"Daniel Martin" and Ken Wilber's Integral Dynamics (essay)

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

"Daniel Martin" and Ken Wilber's Integral Dynamics (essay)

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Nov 06, 2008 2:11 pm

Below is an essay that links Fowles’s Daniel Martin with the theoretical writings of Ken Wilber.

Wilber developed an integral “theory of everything” that incorporates truths from the world’s great psychological, scientific, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. The site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Wilber gives a brief introduction to Wilber’s ideas, and an explanation of some of the terms I use here, including “all quadrants, all lines” (AQAL). In brief, Wilber divides modes of being into a four-quadrant system:

    1. Intentional
    2. Behavioral
    3. Social
    4. Cultural
These quadrants are also known (respectively) as

    1. “Interior-individual”
    2. “Exterior-individual”
    3. “Exterior-collective”
    4. “Interior-collective.”
Transecting each of these quadrants are “lines” indicating stages of development, from primitive to advanced. In one such line, Wilber borrows from the work of Carol Gilligan to chart the expansion of ethical awareness in four main phases:

    1. Egocentric
    2. Ethnocentric
    3. World-centric
    4. Being-centric
“States” and “types” refer to the variation and range of experience within quadrants.

A recurrent theme in Wilber’s writings is the challenge of moving through and beyond “postmodernism” and “irony” to positions he describes as “post-postmodern” and “trans-irony.”

There’s some overlap between this material and what I’ve written on the other threads.
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Integral Dynamics and “Whole Sight” – Listening to Daniel Martin
By Kelly Cresap

For more than two decades my main touchstone for integral dynamics has been the 1977 novel Daniel Martin by the English author John Fowles (1926-2005). The book not only affirms principles of integral theory but vividly dramatizes them on an international stage. I know of no other artifact that more effectively illuminates the path from fragmentation to wholeness, from postmodernism and irony to post-postmodernism and trans-irony, and from ego- and ethno-centricity to world- and Being-centricity. Although Fowles’s reputation as an integral visionary also rests on earlier writings--among them the philosophical work The Aristos, and the acclaimed bestselling novels The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman--Daniel Martin raises the stakes considerably. Three decades after publication, it continues to hold potential for expanding, deepening, and also critiquing the integral field. The book’s opening line announces what may be the most ambitious quest in all of literature; it could also serve as a motto for the integral project: “Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.”

Daniel Martin is Fowles’s fictional account of a middle-aged English writer’s attempt to see life whole. The title character is working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles when a long-estranged friend from his student days requests a meeting in Oxford. The friend, a Catholic philosopher dying of cancer, is married to a woman Daniel once loved. Daniel’s journey back to England takes him, geographically as well as psychologically, into the realm of his own past. Layer by layer, the novel builds a context in which its hero can, in his own words, “discover what had gone wrong, not only with Daniel Martin, but his generation, age, century.”

The result of Fowles’s bringing together so many layers in one volume is a work that reflects light as through a prism. Viewing Daniel Martin from a variety of angles, scholars have argued that it operates

    psychologically, as a model for the process of individuation (Carol Barnum, 1988), and for the self successfully overcoming narcissism (Gray Kochhar-Lindgren, 1993);

    sociologically, as a model for overcoming reified interpersonal dynamics (Thomas Docherty, 1981), and for the effort involved in any honest attempt to know another human being (Robert Alter, 1984);

    in historical and ideological terms, as a model for overcoming Western rationalism and patriarchal Christianity (Paul Lorenz, 1990), and for integrating individual experience and cultural history (David H. Walker, 1980);

    and spiritually, as a model for passing through a wasteland with the seeds of sacred transformation (Jeannette Mercer Sabre, 1984), and of resurrection (Eileen Warburton, 1999).

Jacqueline Costello has described it as “an inquiry into the systems that structure art and life.” Still others attest to the book’s contributions to the fields of philosophy and phenomenology, world politics and history, economics and social justice, feminism and masculinity studies, ecology and agriculture, nature and travel writing, and neuropsychology and chronosophy (the study of time). As integral visions go, Daniel Martin is rare not only in its range and synthesis but in its open questioning of its own processes, its using the tools of fiction to examine the nature and limitations of integral visions.

The novel’s full impact may require more than one reading--not because of obscure or hermetic elements but because its layers and implications take time to coalesce in a reader’s mind. In The Art of John Fowles, Katherine Tarbox likens understanding Daniel Martin to understanding life itself. She writes,
[Fowles’s] complex novel has dozens of characters, locations, and time levels, mirroring the large, complex business of life, which stands as the greatest impediment to understanding. Yet there is an extraordinary number of parallels in this book, a substructure of coincidence, correspondence, recurring events, motifs, even leitmotifs, that serve to tame the chaos by the logic of, say, an Escher drawing; that is, if one reads life (and this book) properly, one can begin to see the connections.


