English 300 - Fall 2004

This is my class journal for Professor Sexson's Critical Theory class.


Dante's 4 levels of interpretation

Before we begin I just thought I'd point out that it seems Dante's 4 levels of interpretation are the same as the Mediaeval Levels of Allegorical Interpretation that we read in the introduction to the anthology:

1. Literal / Historical
2. Allegorical / Spiritual
3. Tropological / Moral
4. Anagogical / Mystical

So. Isn't that interesting. Anyway. There are two different very short passages with which I think I'll TRY to do this. Don't know how it will work out.


"Es ist oft besser in Ketten, als frei zu sein." -Franz Kafka, Das Schloss. In English: "It is often better in chains than to be free."

1. Literal
So the literal here is pretty easy. I mean, you can't even really paraphrase it. He's just saying it's often better--whether this means easier, more beneficial, whatever, it's "better" to be chained in some way than it is to be free from chains.

2. Allegorical
This one might be a stretch, but from what I know about Kafka's struggles with Judaism and Christianity--I think it works. In the Bible it says that God's followers are slaves to the Holy Spirit. Chains are a pretty good symbol of slavery. So it is better to have some kind of master and be in chains--for this master will provide you with SOMETHING, and if it's the right master, you get eternal life--than to be "free" but have nothing spiritually. See what I mean?

3. Moral
You know, these last three are kind of hard to differentiate. Ok.
I guess what we get here in the Moral sense is that a chained heart/being with boundaries or limitations, and thus SOMETHING to cling to, is better than one completely free, unfettered and ungrounded, with nothing.

4. Anagogical
Is there an anagogical level? I guess if I had to make one, it would be that the idea of chains is actually more liberating than the idea of freedom from them--as much of a paradox as this is. Think about it. It kind of works. At least in my mind.


Dare I try this with a passage from Choke (by Chuck Palahniuk, of course)? I think I will.

"...I'm so full of my own shit.... Now I'm an orphan. I'm unemployed and unloved. ...my guts hurt, and I'm dying anyway, from the inside out...."

1. Literal
Victor (the narrator) is quite literally full of his own shit. He is a sexaholic, and during one of his encounters, the girl shoves a string of rubber balls up his ass, and when she pulls it out, two of them are stuck inside him, backing up his whole system. He's an orphan, because his mother has died (and she wasn't even his real mother) and so on....

2. Allegorical
Spiritually, Victor is full of his own shit. He had convinced himself that he was somehow a descendent or a reincarnation of Jesus Christ after talking to a psychotic mental patient disguised as a nurse (you gotta read this book.) But in his convincing himself, he corrupts the attributes of the Christ he is. He is "dying anyway, from the inside out," because spiritually he is a rotting pile of...you know, excrement. He has corrupted his soul and now it festers.

3. Moral
Morally, Victor is again full of his own shit. He makes money by pretending to choke in restaurants. He lets people think they are heroes, that they have saved his life. He rationalizes, saying this is his good deed to the world; everyone should feel like a hero. But his main motivation behind the deed is money. He is also a sexaholic--he screws people not because he cares about them, but for his own physical pleasure. Morally, he is a pile of crap. Really. He is dying from the inside out because he realises this and for once is feeling some kind of guilt that is eating away at him.

4. Anagogical
Again, is there always this level? Maybe I just don't fully understand it. His old self is dying--the self that was trapped in an endless cycle of corruption and empty pleasure-seeking. As this old self dies (and the shit built up in his system is expelled) he will have purged this self and be ready to try to rebuild himself--or to find the self he has choked away.

Ok. Well. This could probably be elaborated upon, but I have to go. Thanks for reading. Bye.


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