebrew paper (Tsur, 1985), I have examined a corpus of interpretations devoted to another genre that is more than usually apt to elicit interpretations that manifest the syndrome of the Quest for Certitude: a corpus of fiction described as "Literature of Extreme Situations", including such works as Kafka's The Castle, theater of the absurd, and a large corpus of short stories in Hebrew. A comparison of the findings of these two inquiries are illuminating. The Quest for Certitude tends to have recourse with regard to both corpuses to the same strategies of defence and avoidance.*
1 These paragraphs are near-literal quotations from the above mentioned paper (Tsur, 1975).
2 The F-scale and Dogmatism Scale are irrelevant to our present inquiry. They are, however, very relevant to the question of relationship between the teaching of literature and the education for values (cf. Tsur, 1969, 1975; 1979).
3 By the way, the author's point out that one of the signs of abstract thinking is the capability of regarding an object or event as a represantative or instance of some wider category.
4 There arise interesting analogies between these "less abstract" and "more concrete" ways of functioning. Take, for instance, the difficulty to report to oneself or to others what one is doing. Goldstein and Scheerer report that certain patients, who are perfectly capable of throwing a ball into three boxes placed at various distances from them, are incapable of reporting which box is further away from them. On the other hand, it has been widely observed in prosody classes, that students are perfectly capable of correctly placing the stress on words in their connected speech, or even in isolated words, but are incapable of reporting where the stress is placed in a certain polisyllabic.
Or take the issue of "detaching our ego from the outer world": the case of the patient who cannot repeat the sentence "Snow is black", because "it is false". When urged by the experimenter to repeat this meaningless sentence, he does so but is compelled to mutter after it "No, snow is not black". I have recently encountered some illuminating analogous behaviour at the university. A few years ago there was a student in one of my graduate seminars, whose intellectual performance puzzled the other students. She is highly intelligent, they said, but there is something odd in her way of thinking. As a matter of fact, she exhibited a wide range of extreme symptoms of the Quest for Certitude. Recently she handed in a proposal for a doctoral thesis to the Research Students' Committee. The committee has found that her hypotheses were stated at such a high level of generalization, that they were completely uninformative. It was my task to explain to her what was wrong with her proposal. When the proposal was returned to her for the second time and she was urged to formulate some more specific hypotheses, tentatively though, she said "But I cannot write down those hypotheses, even tentatively, before I made it absolutely certain they are right".
5 I have discussed this issue at considerable length in relation to Rimbaud's "Voyelles" in the chapter devoted to this poem in my book What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive?
6 Part of her phonetic discussion is clearly inadequate from the theoretical point of view. But this does not distract from the judgment that this phonetic discussion too is indicative of an attitude of negative capability (on the contrary rather: it enhances it). Critics characterized by a quest for certitude, and with an inadequate theoretical framework, all too frequently seek to associate certain sound patterns with specific "inherent" meanings. This enables them to achieve rapid closure. Schneider, on the contrary, after pointing out the elaborate sound patterns of the first stanza, suggests that dome is foregrounded by virtue of the fact that it is the only word in the stanza that is no part of any of the repetitive sound patterns. This critical strategy requires more than usually delayed closure.
7 It should be noted that in the sentences omitted in the quotation Ms. Schneider discusses the dangers and justification of this technique.
8 Concrete functioning is characterized by an inability to change "mental sets", and a tendency to cling to a single level of thinking. We may find, therefore, "concrete functioning" even among professors of philosophy. This may account for phenomena that otherwise would have to be regarded as incongruous. We sometimes encounter philosophers or literary critics (or, with the necessary changes, linguists) who develop, on the abstract level, brilliant theories of interpretation, but in their practical criticism display most of the symptoms of the Quest for Certitude (or of concrete functioning, for that matter).