* * * * *

Quadrants and lines. In terms of Ken Wilber’s “all quadrants, all lines” (AQAL) matrix, the novel thoroughly engages all four quadrants:

    Quadrants 1 (Interior-Individual) and 2 (Exterior-Individual). The narrative shifts between first- and third-person accounts of the central character to present him as both subject and object. Daniel is a hero plunged into his own direct experience of life, as well as a writer and artist recollecting and reshaping that same experience into a memoir. The transition from subjective “I” to objective “he,” sometimes occurring in the same sentence, symbolizes what Daniel describes as “an attempt to see oneself as others see one—to escape the first person, and become one’s own third.”

    Quadrant 3 (Exterior-Collective). Daniel is viewed in relation to a variety of other characters, who comprise the novel’s social quadrant. Daniel Martin not only includes vivid characters and trenchant social analysis but is conceived emblematically as the history of a generation. We see representative players in Daniel’s social sphere at Oxford in the late 1940s, as well as what’s become of them by the mid-1970s. They are drawn and developed with such verisimilitude, paradoxes intact, that you are likely to regard them as flesh-and-blood creations. As Thomas Docherty argues, Fowles “wants to create the illusion that his characters are as real as we who read--not just ‘like’ people we know, but of the same ontological status . . ..”

    Quadrant 4 (Interior-Collective). The ideas these characters espouse and discuss in turn animate Daniel Martin’s intersubjective quadrant. Cultural references emerge organically as the characters work out what they think and feel on a host of issues. Recurrently an idea will be aired and later revised—sometimes decades later. As characters absorb thinkers and artists from Tertullian to Samuel Beckett, we witness the formation of emotional affinities and ethical standpoints as if in a vast behavioral laboratory.

    Late in the book, as the two main characters embark on a cruise down the Nile River, the social scope of the novel expands to include tribal representatives of Western civilization; and the book’s cultural or intersubjective side deepens to include the ancient culture of Egypt (and later, Syria). Fowles shows no sign of strain or intimidation in this international-tribunal setting. It’s clear that he has reflected on the relative identities and fates of nations both ancient and modern, yet without succumbing to mere cultural relativism or egalitarianism.

In terms of quadrants and lines, then, Fowles’s novel concerns the growth of an individual and artist, of a generation, of a century, and of a civilization. We see the main character aging from 15 to 47, developing from a precocious teenager into a writer authoritative enough to comment on the growth of his peers, his nation, and history itself. Spiritually, Daniel grows from being

    the resentfully dutiful son of a rural Anglican pastor;

    to a fully-fledged atheist by age 17;

    to an Oxford aesthete who “plays pagan” with his friends;

    to a man whose religion is “nonattachment”;

    to a man who recaptures in adulthood a profound sense of the sacred in nature.

The book’s own social and temporal framework expands with Daniel’s growth. Ultimately we witness a social microcosm making a symbolic journey through time—not only in the novel’s literal span from 1942 to 1974, but in its widest metaphorical span “from the very beginning of existence . . .” “. . . to the end of the world.”

Only a book solidly grounded in realism could make this journey without ending up in the ozone. Fowles seems to know instinctively when to pull back, when to lighten a mood or break up an atmosphere. And yet pulling back is not his deepest intent, but rather forging ahead: to create a foundation that allows him to treat time holistically; to engage in theological and meta-theological inquiry; to forge new creation myths and counter-myths; and to portray spiritual cycles that trace the entire arc of a civilization. He wants us to reach the heights of Parnassus, to breathe "Being-centric" air, and he takes us there a step at a time.

* * * * *

States and types. In its pursuit of “whole sight,” Daniel Martin explores a diversity of states and types. Daniel is observed in waking, sleeping, and day-dreaming moments; in his enacted deeds and underlying thoughts; and in the full range of his emotions. The novel offers a similarly complex portrait of his Oxford classmate Jane, a woman who re-enters his life after a nearly 20-year gap. Daniel and Jane represent various archetypal pairings, including masculine/feminine, logic/intuition, drifter/joiner, artist/activist, and egoist/idealist. We see them in moments of triumph and loss, good faith and bad, altruism and selfishness, and confidence and quandary. The book is constructed in such a way that no realm of human feeling or experience is left unaccounted for.

Through the hero’s reflections, and through interactions among the cast of characters, Daniel Martin also observes the vital signs and fluctuations of various tribes, races, and nations. Fowles conveys how certain social groups come to the fore while others languish or recede from view, and how certain ideas or trends recur cyclically. The novel may be read in any of the four quadrants--intentional, behavioral, social, or cultural—as an outworking of its epigraph, taken from Antonio Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; and in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears.”

In Fowles’s hands, the thought patterns of individuals become flashpoints for broad social and intellectual forces. One passage finds the hero Daniel vehemently rejecting the forces of cultural determinism. Clearing a space for his imagination to work freely, he writes, “To hell with cultural fashion; to hell with elitist guilt; to hell with existentialist nausea . . ..” The very rhetoric here implies another message: to hell with postmodernist irony. Indeed, Daniel Martin may be seen as a how-to manual for achieving a post-postmodern and trans-ironic outlook. It’s all the more effective for the Before, During, and After portraits it offers of the hero. The unreconstructed Daniel we meet early in the novel flits from one relationship to the next, and one artistic style and genre to the next, as if both his life and his art were a matter of postmodern bricolage. His re-entry into England throws him numerous challenges, and it’s by facing them squarely that he forges a path ahead. As readers, it’s only by tracking Daniel’s movements through an initially shifting and unstable terrain that we come fully to appreciate the mature and stable outlook he achieves, as a person and as an artist, by the end of the novel.

