“I began to understand what it meant to read. Reading is seeing the words as lights shining in the dark, one after another, and to engage in the activity of reading is to follow the lights into the text. But what we see is never detached from the person we are; the mind has its limitations, they are personal, but cultural too in that there is always something we cannot see and places we cannot go. If we are patient and investigate the words and their contexts carefully enough, we may nonetheless identify those limitations, and what is revealed to us then is that which lies outside ourselves. The goal of reading is to reach these places. This is what learning is, seeing that which lies outside the confines of self. To grow older is not to understand more but to realise that there is more to understand.”

— Karl Ove Knausgaard, The End (trans. by Martin Aitken and Don Bartlett)

The last sentence of this fragment, so elegant a formulation of the increasing uncertainty that comes with maturity.

3 thoughts on “The goal of reading

  1. “…there is always something we cannot see and places we cannot go.” The poignancy of the truths here is certainly not lost on me, now in my mid-60s. I have more time to read than ever, but find I choose what to read much more carefully, because my time no longer feels unlimited. But those choices are based on a desire to confront the other kinds of cultural or personal limitations Knausgaard mentions: to learn, to understand, yet also to embrace uncertainty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the idea of reading as “seeing the words as lights shining in the dark” . The closing sentence is something I am becoming ever more aware of as I pass into ‘retirement age’. It’s frightening sometimes to think how much I still don’t know about our world.

    Liked by 1 person

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