Monday, March 30, 2009

Hermeneutics is for everyone

"Hermeneutics is the basis for the whole complex of the humanities. Hermeneutics means "theory of intepretations". In a more radical
sense, however, interpretation is not just a specialty of the humanities and of our encounter with texts.
Because the world is organized by linguistically articulated social patterns, interpretation is the primary access to our experience
of the world. Learning a vernacular language means being introduced into the experience of the world. Even our epistemological approach
to knowledge and cognition cannot avoid passing through this hermeneutical dimension, that is, the ongoing reinterpretation of statements which are themselves interpretations of our being-in-a-world.
Therefore hermeneutics is for everyone."

"Religious and Poetical Speaking" Gadamer from Myth, Symobl and Reality Vol. 1 -1980

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DFW, IJ and Slate: a response, of sorts

In order to be fully aware here is the link to the podcast as originally posted by the good folks over at

Infinite Jest will be referred to as IJ throughout.
David Foster Wallace will be referred to as DFW
Admittedly I’m biased towards Wallace and IJ. There is some attempt to be objective. I’m not entirely sure it succeeds.
These are very rough thoughts. Comments are welcome.

This post has two purposes. The first is to work through some of my thoughts on my first reading of IJ while also discussing this podcast. Admittedly, these individuals are not critics. This is marketed as a Book Club thus, in my view, the expectation of a critical approach is less likely. Also in keeping in the vein of Lewis a good critic finds good in any text. Thus I will begin with what I liked about this podcast.

Slate's Audio Book Club. Katie Roiphe, Troy Patterson, and James Surowiecki discuss David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. We recommend, but don't insist, that you read the book before listening to this audio program.

1) They discuss not reading Infinite Jest in the context of DFW’s suicide. I think this is a point that cannot be stressed enough. The work needs to be able to stand on its own, within its own context. The Slate team does quite a good job on bringing up and elucidating this point. Kudos.

2) They do a decent job of bringing in interviews and other semi-critical writings on and by DFW. This is tremendously important in my opinion. Examine the book but also examine the literature and interviews by the author about his writing process and thoughts on the work. Again, kudos.

3) Some really excellent observations such as the mention of DFW’s use of windows throughout the work. Troy Patterson really nails this idea, noticing that IJ opens with a window and basically closes with a window reference (23:40-24:10). Very nicely done. (Personally I think he does the best job out of the trio in this case.) [2]

4) The fact that IJ gets an hour long discussion in this public forum/form is a great thing and should happen more often. Also, that the work invites criticism is definitely a good thing.

The stuff I did not like and blows my mind a bit. Again I recognize that these individuals are not, as it were, professional literature critics. Also IJ is indeed a huge book. It is huge not just in content but in terms of the amount of story, ideas, theme and complexity. Thus some degree of blithering about in attempting to discuss and explain it is, in this informal arena, to be expected. However, I don’t think this means that some aspects of this discussion cannot be called into question as fundamentally and deeply flawed.[3] For the record I don’t care what annoys you about the work.

1) Why is the size of the work mentioned so often? The discussion, especially in the beginning seems to revolve around the size of the work and complaints about its length. Okay, IJ is big. James Surowiecki quotes Wallace from an interview that Wallace said what was included in IJ is meant to be there. Then collectively the debaters proceed to trash the length all over again. Wallace creates a very intense and deeply involved environment that requires a very intense and deeply lengthy work. It strike me that IJ is an immersive work not unlike an Olympic sized swimming pool compared to a whirlpool. To traverse an Olympic sized pool takes more effort, gumption and understanding of one’s limitations than a whirlpool. I found this novel, even with its length to be completely immersive. Even though it’s huge, I find myself, even several weeks after finishing IJ being able to recap and think through scenes of this work and names in a way I’m not always able to do.[4] It is not unlike going underwater in the Olympic pool with goggles on. Everything becomes clear though distant. Removing the goggles transforms the end of the pool to a murky, possibly endless, depth. In this world that Wallace creates he invites/requires immersion into the text. Immersing without goggles (effort) will leave one with the feeling of messiness, I think. Immersing with goggles (effort/connection) will allow the reader a unique and necessary perspective on the work.

