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A Bridge from Artificial Places: An Empirical Phenomenology of Mystical Reading in Rilke and Eliot Open Access


Other title
Rainer Maria Rilke
Reader Response
Modernist Poetry
T.S. Eliot
Empirical Study of Literature
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Campbell, Paul G
Supervisor and department
Kuiken, Don (Psychology)
Miall, David (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Reimer, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
Cupchik, Gerald (Psychology)
Bortolussi, Marisa (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Braz, Albert (Comparative Literature)
Comparative Literature

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Exploring whether, and to what extent, the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke can facilitate mystical poetic experiencing is the purpose of this thesis. In opposition to Reuven Tsur’s claim that readers simply recognize or detect elements that can be identified as mystical, I argue that readers can experience, in powerfully embodied ways, aspects of mysticism such as wonder, reverence, and a dissipation of the boundaries of the self. In Chapter 1, after defining mysticism, and illustrating the features of Eliot and Rilke’s poetry that afford the possibility for mystical experience, I present the empirical methodology employed in this project, and the traditional resistance to such methods. Chapter 2 comprises the theoretical heart of the thesis. Here, I discuss aesthetic theories of emotion, and argue for a contemporary, embodied version of expression theory informed by phenomenology. This lays the theoretical groundwork for the elaboration of an experiencing model, which is progressively developed into a model of reading experiencing, and finally a model of mystical poetic experiencing. Chapter 3 is the empirical centre of the thesis, wherein I present two studies of actual readers. Study One, a large-scale investigation of 20 Rilke and Eliot selections, allows me to uncover seven distinct kinds of reading experience. One of these, Spiritual Enactive Engagement, confirms that a kind of mystical poetic experiencing is indeed possible in poetic encounters with Rilke and Eliot. Study Two is a small-scale, in-depth, interview-based exploration of one Rilke and one Eliot text. It more fully articulates what aspects of the poetic texts, and what characteristics of the participants, make mystical poetic experiencing possible. Finally, Chapter 4 is a concluding application of the mystical poetic experiencing model to Rilke and Eliot’s poetry. This application is my presentation, or my reading, of the reader commentaries provided in Study Two. I use participant comments to construct a detailed, fully embodied reading of two texts, demonstrating the potential value of such empirical research to literary scholarship more broadly considered.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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