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!
Once the previous two steps have helped us to enumerate the states of being that characters exude, the next step is to update our mode of presentation from the above table to a more helpful flow-chart format. This latter format grants coherence to the “map” connotation in the term Psychic “Mapping:” like the people lost in the maze in the founding metaphor in this chapter, we have now adumbrated a list of potential sign posts in that maze, states of being that we might wander through on our course toward wholeness. The question now becomes: how do we get from more to less painful states of being? What is the relation among them? What sorts of directions might we give ourselves as we navigate states of being?
To begin this transition, open to a fresh sheet of paper and look over the list of terms you created in the previous step, seeing which, if any, stands out to you as the starting point for your map. This would be the term that might reasonably stand as the source of all other terms, the deepest complex or issue with which characters struggle in this work of literature—and which you may feel you do as well. In some cases, you might actually choose a term not present in your list of terms at all, as one might arise for you that seems to describe or undergird multiple of those terms. This is what I did with Hamlet, choosing the term “loneliness” as a malaise underlying other phenomena like “deceit,” “rejection,” and “calculation,” and writing down “loneliness” as my map’s starting point:
From here, begin to place other terms in relation to your initial term, doing so in a way that shows how one might flow from your initial state of being to successive ones. In the end, a Psychic Map should offer a linear course from your initial state of being to different, more positive ones, ultimately painting a way out of the “labyrinth” of suffering altogether. Through Psychic Mapping, we convert our knowledge of characters’ trials and successes to a visual product, showing how to navigate the sharp edges of suffering and joy in our inner worlds. I know that this conversion to linearity may or may not strike as true in the sense that our emotions are not always linear; however, I have never found in performing the act of Psychic Mapping that it seemed anything but logical—in other words, the states of being from the work of literature always seemed to bear an inherent relation that offered a way out of their dynamics altogether. With Hamlet, my completed map looked as follows:
A good thing to note here is that none of these states of being bore referents any longer—not to the characters from whom I drew them, nor to the work of literature from which they arose. That is to say, nowhere in this map would a casual passerby be able to discern that it had anything to do with Hamlet: instead, it would simply look like something I had to say about my own psyche, or alternately about the human psyche which exists in us all. This latter interpretation is a site of choice: either the person does or does not identify with what I have made, seeing it as a template that describes their own section of our common labyrinth; in either case, my creation is disembodied so as to equally and abstractly avail the knowledge for all. In a later chapter I will discuss what this freedom to take or leave knowledge says about more and less useful practices for sharing wisdom, but for now my point is that the abstract nature of our Psychic Map in fact testifies to its success: we have divested the work of literature of its wisdom such that this wisdom now floats free, thus becoming something we can observe independent of context and apply to our lives if desired.
However, this abstract nature is as much a downfall as it is a boon: in looking over this or any other Psychic Map we could still say, “Well, that’s not really about me; those things are about Hamlet.” This is because while the content of the Psychic Map is divorced of its immediate context in Hamlet, it’s also divorced of any context that roots it in our lives; at this point, whether or not we see it as applicable remains a choice.
Have you ever attempted to map out the pathways through your own psyche? Through other people’s psyches? If so, what has been the benefit? Have there been any drawbacks? Did it encourage your intuition that you were able to complete this process? For more on these topics, please follow my blog or grab a copy of the book for yourself.