2) IJ is said to be a mess. Compared to what? The commentators obsess over the style/style as mess but do not do any comparative analysis of any other work that would say yes IJ is a mess. Ulysses still confuses the nonsense out of me. I have a harder time tracking Joyce’s characters than I do Wallace’s in IJ. Perhaps it is relative. I would not say, simply because I have a hard time following parts of Ulysses that it is a mess. My difficulty to understand Ulysses on the 1st/2nd time through should be judged on the strength of the material rather than my reaction to my interaction with it.

a. As a sub-question they complain the book does not end in the “traditional sense”. For a podcast that has recently discussed Run, Rabbit, Run (Updike) and The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald) what is a book ending in a traditional sense? IJ is not Little Women. Any book that starts a year in advance in the first chapter, flashes back to a character that shows up once and then disappears except for a peripheral mention 600 pages later[5] is probably not going to end traditionally. Think Messiaen versus Bach. You don’t expect Messiaen to come to a cadence with an I-IV-V-I. Not happening. Why is it expected of IJ? This seems to be an inconsistent reading of the postmodern context in which DFW is writing. If this is a postmodern novel, wouldn’t you expect it to have a postmodern ending?

3) They complain about the challenge to the reader. Personally, I like it. It is a characteristic of DFW’s style.[6] It seems listening to this that they do not want to work at reading for the sake of working of at it for the end result of knowledge/reading for knowledge’s/reading’s sake. I believe that approach falls into the trap that I believe IJ, is in part, attempting to deal with i.e. that what DFW shows to the reader is that even in a semi-fantastic universe living/obsession takes work; sometimes for its own sake. Gately and later Hal work to overcome addiction; Hal works, even as a genius, to better his tennis and retain his seed, Jim Incandeza works on film, Joelle works to kill herself and the Quebois work quite hard to attain the video tape. Hal’s working through, if you will, his father’s video collection in dialogue with the contents and himself benefits no one else except for himself. If the characters are going to work, the reader is going to need to also work to keep up with them.

4) It’s interesting, at least to me, that these talkers call Jim Incadenza’s films “art”. I would have to go back and really check this but I’m 75% certain that throughout IJ Wallace calls these “entertainment”. That’s a big difference. But I am a little shaky if that difference exists.

5) It is deeply disturbing and troubling to hear any sort of critic, armchair or professional, discuss what they would remove from the work if they had their druthers. This is the worst kind of scholarship/criticism. It’s too late. The work is there. Nothing is getting removed. It’s like attempting to Photoshop your estranged aunt out of that family reunion photo from five years ago and replacing her with a pine tree. It’s messy and unhealthy. The work needs to be dealt with in its entirety. While this text is not canonized the form it is in, is the form the author, and his editor, have mutually decided it should be in, for better or for worse. Deal with it responsibly.

6) DFW in IJ deals with the transparency of the mundane/ordinary. I believe is the focus of the OED, on Hals’ know-it-all-ness which characterizes his nature. Not taking anything for granted but continually watching for the blind spot, drilling down to the minutiae which in this case is addiction/obsession and/both sport/survival. Wallace’s style/approach slows down our/my reading processing and typically unconscious view and processing of life so I am forced to view the grit of life in its individual grains. In library literature there is a quote by Michael Buckland that states “What is familiar tends to be transparent.”[7] This is why Walter Benjamin, w/ others, experimented and documented his experience with hash-hish. Benjamin was seeking to view the transparent/familiar through a new, in their thinking, tripped-out leans as it were. They were attempting to reinvent their perspective by chemical process. In IJ’s case the hyper-magnifications/hyper-realism/uber-grittiness is the tripping out, the literary hash-hish the reader inhales. Thus IJ is lengthy because it takes time to take effect. The characters, especially the peripheral ones are given so much space so to allow the reader to immerse completely into this small and particular world (Potok) that has been created for our understanding and interaction.
There is an uncertain parallel in my mind between Walter Benjamin’s Arcade Project and DFW’s IJ. Both have individual microcosms coalesced to form/present an understanding of a world. Whiel Benjamin’s world can be supported through other documentation he never finished the Arcades Project, thus there is serious speculation on what he was actually going to do with the massive collection of quotes accrued. IJ is arranged into a sequence of connected and interwoven-events that give rise to a somewhat orderly and coherent view of this world.

