The Power of Point of View

The Ideological Plane of Point of View: “so crucial, yet so misunderstood” (part 1)

Sears photo - 9 - croppedby GARY YAMASAKI   The concluding paragraph of this post mentions that much work needs to be done to clarify the role of the ideological plane of point of view in a storyteller’s efforts to dictate through whose point of view their audience experiences a given event, and this post constitutes a first step in that regard.

Of the six planes on which point of view operates, the ideological is arguably the most important for interpretative purposes. Why, then, have four other planes received coverage before getting to the ideological? The decision to proceed in this fashion is totally pragmatic. Simply put, it is much more difficult to gain a grasp of the point-of-view dynamics on the ideological plane than those on any of the others, and it was thought that starting with the more straightforward ones could serve to lay a foundation that would make grasping the ideological plane less onerous.

It was Boris Uspensky who coined the phrase “ideological plane” as one of five distinct planes on which point of view in a narrative text functions. However, while Uspensky is able to provide reasonably clear explanations of how a reader’s positioning on the spatial and psychological planes affects the angle–or “point of view”–through which they experience the events described, he is not able to do so with the ideological plane. Rather, he is reduced simply to conceding that this plane “is least accessible to formalization” (A Poetics of Composition, p. 8), and he does not attempt to provide even rough guidelines to its analysis the way he does for the other planes.

Given Uspensky’s reticence in relation to this plane, it is interesting to note that ever since biblical scholars first started applying to the study of biblical narratives the point-of-view theory developed in the study of the modern novel, it has been the ideological plane of the point of view that has drawn the most attention. . .far more than that garnered by any of the other planes.

The reason for interest in this particular plane becomes apparent with even a cursory glance over the treatments of ideological point of view by biblical scholars, for such a glance reveals that many of them understand the term “ideological point of view” simply as a synonym for “theological belief.” For biblical scholars who do not have literary training, “point of view” would be a foreign concept, for there would be nothing in their interpretative paradigm providing anything even remotely resembling a parallel to this literary concept. And lacking handles on which to grasp in this foreign world of study, it is not surprising they might latch onto terminology such as “ideological point of view,” it apparently resembling the familiar concept of “theological belief.”

Unfortunately, “ideological point of view” is not a synonym for “theological belief.” For Uspensky, the significance of ideological point of view has to do with “whose point of view does the author assume when he evaluates and perceives ideologically the world which he describes. This point of view. . .may belong to the author himself; or it may be the normative system of the narrator [as distinct from that of the author, in the case of an unreliable narrator]. . .or it may belong to one of the characters” (p. 8).

Here, we have the beginnings of an understanding of the ideological plane of point of view. Just as the spatial plane involves a storyteller positioning an audience in a particular story-world location as opposed to some other location to experience the action, and just as the psychological plane involves a storyteller positioning an audience inside the head of a character as opposed to keeping the audience totally on the outside of the character to experience the action, so also, the ideological plane involves a storyteller positioning an audience within the ideological matrix of one character as opposed to that of another character to experience the action.

This, of course, begs the question of how exactly a storyteller actually positions an audience within a character’s ideological matrix for the experiencing of a particular event. However, this post is intended simply to provide some groundwork for study of the ideological plane. The ‘how’ question will have to wait for a future post. . . or, more likely, future posts.

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1 Response »

  1. Since most narrative texts in the Hebrew Bible are told by omniscient, external narrators does this mean that on the ideological plane the writers are claiming to represent the divine point of view?

    If this is the case does the same effect carry over to other Hebrew Bible narrative (perhaps Nehemiah, whose narrator is “Nehemiah”)?

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