18 February 2010

Kachru-type classification

I'm thinking of applying Braj Kachru's classification of English speakers to multilingual literary criticism. We could classify readers of a literary text in this way:

INNER CIRCLE = readers who know all the languages and cultures from which all the words in a literary text come; these readers are able to understand and to appreciate everything that is going on in the text

OUTER CIRCLE = readers who know at least two but not all the languages and cultures from which the words in a literary text come; these readers are able to understand and to appreciate some or most of what is going on in the text

EXPANDING CIRCLE = readers who know only the main language of the text; these readers are barely able to understand and to appreciate what is going on in the text.

My Inner Circle comes very close to what the New Critics and the Reader-Response Theorists would call an Ideal Reader, which is something like the reader that James Joyce wanted (he famously said that, since he took a lifetime to write Finnegan's Wake, it should take a reader a lifetime to read it). Although the Ideal Reader is ideal (i.e., not real), we could all attempt to become one, at least as far as a literary text is concerned.

My Outer Circle is probably where most, if not all, multilingual critics belong. We at least know a couple of the languages being used by the writer. Since by definition, the critic always knows less than the writer (as evident in the history of literary criticism, literary theories always coming after literary movements), it is not bad at all, nor even humbling, to bow to the superior linguistic prowess of a writer.

My Expanding Circle describes probably 90% of critics writing today. Sadly monolingual, such critics miss the other languages and cultures embedded or harnessed in a text.


  1. "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

    Theodore Roosevelt,
    "Citizenship in a Republic,"
    Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

  2. Thank you, Mr. Esteban, for the Roosevelt quote. I'm wary of critics myself, although I read literary, as well as film and music, criticisms. I know critics who repudiated or revised their previous stances. Among them one of my mentors at UCLA Frank Lentricchia (although I was older) who introduced me to Marxist Criticism, and J. Hillis Miller of UC-Irvine who became a deconstructionist after meeting Derrida who also taught at Irvine as visiting professor.

    "Vertigo" and "Bonnie and Clyde" were panned when they first appeared. Now they're consi-dered classics. My point is that criticism is topical and trendy. It may mean something at the time of its writing, but often gives way to subsequent revisions and trends.

    I follow this blog for its attempt to systematize a proposed critical model. It interests me as witness to an evolving idea. I applaud Isagani for it and, despite my skepticism, thank and wish him success.