7) I do not believe, as the podcast mentions, that the ending is abrupt. The reader has simply, in the author’s view, been given enough information and the story has reached its end. No one complains about not having enough information to start the story. The reader assumes information will be given. The end assumes that you’ve been given enough information. If it seems to be completely unresolved then you as the reader probably missed something.[8]
Personally I think of most literary works as a photograph or photographs that connected on a long roll. The image(s) are scrolled past when the author gives the word and stops when the author stops giving the word. With the information provided the reader must then analyze and identify the salient moments of the work. Even if the author sees additional imagery beyond what is shared in the text, the reader is concerned with what is shared. Conjecture on material outside the known is, to my mind, unhelpful and misleading.

8) There might be a distinct Joyce-ian parallel here where after multiple character interaction and movement throughout the work the books focuses down on one character and his/her monologue. IJ focuses on Gately and Joyce focuses in on Molly Bloom. Both finishing sections are deeply introspective, wondering about survival, safety and purpose.

These are some of my thoughts about IJ and Wallace’s writing. I’m hoping to put together another essay, in better form on Wallace’s interaction with the transparent aspect of life through his writing. This bit is really to help clear the air/start the juices flowing for that essay.

[1] I know that the use of footnotes and slashes seems to be pure imitation and blind, slavish imitation of DFW’s style. Frankly this use falls into the former category. Footnotes are simply useful and slashes help the both/and aspect of postmodern language.

[2] I really like Troy Patterson’s insights and input. He’s definitely the smartest and most tactful of the readers. His pronunciation of “Madame Psychosis” as “My Damn Psychosis” was brilliant though I’m not sure if it was on purpose. This reading/pronunciation fits in well with Mario’s obsession with her radio broadcasts.

Surioweksi annoys me the most especially when he gets the Mario interaction with Lyle as the homeless person wrong. (approx 20:20-20:35) He seems very full of himself which is distracting.

[3] The format of this discussion bothers me to no end. I suppose it is the typical fashion to talk over/through one another and traipse about the field of discussion with multiple tangents flowing after oneself like maypole ribbons but it makes for awkward listening and awkward dialogue. The form of this discussion is very free and I think is detrimental to successfully talking about IJ. Because its size a definitively, almost systematic method is necessary to adequately deal with it in discussion.

[4] I understand that this is anecdotal and this is, ironically, something I’m reacting against in the commentators but I don’t think I’m completely alone in this and it ties in well to my swimming pool analogy.

[5] Slight exaggeration.

[6]As an example, the Pale King’s and IJ’s use of the OED. You’ve got to love words/language almost as much as DFW does to track along with him in these sections.

[7] Buckland, Michael Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto

[8] Not to say that there isn’t bad writing out there which just takes a sideways, flying leap off a literary cliff leaving the reader to wonder what just happened to the plot line; I don’t think IJ falls into that category. This may just be my bias, but I don’t think so.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Voltaire and culture

This question was raised in my class on the History of the Book:

"1.Voltaire argued that democratic ideals (which are married to the ideals of the public library) are invalid . Ideals like equal access to knowledge for all would propagate the inherent idiocy of the masses. Only a select few could be bettered by education. Thus libraries according to Voltaire are not essential. Can you argue for this point? Can you argue against this point?"

With the growth of Internet services, and educational-like materials being beamed directly into one's lap, perhaps libraries are not necessary bc ideas are now able to be googled. One could argue that ideas, via algorithms, pure mass and pay per click programs, don't have equal access to be heard but they are available far and beyond the amount of information that could be contained in the physical realm of a library building.
I think Voltaire is right though with a slight twist. Only a few will seek to be bettered by education. The rest are looking for entertainment and controlling/editing their own interaction with culture. Historically when individuals would look to outside influences (the opera house, the public library, the town hall) to guide their interactions and thinking, we are now focused on how to give users their own customizable portals.
Where the library might have focused/guided culture/ideas in a particular area individuals can now create custom, personalized interactions with their personal and desired culture. Those individuals who want to be educated will seek to encounter educational experiences outside of their personal culture but the libraries will not remain available/open for just the few. At this point I'm not sure how we will raise the awareness of the many bc they are currently sated. They have no reason to change their methods bc they have no reason to "encounter the other". (Buber) Encountering the other/education is an uncomfortable experience. It is a formal experience and in an increasingly informal society formally uncomfortable experiences are shunned and generally whined about.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Daily Me