* * * * *

Integral dynamics. Daniel Martin is also circumspect about its own integral dynamics. It doesn’t just promote and portray the concept but investigates it, tests its validity, and reveals its potential blind spots. Quoting passages from Georg Lukács, Daniel affirms the Hungarian critic’s writings as “the emotional attempt to see life totally, in its essence and its phenomena; the force, the thought, the seriousness.” Still, human cognition being what it is, such an undertaking cannot be pursued with 24/7 dedication. While championing Lukács, Daniel nonetheless cautions against taking theorists of total consciousness too seriously. He also expresses doubts as to whether humans are even equipped for seeing life totally. While visiting an ancient Pueblo site, Daniel recalls the integrated native-American perception of time (in which there is only the present and the “present-not-here”), and laments that it represents “a totality of consciousness that fragmented modern man has completely lost.”

Whether “whole sight” is in fact possible, the novel still holds it up as a goal worth striving for, and reminds us of the ways that various outlooks fall short of it—among them, scientific empiricism, academic intellectualism, American-based pragmatism, democratic populism, and political Marxism, socialism, conservatism, and liberalism. Daniel Martin also registers concern about various forms of elitism—including the kinds that are necessary for creating integral dynamics and whole sight in the first place. The novel works out in human terms both the necessity for preserving certain special environments, as well as the drawbacks and pitfalls involved in doing so.

One such special environment in the novel is Oxford University. Initially it’s the setting where Daniel can at last kick loose and escape his background, branching out intellectually, socially, and artistically. But even before graduating he begins viewing it as an insular false paradise. Daniel’s philosopher friend Anthony becomes an overt symbol of Oxford, and Oxford in turn comes to symbolize the whole of England--“privileged, unhardened by the realities of the world outside.” An Oxford don and practicing Catholic, Anthony tends to use intellectual arrogance and sophistry as substitutes for feeling and spirituality. (A trait that his wife ascribes to him and other dons—“any deviation from their own views becomes a tutorial situation”—may leave some integral theorists feeling pegged.) Only belatedly, while looking back on his career, does Anthony realize the cost of his incapacity for emotion.

This aspect of Anthony carries into the next generation. His son Paul is a brooding teenager whose “obsessive singularity of purpose” turns him into a snob and a bore. Paul’s preoccupation with minutiae about medieval English hedge-systems isolates him socially, and serves as a general caution against over-investing in a given mental framework, no matter how complex or subtle. In a scene where Paul is frustrated that his topographical map can’t help him find his bearings, Fowles gently reminds us of the distance between the abstract and the concrete, between multi-dimensional realities and their approximated treatments in a theoretical system.

A host of other passages attest to the problems arising when mere intellectualism or willfulness operate in the absence of emotional maturity. However, just as many moments in the book reveal what happens when compassion is introduced in an environment where it has been conspicuously lacking. This dynamic is stated with an almost benedictory air in the final chapter: “No true compassion without will, no true will without compassion.”

Integral theorists who urge us to evolve more mature, complex perspectives might find that they meet their match in Daniel Martin. Personally, I’ve been trying to catch up with the book since I was 23. I’ve read many hundreds of other books since then, but none that have served—or challenged--me as thoroughly as this one. While reading it (and, to a lesser degree, The French Lieutenant’s Woman), every so often I get an amazing rush—I realize that it’s not only about evolution, but that it constitutes a new threshold of evolutionary awareness, and that I myself am evolving through the act of engaging with it.

Daniel Martin is long (629 pages in hardback) and deliberately paced; not everyone interested in integral systems will find each aspect similarly engaging. Still, readers are cautioned against forming judgments too quickly. For instance, one chapter was excerpted and reprinted as a teenage romance in 1977 in the popular women’s magazine McCall’s. Then, in 2005, an article in the scholarly journal Organization and Environment proposed that the same chapter embodies an ideal of enlightened bioregional agriculture, offering a portrayal of “the most desirable model for feeding the world into the foreseeable future.” Can McCall’s and Organization and Environment both be right? As Fowles himself wrote in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, “Language is like shot silk; so much depends on the angle at which it is held.”

Philosophy and fiction work in different ways, and have somewhat different fan bases. Despite this, part of Daniel Martin’s recurring draw for me--I’m reading it now for the eighth time in 25 years--is the chance to see these realms reconciled, and to watch them animate each other. My hope is that more readers will put integral dynamics and “whole sight” together and make discoveries of their own.

- - -
Kelly Cresap, Ph.D., teaches at U. Maryland-College Park, and is the author of “Pop Trickster Fool,” an interpretive biography of Andy Warhol. Cresap is a public speaker, voice and storytelling coach, and former NPR commentator. He’s on the web at http://www.laughingmuse.com.
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