Written for lovers of literature interested in self-actualization, Literature: How to Read and Understand the World teaches readers how to derive principles of wisdom from literature and apply them to their lives. The book achieves this through a series of five essential steps, including identifying with literary characters, aggregating principles of wisdom from their experience, and applying those principles to readers’ lives. Along the way, the author reveals his own transformation through this process. Literature: How to Read and Understand the World will help you to enrich your life and world!
Over the next several months, I will be releasing excerpts from the book along with questions to keep readers thinking after reading the posts. If you are intrigued by what you read, please share with a friend!
To begin to distill characters’ unique, labyrinthine experiences into a set of principles we can use to alleviate our own journeys, the first step is to compile our character identifications from a work of literature into a single place, just as we did with our engaged annotations in the previous step. This will be a commonality throughout our process of reading literature: in each step, the yield of the previous step will serve as fodder for the step to come, and the next step will contain an implicit check on the preceding one.
Once you have compiled your character identifications together, read through them all at once and in an open, nonjudgmental manner, as you did with your engaged annotations and Antipodiatry work in the previous exercise. That is, as you read through your character identifications, don’t take out your pen and make quick slashes across facts about the characters as if to say, “Ah ha, now I’ve found the key to your oddity!;” this would be an obvious reversion to the practice of being on the Balcony, and instead it’s useful to just let that part of yourself sit back as you absorb the whole of each character. My example in the coming exercise will be my Psychic Map from Hamlet, one I created after revisiting character identifications with Hamlet, his father, Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, and Laertes.
Once you have read all character identifications from your chosen work of literature, create a table with two columns, just as we did in our Antipodiatry exercise, and begin to fill the left-hand column with words that describe the fundamental states of being of these characters. Unlike in Antipodiatry, in your work here you will not make clear which state of being belongs to which character, as the point of Psychic Mapping is to get away from focus on singular characters and to instead ask ourselves the wisdom that emanates from the whole. In this process, we will stand to see how our own lives’ content fits into a parallel labyrinth as well as illuminate some pathways through it. For Hamlet, following are the states of being that seemed to be emanating from this group of characters:
It didn’t seem clear to me that any of these states of being were unique to any of the play’s central characters, but rather, that they described things all characters went through at different points in the play; for instance, I could see “sarcasm” not only broadly in Hamlet, but also more subtly in Claudius, Laertes, and Gertrude; even in Ophelia, who might have expressed her discontent in the form of silent, inner “rejection” rather than through sarcasm, there is still the possibility of “sarcasm” as something she might have felt drawn to, yet perhaps did not feel the power to voice.
Additionally, it is useful to remind readers here that some of these states of being may exceed things which actually occurred in the play Hamlet: for instance, there is very little direct “listening” in the play, and hardly any “freedom” until the last act. However, in writing character identifications one of the things we have done for characters is imagine their possibilities, an act of service which recognizes not only who they are, but also who they could be, who they might become if in full possession of their power. As such, a Psychic Map contains the content of not only what happened in a work of literature, but also what might have happened, as well as what we might wish had happened—in this content, it is a testament not only to our comprehension of the work of literature but also to the compassion we felt for its characters while reading.
Have you ever tried to summarize what characters learned throughout their journeys in a work of literature? If so, what did you find? Were there commonalities as well as differences? What is the benefit of noticing this? How did you then apply what you had learned to the journey of your own life? For more on these topics, please follow my blog or grab a copy of the book for yourself.