The Daily Me

This is an excellent op-ed article via NYT by Kristof on our own editorial choices of online reading, especially for news.While this idea is nothing new with more and more newspapers going the way of the modem we, the readers, will have more and more opportunities to ignore those opinions whom we don't support and surround ourselves with the ones we do. This is something Posmtan elegeantly forecasted in 1984 with his book "Amusing Ourselves to Death". The loss or degradation of what Postman calls a print culture based on the information derived from reading newspapers/books has been replaced by a virtual buffet that is not only bottomless but also stretches on for almost infinite miles into the tehcnological horizon. The problem with this is that for many people this is a transparent or non-issue. The loss of physically printed newspapers is not entirely a problem beause information has simply shifted to a different medium. The issue is not the loss of the paper but the loss, as Kirstof, states of being forced by proximity and the tecnhnology of paper to confront conflicting and incongrous ideas that do not immediately parrallel our own. The virtual culture into which we are vast descending enables us to build and inhabit enormously strong towers of opinion and one-sided thought that while based on legitimate sources will cripple us as thinkers and as we attempt to interact with one another.
So what next? Kristof suggests, dialectically, that "...the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore."
What does working this out intellectually going to look like? The question is if we as readers/thinkers have not supported newspapers which presented themselves as admirable sparring partners how are we to be trusted to pick out our own sparring partners? We have already demonstrated that we are not particulary good at taking blows to the head.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I have often thought that the twentieth century will go down in history as the century of noise
We tolerated noise from vacuum cleaners, engines, jackhammers, exploding things, and the incessant hum of computers and printers and the high-pitched squeal of television monitors, and traffic; that is, we tolerated it until we grew deaf to the noise. (p. 20)
Shillingsburg; Peter L. (From Gutenberg to Google)

Monday, March 16, 2009


On Friday evening I had the distinct pleasure of watching the second half of the recent film, Snyecdoche, New York, directed by Charlie Kaufman w/ Philip Seymour Hoffman. I would have preferred to see the whole movie but arrived late.
However for this post the important part is not the movie but the word "snyecdoche". Snyecdoche is a funny word, especially with the pronunciative play on place from the title of the movie. Snyecdoche also inspired humor from the editors of the OED, the definition of which follows:
   A figure by which a more comprehensive term is used for a less comprehensive or vice versâ; as whole for part or part for whole, genus for species or species for genus, etc.  Formerly sometimes used loosely or vaguely, and not infrequently misexplained.
1) I love the fact the editors put the comment in that the word is "...not infrequently misexplained.":
2) I have no idea what is meant by starting this commentary with something as awkward as "Formerly sometimes..."
3) I'm still fairly confused when to actually use this word as it appears to be able to refer to two entirely different situations at once without half trying and without, seemingly, to give fair warning.
Watching the second half of the movie does help, maybe.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Exploring Wendell Berry

This is a lecture Berry gave several years ago. I came across it tonight via his book Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community.
The essay is entitled "Christianity and the survival of creation".
Comments welcome.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Howling Fantods

Howling Fantods is not just/only a fan site for readers of DFW. It is a definitive collection of information and resources to better understand and better read DFW. Please check out today's post from Howling Fantods with DFW Article Updates. No idea how this site tracks this information so completely but kudos to them.

How He Wrote His Songs

How He Wrote His Songs

New York Review of Book writer Lorrie Moore reviews  Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty.I'm not going to review a review but simply to say, good article. Moore is not a huge fan of the book and/though/perhaps because Daugherty was a student of Barthelme's back in the day.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

DFW: Publishing the Pale King

* Many thanks to Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading for his postings on Wallace yesterday and today which these links were gleaned from.

Well they are doing it. Publishers are attempting to put together Wallace's Pale King for publishing according to the LA Times. Read it here.
I agree with Esposito on this. It is unacceptable. It's like finding an incomplete Bach prelude fugue and publishing it as complete. From the article: "It's not clear what the intended structure was," Pietsch admits." After reading Infinite Jest as well as several of Wallace's other works and referencing the NYorker biographical article assumming what was left of these notes as the end result is short-sighted and unfair to Wallace.

The Gospel Truth: Sometimes A Little Hazy

The Gospel Truth: Sometimes A Little Hazy

This is an interview with Bart Ehrman who recently authored Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them). His other books include Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. There's an excerpt from 'Jesus, Interrupted' in the article. Ehrman is definitely agnostic and even in the chapter excerpt there some logical jumps that are a bit of a stretch but it's hard to judge a book from its excerpt.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

David Foster Wallace via the New Yorker

Really excellent/intense biographical essay/exploration of Davd Foster Wallace by the good magazine New Yorker.

