Reading Romance: Literacy, Psychology, and Malory's le Morte D'Arthur

By Margaret Dumais Svogun | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

The Cleavage of Consciousness and Archetypal Content in Le Morte D'Arthur

In the preceding chapters I have maintained, drawing on the works of scholars in various fields, that the discovery and exploration of psychological content in romance and traditional tales is a valid and defensible exercise; that the development of literacy revolutionized human thought processes and self-concepts, while this revolution was both confirmed and extended by the late medieval advent of typography and the resultant possibility of universal literacy; and that, finally, in the process of experiencing a work of fiction, and most especially and specifically when experiencing it through the comparatively lately, universally accessible mode of private, silent reading, one creates an individual meaning based on the framework provided by the author, yet still shaped according to one's own insights, discoveries and inner needs.

In order to apply these three ideas to Le Morte D'Arthur in a specific, interrelated way, that is, to discuss what I believe to be the most significant and pervasive psychological concern of Malory's romance, how intimately its particular psychological content is related to the literacy revolution, and the manner in which this particular potential meaning is manifested in a discernible and consistently patterned way throughout the book, we need first to re-examine briefly one of the major cognitive changes engendered by literacy, as mentioned above: that is, as was expressed by Walter Ong, the fact that learning to read and write, acquiring literacy, is an activity which throws the psyche back on itself, that modern man's ability to engage in “articulated self-analysis” derives, and can only derive from “text-formed thought”. 1

Ong asserts that this ability to observe and analyze oneself, from outside as it were, proceeds directly from the fact that once man had commit

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