The Power of Point of View

Researchers Needed! The vast array of Point-of-View topics crying out for attention

The last meetings of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies featured a Special Session on Perspective Criticism. And at this session was shared a list compiled by some of the members of the Perspective Criticism Community of aspects of point-of-view studies in need of further work; the list is reproduced below. Posts to this website have begun to address some of these topics, but more research is needed. If you have a contribution to make on any of these topics, please connect with the Site Administrator (using the “Contact” button) about writing a blog post for the site.


* Research has uncovered that in modern storytelling, point-of-view crafting has the capacity to sway audiences, positively inclining them towards particular characters, even negatively characterized characters (the dynamic at the root of the “anti-hero” genre). If this proves true for ancient storytelling as well, then analyses revealing that a biblical storyteller’s establishing a particular character as a “point-of-view character” can be taken as a positive evaluation of that character. Put simply, point-of-view crafting becomes a new source of evaluative guidance in the analysis of certain types of biblical passages. The point-of-view crafting of a wide range of ancient narrative–Hebrew, New Testament, and extra-biblical–needs to be scrutinized to determine if the “evaluative” component of point of view outlined above does indeed exist in ancient narrative.

* Research needs to be done on the workings of point of view to determine the full range of literary effects that can be accomplished through the manipulation of point of view, to the end of discerning the full extent of this literary device’s interpretive significance.

* The majority of work to date on the actual textual features used to manipulate point of view in biblical narrative passages has relied on the point-of-view typology of Boris Uspensky (A Poetics of Composition). Uspensky conceptualizes point of view as operating on five planes (spatial, temporal, psychological, phraseological, ideological), with recent work incorporating a sixth: the informational. Research needs to be undertaken to see: 1) if the list of textual features Uspensky associates with each of the planes can be augmented by others not addressed by Uspensky; 2) if any of the textual features included by Uspensky–working primarily with Russian literature–should be excluded from consideration as irrelevant in the study of ancient narrative; and 3) if there exist any additional planes on which point of view functions that should be added to the existing six.

* While considerable work has been done on the related concept of “focalization” (Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse; Mieke Bal, A Mieke Bal Reader, U. of Chicago Press, 2006), a methodology of focalization analysis illuminating the interpretive significance of choosing one focalization strategy over another needs further development.

* Linguists have been studying point of view for decades (e.g. Roger Fowler, Linguistic Criticism, 2nd ed., Oxford U. Press, 1996; Susumu Kuno, Functional Syntax, U. of Chicago Press, 1987), but biblical scholars have only recently tapped into this stream of research. Substantial work is needed in order to incorporate insights from this research into the development of methodologies for analyzing the linguistic aspects of point of view in biblical narrative.

* Studies on point of view in biblical narrative to this point have been narrowly proscribed, all utilizing methodologies based in the literary theory of the New-Critical movement of the mid-twentieth century. However, as literary studies began to look at point of view through post-classical narratological lenses, a significantly different conceptualization of point of view has emerged, and this has yet to be picked up in the study of point of view in biblical narrative. Attention to this area of research should result in new methods for studying point of view.

* The distinction between first-person and third-person narration is, at its root, a point-of-view issue, and there needs to be an infusion of point-of-view theory into the study of the first-person narrative passages of Ezra-Nehemiah, the “we-passages” of the Book of Acts, and the self-narration portions of the epistolary literature.

* In literary studies, point of view has been a major topic in the examination of poetry, and yet, the point-of-view dynamics of the poetic texts of the Bible have yet to be addressed. The development of methodologies for analyzing point of view in poetry would provide new avenues of research in the study of prophetic and wisdom literature.

* Finally, outside of textual studies, point of view is a key category in the analysis of art, film, and architecture. Reception history and analysis of material culture including visual imagery in the ancient Mediterranean world are areas where work on perspective could prove fruitful.


1 Response »

  1. I’ll do my part from the linguistics & appraisal front.

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