The Unfinished
David Foster Wallace’s struggle to surpass “Infinite Jest.”
an essay by D.T. Max

I have no knowledge of Mr. Max's work but I did find this site which provides information about him and his work. If, and I'm sure it is, his work is similar to this essay it's worth checking out. This article combines a unique knowledge and extensive research of DFW with a good understanding of his writing and style. In a subtext/footnote to Wallace's interaction with media I wonder in the article when Max mentions 'correspondence' if he is referring to physical letters or email; I am not sure if it matters. Once again based on Wallace's prior use of physical notebooks physical letters are probably a safe bet.
One of the best quotes from this article and in the vein of this evening relating to individuals and entertainment: "Properly handled, boredom can be an antidote to our national dependence on entertainment, the book [Wallace's unpublished work found after his death] suggests"As Wallace noted at a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, true freedom “means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you ... Read more construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” (The commencement speech can be found here.)

The ending paragraphs of this essay are incredibly moving and touching. Max handles this quite well.

One thing that is not speculated on within this article is the possibility of publishing this work as it currently stands. I suspect, especially after reading this article, thatto do this would have caused Wallace no end of agitation/grief and for that reason I hope that the publishers refrain. Though this current economic situation might give rise to various stratagems that would not have been considered otherwise.
I also hope this essay is a continued item in scholarship on Wallace. Even though his recent death has helped to stir interest in his work, this is a writer who needs/requires/invites close scrunity and understanding. Wallace's magnificent style of writing and thinking about the transparent aspects of the world rethink the method of fiction writing. Wallace's fictions/myths do what Kermode claims they should; that is they help us (the reader) make sense of the world. Even if that process of making sense involves asking more questions.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Really great article that Kelly sent me and relates perfectly to the reading of Postman and McLuhan. Carr basically says everything that I would have wanted to say.

Thoughts on Amusing Ourselves to Death

Explanation: While this was fun (entertaining?) regardless my sister-in-law, Kelly Morse, who is rocking her senior year at Houghton College sent me some questions on this book as her class is discussing it this week. I decided to post my response. Enjoy.

What I like the book: Postman's writing is clear and communicative in a singularly excellent fashion. He makes difficult concepts very accessible. In Amusing Ourselves to Death he reaches past standard issues with television by elaborating on common riffs (attention span) as well as tying in more complex issues (the loss of a print culture and how deeply that affects national thinking) I really like the way this book deals with how do we (the viewers) interact with this thing called entertainment and since one of the main/popular vehicles of this thing called entertainment in the 20/21st centuries is television, how do we successfully interact with it? Postman suggests the first/best way is by understanding our history which he lays out in Part I. Postman demonstrates out, from his viewpoint, how America has interacted with and been impacted by printed material through the 19th century and the decline of that printed material into the end of the 20th century. “…I do not mean to say that print merely influenced the form of public discourse. That does not say much unless one connects it to the more important idea that form will determine the nature of content.” (pg. 42) The very temporal form of television as a medium (form) drives the quick-changing temporality of the content (entertainment). Even television news becomes a show; all the world news in 30 minutes? Not a chance. “…it [television] has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience.” (pg. 87) I think this is true. Education, religion, art and _______(fill in the blank) are expected to exist in entertaining methods in order to even attract a viewer’s attention. Students claim a class is boring but when pressed for why cannot give ready answers because they were expecting entertainment and none was delivered.
I like that Postman reflects a lot of Marshall McLuhan, whom he quotes liberally through this work. To my eyes, much of Amusing Ourselves shouts “The medium is the message” in a constant, harmonizing chant.
One of the reasons I think this work still succeeds is that Postman is not saying that print is better than television and we should just switch back to a former medium. He notes the benefits/uses of television but states that we are not recognizing the warning signs or the effects that the clinging to a new medium is bringing about. Postman walks through the short history of print’s effects on America in order to draw the reader’s attention to specifically how the focus on entertainment as a terminal position is deeply changing how we think about our interactions with our world. He does not resort to saying television bad, print good but argues convincingly from a foundation that the medium of a message in fact determines the content of the message and thus we should be against against our current direction.
One of his best examples/ literary parallels is that it is “easier to avoid an Orwellian universe than it is a Huxleyan one.” Our focus on entertainment has effectively removed, of our own volition, the ability to connect with historical methods of thinking and critiquing and this is what Postman is trying to remind the reader of Huxley’s world where “…they did not know why they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” (Pg. 163)
Any problems with Postman's writing/thinking? While this work is footnoted fairly well there are some instances where footnotes would be nice or assumed. On page 86, Postman makes a note about the average length of a camera shot being 3.5 seconds without noting where that information was found. I don’t think this is common knowledge though I could be wrong.

