Whenever you read a book and come across any wonderful phrases which you feel stir or delight your soul, don’t merely trust the power of your own intelligence, but force yourself to learn them by heart and make them familiar by meditating on them, so whenever an urgent case of affliction arises, you’ll have the remedy ready as if it were written in your mind.
– Petrarch (imagining a conversation with Augustine) from Alberto Manguel’s History of Reading.
On the one hand, the literary object has no substance but the reader’s subjectivity … But on the other hand, the words are there like traps to arouse our feelings and to reflect them towards us … the work exists only at the exact level of his [the reader] capacities; while he reads and creates, he knows that he can always further in his reading, can always create more profoundly, and thus the work seems to him as inexhaustible … Thus the writer appeals to the reader’s freedom to collaborate in the production of his work.
Reading literature is a collaboration between writer and reader. The writer exerts a degree of control over the reader’s interpretation. Is this control more or less significant than the part a reader plays in determining the meaning of a narrative? In part this will depend on the skill of the writer’s intention and narrative style. The writer guides but whether the reader grasps the significance of what he reads will depend on experience, imagination, knowledge and ability. Returning to a text after the passing of a decade inevitably presents fresh ways of exploring concepts and ideas.
My reading is impelled by serendipity and a desire to inhabit, however briefly, other selves. It is in part to create meaning, but also a way to observe life through another filter. Great literature provokes an aesthetic and emotional reaction. What to make of a particular author’s imagery and symbolism? What was the writer’s intention? How to read more closely and create understanding more profoundly?
It is my hope to participate in a conversation about literature, narrative style and meaning, about how to read more profoundly and to discover fresh sources of inspiration.