ROBERT PENN WARREN AND HIS READER
RYDER, PETER MICHAEL
Doctor of Philosophy
The relation between the individual and community is a crucial dynamic shaping the dominant philosophy of Robert Penn Warren's novels and poetry. Warren outlines the process leading to the discovery of this interrelation in "Knowledge and the Image of Man." It involves an initial fall from the innocent belief in union to an awareness of isolation. But this discovery of separation is crucial because out of it comes a new vision of communion that has its basis not only in innocent dream but in experience. Through isolation an individual finds the "courage and clarity of mind to envisage the tragic pathos of life" and this leads him to the realization that the tragic experience of separation is "universal and a corollary of man's place in nature." This dissertation argues that the doctrine outlined in "Knowledge and the Image of Man" is mirrored in the aesthetic process that governs much of Warren's work. The text represents a private "image of experience" that is validated in the reading process--that is, as it is tested in the experience of a community of readers. Two models are provided describing the interaction: the first sees the "relation of the author to the work" as suggestive of the reader's role; and the second uses Warren's description of what he calls a "potential audience" which exists in the text as a paradigm for reader involvement. In keeping with Warren's formalist leanings, the arguments for reader participation never shift too far from text-centered criticism. But, as Warren has indicated, criticism "when it really functions. . . leads to a creative act in the sense of appreciating the work." With this in mind, this dissertation explores a fundamental phenomenological question involving the relation between what is perceived and perceiver--in aesthetic terms, the creative process which defines both literary object and reader.