In Memoriam exemplifies, for instance, the continued use of ancient paradigms, and it also shows how they may take new forms. Furthermore, it reveals the relation between paradigm transformation and autobiographical literature; and at the same time, it permits us to perceive that paradigms in autobiographical and other literature can function as organizational principles, plot devices, and means of rhetorical and philosophical resolution. In The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (Trans. D. H. Wilson, Baltimore, 1978), Wolfgang Iser describes the way the author's ideas emerge during "the reading process, in the course of which the reader's role is to occupy shifting vantage points that are geared to a prestructured activity and to fit the diverse perspectives into a gradually evolving pattern." As even this brief discussion of In Memoriam and the other works at which we have looked should suggest, they employ paradigms and paradigm transformations as a primary means of directing the reader's activity. In particular, they an begin in a situation of doubt and then dramatize the speaker's sudden accession to faith by means of such paradigms. The reader both understands and experiences these works only when he recognizes that the meaning of the paradigm has shifted. Kuhn likens the exchange of scientific paradigms to a religious-conversion experience, and taking a hint from him, we may observe that a great many literary works control and direct the reader by encouraging him to effect precisely such a paradigm exchange. Paradigms are means of interpreting the world, and therefore to exchange paradigms requires that one change one's interpretation of things. By employing series of paradigms that can fit into two different codes or systems, writers during the past two centuries have frequently made their readers enact what was to them a fundamental situation — that in which a person must make art interpretation. Carlyle's The French Revolution, Latter-Day Pamphlets, and Chartism, Ruskin's Modern Painters, The Stones of Venice, and writings in political economy, Tennyson's In Memoriam and Idylls of The King, Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland, and countless autobiographies and writings of the sage, such as those by Cioran, Nietzsche, Mailer, [208/209] and Didion, an attempt to make the reader accede to their acts of interpretation by making him participate in the hermeneutic process.
This brief examination of the way paradigms function within literary works suggests that one must revise Iser's useful theories of reader response in an important way. Writing primarily as a student of the novel, he has formulated a theory that, in its present form, has severe limitations. According to Iser, his theory of the reading process is best exemplified by the novel, which is a system of perspectives designed to transmit the individuality of the author's vision. As a rule there are four main perspectives; those of the narrator, the characters, the plot, and the fictitious reader. [p. 35]
To these four perspectives, as Iser calls them, I would propose adding a fifth, that of the paradigm system. As In Memoriam and many prose autobiographies demonstrate, whatever plot these works might possess is far less important in the reader's experience of each one than the development, transformation, and exchange of paradigm systems. Furthermore, brief lyrics, such as Hopkins's "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire," and other non-narrative literature often have neither characters nor plot. Their organization takes the form of logical, rhetorical, or other discursive modes; and again, paradigms often play major roles. In fact, these systems of paradigm development and transformation provide the lyric and non-narrative equivalent to plot. In addition, there are many works of fiction, such as those by Dickens, Faulkner, and Broch, in which such paradigm systems are usefully considered as another of Iser's "perspectives," my fifth to be added to his initial four. Any novel other fictional work with numerous chararacters, such as Browning's The Ring and the Book, can employ various paradigms in dialogue spoken by different characters or in the narrator's statements and descriptions. When this is the case, one finds it more efficient to consider these paradigms as composing their own system, rather than treat each as a means by which the individual characters express themselves.
These brief observations are intended merely to suggest how complex is the individual paradigm's relation to the work in which it appears and the traditions in which they both participate. iconology, which is the study of situations, paradigms, and figurations in the arts, thus has much to offer not only the art, literary, and cultural historian but also the critic and theoretician of literature as well .
Last modified 15 July 2007