There is something ironic about writing about a post-print culture in a book that is against entertainment as an end to itself or point of living yet will probably be read only by those concerned about the encroachment of technology/entertainment in the first place. This is not a problem with Postman.

Changes since 1984? Some of Postman’s examples given are dated. This is to be expected I think because of the quicksilver-like nature of entertainment esp. through the medium of television. The shooting of JR episode in Dallas which I have never seen gets several mentions though I’m sure it would very easy to find these on YouTube. Also on Pg. 88 Postman walks through a symposium of such people as Wiesel and Kissinger dealing with a response to the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. Again, since entertainment has little to no historical record, excepting Friends re-runs, I had no knowledge of this but again it may be easy to find.
The popularity of the Internet and communication media (cellphones, etc.) is probably the biggest change but I think the general principles Postman lays out are abstract enough to continue to be applicable and will be applicable, unfortunately more so, in the coming future. This work will serve as a continual reminder of being enamored with information or media for its/their own sake(s). “…the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision –making and action but may attach merely to its novelty, interest and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a “thing” that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.” (Pg. 65)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Intro to E-Lit: How Electronic Literature Makes Printed Literature Richer Essay by William Patrick Wend

Intro to E-Lit: How Electronic Literature Makes Printed Literature Richer
Good article/review of Hayles' Electronic Literature recent work.

Precis on A History of Reading by Manguel

It is interesting, and perhaps ironic that a book on the history of reading requires the very thing it is about. It requires a writer and a reader. When children are taught how to read in kindergarten and grade school, reading to them is the process of manipulating the cultural sounds of written forms to understand words and sentences. Typically the child is also being taught to write at the same time s/he is learning to read. Their education of the text happens in parallel. In A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel explores the practice, largely unconscious, of modern-day reading in connection with reading’s historical roots and development. In his examination of how reading emerged as a cultural norm, from the western perspective, his writing enables the reader to understand how past traditions inform the modern reader’s actions. In parallel, Manguel’s work is also about the history of the book, writing if you will, and how this history connects to the history of reading. This, by the very fact, that scrolls, manuscripts and books require readers. “All writing depends on the generosity of the reader.” (179) However the history of the book occurs in the background to Manguel’s focus on reading’s development, not unlike the supporting second voice of a fugue. Much like a fugue trades prominence between the voices, through this short history, the reader can trace the interaction of writing and the receptive act of reading; one requires the other.
Manguel is quite ingenious in how he approaches this parallel history as he utilizes a topical approach rather than a purely linear one, choosing a-historical-exploration- by- subject approach. The chapter headings provide the reader with the direction that Manguel’s thoughts are going to travel. He has specific ideas that he wants to pursue throughout reading’s history, such as the particular history of how those in Aristotle’s day understood vision or the practice of reading out loud. Manguel uses an individual chapter to trace a particular idea about reading and its subsequent development. While this may seem wildly disparate, Manguel reaches back into the subsequent chapters and unites the previous information with newly presented historical items and an idea, requiring the reader to remember and apply what has been previously written. Manguel’s method of engaging the reader is the same method that should be required of the modern reader in order to understand any text. That is, the method of connecting previously read material with the presently read so as to critically analyze and interact with the text. “…following the text, the reader utters its meaning through a vastly entangled method of learned significances, social conventions, previous readings, personal experience and private taste. (17)
Manguel’s extensive use of images and pictures through this work is telling as it also helps to set the development of the physical book in historical context. Just as one reads texts, one also reads images though in definitively different ways. While Manguel’s text focuses on the writer and reader, the images help identify the how the book functions, whether as a status of scholarship, pure enjoyment or an object.
Alberto Manguel’s book A History of Reading presents a methodologically deep and well-explored history of reading that successfully endeavors to place both the writer and reader within their shared history so that the present day writer/reader can better understand.