9 The case is different with Fruman's speculations on the relevance of the Bacchus cult to his interpretation. The first and last sentences in a quotation from Patricia M. Adair suggest: "The ecstasy which possessed the women who followed Bacchus was a fierce and blind desire to be lost in the daemon-god. [...] The original Crewe manuscript of Kubla Khan confirms this association by spelling the 'demon-lover' of the 1816 version as 'Daemon Lover'" (397). Unlike a putative "female-breast quality" or "mons-veneris quality", there is an ecstatic quality in Coleridge's poem, regularly associated with it by most readers. But, then, the evidence for the Bacchic association seems to be twofold: the ecstatic quality and the reference to the "Daemon Lover". From this point of view, the claim that the allusion to the Bacchus cult reinforces the ecstatic quality in the poem turns out to be circular. Morevover, the ecstatic quality in the poem is readily accessible to any reader ignorant of the Crewe manuscript spelling or the identification of Bacchus as a daemon-god. All this, however, may be relevant to Fruman's musings about Coleridge's self-identification with Bacchus. This, however, returns us to the issue raised By Schneider: "The trap difficult to avoid is that of mistaking what it is one has proved", something about the poem, or about its author's psychology.
10 It is Bodkin (1963: 102) who introduces the reference to Rudolf Otto's discussion of the numinous in his The Idea of the Holy, in relation to this poem, but not necessarily to this passage.
11 Such imagery as in "As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing", in which several critics have pointed out the imagery of birth may reinforce the pattern of "Death and Rebirth".
12 Gombrich quotes a charming example of an extreme violation of the sign limit, from the first page of Dickens' Great Expectations:As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair [...] (Gombrich, 1969: 164).
13 There seems to be another reason, that has direct bearing on our present inquiry. There are seemingly incompatible ways to achieve certainty in criticism, in the service of the Quest for Certitude. One may achieve certainty by sticking to irrefutable "objective" facts. At the same time, one may achieve certainty by clinging to one's own subjective feelings, that are equally irrefutable. Thus, the Quest for Certitude may admit factualism and impressionism at one and the same time, in spite of their apparent incompatibility.
14 I have elsewhere discussed these and related matters at greater length (Tsur, 1983 a: 28-36; 1983 c).
15 Snyder's uncompromising intellectual keenness and honesty are manifest in the following passage where he presents a counterexample to this generalization too:Pope, on the other hand, in his most brilliant failure, the Essay on Man, argues throughout Epistle I in support of a thesis [...], and finally states the thesis he has tried to establish: "Whatever is, is right". Although the final position of this key sentence is in accord with the hypnotic tendency, Pope's poem in most respects is of the other type. In so far as it fails, the difficulty is probably due [...] to the psychological discord between the soothing monotony of the "rocking-horse couplet" and the intense mental activity demanded of the listener (50).
Snyder treats Pope's poem as a hypnotic poem manqué. As I shall suggest in the next paper, further distinctions between, and combinations of, categories are required. Regular metre is, in fact, "triple-edged", and Snyder does not seem to be aware of the potential intellectual effect of good gestalts as in regular metre and symmetrical couplets. But this kind of solution, too, is in Snyder's spirit of "a certain kind of rhythm combined with other stimuli".
16 In spite of his subtlety and exceptional sensitivity to poetic effects, as well as his great theoretical awareness, it is conspicuous that Snyder's book preceded by nineteen years Wimsatt and Beardsley's paper on "The Affective Fallacy". Indeed, the affective fallacy is the most obvious pitfall throughout this remarkable little book. Thus, for instance, Snyder decides that Poe's Ulalume is a "semihypnotic poem", because it "is a rather hypnotic poem in its effect on some people, not on others" (71).
17 One must distinguish the possible defectiveness, puzzlingness, incoherence of the poem as a whole, from the coherence and precision of the description of the concrete landscape where the pleasure-dome was to be built (cf. e.g. Bloom, 1963: 230).* Bibliograhical note (1997) Some of my papers mentioned in the Bibliography have been reprinted in my recent books. My papers (Tsur, 1975, 1979) have been reprinted as chapter twenty o f my book (Tsur, 1993 b: 471-500). My pamphlet (1983a) has been distributed between chapters one and twenty one of the same book. My pamphlet (1983b) too has been included in chapter twenty one. The same book contains a section ("Poetry of Altered St ates of Consciousness") of three chapters ("Poetry and Altered States of Consciousness", "Obtrusive Rhythms and Emotive Crescendo", and "The Divergent Passage and Ecstatic Poetry"). My Hebrew papers (Tsur: 1969, 1985) ha s been included in my Hebrew book (Tsur, 1996); one section from it, on the grotesque, has also been included in my English book (Tsur, 1993 b: 385-394).
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