Norman N. Holland's Thinking
You only know things through some human act of perception.
- There is no "god's eye" view.
- As a reader or critic, you only know "the text" through your
own or someone else's act of construction.
- You only know "the text" (or anything else) through your
identity or personal style of perceiving, experiencing, etc.
You can read a person's style as an identity. Definition: a person's
identity is--a person can be described as--an identity theme plus the history
of variations acted out on that theme.
- An identity theme is a phrasing of a distinctive style that permeates
the person's actions and thoughts, a unifying theme in that human being.
- Weak version: "one can read" someone that way.
- Strong version: evidence from brain science says that early experience
marks the brain, inscribing an identity of this kind on the brain. Hence
we can count on consistency in the people around us.
One can, however, only infer an identity through one's own or someone
else's act of construction. One can only know an identity through an identity.
Identity, one's own or anyone else's, cannot be known absolutely.
A person--an identity--senses and acts on the world through processes
- A feedback consists of three elements: a standard or hypothesis that
one applies; a physical or mental way of applying that hypothesis to a
text (or the world) and sensing what happens; a comparator that compares
what is fed back from a text (or the world) to the original hypothesis.
- The familiar example: a thermostat. The setting for desired temperature
is like a hypothesis: Is this room 68 degrees? The device compares the
temperature its thermometer senses with the desired temperature. If they
are not the same, the device acts on the furnace and tries the hypothesis
- One can put feedbacks in a hierarchy. A "higher" feedback
loop can act by providing the standard for a "lower" feedback
loop. Thus, perception controls motor activity (a "lower" loop)
that feeds back and so controls perception.
- One can distinguish three levels of feedback, hierarchically arranged
- The highest level, the standard or hypothesis that governs everything
else, is a unique identity interpreted as a theme and variations. It sets
standards for the lower-level feedbacks and emotionally reacts to feedback
- that identity governs, at intermediate levels, loops internalized from
- canon-loops, rules chosen, about which different "interpretive
communities" regularly differ (e.g., political and aesthetic values)
- code-loops, rules dictated by culture, about which no member of the
culture would disagree (e.g., a red light means stop, green means go)
- a special intermediate type of these rules are the metaphors described
by cultural linguists (e.g., understanding is seeing).
- identity and culture govern physiological loops of perception and activity
common to all humans.
Humans are always already linked to these loops. We are born cultural.
- In a specifically literary or filmic context, one can distinguish four
kinds of hypotheses--questions--we bring to a work (DEFT):
- Expectation: what do I hope for from this work?
- Defense: will this work cause me guilt, anxiety, or other unpleasure,
or will I be able to manage it?
- Fantasy: will I be able to get from it the kind of gratification I
- Transformation: can I achieve the kind of "making sense of it"
that I favor?
Common misconceptions about this position.
- The text has vanished? No. The text is very much there. It is what
the reader is responding to.
- The system is solipsistic? Not in the technical sense that the self
is the only reality. There are all kinds of realities, but we only know
them through a self.
- The system makes everything subjective? The system rests on what seems
to me a truism, that we only know things through some human act of knowing.
Any person's act of knowing expresses an identity and will be in some respects
different from any other person's act of knowing the same thing. All knowing
is, in that sense, "subjective." But acts of knowing also share
codes and canons that make them similar.
- Any reading is as good as any other? No. One can make judgments of
good and bad--indeed, one cannot avoid doing so. From this perspective,
however, one should state the basis on which one is making them. Otherwise
one asserts an absolute, and the conversation ends.
- There is no point in teaching? No. A good teacher helps students discover
the canons and codes by which we know things. A good teacher challenges,
develops, and adds to those codes.