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

  • Author / Creator
    Campbell, Paul G
  • 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.

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  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.