A Rhetoric of mysticism

Author: Adams, Peter James

Date: 1991

Publisher: ResearchSpace@Auckland

Type: Thesis

Link to this item using this URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/2021

The University of Auckland Library


Whole document restricted, but available by request, use the feedback form to request access. Research into mystical experience has to date relied primarily on retrospective self reports of mystical states. Analysis of such reports assumes a direct correspondence between their content and the content of the experiences. But experiencers themselves often express dissatisfaction with the capacity of language to convey these states, and the language they do choose to use is typically vague and ambiguous. The current dissertation argues that vagueness is not an accidental nor an unfortunate feature of mystical communications. Because of difficulties in direct expression, mystical communicators rely on the active and imaginative participation of the listener/reader to complete the expression. A theory of provocative gaps is developed to explain how this operates. A "gap" is conceived of as an open receptacle in linguistic space. It provides a site within a discourse upon which receptive listeners/readers can insert content from their own experience. Gaps can be created by blatant omissions of content, but in written descriptions are more likely to occur in indirect forms by exploiting subtleties in grammar and meaning. A simple diagrammatic system is developed for explaining the gap-provoking potential of several major rhetorical strategies. Three studies were designed to explore whether and at what frequency written testimonials of mystical experience exploit a selection of 31 of these gap-provoking strategies: the first study exposed their high frequency in extracts by well-known published mystics; the second indicated similarly high frequencies for the average person's description; and the third found significantly higher rates in mystical testimonials than in descriptions by the same participants of dream or travel experiences. A similar use of vagueness can be found in the language of hypnotic trance induction, and as an adjunct to the second study, the hypnotic susceptibility of 81 subjects was assessed and results indicated that subjects with mystical inclinations were more susceptible to hypnosis than those without. The general support of the studies for a theory of provocative gaps suggests that the notion of intentional vagueness could have useful application in the study of other types of communication, including: the media, art criticism, teaching, psychotherapy and academic discourse.

Citation: ["Thesis (PhD--Psychology)--University of Auckland, 1991."]

Copyright: https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/docs/uoa-docs/rights.htm